Life Lessons from Our Brush with COVID-19

My mother finally got to come home after almost a month of hospitalization. Their household is now COVID-free with everybody having already tested negative. The virus may be gone, but the havoc it wreaked still lingers. My father is now physically gone from us, and Mom has a long road to full recovery yet.

Less tangible than the physical effects of the sickness is the trauma of going through that nightmare. I’m not going to detail what trials and hardships we bore because, at the end of the day, we were more fortunate than others. Dad and Mom were both admitted in hospitals whereas multitudes expired while waiting to be seen at the ER, any ER.

My heart just aches for what’s happening in our country right now and for those who are in the thick of suffering through it. The mental and emotional anguish I feel is so immense that I can’t even get political about it. Last year, I was always ready with a rant to express my displeasure at the poor response of the government to the pandemic, but now I just don’t have the heart for it.

That doesn’t mean that my mind hasn’t been constantly grinding. It has been working overtime even if I hadn’t been voicing my thoughts out. Some of them are futile anyway – unprofitable what-ifs, pointless bargains, and other useless musings. In my grief-clouded brain, however, I still managed to glean realizations that helped me understand life better and appreciate the important lessons that this painful season of my life is teaching me. Here are some of them.

Important Lessons from COVID

1. It can happen to you, so make sure your soul is at the ready with peace like a river, joy like a fountain, etc.

Nobody is spared from bad things happening to them – cancer, accidents, and now COVID. Whatever happened to God’s protection, right? I used to take it personally when something unfortunate happened in my life, never fully acknowledging the thought, but still knowing in the back of my mind that I was feeling like God didn’t love or like me enough to spare me from one form of misery or another.

I’ve been taught all my life that being a Christian doesn’t spare one from suffering, that the difference was in the way God makes peace, comfort, hope, and even joy possible in the direst of circumstances, but, see, I didn’t really want spiritual fitness; what I wanted was to have a charmed life. I was in for a rude awakening because nobody is immune from adversity.

I may not have been very welcoming of this teaching, but when the rubber hit the road, it was one that I clung to. When the greatest tribulation we’ve ever faced as a family was unleashed upon us, the pain was so great, the details so plentiful, the challenges so overwhelming that I had no choice but to retreat to God for refuge to avail myself of the peace that passes understanding (Side note: As a kid listening to Kid’s Praise, I thought the song said “I’ve got the pizza pasta understanding down in my heart.”).

So, the takeaway is that we will all face affliction, and we will have to deal with all the unpleasant emotions and disquieting thoughts it comes with. That’s why it’s best to have God to turn to for our hiding place. (Side note: Remember that song? I loved singing it when I was a kid because we sang it as a round song. Did you too?)

And during trying times, let’s trouble ourselves to observe keenly that God is using them to grow us in our knowledge of Him and to make them work together with everything else in our lives for our good.

2. Never take anything other than God’s goodness and faithfulness for granted.

Our tendency is to make assumptions, educated and otherwise, but you’re pretty much setting yourself up for a downfall when you take anything as granted. They say that change is the only constant in this world, but we can count on God to be unchanging. His goodness and faithfulness are more reliable than the constancy of change.

In any case, everything in this world is temporal, even those things that they say last forever. Our time here is fleeting. In the post-Eden world, nothing endures, and, yet, we behave as though reality as we know it is indestructible.

Hearing my dad’s recorded sermons from last year’s ECQ made me realize that I took it for granted that I would always be hearing his words. They’re so familiar and ever-present to me that I didn’t always properly appreciate them. I’d heard them my whole life and I assumed that I would be hearing them throughout my days.

I used to be amused by Daddy’s standard lines like “That’s the world” (he obviously had a very poor opinion of the world) or “I’ll always choose Jesus” (he loved Jesus the best and nobody, not even his family, could persuade him to compromise his adherence to God’s principles). He uttered them ad infinitum and I must shamefully confess to having mildly made fun of them, but I experienced such profound sadness to realize that I wouldn’t be hearing them again from him. I was foolish to take the presence of Dad and his sermons in my life for granted.

My daughter Marguerite has a similar regret. She has a propensity for asking deep, existential questions at bedtime. Since my intelligence steadily declines from 9pm onwards, I find that I’m rarely equal to these discussions. I urged her to talk to Grampa about it, and she said she would, but when Grampa asked her what her questions were, she was so busy with all the things that occupied her attention during the daytime that she said she didn’t have any at that moment. Marguerite sadly took that opportunity for granted. She thought she had all the time in the world to ask her questions.

