Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Our 2008 Letter - Merry Christmas!!!

Merry Christmas from the warm south!

Al and I are now Austin, TX residents for just more than a year now. The four seasons were great ... oh-so beautiful spring and fall, tolerably hot and humid summer and very, very mild winter. We finally had our first taste of snow in Texas a few days ago. (It was just actually a flurry or wet snow that fell during the night and that melted away way before noon time.) But we, like most of the Austinites, went crazy snapping photos. Mababaw ang kaligayahan :)

So as mentioned in our letter last year, we did move in to our new house right before Christmas last year as planned. Although it was stressful and tiring to move "on our own" without the help of Baranggay Boise, it was still exciting! Also, moving from our temporary apartment to settling in a house gave us a relaxed feeling of permanency. I know, I know… it's just a house. Nevertheless though, it did feel better than being the nomads that we were in the apartment.

A year later, too, Al has settled in his new job at AMD already. Of course, at first, he felt that he is not able to contribute much because the technology is entirely new to him - specially because his job required him to drive technical solutions! He eventually got the hang of it and has become effective that he got a "spotlight award" and a little bonus for saving the company million$$$. :) We just praise God that He has enabled Al to contribute to AMD and that he still has the job despite a couple of lay-offs already. (Continue to pray for us though as rumors continue to abound that AMD is laying off another batch next year.)

As for Rela, she stayed at home the whole year doing this and that. Like housewifey stuff of learning more recipes (think turkey!), painting the house walls, managing the household purse and researching family-building options and jumping through hoops as we take it one day at a time. She’s been occupied maintaining and building relationships with family, friends, new neighbors and church family. She’s also practicing her hosting skills (ahem…) with many get-togethers and out-of-town visitors. She’s honing her “travel agent” skills with the multiple trips we’ve been in the year. And of course, learning how to blog, visiting/reading blogs and actually blogging … A LOT! Phew!!! The list goes on… the work of a wife is never done…

Meanwhile, we are having fun discovering Texas - historic buildings, parks, restaurants, etc. In Austin, two of the more known spots are the State Capitol (being the Texas' capital city) and the Bullock Museum. San Antonio was a frequent place to visit as well - our favorite spots being SeaWorld, Riverwalk, Alamo and the King Williams District. Plenty of nice places here, so come, make your way to Texas and visit!

Last but definitely not the least, we have serendipitously found a church family in Gateway Hill Country Church (GHCC). We saw an ad for a bible study in the nearby neighborhood's newsletter and we contacted them. Pastor Jeff and his son, Peter , the worship leader and youth pastor visited us and shared us their vision as church planters and we have since then been plugged in. Just like the churches that we attended in the past, the bible is preached, the music is upbeat (very!) and the people are folksy-friendly. We were soooo glad to find a local church family who we could share life's ups and downs.

The Experiencing God study that a lot of us, new members of GHCC, went through was awesome. (We have since then started another session with the rest of the Manigsacas and a new couple friend here.) It puts into perspective how God is always working around us and inviting us to a real relationship with him so that He can work through us.
So here we are… another year older, welcoming new lives, saying goodbye to some and another year of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord... So, what is our gift to the birthday celebrant?

We heard that the only thing he wants from us is our lives - and we wondered if our lives were "good enough". Well… we got this inspiring piece from a fellow blogger Gramma 2 Many (who in turn got it from Mountain Wings publication. I also did some minor edits.) and wanted to share it with you all. (See post below.)

Once more, Merry Christmas … beyond the annual letter/card-sending, mutual gift-giving, carol-singing,, tree-decorating , wreath-hanging and star-lighting kind! And on the coming New Year, may you ponder about and give the only birthday gift that the birthday celebrant wants - YOU!!!

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If You Think You Aren’t Good Enough

The next time you feel like GOD can't work through you, just remember...

Noah was a drunk
Abraham was too old
Isaac was a daydreamer
Jacob was a liar
Leah was ugly
Joseph was abused
Moses had a stuttering problem
Gideon was afraid
Samson had long hair and was a womanizer
Rahab was a prostitute
Jeremiah and Timothy were too young
David had an affair and was a murderer
Elijah was suicidal
Isaiah preached naked
Jonah ran from God
Naomi was a widow
Job went bankrupt

John the Baptist ate bugs
Peter denied Christ
The Disciples fell asleep while praying
Martha worried about everything
The Samaritan woman was divorced, more than once
Zaccheus was too small
Paul was too religious
Timothy had an ulcer...
AND Lazarus was dead!

What do you have that’s worse than that?
So no more excuses!

God can use you to your full potential.
Besides, you aren't the message,
You are just the messenger.

I got this inspiring piece from a fellow blogger Gramma 2 Many (who in turn got it from Mountain Wings publication. I also did some minor edits.) and wanted to share it with you all

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT FOR THE NEW YEAR, DON"T YOU THINK?

