"Me Time!"

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He Only Takes the Best

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As tomorrow is Mother’s Day, I would like to share with you something that I wrote way back in 2009 to honor my mother.

“On August 10, it will be my Mom’s 11th birthday in heaven.

I remember back in UST med school, several of my classmates’ parents died. While waiting for Anatomy lab to start, my group mates and I had a discussion about it. I told them, “If given a choice, I would like to go first before my parents.”  Then a group mate said, “That’s selfish. Think of how your parents will feel if you die? They would be devastated. Would you want them to suffer? It’s not right for parents to bury their children. Think about it.” I pondered over it for a while, then said, “I guess you’re right.”

Several months later, my Mom died.

My Mom was born on January 13, 1941.  She was the fourth in a brood of seven. From what I gathered from my titas, my Mom was shy, quiet and a bit sickly when she was little. When she was a teenager, she moved with my aunt to Cavite to help take care of her nieces and nephews and to go to college. She graduated from PWU with two degrees: BS Accounting and BS Banking and Finance. Yes, she was a math wizard. Side story: My physics teacher in UPIS, Mrs. Yap, once asked me, “Jennifer, what was your mother’s course in college?” I told her. She said, “Oh…”  I asked her why she asked.  She said, “Because your dad, your aunts, and your siblings were all my students and they really were NOT good in math.  You’re the only one who is!”  Going back, my Mom was also a working student. She worked in Customs as a clerk and went to school in the evenings. Little did she know that she would meet my father at the workplace.  My father was as thin as a stick during those days; hence his nickname at work, “butiki” or lizard.  They got married on July 14, 1964 and had the three of us.

Everyone can claim that their mother is the best but I really, truly believe that I had the best Mom. When I was little, I loved cuddling with her before going to sleep. I would look up at her and admire her face. She was so beautiful. I could not take my eyes away from her ‘til I fell asleep. In her arms, I felt so loved, safe, and secure. I always had nice dreams because of her, cotton candy, milk shakes, floating clouds, and Fiesta Carnival. Sometimes, she would tell me of her dreams. She told me, “Jen, when your teacher asks you what you want to be when you grow up, you’ll say you want to be a doctor, okay?” Being only 3 years old, I said yes.

As I grew older, I saw how determined she was to give us a better life than she had. She even had me believe that we were rich even if we weren’t because I never felt lacking in material things. If I told her that I needed something for school or for my Hello Kitty collection, she would promptly give them to me the same day. She always put our needs before hers. The three of us would have the latest clothes, shoes, bags, and toys while I often saw her with worn clothes, torn bags and scruffy shoes. Whenever we ate out, she would not order and would just wait for us to finish eating. Whatever was left, she ate.

She taught me the value of money and opened a Banco Filipino Savers account for me. At an early age, I was already hoarding money into my bank account. I saved some of my allowance and whatever I got from Christmas and my birthday. One day when I was older, we went to Rustan’s Cubao. I asked her if we could go to the shoes section. Thinking that I wanted new shoes, she held my hand and led me there. When we got there, I pulled her arm and went to Lady Rustan’s. I pointed at the pair of black suede pumps with two straps and dainty black ribbons. She said, “Jen, you’re too young for that. Maybe when you’re older, okay?” I said, “No, Mommy. This is for you.  I’m going to buy you shoes.  Look at your shoes, they’re already worn out!”  She didn’t say anything but picked up the shoe and tried it on. She had tears in her eyes but I pretended not to see. She only wore those shoes to work on Fridays and on special occasions.

I was determined to show her how appreciative I was of her. I knew that doing well in school would make her happy. I bagged several medals and awards for her. And even if I didn’t want to be a doctor, I went on to med school. During my first year in med, I had a difficult time adjusting to the commute and long hours of studying. When I got home from school, I just wanted to take a bath and drift off to sleep. She and my sister would occupy the whole of my single bed so that I wouldn’t be tempted to sleep while I was studying. Oftentimes, she slept on my bed. After studying, I would lay beside her like I did when I was little. Our hard work paid off…I became a scholar and was on the Dean’s List. She was so happy!

