Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Stepping back for a better view of the future

Two Years Ago I started blogging.  Back then I did not know much about blogging.  Tim opened an account for me and I did not know how he did it.  All I knew was that I could write and publish anything when I wanted to.  I wrote two or three times a year in the beginning.  Then I forgot my password.  I was very sad because that was the end of my intermittent blogging.  More than a year later, by accident, I figured out that I could open my blog through my google account.  Yipee!  I could see my very old posts.  That was December 2008. Then I posted some pictures.  I thought it was a good way to allow my relatives and friends overseas to see our family pictures.  I came to realize that I needed to keep it current.  That is a tip that I discovered.  The problem with pioneers is that they have to discover a lot of things.   Now it seems like everyone has a blog. 

One mistake that needed to be rectified is the URL address given for my original blog.  For those of you who have been reading my blog you probably have noticed that it contained all my names.  It was a security disaster waiting to explode.  Not only the address, the blog name also was not very creative, "Helen's Blog".  Wow!  Well, I did not know that you can choose the name for your blog.  All I thought was that it was based on your name or email address or something.   Now, I've changed it.

Laugh at the Days to Come.  That is the new name for my blog.  If you are wondering why I chose this name, I'll be glad to tell you. 

There are two more days before we start the new year.  It is a good idea to look at the things that need some renovation.  Things always run smoother if they are in order.  Life is always better when lived in a healthy way.   I need to look at my own and see what can be done to make it more meaningful in the eyes of the One who put me where I am now.

Internal crutiny is good when it results in a positive change.   Happy New Year Everyone!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Words of My own Son

One of the presents that Brahms gave me this Christmas came in a small medicine bottle.  It was a poem he wrote about me.   If this is how my children think, then all the sweat and stress that come in raising kids is nothing compared to the joy of knowing that they appreciate what I do. 

Amazing Abilities
By Brahms

I don't know how
You keep it up
Filling our plates
Filling our cups

Doing the laundry
Cleaning the house
Strong as an oxen
Quick as a mouse

No speck of dust
Is left behind
So cruel to dirt
But to us she is kind

With kids that roll
With kids that hop
I don't know how
She has time to shop

With all these strange
Supernatural deeds
The funny thing is
She attends to my needs

She loves
And she cares
Takes all of our pictures
Cuts all of our hairs

I don't know how
She manages it
But if I were her
I think I would quit.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Word of Emancipation

Tomorrow Mom and Johnnye will be here for an early Christmas with us.  We are very excited to have them over.  It must have been a five years or so since the last time they came to our house.  Since they don't visit us very often, everytime they come seems like I have to try hard to guess what they think is alright, you know, daughter-in-law trying to gain approval.  Just kidding.  The truth is I just have to clean a lot more than we normally do.  When it comes to home maintenace and orderliness, my in-laws are the paragons while Tim and I are the caricatures.  A couple of weeks ago I was expressing my worries about the inferiority of my home maintenace like the rough paint on the baseboards and the uneven line of paint between the walls and the ceiling.  Tim was listening as I counted all those things but then he interrupted my littany and told me the most liberating statement I've ever heard in my life.  "Your home is already a shock to their sensibilities."  That's what he said.  I repeated his statement slowly and absorbed it carefully to understand every meaning attached to it.  Then I laughed.  I laughed loudly.  For some reason that made me really happy and emancipated.   "It is already a shock..."  There is no reason to prove otherwise anymore.   Beyond that I also figured out that I, not just my house, am also a "shock to their sensibilities."  Just imagine the liberation that I have now.  I'm free to be me now.

There is hope in freedom!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

4th Grade Now

Miriam and her first-ever Golden Bear Award

The Golden Award is given to any 4th and 5th grade students at Brooks Elementary who performs academically well.  The minimum grade point average (GPA) required is 3.5.   Since Miriam is now in 4th grade she has the opportunity to get one. 

Miriam and her 4th Grade Teacher, Mr. Nordquist

Mr. Nordquist, aka Mr. N is Miriam's teacher.  He teaches a combined class of 4th and 5th graders.  I'd like to think that the students who are in his class were chosen carefully in order to excel in such unusual classroom.  Miriam is enjoying being in his class as did Brahms and Shannon who were also in his class when they were in 4th and 5th, and 5th, respectively.  All my kids feel privileged in having the only male teacher in the whole school other than the music teachers.  Mr. N is part of a lot of topics discussed in the house.  Fortunately, he made a deal with all the parents during Back-To-School Night that he will not believe all stories the students bring to school as we will not believe the stories they bring home from school.

Miriam is enjoying her time in 4th grade.  May God help her to continue make the right choices along the way.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Thank You Card

Thank You card from DJ - December 2009

It was snowing in El Dorado Hills when we got this card from our nephew DJ.  It is such a delightful card that I had to make sure that I kept a record of it.


DJ and Uncle Tim

We love you DJ!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

FMITIL According to Miriam

My daughter Miriam was helping me make garlic bread today and she blurted that there are five most important things in life (FMITIL).

