Screen-free Quarantine Bucket List – Fun Old School Activities (Indoor, Part 1)

I get days when I just don’t want to face a screen. Don’t get me wrong; I’m as addicted dependent as most people are in this day and age, but there are times when I feel very reluctant to pick up a device. It’s a way to connect and be in the loop, after all, and I’m afraid I’ve always had these spells when I just wanted to detach myself from society and, in a way, suspend myself from reality.

Back then, I wouldn’t miss so much to spend a day or two just vegging out in my room, always with several new (meaning I haven’t read them yet – they could have come from a secondhand bookshop or the library) books I could binge read. These days, it would mean missing out on a slew of information, probably all non-essential, but I’m so used to the bombardment of data that I get withdrawals when the deluge is stymied.

I hate that, and I’m frustrated that my kids are growing up in this kind of environment. I’m ready to wrench them away from it and do something drastic like live off the grid (well, mostly off-grid), but my husband isn’t quite there yet. So, in the meantime, there are rules about screen time. There are also those episodes of disconnect that lead to kids staying away from screens as well.

Last year, while the pandemic raged all around the globe, we found ourselves very much limited in our movement. For months, the kids and I didn’t get to leave the house. Mark was our main “tribute,” braving public spaces armed with just his face mask, face shield, and multiple atomizers filled with rubbing alcohol. Eventually, quarantine restrictions were eased, and we finally got to visit my parents, bring Marguerite to the orthodontist for her monthly adjustments, and go for drives (the kids stay in the car, of course).

The hope was that 2021 will be different, but here we are in February and the kids are still stuck indoors. The temptation to resort to screen time for amusement is ever-present and getting harder and harder to resist. Unlike me, who has already had several episodes of screen burnout (They were lovely. I finally got to read X and Y of Sue Grafton’s books. I also reread “Stargirl” and “A Year in Provence.”), the kids see the screen as their main connection to the outside world. More than ever, I wish we lived in the country were they could explore wide open spaces on our own property. We’re blessed to have a garden as it is, but it’s pretty small. We definitely all miss going places- taking long nature walks at our usual haunts, playing at the mall arcade (boohoo, TimeZone, we miss you!), taking the boys to the trampoline park, venturing past the city limits, eating out…

But, you know, these days stuck within the confines of our house and garden feel different, which is a bit curious since we’ve always been pretty much home-based anyway. I suppose it has to do with the lack of choice. And when the supermarkets were running low on or out of supplies (never toilet paper though – not in the Philippines, lol) and we were forced to be resourceful, it also felt like a challenge, a kind of adventure. How far can we make do or make shift?

Under our quarantine protocol, children below 15, which all our kids still are, may not go out to public spaces, and with the virus still at large, we certainly don’t want to flout this edict. In the face of even more months at home, we have to condition our mind to not only accept the situation, but to see it as an opportunity. With all these indoor time forced upon us, how can we make all this time together at home quality and fun without invoking the power of the screen?

As you may or may not know, I’m quite fond of bucket lists. Therefore, I found the time to make a to-do list for my family during the remaining quarantine time. Who knows? It may not be long before quarantine is lifted and you can ditch the list. Hope, as you can see, springs eternal. I have 40 items on this list, all indoor activities. They’re pretty fun, so you might want to hang on to the list even when we can all already go out.

  1. Play Scrabble.
  2. Play Monopoly.
  3. Play Trivial Pursuit.
  4. Play Pictionary.
  5. Play Charades.
  6. Play checkers.
  7. Play Go Fish.
  8. Play Old Maid.
  9. Learn and play poker/bridge.
  10. Play indoor Hide and Seek.
  11. Have an indoor Scavenger Hunt.
  12. Have an indoor Pirate Treasure Hunt with (fake) danger and a mystery/back story.
  13. Build an elaborate fort.
  14. Play dress-up.
  15. Put together an indoor obstacle course.
  16. Read a book aloud to each other.
  17. Cook a dish you’ve always wanted to try/been curious about.
  18. Bake a goodie you’ve always wanted to try/been curious about.
  19. Concoct a signature family drink. 
  20. Watch a movie you loved as a kid with your kids.
  21. Make a homemade version of a favorite treat (e.g. popsicle, ice cream, marshmallows, etc.).
  22. Hold a family tournament of a silly game (e.g. hula hoop, limbo rack, bean bag toss, etc.).
  23. Have a face painting afternoon.
  24. Put up a makeshift photo booth (goes well  with dress-up and face painting).
  25. Learn a practical craft (something that will allow you to produce something you can sell on Etsy).
  26. Handwrite letters to far-off loved ones and mail them.
  27. Publish an old-style family newspaper and mail copies to friends and relatives.
  28. Work together on a home improvement project.
  29. Create your own board game.
  30. Write an adventure story together.
  31. Write a comedy sketch and perform it.
  32. Learn a “partner” dance and have a dance party (e.g. swing, boogie, waltz…).
  33. Work on a giant puzzle together.
  34. Have a Nerf war.
  35. Have a camp-in (tents, campfire food, s’mores, scary stories…).
  36. Have an indoor picnic (picnic basket, blanket, picnic food, playing cards…)
  37. Have a hardcore bubble blowing afternoon (giant, colors, sparkles…). Do it in the bathroom, balcony, or just blow out from the doorway or window.
  38. Have a secret language day (pig latin, ithig, eggy-peggy…).
  39. Start a family band/choir and learn a song to play or sing together.
  40. Make a mural on one wall. Don’t say it. I know. Just think about it. 😀

 

Obviously, some (or a lot of) imagination will come in handy. I hope this will inspire you to make your days cooped up indoors more fun with some screen-free entertainment. Comment any ideas you think can be added to the list.

Autism and the Battle with Mysterious Meltdowns

Having two boys on the autism spectrum, I have come to anticipate meltdowns. These are different from temper tantrums or hissy fits (these ones, I’m prone to). There are many articles delineating their difference, and through the years I’ve learned to correctly identify whatever it is I’m dealing with, and thus respond accordingly.

More importantly, I’ve become better attuned to the brewing stage of meltdowns. I’ve made the effort to identify triggers in order to avoid them and to understand what’s going on when meltdowns do happen.

Nonstop Meltdowns

However, there are meltdowns, and there are long spells of seemingly aggressive, violent, and self-injurious behavior. We had this with Cameron, who’s now 9 years old, from 3-6 years of age. These were outlier episodes. Cameron is very chill. When he was a toddler and first exhibiting signs of autism (they only emerged at 1.5 years – he had always been on time/ahead with his milestones before then), we initially kidded around about him being so cool, like he didn’t have time for cutesy and silly behavior that was typical of kids his age. If he paid any attention to you, it was like being noticed by that perfect but aloof guy in a high school romance trope. That he was very handsome (he is; that’s not just a mother talking) certainly completed the cliché. That was a fun, entertaining way to look at it, except that it turned out to be autism.