It’s also never wise to make assumptions because even the most logical ones can have the rug pulled out from under them. For instance, we assumed that Mom would get the Philhealth benefits for critical pneumonia since her pneumonia was undoubtedly critical. However, I was absolutely floored to learn that her pneumonia was only classified as severe. Her lungs had lost 80% of their function when she was brought to the ER. Her O2 level was at 70%. She was gray and her lips were turning blue. She had to undergo four rounds of hemoperfusion and stay at the ICU for almost a month. She was dying, and her case couldn’t be classified as critical? Unfortunately, the doctor said that his hands were tied. Philhealth had issued very specific guidelines on classification. If the patient hadn’t undergone renal replacement therapy or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, then she couldn’t be given a critical classification. That’s hogwash!

We were furious but too exhausted to make a fuss. At any rate, a world system may have failed us, but God, of course, could be counted on to be our ever present help in time of need. Despite the more than Php400k difference between our expected bill and the actual bill, God made sure that we had sufficient funds to settle Mom’s bill.

Universal truths, ancient standards, natural laws… they can all go berserk and bail on you, but you can always depend on God to be steadfast and unchanging in who He is.

3. It’s good to have advance directives in place.

Here’s a very practical lesson. It’s a good idea to determine now if you want to be resuscitated, intubated, or even hospitalized on the occasion that you fall critically ill. My dad signed a “do not intubate” order. The doctor assured me that he was lucid when he made the choice, but since he had been having hypoxic (brain was not getting enough oxygen) episodes, I couldn’t be sure that he had made that decision rationally.

I’ve accepted that God had set that time for Dad to go home to heaven, but I’m afraid that, at the time, I had to do everything in my power to ensure that Dad would be given every chance to survive, so I made my case that he hadn’t been himself since he got sick and tried to override his DNI order.

In the end, it was too late. By the time I got to the hospital and suited up in PPE, Dad had lost a pulse and they were already trying to resuscitate him. I was able to revoke the DNI order, but it was all just too late. Since it was a legal matter and the question of ethics figured into the whole thing, it took some time before my request was granted.

At least I was able to be there in Dad’s last moments. Standing right outside the door trying to stay out of the nurses and doctors’ way, I repeatedly called out to him that I was there and that I loved him. This study says that patients already in an unresponsive state may still be able to hear, and I certainly wish it’s true. COVID deaths are often lonely, but I managed to be present at his end of life, and I was allowed to say my goodbyes and thanks. I just hope that Dad was aware of it.

God’s control will always prevail, but it’s important to have these directives in place so that medical professionals and family members can be certain of carrying out the patient’s wishes. Loved ones will be able to avoid arguments as well as the agonizing burden of making such crucial choices.

4. Community is vital.

I’m not the warmest or friendliest person out there. I’m ridiculously introverted and often prefer my own company, but I like to think that the connections I’ve made are meaningful and lasting. My parents, on the other hand, are well-loved by many, and, by default, this sentiment is also extended to me. The gift of belonging to such a caring community has been made apparent to me in the past month.

Our close relatives have, of course, been very helpful, supportive, and generous. We have been blessed by aunts, uncles, and cousins of faith, who have been our rock to lean on during this incredibly difficult time.

Our church has been extremely wonderful as well. More than ever, I truly appreciate that we’re a smaller and more intimate gathering of believers. We have a personal connection with every member, and the sense of family is incredibly strong.

Our congregation has been consistent in their prayer and in their active help. When we said that we were bringing, first, Dad, and then, a few days later, Mom, to the hospital, several members were there along with me calling hospital ERs to find a place that would admit my parents, a seemingly impossible task at that time. When we said that Mom needed oxygen, they started calling different places to see where we could source it. They didn’t just give us numbers and told us to try calling possible places. They themselves made the calls to spare us the trouble.

When Mom and Dad were in the hospital; my sister and cousins were stuck home with symptoms of COVID as well; I was restricted by having to stay home with small children who were not allowed out, considering the suddenly much bigger threat of infection; and our two family members who could go out and take care of the multitude of details that needed to be dealt with were incredibly busy and exhausted, church friends constantly volunteered to run errands for us.

Additionally, our friends from different areas of our lives have been very generous and caring, sending everything from encouraging words and assurance of prayers to food and money. We really felt loved and cared for. Belonging to a kind and warmhearted community made a world of difference in our ordeal.