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Monday, December 22, 2008

It's The (Most Wonderful) Time of the Year Again…

when I sit down and write our annual letter. I actually got the idea from Auntie Pesing when she sent me their 2003 letter then. I thought it was a good idea to recall and summarize the key highlights of the past year - if not for our friends and family, then for us.

(Somehow, it does remind me of my past corporate life where we had year-in-review for the company, groups and individuals. Those were not necessarily easy or enjoyable times specially if goals were not met for the period. )

As for "our life" newsletter, I really enjoy the writing and adding the personal note, even if sometimes the news is not necessarily all good news. I can't really say the same for the rest of the process (formatting into the stationary, printing, stuffing, labelling, stamping, etc.) It just takes up a lot of time! There must be a simpler way to do it!  

So I've been doing this since 2003 - so that's 5 years now and here's some of my thoughts:

  • Today with this blog, the annual newsletter-writing is even easier because the details of what has happened to us within the year has already been written as it happened (or at least within week or 2, give and take). No need to rely on memory to recall what happened.
  • The envelope preparation has evolved from handwriting all addresses (both return and recipient address) to attaching ready-made return address labels and pre-printed recipient labels. I think the next level is printing both return and recipient addresses on the envelopes themselves.
  • Buying stationaries after Christmas makes the cost of the best-looking paper 75% less! That is for next year, of course.
  • I analysed our distribution list and less than 25% do NOT have emails. Makes me wonder if they should be the only ones I send the snail mail newsletter next year… and the rest sent through email. I hope not to do bulk email though as I would lose the opportunity to add the "personal" note.
So for those of you who do receive our snail mail newsletter, do you prefer to receive it in email?

Read more...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Christmas Story - For Nothing is Impossible with God

No, this is not a rehash of the gospels' first chapters...

Went to Dallas area two Sundays ago and attended the Stonebriar Church in Frisco. Chuck Swindoll preached about the Christmas Story. He emphasized Gabriel as the messenger of God's message and Mary as the recipient of God's message. Yes, Mary was going to conceive a baby even without knowing a man. For as Gabriel said, "for nothing is impossible with God."

And for all practical purposes, we are either the recipient or the messenger of God's messages, too. As messengers, are we bringing the message? As receivers, are we receptive to the message? Regardless, what encourages me most is that "with God, all things are possible"!

Meanwhile, the church has moved to the its new building which is adjacent to the old one. It's already decorated with the Christmas theme, so we took the photo opportunity. Wouldn't miss that, of course! (The Manigsaca's chatted and took a picture with CS, too...)


After church, we visited Jeff, Leanne and the kids. As usual Leanne whipped up a special meal for the 8 members of the Baranggay Manigsaca - Shrimp in Thai Red Curry and Sinigang na Bangus. And then they researched the directions to the X mark - where JFK was assassinated - but we ended up not going there since our chauffer was feeling sleepy and tired already.

Thanks again, Li! And just drive down south anytime... like when you feel like watching at Rockbox :)

PS. The photos at your house was with Joey/Shiela's camera - I will post it once I get copies from them.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

My Wish List

And another break … this time, from one of our sponsors. :)

Have not decided what to get yourself for Christmas? Not me! I have actually been "using" Amazon's Wish List for some time now to collect my wanna-haves. With online shopping becoming more prevalent these days, Amazon has continuously made it easier.

Anyway, back to My Wish ListI actually have posted this earlier (since last Tuesday) at the lower left corner of this blog. (I didn't place it in a more prominent spot because I am still a little bit shy of telling people what I want to get from Christmas. Hello!!! Now, that IS a great idea!

So, Amazon has this Wish List capability so that:

  • You can have multiple lists.
  • You can make each list private (only you can see those you'd like to remain secret) or public (so you can show others what you wish for).
  • You can avoid spoiled surprises (like knowing that someone got you an item from your wish list) .
  • You can send the wish list by email (or if you have a website/blog like moi, you can add them as a widget too!).
  • You can add items from ANY website (not just Amazon)!!! This way, you can keep track of all you wanna-haves in just ONE PLACE. How cool is that???

Well, after checking My Wish List, go build your own Wish List in Amazon and post back the link here so that we'll know what what you want! :)

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Singing Christmas Tree

Here's an idea for next year's Christmas events… Join a production of your local singing Christmas Tree (like the Francis family!) or go watch one (our family!)

Here are 2 videos of the actual show of the 2008 Bannockburn Singing Christmas Tree. This year's presentation was even better than last year's! Enjoy!




Apparently, this Singing Christmas tree is a well-know tradition here in the U.S. So here are some other videos which clearly show that the choir is ON the tree! And how to construct a singing Christmas Tree for those of you, aspiring producers of next year's Christmas shows!

