Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Silver car

The old van now belongs to Brahms.  As a consequence we got to replace it with a new vehicle.  It looks  ordinary but it is brand new (odometer reads 14 miles) and it came loaded with modern gizmos.  I'll have to get used to them but they look fun.  Tim likes it that he can turn on the engine remotely and also read texts messages on the screen.   

God is very good to us.  He is the source and owner of everything we have.  We like it that way  :)      

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Stuff Game

Having the same address for fifteen years allows one to see the deterioration and the proliferation of stuff around you - and at one point or another we get to deal with their disposal and replacement as necessary. That was the case with this family during the last couple of days: a Costco delivery of a new and disposal of an old mattress, two trips to the dump, new wall art replacing an old one, and hours of cleaning the garage - and there still a lot to be done.

"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." 
- William Morris

I like to think that I am guided by the quote above.  However, the guidance remains more in my head than in my actions.  The challenge here is a function of the accumulation/elimination ratio. 

The interest in acquiring things come like waves - it comes highs and lows at a consistent interval. "Oh, I love that chair.  It will look good in the reading room."  "Oh no, these rugs are old, I need new ones." "These lamp shades are outdated." And you know what comes next. People are like nesting birds - always adding a twig or fluff to make the home feel or look better.  This situation results in high odds of accumulating not-so-useful and not-so-beautiful things.

On the other hand, the urge to purge comes like a tsunami (at least in this house).  As if we slept in hibernation for so long and finally spring is inflicted upon our every nerve.  Life takes over and everything must be new so we want to the place to feel new again.  But then, accumulation urges kicks right back in and the cycle goes on.

I still dream about the absence of senseless things in my possession.  :)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Date at the Bancroft Garden

Today Tim and I drove to Ruth Bancroft Garden.  The garden features water-conserving plants that ranged from small succulents to large trees (Pictures of plants that caught my interest will be posted in  Mastering Horticulture.)   It was a date in a garden - or it could also be a date in the car.  Although the garden was our destination, the means of getting there was where most of the excitement happened.  The garden experience was mostly for me but everything else was equally enjoyed by both of us.

Driving for three hours was an opportune time to superficially evaluate the vehicles on the road.  This is something we need to do because we are soon to buy a new vehicle after Brahms takes the Nissan Quest.

Eating outdoor at Panera with my dear husband was very nice considering the temperature was 75°F in Walnut Creek.  And of course, ice cream cone on the road is always appreciated.  (I always finish my ice cream first but Tim won't let me help him finish his.)

In the end, we were about to reach El Dorado Hills when "Right Here Waiting" by Richard Marx started to play.  Tim started to sing - soon after that I joined him.  We were singing a song that was painfully meaningful to us when we were engaged and separated; I was in the Philippines and he was back in the States.  It seems as though whoever wrote the song, knew what we were going through at the time.  :)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Lewis-Style Scones

Now that Shannon is living away from home and out of state, it has become more challenging to make food for her.  Whenever I make the things that we used to enjoy together, I can't help but think of her and feel really sad.  Soon Brahms might land somewhere further than where he is now - UC Davis.  So I now begin to write some of our family recipes one at a time so that they will have somewhere to refer to whenever they feel like cooking foods that remind them of home.

Fruited Scones
(This is something we started making after we came back from our family's first trip to the UK in 2004.  The recipes we see on cookbooks are often harder and less sweet than what we'd like scones to be.  So Tim and I experimented on existing recipes and came up with something we like.  We serve our scones with freshly whipped cream.)

                1/3 cup margarine or butter
                1 ¾ cups all-purpose-flour
                6 tablespoons sugar
                2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
                ¼ teaspoon salt
                1 egg, beaten
                1 cup dried fruits –mango, cranberries or raisins
                4 to 6 tablespoons half-and-half (or up to ¾ cup buttermilk)
                1 egg, beaten (for brushing the dough)

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Hydrate dried fruits with hot water for 5-10 minutes.  Cut margarine into flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt with fork or pastry blender (I prefer to use my hands) until mixture resembles fine crumbles. Stir in one egg, the currants and just enough half-and-half so dough leaves side of bowl.  If you prefer soft scones use buttermilk enough to make the batter sticky and soft.
Using spoons shape and then drop them on cookie sheet.   Brush dough with beaten egg.  Bake 10-12 minutes (depending on oven) or until golden brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheet; cool. Serve with freshly whipped cream accompanied with a cup of tea.

