swims through the heart

A couple of people close to me and who I love deeply tested positive for COVID. While my initial reaction was concern and a desire to be supportive, my concern pivoted to frustration and anger when I’d realized that they had been out and about in public during their COVID-positive state. I can’t remember the last time I’d been this furious, and not only that, but I felt a profound sense of betrayal, foolishness, and confusion.

I’m trying to find it in me to remember that concern I’d initially felt. I know it’s still there. I know we are all exhausted. I know the messaging from public health agencies have been confusing, not to mention the harm that public people have expressed over their disregard for taking COVID seriously. With monkeypox on the rise and the damaging and downright incorrect rhetoric that it’s a disease of gay people, I can’t help but feel a tremendous sense of disappointment and disillusionment.

Yet, I remain hopeful. I’m not by any means a religious person, but I don’t know what else to call it but faith. I can continue to do my part, and that’s all I can do.

The last couple of years for me has been a practice of control—i.e., letting it go, while harvesting and honing what is within my own personal power.

I don’t have a clean ending to this post. But because this feels good, here’s a cute photo I recently took of my cat George.

At this point, I’ll just keep swimming.

Everything Everywhere All At Once

I’d been in a funk for several weeks. I was grateful for the success I’ve experienced with work, yet on the other side, overwhelmed with a sense of responsibility paired with a profound unknowingness. I felt paralyzed, both emotionally and physically, often straining to get out of bed. I woke up with the news today that there may be another Zika outbreak, which was followed by the impending doom to follow if we don’t figure out the climate crisis, which was then followed by economists weighing in on why my generation is financially screwed. I clicked off and decided I’d spend my energy on only one crisis today.

I’d forced myself back into a routine the last couple of weeks. I cut out junk and forced my body to move. I told friends I wouldn’t be available, as I needed space to process what I was feeling. They understood, of course. They are full of love in that way.

I went back into my garden, tending to my rose bush that bloomed with an even greater abundance after I’d pruned it liberally in an attempt to rid it of aphids. My dwarf banana tree sprouted a pup, which I repotted. My baby avocado tree stood up proudly. My sampaguita are taking to their ladder, two vines climbing up in parallel in a double helix. The heirloom tomato seeds I planted months ago have grown tall and are in need of a new trellis.

As I worked in my garden, the neighborhood toddlers would pay me a visit. They would come to see George, my cat, who they’d grown fond of. Months ago, it was just one. Now I have three toddlers playing in my yard. They came every day, and soon, my afternoons and early evenings at home were spent laughing with them, playing pretend, about Everything and Everywhere All At Once.

I saw that film this evening. I walked out after the credits, tears streaming down my cheeks. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was exactly what I needed. “Don’t look at me!” I scowled at my friend as we left the theater. “I look ugly.” We laughed and parted with a hearty embrace.

Here are some gifts from one of my little friends. 💖

afternoon prance

I walked to the park to stretch out and get some air. I ran into a work colleague who I’d never met in person. A young couple sets the timer for a selfie. I pass by two children running down the path with their dad behind them. A photographer directs a bride-to-be as someone holds the train of her dress. A couple toasts a special occasion with some bubbly over a picnic. A woman sits in the grass against a tree, with a book in one hand and the other scratching her dog’s belly. A breeze blows through this modest January afternoon.

morning offerings

I’ve been drinking coffee longer than I can remember. I don’t say that to brag—I really can’t remember exactly when I started drinking coffee. If I had to guess, I was probably three years old.

Back then, I lived in the Philippines with my mom and extended family. My grandparents lived there too, and I spent every morning with my grandma. We all called her Mama.

Every morning, Mama would stir a few spoons of freeze-dried Folgers into her cup of hot water, topped with powdered creamer and a few spoons of sugar. She’d bring out a roll of pan de sal and lay it on a platito, periodically dipping the roll into her coffee before taking a bite and washing it down with a slow sip.

I adored Mama and loved to spend mornings with her, after my mom had already left for work and before I went to nursery. I wanted to be a part of her morning as she was mine, and I started sneaking sips of this glorious kape that she drank every morning without fail. Eventually, she caught on, scolding me for drinking something for grown-ups, while stirring me a cup of my own. This was our special routine every morning until my mom and I moved to the US.

I think of my Mama every morning as I make my own brew; she continues to be a part of my morning to this day. Except these days, I make the coffee for both us.

My morning brew and some oranges freshly picked and gifted by neighbor.

an inspired home

At its best, cooking and eating are cultural, spiritual practices. They draw together a plethora of ingredients and sensations meant to be felt and savored in combination and sequence. There is something symbolic about preparing my countertop—the ritual in bringing together and sharpening my knives, the intention behind rinsing produce, the rhythm in slicing and chopping. And then there are the aromas that fill the air. The smoke from searing meat and veggies. The warmth of the kitchen.

I grew up cooking with my family. One of my favorite questions to ask people is about a food that reminds them of home. I moved around frequently—often every year—so geography has little bearing to my perception of this home. For me, home is feeling, a memory, a concept. My most vivid memory of food and home comes from rolling lumpia, the Filipino style of egg rolls, with my family. While my parents worked over the stove in the kitchen, my aunt would sit with me and my cousins at the table, teaching us how to roll tight, uniform lumpia. There was a precision to it, yet at the same time, my family never measured anything. “You can’t taste with your eyes,” my dad would laugh. My dad was always happy in the kitchen.

