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. 🙂

 

Garden Stories: Collecting Moss Roses

The first time I ever encountered (or registered) moss roses, they were on Mrs. Hla’s front lawn. She was one of my ESL students – a missionary’s wife who sought to improve her English. Twice a week, I would go to her house to teach her and two other Bangladeshi women. I taught high school English in the mornings at that time, and their kids were actually in my classes. During the school’s first PTC, they had approached me to see if I’d be willing to come over to Mrs. Hla’s house and teach them ESL. I readily agreed.

As I approached the Hlas’ home for our first session, I noticed the round fluffs that seemingly hovered above the grass. In the midday sun, their color took on a vibrant hot pink hue. I was utterly charmed and instantly fascinated. When I inquired what those flowers were, Mrs. Hla informed me that they were Vietnam Roses.

The next time I took a trip to a garden center, I got myself a few pots of said plants. Since the name “Vietnam Rose” is a little unwieldy (not really, lol) and some people actually call the flower Mexican Rose, I decided to call it the more neutral “moss rose.”

I don’t remember what happened to those plants. I was still single and living at home, and although I loved plants and enjoyed the garden, I wasn’t really in charge of taking care of anything. I think the moss roses died or they weren’t thriving, so my mom got rid of them. Apparently, plants need care specific to their needs, duh. This is just another one of the many lessons in responsibility and independence that I had to painstakingly learn when I was finally living on my own.

Fast forward to some 20 years later when I was already entrenched in tending my own garden. I wasn’t big on ornamentals and mainly preferred edibles and medicinals. However, like many plant lovers in the time of pandemic, I became a member of a gardening barter community. Shortly after my joining, somebody wanted to barter portulaca cuttings for succulents and pots. Portulaca happens to cover a range of plants, including moss rose and wingpod purslane, which were what the poster was offering. Remembering my lapsed fascination for moss roses, I immediately offered a succulent (a freebie I got from buying herbs) and a hooked pot, which the poster fortunately accepted. We swapped goods via Lalamove and I became the owner of several cuttings that soon gave me multiple pots of portulaca.

Since I have both moss rose (portulaca grandiflora) and wingpod purslane (portulaca umbraticola), I’d better just refer to both as portulaca. Admittedly I’m more partial to moss roses, but I have every intention of collecting wingpod purslane as well. Right now I just have the yellow-flowering kind, but I’ve spotted pink and orange varieties from a neighbor. I’m just biding my time before I propose a neighborly barter.

My collection thus far of moss roses, on the other hand, has given me a funny anecdote. The portulaca grandiflora is a curious little plant; even its names are interesting. Other known names for it are rock rose, sun rose, rose moss, and eleven o’clock. Now, the last one is uncanny because in Tagalog, moss rose is also called  a las diyes, which means “at ten o’clock” (AM obviously), referring to the time when the flowers are fully open. Incidentally, its other name in Tagalog is alembong, which means “flirt.” It’s not a nice name to be called, and I don’t what these flowers did to deserve it, but my mother is having fun calling the plants this.

Speaking of my mother, a huge chunk of my collection actually came from her. One time I found out she was at the garden shop, so I asked her to get me some portulaca. From my own previous visits, I knew that you could get a bundle of cuttings of different colored flowers for fifty pesos. I wasn’t sure if she was in the same shop I visited, but the price range should stay close to that value. Portulaca isn’t expensive at all and is ridiculously easy to propagate; that’s why I have no guilt over collecting different kinds.

My mom got two hanging pots of moss roses. I asked her what colors she got since I had told her to get any color except for fuchsia and peach, which I already had. Mom, however, had no idea. She said the sales clerk couldn’t say either. That sounded promising, so she said she’d just take the plants for herself and I could get cuttings if they produced colors I wanted. That was fine by me.

We waited excitedly to see what color flowers the plants would bloom, but the buds they already had somehow ended up shriveling. The plants looked fine. They weren’t wilting or dying. They just weren’t blooming. They were getting full sun. They were getting enough water. BUT my mother unfortunately does have a record for killing plants, even hardy ones. She has since gotten better at taking care of plants (with some help) and now has a thriving garden. Still, she did have a record, so she told me to bring the plants home before she wound up killing them.