Do you have a video of your favorite singing Christmas tree? Or perhaps any Christmas shows? If so, feel free to drop the link in the comments below.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bye, Sally!

We interrupt the "Christmas spirit" of this blog to say good-bye to Jaime and Sally Padilla. Jaime, ex-Intel Philippines, now works for AMD Singapore and has been on a business assignment here in Austin, TX. Their assignment has ended and are going home today. Bon voyage, Jaime, Sally, CJ and Chloe!

Thanks for showing us how to knock-out opponents on Wii boxing. One doesn't need to be as highly skilled as the PacMan, Manny Pacquiao - and not as highly compensated, too. :) I guess we do not need these boxing gloves.



Thanks for bringing out the precious Scrabble, Diamond Anniversary Edition that rotates to face whose turn it is! It makes looking for openings easier… even if Charmaine always wins :)

Thanks for putting up with us in your apartment for our get-togethers. We will miss your great view.

And we will definitely miss all of you. Maybe one of these days, we will stop-over and visit you in Singapore. That is, if you are not back to the U.S. by then! (wink! wink!)

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And More Christmas Decors...

I've successfully conquered the Christmas Tree, so why stop there? :)

I got inspired to decorate our stair banister after seeing a photo on the Real Simple magazine. (Photo on the right.)










Here's my version on the left… not an exact replica, but just as inpired. Whaddaya think?














And of course, more pictures...



As for the fireplace mantle… it was tough to make a choice on which Christmas stocking combinations to hang.


Guess which one won out? Tell me by clicking on ADD YOUR COMMENT below!

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Oh, Christmas Tree! Oh, Christmas Tree!

It's my first time to put a Christmas tree on my own.

Usually, I am just the assistant (read: one who hands the decors)/ supervisor (read: one who critiques) / clean-up crew (read: that one is self-explanatory… the artistic ones are usually not bothered with the menial stuff) for my brother, Oscar or my sister-in-law, Ann Janice. So … I was a bit anxious putting up the tree on my own because I was not sure if it would look as good as when it was done by them.

Well, I think it turned out quite alright…

That is, after putting on the lights, ribbons and decors , taking them down and then putting them back on THREE TIMES! Yes, 3 times! Just to get the right look! I'm not even going to tell you how long I had to do the Christmas tree. I don't have any elves helping me like others, you know (wink! wink!).

What I learned from this experience though are:
  1. Control your excitement in hanging the decors. The lights go first. The ribbons and/or garlands second. And the decors come into the picture last!
  2. The lower part of tree needs the most lights. My Christmas tree's lower third actually has about 200 lights on it! 
While doing all that multiple put up/take down of the lights, I actually thought to myself that I "needed" to buy one of those "pre-lit" Christmas trees. I did look at some of them in the stores but most have those 1-inch "needles". I didn't see any that would match my current Christmas
 tree's 3 inch-needles which looked like an Austrian Pine (Pinus Nigra) 

...  or perhaps the Philippines' Agoho.


Anyway for the first time, too, our tree is full of red decors. On the previous years, red was banned from the tree (and in fact, from the house!). We usually had silver and blue decors instead. The Christmas tree looks really better with red...

And to complete the look, I dug up some post-Christmas sale "curtains" I got from Ikea and put them as backdrop. Initially, Al said it looks like the Swastika curtains in Hitler's stage. I guess he has not seen a lot of other stage productions :). Eventually, it grew on him and he's accepted it. Actually, he loves it!

So did I do the Christmas tree "right?"? Whaddaya think?

Meanwhile, I'll show the other decors I put up tomorrow!

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

It's Beginning To Look Like Christmas!

… even before the oh-so-rare Texan snowfall last Tuesday night!

Dripping Springs, TX (yes, that's the name of our small town) had its Christmas Bazaar last weekend and we checked it out. Not too many booths like the Founder's Day event but there are interesting things to see like:


  • Ball d├ęcors with the Texas flag designs (Yup, Texans are proud!)
  • Christmas clothes with Texas map shape designs (… really proud!)
  • Carriage which Santa's supposed to ride on
  • Mini-horse dressed like a reindeer :)
  • Chandelier made out of elk/deer horns
  • Wood furnitures

And of course, there were food booths and live music (after all, live music capital Austin is just a stone throw away) entertaining the bazaar-goers. Not much to see or do, really. So we did not linger much and then off we go...

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Yes, Virginia... There is Snow in Austin!

Snow, snow, snow... Oh, at last! I would have never believed them Texans had I not seen it with mine own two eyes.



It's official then... Austin indeed has a winter season :) Just a little bit more snow would be fun!

But not too much though ... don't want to resurrect the snow shovel from Boise, ID!