  1. God
  2. Internal Organs
  3. Family and Friends
  4. Grandma's Apple Pie
  5. Garlic Bread
Other than the first one on the list, the reason and the order that they come are not known to me.  However there is one thing that I know very well...the Garlic Bread that she talks about.  Here's the recipe direct from the Lewis Family Cookbook, that has not been written:

Lewis Family Garlic Bread

4 tbsp butter
1/3 lb cream cheese
3 cloves of garlic (minced)
1 tsp dried parsley (optional)
1 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
1 loaf Pugleise Bread (1 lb)
Combine the first four ingredients.  If necessary, soften the cream cheese in the microwave for 15 seconds.  Cut the bread across lengthwise in half.  Spread the butter and cream cheese mixture on the cut surface of the bread.  Sprinkle parmesan cheese if desired.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the edges of the bread turn golden brown.  Take out from the oven.  Cut bread into convenient pieces.  I like to hold the bread with tongs and cut with kitchen shears.  Enjoy the fifth most important thing in life!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

On Braces

This afternoon, Shannon and I were on our way to her orthodontist appointment when we were delayed by a traffic accident on East Bidwell Avenue.  Her braces by the way are soon to be removed.  Dr. York is just doing a little bit more fine-tuning on the position of some of her teeth.  Usually, I check her teeth and tell her that they are the same.  This time she pointed out to me that her teeth actually have moved, before I could even inspect them.  Then the following conversation followed:

"Oh yeah.  I remember when they used to look like pop corn."
"Mommy, I would have been fine without getting braces."
"But don't you like it that you now have straight teeth...almost?"
"I lost TWO years..."
"Lost two years of eating tootsie rolls?"
"Yes,  TWO long years."
"Don't worry, during the next two years, you can eat as many tootsie rolls as you could eat in four years.  After that you'll have recovered all the lost years of eating tootsie rolls.
"I should not have braces at all. Straight teeth is not worth the pain, inability to smile well, and not being able to eat everything."
"Yes they are!  If you didn't have them you would have ended up like me."
"You're fine Mommy!  See, you got married."
"I married but you don't understand."
"Daddy loves you just the same."
"Yes, but...you don't understand."
"Mommy, straight teeth are not worth the two lost years."
"You do not understand how it feels to be married to someone whose entire family has straight teeth."
"Mommy, you're fine."
"No, I'm not.  When we all get together, I imagine that everyone is wondering about my crowded-teeth."
"Mommy, when I have children, I will tell them not to get braces.  I will tell them that they are fine the way they are.  Whenever, I see people with straight teeth these days, the only thing that comes to my mind is the thought that those people have wasted two years to get those teeth straightened."
Before completing our conversation, we got to Dr. York's office and we were late.  Shannon got a tiny spring to close the gap between her teeth.  She hopes to have them removed before the new year.  We'll see.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Time to Rest

Even trees rest so that they will be renewed for the next crop.

If it was a normal Sunday, I would be at church now singing, listening to Pastor speak, greeting people and then be in a Sunday school.  My coffee would have been left only halfway consumed and cold.

My coffee cup is empty and the cup still feels warm. I am looking at the Christmas tree and listening to Kenny G's Christmas album.  I am home and sick.  I was all ready to go but Tim told me to stay home.  He understands me well enough to know what is best for me.  He gave me a specific instruction to take it easy and rest. 

For a wholesome living, the bible recommends a day of rest every seven days.  Most of us consider Sunday as that day of rest.  However, because Sunday is free we feel alright to commit a little bit of that time...then one more...and just another one more until we end up exhausted at the end of the day.  Then we realize that the purpose of Sunday has been totally defeated.
"Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed.  Be careful to do everything I have said to you." ~ Exodus 23:12-13a
I'm here resting now...and yet, I did not choose to rest.   I am being reminded to take rest more seriously.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Reasons To be Thankful

Miriam helped me set the Thanksgiving table and she also came up with an activity that we could at the table.  She put a folded sheet of printer paper under each plate.  In between servings of mashed potatoes and stuffing, she asked everyone to write one thing that we are thankful for.  Then we had to pass the paper one person to the left.  Then we had to think and write something we're thankful for which is related to the first one on the list.  Then pass the paper again one to the left and did the same thing until the paper got to first person who wrote on it.  Here's the result...

  • Pie
  • Spending time with my kids
  • Eating ribs and pumkin pie
  • Having people over for a meal
  • Custard or whipped cream
  • Travelling
  • Suitcases
  • Blankets in planes
  • Visiting new places
  • Shopping in other countries
  • TMTV
  • Checkhov (turtle)
  • Shared mivie jokes/quotes
  • Pride and Prejudice and other British movies we like
  • Time in between watching Jane Austen, classic, and other related movies
  • Nights with my family
  • breakfast together and donuts
  • Tables
  • Custard donuts
  • Dreaming about the amazing race
  • For the person who led me to Christ - Peter
  • Potatoes
  • Cucumber
  • Baked Lays
  • Friends who remain friends over a whole life
  • Daddy's job
  • Computers
  • Laptops
  • Computer games
  • Pineapple Upside-down cake
  • Working at home
  • Going out to lunch on Mondays
  • Getting all my music lessons over with on Mondays
  • Tickle fights
  • Going to the library on Mondays
  • Kuya's Marble Shooting Robot
  • Creativity
  • Legos
  • Gardening and homemade planters
  • Inspiration/Light-bulb-turning on ideas
  • Long good books
  • Fireplaces
  • House with three fireplaces (even if only two work)
  • Heaters
  • Borders
  • Time in between getting haircuts
  • Razors
  • Getting haircuts
  • Kids laughing together
  • Beautiful smiling kids
We also had a different list on the fridge which got updated everyday for a week by anybody (in the Lewis family) before Thanksgiving:
  • The Bible
  • House
  • Our family
  • Pie
  • Smart kids
  • Sunny mornings
  • Foggy mornings
  • Rainy days
  • Sleep
  • Milk
  • Awesome parents
  • Music
  • Van Gogh
  • Cushy pillows
  • heaters on the bus
  • Costco
  • Chicken bakes
  • Good health
  • Dad has good job
  • Enough to help other people
  • Books
  • True friends
  • Librarian
  • Loving brother & sister
  • Good schools
  • Memories
  • Relatives
  • Knowing God
  • Family's faith
  • Cameras
  • Kids get along
  • Down comforters
  • My turtles
  • Good schools
  • Saturdays
  • Birthdays
  • The movie "Titanic"
  • Applesauce
  • Pomegranites
  • Persimmons
  • Warm bread
  • Rolls
  • Devils Food Cake
  • Steady job
  • Chances to travel
  • The Actis family
  • My wife
  • Popovers
  • Canned stewed tomatoes
  • Sausages
  • Paper
  • Pens
  • Taste
  • Touch
  • Sight
  • Hearing
  • Smell
  • Kitchen appliances
  • Cookies
  • Potstickers
  • Hammocks
  • Pilgrims
  • Laptops
  • Relatives
  • Dollhouses
  • Cookies
  • Apple crisp
  • Danish cookies
  • Turkey
  • Potatoes
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Gravy