Anyway, for about two weeks every year, Cameron would have this spell of him crying and angrily thrashing around almost nonstop. Both of us would come out of those episodes with minor cuts and bruises. He’d be fine or back to his regular ways after, but I’d be licking my actual and metaphorical wounds in despair long after. Don’t worry; the licking is figurative. I’ve happily noticed though that those weeks of marathon meltdowns hadn’t transpired in the last couple of years.

And the Fun Continues

Last year, his younger brother Sawyer had his own autism diagnosis. Oh, we’d known he was on the spectrum long before the official diagnosis, but we thought we’d get the official certification as well so we could be advised by a professional, and, of course, so he could be eligible for PWD privileges.

Right away, the developmental pediatrician told us that Sawyer was incredibly intelligent – and this was a boy who was pretty much non-verbal. Side note: I hate using the term for my boys because they do have language and they would use it to ask for stuff they want. They can identify things like champs, but couldn’t figure out how to use all those words they know in a practical way. It’s just easier to throw the non-verbal label out there to manage other people’s expectations.

In any case, the doctor told us that Sawyer’s autism was mild and that he manifested many signs of giftedness. She recommended a regular preschool instead of SPED. Okay. I have always been committed to homeschooling, but I got excited about sending the boys to school. I had already picked summer classes for the boys to join – School Readiness for Sawyer and Life Skills for Cameron. And then the pandemic happened. At the very least, that stupid virus was a monkey wrench thrown into the new course we were to take on our autism journey.

Autistic and Gifted

The thing about Sawyer is that we could tell he was very smart. He taught himself how to read and write really early, like Marguerite, their big sister did, but he had been more challenged in that he wasn’t even conversing. He is extremely curious and interested. He would get into everything and want to try everything we were doing. It’s like the opposite extreme of Cameron’s coolness. Sawyer is red hot in his buttinski-ness. He has always had an air of mischief about him. He also had a very volatile temper. He laughed easily and got mad easily.

Shortly after New Year’s Day, he seemed to be in a perpetual rage, alternately crying and pouncing on those around him. We all fell victim to these attacks, but I was most frequently on the receiving end. It was a lot like trying to tame a bobcat, except more heartbreaking.

Meltdowns on Steroids

We tried to figure out what was going on with him. He didn’t seem to be in pain. Sometimes he’d laugh after screaming angrily. As much as I hate to say it, it often felt like a demon possession. He would thrash around on the floor in abandon, kicking his legs, uncaring of hurting others or himself. He’d ask to be hugged and carried, and then ambush us in the middle of being comforted. I was frankly at my wit’s end. Cameron’s episodes seemed like leisurely walks in the park compared to Sawyer’s.

We persisted in finding an explanation for the behavior. We all had theories coming out the wazoo. My mom thought that he was frustrated because he was so smart but had disabilities that hindered his learning. I thought that he was frustrated about not being able to communicate better in a verbal way (in his fits, he would often scream out a spate of random words, but, at the same time, he was also often successful in expressing himself, e.g. “I’m sad!” “Help me!”). Mark thought that he was experiencing restless legs (growing pains?) and remembered getting them himself at around Sawyer’s age, and they had been bad enough that he would cry because of them. We also thought that it was a sensory thing, that he was reacting to a stimulus that we just couldn’t detect yet.

Calming Tricks and Hoodoo

We had tried a diverse range of calming methods. Mark would roll Sawyer up in a soft blanket like a burrito. He would also tirelessly massage his son’s limbs.  I made a calming roller blend and calming play dough with lavender and bergamot essential oils. He definitely received lots of bribes from aunts and grandparents who wished nothing but to get back our mischievous but amusing little imp.

Sawyer’s birthday was on January 26, and while he was beginning to calm down, those lulls were often traitorous, presaging an ambush that left scratches and bruises on Sawyer and his hapless target. Understandably, his presents this year mostly had to do with calming him down. My sister gave him a much nicer bedtime projector lamp than the one we had (it was tacky; we moved it to the garage before Christmas where it projected red and green stars in the dark). My cousin got him kaleidoscopes and a fidget popping toy.

My mom got the kids gummy melatonin (not as a present), but we’ve only used it once to underwhelming results. It wasn’t for regular use, but we were trying to go back to an earlier bed time, and then, of course, there were those punishingly sleepless nights with Sawyer’s meltdowns. He refused to take one for some reason, by the way, while Cameron and Marguerite both did go to sleep  early but woke up in the wee hours of the morning. We’ll give it a go again when we encounter sleeping issues.

I’m also going around the house now to scope out the right ceiling beam from which to hang the boys’ therapy swing. My sister had given it to Cameron on his birthday, but we have yet to install it. Obviously, we’re getting all the tricks we could possibly conjure out to make sure we are well equipped to deal with a repeat of these episodes.

Of the tools we have used, I can say that the play dough, the popping toy and the lamp have been effective. The lamp’s effect can vary, however. It lulled Sawyer to sleep while it fascinated Cameron so much that he sat in front of it and watched for a long time.

These days, Sawyer’s episode is dwindling down. He’s still given to crying when he doesn’t get his own way, and I think his habit of holding his breath until he’s very red in the face has gotten to be, well… a habit that we have to distract him from. He has also learned to curb his impulse to grab and kick, and it does seem that whatever was causing him to fling himself down in a self-inflicted wrestling power bomb has gone. I’m not going to speak too soon and say that the episode is over, but I am praying that it is.

Anyone on the Same Boat?

Have you had any experience with this kind of episode? Do you know with certainty what caused it? What action did you take? I hope an informative, helpful, and supportive discussion about this can be started in the comments.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how I’m coping, it’s with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Don’t judge.

In the meantime, here’s the recipe for the calming play dough that I made:

 

Auditing 2020 and Editing for 2021

2020 was really something, huh? It definitely messed with our weltanschauung (haha, I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to use this curious little mouthful I picked up from Comparative Literature 100). Life as we knew it may never return. A new normal has already crept in place, but many of us have yet to accept it.

If you’re still trying to wake up from the nightmare that was 2020, sigh, we can only hope that it really did all end with the year, that 2021 is a completely fresh start, an overhaul of the year that operated on the premise of Murphy’s Law.

In any case, being stuck at home and restricted in so many ways doesn’t mean that we can forgo retrospection and improvement. Life isn’t suspended until the virus is gone. The clock continues ticking, and we have to make the most of the time we have now, no matter how bizarre things are.

There were many memes about a 2020 planner being useless, but I failed to see the logic in that, probably because my life was mainly home-based even pre-pandemic. Any work I did was done at home, and the kids were homeschooled. Of course, we used to be able to go out a lot, but the main entries in my planner were stuff I had to do at home. In any case, many of the activities that used to be conducted outside the home continued online, e.g. piano lessons, taekwondo training, homeschool get-togethers, workshops, book launches, and even shopping trips. My planner remained filled with entries despite being stuck at home.

Then again, I’m a list maker. If I don’t list my agenda for the day, I’ll probably just aimlessly walk around, cluelessly responding to the most pressing demand and then letting the next ones pile on top of it so I end up getting overwhelmed and rage-quitting all of them by watching Netflix or YouTube. You have no idea how much vehemence I can put into clicking those icons.