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Monday, December 8, 2008

Fall 2008 Pictorials

2006 is when we had our last Fall pictorials and that was in Boise, Idaho. Fall 2007 was an extremely busy time for us because of our relocation to Austin, Texas - so no photos then. So this year 2008, we've done it again!

Last Friday, we went to the McKinney Falls State Park. There was a bit of color to the autumn leaves but not as much as there are in Idaho or in the East Coast. Perhaps if we went there earlier, there would be more leaves and more colors. Still, it's a pretty place!

Some things to remember when taking group portraits in parks:

  1. Choose clothes colors that contrast well with the surroundings lest you blend in with it totally. Remember the chameleon? Surely, you don't want that effect, right?
  2. Color coordinate the clothes of everyone in the party. Coordinate the shoes as well. The group will look more "together" if they have the same color scheme.
  3. Use solid colored clothes - no prints, no patterns - since the natural surroundings already provide the texture. Also, the prints and patterns draws attention from the face.
  4. Men - you do need powder so that you don't look shiny :)
  5. Women - wear some lipstick! The redder, the better. (I should follow this tip :) )
  6. Eat a good meal before the pictorials or bring food. A full stomach brings brighter smiles :)
Of course, it goes without saying that you need to check the weather and do reconnaissance of the place for good locations even before the actual pictorial date!

I'm sure you have good tips, too. Any tip to add to my list?

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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Cannoli Joe's

For a year now, we have been planning to dine at Cannoli Joe's in South Austin, but somehow, Buffet Palace always wins out. I see it often when I go through Ben White Blvd/290/71. Al has dined there a couple of times courtesy of the big company (or is it from the boss' wallet?) and says he likes it, but not for everyday meals. So, I was intrigued...

So finally, we have an excuse to check it out (Hi, Tita Rory!).

After church last Sunday, we all met up at Cannoli Joe's and here is my "review":

FOOD
It was buffet style, aka smorgasbord...

Anyway, food was okay - the different pasta dishes were tasty, the grilled vegetables were good, the salads were okay,too. Different from our everyday fare, but nothing really spectacular. Lots of oil - olive oil, I guess, since Italian cuisine is known for that.

I tried the cannoli for dessert because that's what the place is named after... and was disappointed. I really do not know what a good cannoli tastes like but that did not taste great by any standard.

On the other hand, I may not be reviewing the food fairly because I avoided the meat section because of the meat-heavy meal on Saturday night. I didn't see any shrimp, fish or any seafood though. Maybe that means, I have to go back and try them once more :)

And we are not wine people, so I have nothing to say regarding that.

The good thing is that you don't have to order and wait long for your food to arrive.

AMBIANCE
Very nice place... the waiting area was large, warm and interesting. The bar was near the entrance and there were plenty of partitioned dining areas which made the place feel cozy.

The dishes are displayed in what looked like street stands. (It reminded me of Street Life in Glorietta - is that place still there?)

Got this clip from YouTube to give you an idea what it looks like inside...




STAFF
The Front person, the Waitress and even the Accordionist were friendly and accomodating.


PRICE
Sunday Brunch costs $13.99 for adults and $5.99 for kids under 12 years old. Not cheap.

Tita Rory and Tristan said that for the food we ate, it would have been probably less expensive to eat at Buca Di Beppo because they serve family-style. Hmmm... maybe next time, we'll try that place :)



Heard of either Italian restaurants? Care to share your experience?

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Friday, December 5, 2008

The Greatest Turkey Recipe on Earth

Due to persistent public demand (ahem...), here is the greatest turkey recipe on earth!

Thanks to John Dawson, aka Patio Daddio of Boise, Idaho...

...who unselfishly shared his brine recipe, answered all my "stupid" questions about how to roast a turkey and pointing me to a step-by-step process in the web.

The turkey was soft, moist and very, very tasty. Some of the comments were "tastes like Andoks/Baliwags", "I normally don't like turkey, but this I love", "we don't need gravy for the turkey", etc, etc. There was barely meat left over the bones! Success!!! I am pleased that everyone seem to have loved the turkey. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Anyway, I could have rewrote and integrated all the recipes together. However, I would miss a lot of John's tips and pointers if I do that, so I am giving you the raw IM conversation with all the links ...

John: FYI
http://www.utahbbq.org/viewtopic.php?t=1631

me: yo John! you sure you use ziploc with that rock?

John: That's how I roll, girl!
How art thou?

me: pls be patient with this ignoramus...

John: LOL

me: brine means keep it submerged?

John: Brine means a salt/sugar solution.

me: yup and keep it submerged?
the verb you know

John: It causes a complicated chemical reaction in the meat.
Yes
Submerged is key

me: alright...I was wondering if that meant I have to massage a bird...

John: No, this is not a spa recipe.
You don't have to wax it either.

me: hahahaha!!!so what is Chinese five spice and where to get it?