God gives us everything we have and enables us to do everything we do.  He allows us to enjoy and experience life to the fullest.  To Him be all glory and honor.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Night Before Thanksgiving

No guest is scheduled to come spend Thanksgiving with us. God must have been behind this design because none of us anticipated that Tim would be working like crazy all this week. He had a deadline to meet today. That is enough stress for the family right now. He is done for now and we are just sitting here watching Myth Busters and eating Death by Chocolate ice cream. Just doing as little as possible.

Earlier today we did some preparations for the big meal tomorrow. I made sure that Tim has a good supply of eggnog. Shannon helped me make Overnight-Pumpkin Dessert. Apple pie is going to be made tomorrow- we like to eat warm apple pies. Miriam helped make the Fennel-Orange Cranberry Sauce. This is the same sauce we used last year. Since we do not have guest coming, I also went ahead and experimented on another recipe - Cinnamon Apple Cranberry Sauce. It turned out really good. We'll see how it will go with the rest of the food tomorrow (see recipe below). The dining table that is hardly used as dining table is ready for the feast. It is now set with newly ironed linens, beautiful Denby plates, fancy crystal goblets and a tray of fresh fruits for centerpiece. I'm still wondering whether we will actually use our silver ware considering that we don not have guests...why not? After all, Thanksgiving is one of the two occasions when we use them during a given year.

I realize that it is difficult to impress people and be grateful at the same time. Impressing, aka keeping up appearances, requires that we do and crave "above and beyond". It requires so much energy.  Impressing is all about other's opinion. Thanksgiving is all about gratitude. Thanksgiving is agreeing with the One who gives us everything. We acknowledge that He is good to us. With gratitude we accept all He gave us with contentment. Forget about what we don't have, and be happy with what we have. Since I am not busy trying to keep my house looking great for guests (there will always be something wrong anyway) this year, I actually have time to think about all that I am thankful for. I've been thinking about the people who God brought to my life. These are the people whom God used to change the course of my life.  For them I am thankful.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tactless Yet She Feels

Miriam has not been the most encouraging person during those last days of Bob.  It was not because she did not care nor sympathized with Brahms.  Rather it was her lack of experience and poor choice of words.

Her first word of encouragement to Brahms was "We can always buy you a new turtle!"  She was trying to console her brother.  In doing so, she's failed to remember Bob's value into consideration.  Then the next day while she was observing Bob she blurted, "Wow, Bob is now totally disabled!"  She was accurate in her observation and even to extrapolate the possible outcome of this incident on Bob.  That statement, however, is not the most sensitive especially to those who are hopeful that he might still get back to normal turtle life.  We kept Bob warm and provided him with enough sunlight as much as we could.  When the sun is up, we'd put him near a window or door that let in the sun.  During the course of the day he'd be in different places in the house depending on the direction of the sun.  One time Miriam noticed that Bob was trying to move with the little ability that he has left.  I'm sure she felt bad with his condition.  She said, "Bob must have a very difficult life right now."  Tim looked at me and said something to Miriam to the effect that she's not the most encouraging little girl.  She is out of school and she's the one who saw everything that went on while her two siblings are in school.  It's not like Shannon and Brahms had nothing to say.  They are gone most of the day which was probably good for Brahms.  Being the one at home, she gets to help a lot.  One time I asked her to go check on Chekhov to make sure that he has food.  Her response was, "That's good because I have not seen a turtle with legs in three days!" "Miriam!"  I knew she was internalizing everything.  She was hurting inside.   But with her careless expressions she could have been aggravating an already painful situation.

Today, she and I were at the breakfast table.  She sat across from me and I was seated facing out the door.  I saw my little Christmas cactus that's wilting right outside.  I called her attention to it and explained that I over-fertilized it.  I noticed that she stared at the direction of the plant for a long time.  Maybe she was learning not to do the same mistake.   She turned around to face her food again.  Her face is now changed.  She looked very sad.  Could it be that she's sorry for my plant?  I asked her why.  She said, "Every time I look at that place, I remember Bob." That is the sunniest spot in the kitchen where we kept Bob to get a lot of the sunlight.

 Miriam might have been careless with her statements but one thing is sure: she cared.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bob Is Gone Now

Bob didn't make it.  He struggled to live.  He died shortly after his owner came home from school.  We did all we can to keep him going.  Tim and I took turns in making sure that he was kept warm all the time.  We cleaned all his wounds.  The problem was he did not eat anything since that frightful night.  His body was too weak from trauma, pain, and maybe even the separation from Chekov. 

In the corner of our yard, Bob was buried close to Casey, the rabbit.  It was very emotional...there were crying, praying, and flowers.  Brahms remembered that Bob did not like the color red.

Bob was a good turtle...we will always remember him.  

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lewis House Tragedy

Two nights ago, Bob was enjoying the lingering warmth of the water from the autumn sun.  As part of a daily routine for the colder months, he was preparing to be brought into the house for the night.  All of a sudden, he was attacked by a vicious, ferocious, feral, despicable animal.  Bob hid tightly into his shelter but the animal pulled every part of Bob that it can get hold of.   All of this was happening as the rest of us were being entertained by the "Prisoner". 