Anyway, I’m always excited to start writing on my planner at the beginning of the year. In college, I used to do a “365 Things to Do This Year” list. I never got to cross out all 365 things, but it didn’t dampen my spirits. I was happy to cross out even just a quarter of the items on the list. Later on, I dropped the 365 and just listed as many goals as I could think of. I had found that in trying to come up with 365 things to do, I sometimes duplicated items, so I thought, why bother with the number? It wasn’t like I’d set out to accomplish one goal per day.

The goal list became a personal tradition, one I’ve carried out for more than 20 years. I used to be more random about it (climb a tree, fly a kite, learn to cartwheel…), but through the years, I’ve learned to put some retrospection and introspection into it, making the exercise count more in my private campaign for self-improvement. This is how I’ve come to annually conduct a life audit and edit.

To audit the past year, I ask myself certain questions, the answers to which would give me an idea where I’m at in terms of working towards the life I want to live and the person I want to become. Here’s an example:

  • How do I spend my days?
  • With whom do I spend the most time?
  • Is that time with them enjoyable to me?

Depending on my answer to these questions, I figure out whether I’m doing well in this area or not. I then ask myself some follow-up questions.

  • How would I like to spend the majority of my days?
  • With whom do I want to spend them?
  • How do I make this time with them more quality?

I try to cover all the bases, analyzing every aspect of my life. Here are the areas that I focus on.

  • Character, attitude, and behavior
  • Spirituality
  • Habits
  • Relationships
  • Home and lifestyle
  • Finance
  • Health and fitness
  • Learning
  • Skills
  • Work
  • Productivity
  • Effectiveness
  • Creativity
  • Happiness and Enjoyment
  • Downtime

 

When I’ve asked and answered my questions, I then come up with a list of goals. Sometimes they involve a detailed action plan. Other times, I just state what I want. For instance, in the health and fitness area, I could just very generally state “lose 20 lbs” or I could outline the steps I plan to take to make this happen:

  • Only watch YouTube and Netflix (this won’t be chill at all) while on the treadmill.
  • Quit soda.
  • Quit milk tea.
  • Quit rice.
  • Avoid fast food drive-thrus by always bringing your own snacks.
  • Play something very physical with the kids every day.

As you can see, this annual audit tends to reveal what kind of edits I should make on my life. As expected, decluttering is a big word for this time of the year, but its application definitely goes beyond my possessions. Here’s a confession: when I set out to edit my life, my mind immediately goes to editing certain technologies out of it. In a split second, that notion morphs into me editing myself off the grid. I probably just revealed my 10-year plan (5-year, preferably), haha.

Anyway, as I was saying, my usual edits happen in these areas:

  • Thinking habits (too much daydreaming, negative self-talk, the tendency to pinpoint what or whom to blame…)
  • Relationships (grudges, drama, screen time when together…)
  • Schedule (late nights, insane morning routine, unnecessary commitments, laundry – haha, just kidding, BinJin breaks – this time, I’m not kidding! Another confession: I got obsessed with “Crash Landing on You” and went a little overboard shipping the leads. Comment if you’re over the moon about the news of them being in a relationship and if you’re up to a CLOY-themed party to celebrate. Dang! I just said I’d stop wasting time on this, right?)
  • Consumption (digital engagements, junk food, gas/electric/water – in this case, just whittle down)
  • Budget (indulgent grocery list, credit card shopping, shipping fees – meaning, hair-trigger online shopping)

Of course, the edit manifests itself most evidently in the decluttering of our closets and storage cabinets. We’re starting with my daughter’s room, and, my word, we have to edit every possible surface. Maybe we should have saved it for last.

That basically sums up my yearly audit-edit routine. What about you? Do you still go through making New Year’s resolutions? Or have you lost faith in them? Let me know!

BONUS:

Since it has been quite a while since I last posted, here’s a collage of pictures showing tidbits of 2020’s tail end for our family.

  1. We have a luffa (loofah) plant that has been good to us lately. We’re getting tired of misua though. I tried roasting it with chicken, carrots, and potatoes once, and that was pretty good. Any suggestions on how else to cook it?
  2. Pies are my usual contribution to our noche buena. These are apple and peach.
  3. Baking gingerbread has been a part of our holiday tradition for years. I usually sell gingerbread men and houses at Christmas bazaars, but not this year obviously.
  4. Those cookies were the first batch of holiday baking I did. I had been so busy trying to restore the house back to livable that I was late getting into holiday mode.
  5. That’s Morgan, one of our cats, on New Year’s Day morning. I guess she partied too hard the previous night. At least, she didn’t come home with an armadillo armor. Just kidding; she’s not allowed out of the house.
  6. Those are our Christmas stockings. Living in the tropics, we don’t have a fireplace, so we hang ours wherever we feel like it that year. For a time, I thought they’d be the main holiday décor we’d have since we got cats last year, and we weren’t sure how they’d treat a Christmas tree.
  7. There’s Morgan again. We were late setting up the tree this year. It’s usually up by December 1, but the cats and their parkour stunts had me on second, third, fourth… thoughts on the wisdom of having a tree. Thankfully, the most mischief they got up to was batting at low-hanging ornaments to send them skittering across the floor.
  8. This picture is actually from early November, taken on my mom’s 70th birthday. I can’t post pics from our Christmas and New Year’s Eves shindigs since I know some would be opposed to having their pics displayed online.
  9. My daughter had an online piano recital on December 12. That’s her tickling out the tune of “Mary the Magician,” one of the three pieces she played.

That’s all, folks! Bye, 2020! It’s been real! Welcome, 2021! Please be kind to us!

Where Autism Awareness Should Lead

Other than in private exchanges I had with my family in Messenger group chats, I didn’t really air out any thoughts on the recent controversy over the incident of PWD-discrimination at Plantation Bay, an exclusive and expensive resort in Cebu. It wasn’t because I didn’t have any strong feelings about it, but because I felt so strongly that I would have reacted based solely on emotions, and that wouldn’t have helped the cause of autism awareness, an advocacy I’m very passionate about, any.

One with the Public Response

I was gratified to read the outpouring of support for Mai and Fin Pages as well as of indignation at what they experienced while vacationing in Plantation Bay. Like many, I was saddened and angered by the treatment they received while at the resort. I was similarly outraged by the initial response (now deleted, but the Internet is “forever”) issued by Plantation Bay resident shareholder Manny Gonzalez. Mr. Gonzalez was impressively articulate in expressing his thoughts. Unfortunately, his eloquence was misdirected. It laid out a misinformed and narrow-minded argument that belied the level of education and accomplishment his credentials page enumerated in painstaking detail. And like the masses, I was enraged by the very unsympathetic, very judgmental, very WRONG posit he put forth that Fin had just been misdiagnosed, and that his behavior was due to parental neglect and not to autism.

Did I feel inclined to storm the doors of the resort and scream at this seemingly pompous fool? Yes. Did I want to rally the people to boycott him and Plantation Bay, and generally make him pay for his scathing response to a genuine complaint that resonated with the depths of my very own heartbreak? Yes. Did I want to print out his sorry excuse for an apology letter and force-feed it to him? Yes.