John: Let me Google it...
Seriously, you can get it at Albertson's or any store with an Asian section.

me: why does it have to be in the ice bucket?
why not just refrigerate it?

John: Ice = cold = bacteria die = you don't get sick.
It takes a five gallon bucket to hold it all.

me: alright... but the "keep it outside does not work here in TX!!!
ice will melt!

John: 2 1/2 gal water + 12-15 lb. bird
Use a cooler instead of the bucket.

me: okei...
so obviously, I do not cook a lot...

John: You will be happy with the results.

me: how long should I cook it at what temp?

John: If you take it to church you will be known as "The Turkey People".

me: hahahahahaha!!!!

John: Serious
I'll be doing one again this year for the church dinner.
Just drain and roast it as you normally would.

me: duh... I don't know what normal is!
roast=bake or broil?
we don't do this in the Philippines you know

John: Hang on...

me: the last time I "supervised" the turkey, we microwaved it to thaw it!
with the wire on the feet
am I hopeless?

John: Use this process, but substitute my brine.
http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/good-eats-roast-turkey-recipe/index.html
You will be very, very happy.

me: whoa! 500 deg!
I did not even know that they go that high!

John: For the first 30 minutes only

me: Recipe is too confident: Level= Easy
yes, sure...

John: "Roast on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F. for 30 minutes."
That's just to brown the skin
"Remove from oven and cover breast with double layer of aluminum foil, insert probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and return to oven, reducing temperature to 350 degrees F. Set thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees."
"A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting."
Or, if you are adventurous...

me: interesting... you brown the skin first then let the inside cook...

John: http://orionoutdoors.com/products/holiday-turkey-cooker-smoker/
Yep

me: the last time, I baked it then browned it by leaving the bird after I turned the oven off. I ended up with a dried bird

John: You can get the Orion cooker at Home Depot. It's outstanding!
http://www.homedepot.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?storeId=10051&langId=-1&catalogId=10053&productId=100402905&N=3658+90401&marketID=401&locStoreNum=8125

me: interesting! no oil on the Orion

John: It was on sale for $89 like two weeks ago.
Nope. It's worth its weight in gold.

me: darn... missed the sale...

John: Even my competition BBQ buddies couldn't believe what it can do.

me: just charcoal...

John: Very, very versatile.
Yep.
One bag of Match Light and a turkey

me: how do you clean it?

John: It's 100% stainless steel and cleans like a huge pan.
No rust and compact.
You can even do brisket and spare ribs in it.
Get one and thank me later.
They sponsored me in BBQ in 2007.

me:
alright...

John: Great cooker for those that want the grub with little fuss.

me: I think I'm cooking turkey this year...

John: You go girl!

me: I need that... turkey, here I come!

John: I'm always on-call if you need help.

me: thanks!!!

John: You will be the Turkey Queen soon.

.....

Am I Turkey Queen now? Probably not yet :) - once does not make you a queen, you gotta show reproducibility and repeatability of results. Hahaha... that's R&R for you stats!

Anyway, there you have it... Christmas is coming soon so follow this and you, too, can have soft, moist and ultra-delicious turkey courtesy of Patio Daddio!

Dare challenge the greatest turkey recipe on earth? :)

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008

On Thanksgiving day itself, Al and I really had no special plans. We just wanted to finish the painting the walls ...

Joey called before noon though and invited us to have dinner at their house. And go we did and were greeted with tableful of food that Shiela and Mamang cooked

- Turkey lettuce wrap, Sliced turkey, Pancit, Grilled salmon, Fresh veggies, chips and dip. I brought Chicken Teriyaki (and ingredients for Vietnamese noodles - which remained off the table since there was plenty of food already).

The "real" Thanksgiving celebration happened last Saturday though. We had friends and family over. They wrote out what they were grateful about in their lives. Then Tristan spoke about "The True Meaning of Thanksgiving".

Then it was chow-time! Since it was a pot-luck, we had plenty of gooood food! The only thing I regretted was that I was not able to truly taste the rest of the food too much because I stuck with the turkey :). I have to say I was mightly pleased with the turkey! (I will share you the greatest turkey recipe on earth on tomorrow's post!) I also concocted the cranberry (etc) iced tea and the gulaman (sans sago) drink which the guests loved :)

And of course, we had games! The kids enjoyed upstairs (courtesy of Ann and Shiela) while the adults laughed through 20 Questions and screamed lots during the 1, 2, 3 Pass card game.

And so, lest we forget what thanksgiving is really all about in the midst of all the food, games, fun and celebration... here's my list of what I am thankful for:

I am thankful for being alive, for having all my senses and my body is complete.

I am thankful for having lived a full life and seen a lot in this world.

I am thankful for family and friends who have colored my life.

