Of Degas’ Little Dancer and the Madness in this World (a.k.a Inday’s Midnight Musings)

imageWhen we first went to Paris in 2009, we simply had no extra money to buy a copy of my favorite Degas sculpture in bronze- The Fourteen-Year-Old Little Dancer (Edgar Degas, 1881).  And it slipped off my mind during our second visit. Last year, I was ever so tempted to buy this, but I noticed that the price has gone up by 10 euros, and suddenly it was not tempting anymore. Instead, I bought a book about Degas’ Little Dancer called Marie at Musee D’Orsay, which costs less but gives my girls so much happiness every time their dad reads it to them for bedtime stories.

Our visit this year was not the most ideal. Whereas before, I enjoyed the seemingly endless walk from Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde, finally resting at Jardin des Tuilieries with a book in my hand, letting my ohsocurly hair be blown away thru windy days, I wasn’t as carefree this year when our family went to Paris. Yes, I had 3 very excited children to look after, but it was more of a feeling of restlessness. I was wary about the narrow cobblestoned alleys when they have always been my favorite parts in Paris, and the people walking behind me, beside me, when I would feel this cheerfulness/skippy-ness in my heart just by watching people and Paris pass me by.

I don’t even know now if I should be happy that I finally bought this Degas sculpture, never mind that it is around 20 euros more compared to our first visit. I told my children, who were busily devouring cheese and croissant and ice cream: ok let us enjoy Paris, eat cheese, and be merry. Do not forget our time here as a family because I don’t think we are coming back soon- I realise now that I meant every word😢

There is a madness in this world that is difficult to comprehend and accept. It used to be that when we go home to our family and loved ones, we leave our worries at the door and forget about them. But it is different now. I go home and I am thankful but I worry about other children and other families. What uplifts me is that I see friends who are also doing their part to make this world kinder to its children.

What should we do? Be kind. Be generous. Give out hugs and kisses and smiles-  they are free. Reach out. Don’t let our children go to the dark side. Don’t make them feel alone and unloved. Because it all starts with these feelings of isolation and neglect.

‘To whom much is given, much is expected.’ And as my favorite poet, Maya Angelou, urged: When you learn, teach. When you get, give.

 

My (Belated) Wedding Vow

dear pao,

Thank you for giving me and the children a beautiful wedding. Itwas everything I ever hoped for, and more, definitely, absolutely more. I just wanted a beautiful wedding mass and a fun wedding party afterwards. I had both- plus everything was just grand. Small, intimate, elegant, beautiful, and grand. In.every.way. Thank you for making yet another dream come true.

My only regret was that I wasn’t able to compose a proper wedding vow. As you know, I’m not big on promises (including new year’s resolutions and diet plans), because I always manage to break them, if not now, then definitely tomorrow.

But I want to be kinder to you. I want to be patient when I have to repeat myself because you have a bad ear, even when I want to scream or shout. I want to be understanding every time you give a pass or two or three to the children when they quarrel with each other, or make the same mistakes, over and over again, when all I want to do is get angry at them. I want to be quiet when you don’t do what I say at the exact time I said it- please get us a cab now so we won’t be late for Mass, please prepare Aryana’s milk and snacks before we go, please put on Aryana’s socks and shoes, please tell the children to be quiet because my nerves are frayed- instead of being mad at you. I want to help you pick up things- lego blocks, clothes, hankies, stuffed toys- instead of complaining to you that the house is in a state of chaos every single damn day. I want to take over being you with the kids- play with them, read them stories, talk to them about everyday mundane things- so that you will have some free time, instead of me reading a book or being glued to my phone.

I want to save up some money to buy you something nice for once- instead of you saving money to buy me all things nice and pretty. I want to lift you up when you’re sad, take care of you when you’re sick, and be with you, wherever life takes us…and I mean now, tomorrow, forever, and always.

You know what I loved most about Finding Dory, it’s that scene when she said: What is so great about plans? The best things happen by chance, because that’s life. And that is our life- no plans, only one great adventure at a time.

I love you with all of me. ‘Me’ may not be much- all broken pieces and loose ends and bad hair and weird lump of fats and veins- but every part of me loves every part of you.

love,

rhea

Happy Birthday Pao!

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happy birthday my love! 39 years today, with the last 16 years spent with me. and there’s never a dull moment. Got married in 2000, had Isaac soon after in 2001, bought our first house in 2002, and just when I thought we were going to settle down in our little home with our little family, you left to study at ANU in 2003-2004, and when you came back, it was my turn to study in UP in 2004-2005.

In 2006, we found out I was pregnant again, and then Yesica Isabel came along in 2007, the year of the dreaded 7-year itch. What itch??? We went to war almost every year!😂 And then in 2008, you joined BSP which was a whole new adjustment for you since you came from an international organization, and especially for me, because I also work at the BSP. I remember that my initial thoughts centered on: will we have lunch together everyday? But what about my friends? Will he be a bit mad to know that I am receiving nice benefits from the BSP, which I didn’t really declare before?😂

In 2009, we went to Paris for the first time- and I got a beautiful proposal from you at the top of the Eiffel Tower and I know, I know I was sparkling and twinkling along with my new diamond ring. In 2010, we traveled far, far away to the US, again for the first time- and watched Broadway shows and listened to live jazz in NYC amid an ongoing storm during wintertime.

In 2011, you got this life-changing job in SG, left Manila in September, while pregnant (again!) me had to stay behind as the children would need to finish school. I gave birth to Aryana in 2012, sold everything in 3 months, and relocated to SG with a few suitcases but lots of courage. From then on until 2015, I would experience being a stay-at-home mom. I have been looking for a word or two that would best describe how it is to be a sahm. I started with insanity-inducing and decided that it was too harsh; while ‘happy’ was just too untrue. For now, I will settle with ‘bittersweet’ because looking back, it was really what I felt all those 3 years- part bitter, part sweet. It was so hard to accept that after 14 years of being a so-called career woman wearing heels and make-up to work, I found myself disheveled from scrubbing the toilet while waiting for the laundry to finish spinning. ‘Sweet’ because I get to see my children growing everyday, literally. There is nothing more rewarding for a Mother than to see happy children – happily eating what I baked/cooked, happily doing art stuff with me, happily shopping books and clothes with me, and all those nice things which we can do after the laundry thing😂

2015 was a big year for us- Aryana went to school for the first time. The last one has left the nest and I felt so free and yet so old. And I got a nice job after 3 very long years, one which my ex-boss would aptly call as being ‘an international civil servant.’ In August, you proposed again, this time with a beautiful sapphire ring.