When Brahms went out to get Bob, he saw the despicable furry animal run away.  He knew something was wrong.  He looked around and found out that Chekhov was alone.  Bob was no where to be found.  Brahms called us for help.  With our huge flashlight, we search all around the secret garden.  Then finally, there along the fence Bob laid helplessly on his back.   I picked him up.  Brahms knew right away that something terrible happened to Bob.  Terrible. Terrible indeed.   Brahms was so terrified, sad and angry.  We were all shocked.

Bob is alive but we don't know if he will make it.  Pain runs through my nerves every time I look at him.  I'd like to imagine that he cannot feel.  I prayed today that God will miraculously mend him. 

Bob is short for Beethoven.  Beethoven is a turtle.  He and Chekhov are Brahms' dear pets.  The animal was a racoon.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Rizza is Born Today

Thank God!!!  Today my new niece is born in Ballesteros.  She and her mother are doing fine.  I wished I was there to see them.  My sister tells me on the phone that Rizza has double chin - which indicates that she's healthy.  Thank you Lord.

This is the day the LORD has made;

let us rejoice and be glad in it.  ~ Psalm 118:24

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Who Likes Peas?

Early in our marriage, I found out that Tim dislikes peas.  There are a lot of stories that tell how successfully he avoided eating peas.  Being a very accommodating wife, I deliberately deleted anything in my menus that included peas as ingredient.  Where I grew up, peas - canned peas, are prized foods.  They are usually added to meat dishes of Spanish origin.  Compared to other vegetables they are relatively expensive.  They are used mostly when cooking for special occasions unless you are rich.  

From time to time, I'd sneak a bag of frozen peas into my freezer and cook it for myself alone.  I usually eat them when Tim is traveling or when he is eating something else.   For my children, there must have been only a couple of times when I asked them to eat peas.  They act as if they dislike it. 

Last night I found out that they like peas.  Tim and I were going to bible study that came with dinner.  I'd feed my children before we leave.  Last night, since I was not in the mood for cooking anything that required a lot of effort I asked what they thought of "Top Notch Ramen" for dinner.  This is Top Ramen with a lot of added ingredients.  They seemed amenable and started to name the things that they wanted in it.  "Sweet onions, peas, ham, and parsley!"  I was very surprised to hear "peas" but I just kept quiet and started to work on it.  I put a lot of peas in it.  I watched them eat their peas with no problem.  They were enjoying every tiny green dot in their food. 

From now on, peas will be prominently displayed in my freezer as most of the people in this house like peas.  Tim is now a minority and so I will cook and serve peas anytime now without any fear of inducing disgust to the rest of my family.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Shannon Turns Sixteen

This month is special because my daughter Shannon turned sixteen.  I told Tim that we've been with kids for sixteen years now.

Not so long ago, these are some of the words that came out out her mouth on a regular basis:

Paci - Pacifier 
Shannon used pacifiers till she was four years old.  People said that she will have difficulty speaking.  I found out later on that they were wrong.  Shannon spoke clearly when she was a baby, she'd pull out her paci and say, "Hi" or "Thank you" before she could walk.
Later on when we wanted her to stop using her paci, I did several tricks.  One of then is to hide it but then she'd say, "Find it."  I put a tiny bit of cayenne pepper on it and she said, "Wash it."  I can't remember now how we actually ended the paci business.

Mooneena - Formula
She called her bottle formula but it came out as "mooneena". 

Mother and Father - Mommy and Daddy
Tim and I were called father and mother, respectively.  We thought that the reason for this was that she watched "Little Bear" almost everyday when she was little.  When we'd picked her up from the nursery she'd run to us saying "Mother!" or "Father!" while some of the other kids can't even talk.  It was refreshing to hear that but then she grew up and found out that other kids called their parents differently.

Photosynthesizing - Sitting in the sun
This is a complicated word for a 22-month old but not for Shannon. One day when we lived in Hollister, as we were driving by the fields of corn, she asked me what they were.  I said, "Those are corn".  "What are they doing?"  At first I didn't know what  to tell her, but as a parent I should always have an answer.  "They are photosynthesizing", I said.  Then I asked her to repeat the word to see if she got it.  To my surprise, she did.  Four months have passed. We were in our new house in Fremont when Shannon was in the backyard.  I noticed that she was doing nothing.  Because it was hot outside, I asked her to come in.  She came back to me with a quick response saying, "I'm photosynthesizing!" I smiled with pride...promised to myself that I will tell her what the real meaning of the word as soon as she can understand.

A cloud cover appeared when she blew the candles on her Kalua-Chocolate Cake

Now, she's talking about her AP classes, colleges that she likes, driver's license, etc.  She must be really sixteen.  It is comforting to know that inside this sixteen year old smart teenager, is a picture of that little girl who used to photosynthesize.  I love you Shannon.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Henry Kids

Elisha, Joel, Isaiah, Nathaneal, Micah, Simeon, Giovanna, Abeny
I can't remember which name goes to which face. 
They are well behaved.  It's fun to have them.

He struggles in being buckled in the car seat all the time. 
He can't wait to be part of the whole commotion around him.

Trying to be his own person. 
Right now all his older siblings play the violin. 

The Henry family is extraordinarily blessed with nine kids... and counting. :)  When they are at our house I have to really use my imagination as to where to sit them all when eating.  I remember one summer, we spread blankets on the grass for the little ones to sit on - as in picnics.  That did not work very well because they are used to eating on tables and it became a challenge to the kids as well as to Keisha (mom) who was trying to make sure that the kids ate their food.  Up to this point, I still have not come up with a solution that would allow us (two families) to sit sit together.   That would mean sixteen chairs!  I'd have to rearrange my furniture to have my two dining tables joined together.  Someday, maybe. 