But most of all, I am thankful to God who loves me, who is faithful even if I am not and who is always more than enough for me!


I know this post is a week late for Thanksgiving but Scripture does say to "give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thessalonians 5:18) - not just on Thanksgiving day!

So, what are YOU thankful about?

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Seen a Smart Car?

I have noticed a lot of small cars recently and I thought these were European cars which were imported in. Well, I learned a few days ago that they are called Smart Cars and I finally, I got to touch and sit on one!

The Smart Car is obviously small. They're cute and as Janice, the lady owner above said "be prepared to be a spectacle" or what this other owner calls "smiles per mile":


It's officially called smart fortwo - of course, because it is designed to carry 2 persons only. From the inside though, it does not feel like it is a small car andit is actually surprisingly relatively (did I just use 3 adverbs???) spacious for a car its size!!! It's got some cargo space - and I mean, just probably some 8 cubic feet. That didn't stop impresarios from fitting in much more people into it though:
I'm very sure they are not going anywhere at all!

Anyway, the Smart Car is sold at a base price of $12,000. With a couple of upgrades, it could easily go up to $17,000 - almost as expensive as the bigger Honda Civic.

It definitely has high mileage at 45mpg. Assuming 10,000 miles per year usage, that translates to about $2000 savings per year versus a Honda Civic though. So, the Smart Car may definitely be an alternative cheaper way to commute.  

The Smart Car is made by Mercedes. So yes, it is indeed a European car and it can do a lot of fancy moves. Check it out!



And being Mercedes-made, one expected its passing crash tests with flying colors at 30 mph. Here's another version at 70 mpg though:


I think the Smart Car is good for normal city driving and I'm sure that this is the perfect car for some people. In fact, it seems it is developing a cult... uhmmm... enthusiast following already.  There is a waiting list to get it and a $99 reservation fee, too! 

As for me, I don't think I am ready for the Smart Car. I like my cargo space to be larger than its 8 cubic feet capacity. We do a lot of out-of-town driving so I feel safer in bigger cars. But that's just me. 

Have you noticed these small smart cars in your streets recently? What do you think of them? 







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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Are You Shocked by the Gas Price?

This is the gas price last week!


This is nearly the gas price when we first moved to Boise in 2003. Woohoo! I wonder if everything else will have a price roll back??? Or is that wishful thinking?

Anyhow two months ago... Kuna, the Honda Pilot, required $60 to fill its tank. Although I saw the gas price sign before I went into the gas station last week, I was still pleasantly shocked when I heard the pump stop at $27!!! (I guess I didn't do the math…)

Low gas price is good. I hope it stays that way. Lower to the sub-$1 level is even better and I told Al that I would buy him "something" if it does go down to that level. Hehehe ...

For a while last week, we let our guards down and used Kuna a lot without any hesitation. But eventually, we just naturally gravitated back to using the small car.

No point in unnecessarily spending more for gas even if the gas price is low (this time). After all, it gets us from point A to point B safely and comfortably as well.

How has the gas price affected your driving habits and car purchase plans?

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Project: Wall Painting

That is my perfect alibi for not blogging the whole week! And I do have proof for it. :) This is us in action as we painted one of the Living Room walls in dark brown (Homestead Brown by Sherwin Williams paints).

(Except the last photo in the lower right corner of the above collage, all these photos were taken in the evening, so the contrast shows well.)

We are becoming "more adventurous" in selecting colors for the wall. Yes, it is still brown… but it is darker shade of brown, unlike the light browns that we used extensively in the Masters Bedroom and Dining Room, and previously in the Boise house.

Al and I finished painting the walls of ...

The Living Room,

The Breakfast Nook,

Some parts of the Kitchen,

And some parts of the Foyer. This is currently my favorite spot that we painted:

And even Kiti and Kiti's wall had a makeover! :)

It felt very good to have accomplished the wall painting!

Moreover, this house is no longer 1 big box or a warehouse. This house now feels warmer, cozier and more comfy. Amazing what colors can do, huh?

I realize though that the photos do not do justice to the paint/color. I took the photos per room in the morning versus most of the photos that in the collage were taken at night. Perhaps if you look back at the photos again and contrast it to the very white baseboard, then you can imagine what the big box looked like previously. :)

How about you? What wall paint colors turned out well in what room of your house?

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

What Do You Think?

I think I am done with the makeover...

Do you like the colors of my template?
Black letter on white background is supposed to be easier on the eyes. And I like the RED post titles and the RED links.

I like having an image on the Header as well. It's not the greatest image - wintry grey and black - but I guess it is good in maintaining the neutral-look of the blog. Maybe one of these days, I'm going to make it more colorful - Christmas is coming anyway, right???

I got new ads on both sidebars - feel free to click on them to explore what they have to offer.

And last but definitely not the list, I collected past posts and displayed them on the right sidebar to easily access them.