Just before second year med, my robust mother began having abdominal pain around her navel. She also felt unusually tired, like a “melting candle” she said. Soon after, she began vomiting whatever she ate. We thought she just had gastroenteritis but after this had been going on for more than 2 weeks, we decided to seek consult. She was admitted and underwent several tests, blood tests, barium swallow, barium enema, abdominal x-rays, ultrasound, and CT scans. Diagnosis: Pancreatic cancer with metastasis to the liver. We were in disbelief. “Doc, how long before …?” “At most 6 months. I’m sorry,” he said. “Her management would only include procedures that would make her feel comfortable.” We cried. We cried individually. We cried as a family.

My father, sister, and I “lived” in her hospital room. My aunt and her husband also slept over. My brother, his wife and kids were there every chance they got. Friends and relatives always filled the room every weekend. Those who were teary-eyed excused themselves to cry in the bathroom or outside the room. In the evenings, my sister and I would sing her favorite church songs like “Here I am Lord,” “I love you Lord,” “He is Lord” and “In His time.” We had mass in her room every Sunday. We even brought her to Father Corsie. We prayed for her healing.

Mommy’s health slowly deteriorated. Despite this, she was still concerned about how well I was doing in school, if we had eaten or had a place to sleep in her room, and if we still had money to pay for the hospital bills. Later on, she was no longer able to get up from bed. She lost weight and was in and out of consciousness. In one of her waking moments, she asked me, “Jen, am I dying?” I choked back the tears and said, “Yes, Mommy.” She looked at me and said bravely, “Okay.” We cried.

One time, Mommy had just awakened and seemed to be in a pensive mood. I was studying on the sofa at that time. She beckoned to me. I held her hand. She said, “Jen, aren’t you going with me?” I looked at her curiously. I didn’t quite understand what she said. Then it hit me. I said, “Ma, I do want to go with you but I still have some things to do here. You want me to be doctor, right?” She looked down on our clasped hands and said, “Okay.” Shortly after, she slipped into a coma. At that time, we no longer prayed for her healing but for the Lord to relieve her of her suffering.

On August 9, 1998, Sunday, after the mass, our whole family went to her one by one and talked to her. We told her how much we loved her. We asked for her forgiveness. We thanked her for all that she had done for us and for all the sacrifices she had made. And finally, we told her that it was okay for her to go.

On the midnight of August 10, 1998, I saw her take in her last breath. Just one inhalation…and she was gone.”

I still miss you Ma.  I love you.

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Solitude

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There are times when I crave to be alone, especially after a busy week of work and daily chores. This is the time when I recharge and let my mind wander and let my heart feel what it feels.  Today, I gave myself the gift of solitude.

Since the cleaning of my pickup’s a/c  has been long overdue, I started my day by bringing “Greenie” to Frigidzone at Kalayaan Avenue.  The shop had a small customers’ lounge so I brought a book to read while I waited for my pickup.  The lounge’s a/c was on full blast and I was quite comfy sitting alone on the wooden bench.   I never got around to reading the book though because I was fascinated by the shop’s “Aspin” (asong Pinoy/local dog).  She was a short-haired, medium-sized, brown dog with black, floppy ears, and a pointed black nose.  She looked like a supervisor, sniffing at the customers and their cars and just walking around and observing the goings-on in the shop.  After her “rounds”, she plopped down at the entrance of the lounge with her body parallel to the glass door.  She actually blocked the doorway!  Then it occurred to me… she was trying to cool herself down with what little air that leaked out from under the door.  As time passed, people started to come in.  I was amazed at how people respected the dog and took extra care to step over her and not disturb her.  I realized two things:  1.  The dog was really smart.  2.  There is still good in people.  3.  I should’ve left the book at home (‘coz it was heavy and it was more fun to watch the world).