So we are here, I daresay, in a much better place than where we were when we first started our journey. It is not perfect, and I don’t want it to be boring and quiet,  simply because it is not who we are. 2016 would be another big year as we have decided to get it over and done with- get married in church. And I have to say it- this is for you. Because I know this is what you’ve always dreamed of. I’m not saying this is a big sacrifice on my part, it is really not. Like you, I also feel that this is the time, that I am better, you are better, and there is nothing more important than finally facing God and having our marriage blessed by Him. To do this to honor 16 years of marriage and love, and not for anything or anyone else is the biggest come-on for me. It will be the #smallestweddingofthecentury but it will be exactly who we are- happy and true. I am excited to celebrate with family and friends, amid delicious food and good wine, and surrounded by beautiful flowers and good music❤️

imageThank you Pao. I know it is sometimes difficult, I am difficult. But you’re still here, with nary a complaint, always gentle, always mindful of that age old secret: happy wife, happy life😍 The children and I are so blessed to have you. Thank you for everything that you spend for us- time, energy, love, patience, understanding, and more love. Happy birthday!:)

Love,

Rhea

 

No Apologies (with apologies to Kurt Cobain)

In a few hours, I will turn 39, a year shy of 40, when life begins as they say. So please be so kind as to allow me to get rid of all things sour and sad in me- so that I can begin with a positive vibe plus a happy skip when 40 comes.

I have realised that as I grow older, I turn more and more inwards, to my family, some relatives, fewer friends.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when it all began for me…but I have started to walk away from people who make me feel bad- be it by something they do or say to me directly, or their negative posts in social media, or their stand on issues.

I have started to walk away from so-called friends who talk endlessly about their riches, their friends’ riches, their holidays, their friends’ holidays, their children, their children’s bottomless talents and highest of high IQs, their work, their husbands’ work, their cars, their neighbors’ cars, their million-dollar houses here, there, and in every planet. Conversations like these always leave me breathless- my brain cells cannot compute fast enough.

I have started to walk away from so-called friends who have made it so big that my resume is deemed not good enough because they only accept Oxford graduates. And we both came from UP.

I have started to walk away from people who post negative things, bash other people and their appearance, and then, in the next post, thank God that they are kind and generous and #blessed. Makes me wonder if God was also part-incredulous, part-laughing like me.

I have started to walk away from rabid pro-Marcos supporters. It’s not just a difference of opinion, it is a significant difference in values. To those in my age bracket: didn’t your parents teach you about the tragic outcome of Marcos’ dictatorship? Or have you gone blind, deaf and dumb? #sorrybutnotsorry

I have started to walk away from unreasonable people-cum-bullies who make things difficult at every chance that they get. I have tried my darnedest to make allowances for them obviously unhappy/envious ones, but I can only take so much negativity.

I have started to walk away from people who never liked me from the start, or people who are nice because they thought they can get something from me (mukha lang ako mayaman pero hindi ako mayaman #lol) or people who just don’t care. We have a saying in Filipino: Hindi natin kailangan tiisin ang isa’t isa. It’s best to move on when you know it’s not worth it.

I have fewer and fewer people in my circle today. Mostly family and relatives and old friends and select new ones. I know each one of them- their lives, their loves, their happiness and triumphs and sorrows.

And they know me. That underneath all these manic moments of jokes and rages, I am a Mother first and always. I am trying to raise three children by being a good example of hard work and generosity. I am trying. I will die trying, but I will try and try until I see them raise fine children of their own. Surely, the world will be a better place if our children are kinder than we are.

I am 39. And this is my most angst-filled piece to date.

No apologies (with apologies to Kurt Cobain).

Rock n’ Roll,

Rhea

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Banzai for Kansai

Japan has always been a dream destination for our family. Pao and I have visited this funky yet beautiful country on separate occasions, and both were work-related. Even with just one visit each, we declared Japan to be the best place to go, especially as a family. We decided on an Osaka-Kyoto-Nara adventure, all within 5 days or on 2-6 October 2014. So 5 days, 3 prefectures, countless train rides, virtually limitless choices of Japanese food stalls and restaurants, equals loads of fun!

We purchased our plane tickets last 21 August, applied for visas the following week, and bought Lonely Planet’s ‘Discover Japan’ when we got our visas. And then I plunged into the complicated subways and various sightseeing maps and tourist walk guides, got lost, got some headache, but a week before our scheduled flight, we were ready with our 8-page itinerary, Kansai passes, pre-paid admission tickets to Universal Studios-Osaka, and coats to battle the cooler temperature.

Day 1, Getting around and ending up in those happy places: Osaka Castle and Kaiyukan

Our plane left Singapore for Osaka at 1:25am on Oct 2. Aryana was fast asleep just after we checked-in, two hours before our flight, so it was a great start since we had all these unspent energy that should just be enough for 5 days of relentless sightseeing.

We arrived at 9:00am, picked up our 2 suitcases, and went straight to Osaka via the JR line which took us from Kansai International Airport straight to Osaka Station in 65 minutes or so and costs ¥1190 per adult and half for children aged 4-12 years old.

We had lunch at one of the Japanese restaurants called Tsuruya at the 14th floor of the Daimaru Umeda department store, located at the south gate building of the Osaka Station. The girl who served us didn’t speak English but it was never a problem. We were armed with a picture-filled menu and she had a small placard with her that announces what’s next, for example: we will serve sorbet later. Language barrier is resolved immediately, by pictures and placards.