5. Until the war against COVID is over, don’t let your guard down.

What’s happening in the country right now is a result of many of us letting our guards down. I sense there’s another factor involved. The surge in infection is just too insane for all of it to be put down to people not being careful enough. Nonetheless, if people behaved as though the virus was still at large – which it definitely still is, festering and mutating like a villainous entity in a horror movie – perhaps the disease wouldn’t have been in the wild rampage it has been on in the past month or so.

In war, you do not relax your defenses as long as the threat is still out there. This is a good time to be overcautious. It may make you look uncool, as though you’re fear-mongering, but that uncool over-caution actually makes a lot of sense in this strange time and may very well be just the thing to save you.

If there’s anything the reality show Survivor taught us, it’s that you’ll fall spectacularly when you get cocky. The past weeks show us that we definitely shouldn’t get cocky with the coronavirus.

6. Jesus is your omnipresent friend.

Encounters with COVID-19 are suffused with loneliness. Can you appreciate how vile this virus is? Not only can it ravage your body, but it can also separate you from the loving warmth of your family, leaving you more vulnerable to its ill effects.

When my dad was admitted, the hospital said that COVID patients may have a companion, but the companion would have to be in isolation with the patient. Without a companion, a CCTV would be installed in Dad’s room so he could be better monitored. Considering our situation, we had no choice but to leave him companionless.

Dad didn’t like cell phones so he didn’t have one, but his room had a landline so we could talk to him. During our calls, he never expressed that he was lonely. He said that he was bored, and even though he had a TV in his room, he preferred to work, so he asked for his laptop. Mark brought it to the hospital, but I don’t think Dad got to use it. I wished that he had a companion, but, based on his behavior, Dad hadn’t felt alone. Even as he suffered from pneumonia, he remained calm. That’s the thing about him; he was always aware of God’s presence and always mindful of God’s control over any situation.

My mom, who had such a long and traumatic stay at the ICU, also says that it was God’s presence that comforted her and sustained her during that harrowing time. Meanwhile, my sister, who was alone and self-isolating at home, had to grieve all by herself while also sick with COVID symptoms. It was definitely a blessing that she could draw strength, courage, and peace from God.

Through all this, it has been made even clearer to us how wonderful it is to have faith and to enjoy the privileges of having a relationship with Jesus. We may not be able to dodge heartaches and hardships while we’re in this imperfect world, but having Jesus in our lives means that we have a perfect, ever-present friend at anytime and anywhere.

Your Own Thoughts?

I’m sure other realizations will occur to me as I continue to ruminate, but for now, these are what I’ve gathered and wanted to share with you. What about you? What has this pandemic taught you? I certainly hope that the lesson hasn’t been painful for you, and that you and your loved ones are all well.

Whatever you learned in the past year, I’d like the chance to ponder on them, so please feel free to share any relevant food for thought in the comments. Take care and stay safe! God bless!

Auditing 2020 and Editing for 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BONUS:

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

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

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

Where Autism Awareness Should Lead

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

One with the Public Response

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

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

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

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

Manifestation of True Awareness

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

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

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

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

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

PWD Discrimination and the Law

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

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

Fruit of Awareness

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

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

The Blessing of Autism

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

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

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.

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. 🙂

 

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 ointment/balm is petroleum-based and it has synthetic ingredients in all its forms. 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.  I drank juice or tea from ampalaya (bitter gourd) 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 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. 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, 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. 🙂

Our Journey to Pet Ownership (Scam and Benefits)

I’ve always wanted the kids to grow up with a pet or two. Knowing, however, that the responsibility of housebreaking and other necessary pet training would fall on my shoulders, I thought it would be best to wait until all my own kids were already potty-trained before we got one. I hadn’t figured on autism, however. I should know better than to make conditional clauses that tempt fate. 

My daughter Marguerite has wanted a cat for the longest time. Her lovey as a toddler was a stuffed toy cat she very originally called “Kee Cat” (her way of saying “kitty cat”). When she outgrew her dependence on Kee Cat, she naturally nurtured an interest for the real thing.

Through the years, she has expressed her desire to have a pet cat, and I could definitely relate. I had also distinctly identified myself as a cat person early on. However, she had two brothers who were still in diapers. Based on my own condition, it wasn’t the right time, so I had no choice but to simply  assure her that we would eventually get one for her. Fortunately, she reacted very well to the idea of waiting.