Next stop for “Greenie Day”… change oil.    I went to a nearby Petron gas station at Katipunan Avenue which had a mini-mall complete with restaurants, a convenience store, a barber shop, a bank, and Starbucks.  I deposited my pickup at the basement and proceeded to Jollibee (the #1 local hamburger franchise).  I got myself a hotdog, fries, and Sarsi (rootbeer).  I took a table at the second floor as the first floor was just wild with activity.  I ate slowly and immersed myself with people-watching.  Across my table, there was a woman in her 30s or 40s who appeared to be studying for an exam.  I tried to peek at what she was reading and saw some pictures of x-rays.  My guess was that she was studying for the medical boards.  I felt her anxiety.  In another table, there was a family of three, a mom, a daughter, and a son with a man who was in his 60s.  The family didn’t talk to the man much and I figured that he must’ve been their driver.  He looked tired and sad and I felt a bit sorry for him.  Then there was another family with a little girl who looked so happy and excited as she ate her spaghetti and chicken.  I heard my phone’s text alert and it was time to fetch Greenie.

It felt good to spend some time by myself.  It gave me a chance to be an outsider/observer. Sometimes, I get so caught up in myself and my concerns that I forget that other people had problems of their own and feelings that go with them.  I forget that I am a mere speck in this universe and there are things which are bigger than me.  I forget to count my blessings and thank God.  Not everybody appreciate solitude but for me, it’s a welcome treat.  Try it!

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“World Bank sets ‘expiration date’ on poverty”

Two children beg on an pedestrian overpass in Manila

When I was little, I always wondered about the beggars in the streets, how they ate, how they slept, and how they felt about life in general.  I felt sorry for them and felt guilty that I ate three meals a day, had a  house to sleep in, and had a chance to go to school.  I used to give the street kids/adults some coins when I had the chance but I was told that they would just buy rugby or some cheap drug so I shifted to giving them simple foods like biscuits instead.

As I got older, I envied my classmates who were rich.  They didn’t seem to have a care in the world and during recess, they could buy whatever they wanted without counting their money first, unlike me.  I knew exactly how much I had and I had to budget my money wisely.

A little later on, before my financial awakening, I realized that I was actually lucky to be in the middle because I had a choice.  It was up to me to choose if I wanted to have a better life.  I had all the tools that I needed, including a little money, to get where I wanted to go.

Yes, even those living below poverty have this choice but they don’t have the tools to better themselves, maybe they have resigned themselves to their situation and lost hope, or maybe they just need a little inspiration from us to change their mindset.

In my own little way, I have started to share what I’ve learned about managing finances and investing to my workmates and friends.

I really wish to see a Philippines that is free of poverty in 2030.  May God bless the leaders of the World Bank in this endeavor.

http://ph.news.yahoo.com/world-bank-imf-endorse-bold-poverty-agenda-225752387–finance.html

Photo courtesy of http://www.philaid.org

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The Summer of White Beach and Windmills

Happy Sunday everyone!  I woke up today with Mr. Sun on my face.  I usually sleep in during Sundays but Mr. Sun just wouldn’t let me!  My first thought for the day…”I wish I was at the beach.”  Since I couldn’t just get up and go, I decide to reminisce a bit.

One summer a few years ago, a couple of friends, JY and I planned a northern adventure.  Our friends decided to brave the 10- to 12-hour land trip from Manila to Laoag while JY and I preferred to take a 45-minute flight via Cebu Pacific.  When JY and I landed in the small, charming airport, we went for a 2-hour drive to reach our resort.  It was a bumpy ride since the roads leading to the resort were yet to be developed but it was survivable.  We were greeted by the picturesque mountains on the left and inviting white-sand beach on the right.  I couldn’t wait to dip in the clear, blue waters!