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The Ritz Carlton-Osaka was a short 10-minute walk from Osaka station via the Sakurabashi gate. Although check-in time was still at 3:00 p.m., our room was ready by the time we got to the hotel lobby at 1:00 p.m. and we were able to avail of the early check-in, free of charge. Not only was the room ready, so too were our matching PJ’s.

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We love it that our hotel was very near the Osaka station, with multiple access points to Nishi-Umeda station either via underground, especially since it was raining intermittently while we were there, or via that 8-minute walk while taking in the sights. Osaka station is humongous, you will get lost if you’re not mindful of the arrows. But I daresay it is one of the best in the world. There is an underground garden, complete with greeneries and running waters, which allows you to breathe amid the hustle and bustle that is city life. There are just about under a million restaurants and food stalls and stores that you can right away check food-tripping and shopping in your list of must-do’s-in-Osaka. More importantly though, Osaka station allows for hassle-free connections and switches from main lines to subways, subways to subways, and everything else.

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We washed and changed as quickly as a family of five with a wriggling toddler could, and then we were ready for our family’s first official tourist spot in Osaka: the Osaka Castle Museum (entrance fee is ¥600 for adults and free for children aged 15-below). So to get there from Nishi-Umeda (Yotsubashi line), we got off in Hommachi (Y13), transferred to the Chuo line, and exited at Tanimachi 4-chome (C18).

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From there, it was a 10-minute walk to the castle. Do take note that we have a toddler-in-a-stroller-saddled-with-many-bags, so for a brisk-walking all-adults’ party, it should take less. The Osaka castle museum and park were simply breath-taking. We’re lucky that our children- aged 13, 6 and 2 love museums so that everybody was excited and entertained. We were happy scrutinizing ancient war memorabilia, from dioramas to costumes to fans. Most of all, we were having so much fun taking pictures of the Castle and all its angles, from the ground to the observation deck in the 8th floor.

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After 2 hours, we headed off to Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, which is also in subway Chuo line. We went back to the Tanimachi 4-chome station (C18) and rode the train to Osakako (C11). From Osakako, walk straight for 5 minutes or so until you see the Tempozan Market Place. The entrance to the aquarium is on its left (Box A in figure below).

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Entrance fees are ¥2300 for adults aged 16+, ¥1200 for ages 7-15, ¥600 for ages 4-6 and free for children 3-below. If you have a valid kansai pass, do show to every tourist destination you go to, because, more often than not, you get fee discounts.

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There is so much to be said about the Kaiyukan: children’s h(e)aven, everyone’s blissful-peaceful place, amazing, wonder-full, are just a few that spring to my mind. We were there for almost 4 hours, until closing time, and we couldn’t get enough. The whale shark was cruising through the waters, glancing at us one second, swimming away the next, its magnificence and power took my breath away, and it was almost like there was no tempered glass that separated us. The dolphins, oh those happy dolphins, they were big show-offs, and my children, especially the little girls were enthralled! They played with the dolphins, putting their palms on the glass when the dolphins came near, waving and beckoning at them when the dolphins danced away. The many, many penguins were just as wonderful to look at. Some were swimming swiftly, leaving a thousand or so bubbles in their wake, others were dancing happy-feet style, while some were stoic, staring back at us. I reckon I could stare back at them for hours. We went to all the areas- from the islands to the oceans and rain forests. The last area we went to was the touch pool, where children, some younger than my 2 years-and-8-months Aryana, touched manta rays, small sharks and snakes. For the first time in my life, I saw children of all ages, plus some adults too, interacting with sea creatures and with each other in a harmonious, happy way. There was no crying, no pushing, and certainly no quarreling. It was pure fun. The mother in me was touched to the core. The Kaiyukan should be multiplied and placed in every country so that we need not pray every night nor spend our last centavo for world peace.

We went back to the Osaka station city for our dinner. We ate at this really delicious Italian restaurant called Trattoria Arlecchino at the 14th floor of the Daimaru Umeda department store building. We ordered two kinds each of pasta and pizza plus mixed grilled meat of pork and beef which were all gone in a jiffy. That good!

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Day 2, Officially Kids’ Day: Instant Ramen Museum and Kids’ Plaza Osaka

Our second day in Osaka was officially children’s day, which turned out to be a family fun day as kids and parents alike all enjoyed the trek to the Instant Ramen Museum and Kids’ Plaza Osaka.

The Instant Ramen Museum was beyond expectations, especially because I expected it to be a sort of showcase of ramen through the years. It was more than that. There is a ramen tunnel, yes, featuring all kinds of ramen- curry, seafood, beef, pork, chicken, spicy, miso, and so much more, in all kinds of pictures on the packaging – a wrestler/body builder, anime and cartoon characters are just some which got my attention. There is a vending machine of all things ramen, set in a café overlooking a Zen garden which was simply delightful. There is also the house which built nissin noodles, complete with age-old pots and ceramics and noodle-makers and fans and refs. The best part is the kids’ workshop where they are given a blank nissin cup, which they will design themselves. And then they will choose the ingredients to their own nissin cup. How cool is that! We spent a good 4 hours in the museum.

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When we were hungry, we walked for 5-7 minutes, back to the small Japanese restaurant we spied on our way to the museum. The restaurant was called Hakata Ippudo and although we were just on our second day in Osaka, we declared it to be our best lunch ever! The gyoza, which looked so ordinary, tasted so extraordinarily yummy. The ramen was to die for! Pao, Isaac and I ordered different kinds of ramen and they were all shocking to the palate- shockingly delicious plus delicious. Yesica ordered the grilled pork cutlets and it was outstanding in taste and presentation. Them Japanese know how to serve great food. We also bought sweet treats from a little organic shop nearby- from cookies to strawberry and raspberry and chocolate cakes, we simply couldn’t eat enough.

To get to the Instant Ramen Museum, go to the Hankyu-Umeda station, which is a short walk from the Osaka Station City, again, follow the arrows please. Look for the Hankyu Takarazuka line, get off at Ikeda Station, go down, turn right and walk for about 10-12 minutes from the station. Don’t forget to take your picture with the statue of the founder standing on top of a nissin cup noodle, which got us in stitches.