Food At The Cucina

Ahi Tuna with Greens, Hot and Sour Soup; Wasabi Soy Sauce

Light and Spicy Meal

Most of the time it is better to eat at the Cucina  (that's the name I gave to my kitchen).  Here the price is better, you can choose the ingredients, you are aware of  how the food is handled, and it is more private than  restaurants.  Eating at the Cucina does not bring regrets to me.  I already know what I am going to get and there are no surprises except when experiments are being conducted.  There is one disadvantage of eating at the Cucina -- we get to wash the dishes afterwards.  On the other hand, we get to go out in the backyard to drink our coffee.

Last week Tim and I went to try the new vegetarian Indian restaurant in Folsom.  The food was full of flavor but for a carnivore like me, the "characters" seemed missing from the sauces.   To me, it was like listening to a symphony without a melody.  Tim liked it.

This week, we tried another Indian restaurant in Cameron Park.  I ordered lamb in creamy spinach sauce and Tim had chicken.  I liked the naan but the food was not exciting.  I have no reason to go back to that restaurant except to try their lunch buffet.  Maybe having a variety of food to choose from would give me a better experience.  There are four indian restaurants in the area that I've been to.  So far the best is the one on Bidwell near the DMV.  They serve chevron and mutton which I think are really good with the indian spices.  The one on Broadstone Market was good the first time it opened but I noticed that the food quality is deteriorating.  But in the end, who am I to judge whether and Indian restaurant is good or not.  If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then taste is determined by you and me.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween in Three Places

No so long time ago...we used to all go out on a night like this to the neighborhood with all the kids to trick-or-treat.  (We'd go out early, leave a bowl of candies by the front door and a note welcoming trick-or-treaters to help themselves with them.) Sometimes we would carry Miriam because she'd be too tired going up and down the hills.  When my kids had enough candies they would stop going to the houses.  Then they would come home and see who wins in getting the most candies.  Our kitchen table would be full of candies but on that Halloween night they get to eat maybe five (maximum) candies and put the rest away.  They'd drink apple cider or hot chocolate or milk and then just hang out.  I miss those days.

Miriam as Mini Ninja Suzume

Now Miriam, in her Mini Ninja, Suzume outfit, is out trick-or-treating with Tim.  As always, she's with her friend Erich who is dressed like a gorilla.  I know she's not after the candies but rather she likes to show off her costume.   Brahms is in Cameron park right now with his old friends from middle school.  They're at Jonathan Gomorrah's house.  Brahms is so happy to see his good friends again including Jeremy and Jordan Parlin and Andrew Keen.  He still seem so attached to his old friends, which is good because it's taking a long time to build new friends in Oak Ridge.  Shannon is home giving candies to trick-or-treaters.  I told her to go out but she refused.  Instead she is doing her favorite things to do: reading and baking bread.  Right now I smell her Sunday Bread.  (We just had Natalie over in her pumpkin outfit.  Miriam and Tim are now back).  Now we are eating Shannon's creation.  It's yummy and loaded with energy too!

Shannon with Natalie, our special Trick-or-Treater

My children are growing up and I can't help it.  It is good to remember how things used to be and yet it is also fascinating to see them do new things.  Thank God for another Halloween...and healthy children.

Friday, October 30, 2009

My First American Halloween

We were newly weds living in Morgan Hill.  Helene Lane is a very quiet street.  People there didn't seem to get out of their houses and if they did they didn't talk.  Our house backs onto an old golf course with an open view of the hills and mountains.  The backyard was always a better place to go than the front yard where only closed garage doors are the views.  The only people who came to our house were those we invited or those who said they would come.  The times were even specified.  I was surprised when people we knew asked if they could stop by. Where I came from in the Philippines, mother-in-laws or anybody for that matter just come.  That is the setting of my first American Halloween story - a place where unexpected-guests are unexpected.

It was October 30, 1991 at seven o'clock, Tim and I were in our sweats because we kept our house cold, sitting in the living room after we had dinner.  Suddenly, in the middle of whatever we were talking about, the door bell rings.  My first reaction was to go to the door and find out who it was.  However, Tim's was different.  He joined me as I walked towards the direction of the door but then he staggered and exclaimed, "Oh, no!  It's Halloween!"  "So what if it's Halloween!  Let's open the door!"  "No!"  "Why not?"  By this time Tim is whispering because we were very close to the door.  "They want candies."  "We have some candies in the cupboard."  "No, we don't have any, because we forgot to buy."  "Believe me, we have some candies!"  I shifted my direction, now I'm going towards the cupboard. "They don't like those candies."   "Let's give them money then."  "No. You don't understand".  He turned the lights off.  The bell rang one more time, and another time.  Then we heard footsteps of people leaving.  Tim had a big sigh of relief.

Halloween in the Philippines is called "All Souls' Day" (October 31st).  It is the day before "All Saints' Day" November 1st).  As a kid, I was told that these are the days when the living-ones remember their dead.  They show this by going to the cemetery and cleaning around their graves, painting the tombs.   I always worried about stepping on someone's grave.  People bring flowers (that they pick along the way, not from stores) to the cemetery.  They light candles and leave them by the grave.  In their homes people prepare some food (rice delicacies) and offer them to the souls of their dead who are presumably visiting during that time.  This was really scary for me because my grandmother told me that if I ate or just tasted the food before she has served the "dead's portion", then my mouth will get distorted and will stay that way for the rest of my life.  I remember that during that night of All Souls' Day the dogs howl at night and I tell you it is a lot scarier than all the Halloween decorations and costumes that people wear here. 

There is no trick-or-treating in the Philippines. There is one thing that people in the neighboring town of Ballesteros did and maybe still do.  They would trick people by moving people's stuff to the front yard.  I remember seeing frying pans, laundry basins, and shirts hanging on fences along the road.  That is the extent of tricks that I knew.  Giving out candies on Halloween never occurred to me before.  Christmas time however is different - kids go caroling and you, whom they've come to sing carols to, are expected to give them money or suman, patupat, or tinupig (these are all different kinds of rice sweets).  By now you should understand why I suggested that Tim and I should give money to the trick-or-treaters in Morgan Hill. 