About 15 scones; 130 calories per scone.

Savory Scones
(Way back when, I made this recipe for a Parent/Child Chess tournament that my kids participated in.  It was a big hit to the kids as well as their parents and the teachers.  To this day, Miriam and Brahms still remember how good they were.  They might have forgotten how the tournament went but the scones were definitely memorable.)

                1/3  cup margarine or butter
                1 ¾ cups all-purpose-flour
                3 tablespoons sugar
                2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
                ¼ teaspoon salt
                1 egg, beaten
                1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
                ½ cup bacon bits
                 ¾ - 1 cup buttermilk
                1 egg, beaten (for brushing the dough)

Monday, July 20, 2015

Life is Like Solving a Puzzle

This summer, we have been solving puzzles.  One puzzle board is set on the dining table at a time and whenever someone needs a break from whatever they are doing they'd go sit down at the table and try to fit a piece or more depending on the time available.  The one previous one we worked on took us more than a week to put together. And when we were down to the last piece, we had to wait for everyone to be there and Brahms makes the sound effects for drama, for the final piece to be added.  I contribute very little in these puzzle activities, but I make sure to put at least a few pieces in place. 

 Life is like solving a puzzle.  We have a big picture to put together.  The resources are there but they come in small pieces and scattered around.  The pieces are in the wrong places.  In solving the puzzle you are trying the wrong piece in the wrong position or the right piece at the wrong angle.  Here are some of the simple truths I've learned just by watching my family work on the puzzles. 

Perception and focus determines the length of time involved in the completion of your puzzle. Scattered pieces require a collected mind.  Every time a piece is set in position a mini success is achieved. And it all begins in your grasp as to the way pieces appear and extrapolation as to their best possible position on the board.  Each piece carries a clue as to its position in the big picture and discerning that clue is what we the challenge is.  

Attention to detail is key to finding the right piece for a specific position.  Puzzle pieces look the same at first glance but each one is made different no matter how much they seem to resemble each other.  

Ease and security are the real test to the right fit.  Given the permission I would trim pieces to fit into the puzzle. Sometimes that's how we deal with life - trying everything to make the wrong piece fit.  It is my observation that this will only create more problems - deeper problems.  The right piece is still somewhere waiting to be found. 

Team work can make the the journey more fun.  Sometimes we feel alone in our endeavors but in fact there are those around us who are working with us.  Don't try to do everything.  

Distractions are necessary every once in a while to reset our impressions about a particular piece.  Trying the same piece into the same place over and over again is not progress so it is a good idea to go do something else.  When another problem solving time comes again, you might be able to see it differently.  

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Underground Sac Tour

Old Sacramento is a favorite destination when it comes to learning about the history of California including the gold rush, trains, and railroads are among the topics often featured in the local museums.  One aspect of Sacramento's past that has had little publicity up to this point is the Underground Sacramento.  But now, Underground tours are offered daily to the public.  

My family is a bunch of history geeks with one exception - me.  So we went on the subterranean tour of Sacramento.  We learned why the city got to go higher than its original elevation and how the people did it.  One can only imagine that the work was hard and workers lived a difficult life.  But I'm sure they didn't know back then because that was the only life they knew.  However, we all appreciate and benefit from the result of the hard work of people who came before us.  
After the tour we had lunch at Joe's Crab Shack.  This time we did not have to wait in line for thirty minutes.  The day was generally fun!  I just wished my oldest was with us.  

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Miriam in Hawaii (Part 1)

I can't remember when we (my husband and I) decided to make a proclamation that stated that when they (our children) would turn 14, they get to travel alone with one parent, but we stood to that promise to our children.  And this year, it was Miriam's turn and she chose Hawaii as her destination. Fortunately for me, I had to go with her.

Breakfast at Mauna Lani

June 1, 2015.   Miriam and I flew to Kona, Hawaii and arrived at the Mauna Lani Hotel at 10 o'clock pm where we were offered with cold face towels (a sensible thing to have after a long flight from Sacramento) a glass of cold fresh guava juice (an upgrade from the soda we had in the airplane)  and beautiful leis made of fine shells (as a reminder that we were about to begin our vacation).  Then we were escorted to our room - they said we had an ocean view but at that time it was too dark for us to verify.  