A couple of years ago, however, after reading about the benefits of a dog companion for autistic kids, my husband and I were convinced that the sacrifices and inconveniences of pet ownership would be worth it if our boys were to have significant gains from the experience. We thus visited a pet shop to see how our sons would interact with a Yorkie (our chosen breed at the time). While there, Marguerite got to hold and pet a super cute Persian cat. A few minutes later, she had hives on her arms and red, watery eyes. 

Oh, right. I forgot that I was allergic to cats as well when I was little. I developed a rash on my arms and neck, prompting my parents to rehome the kitten they’d gotten me. My allergies seemed to have eventually gone away as I had cats again when I was in college, also bunnies, and a dog. 

I started reading up on cat allergies and whether there were breeds that were hypoallergenic. There are none despite what some people may claim. There are less allergenic breeds, however, and I became partial to two breeds, the SIberian and the Russian Blue.

I first contacted a Siberian kitten seller I found through an online ad site. It turned out to be a scam. Basically, they would tell you that they’re giving the kitten away for free, complete with a questionnaire to ensure that you would give the kitten a good, loving home, and then when you’re about to close the deal, they say, alas, I’m abroad right now, about to have surgery and the kitten is with me. If you’d send me 15k, I’ll arrange for an international pet shipping service to deliver the kitten to you. I played along with this fishy arrangement until I got their Gcash number, and then told them that I’d just wait for them to get back to the Philippines. Now, I have the Gcash number, but I don’t know how to go about reporting it or if that would even help stop these people from trying to scam others. And they have been successful in some instances. I’ve read in a local FB cat group a woman’s post about how she was still pet-less after paying for several deliveries that didn’t pan out. She said that after she’d sent the money, she never heard from the seller again. Unfortunately, some members were not very kind in pointing out her gullibility.

Anyway, long story short, I tried again, this time on Facebook. The deal went through and we got ourselves two Russian Blue x Scottish Straight kittens. Scottish Straights aren’t known to be low-allergenic, but the former owner assured me that she herself had asthma and skin sensitivities, but the kittens or their parents had never triggered an allergic reaction from her. It has been a week since we got the kittens and no flaring allergies so far. 

It’s early days yet, but I’ve made up my mind not to regret doing this. I’m not a fan of scooping up their waste and cleaning the litter box, but it has been really wonderful having the kittens around. In any case, studies have shown that having a pet offers multiple benefits for the family.

Here are some of them:

  • Health-wise, findings indicate that pet owners are less inclined toward depression and hypertension (Pet fish owners count!). They also tend to have stronger resistance against pathogens. In many cases, the presence of pets is downright therapeutic.
  • Pets give comfort and unconditional love alongside the companionship they provide. They embody a ready confidant free of judgment.
  • Animal care sparks the instinct to nurture, planting the seeds of good parenting. It teaches selflessness, sympathy, sacrifice, and service. 
  • Owning a pet reinforces both responsibility and confidence. Pet owners are helping another living thing remain happy and thriving. It gives them a sense of control and boosts their self-esteem.
  • Growing up with pets provides cognitive support and helps learning in many other ways. Animals can provide lessons in socializing, behavior, emotional management, empathetic insight, and natural progressions.

Anyway, I’m very happy to be the person (one of them) of these kittens, and I’ll probably bore some of you by going on and on about them. If you do want to see more pictures, head on over to my Instagram. Hasta luego. 🙂

5 Wonderful Lessons Garage Sales Teach Our Kids

We recently participated in a multi-family garage sale held to raise funds for a fellow homeschooler who fell gravely ill with meningoencephalitis. While this dear little boy is thankfully now out of the woods, we still wanted to help with the expenses his hospitalization and continued treatment racked up.

My own family is no stranger to garage sales. We’ve held at least one every year and also regularly contribute to our church’s annual (now biannual) yard sale. There are obvious perks to holding garage sales. For one, you get to de-clutter your home. For another, you get to earn some money. If you involve your children, you can be sure that they benefit from the experience in many wonderful ways.

What are our young ones’ expected takeaways from doing garage sales?

  1. Material things are temporary. They get broken, lost, or outgrown. With garage sales, they learn to choose to not to be too attached to their possessions. They can be grateful for their time with something, but once it’s no longer useful to them, it’s time to let somebody else enjoy it.
  2. Value is twofold. An item’s worth goes beyond the price tag. They learn about cost depreciation and going rates in pricing, but they also learn to attribute appropriate value. Heirlooms, things of profound sentimental value, and other important items stay in the family. Everything else is dispensable.
  3. Pre-loved is a green choice. It’s best to keep your stuff away from the landfills. Your things are better off being reused or repurposed.
  4. A de-cluttered home feels lighter. Things can crowd them and weigh them down. Lessons in minimalism are best learned while young. They equip children to make smarter choices – wisdom beyond their years.
  5. Garage sales are Business 101. They involve the fundamentals of business, from organizing to pricing, to marketing, to mental math, to negotiating, to customer service, to teamwork, etc., and general life lessons about responsibility, safety, preparedness… And if your garage sale is actually for a cause, then there’s also the lesson of charity.