Well, how do you like the template overall? It was a bit of a challenge trying to replace the basic template but I was very happy when I figured out the solution! I'm glad I was able to make it work so that I can see what it really looks like for my blog.

Tell me what you think! For after all, "feedback is the breakfast of champions", so they say... Champion of what, you ask? Champion of my own blog :)

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

My Next Project

... is a blog "make-over".

I will be trying out new "themes" (ie the background color, design, lay-out, font, etc of a blog). I'm thinking of either using close variant of the current them or an entirely different theme. Have not decided yet...

The sure thing though is that the theme will remain neutral looking, although I am tempted to put in pinks, reds, flowers and swirls. Al is still officially a co-author in the blog (even if what he has done so far is to veto some posts or remove/replace some photos), you know, so the girly-girl style won't fit. :)

Anyhow, some things may get lost or broken along the transition. Some may even look bad. But since it definitely will remain neutral looking, it should be a "minor" make-over. It would still look different though so it may take some getting used to.
Bear with me as I try out new themes!

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

That's All, Folks!

That's it! I think I can "rest" now.

I was just thinking if I could have blogged more real time while on vacation. My answer is NO! I may have lost some details by blogging later but I would not have the perspective of how to "best" share our vacation.

What I realised I could do though during the vacation (aside from downloading the photos from the SD card which I did almost every night) was to start classifying the photos - removing the blurred, the duplicates or the un-photogenic (ahem, ahem) photos. And maybe start uploading the classified photos into Picasa. (It took me more than a week to do all of that!)

Anyhow, to wrap up my thoughts about this vacation, here are my Top list:
1. Fall colors
2. Meeting and catching up with relatives
- Laugh time with the Pantaleons
- Tea time with Gemma
- Jamming with Uncle Saling and clan
- Walking the streets of NYC with Uncle Tenie
- Catching up with the Beltrans
- Meeting Uncle Dolfo
- Renewing with Tito Rory
3. Food - Kinilaw na tuna!!! Puto at Dinuguan (believe it or not, I loved it!)
4. Brooklyn Tabernacle
5. Walking NYC
6. Walking Jersey City
7. Baltimore Aquarium
8. Airforce Memorial



That's really it, folks!

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Baltimore and its Aquarium - Want To See A Real Shark?

Here you go...

This one above is real...

But this one below is not real, just a replica of the multi-layer teeth of some big shark's (how technical was that? :) ).


But to appreciate the Baltimore Aquarium even better, I managed to put together this video so that you can see them in action - seahorses, dolphins, turtles, stingrays, odd-looking fish, and more! The sharks are at the end of the video.


And I really have to showcase these digging fish separately - they are so cute, so adorable. They seem to be staring at us! Look at those eyes... (watch it in high quality!)



Check out the rest of the photos in the Baltimore Aquariums.

.....

Baltimore was not really in our itinerary but with Totoy's stories about the Aquarium, Al got excited in going there. It is along the way, anyway. The entrance fee was about $20 each... I thought that was steep but okay, I got to show and tell some videos.

What made my jaw drop though was the parking fee - less than 3 hours for $18. And perhaps I was in shock that I could not find the parking ticket as we were to exit. To my horror, the parking attendant said the policy for lost ticket was $20. That would make our parking fee cost $38 - waaahhhhh!!! Ann eventually found the parking ticket inside my bag. Phew!!! That was close.

(For those of you visiting there in the future: Do NOT park on the parking building on the same side of the Aquarium. Instead, park on the parking building across the street from the Aquarium because you can have your parking ticket validated and save the $$$.)

Meanwhile, check out the photos we took in Baltimore. Nice city.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Washington DC - Taxation without Representation

Did you know that 68 sq mi Washington DC has a non-voting Congressional delegate? That is why you see these license plates in the residents' vehicles as a protest and a movement for full representation.

Anyway...

I've been to DC twice before but never did the tour bus thing. Well for my third trip, that is exactly what I did! The tour bus was for 3 reasons 1) mainly for my in-laws though so that they do not have to do a lot of walking, 2) we could cover more ground in the time we had, and 3) we don't have to look for parking if we take the car!


We were on the OnBoard Tours - and I was very satisfied with their services. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable, disciplined yet courteous and humorous, too! Our tour driver drove safely too.

The main difference on this tour company is that it is NOT Hop-on, Hop-off. Instead, it is a 5-tour where everyone gets off at the key stops with the tour guide. The bus waits for you as the tour guide does his spiel, escorts us through and lets us get our pictures. You get to sit on the same spot the whole trip and there is only about 30 people in the tour so there's not much waiting for each other - the tour guides is great in keeping us on time. A 30-minute lunchtime is alloted - you buy your own in the Pentagon Mall.