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Re-energized with matching fuller-than-full stomachs, we trudged on to Kids’ Plaza Osaka. To get there, we exited from the Hankyu-Umeda station, transferred to Nishi-Umeda, got off at Hommachi, transferred to the Chuo line, got off at Sakaisuji-Hommachi, transferred again to the Sakaisuji Line and got off finally at Ogimachi. So many transfers yes, but so short distances and so worth it! The Kids’ Plaza has everything- science experiments, adventure land, interactive dioramas, musical instruments, role-playing area, even a very-short-distance race track which elicited laughs and guffaws and shrieks from Aryana to mama! We made this day more memorable with a nightcap at the amazing Umeda Sky Building and Floating Garden Observatory. The kids had endless chicken nuggets and strawberry sundae on one table while the adults had beer and waffles and quiet conversation on a separate table overlooking the entire city. This particular memory always warms my heart. Pretty awesome.

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Day 3, The Magnificent Temples in Kyoto

We slept excited and woke up more excited, and yes it’s possible, when you know you are about to savor the magnificent temples of Kyoto. We had a quick breakfast of Lawson-bought assorted breads and left our hotel at around 8:30am for the Osaka station. We looked and found in about 1 minute or less the Karasuma line going to Kyoto (click and print: http://www.jrpass.com/images/map/map_kyoto_metro.pdf). If I remember it correctly, it was line 2 of the Osaka station. We got off at Kyoto in 30 minutes, hailed a cab and allowed ourselves to be swept away by the Kinkakuji Temple. There were so many tourists, but wherever we are, there the temple stood, unnerved by the million or so eyes upon it, glistening and making me teary-eyed. The first time I set eyes on Kinkakuji was in 2004, it was drizzling with snow and I was jostling with wide-eyed tourists like me to get the best angle using my age-old camera. But I found that any angle is the best angle. There is no escaping the golden pavilion. How amazing is that! We went around the Zen surroundings, tossed a few yens for good luck, drank pure green tea with sweet cake under a bright red Japanese umbrella, bought lucky charms, and ate nissin noodles from a vending machine and assorted mochi from a small shop for lunch.

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We then took the cab to Kyoto’s Imperial Palace. It was a little disappointing since we didn’t get enough slots for the entire family, but the children had a fun time playing in the park, gathering pine cones and pretending to roast them using fallen twigs and branches, and just running around in the vast green expanse.

After that short rest, we were ready to experience Kiyomizu-dera. Because that temple was so wondrous that you cannot just use the word ‘go’ oh no, that is too casual. Kiyomizu-dera was an experience… that it made us breathless- literally and figuratively- since the temple has many layers and the trek, with a toddler-in-the-stroller was no small feat. We walked slowly, breathing in the vibes that the entire surroundings gave out- at once cheerful, at times somber, always peaceful. My daughter Yesica wanted to have her picture taken among the many dressed buddha because (and in a high-pitched voice) ‘I read it in your book mama!’ The temple itself, and the view from the top of the mountain, plus the many dainty shops and colourful things, everything was breathtaking. We took our time, we stopped for a little family picnic, and then went down to the little shops and bought what-else but Japanese mochi and biscuits and cakes (in all happy flavors of green tea, chocolate, strawberry, banana, mango, and chestnut too) and masks and fans.

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Happy feet check, tired feet, double check. It was almost 5 p.m. when we got to Ryokan Ginkaku. I booked the ryokan from Japan Tourism Board (JTB), a travel agency located at Ion-Orchard. I tried to book online but it was too complicated looking for a ryokan that could accommodate a family of five, plus I was not comfortable with the ‘translate to English’ box that opens every time I try to book one. It turned out better for us, the total cost- dinner and breakfast included- was cheaper than the rates quoted online. The same agency offered admission tickets to Universal Studios in advance and also the 3-day Kansai pass, which was very useful and efficient since we get to use it from Osaka to Kyoto and Nara, plus less expensive than buying single tickets. It’s like a one-stop shop for travel must-have-tickets.

They don’t speak much English at the ryokan, but the big welcoming smiles said it all. They helped us settle in, gave us comfortable slippers and matching yukata, asked about our preferred time for dinner, and left us alone. We bathe the Japanese way, taking our time in the deep bath tub full of hot water. And then at the appointed time of 6:30 p.m., the parade of ryokan food began. I have never seen so many beautiful small bowls, each one filled with oishi food in all shapes and colors and sizes and emitting such delicate and dainty and delicious smell that we were salivating before we could say ‘Itadakimasu.’ There is no such thing as too much Japanese food. And ryokan food is just OMG-level. Superb superb superb.

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We slept beside each other in our futons laid upon tatami mats. The girls were just too giggly, my teenage son was trying hard to be cool about it (but was still raving about the food hours after dinner), and the husband was feeling cozy and sleepy, while I had this warmth enveloping me, especially inside my heart. We woke up excited and slept happy. Truly the best of times.

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Day 4, Feeding the Deer at the Nara Deer Park

The Kansai adventure is not for the faint of heart. Because on our fourth day, we woke up just as excited as the days before. We will be feeding the deer at Nara Deer Park! It is too much especially for hearts the size of my little girls!

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The Kyoto station is just 4 minutes away from our ryokan. We boarded the Kintetsu Nara train and got off at Nara 45 minutes later. Right away, we could see some of the deer that wandered away from the park the moment we were above-ground. I was torn between restraining my kids and taking some pics myself. But we were to learn that that exciting moment was nothing compared to being face to face with the deer. Especially if you’re holding that saliva-inducing (for humans and animals alike, I promise you, it smelled so good!) deer biscuit. They do not look hostile or harmful at all, but they are excitable and aggressive when food is nearby. So be forewarned. Feeding the deer is an exercise that is best left to the bravest of hearts. Ergo, after feeding a deer or two, I had to be content with watching the excitement unfold before me as my children fed, stroked and got too close for comfort with the deer. After an hour and a thousand yen, we started to make our way to the Todaiji Temple. We went through the park, through tunnels and ice cream shops and quaint restaurants and more deer, and then lo and behold, there stood before us the Naindamon (Great South Gate), once the world’s largest wooden building, and flanked by the Nio guardians on each side. Further on is the Todaiji Temple, the UNESCO World Heritage Site, which instantly became our family’s favorite temple. We had to take a moment or two, to take it all in, compartmentalize each beautiful area, lodge the memory firmly in our heads, and just be grateful for being there, breathing in the temple and the harmony it emanates. We went inside the Daibutsuden, The Great Buddha Hall, and ‘great’ is too small a word for all the emotions it evoked in me. We spent a good hour inside the hall, looking up, up and up, allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed, saying a prayer of thanks, etching every single thing, big or small, into our hearts. Savor, savor, savor: this is how we should live our lives- that was my take-away during our Nara trip.