My parents sent me home with lumpia over the Thanksgiving weekend. They were lovingly wrapped in foil and waiting in the freezer. We typically have lumpia with sweet and sour sauce, but I didn’t have any at my apartment. Just like my dad taught me, I adapted a sauce with what I had. My dad taught me a lot about cooking, and one of them was enjoying the process. “What’s the worst that could happen? Just add lemon!” my dad would smirk.

So I put together my interpretation of sweet and sour sauce for lumpia. Sambal, honey, patis, brown sugar, rice vinegar, water. I found my dipping sauce to taste less like the traditional sweet and sour sauce of my lumpia and more like an amalgamation of Southeast Asian inspirations. Growing up next to Little Saigon and living in Long Beach, I transported myself to a home of homes.

It rained today, so I delayed my grocery run. I reached into my freezer and pulled out frozen steaks. I didn’t use lemon, but I squeezed some lime and sprinkled some sea salt and crushed black pepper on each side. I’m a novice when it comes to cooking steak, but I think I did all right this time.

What’s a food that brings you home?

purple stuff magic

Juggling two jobs as I onboard for one and close out another, I needed to make space (aha! See my previous post for context) for self-care during a fifteen-hour work day. I got in 35 minutes of Pilates, made myself a nice omelet to go with the tortillas I’d saved from the Salvi bodega around the corner, took some impromptu dance breaks, and cooked up some purple stuff magic.

There’s always something so magical about the color purple in nature. From florals, to gems, to foods—purple is ethereal, mystical, soothing, divine. My particular choice of purple stuff magic today was making ube halaya, a Filipino candied yam that’s often used as a spread, condiment, or with baked goods. It can be mixed with other things to add that distinctly purple, ube flavor. Personally, I love to eat it right off a spoon.

While ube has become more mainstream in US cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, it was hardly in anyone’s vocabulary a couple of years ago. Often mistaken for taro or sweet potato, it is most decidedly its own category. For reference, here is a comparison of an ube (left) and a Japanese sweet potato:

Who knew that the purple one was not ube?

In all my 35 years of life as a dedicated ube fan, I realized at Seafood City that I had no idea what an ube looked like in its raw, unpeeled form. I only found out when I came home and realized that what I had taken home was, in fact, a Japanese sweet potato. Disappointed but determined, I made my way back to the store and made sure I asked the manong attending to the fruits which rooty things were definitively ube.

I drove home, feeling triumphant and proceeded to boil three ube. Peeling the pale skin with a spoon, revealing its unmistakably rich, violet hue, triggered the rods and cones of my retinas to dance with delight. See below:

Tell me that color isn’t magical!

Since I boiled way too much ube, I froze a considerate amount and have since made ube ice cream and ube halaya. Today, I tweaked my ube halaya recipe, using the last of what was frozen. Here’s some I snacked on this evening, with macapuno sprinkled on top:

Purple stuff magic.

Does color move you? Does food?

office space

I’m in the middle of transitioning to my new role at another agency. For the first time in over a year-and-a-half, I attended an in-person staff meeting.

I didn’t realize how emotional I would feel finally working in proximity to colleagues (people!) again. An introvert at heart, I found comfort in living in an unusually solo state. Additionally, living in a dedicated isolation allowed me to finally center much-needed self-care and work through past traumas that I’ve been wanting and needing to address. Not that any of this has been easy, and the “comfort” of isolation can be its own coping mechanism.

My home office corner with my work-from-home colleague catching the warmth of the sun at the window.

A curse or a blessing? It doesn’t matter. I’ll ride this wave and see where it takes me.

homesick

Twenty years ago, I took my first trip back to Philippines to bury my maternal grandmother, who we affectionately called Mama. Before then, the last time I was home in Manila was when I was five. My mom, Mama, and I left for Los Angeles right after my fifth birthday, without me knowing it would be the last time I’d be home to see her.

If I could’ve gone home sooner, I would have. Having overstayed my tourist visa, I was then undocumented and risked a 10-year ban from the US and an indefinite separation from my mother. Though I became a naturalized citizen and have lived in the US since, I experience a permanent feeling of in betweenness, struggling to place home between here and there.

Over the course of a week, elders in my family, who I also consider as grandparents because of the way my culture is structured, will now be pursuing end of life care. I’ve been part of difficult phone and video calls trying to provide medical feedback and explanation—context—as best as I can, along with my uncle who is also a doctor, albeit in Australia.

My grandpa, who now faces palliative care for liver cancer, has very little understanding of his disease process. Having trained briefly as a surgical resident physician to specialize in liver disease, I have seen countless times how it ends. Meanwhile my grandma, who has end stage kidney disease—my family have decided that she is too fragile for dialysis and we’ve chosen to seek palliative care for her as well. In and out of lucidity, she also is not fully aware of her disease process. Opting out of dialysis was a tough choice, but since Mama suddenly went into cardiac arrest during dialysis at a much younger age and healthier state, we’ve decided that making her as comfortable as possible to make her last moments as joyful as possible is our utmost priority. Maybe it’s better that they don’t know.

They have a few months left. A year if we are lucky. I don’t know when I’ll see them again, given the state of COVID in Philippines. I haven’t been back since I buried Papa, my maternal grandfather, who succumbed to lung cancer around 2005.

The pain of separation feels somewhat surreal. There is never enough time. Today, my grandma, or Lola, as we say in Tagalog, sweetly serenaded us from the hospital while on video chat as we called in from California, Melbourne, Sydney, and other parts of Philippines. It was a bittersweet testimony to her strength and her love of family.

The ache of now forced distance is another consequence of this ongoing pandemic. I sit under the glow of the full moon with a sobering clarity and a tender heart.