In a nutshell, a garage sale is a great idea, the benefits of which, are magnified when children are involved.

Do you like holding or going to garage sales? How do you feel about buying pre-loved items? Let us know in the comments.

Introducing the Joy of Friluftsliv to Our Kids

Last year, the word du jour was hygge (pronounced hoo-ga). Everybody was hygge-ing it up with their warm drinks, home-baked goodies, and candles, trying to create the sense of coziness that the philosophy embodies.

I personally embrace the concept. I’m an introverted, albeit family-oriented homebody, so my personality is pretty much designed to revel in all that warm, intimate togetherness. In the-ber months here in the Philippines, it can be cool enough so hot cocoas, frequent cuddles, and a perpetually steaming, cinnamon-scented kitchen become even more enjoyable.  Take note, I said more enjoyable – that means we’re a people who are used to hot dishes and drinks as well as cozy snuggles in varying degrees of tropical heat.

This year, however, another Scandinavian word is working its way into popular consciousness. Friluftsliv, an ancient Nordic philosophy that literally translates to “free air life”, is about spending time outdoors and connecting with nature.

Unlike hygge, which is easy enough to say even for my untrained tongue, friluftsliv is quite the mouthful, and it will trip my tongue and tangle it up if I say it without proper preparation. It also takes similar effort for me to get behind it, not because I don’t agree with it since I wholeheartedly do, but because my mental conditioning tries to limit me to comfy, air-conditioned, wildlife-free interiors.

It’s all a lie, though, I’ve discovered. I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors. The problem is that I have a tendency to be lazy and finicky, an inclination I used to frequently indulge, which unfortunately led me to turning down opportunities to get out there and choosing to stay comfortably ensconced within the confines of my home. I’ve found though that when I did step out of my comfort zone, my effort was always rewarded. Being out there in nature never failed to enrich me.

Being a parent in this day and age, I have to be even more diligent about making that conscious effort to spend time outdoors. It was author Richard Louv who coined the term “nature-deficit disorder”, and it’s a truly alarming condition, considering so many children are happy to vegetate at home, staring at a screen for hours on end. This activity, and I use the word with irony, is something that has been associated to the exacerbation of mental and emotional disorders, so parents really have to be vigilant in qualifying and quantifying the exposure that their children get. In my opinion, and I’ve been to known to have reasonable ones, the natural world is as fine an exposure as children can get.

Spending a lot of time in nature, as what friluftsliv advocates, is important to a person’s wellbeing. Human beings were meant to live in it and not in the artificial setting we’ve come to fashion for ourselves. Something integrally within us seeks out the natural world and connects with it. That’s why when we give ourselves a healthy dose of nature, we feel revived. We get that kind of energy from a living, breathing world.

They might not have called it friluftsliv, but the experts have been pushing us to ingrain it into the lifestyle of our families. It is quite easy and cheap to do too. Contrary to popular expectation, outdoor recreation does not have to be extremely rugged. You don’t have to go rappelling, spelunking, whitewater rafting, scuba diving, etc.

You don’t have to travel a long distance either to experience nature. Where I live, a stroll around the neighborhood is sufficient. There are nearby parks that also serve quite well. Nearby university campuses have also nice offerings in the way of greenery. Graveyards have also been known to work for us. When we want to be in the thick of wildlife, we fortunately only need to go for a short drive. We live in a river valley and the mountains surrounding us have plenty to offer that bears exploring.

What do we hope to gain by observing friluftsliv? The benefits include increased physical activity, lower stress levels, and seriously quality time spent either alone or with company. And you get to achieve all of them amid the beauty of God’s creation, which is unparalleled.

Do you feel the lure of nature? What do you do to make sure that you and  your family regularly get to connect with it?

Valuable Old School Life Skills to Gift Our Kids with

You can probably tell that digital dependence is a favorite gripe of mine, so let me clarify right off the bat that I’m not against the technologies enjoyed today. They’re extremely helpful. I actually use them a lot. I just don’t want my family to feel debilitated without them. I don’t want our daily vista to mostly consist of a digital screen. I don’t want my children to think that they’ll be bored without a gadget. I don’t want them to choose phones and tablets over people and forget common courtesy while they’re at it. I don’t want us to think that we’ll flounder and sink without our digital tools and the ability to connect to the virtual world.