That was my raw, unprocessed reaction. It was a maelstrom of fury and sorrow probably powerful enough to burst a vein. This incident gave force to my fears and worries. It threatened to snuff out the hope I felt for the possibility of an infinitely kinder, more understanding, more tolerant, and thoroughly inclusive society. It fueled the daydream of creating another world for my children and others like them.

It was upon reading his very hoity-toity résumé that my perspective shifted. He got his MBA in 1974, before I was even born. This man was probably the same age as my own parents. He is from a very different generation. He grew up with a very different mindset within societal norms that have drastically evolved through the decades. My own father, a great and godly man in my eyes, who loves his autistic grandchildren with every fiber of his being, feels that the best, most practical solution for “extreme” (obviously a relative word) special needs is institutionalization, segregation. He thinks that they would be safer there, better taken care of, and the neurotypical can function with better efficiency sans the constant vigilance necessary in the care of those with special needs. Like I said, such a position comes from a different time, a different way of thinking.

Manifestation of True Awareness

There are many out there like Manny Gonzalez – people who will choose to quickly judge and act upon their erroneous judgment. And then, in the face of public censure, they will offer a half-pantsed apology that clearly shows they haven’t actually budged an inch in their position. We can take offense, demand retribution, but, more importantly, we can continue to work toward awareness.

Almost everyone has come across the term “autism” and encountered somebody on the spectrum. Most people have a vague idea of how a person with autism is limited and challenged. True awareness, however, goes so much farther than knowing the dictionary definition of autism. True awareness comes with compassion and empathy, leading to acts of kindness.

I remember another mother venting about the pastor of her church. It seems that her son with ASD was able to practice with the rest of his Sunday School class for a special song number. That had previously been unheard of. The boy hadn’t been inclined to participate in the past, but that time, he was interested and he was able to stand with the group to sing instead of running off. During practice, the mother watched, incredibly thrilled about this particular milestone when the good pastor walked up to her and said, “Is it a wise choice to have him up there? He might ruin the performance.” The mother expressed her hurt over the remark, but she also had the grace to understand where the pastor was coming from. Obviously, it was from a time when children were forced to toe the line and imperfections were dealt with through their removal. People who didn’t make the cut, well, simply didn’t make the cut. Exclusion was the norm.

This account, mild though it may seem, is particularly disquieting. Inclusion should be a right, not a privilege. I can’t tell you how many times unintentional slights were directed at my boys for their autism, automatically excluding them on the assumption that they couldn’t do what the activity entailed. There was no effort at all to accommodate them, to offer certain allowances so they could participate. “This was the neurotypical’s world, the neurotypical’s program. It wasn’t the neurotypical’s duty to pander to the atypical’s different abilities.” This perspective must make so much sense to many, and yet it cuts and it stunts, causing hurt feelings and missed opportunities for progress for all involved.

Another story I remember is about a person with autism attending his high school graduation. His parents were worried that he wouldn’t be able to attend the ceremony because of the level of noise expected at such an event. Unfortunately, the man (he was already 21 at that time) wouldn’t be able to tolerate all the clapping and boisterous cheering. It is common for people with ASD to have sensory issues. Loud noises are often difficult, even downright painful for them to process. The entire auditorium, however, agreed to have a silent ceremony. The principal said that the decision was very characteristic of their community. Such a display of true awareness was incredibly heartwarming. In the current Pinoy vernacular, let me just say, sana all.

PWD Discrimination and the Law

There would be those who would struggle to make concessions and adjustments to their standards and operations in order to accommodate special needs. They may be good, decent people and still not get how inclusion is always the right choice – and, actually, in many countries, including the Philippines, the only legal option.

Discrimination against a person with disability, as the Plantation Bay administration is painfully learning now, is against the law. Unfortunately, not every PWD or parent of a PWD knows enough to raise a stink when discrimination occurs. Many of us are inclined to be apologetic about the inconvenience, the bother, the disturbance… the supposed perjuicio that our presence causes, and be resigned to the idea we just don’t belong and to the conclusion that the lack of welcome is completely acceptable. It is not, and the law is on our side. Of course, a law being enacted and a law being enforced are two different things. I’m not a lawyer so I’m not going to delve too deeply into the legalities of the matter. I just want to emphasize that the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons goes beyond the discounts PWDs can avail themselves of.

Fruit of Awareness

I have so many hopes and prayers regarding my own children’s autism that my brain just goes in a zillion directions when I try to talk about them. I mean, we have all sorts of awareness campaigns. Did you share a touching post on April 2 (World Autism Awareness Day)? Did you light it up blue? Did you add a spectrum ribbon or a jigsaw puzzle piece to your profile picture? These are good, appreciated steps, but I especially love it when people exercise this promoted awareness – when they offer a lending hand to a mother whose child is in the throes of a meltdown, when they just smile understandingly when an autistic child stims noisily at the next table, when they insist that our autistic children are welcome at their wedding, when they’re willing to amend tradition, the standard way of doing things to be inclusive…

We have a long way to go, but things are getting better. We can look at Mai and Fin Pages’s experience and see the bad, but we can also look for the good – the overwhelming support from netizens, the action being taken by government bodies, and the deeper awareness resulting from this unfortunate incident.

The Blessing of Autism

I hadn’t always felt this way, but I consider my boys’ autism a blessing. Our life is rife with miracles, as all of yours probably also are, but we are better able to recognize the wonder in the minutiae, thanks to this “disability.” Life with autism bestowed upon me such priceless gifts: patience, kindness, empathy, and many more.

In the end, I have to feel sorry for Mr. Gonzalez. He seems to have never encountered an autistic person that he had to resort to Google to try and explain it. Sadly, he also seems to have stopped at one paragraph because the Internet has so much more to say about autism. All I know is that if there were an autistic person in his life, he wouldn’t have dared to say what he did. I’m also sure that he would have been an infinitely better, kinder person for it.

Bringing Iceland’s Jólabókaflóð to Your Home

I’ve always been intrigued by Iceland. For someone who lives in a tropical archipelago, I imagine it’s pretty much the opposite of what I know. Watching travel shows featuring it, I was further enchanted by its exotic (for someone based near the equator) qualities like its combination of glaciers, geysers, and volcanoes; its non-stop sun in the summer and super short winter days; its close-knit community with everybody being related to everybody else (this is actually familiar to me, being from a city with a small town vibe – but Iceland is a whole freakin’ country!), etc.

In recent years, I learned of another Icelandic offering that really resonated with the avid bibliophile in me. Every year, Iceland holds the Jólabókaflóð (Yule book flood). In the weeks before Christmas, new books are released, and every household gets a catalogue of the new titles.

This tradition dates back to the Second World War when there were restrictions on imported giftware. Since imported paper wasn’t as restricted and Iceland has always had a solid literary tradition, books became the default gift at Christmastime. Thus ensued the lasting custom of exchanging books at Christmas Eve and then spending the rest of the night reading.