The key stops were mostly in or near the National Mall. And no, Maria, this is not the shopping kind of mall... Instead, this is the kind of mall with Mr Webster's alternative definition - "a usually public area often set with shade trees and designed as a promenade or as a pedestrian walk".

I am guessing it is called the National Mall because many landmarks of the US were built here. Did you know that the first 5 landmarks listed below form a cross? Interesting, eh... Further on the tour, we saw evidences of America's forefathers' belief in God...




  • Washington Monument ("center")


  • The last presidential memorial in the National Mall is the FDR Memorial. (For some of us, non-Americans, FDR stands for Franklin Delano Roosevelt who was the 32nd US president and whom the current media is using to compare 44th President-elect Barack Obama to for the economic parallels of their terms). It was a different kind of memorial - it was not a building... it was a peaceful garden. On the walls of the garden are notable quotes spoken by FDR. Look at the size of those letters...


Our tour guide pointed out National Mall has "run out" of real estate. And that the last memorial spot in the National Mall that was being prepared was for Martin Luther King. (The tour guide also mentioned that memorials were NOT funded by the taxpayers money. Instead, concerned individuals and groups put a plan to be approved (I forgot by whom) and then funds are raised. )

Maybe that is why the recent former presidents now have Presidential Foundations, Libraries and Museums... They contain artifacts and archived documents of that president (and his earlier years). The presidents raise those funds either while in office or after their term. Anyhow, Memorials are nice to look at but I think the Presidential libraries and Museums are "more useful".

(There are currently 12 Presidential Libraries starting with Herbert Hoover, 31st US president. Hmmm.... FDR both has a Memorial in the National Mall and a Library. This is probably because FDR had a huge impact to the US and was elected US President 4 times (!) - the Americans must have loved him immensely. Meanwhile, LBJ Presidential Library and Museum is right here in Austin... note to self: go visit!)

.....

Okay, back to the tour and on to the War Memorials...

  • Vietnam War (1959-1975) Memorial - This is the first war memorial built in the National Park), despite it being the most recent among them. It has a minimalistic design that honors the fallen soldiers rather than what many think as a contentious Vietnam War.


  • Korean War (1950-1953) Memorial- The Korean War has many names including The Forgotten War or The Unknown War because although a major 20th century war, it gets small attention compared to the 2 wars before (WW II) and after (Vietnam War) it.





.....

And then there are the Memorials for some of the branches of the US military...

  • US Marine Corps Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial) - Growing up in the Philippines, we sometimes receive balikbayan boxes with old books and Newsweek magazines from friends and relatives based in the US. I remember seeing the Iwo Jima photo on one of these books (or magazines) and thinking how poignantly beautiful it was. I finally saw the statue!!! And learned of its significance - it was a Feb 23, 1945 photo of 5 marines and a navyman raising the US flag on top of Mt Suribachi after subduing Iwo Jima island. The photo was taken by Joe Rosenthal and won a Pulitzer Prize.

  • Air Force Memorial - It is located across the street from the Pentagon. This is my favorite memorial though. Maybe because it was my first time to see it. Maybe because I am partial to modern architecture. :) The simple, metal 3-prong monument appears to resemble the smoke from an aircraft. The clean lines and the soaring metal were beautiful and inspiring.


.....

And then there were the places that we did not get off on but still saw while on the OnBoard Tour:
  • Old Post Office
  • Kennedy Center
  • Watergate Complex
  • World War I Memorial
  • National Archives
  • National Cathedral (wow!!! I gotta see this next time!)
  • The Pentagon
  • Arlington Cemetery
  • Embassy Row
  • Rock Creek Parkway (beautiful! Just like you are out of the concret jungle!)
  • and more...
.....

In retrospect, I don't think we would have gone to and seen all these places had we used the other Hop-on, Hop-off tour buses because then we would have to spend time waiting for the next bus to come by. The waits would have taken about 150 minutes - 2.5 hrs, just waiting!!! We would have missed the narration, too. Some of us would have fallen off along the way, I'm sure.

Moreover, OnBoard picked us up from and dropped us off in our hotel. How convenient was that! And speaking of hotel, we had a great suite with 2 beds, 1 sofa bed and a view of the Capitol at Embassy Suites Washington-Convention Center! We felt like ambassadors, tee hee... Salamat Q*intiles! Thank you Mamu!

Although I went to the Smithsonian museums on the 2 previous trips, I missed it this time. Wanted to go back to the National Gallery of Arts again... Also, planned to watch the free 6pm show at the Kennedy Center but changed my mind when I learned what was showing - Alibaba and the 40 Thieves film with live orchestra accompaniment. It was just not too interesting...

Andy, Tirta and Joshua Andy now lives in Manassas, VA... hmmm, gives us a reason to visit DC again in the future, whenever that would be!

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A Few of My Favorite Songs


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