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We went back to Osaka on the same day, in the same hotel, in the same floor with different room number, but the same nice feeling. I know others don’t want to spend a little more on a nicer hotel, but for us, it counts, resting in a nice hotel after an exciting and exhausting day sends out positive vibes that makes the trip not just any other trip, but an experience.

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Day 5, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios, Osaka, Japan

Save the best for last- perhaps this was the theme that was running through our minds as we ran from the hotel to the train station to Universal Studios-Osaka to catch the opening hour of 9am on the last day of our Kansai adventure. We bought the 7-ride special pass (including Harry Potter rides of course) at the USJ ticket area on the same day, and it was just a short queue of 15 minutes or so.So many rides, so many children’s indoor playgrounds, so many cafes, so many boutiques and shops, and we enjoyed every one of them, but the best of them all, and the only thing we really went to Universal Studios-Japan for (because we have Universal Studios here in Singapore too) was THE Wizarding World of Harry Potter. That world defied my expectations. Wherever I look, it was OMG level. Too much, too happy, too blessed, too grateful. My heart burst into a million happy bits and I didn’t care.

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We were there from 9am up to 6pm, rushed back to our hotel to collect our suitcases from the concierge, went to the Osaka station to board the train to Kansai international airport, and made it just in time for boarding. As the plane took off from Osaka to Singapore, Paolo and I looked at each other above our children’s heads, and said in unison: we survived!!! 6-hour plane ride, 3 prefectures of Osaka, Kyoto and Nara, 3 excited children with ages at 13, 6 and 2, countless train rides and transfers and switches, endless stairs with me carrying Aryana in her 15-kilos-plus glory, Pao carrying Aryana’s stroller, and Isaac carrying our big bags, a thousand or so 15-minute walks, that when strung together, should make up a whole week of non-stop walking! More than these, everyday was peppered with laughter and jaw-dropping moments and such priceless things as being amazed together for 24/7 for 5 days. And that is what our family is all about.

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Neophyte Runner at 37

I am always amazed by friends who go to the gym or run on a regular basis. More than being amazed, I wonder: where do they get the extra time and energy? I mean there’s work which is ideally an 8-hour shift but realistically, is an at-least-10-hour-daily-grind,  and for those who are married, there are kids who are easily a 24-7 unending cycle of waking up-breakfast-school-home works-plus projects-plus exams-plus camps-plus clubs- did I say unending?

Somehow, one day, I woke up with a start and had this urge to run. Not escape- I’m sorry to even mention this, but I admit, I scrutinized THE urge. I came to the conclusion, that yes, I want to run, as in pound the pavement, with the sun on my face, apace with the wind.

So for the first time in my life, I went to the sports store near my place to buy my first ever running shoes and outfit. And I almost backed down.  I didn’t know that the price of one pair of running shoes is equal to two pairs of flat shoes! Add to that the 2 pairs of outfits (fuchsia top with black shorts and black top with fuchsia shorts) and the total amount is my grocery haul for the week. But then, I thought to myself, surely, this could not be the end of it all. I mean, I haven’t even started yet and I am already thinking of letting the urge slip away. I picked my fuchsia things, closed my eyes, paid for them running things, and left for home.

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When I got home, I hurriedly changed into my yet-unwashed top and shorts, slipped on my running shoes, and walked. Yes, I walked to the park across where we live, and when I saw the sign which says “870 meters to Tanglin Road” I started to pound the pavement, with the sun on my face, and no, I didn’t even come close to being apace with the wind. After 500 meters, I had to stop for the traffic light. Thank God for traffic lights- they have a whole new meaning for me: stop and catch my breath. Thank God for traffic lights!!! After 15 seconds, I am off again to conquer the remaining 370 meters. When I got to the end, there was an array of park exercise equipment: body twist (for strengthening the waist and back muscles), step trainer (for strengthening the arms and lower body), and stationary bike (for strengthening the legs). I felt pumped up and brave, so I took the challenge and spent 5 minutes each on all three trainers. And then I turned around, and ran back home. My starting and ending point is this church called “My Saviour” and again, I marvel at how apt the signs are for me. As I was nearing the said church, I could almost see myself crawling, tongue out, body covered in perspiration and bruises, every single bone and nerve and hair all washed-out and exhausted from this 30-minute exercise. But I survived- March 3, 2014 is my sort of rebirth. This is the day that I wanted to live healthier and longer.

Since then, I have been running twice on a daily basis, 30 minutes each in the morning after Yesica’s school bus picks her up, and another 30 minutes in the afternoon. After two weeks, I levelled up. I now run for an hour in the morning, and the usual 30 minutes in the afternoon. I also drink green juice every lunch time in lieu of a full meal.

It’s been a month of running and green-juicing, and no, the weight loss is not drastic. I think this has to be addressed. Some are lucky in that the weight reduction is instant and dramatic. I guess in my case, the only thing dramatic is, and will always be, my personality. Beyond that, everything is on a no pain-no-gain basis. As my bestfriend said “it will pay off.” I really hope so. But I am ok with the slowly-but-surely weight loss. What I am very happy about is that I am starting to like running. It used to be boring and tiring and exhausting and lonely for me, but now, I look forward to 30 minutes to an hour of “me time.” I sing, I savor the fresh air and weeping willows and flowering trees in pink and white lining up my path, I conjure beachfront and country homes and family trips, I think of Christmas back home in the Philippines and such happy thoughts. And then when I get home, I am refreshed and re-energized, I am ready to mother again.