For some reason, within a week of bringing the plants home with me, I got my first bloom. I was thrilled because the flower was a baby pink color I didn’t have yet. A couple of days later, I got another bloom. This time, the flower was white. I reported to my mom that the pots she got seemed hold a pink and white combo. I was thrilled to have two additional colors to my existing collection. Meanwhile, my older peach-flowered plant produced a decidedly darker orange bloom, more coral than the pastel peach ones it gave in the past. That was really interesting to me. One of these days, I’ll muster enough zeal and motivation to look up what was up with that.

And then one of Mom’s plants offered up another shade of pink, this time more watermelon pink than the light pink it used to bloom. I thought, “Oh, I get it now. These pots have a yesterday-today-tomorrow kind of theme.” Yesterday-today-and-tomorrow is what we mistakenly call Mom’s Rangoon Creeper, which has white, pale pink, and darker pink flowers. The real yesterday-today-and-tomorrow plant (Brunfelsia), however, has blooms in different shades of purple.

Anyway, it turned out that the plants were yet to be done with their surprises as a day later, one of them produced a variegated flower with both pink and white on it. I was elated. I admittedly do have a lot of seemingly shallow joys – seeds sprouting from the soil or stubborn ones germinating in damp folded paper towels, plants budding, free new plants from runners and shoots… so something like an unexpected flower color really excites me.

In any case, I was incredibly delighted by my moss roses, and seeing them continues to thrill me. When I get up in the morning and emerge from my bedroom, the first thing I do is to pull the blinds open to reveal the wall of jalousie (louvre) windows facing the garden (our living room has two wall-length sets of jalousies). My eyes are always immediately drawn to the different pots of portulaca.

I only have yellow wingpod purslane thus far, but I hope to remedy that as I mentioned earlier. The moss roses, however, offer different color combinations every day. I’m always eager to see which colors are blooming each morning.

My collection is far from complete. I still need yellow, red, a more vivid orange, and more of the variegated varieties. In time, I’ll get all of them. In the interim, I will attempt the braided portulaca project that somebody in one of my gardening groups shared. It looked really pretty when it started blooming.

As lovely as the portulaca plants are, they contribute more than their beauty to my garden, Since their arrival, I noticed more bees, dragonflies, and butterflies visiting it. In effect, they’re helping my fruiting plants get pollinated. Of course, the insects carry their own charm, and I’m happy just to see them, but seeing the ecosystem at work in my garden is really thrilling.

That’s the story thus far of my portulaca collection. It’s a tale in progress, so I’ll probably post some more about it in the future. Hopefully, this kind of post would be something many readers would be interested in. I once saw a Facebook meme with a guy wearing a shirt that said “Introverted but willing to discuss plants.” I obviously could use that shirt.

Observing the Life Cycle of a Lime Swallowtail

I used to groan in dismay every time I spotted this brown and white slug on one of my citrus plants. One time, I had various lime and lemon seedlings and they were all decimated in a matter of days. I made the mistake of being delighted by the presence of those tiny slugs that turned into an army of chunky, strapping young green caterpillars in the twinkling of an eye.

Since finding out that they’re ravenous little creatures, I started plucking the leaves they’re on and moving them to the other side of the garden. I figured if they could find their way back, then they deserved to feast. However, sometime ago, I read a post in one of my Facebook gardening groups beseeching us to leave these caterpillars alone. They can’t really devour an entire (mature) plant and the butterflies will be an asset in the garden when they emerge.

I could roll with that. That’s why when I found two minuscule brown caterpillars on my Meyer lemon plant, I left them alone to feed. A few days later, they turned green and I got the idea of using them to teach the kids about metamorphosis.

I snipped off the branch they were resting on, still with plenty of leaves for them to feed on, found a big enough jar to temporarily house them in, and relocated them into it. I covered the jar with a doily since I couldn’t find the tulle I knew we had (as usual).

I was going to transform this old Quaker Oats jar into an upside down tomato planter like this one (below) I already have hanging. So far, the tomato plant is thriving (much bigger than that now). The jar also has moss rose growing on top. In the interim, the second jar will serve as as home for caterpillars we want to study.

Something to note is the amount of waste these caterpillars produced. It was A LOT. I thought the quantity was amazing and didn’t really mind; it meant fresh fertilizer every day.

Four days later, one of them went missing. Or so I had initially thought. It turned out that one just pupated ahead of the other. One of the drying leaves on the stem was actually a chrysalis. A day later, the other one followed suit. The chrysalides made a fun little “Find Waldo” kind of game for the kids. They took a bit of time figuring out which ones were the cocoons among the leaves.