Every time I remember my first Halloween in America, I still can't help but laugh.  Philippine Halloween tradition is loaded with superstitions with emphasis on the dead.  American Halloween is one of the many commercialized holidays.  Costumes and candies don't have any particular emphasis.  I thought that they are supposed to be scary but that is also wrong.  I think it's a masquerade coupled with a permission to acquire large quantities of candies.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Musselmans In New House

We took a quick trip to Burlingame to visit Mark, Jen, Maya and Jason.  It was good to see all of them and their new house.  Of the three houses that they've had so far, this is the biggest of them all.  It looks very nice and comfortable.  The hardwood floors made me think of our own old carpet with pity.  The house looks new with all the modern appliances and counter tops inspite of its age (1924?).   Oh, the power of renovation.  The master bedroom is very spacious, it covered the whole second floor.  Mark has a separate, quiet office.  It seems very conducive for thinking and generating big ideas.  Tim was probably thinking, "If only I have a detached office..."  They have a spacious, yard where the kids can go around discovering nature and just playing around.

Maya:  "I can climb!"

Maya and Jason are beautiful and well behaved kids.  Mark and Jen are doing such a great job.  Jason is full of energy and is such a happy kid.  He was very entertaining - showing us all the things that we need to see including how he climbs up his parents jacuzzi tub. He showed Brahms how his trains work until he was tired and could barely eat his lunch.  Then he said night-night.  I've always been amazed at their obedience when it comes to going to bed.  Maya was like that too when she was little.

Jason & Shannon

Jason  & Brahms

Maya is a curious girl.  She asked me why Miriam calls Shannon "Ate" and calls Brahms "Kuya".  She's very smart.  We also noticed that she is very focussed on the things that she likes doing.  She must have changed her shoes twice just so she could learn to climb trees properly.  When it was time for us to go she said, "Why do you have to go?"  What a thoughtful question.

The Cousins (While Jason sleeps)

It is good to take time to visit with relatives.  We get to share current joys and concerns with each other.  The problem with being far from each other is that when we hear about something it's no longer news but history.  It's too late to be part of that. 

Parental Units

Thursday, October 15, 2009


The original picture is sharp black and white

A gift is freely given.  The nature of the gift is completely decided by the one who gives it.  It is chosen based on a desired perk to the one whom it is intended for and delivered with kindness and love.  No matter what it is, once given, the present will be tagged with a new value determined by the recipient's gratitude.  My mother-in-law gave my husband a very precious gift for his birthday.  With it came this inscription on a piece of paper:

Dear Tim,

Your dad and I took you with us to the "Kinetic Scupture" race in Ferndale on May 9, 1971, when you were approximately 21/2 years old.  A young woman, who said she was a student at Humboldt State, asked our permission to take your picture.  We said that was OK and she promised to send us a copy, which she did.  You will find that she wrote the date and her name "M. Sullivan" on the back.

I've always loved this photo.  It speaks to me of the fine man you are and how, even that young, one could see your potential.  You were so intent on those moving sculptures, we could sense your wheels-turning!!!

Anyway, I pass the photo on to you.

With love and pride!
My husband was clearly astonished to find such special present.   With
thoughts of tenderness towards his own mother, he looked at the picture as if he wanted to cry but was embarrased to let it go.   We all looked at it with appreciation, a lot of imagination and questions.  "Are you sure that is you?"  "What happened to your nose? (It used to be smaller.)"  "You used to be so cute!"  My children and I welcome anything that tells us a little bit about him during the "blind period" when we have not met.   Secretly, I wished I saw him when he was a little boy.  In as much as I didn't, I will just content myself to sharing life with him now as we age together, till death do as part.

We will treasure this picture and the memories that came with it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Apple Hill

Apple Hill, a place in the foothills near El Dorado Hills.  Ten years ago before we moved to El Dorado Hills one of Tim's co-workers advised us to go see this place called Apple Hills.  We all made our own preconceived picture of the place.  It took us many years before we finally convinced ourselves to go to Apple Hill.  The place did not come close to that mental image I created - I imagined a green hill that is lined with apple trees and there around that hill is green grass where people can watch the apples on the hill. 

Apple Hill is a community and an association of growers.  The association probably started with apple growers only but now you'll find wineries, pumpkin fields, and Christmas tree farms featured in the area.  It is a seasonal place of attraction as they open only late in the year when the apples reached a certain level of maturity, when the pumpkins are ready for picking, and until the Christmas trees are ready to be cut and all sold out.  It is a fun place to spend a day with family.  Some of our friends go to Apple Hill every year to find and cut their own Christmas tree. 

Of the many things that you can do in Apple Hill, our family has chosen two activities as our favorites:
First of all we like buying apples in bushels.  They are very freshly harvested and inexpensive (much cheaper than Costco apples).  We were there last Saturday and got half a bushel (30 lbs) of extra large Fuji apples for $12.00.  Maybe we will go back later to get Granny Smith apples for pies, apple sauce, and apple crisps.  Secondly, we like eating BBQ-ribs with the apples laden-with-fruits for the view.  We enjoy clumping together on a picnic bench as we eat delicious Apple Hill ribs.  This year however, in keeping with the economic-crisis (frugality) theme, we decided to cook our own ribs and packed it carefully so that it was still warm when it was time for us to eat them.  Tim made them so tender, you could tear the ribs apart with your fingers. Not only did we bring ribs, we also brought our  Lewis-version of garlic bread.  To complete our calorie consumption, Tim ordered a dozen of apple donuts.  Everything was delicious.  And most of all, we had fun! 

