Gardening Stories – Keeping Volunteers

I’ve already mentioned in a previous post my propensity for hanging on to weeds or volunteers, as I prefer to call them. It only got worse as I became interested in ornamental gardening. In the past, I used to claim that I only planted edibles and medicinals, but ever since I did my first barter and got Vietnam rose and wingpod purslane, I started hankering after flowers.

After that, I did another barter wherein I got different lilies, mayanas (coleus), turtle vine, bleeding heart cadena de amor, pink polka dot plant, hibiscus, alocasia, and a few others I can’t recall right now, and my interest in ornamentals grew.

I never used to care about philodendrons and pothoses, but, now, I want to collect them. I guess I’ve been bitten by the plantita bug. I never considered myself a plantita before. I was a gardener, a wannabe backyard farmer, but not a plantita. I didn’t know a caladium from a calathea. I only very reluctantly kept indoor plants because I already sucked at housekeeping; it just wouldn’t do to add to the already long list of chores I habitually neglected.

But now, I’ve become a convert. I fell asleep the other night with visions of split and variegated leaves swimming in my mind. Last week while driving around Eastwood, which is landscaped with many ornamental plants, I kept on wanting to stop and ask the nearest guard for cuttings. I think from now on I won’t go out without my pruning shears at the ready. You never know when you’ll encounter somebody willing to let you snip from their plants.

This means that while I used to hesitate about yanking out volunteers on the chance that they’re edible or medicinal, now I also often choose to leave them alone for their ornamental value.

Syngonium with a kind of grass with tiny white dots for flowers. Planning to use grass for indoor flower arrangement, our allergies be darned.

I had this plant with pretty heart/arrow-shaped leaves spring up from the base of my potted lemon tree. I thought it would nice to keep it around. I asked for help identifying it in one of my gardening groups, and I was told that it was syngonium. Invasive and often considered a weed, it was now getting popular as an ornamental. Sure enough, in my gardening barter group, many have asked for syngonium in exchange for what they were offering.

There was also this kind of grass that grew under my starfruit plant. It had tiny purple flowers that were so pretty I didn’t have the heart to yank them out. When the blooms were gone, somebody yanked them out, but I don’t think it was me. And then there was this other weed that looked like creeping charlie (and might actually have been creeping charlie); it grew at the base of my kumquat. It’s gone now too. I should have repotted them or used them for decoration because they didn’t stay very long for some reason. I wish I had at least taken pictures.

Of course, I still have white and purple vincas (periwinkle) growing in the cracks of the garden wall. I leave those alone. My mom actually bought a vinca with fuchsia flowers, so I might get a cutting to propagate with and I’d be on my way to a veritable collection.

And then there are the ferns. I know next to zilch about ferns, which is funny because there was one point in my teenage years when I wished my name was Fern instead of Ivy. (Did that make you think of hanging pots of English ivy and Boston fern?) Anyway, I used to just yank volunteer ferns out, thinking unless they were fiddleheads, which would be great in a salad, I didn’t really care to keep them. Now that I’m more or less certifiable as a plantita, I’m repotting them and nurturing them to a thriving state. I actually gasped in dismay the other day when I found whole, already lush fern plants in my mom’s pile of garden discards.

Dill with fish fern(?) and oak fern(?)

Right now, I have what I think is a fish fern? I thought it looked like a sword or a Boston fern, but then I found this, so I’m thinking it’s most likely fish fern or pakong-alagdan (both edible and medicinal). I also have what I think looks most like oak fern, but, probably not. Anybody care to enlighten me?

Oak fern(?) with dragon fruit plant

I have other volunteer plants that turned out to be papaya, sambong, and crown of thorns. Obviously, I kept them. Every morning, I go out to聽see what new plants have found their way to my yard. It’s one of the delights I derive from having a garden. There are plenty, of course. All that sprouting and budding and fruiting… it’s all pretty exciting. Let’s not even get into the fascinating creatures that choose to hang out there. Or the mushrooms! They’re always thrilling to discover. (That’s not just me, right?) Unfortunately, all that have appeared in my garden had rings around their stems, a sure sign that they were poisonous. Still, I’m glad to have these things for however short a time they get to stay.