Akaka Falls

 It was our first time to be in Hawaii outside of the airport.  I always thought that Hawaii, because of its tropical setting and the pictures seen on magazines or books, that it is all lush and green - a rainforest that is full of orchids, passion fruit vines, and ferns.  Well, I just realized that this was only part true.  The island (Hawaii) is divided by the volcanoes into two major classification - the dry and the wet side.   Kona is the dry side where the area get very little rain.  Volcanic rocks dominate the scenery.  One can drive for a long time without seeing any vegetation apart from the fountain grasses along the roads or the man-made oasis around hotels. The place is so clean and untouched - the rocks are fresh from the earth's core, they have not undergone weathering at all.  I'm exaggerating but you get the idea.  This is the touristy part of the island because it is always sunny - hardly any rain. People can sun-bathe all day everyday in Kona.


On the other side of the island is Hilo, capital city, where an average of 130 inches of rain is dumped annually.  This is where the rainforests are found.  When we visited this side, we were supposed to take a helicopter tour but it was raining so hard that the flight was cancelled.  Nonetheless, we were in a place where where waterfalls flow unceasingly into rivers that never seem to run dry.  The air is heavy with humidity and the vegetation is glossed by frequent showers and rains.  Miriam and I zip-lined across some of these rivers, water falls, and some green pastures that are saturated in water. We had fun except for the fact that we did not have rain jackets and we were in a high elevation area.  Miriam was particularly cold. 

Kilauea at dusk

The other thing about Hilo is that it is the home of one of the most active volcanoes on earth - Kilauea.  We went near the crater at dusk to watch it glow. As the sun fades away and when you see the color of the crater slowly turn orange, you cant help but feel that you are actually looking into a portal to the center of the earth (don't you dare get into it!).  Well, there was another igneous portal that we entered but it is a cooled down version of the orange one we saw in the crater - lava tube that is so huge a bus could fir in it (I think).  

To be continued...

Miriam in Hawaii (Part 2)

Vacations are great because they provide a temporary break the monotony of the everyday.  First of all,  the setting change.  The place that says chores in every corner is behind you and you're headed to some place where everything says relax and have fun. Often times, our family vacations are a combination of relaxation and experience.  We always begin with a good hotel because when you stay in a nice place there is no requirement for anything more- everything else is icing on the cake. Our trip to Hawaii was no exception.  All that Miriam asked for is a nice place to stay with access to a sand beach.  We got both at Mauna Lani Bay Hotel And Bungalows.  

High tide or low tide, the beach offered Miriam fun things to do.  The morning's low tide gave her the chance to walk on the volcanic rocks and discover the wonderful marine life that reside in them.  In the afternoons we sat on the beach and waited for the sun to set while the water slowly rose beneath our feet.  We spent many hours doing nothing but experiencing God's creation.  It is amazing how the waves slapping on our feet brought so much surprise and laughter as we laid on the hammock.  

One of the things that Miriam and I enjoyed so much is the warm water both of the ocean and the swimming pools.  This is something I took for granted when I was growing up in the Philippines.  I always assumed that the ocean is always the same anywhere until I moved to to a place where the water is really cold even in the summer. So spent most evenings soaking in the pools and just being silly.  

Mauna Lani Bay, featured marine life throughout the hotel grounds. There was water everywhere and every water-feature contained different fishes - including the honu (sea turtle), sting ray, shark, and brackish water fishes of many colors.  Although we spent some time following turtles and fishes in the shallow waters of the sea, most of the species we would have seen there are already swimming by the stream that runs along the Terrace Bay (where we ate breakfast) and the Canoe House.

It was a short five-day vacation but I could not account for every things we experienced together. I am very sure that Miriam has a compilation of her own memories of that time.  The important thing is that we will always have something that is unique to just the two of us and we will remember them as a time when we had each other's undivided time and attention.  There are many other occasions like this throughout the span of growing-up years when we there were just the two of us -like a trip we both took to the Philippines, but this is will be the only one that happened when she's 14 years old.

Time is flying by so fast for my baby girl.