6 Lessons from 6 years of Facebook-ing

First of all, a disclaimer: that title I coined is a misnomer; Facebook has interfered with our everyday lives for a decade already. But I have always been a late bloomer. I joined Facebook in 2008 as the video by Mark and his team confirmed. So that’s roughly 6 years of Facebook-ing. Admittedly, it is a big (I am tempted to use the word “integral” but that connotes addiction to Facebook and I won’t ever admit it, never ever) part of my everyday life that I feel like I’ve been a member since time immemorial.

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 Let me share with you some lessons that Facebook has taught me:

1. It is not where you air your dirty laundry. I know the ancient saying “be true to yourself” and I believe it still holds today. But Facebook is not the venue to tell the world about your lovers’ quarrel, or your spat with your friend, or your bitterness against the world and its seeming endless materialism or poverty or inequality. That’s why we have friends (I sincerely wish you have one or more) with whom we can vent about or rage with or judge together the world and pronounce it plagued with endless materialism or poverty or inequality. And there is wordpress: blog to ‘properly’ vent. For most of us, Facebook is our happy escape. A place where everyone seems to be living their dream, or getting on from one wild adventure to the next, or something akin to that. Of course we know it can’t be happy all the time. But I’d rather hear about the positive and happy events than read about your latest wars and sorrows in your status.

 2. It is okay to join the bandwagon. For example, show support for Vhong the Vhugvhug Vhictim (misspelling intended), or consequently, lambast the Deniece-Cedric homicidal loveteam. I don’t care. Just please don’t sound so self-righteous. You are beautiful yes, but you ain’t perfect. Equally not nice, don’t say that you’re sick and tired of news about them. I know that you’re constantly checking pep.ph and fashion pulis and abs-cbn websites or clicking on related news shared by your many, many friends in Facebook. Or even if you don’t, you can just go about your business and not waste time and energy complaining about such posts. At the end of the day, we are what we post. So if you don’t like your friend’s post, there is a cafeteria of choices available for you: unfollow, delete, block. Actions always speak louder than words.

3. Bragging once or twice or thrice is acceptable. I know it can’t be helped sometimes so let’s accept it, do a little bragging of our own and just get a move on. There is really no big distinction between posting a beautiful, albeit filtered, selfie from flooding your wall with pictures upon pictures of new bags/gadgets/houses/hair extensions/mani-pedi or posting some of those status with #thankyouGod or #blessed hashtags (“Passed the bar after the nth refresher course” #thankyouGod, #blessed; “Now a boss, bow you slaves” #thankyouGod #blessed; “Dreams do come true: BF, BFF, job, check check check, mamatay kayo sa inggit” #thankyouGod #blessed). But if you brag in your every status every damn day, I am deleting you.

4. Majority of your Facebook friends are not your true friends. I know this sounds painful, but only because it’s true. Never mistake those who like and/or make positive comments about your every post to be your true friend, i.e., one you can consider as your child’s godparent or one you can invite to your intimate wedding or one you can have a no-holds-barred conversation with. It is not automatic. They may like your happy posts or beautiful pictures, but they may not like you once they get to know you. True friends love you. Unconditionally, absolutely, truly, bad past, ugly judgments, stupid decisions and all.

5. Facebook can be a source of utter depression. You see your schoolmate from high school- I used the term ‘schoolmate’ to highlight the fact that you were in the honors section all throughout high school and he was in the bottom 3 out of 3 sections. You connect with him in Facebook, is amazed by the wealth he had accumulated since HS graduation (was that really 10 years ago???), and to top it all, he is #blessed with a beautiful wife and genius-level children plus that lovely beach house #thankyouGod. I’ve learned that, in mind-boggling situations like these, it’s best to step back, never compare your meaningful journey with his seemingly easy one, and unfollow his posts. Life can be kind, life can be cruel. It’s a matter of perceiving the glass as half-empty or half-full. And it’s always productive to stay positive. So I repeat, unfollow.

6. Vow to gain more and lose less. Friends, I mean.  I don’t know if it’s also true with you, but in Facebook, I gained some, and lost some. Friends, I mean. And it always starts with either a freakin’ status or a controversial comment.  Combine that with onion-skinned/insecure/unhappy/bad temperaments and a statement, albeit silent most of the time, is made: delete and/or block. And years of friendship are erased. Just like that. It is February 2014, virtually still a new year. Although I know that spring (cleaning) is just around the corner, I vow to tilt the balance for once: gain more versus lose less or none at all. So what to do? It all starts with the recognition that some people change, some people become more beautiful and successful and awesomely rich and famous. But it won’t matter so much if you stop comparing and judging and bitching about it. Instead, what matters is always the attitude. If your friend is the same person you can talk to, laugh with, vent on, even ask a favour or two from, then you are #blessed to have someone like that in your life- thoroughly changed in the outside, virtually unchanged in the inside, #thankyouGod. There will be bad days of misunderstandings and untrue accusations and hurtful exchanges. Learn to step back. But don’t walk away. True friends will always wait. True friends will always come back. 

Ramblings and bad days

I self-diagnose ergo I self-medicate. I have different kinds of medicines and/or doses for different body ailments- from mild cough to cough with asthma, feverish to fever accompanied by aches in the joints, rhinitis to full-blown colds complete with watery eyes and pounding headache. If my memory serves me right, I’ve only been admitted to the hospital four times- three of which when I gave birth to my children and that one unforgettable time when I had dengue fever. So basically, I know what works for me. It is the emotional setbacks, especially these occasional bouts with depression that I have a hard time “curing.”

I don’t want to sound ungrateful because I am not. I try to count my blessings every day- a faithful husband, three happy children, three thoughtful siblings, few-but-true friends and I mean wherever I go, countless wonderful memories. But sometimes I allow my demons to overwhelm the better part of me. So that I think about the could-have-beens and the what-ifs and I weep in sorrow and regret and guilt.