For a bookworm like me, that sounds like heaven, especially now when I can’t sit for two minutes without one of my kids demanding my attention.

When I was growing up, I was always certain that I would get a book(s) on my birthday and Christmas. Books didn’t cost much (in the late ’80s, most children’s books like the Baby-Sitters Club, Sweet Valley Twins, and the Newbery titles were about 30Php brand new) and my mom could be sure that I would enjoy them. We weren’t poor, but my dad is kind of an ascetic. He shuns materialism and is critical of indulgences, so there was that element in our childhood.

Now, with my own kids, I don’t really get them books as gifts. I buy a lot of books on ordinary days, and then get them other presents for special occasions. My husband and I tend to bend over backwards trying to think of presents that would make our kids ecstatic. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but I sometimes wonder if they can better learn gratitude and appreciation if we keep our gifts simple.

***I know I mentioned on the Ulysses post that I was just doing a last edit on this one and it was pretty much ready to go. I’m afraid, however, that WordPress failed me. For some reason, the saved draft didn’t include anything past the previous paragraph, so I’m rewriting three long essential sections of the post. I hope I can recall all the main points, and that what comes next reads well since I’m typing it while still disgruntled. 😀

The Benefits of Observing Jólabókaflóð

Of course, getting books is a perk in itself, but there are other benefits that should urge you to consider observing Jólabókaflóð – or a version of it, at least.

  • Less expensive gifts. If you decide to just give books on Christmas, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to trim down your usual holiday gift budget. If you can find pre-loved books in good condition, even better/cheaper. Anybody else out there who actually prefers secondhand books?
  • No great cost divide. You won’t have to worry about your gifts being “unequal.” There shouldn’t be a huge price gap between books unless you’re giving rare editions, a complete series, or those expensive coffee table books. It’s probably still best to set a price cap, but even if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be facing something akin to an exchange involving an expensive watch and a rap song (“Friends” reference).
  • Something for everyone. If somebody’s claiming to be a non-reader, I’m certain there would be books out there that would interest him or her. There are all kinds of books, and on every possible topic. I know people will read if they’re interested enough in the content; after all, supposed non-readers can read social media posts the entire day. 😀
  • Exercise in simplicity. While books are still purchased, there’s something about giving them that seems like a less commercial exercise. Although a book is not the most impressive present you can give, it’s usually a thoughtful one, and you’re essentially catering to a simple yet timeless pleasure.
  • Gift of slow time. Today’s pace is incredibly fast and we are super distracted. I really feel sorry that my kids aren’t growing up in a time that allows them to create and imagine more, to put in more effort to arrive at what they need or want, and to deal with those idle, boring moments with minimal modern provisions for amusement. Books belong to that lost era.  Thankfully, they were able to cross over to and linger in this millennium. Time spent with a book is quiet and serene, even if your mind has wandered off to a wild adventure in a far off place and distant time. It’s a true gift. ***Let me note that the original post was a lot more “ranty” than this, haha.
  • Lesson in gratitude. Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to delight our kids that we unconsciously teach them to expect grander things. It would be in their interest to teach them to appreciate every kind of present. If they can feel joy in their heart over a new book to read, that’s a win for you as a parent.

Coming up with Your Own Jólabókaflóð Tradition

Not being in Iceland or even Icelandic, you’ll just have to borrow the custom and perhaps tweak it to better suit your family. Here are some ideas you can apply in making your own Christmas book flood tradition.

1. Hygge it up.

Make the entire evening extra cozy. Since in the Philippines we do our Noche Buena on Christmas Eve, and that’s usually a fun and noisy feast, you might want to choose the eve of Christmas Day for your Jólabókaflóð. You can wear your pjs, set out some hot cocoa and munchies for the family, play some nostalgic Christmas muzak, use warm lighting, and diffuse some Christmassy essential oil blend. You can relish all that hygge as you read your new books.

2. Decorate with books.

You can fashion a tree from a pile of books. Festoon it with fairy lights, perch a star or fairy on top, and you have yourself a Jolabokaflod tree! It can be the focal point of the area where you will be exchanging books and reading.

3. Have a theme.

Themes always make events more interesting. You’d think that books would be enough as the unifying theme, but you can narrow it down to something more specific. It could be an author, a decade, a place, a topic… Just make sure to have the right spread and décor. Maybe even attire?

4. Serve Icelandic Fare.

As a nod to where it all started, you can have an Icelandic treat. You can buy ready-made goodies or try creating something from a recipe. Something that looks relatively easy to make is pönnukökur, which is Icelandic pancakes with skyr (a dairy product that’s close to Greek yogurt). Honestly, it’s just pancakes; it’s the skyr that makes it Icelandic. If you can’t find skyr, you can sub with Greek yogurt. Pair it with a popular Christmas drink called jólaöl, which is a mix of malt and orange soda.

5. Read books and eat chocolates.

Jólabókaflóð explanations don’t always specify that Icelanders have to eat chocolates while reading in bed, but quite a few do, and that picture understandably appeals to me more. Reading + chocolates sounds heavenly, and it’s a custom I’d be happy to start with bells on.

I’m always eager to talk about books and reading, so let me know if you’re considering adopting this wonderful Icelandic treasure for your home. I’m sure you can come up with more ways to make your own Christmas book exchange more fun and specifically suited to your family’s holiday needs, tastes, and traditions. I hope you’ll share your own ideas here. 🙂

When God Doesn’t Spare You

The gold foil curtain and gold mylar “70” balloons still hung as a backdrop for the dining room table. White and gold balloons still rested atop the china cabinet. The gold letters spelling out my mother’s name and fairy lights were still suspended from the chandelier.

The flood hadn’t reached them. I saw everything the day after the muddy waters had subsided. Below the remnants of the previous Saturday’s party was an overwhelming challenge. Waterlogged chairs had descended from their buoyant state upside down. The heavy sideboard had also floated and then rested on its side. The fridge had done the same thing in the kitchen. Everything was coated with thick brown mud.

Our house is a bungalow. The second level is but four steps up. Still, I prayed that the bedrooms would be spared so we could go back later in the day, when the typhoon had subsided, and sleep in our own home. That prayer wasn’t granted. The water went up to about mid-calf on the second level. It really was a pretty wretched day overall. It started way too early and then seemed to stretch indefinitely.

The power going out at about 4am woke me up. The winds lashed lustily outside, accompanied by a heavy rain that showed no signs of abating. That had been going on all night. We Mariqueños obsessively monitor the river when there’s a typhoon. In the wee hours of that morning, it had unfortunately already breached three alarm lines. It didn’t look good for those of us who live in the valley.

Marikina has hills. We used to live on top of one. I hadn’t had to deal with this kind of anxiety in recent years; however, we moved last year to one of the barangays lining the river. Nonetheless, we were much higher up than those along the waterfront. Our house remained safe from most typhoons, but it was vulnerable to a rainfall phenomenon like Ondoy (Ketsana). My husband and I told ourselves, “It has been more than a decade and there has been no flood in this area all that time. There probably wouldn’t be a repeat of Ondoy.” We shouldn’t have said that; it was too much like tempting fate. As it would turn out, Ulysses (Vamco) was a lot like Ondoy.