We’re a homeschooling family, and it’s easy to rely on digital devices and the Internet for our learning and entertainment needs, or, even, for contact with other people (We’re socialized just fine!). For this reason, I’ve convinced myself to make a better effort to turn to other options for these, such as crafts, imaginative games, practical arts, snail mail correspondence, etc. I’ve also decided to ensure that my husband and I impart traditional life skills that do not require the aid of a digital tool. What are some of these?

  1. Navigation skills. You can’t always count on your car’s GPS. There have been a few times that we lost signal going through a remote mountain or country road. When I was growing up, my dad always had at least two maps in the glove compartment, and I know that they served him really well both in his job and in his ministry. Being able to read maps is invaluable even in this day and age. If I were visiting a new place, I’d be quick to get a map from the tourism office or from a kiosk, if the town or city is a popular destination.
  2. ‘80s phone skills. It’s not just about phone manners, which are important, of course. The phone was a huge thing when I was growing up. A math-phobic, I used to say that the only numbers I was good with were phone numbers. I had all my friends’ (and then some) numbers memorized. Sadly, the only one I have down to memory these days is my own mobile number. I even have to check my contacts for our land line number. That has to change. I’d be in a pickle if I have to call somebody and can’t check my contacts for the necessary information. I should go back to jotting down phone numbers in my planner as well.
  3. Handwriting skills. This covers a few sub-skills. I love a beautiful, elegant script. Mine is a lovely pseudo-Spencerian, if I do say so myself. It’s not exactly Spencerian, but it has a Spencerian air. Okay, that sounded just as dumb in my head, but I still went ahead and wrote it. Many people might think it’s pointless to learn script, but it says a lot about a person who took the time to develop a nice cursive. It’s not a genteel time, so things of refinement are even more special. It’s an uphill task thus far with my daughter, but we’ll get there. I remember a meme on Facebook saying “Us old folks will use cursive writing as a secret code.” I certainly hope it never reaches that point. Of course, handwriting is also associated with composition skills. There’s no spell and grammar check to count on.
  4. Offline research skills. It’s so easy to just google everything, but I’m teaching my kids how to consult the dictionary and other reference books, including the phone directory (have I got some stories for them about my use of phone directories when I was young and stalker- stalkerly? Stalkerish?) and the yellow pages, as well as how to use the index and glossary. We love libraries and are fortunate to have a librarian cousin, so we can spend time learning in a nice one.
  5. Mental computation skills. They’re not only necessary for when we don’t have a calculator handy (dead phone), but they’re great for keeping our minds sharp and logical. No matter how skittish I am about math, I have to accept that it’s important and extremely useful in practical life.
  6. Face-to-face social skills. This involves learning to take turns in conversation, actually listening, and reading social cues. I’m afraid my daughter has a tendency to keep on talking as long as she has something to say. Since she never runs out, she’s usually full-speed ahead. It may not seem as obnoxious in online chats, but she has to moderate herself in real life. That’s something that she’s working on. Children are also usually sensitive to emotions, but they won’t be able to hold on to this keen sense if they start looking to emoticons for clue.
  7. Self-entertainment skills. Children, for the longest time, have complained about being bored, and parents, for just as long a time, have either threatened to give them something to do or urged them to think of something to entertain themselves with. Back during my childhood, it was either watch TV, which had all of five channels, or go out to play. Good thing I loved to read and daydream. We weren’t allowed to read in a moving car, so for long car rides, my sister and I had to come up with games to play or content ourselves with singing along to the radio. These days, children have a tendency to depend on a mobile device to keep entertained. It’s important to me to show mine that they have the ability to come up with many other choices for enjoying themselves, especially out in nature.

EXTRA: Scouting skills. Reading a compass, building a campfire, foraging, setting up a shelter, tying proper knots… These are all basic survival skills that I’d like my children to acquire. I was a girl scout for several years and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I’d love for my kids to join the scouts as well. A fellow homeschooler told me that the national scouting organization is open to homeschoolers joining, provided they have a trained and certified scoutmaster lead them. I’m looking into the options we have here.

These are skills we were fortunate to develop growing up in a less high-tech time. It would definitely benefit our kids to acquire them too.

Can you think of any more old school life skills that would diminish the inclination toward digital dependence?

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