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We stayed at Kapuluan Vista Resort (http://kapuluanvistaresortandrestaurant.com/).  It had a nice facade, with a lookout balcony, and several bungalow-type “huts”.  It was nestled at the foot of the mountain and faced the South China Sea.  Its centerpiece was an above-ground pool surrounded by palm trees, which swayed with the wind, and wooden beach chairs.  We got the dorm-type room which did not have A/C but was quite cool and airy.  Wind came in through the door and was supported by a giant ceiling fan.  Although there were also air-conditioned rooms, we decided on experiencing the fresh air of Ilocos (plus it was less pricey!).  There was also a complimentary breakfast everyday with several choices, including the famous longanisa (Philippine version of chorizo/sausage).  We could have actually spent our whole vacation just at the resort!

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But of course, we didn’t!  We saw the sunrise in our front yard and walked a few meters to the beach.  The waves were quite big and intimidating but we dove in anyway.  I heard that this beach was the perfect location for surfing… too bad nobody in our group knew how to surf!  I learned that you had to jump with the waves after several episodes of being washed ashore against my will, with sand and little rocks inside my swimsuit.  We were fortunate enough to swim on the first day as on the second day, there were a lot of jellyfish on the shore and in the water.  That’s why we drove to nearby Saud Beach and spent the day there until sunset.

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On our last day, we went to see the Bangui Windmills. I didn’t know we had windmills in the Philippines and I was in awe of the gigantic turbines.  Mr. Sun was scorching that day so we decided to take some regular and some wacky pictures quickly.

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It was definitely a trip worth repeating.  Just a few tips to enjoy your trip to Pagudpud: Bring extra cash as there are no ATMs in Pagudpud, put on sunscreen, wear sunglasses, light clothing, a hat, and comfortable shoes/flip flops, bring at least a decent point-and-shoot camera, and wear a one-piece bathing suit if you want to brave the South China Sea waves!!!

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The Culprit

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I have a confession to make and it’s something that I’m ashamed to admit.

I’m allergic to my cat.

Clogged/runny nose, teary eyes, itchy throat, raw skin under the nose, and boxes of tissue…yep, I’m allergic.

But who can resist those big “puss-in-boots” eyes, that tender “mew”, or that sweet curling on the lap/chest? I really can’t. I’ve passed all the stages of coping…denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, I’m there, acceptance.

Well, I would just have to take an antihistamine forever if I have to.

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Halo Halo!

“The heat is on, the heat is uh-on! It’s on the streets, woohoo! The heat is on!”  These lyrics couldn’t be more apt.  You can literally feel the heat rising from the pavement and baking your skin.  The highest temperature in the metro so far has been 35.4 degrees C.  So last Saturday, my significant other (JY) and I drove to Icebergs to soothe our parched throats and “hot heads”.

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With great anticipation, I ordered the specialty of the house…(drum roll) halo halo!!!  Halo halo is a well-known dessert/snack in the Philippines.  It is primarily crushed ice, milk and sugar with sweetened banana, red beans, nata de coco, kaong, young coconut strips, jack fruit and sweet corn topped with leche flan, ube (purple yam), and pinipig (pounded rice flakes).  Sometimes, it is also topped with vanilla, ube or mango ice cream.  It’s called “halo halo” because you “mix, mix” all the ingredients together.  The result is a yummy, refreshing, and filling concoction.

My order finally arrived and I must say, my halo halo did not disappoint!  I felt better and better with every bite.  Good bye crankiness and hello calmness.  I could feel the endorphins flowing through my body.  Aaaah.  I looked up to check on JY.  He looked happy and content with his Mais Con Yelo (sweet corn with crushed ice, milk, vanilla ice cream, and mango ice cream) as well.  Looks like we’ll be coming back next Saturday!

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Indonesian Breakfast

Indonesian Breakfast

Fruit loops and Mocha Cappuccino, not your typical Indonesian breakfast but what my sister lovingly prepared for me everyday during my stay.  Thanks sissy!