I am saddened about my mother and how she has turned from a free-spirited girl with really big dreams to one who is seemingly in chains for most of her life, from a bad marriage to a bad disease. I am haunted about getting married so early and hurting my parents by not even considering a church wedding when it was one of my mother’s not-so-secret wish. I am remorseful every time Aryana fusses and all I think about is walking out. I am afraid to acknowledge the big open windows in our rented unit because I can almost taste the air and feel the rush of excitement and freedom and I don’t want to even think about what I feel. And when there is still space in my battered heart, I go all-out masochist and think about the people that I chose to let go, those I didn’t even give half-a-chance, those I judged and found undeserving of my love and loyalty, and those I completely ignored from the first exchange.

There is no cure outside. That much I’ve figured out. Not the cold stone creamery in Somerset. Or my me-time go-to Kinokuniya bookstore in Takashimaya. Not even the earrings at lee hwa that are twinkling and twinkling back at me.

I have this bad habit of hugging and kissing a sleeping Aryana every time depression attacks me in the middle of the night. And if I succeed in waking her up, I feel guilty yes, but mostly happy. Because then, I have someone to carry and hug tight and fuss about. Or I wake up my husband, which is also another guilt trip because he wakes up at the ungodly hour of 2am to work and I mean almost every day, and here I am, having a nightmare and having no qualms at all of waking him up for a cuddle.

But most days when I feel lonely and sad and almost-panicky, I pray more and deeply. I exchange texts or emails with reliable (read: replies immediately) friends and we laugh about meaningless things and half-meant jokes and funny pictures. 

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And it always works. It’s not that these ward off the depression. It’s more than that actually. Prayers and friends make the depression insignificant so that I become almost like an outsider looking in. And I see myself like this petulant (adj., sulky or bad-tempered) child who sees no one but herself and who sees nothing else but the mostly-imagined misery. I mean c’mon, yes I am jobless, car-less, house-less. But I have what I’ve always dreamed of- a good family life and meaningful friendships. I am where I want to be- in the kitchen, baking cheesecakes and chocolate cakes and pineapple upside down cakes and cooking eggplant mozzarella and tom yum from scratch. I have to be grateful for this beautiful life- and this is my mantra for 2014 and forever.

The importance of bread crumbs (in 5 easy and yummy recipes)

Some households always have flour at the pantry, or vanilla, or tomato ketchup. I always have bread crumbs. It’s the all-important ingredient in our delicious home-cooked meals. Let me share with you some recipes which I have read somewhere, initially followed to the letter, discarded or changed some steps, and made it my own:

 Eggplant Mozzarella

Ingredients:

1 big eggplant, peeled and sliced

¼ cup egg white (use 2 eggs)

½ cup bread crumbs

½ cup olive oil

1 whole garlic, minced

1 whole onion, minced

2 big tomatoes, chopped

Salt and pepper

1 pack grated mozzarella (200 grams)

 

1. Dip sliced eggplant in egg white and bread crumbs. Pan-fry using olive oil.

2. Arrange in baking pan.

3. In the same frying pan, sauté garlic, onion and tomatoes. Add some salt and pepper. Pour into pan-fried sliced eggplant.

4. Bake in pre-heated oven (160°C) for 15 minutes. Take out pan, pour mozzarella, bake for another 15 minutes. Serve.

 

Baked Porkchops

Ingredients:

6-8 porkchops or pork fillet

Freshly-squeezed calamansi or lemon juice

4 cloves minced garlic

salt and pepper

3-4 beaten eggs

½ cup flour

1 cup bread crumbs

 

For gravy:

1 can Campbell’s cream of mushroom

¼ bar unsalted butter

2 cloves minced garlic

¼ cup milk

1 tablespoon white wine or rice vinegar

salt and pepper

 

1. Rub porkchops with salt, pepper, minced garlic and lemon juice. Marinate for an hour.

2. Dip marinated porkchops in flour, egg white and bread crumbs. Pan-fry.

3. Bake in 180°C for 30 minutes.

4. For gravy: sauté minced garlic in butter, add cream of mushroom, milk and white wine. Simmer for 5 minutes. Serve with porkchops.

 

Butterfly Shrimps

 Ingredients:

1 kilo prawns

Freshly-squeezed calamansi or lemon juice

4 cloves minced garlic

salt and pepper

3-4 beaten eggs

½ cup flour

1 cup bread crumbs

 

1. Cut shrimps into butterfly shrimps (watch how-to in youtube).

2. Rub butterfly shrimps with salt, pepper, minced garlic and lemon juice. Marinate for an hour.

3. Dip marinated butterfly shrimps in flour, egg white and bread crumbs. Deep fry and serve hot with mayonnaise or Japanese sushi sauce with wasabi.

 

Golden calamares (squid rings)

 (see ingredients and steps in butterfly shrimps, replace all “butterfly shrimps” with squid ringsJ)

 

Salmon with Cheesy Crust

 Note: I got this from a very good friend (Elyn, that you?) who rarely cooks but when she does, it’s always bombastic-level.

 

Ingredients:

4 sliced salmon

1 cup minced garlic

salt and pepper

½ cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice

1 cup each grated cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, and bread crumbs

 

1. Rub salmon with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and minced garlic. In that exact order.

2. On the top of salmon, put cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, and bread crumbs. In that exact order.

3. Bake in 180°C for 30 minutes. Serve hot with pita wrap and green salad (toss lettuce, olives, grapes, mandarin, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, and salad/thousand island dressing)

 

4 bittersweet days and a lifetime of memories

I am afraid to talk about my mother because it instantly plunges me to that hell called depression.  So I won’t write about her, not at length, not yet. I just want to share our unplanned visit in May 2013. It was just a 4-day journey but one that always leaves me shaken every time I remember it. My 16-month-old daughter Aryana and I boarded a 4-hour Singapore –Cebu flight on May 27. We arrived in Cebu at about 1 p.m. and had the famous Cebu lechon for late lunch.  At 7pm, we were on our way home to Surigao for a 12-hour boat ride. We arrived in Surigao at about 7am on May 28, ate breakfast and freshened up, and by 11am, we were on our way to an island called Buenavista where I spent the happiest summers of my childhood, and where my mother lives now.  It was another 45 minutes’ ride by motorized boat. We went back to Cebu the next day, May 29. By May 30, we were heading back to Singapore.  Forgive me for being so obsessed about the dates. My mother is battling Alzheimer’s disease- although ‘battling’ is not apt; she was conquered a long time ago, a slow but sure descent, which started 12 years ago, to be exact. And I vow to always hold clear in my mind special dates and memories.