Toxic cuties 馃榾

There are also volunteers I kept that turned out to be duds – in my opinion, anyway. On the grounds of our church’s former location, we used to harvest wild cucumber from volunteer vines that grew everywhere. Our old chapel was such a nice place. We planted mango, chirimoya, atis, mulberry, sapinit, and santol among other things around it. We’d been there since 1995, but a couple of years ago, our landlady decided to use the property herself – and then proceeded to change her mind several times. Unfortunately, we were long gone. Going back to my original track though, I thought I had the wild cucumber vine growing in my garden. I let it grow and flourish and… well, fester. It was so invasive, and it never flowered or bore fruit. I finally had the sense to get rid of it. In any case, I’m still here wishing one of the bugs and birds would accidentally gift me with a wild cucumber or a wild passionfruit.

My mom who has actual in-ground soil, not just paved space like I do, has a more lush collection of volunteers. She has is-is (ficus聽ulmifolia), kapok (Java cotton), and akapulko (candle bush) among other trees. I happen to think those plants are a boon to have. Is-is leaves can be used as sandpaper and scouring pad. I also recently learned that its berries are edible. Meanwhile, kapok is a source of cotton, and akapulko is known in these parts as a remedy for skin issues. Back in the ’90s, my dog Maggie developed mange from an airborne virus (not mites, according to the vet), and somebody advised me to bathe him in boiled (and cooled, of course) akapulko leaves, flowers, and bark. Maggie’s skin cleared almost immediately.

It really does pay to keep volunteers in many cases. What about you? What volunteers have you been blessed with? Did you keep them? Or are you brutally committed to weeding them out? I’d really like to know.

Bringing Iceland’s J贸lab贸kafl贸冒 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聽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聽year,聽Iceland holds the J贸lab贸kafl贸冒 (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聽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聽it while still disgruntled. 馃榾

The Benefits of Observing J贸lab贸kafl贸冒

Of course, getting books is a perk in itself, but there are other benefits that should urge you to consider observing J贸lab贸kafl贸冒 – 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聽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聽expensive聽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. 馃榾
  • 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,聽and you’re essentially catering to聽a simple yet timeless pleasure.
  • Gift of slow time. Today’s pace is聽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.聽 Thankfully, they were able to cross over to and linger in this millennium.聽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 J贸lab贸kafl贸冒 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 J贸lab贸kafl贸冒. 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 d茅cor. 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 p枚nnuk枚kur, 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 j贸la枚l, which is a mix of malt and orange soda.

5. Read books and eat chocolates.

J贸lab贸kafl贸冒 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. 馃檪

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

I was fortunate to have had access to libraries with a聽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聽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?聽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. 馃槈

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.聽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聽first half of the 20th century, preferably聽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,聽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聽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聽the Queen’s English. With some guidance from you, this shouldn’t confuse them about which type of English to use. Ideally,聽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. 馃榾

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聽stories that are loosely based on聽the author’s聽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聽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聽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聽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聽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.聽 I think there may be a part 3 to this. 馃檪

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聽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聽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.


Garden Stories: Collecting Moss Roses

The first time I ever encountered (or registered) moss roses,聽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聽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,聽Mrs. Hla informed me that they were Vietnam Roses.

The next time I took a trip to a garden center, I got myself a聽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聽portulaca cuttings for succulents and pots. Portulaca happens to cover a range of plants, including聽moss rose and wingpod purslane, which were what the poster was offering. Remembering my lapsed fascination for moss roses, I immediately聽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聽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聽uncanny because in Tagalog, moss rose is also called聽 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聽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.聽That sounded promising, so聽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聽to see what color flowers the plants聽would bloom, but the buds they already had somehow ended up shriveling. The plants looked fine. They weren’t wilting or dying.聽They just weren’t blooming. They were getting full sun. They were getting enough water. BUT my mother unfortunately聽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聽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聽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聽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.聽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聽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聽wall of聽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聽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聽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聽started plucking the leaves聽they’re聽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聽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.聽Our butterflies and their comrades must have come聽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聽things pointlessly harder for myself. It’s pretty annoying.