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Terima kasih Indonesia!

On the Wednesday before Easter, I hopped on a plane, positioned myself to sleep, and woke up in another country.

Touchdown Jakarta, Indonesia!  Although it only took 15 minutes through immigration and baggage claim, it felt like forever.  “Excited” was an understatement!  I was full of anticipation for the next four days of pure bonding and fun with my sister and her family.

Since my nieces, ages 9 and 5, were already asleep when I arrived at their home, Sissy and I did a little catching up while munching on M&Ms and strawberry jam sandwiches.  We got carried away and ended up turning in at almost 4am!  When I woke up the next day, it was already 12nn! Talk about a waste of time, but well, I was on vacation, and I did love to sleep.  I didn’t even wake up on my own.  My nieces were already knocking on my door.  After a quick lunch, Cassie (the 9-year-old) and Carissa (the 5-year-old) immediately took each of my hand and promptly pulled me to their room.  We built towers with pillows and placed their stuffed animals in the “windows”.  They had a particularly red round bird.  And yes, you guessed it… we played Angry Birds.  A few hours into this, they got bored, went to a corner of the room, and discussed in hushed tones their next itinerary for me.  “I know! Let’s go swimming!”  Cassie said.  “That’s what I’m talking about,” I thought.

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We got into our bathing suits and made our way to the Shangri-La Hotel pool (they lived in the Shangri-La Residences).  The pool area was dotted with towering palm trees, beach chairs, and giant umbrellas.  There were several guests sleeping in the chairs.  Some guests were just lazily swimming around the pool.  The overall atmosphere spoke “peace and quiet”.  In my mind, I was already floating on my back, zoned out or lounging on a chair staring into space half asleep.  Apparently, the girls had a different agenda.  “Ninang (godmother), let’s play mermaids!” Gulp.  That’s not what I had in mind but…okay.

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The next day, I got to try some local dishes like Nasi goreng (fried rice), beef and chicken sate, bakmi (noodles), gulai (curry), wonton (fried dumpling), lumpia (spring rolls), and fried catfish and tilapia.  The dishes were almost similar to Filipino dishes except that most of them were sweet and spicy.  After our very hearty lunch, I felt a bit woozy but it was a nice feeling.  I learned several words like pak (mister), bu (ma’am), terima kasih (thank you), and gratis (free).  I was quite impressed how my sister and my brother-in-law conversed in Bahasa  so well.  Of course, my vacation would not be complete without shopping!!! We went to the outskirts of town to a well-known factory outlet.  It was the sisters’ bonding time, much to the dismay of the little girls.

On my third day, we went around the different malls in the city for some “pasalubong” (presents) shopping for my friends.  Sissy and I decided to buy snacks like spicy cassava and jackfruit chips, tom yang oat chips, and spicy lumpia since my baggage limit was only 20 kilos.  I had a feeling the little girls were not happy with my two-day shopping stint so I took them night-swimming.  We were happily swimming when Carissa screamed, “Lizard!” and we ended up in the Jacuzzi in the women’s dressing room.  They found two “treasures” in the Jacuzzi (which were actually tiles!) and gave one to me as a souvenir.

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On my last day, Cassie and Carissa were excited about something… Yes, The Easter Egg Hunt.  They invited some friends over with their parents.  We put assorted candies inside plastic eggs and the grownups hid them in the outdoor playground.  The kids had a blast hunting for the eggs while the grownups enjoyed the pizza, french fries, mozzarella sticks, chips, soda, and ice cream.

When we got back to the apartment, it was almost time for me to go.  Sissy got the girls ready for bed while I packed my suitcases.  I went into their room to say goodbye.  Each little girl clung to my side.  I hugged them tight.  I fought back the tears and bid them good bye.

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I really wasn’t able to go around much but then again, this trip was all about bonding.  Nevertheless, terima kasih, Indonesia! ‘Til next time!