So that fateful morning, Mark and I finally got the sense that we were experiencing a rare meteorological event and started securing our valuables and electronics, storing them in higher places. All the while, I was praying, “Lord, please stop the rain. Please don’t let the flood come into our house.”

Water started entering our garage while we were packing the things we needed to evacuate. By the time the water started seeping into our living room, we were ready to cross the flooded street to the four-story house across. Our neighbors had been kind enough to open their home to us and those in single level houses on our street.

While at the neighbors’, I kept on praying for the rains to stop and, this time, for the bedrooms to be spared. Water continued to gush from the heavens. By the time I was pretty sure that the flood had reached the second level of our house, the rain weakened and some sunlight started peaking through the dense clouds. Too little too late.

The steady drizzle continued. The flood didn’t quickly drain as expected. I kept on praying for the water to go down. There were reports of other streets being flood-free in just a short time. Apparently, our street had a drainage issue. Of course it did!

When it started to get dark, and all the roads were already clear of water, except for ours, my mother sent over two of my cousins to pick me and the kids up. Finally, we could get some rest. Evacuating with two kids on the spectrum (and two cats!) is exhausting at best. Mark, who had been able to park our biggest vehicle on a higher incline, was able to follow in it shortly after further securing our still-flooded home.

It definitely could have been worse. I’m thankful that my family remained safe throughout the ordeal. That was really what was important. I told myself early on that I wasn’t going to dwell on the material loss, but I have my moments of grief over the things we have no choice but to throw out, especially the ones with sentimental value. As you know, I’m a collector/borderline hoarder. I’ve always liked that about myself, as a history buff with a penchant for nostalgia and preservation. The trait does say that I tend to hold on to things, setting myself up for the kind of heartbreak I’m experiencing now.

Against my nature, I try to look on the bright side of things. I can do it – with effort that apparently eases as I tune into God’s Word. The key is in looking to God for answer and comfort. The more I expose myself to Scripture, the better I understand what faith is all about, and I get a deeper appreciation for God’s goodness.

When things don’t go my way, I tend to get, well, royally pissed. I take it personally. Why didn’t God grant my prayers? Admittedly, my EQ’s not the highest. Deep inside, I can still be a spoiled brat. I want a charmed life – smooth-sailing and free of heartache. That’s not something you get from being a Christian. You’re actually considered more blessed the more you suffer. My human nature balks at the idea.

Consider Peter’s input, however (1 Peter 4:13 ~NIV): “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” Not only are you supposed to not resent the suffering, you should actually rejoice while going through it. That’s quite the tall order.

However, thinking of what Jesus went through, it did make me go, “What’s a little devastating flood?” Losing material things, facing an overwhelming challenge in order to return to life as I knew it… The desire to pout was there, but shame from this impulse overcame it. I said to myself, “Really? You can’t thank God for the protection, for the strength and good health, for the kind neighbors, for your parents who have been hosting you, for family members who have been watching your special needs kids while you try to get your home habitable again and your life back on track, for the provision, for the peace and resilience…?” If I can’t exult and exalt God in this minor trial, how can I bring myself to do so when something more difficult comes along?

James 1:2-3 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”

I often say that I don’t believe in testing or grading. That’s the kind of homeschool parent I am. The statement is not accurate though. Of course I believe in testing. Life tests my kids’ acquired knowledge all the time. That’s why I prefer their learning to be natural and genuine, not forced for the purpose of passing written tests and getting impressive grades.

The testing of one’s faith is trickier and harder than any exam out there. Failure means profound loss and immense danger. God not sparing me from mishaps, disappointments, and losses allows me to fortify my faith. It’s like building up spiritual muscles that I can flex as life’s storms strike. A strong faith is obviously paramount in finishing the race. In this lifelong event, great endurance is absolutely necessary.

In my 40+ years, I’ve learned that, while I may not be not privy to it, there is always a bigger picture than my personal episodes. Life has meaning, and all those moments make sense in the grand scheme of things. That’s why I can expect this experience to improve my mettle as well as to further equip me for God’s plan for my life. I’ve gone through multiple existential crises in my day, but I’m happy to note that I was always able to resolve them with the conviction that God is real and that He is good.

Difficult times will shake our faith. Prayers that are not granted will fuel resentment toward God. Cling on. It’s important to forge on our spiritual path and develop God’s perspective to understand that our sufferings do not negate His love and goodness. In doing this, we can learn to remain joyful and thankful no matter our circumstances.

I had a post about the Icelandic Christmas book flood in the late stages of tweaking and pretty much ready to go, but Ulysses happened, and I had no choice but to shelve it. I hope this bit of musing can help somebody come to terms with their difficult situation. Blessings to you all.

Old Children’s Books Series Kids Today Should Read, Part 2

I was fortunate to have had access to libraries with a wide array of children’s books when I was growing up. I never ran out of new stories to read. My parents were also very encouraging toward this pastime and happily financed the beginnings of what would turn out to be a vast personal library.

I’ve often boasted about my kids reading the very copies of books I’d read as a kid. I can imagine some people going, so what? I guess it would take a kindred to grasp how special that is. Fortunately, I’ve encountered many who belong to the race that knows Joseph and get it. 😉

A little while back, I published a post listing three children’s book series that are so wonderful that I feel kids today shouldn’t miss out on reading them. Unfortunately, they’re not as easily accessible anymore. I acquired my own copies from thrift stores and secondhand bookshops. I’m afraid they’re no longer the titles you’ll find on the market these days.

And there are more series that can be included in the list. Here are three of them:

The Boxcar Children (first published in 1924) by Gertrude Chandler Warner

This series is pretty successful, so it’s actually still being perpetuated by different writers and with stories set in the current time. I’m not really interested in those. I prefer to read the ones from the first half of the 20th century, preferably those that were actually written by the series creator, Gertrude Chandler Warner. Why should your kids read these books?

  1. The stories are really riveting for children with a penchant for mysteries, a sense of adventure, and a desire for independence. The four children were always doing things on their own. Of course the stories (the original ones – I have no idea what’s going on in the current ones) are set in a different time, but I suppose, even then, most kids wouldn’t be allowed to travel in a caboose by themselves, stay on an island by themselves, do long bike rides by themselves, etc.
  2. There’s so much they can learn from the collection of stories, trivia stuff, different era stuff, practical stuff, etc. I personally got to apply some ideas from the book in my life. For instance, when I was first living on my own, I had the idea to make a pie because I had a can of peaches that was set to go to waste if I didn’t intentionally use it for something. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a rolling pin, but, fortunately, I did remember reading in Surprise Island that Jessie was in a similar predicament and found solution in a bottle. I did have wine bottles, so I was able to make my first pie that day. It was pretty good for a first attempt.
  3. The Alden kids are nice kids with manners and values typical of an earlier, more genteel time. This will hopefully inspire your kids to behave similarly. Times have clearly changed, so we have to be similarly dynamic, but there are some tolerated behaviors today that I just can’t accept. This reminds me of a favorite rant of mine. I’m so bothered by the way people nonchalantly take out and use their phones at the dinner table. It’s so anti-social, and that’s coming from me, an unrepentant introvert! There was a time when you had to excuse yourself and leave the table to take a call, and even then you would apologize profusely because you shouldn’t take calls at mealtime. It would be nice for kids today to be exposed to the etiquette and social conventions of an earlier era.