Apple Hill - Just another reason to get together.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Family Together

When distance separates families, every opportunity to get together is always considered a blessing.  This weekend we got to spend some time with Paul and Pam.  We laughed, ate, talked, walked, and my children got the priviledge to play music with Paul.   As I watched them play, a part of me- the selfish part, wished that we lived closer. 

"The greatest gift, however, was just being family together.  Praise God!"  
- Pam

Paul and Pam wore these flowers at a wedding.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tim at 41

Some of these pictures were taken yesterday (Sept 23), and some were taken today (Sept 24).



Puzzle Solver





Happy Birthday, my dear.  I love you more than ever.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New Instruments

Brahms and his new bass

My children are discovering new instruments this year.   Brahms although still taking private lessons for clarinet he is also learning to play bass.  The excitement in his face was hard to describe when he saw his burgundy-red instrument.  He hopes to be able to play for the youth band eventually.

Miriam has been learning to play the drums from a private teacher.  This year she is in band for the first time where she plays percussion instruments.  She owns a bell and a snare drum for  band although she also plays other percussion instruments provided by the school.  Her drum set occupies about a third of her bedroom. 

For the first time today, Shannon went to her piano lessons.  She has a teacher who seems to be "fresh" and full of ideas.  We'll see how everything goes.   She's been playing flute since she was in the elementary grades and still does.  However, her curiosity for other instruments has been awakened.  She's also been very interested in learning the guitar on her own. 

I find it good for children to push themselves to learn something new from time to time.  This improves their self confidence and appreciation of discovery.

"Seize the moment of excited curiosity on any subject to solve your doubts; for if you let it pass, the desire may never return, and you may remain in ignorance."    -William Wirt

Monday, September 21, 2009

Evacuation Day

September 18th was a very interesting day in El Dorado Hills.  Three schools: Oak Ridge High School; Rolling Hills Middle School; and Silva Valley Elementary School with a total of four thousand students were evacuated due to some "atmospheric pollution".  The chemical that was being used to reseal the Oak Ridge track was so odorous that students who were sensitive were having trouble breathing. 

The different schools were evacuated to different places.  Immediately after the students called their parents and before the schools notified the parents,  roads going to these three destinations were getting clogged with traffic.  As a result the school buses transporting the students from the schools were taking taking a lot more time.  It must have taken about two hours to transport all of Oak Ridge HS students to the church on Green Valley.  Normally it would take only five minutes to travel between the two points.  With the heavy traffic the travel time must have increased to 20 minutes each way.

Shannon and Brahms made good use of their unexpected free time by playing their new PS3 game called Mini Ninjas.  I was glad that Miriam's school was not near Oak Ridge HS.  My would have been more complicated.  My friend Sue and I did not have to cancel our lunch date even with our children home early.   We went to have lunch at Mimi's Cafe and had a good time catching up with each other.

An exciting day it was.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Brahms Turns 14

Brahms and his sisters who love him.
My son, Brahms, is fourteen today.  With this milestone, come some changes not just in him but also in our family. There are things that he cannot do anymore and things that he now can do.  My son is no longer a little boy but a little man.  What a blessing to have him.  God has been gracious to give us such a good son.  We pray that he will grow up to be a wise man and win God's favor all his life.
Brahms and his big sister, Shannon

Monday, September 14, 2009

Lunch Dates on Mondays

"Would you like to go out to lunch with me?".   As long as he is working at home,  at around ten on Monday mornings, Tim would always ask me this question.  That means that whatever I'm doing that morning I have to make sure to be ready by 11:30am.  This is one of the many blessing we get through the job that God has given Tim.  He works for Phoenix Technologies which is based in Milpitas but he gets to work from home, most of the time.  I can never thank God enough for allowing him this priviledge.  It is something that we as a family have all learned to enjoy and hope that we will never take for granted.

Top Ten Places To Eat Lunch: 
(Ranked according to the number of times that we've chosen to go to the place)

1. The Emperor's Garden
2. Chantara Thai Cuisine
3. Strings Italian Cafe
4. Costco Food Court
5. Mimi's Cafe
6. La Fiesta Taqueria
7. Pueblo Chico
8. Kusina ni Lewis
9. Opa Greek Restaurant
10. Baja Fresh (now closed)
After lunch we would stop by Vanelli's to get my Vietnamese coffee, or if we're eating in Folsom then another stop before we end our date would be "It's A Grind" to get some coffee.  It's really a simple date but we get to face the other person or sometime sit next to each other and talk about the things that are spinning in our heads.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Time to Change Schedule

This day marks another change in our family schedule.   Awana,  starts today.  It will go on every Sunday from 5:30-7:00 pm until May.  All of us (family) are involved in different ways.  Tim is Sparks Director, Shannon and I are Sparks Leaders, Brahms is a T&T Leader, and Miriam is a T&T-er.  Sundays will be really busy again.  It was really good to be able to relax on Sunday afternoons, however, we enjoy being involved in  Awana as a family.   

With the late Awana schedule, we will need to eat early dinner before we go to church.  We've been used to eating dinner between 6:30 and 7:00 pm but this will not work if we still want to eat together as a family.  There will be a time for us to eat dessert (if available) after we come back home and before we do the family devotions which is at 8:30 pm.  Another thing that we will have to think about is making sure that Brahm's P.E. clothes are ready before Awana.

Blogging to me is like thinking.  Now I realize that there are things that I need to prepare in order for us to adopt the new schedule smoothly.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Lazy Day

I am enjoying a lazy day today.  I've been dealing with a severe sinus congestion during the last three days and now I have decided to rest.  All kids are in school and Tim is out in Santa Nella to meet my in-laws, George and Barbara, for lunch.   There are a lot of things sitting on the counters but I'm deliberately ignoring them.  Brandy, the dog, is here with me so I get to bring her out every once in a while.  I noticed that some of my plants need some water.