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The Garden is Abloom

The Lenten season is a time for reflection.  Oftentimes, I only turn to God when I have problems or when I feel sad.  But sometimes, God nudges me and makes me see the beauty of all his creation and my heart fills up to bursting.  I feel the love, God.  Thank you for a wonderful world.  You never said life would be easy but thank You for leading us through it.  Thank you for giving us everything that we need, even if we don’t realize it.  Thank you for forgiving us even if we commit the same mistakes over and over.  Lastly, thank you for loving us unconditionally.

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My Financial Awakening: Good Morning!!!

“The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

Sounds true… but is it?

Six years into the workforce, I began to wonder how to better my situation.  I didn’t like being in the rat race and I didn’t want to retire poor.

I began to read books on money management, investments, and entrepreneurship as well as books on personality development.  I attended free seminars on the workings of the stock market and I paid for some seminars on how to make my money work for me.  I read up on articles from the internet on how to change my employee mindset to an entrepreneur mindset.

And like a 1-week-old kitten, I felt my “eyes” open for the first time.  There is hope after all, for a middle class girl like me!  I suddenly realized that I was blessed to be where I was because I was born with a choice to either go up or down the financial ladder!

So what did I learn?

1.  Have a financial goal.  For me, this is to be able to provide a comfortable life for my family and to be able to retire early and still live comfortably.  I would like to see the time when I would work just because I WANTED TO and not because I NEEDED TO.

2.  It doesn’t matter how much you earn, what matters is how much you save. After receiving my paycheck, I prioritize my savings.  I save at least 20% of my income and allot the remaining 80% for my expenses.

3.  Live within your means and live simply.  At first, I found it hard to live off on only 80% of my income. I started to document all of my expenses daily (to be OC about it, I recorded everything down to the last centavo!).  After 1 month, I discovered I could take out most of my unnecessary expenses like frequent eating out, movies, shopping… However, I didn’t want to feel deprived so I set a budget for my “Happy Fund.”

4.  Look for ways to augment/supplement your income.  My significant other and I tried our hand in two businesses.  The first was a food cart business which sold rice toppings and street food.  Unfortunately after 9 months, we had to cut our losses.  The employees of the office building where we put our cart apparently did not have that much buying power.  So despite us lowering our prices and giving out discounts, they still preferred to buy from a carinderia outside the building.  (Mental note:  Location, location, location!)  The second business was a scrub suit/linen business.  Since we were just starting out, we decided it was more cost effective to outsource the sewing.  Our mistake:  We were at the mercy of our sewers and when they couldn’t deliver the quality required at the designated time, we lost our clients. (We haven’t given up on this, we just need to revise our business plan!)  Presently, my significant other and I are freelance sales marketing associates for a corporate giveaway company.

5.  Don’t just depend on your active income.  There is such a thing as passive income.  Passive income means that you don’t use your own talent, time, and energy in order to earn.  How do you do this?  Through investing in mutual funds. In mutual funds, there are fund managers who study, research, and choose the best companies or government securities to invest in.  You only need to invest a minimum of 5,000 pesos ($125) and you can sit back, relax, and let the fund managers to the job for you.  The 5-year return of my peso bond fund is now 40%; the 3-year return of my balanced fund is 68.5%; and the 3-year return of my equity fund is now 100%.  Not bad eh?

6.  Pay it forward.  If possible, allot 10% of your income for helping others.  You can give it to your church, to charitable institutions, to orphanages, or to wherever your heart tells you.  Believe me, this makes it all worthwhile.

7.  Be an inspiration to others.  Teach others whatever little you know on how to better their finances.  Here in the Philippines, the majority of the population is still living in poverty.  I read or heard from somewhere that the poor are poor not because they don’t have money, they are poor because they have lost hope.

So, the question is… am I rich yet? No, it’s still a long way, but I know I’ll get there in God’s perfect time.

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