The Famous Five (first published in 1942) by Enid Blyton

Most of the children’s book series I’ve featured here are set in the US. This one, penned by beloved children’s book author Enid Blyton, however, is set in Britain. Similar to other children’s book series, the protagonists in The Famous Five encounter in each story some mystery that they have to solve. The formula clearly never gets old since I also use it for my own children’s books. This is a worthwhile inclusion in my list because it shares many of the benefits I already enumerated with regard to the other series I’ve already featured, plus the following:

  1. It allows readers to experience various British climes, often rural, allowing them to learn about the people and culture of these places. I don’t know about you, but reading about these far off foreign places gave me a hankering to know more about them and experience them first-hand. These seemingly inconsequential exposures have a way of shaping readers, including their goals and dreams in life.
  2. It lends an opportunity for young readers to learn the Queen’s English. With some guidance from you, this shouldn’t confuse them about which type of English to use. Ideally, this would allow them to compare and contrast it with American English. Of course, there’s also the factor of time adding an extra nuance to the expressions used, which, in turn, also adds to the readers’ stores of knowledge.
  3. It’s all about adventure – being outdoors, exploring, engaging in physical activities… In these old books, the characters don’t spend the day watching TV or playing video games. It allows young readers to have a better idea of what a screen-free childhood is like, how it’s actually possible and (dare I say it) more fun. I often lament that kids today are missing out on slow time, which is actually real time. It allows the mind to work better, to better process and savor moments, to come up with solutions with fewer tools available, etc. Sorry, that’s another favorite rant of mine. 😀

The Great Brain (first published in 1967) by John D. Fitzgerald

Although the books are set in 19th century Utah, they weren’t published until the 1960s. They’re essentially stories that are loosely based on the author’s own childhood experiences. The “Great Brain” alluded to in the series is the author’s older brother, Tom. He demonstrates amazing intelligence, which is unfortunately accompanied by a money-loving heart, turning him into a mischievous swindler.

How do kids today benefit from reading about this adorable rapscallion’s escapades? The same way kids of previous generations did.

  1. The books are a very entertaining read. Each story is a humorous account of The Great Brain’s youthful shenanigans. Don’t worry about his propensity to manipulate others for his own monetary gain. He actually has a strong sense of justice, and despite his smarts, he often does get his comeuppance and is subjected to discipline.
  2. I’m a strong believer in living books being more effective tools of learning than text books. The Great Brain stories offer many snippets of knowledge in various subjects, particularly history, science, and logic.
  3. The setting is pretty unique. 19th century Utah offers a fascinating visit, as you can probably imagine with its natural landscape, as well as its historical and religious significance.

Did you get to read these books when you were young? Do your kids know about them? I hope you and your kids can access copies. You can probably find some from secondhand bookstores and online sellers.

Can you suggest other early to mid-20th century series that should be included? I can already think of two.  I think there may be a part 3 to this. 🙂

Foraging the Garden – Mustard Greens as Natural Decongestant

I have insane allergies that seem to have gotten worse as I got older. These days, my nasal passages can get so swollen that I can barely breathe. I think I may have chronic sinusitis, but I haven’t gone to the doctor as I’m true to form. As many Asian comedians would say, Asian moms are the last people to go to the doctor. So, I’m dealing with it my own way and keeping myself away from the antibiotics that I’m sure to be prescribed.

My really bad allergies strike about once a month. That’s the time when my immune system plummets and I have to purposefully boost my health so I don’t get debilitated. I’m not exaggerating. You can’t do anything when you’re forcefully sneezing every 10 seconds, or if you have pains bothering you. If I’m not careful, I can get a really severe asthma attack or a nauseating migraine attack. Or both. Since the best defense is a good offense, I usually take more supplements as well as apply and diffuse essential oils to ward off these potential episodes.

Unfortunately, sometimes I forget to be conscious of dates and I find that I already dropped the ball on going on the offensive, giving my allergies the chance to attack with a vengeance.

Home Remedies for Stuffy Nose

When my nose is seriously clogged not only by mucus, but by inflamed blood vessels as well, I have several go-tos for breathing aids.

1. A hot liquid – This could be a drink like herbal tea or some kind of citrus juice, or soup (preferably Korean). Inhaling the steam also helps, of course.

2. Chili in food -That would explain the Korean soup preference. I love spicy food, but, other than pickled peppers like pepperoncinis and banana peppers, I don’t really eat chilis straight. I just season with them or use them as condiments. I’ve found Sriracha to be very effective.

3. Wasabi – Blessed was the day I discovered this Japanese horseradish paste! I love what this can do to my nose. I remember an episode of “The Nanny” wherein Fran Fine tried it for the first time. With a more dignified non-nasal voice, she said, “Gee, you know that mustard really clears up the nasal passages. I like it. I wonder how (nasal voice back) long it’s gonna last.” That’s right; the relief that doesn’t last very long, but those few seconds of normal nose-breathing are gold when you have a stuffy nose. That’s why I like having a tube of wasabi paste on hand.

4. Mustard greens – Bearing the same component (allyl isothiocyanate) in wasabi that causes that nasal burning (and clearing!) sensation, mustard greens are both delicious and stuffy nose-busting.

The Wonderful Mustard

Mustard is getting the spotlight in this post because it’s my favorite vegetable, and as long as I remember to plant seeds at regular intervals, I always have some available in the garden.

I consider the mustard to be all that as a plant. It’s peppery, crispy, nutritious, and biblical! I feel it’s extra special because Jesus talked about it. 😀 In any case, the following are some of the established benefits offered by mustard greens in case I haven’t swayed you over to their fandom.

  • They have loads of health-promoting and disease-preventing phytonutrients.
  • They are rich in vitamins A, C, and K and have sufficient vitamin B-complex for it to count.
  • They are a great source of various antioxidants – carotenes, flavonoids, indoles, lutein, sulforaphane, and zeaxanthin.
  • They have plenty of dietary fiber while also being low calorie.

Studies have found that regular consumption of mustard greens helps protect the body against various ailments and diseases, including arthritis, osteoporosis, iron deficiency anemia, cardiovascular diseases, asthma, and certain cancers.

Mark and I are kind of addicted to the things. He used to like pickling them and having them on standby in the fridge for a side dish or a snack, but he has cottoned to my lazy ways, which involve plucking leaves from the plant and eating them straight like a common garden vermin, lol.

—————-Arugula/Rocket Salad—————-

I’d love to have other peppery, decongesting vegetables in my garden. I’m going to try watercress and nasturtiums, but I don’t think they’ll thrive in my climate. I do have arugula, but its bite stays in the mouth and doesn’t blaze up to the nose the way wasabi and mustard do. That reminds me, I have wasabi radish seeds that I should have another go at. The first seed sprouted just fine, but something ate the seedling, so I have to find a safe place for my next try.