We waited about a week for the things to complete their magic inside their cocoons. One morning, I heard a frantic flapping noise as I walked past the jar. One of the butterflies had finally emerged. It seemed ready to fly off, so I got the family for the send off.

What a miracle, right? It transformed from that creepy brown slug-like thing into this pretty butterfly (with a couple more steps in between, of course). Nature really is so amazing. And there are so many life truths in this lesson of metamorphosis.

Anyway, the other butterfly emerged the day after. I think maybe it wasn’t quite ready when we released it because it just flew to the twine we used to hang an old CD (to keep the birds from plucking off cuttings we’re trying to root and beating us to the fruits, especially the chilies.) When it was ready, it flew off.

The kids are sad to learn that their butterflies will only live a week or two, but such was the life of an adult lime butterfly. In any case, the cycle continues. Our butterflies and their comrades must have come back to lay their eggs in our garden because there’s a whole bunch of brown slugs on our citrus plants again. We’re just going to leave them be. I’ve stopped thinking of them as garden pests because their presence just shows that the garden is part of the ecosystem, and, really, having butterflies in the garden is a wonderful treat.

I think next we’ll see what those caterpillars on the pechay are going to turn out to be.

Fruit Cookies (Apple, Lemon)

Sometimes I get tired of chocolate chip cookies. Take note that I’m talking about me; I’m sure my kids would happily eat them every day. My other go-to cookie option is the snickerdoodle, but I prefer to bake it around Christmastime. I have baked snickerdoodles at other times of the year, but if I can help it, I reserve them for the -ber months. It’s just a silly personal tradition. Don’t even get me started on gingerbread or stained glass cookies; those are just for Christmas.

Sigh. I’m one of those people who like to make unnecessary rules and limitations for themselves, essentially making things pointlessly harder for myself. It’s pretty annoying.

In any case, I’m afraid that cookies are more than a “sometime food” in our home. It’s easy to make them, and my lazy/picky eaters are partial to them. To take a break from chocolate chip cookies, I’ve started baking oatmeal and raisin/dried berry cookies, but my boys (they’re on the spectrum) tend to pick off the raisins/berries. They’ll happily eat these, but not mixed in cookies. I have no idea why. They don’t pick off chocolate chips or apple chunks, which brings me to the alternatives that have worked for us: apple cookies and lemon cookies.

Apples and lemons are ingredients we usually have on hand since we buy them weekly. I have a Meyer lemon plant, but it hasn’t reached fruiting stage yet, so these two are the only ones benefiting from it right now.

Meet Muncher and Chomper. Names are obviously interchangeable. 😀

I know those of you who live in a place with four seasons associate apples with fall, but we import apples year round, so I was able to spare myself from a season-based restriction regarding it.

Here are the recipes. Tweak as you wish. The apple cookie recipe can be turned into another kind of fruit cookie depending on what chunks you put in. Just hold the cinnamon if your fruit of choice doesn’t go with it.

For the lemon cookies, when lemon extract isn’t handy, I find that a few drops of lemon essential oil work just as well. Note the different levels of flatness in the image? I had helpers, and one liked it flatter than the other. Mine was the happy medium.

Drizzle either cookie with a sugar glaze if your sweet tooth is a thug. Mine usually is.

Did you check out Muncher and Chomper? I’ll be posting about them soon. One has already reached the chrysalis stage as of last night. Soon we’ll be setting them free as beautiful lime butterflies.

That’s it for now. What’s your favorite non-chocolate chip kind of cookie? Do you also confine certain cookies to just the Christmas season? Let me know. 🙂

Old Children’s Books Series Kids Today Should Read, Part 1

I cannot begin to tell you how much I love books. Some people love reading; I love reading AND books. Those are two different things. The second means that I prefer experiencing paper pages instead of the LED glow of an e-reader. I’m afraid it also means that I have a compulsion to hold on to my books. I just… don’t let go of my books! It might be a mental condition; I don’t know, but those who’ve been to my house bear witness to this particular trait of mine.

Being a book hoarder also means that my kids get to read the actual books that I read as a child. They can open a book and see my name written in my then-still childish handwriting. More often than not, the date or year when I got the book is included. That’s something I got from my mother. It was always thrilling to me to read her old books and note that they had been with her since the ’60s and ’70s. I came to love Emilie Loring because of the stash of old romances that she herself held onto. None of my friends knew who Emilie Loring was.