I've been thinking about our trip to UC Davis yesterday.  In less than two years, Shannon will be going to college, God willing.  Right now, I can only pray that she will get admitted to a school that will be good for all of us not just her (if there is such a place).  The dorm we toured was nice.  Two students share one room.  They are allowed to have refrigerators and microwave ovens.  Freshmen are required to buy their meal tickets. During later years they have the option to eat anywhere or live anywhere nearby.  Looking at the student housing on campus reminded me of my days in England at the Sibly Hall and Bridges Hall.  These were self-catering halls- meaning we cooked our own food.  Also, we had a cleaner every week, she changed our sheets every other week and scrubbed our pots and pans too.  I had the room to myself, which was very good.  On the other hand, it is also good to have a room mate. 

May God help my daughter as she prepares to go to college and away from home.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Joyful Thought

Back in the Philippines my sister, Rowena, and her husband, Jun, along with their four young children live a very simple life.  He is a rice farmer and she helps make ends meet by working as the Barangay (village or a small district) Secretary and a rice dealer for National Food Administration.   They have very little and yet they are happy.  The kids don't have toys but they seem to be content and not missing anything (or they don't know what they don't have).

 Last year in November Miriam and I got to visit them.  I got the chance to talk to my sister heart to heart , if I may say.  This was the time when I asked her about her spiritual life and what they are doing to teach their kids about this matter.  It was a long and engaged discussion and mentoring.  To make the story short, I recommended that they find a local church where they can join other believers on a regular basis.
As we left the Philippines, I thought that it was important that I continue a close communication with my sister.  It gives her the feeling of belonging to someone (me) since she does not have any close relative now other than her own family.  So Tim and I decided to change or telephone service plan.  Now I can call her any time and still have enough to pay our bills. 
It's been ten months now since we went to the Philippines.  My family is very pleased with the changes that  have taken place in the life of my sister and her family and now even her neighbors.  They are now going to a church.  One day I called her, she was whispering and saying that the service is going on, if I could call her later.  I though that was a very good reason not to talk to her.  Every Saturday, a bible study teacher now  goes to her house and teach the children in their neighborhood.  The enthusiams is spreading beyond their own household. We are thankful to God.  We have been sending them some Sunday school materials and bibles.  Lately, my kids went through their libraries and decided to send their collection of Psalty's CDs and a number of Bible-related DVD. These may be small things here but there they are big-time additions to their resources. 
May the Lord continue to draw us all to Him.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Enjoying Summer Fruits

"God blessed us with a good harvest this year." Miriam
"Do we have to have peaches in our lunch everyday?" Brahms
"We don't have to have tomatoes in every meal." Tim
"Let us leave some grapes for the birds." Brahms
"Zucchini again?" Miriam
"Peach pie for breakfast... I don't mind." Shannon

Most Available Items in our Summer Menu
Grilled zucchini
Steamed zucchini
Peaches and cream
Peach Cobbler
Peach Pie
Little peach Pies
Stir-fried zucchini
Peach and tomato salsa
Sliced Pears
Spinach Salad with Peaches
Grape Jelly
Peach Preserves
Peach Marmalade
Fresh Tomatoes
Grilled Peppers
Eggplant ( in Pinakbet)

We had a good crop of fruits and vegetables this year. The mild temperatures allowed the plants to photosynthesize longer resulting in bigger and sweeter fruits. This could also have resulted in lower insect population. The pears (Green Anjou) showed some codling moth (Cydia pomonella) infestation but compared to last year this is significantly less. The apple tree (Fuji) which was heavily pruned (for shape) last winter did not produce this year. Probably the lack of another host (apple fruits) reduced the population of codling moth. Codling moth is the worm in wormy apples or pears.
The plum tree (Santa Rosa) did not produce fruits this year due to weather problems. The tree was at the peak of flowering when the area had strong rains and winds in early spring. It is still being trained to grow away from our neighbor's yard just like the peach tree next to it that grows vigorously every year no matter how severely it is pruned. I'm positive that this tree will give us a good crop next year.
The peach tree (Orange Cling) was laden with fruits that it broke one of the large branches. We enjoyed eating a lot of peaches and were able to share with friends and neighbors. Miriam and I also brought some to the church office for whoever wanted them. At this time there are still some fruits that need to be harvested but now we can't keep up and I'm now tired of canning. The the pears are all ripening. The problem with pears is that very few people I know like them. In our family, only Miriam and I eat them.
We had four varieties of tomatoes this year: Pink Brandy Wine, Golden Jubilee and Early Girl. The fourth one was planted late and it is the Husky Cherry. Now that the other three are finishing their productive stage, this one is just beginning to produce.
Next to the tomatoes are zucchini plants (yellow and green). During the early stage, these plants produced a lot of huge leaves which was detrimental to production. Most of the starch and sugars produced by the plants were being funneled to the leaves. To solve the problem, I had to remove a number of the leaves in order for the plant to resume flowering. Since then and until now the plants continue to produce at a consistent rate. Four hills of zucchini is too much for a family of five. We tend to miss a lot of the fruits that before we find then they are already too old for eating. My friend, Sue, tells me that I should try stuffing them but I think that it is too inconvenient. So we just suffer with grilled, steamed or stir-fried zucchini.
We also have three grape plants (Pinot Noir) which were originally planted for shade. Now they produce substantial amount of fruits that last year I started to make grape jelly and grape molasses. I am planning to replace them with table grapes but there is a lot of resistance from the rest of the family. They've been blessed by the shade that these vines provided that they are reluctant to accept any idea that involves removing them. We'll see what I will do next.
All our plants are free from pesticides. Fertilizer was applied once during the entire season for the tomatoes and zucchini. Composted chicken manure and redwood compost are applied yearly in the garden as mulch or soil amendment. Produce from our backyard make great food!