What about you? What’s your favorite vegetable? What decongesting tricks do you want to share? What do you frequently forage/harvest from your garden? I’d love to know.

Birthdays and Malaise

September is an insane month for us. Three of our family of five have birthdays exactly a week apart. It’s not like we can even get all the celebration in one go. There’s one every week. I’m not complaining; I just want to give you an idea how hectic things get during this time.

But, first, let me share the online cards I made for Marguerite and Cameron.

 

 

 

This year, we had to keep our celebrations to just the family. That includes my parents, sister, and cousins. Mark’s family live far away, and with the pandemic, arranging time with them got even more difficult.

Unless it’s a milestone birthday, we usually don’t have a party. We had one last year because our eldest became a teenager. This year, the celebration was way more low-key – less stressful, yes, but not completely stress-free.

On the birthday itself, we have a little ritual of cake-blowing and gift-giving when the celebrator wakes up. Mark and I used to buy a cake for the wake-up ritual, but this results in two or more birthday cakes crowding up the fridge for days, and then when the supply is finally dwindling, there comes another batch of cakes from the next birthday. I’ve learned to just make something that we can pretty much finish off at breakfast.

Around noontime we head on over to my parents’ house because my mom always prepares a spread and that’s where we celebrate with the rest of my family. My children are the only kids on my side since my sister is happily single. I also have three younger cousins whom I still think of as kids but who are actually already in their 20s. They’re very close to my family and more like my siblings than cousins. They’re all still unattached, so my kids are blessed with this solid set of doting aunts and uncle.

Mark’s birthday is, of course, a little different from the kids’. We usually arrange a staycation at nearby lodgings. That was a bit harder to manage this year on account of the pandemic, but we were fortunate to find a place in the mountains that Mark had actually already been interested in checking out for some time. The following day, we just indulged in a pleasant drive on mountain roads. Please note that we hardly had any social contact all throughout the trip, and we stayed masked-plus-face-shielded and always disinfected like crazy.

 

The thing is that we always have satisfying celebrations, but when our days start to settle down, that’s when the adrenaline sort of crashes and exhaustion sets in. Around the end of September, people start getting sick, usually starting with my husband. Flu-like symptoms manifest. With the threat of COVID-19 always looming among us, home diagnosis is a tad more nerve-wracking this year. Fortunately, the symptoms seemed more straightforward – no loss of taste or smell, no diarrhea.

As I’ve mentioned before, we try as much as we can to remain drug-free when treating our illnesses. We were able to deal with this round by drinking lots of tea, supping lots of soup, taking immune system-boosting supplements (multivitamins and 4Life Transfer Factor Plus – my parents are great believers in Transfer Factor, and from my own experience with it, it does seem effective), oiling, and getting plenty of pampered rest.

I don’t want to speak too soon, but I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway. Thank the Lord because I seem to have dodged the virus. So does Cameron. This is a real blessing because I’m the official caregiver here. Exposure and exhaustion usually make me susceptible, but it certainly looks like I’ve been spared this year.

In any case, I would like to share the essential oil flu blends for diffusing and topical application that I used on my family.

 

Homemade Probiotics: Easy Sauerkraut How-to

We are now more aware of the importance of gut flora (microbiota – bacteria, archaea, protists, fungi and viruses) to our overall health. Apparently, a significant part of our lives is influenced by what’s going on in our gut. Offering testimony to the cliché “small but terrible,” those microorganisms have a major impact on our physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing and, consequently, our quality of life.

Many have resorted to boosting their gut health with regular consumption of probiotics (beneficial bacteria and yeasts). These are usually found in fermented food like yogurt, miso, and sauerkraut. Some prefer to take supplements instead of eating or drinking fermented foods.

As I’ve mentioned before, my two boys have ASD, and we’re currently on the Nemechek Protocol. To put it succinctly, they take olive oil, fish oil, and inulin (prebiotic – food for good bacteria) daily and avoid Omega-6 oils such as soy, corn… pretty much all the other oils except for olive, coconut/palm, and canola. They also don’t take multivitamins and probiotic supplements. Fortunately, probiotic foods and drinks are allowed, so they do consume yogurt, certain soft cheeses, and sourdough bread.

Mark and I, of course, eat other probiotic foods like sour pickles, kimchi, and sauerkraut. The kids aren’t partial to them. I can understand. I wouldn’t have touched any of those with a ten-foot pole either when I was a kid. I still don’t like sweet pickles to date (and ketchup continues to creep me out, just to throw it out there). My palate has thankfully become more adventurous since.

Mark has also sold me on turshi. He lived in Dubai as a child and grew up eating pickled vegetables. Turshi isn’t typically available in the Philippines. Neither is sauerkraut (it’s not really popular here; I think the counterpart would be achara or pickled unripe papaya – something I also wouldn’t give a chance as a kid, but I like just fine now) so we’ve had to make our own.

We’ve been pickling/fermenting a lot of things actually. There’s something about it that just makes me feel efficient, like I accomplished multiple good things. If you think about it, pickling is preserving, so it prevents food wastage, ensures the goodness of produce when the fresh option isn’t handy, adds to your present or future food supply, gives you probiotics, et cetera, et cetera.

For now, I’ll focus on the sauerkraut, which, I think is one of the easiest to make. It may sound German, but it’s actually a side dish present in many cultures and dates back to the Roman Empire or even earlier. Before refrigeration, folks had to find ways to make their food last longer. Salt was usually the answer. In general, it provides the solution to many of life’s conundrums.

Sauerkraut is basically pickled finely cut raw cabbage. Kimchi and pickled cucumbers are produced through the same lactic acid fermentation process. The cabbage is layered with salt and then left for days to ferment. When fully cured and stored in an airtight container, sauerkraut can stay good for months.

What are some of the benefits of sauerkraut? First and foremost, fermentation increases the bioavailability of nutrients, making it richer in vitamins C and K, calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, copper, manganese, folate, and dietary fiber than the original cabbage. It is high in antioxidants and, if left uncooked and unpasteurized, probiotics. Studies have also indicated that sauerkraut has components that inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

Historical records mention that consumption of sauerkraut helped in the reduction of death due to disease among prisoners of war during the American Civil War, as well as prevented scurvy (disease caused by vitamin C deficiency) among sailors during long sea voyages. All in all, sauerkraut is an amazingly healthy food. It also adds a healthy zing of tanginess, saltiness, and crunch to the gastronomic experience.

The sauerkraut recipes out there vary in directions and ingredients, so what I’m going to share is the simplest, most basic one. You can easily tweak it to adjust to the flavor you prefer.

As you get used to making your own sauerkraut, you’ll feel more confident about adding other ingredients like caraway seeds, ginger, berries, etc. You’ll also have a better idea how much salt you really want to use.

Do you eat sauerkraut? How do you like yours? What do you eat it with? What other probiotic foods do you make at home? OR do you even believe in the purported significance of gut health? I’d really like to know. 🙂

 

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