So that’s the other thing, hoarding books means that I have copies of older editions or of books that are no longer being printed at all, and I’m just the kind of person who would consider those treasures. 😀

I love children’s books, and I’ve started writing and publishing my own as you might know. However, nothing beats a tale of childhood adventure during a time when children had more freedom to explore, when they had to turn to the outdoors for fun, when they had to rely on their imagination and creativity to be entertained…

I like exposing my children to this kind of childhood. It was a great time. It had its problems, of course, but I think many of the old-timers have a hankering for the good old days for a reason. I would love to let my kids experience such an era, even if only in books and movies.

But we’re talking about old children’s book series. Many great ones have remained popular through the decades such as Nancy Drew, but I think there are also many excellent ones that have slipped through the cracks. From time to time, it’ll be my pleasure to write about the more obscure old series I love and want my children to read. Today, I’ll start with three.

The Mad Scientists’ Club (first published in 1965) by Bertrand R. Brinley

Each book in the series, except for the last one (The Big Chunk of Ice), which was published by Brinley’s son in 2005, is a collection of short stories narrating the wacky adventures of this group of friends comprising The Mad Scientists’ Club. The stories were first published in “Boys’ Life,” the official youth magazine of Boy Scouts of America.

What do I love about this series?

  1. It’s straight up adventure and shenanigan. It’s a fun read that’s meant to engage your imagination and tickle bone. There’s no coming-of-age drama. It’s just a bunch of boys pestering the rest of the town with their grand scientific schemes.
  2. The science is solid. The main characters are boys who strongly practice DIY and accomplish scientific feats in the name of wholesome mischief.
  3. It’s set in the idyllic (but, of course, fictitious) small town of Mammoth Falls, which provides hills, river islands, caverns, etc. for energetic and inquisitive children committed to staying out of the house.
  4. The characters are all entertaining, the townsfolk included. Even the main villain, the rival gang of a former Mad Scientists’ Club member, is funny and not at all menacing.
  5. It’s the kind of book that will have you frequently bursting out in laughter.

*There was a two-part episode in “The Wonderful World of Disney” based on “The Strange Sea Monster of Strawberry Lake.” If anybody could point me to a copy, I’d appreciate it. 🙂

Trixie Belden (first published in 1948) by Julie Campbell Tatham (Kathryn Kenny)

Trixie Belden is kind of like Nancy Drew, except written with more levity and a younger sleuth (13) who is decidedly less of a paragon, but definitely more fun than Nancy. My mom scored my first Trixie Belden books (1 “The Secret of the Mansion” and 2 “The Red Trailer Mystery”) from, of all places, the nearby supermarket. I loved them. I loved Nancy Drew, but I enjoyed Trixie’s stories more. Why?

  1. Trixie was more realistic than the perfect Nancy. She could be rude, short-tempered, and impulsive. She also had chores and was usually short of cash. She was forever struggling with math.
  2. Again, the stories are set in a small town (love small towns!), and it’s easier to picture Sleepyside-on-Hudson than River Heights, which seemed too much like your generic suburban neighborhood (to me anyway).  The modest but sweet Crabapple Farm, which was nestled in a valley between two mansions on a hill, is decidedly more enticing.
  3. Bess and George provide humorous banter for Nancy Drew, but the Bob Whites (what Trixie and her friends, including her brothers, call themselves) definitely engage in zanier exchanges.

The Melendy Family Series (first published in 1941) by Elizabeth Enright

Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver are the Melendy Quartet, siblings who had a myriad of adventures starting from their time in the Manhattan brownstone they lived in and all the way to their odd-looking home in the country. They eventually gained another sibling in the heart-warming “And Then There Were Five.” What’s so great about this series?

  1. It is set in the Second World War, and you can see how children in the States were able to support their troops in their own small ways.
  2. The books are pretty action-packed with a wide variety of adventures from building a dam to staging a show, from gathering metal scraps to nighttime hikes, etc.
  3. They are children who follow their aptitude and nurture their gifts.
  4. Their values are solid even if they are also prone to mischief and snarkiness like many children.
  5. There’s no shortage of lovably eccentric characters, including a smiling pet alligator kept in a bathtub.

All these fictional children are ones I’d love for my children to get to know and draw inspiration from.

There are more wonderful, lesser known old-time children’s book series I’d love to feature, but which ones would you recommend? Let me know. 🙂

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