In any case, I’m afraid that cookies are more than a聽“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. 馃榾

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聽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聽confine certain cookies to just the Christmas season? Let me know. 馃檪

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. 馃榾

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聽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 your funny bone. There’s no coming-of-age drama. It’s just a bunch of boys聽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,聽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. 馃檪

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).聽 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聽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. 馃檪

Quarantine Nature Scavenger Hunt

Do you miss immersing yourself in the natural world? Now more than ever, I wish my family lived in our own homestead. This quarantine wouldn’t be as oppressive if there was a bigger space in which to move around. At least we do have some outdoor space and a garden to which we can venture out (sans mask) for some fresh air and greenery.

We like going out though, especially聽to drive down to the river or up聽to the mountains so the kids can get their nature fix. Another usual outdoor recreation haunt for us that we greatly miss is the UP Diliman (my alma mater) campus, which seems to have acquired squirrels in the absence of the typical university bustle! Also, there are said to be sheep grazing on the grounds or hanging out at the jeepney stands! All these, of course, just make the hankering to see the place that much stronger.

I have to say that I’m the worst kind of introvert, but even I’m feeling penned up. I miss our church. I miss our homeschool co-op. I miss bumping into friends and acquaintances as I’m out and about. I miss eating out (how my heart breaks over all those long-running dining establishments that have been forced to permanently close their doors, or those that just opened and never even got the chance, or just all the businesses out there that have suffered and continue to suffer because of the pandemic). I also miss buying stuff from brick-and-mortar stores and not having to worry about exorbitant shipping fees. I’m most definitely craving our family road trips.

But I disgust myself when I get this whiny, so I compensate by finding ways to make the situation work.

Like I said, I crave nature and doing nature-oriented activities, but even in our concrete (or cinder block and plaster) cocoons, we can still encounter bits of the natural world (all very “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”). As that cool Dr. Malcolm says, “Life finds a way.” If we bother to take our eyes away from the screens, we can find living nature, other than the humans, at home. If we take the time to register their presence and appreciate their existence, we’ll feel a connection with the fresh and living world out there and our minds are healthier for it.

We can consciously look out for these things in our confinement, and what better way to do that than with a Scavenger Hunt. This is always fun. At least, for me, it is.

I know we have different home situations, so I’m going to make a list each for those who are really pretty much聽limited to finding the聽items listed聽inside their homes, without even a window with a good view to look out of; for those who don’t have exterior space, but do have a nice view from a window; and for those who have a yard. I hope at least one of these can help you pass the time and the activity can help tide you over until you can venture out again.


It’s okay to include items in the fridge or pantry.


Repeat items ought to be different kinds, e.g. Bird 1 (sparrow), Bird 2 (pigeon), Bird 3 (crow).


Feel free to add interesting items you spotted to the list. 馃檪

From Vicks to Katinko to Essential Oils (Plus Homemade Laundry Soap)

I recently saw a clip of Fil-Am comedian Jo Koy joking about Filipino moms’ tendency to cure everything at home. While I don’t resort to Vicks VapoRub for every malady like his did, it was definitely a staple at home when I was growing up. It was used a lot on me as I had a running cold (allergies it turned out) for most of my… oh, why limit it to childhood – for most of my life. That’s still the case up to now. I’m snotty in the morning, and my nose is sensitive to any disturbance – external (whatever’s in my environment) or internal (strong negative emotions). The urge to follow suit in the Vicks dependence is strong, except now, there’s Katinko. It took over Vicks VapoRub’s reign. I use it for pains, cough and cold, gas, etc.

As a true Katinko fan, of course, I got the ointment, the liniment, and the stick, but I’ve relegated them to the second line of defense. As much as I love Katinko, I know its聽ointment/balm is petroleum-based and it has synthetic ingredients in all its forms.聽In looking for a more natural alternative, I came across essential oils. This was about a decade ago, before the essential oil hype raged around the world.