I was with my siblings and my mother’s favorite niece-in-law and sister-in-law when we visited her. Aryana was sleeping when we got to my aunt’s house where my mother is living (although again, ‘living’ is a misleading word in this context) so I had to put my baby in bed first before anything else. Everybody was sobbing when I got to my mother’s room. Not the wailing kind. It was more of a silent scream, one that is so distorting that the face dissolves into a million unrelenting tears. I almost backed down. I almost ran away from that scene that seemed straight out from a horror-tragedy movie. I remember that I felt so strange and my first thought was: it’s a good thing I haven’t unpacked yet, I am going to bundle up Aryana, now, while I am still unscathed, and I am going, going far away from here, now, now, go, go! But I couldn’t move. For the life of me, I felt paralyzed. My mother was lying in her bed, unseeing, unfeeling, unknowing, un-remembering. For the longest time, I always say maybe Alzheimer’s disease is a blessing in disguise because it made my mother forget all the cruel things that she went through in her married life. ‘Blissful forgetfulness’ was the phrase I would constantly use. Now I know it was just me, defiant amid her sickness, defensive amid my pain.

Where do I start? What words should I use so that I won’t invite pity? I don’t like pity. It is pathetic. I am not comfortable about compassion either. I always have this tendency to evaluate sincerity and try to distinguish it from curiosity.  But let me tell you a little about who my mother is to us, her children. She created a life, another world, for us, one where everything is and will be okay, one that will not disturb our studies or wreak havoc in our daily lives, one that will allow us to be the best that we can be, to become good persons amid the violence in our home and the hatred in our hearts. In our world, peace and harmony reign, and love is always the answer to whatever is troubling us. There were no regrets and recriminations in our world.  I never heard her sigh or wonder about what-ifs: what-if she had left soon enough and accepted the offer to work in a big lab in Manila, which was a big deal to a Chemist from Surigao? What if she went to the US with her bestfriend, worked there and be free from the seemingly endless abuse and unbearable sadness it brings? Or what if she didn’t marry against all odds, especially because it turned out to be insurmountable in the end? She didn’t have time for that. It was always about us- what we need, what we want, who we will become. I learned early on that education is our only ticket out- to where I didn’t have the exact picture, but from where, I understood exactly. But even though she was adamant about our studies, complete with tutorial lessons and home-made review materials, there was the constant reminder that she would rather raise good children with bad grades than bad children with good grades. There was this steady and strong emphasis on anything “good” because we all knew we had every excuse to be bad.

That is my mother in a nutshell: loving, nurturing, giving. And she loved to laugh, the hearty, tears-in-my-eyes kind of laugh which was so infectious. There was always a reason to laugh and be merry and be grateful amid the suffering and sorrow. I found it very difficult to understand – this gratefulness- so I was compelled to ask her. And she said: I had a happy childhood, you don’t. But still, you get good grades and help me in the household chores. That is a lot to be thankful for.

All of these memories of her love and laughter were suddenly alive in my head and in my heart when I saw her. And I became the bitter child that I was once and asked God that same old recurring question in my childhood years “Why God?”

That is not my mother lying in a sorry state of bewilderment, muttering gibberish words, suddenly wailing her hands, suddenly laughing, suddenly stopping, suddenly silent. My mother, who always reminded me about posture- sit up straight, walk with a straight back, never slouch- she cannot sit up anymore, she cannot walk, she is either slouching or lying. They have to carry her outside the house for her morning sunshine. They have to either support her from both sides or tie her to a chair every meal time.  She is all but gone. And it breaks my heart. That I was too busy studying and working and helping send my siblings to school and starting a family that I didn’t call her often or told her how much I appreciated her sacrifice. That she doesn’t know she has 3 grandchildren, all of whom resembles her in some ways – Isaac loves the sciences and is enthralled with chemicals as well; she would have loved Yesica’s passion for reading (and her bias towards Dr. Seuss) and doing art stuff; and Aryana inherited the curve of her smile. That I cannot tell her that I am ashamed every time I scream at my children, whereas she never yelled at us, not once, when she had every right and reason to go berserk.  That I cannot tell her I love her and mean every word- I love her, I honor her,  all that she is, all her laughter and tears, all her sacrifice and struggles, all that she gave, including her sanity, to keep us sane and make us whole.

ImageI know in my heart that it is impossible to make my mother lucid again. Even for just a day. But I pray just the same. Every night I ask God- sometimes screaming in anger, sometimes crying, sometimes cajoling, always begging in the end- I ask God to give my mother just one moment of clarity. So that she will know that we turned out just fine, that we finished school with merits, that we have our own families now and we don’t have to create another, more peaceful world for the children, that the fates were kinder to us.

Ma, I dream of you more often these days. And it’s always in that fictional world where you are still healthy in mind and body and spirit, and you are always laughing in my dream. How could you laugh when what is most important – memories of your children and our whispered-but-happy conversations and our tight group hugs that spoke volumes about our strength and love for each other amid our daily fears and our dreams of rebuilding our lives, just us, finally free – has been taken away from you? How could you laugh when fate was cruel to you, up to the very end? But then again, I humor myself: maybe you are laughing because you are happy that we are living the life that we have always dreamed of- peaceful, secure, stable.

I miss you ma. Everyday. Memories of you assault me more and more these days. I remember you when you were my age now – 36 years old. We were in front of the mirror, you were telling me that you’re getting old and fat and wrinkly. I remember being deathly afraid and I told you: don’t die on us, ma. And I started to cry. And you said, oh no, I won’t, we are going to travel to many places and we are going to have fun for once.  

I would give everything to go to many places with you, ma. But we always had fun. You made sure of that. Thank you, ma