I’ve always been interested in botany and herbalism. I can attribute the interest to various factors. First and foremost, plants and fungi are just so fascinating (right? *uncertainly* :D). Second, I was exposed to plant-based home remedies growing up.聽 I聽drank juice or tea from ampalaya (bitter gourd)聽leaves for my asthma, lagundi (Chinese chastetree) for coughs, calamansi (calamondin) for colds, and coconut water for UTI. I used acapulco (candle bush) for my dog’s episode with mange (it was an airborne problem, not mites), and you can safely assume that I squatted over a steaming pot of guava leaves tea in the days after giving birth. Third, my great-grandfather was an herbolario (herbalist, although many herbolarios were also witch doctors), so聽you could say it’s in my blood. I’ve always flirted with the idea of running an apothecary myself. Yes, in this century/millennium. I like the idea of making healing salves, balms, ointments, poultices, tinctures, teas, and (my daughter’s preferred term) potions all from natural ingredients. I know I have to do formal studies to run an apothecary. I don’t think my degree in foreign languages will cut it, lol. When I finally learn how not to be distracted, maybe I will formally study herbalism. In the meantime, however, I’m building my own FARMacy and using items from my garden for immediate remedies.

In any case, I thought essential oils fell right in with this lifestyle choice. When my first son was diagnosed with autism, I got even more into it.聽I came across various articles extolling the benefits of essential oils for special needs individuals. I started using oils to influence mood, encourage sleep, and stimulate mental clarity. Still connected to our autism diagnosis, essential oils figured as well in my bid to detox the family. Apparently,聽the commercial hygiene and home products that we use are rife with toxins, so I endeavored to start making my own from scratch, using oils and other natural, wholesome ingredients.

Considering my interest in essential oils, you’d have thought I immediately signed up with one of the dominant brands. Unfortunately, I have a problem with the idea of multi-level marketing, so I didn’t for a long time. I used different brands for years until I detected the better efficacy and general superiority of a couple of brands. It came down to two options, but I eventually chose Young Living as my essential oil brand of choice. I really liked doTERRA too, but most of the people I know were signed up with Young Living, so I decided to bite the bullet and sign up too. I figured if I was going to be using YL oils for virtually everything, I might as well get them at member rates.

Now, I likely won’t flourish much in the business side of YL because, first, I suck at selling; second, I suck at recruiting; and third, I don’t really have the time to devote to building a business. That’s not going to stop me from making a half-pantsed effort now and again though. You’re obviously getting a sample of some such effort right now.

All I can do is write about my experience with oils, how delighted I am with the benefits, how thrilled I am to be able to make my own products and know with certainty what’s in the stuff we use, how excited I am to share the oils and the knowledge with my loved ones, etc.

For now, I’d like to show you some of the essential oil blends I recently made. These are mostly rollers, blends I use for helping boost the immune system, for soothing itches, for repelling mosquitoes, and for combating allergies. There is also the spray blend I use to discourage aphids or to freshen up the smell of the room, plus a jar of homemade laundry detergent.

For the roller blends, it’s just fractionated coconut oil (which I prefer to virgin coconut oil, because it is more easily absorbed by the skin, doesn’t clog pores, and stays liquid no matter the temperature) as carrier oil and drops of essential oils. The spray, on the other hand, consists of distilled water and essential oils. For the laundry detergent, here’s the recipe.

You can make this by the gallon, of course, but it doesn’t have preservatives or other stabilizing agents, so I only make what I’ll be using for a week or two and then make another batch.

It gives me such fun, not to mention a sense of accomplishment and self-sufficiency, to make things from scratch. Essential oils make the endeavor better for all the benefits they offer. You can count on me sharing more recipes for essential oil-based products here from time to time.

As wonderful as essential oils are, there’s a learning curve to using it. It’s important to know the basic safety protocols before you even start. For instance, use of certain oils is discouraged for certain ages. There are also important diffusing guidelines you should know before you start. What about pets? Are essential oils safe for them? Arm yourself with the fundamentals and you can reap the benefits of essential oils without courting risk.

If you’re interested in getting into essential oils, or you’re curious and want to know more about them, or you’re a fellow enthusiast and would like to chat about them, reach out to me here. Or we can chat in the comments section. Your call. 馃檪

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