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 :)


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!


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!


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.


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.


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!


Sunday, November 16, 2008

New Jersey - The Garden State and more...

When I hear the mention of New Jersey in the past, my mind would picture an industrial place with lots of factories, trains and minimal flora. Not sure why I have that image when the short time I visited there in the mid 1990s, I saw the lot beyond my cousins' backyard were full of trees. Perhaps it was because I was on trains back to back for 2 days... Somehow the train and the sight of industrial-looking side of the state stuck in my mind.

Anyhow, here are 3 things I bet you didn't know about New Jersey...

1. New Jersey is The Garden State
You know that? Well, I guess it was just me then. But if you were just like me, look up New Jersey in the Google Maps.

You can distinctly see the many "green spots" that are peppered throughout the state! They could be a municipal park, county park, state park, national park, a forest, a golf course or golf club. We didn't really go to any of parks BUT ...

... going through I-95/New Jersey Turnpike for more than halfway to Washington DC was such a revelation! The trees along the highway were beautiful - red, orange, yellow and green!

Beautiful colors in the neighborhood too!

2. Liberty Statue is in New Jersey!
So sayeth my New Jerseyan cousins... that Ms Liberty is Jersey Girl, not a New Yorker! And that NJ and NY fought over her with NY saying that she must be a New Yorker since she is facing NY.

A quick wiki research showed however that the land above water that Ms Liberty is standing on is owned by New York. BUT the New Jersey has riparian rights to the water around Liberty Island and the land submerged in water. Hu-wat??? Is it just me thinking this is absurd?

Here's another one - Ellis Island. In the middle of the right side of Ellis island is a rectangular piece of land belonging to New York. The rest of the land and water around it belongs to New Jersey. Okay, someone tell me what that is all about??? Check it on wiki - but in summary, the land enclosed by the rectangle is the natural portion of the island while the rest is artificially created portion by landfill.

There are 3 take off points to go to or around the Liberty Statue - the Liberty State Park in Jersey City, NJ, Battery Park in lower Manhattan, NY and Pier 83 near the Lincoln Tunnel.

Liberty State Park is where Dan, Gladys and Bibok brought Al and myself earlier for a brief overview. We returned there with Manong Bong, Ate Eileen, Totoy, Girlie Ann, Megan, Aiai and Munah.

This time Daddy, Mamang, Ann and Al went for the ferry ride to visit Ms Liberty. Where was I? Continue reading on to #3 down below!

But before you go there, let me tell you more about Communipaw Terminal in the Liberty State Park. In the past... after the immigrants were processed in the Ellis Island, most of them would go to this terminal to take a train to their final destinations. Today... it exhibits moving 9/11 paraphernalia (which I will use for next year's 9/11 post!).

3. Jersey City is home to many Filipinos.
Jersey City is a small city less than 10 sq mi to the west of Manhattan, across the Hudson.

Anyhow, it is home to one of the Philippines chain bakery/restaurant, Red Ribbon, there. (I heard Jollibee was opening a store there soon.) We got halu-halo to go despite the cold weather - it was warm inside the car, anyway! :)

Another of my cousins favorite is the Philippine Bread House. I bought Ube bread, Monggo bread, Nilupak (lubi-lubi) and Sapin-sapin for pasalubongs to family and friends and for our own consumption. (Actually, Girlie Ann bought them for me since the store's credit card machine was having problems when we were there and I had no cash. Salamat ulet, Girlie Ann!) My favorite was the Sapin-sapin. It was just the right sweetness, the right firmness - perfect!

Meanwhile, there are a couple of businesses catering to the Filipino community there. See more photos of PNB, Phil-Am grocery store (they had flat screen monitors all over the store for advertisements! We got some siopao for the "ferry-riders" and for Tristan back in TX), Casa Manila, Fiesta Grill and other Jersey City views

I've heard it a lot that New Jersey has no sales tax. Actually, they don't have it on clothing (only? New Jerseyans, feel free to correct that statement!) but have it on others (like Legos!). So those of you who love shopping for clothes will have a great time in the factory outlet stores. One of them - Jersey Gardens- is just across the EWR Newark airport! AirTran actually connects the airport to the factory outlet stores!!! Make sure you bring a big luggage!!!

Anyhow... all in all, the cities we've visited in NJ were:
Central - Jersey City, Newark, Hillside
North - Bergenfield
South - Edison, South Plainfield, Dunellen, New Bruinswick
Further South- Sewell

I'm sure there is more to see, but these are what we could fit in to this trip's itinerary!


Saturday, November 15, 2008

New York - If I Can Make It There...

This is the "New York sights" post where I got to show and tell what we saw :)

Well, I've told you about:

But the "official" New York Attractions tour was aboard the New York CitySights hop-on, hop-off bus. This was good for an overview visit so that more ground is covered with the limited time.

There were five (5) 2-3 hour tours within 48 hours included in the package which costed $45 pax. We were only able to do 2 of them - the Downtown and Uptown Tours.

I knew there was a good possibility we were going to miss the Night and Brooklyn Tour (for the lights) because we needed lots of rest stops - and we did miss them. But that is alright as that was expected.

However, the cruise was planned and we did miss it. :( It was raining so hard on the second day (Remember, we got rained out in Ground Zero?) that it was no good to get on the boat anyway.

So here it goes...

Downtown Tour (Click on that link for the photos!)
  • Empire State Building
  • Macy's
  • Flat Iron Building
  • Madison Square Garden
  • Woolworth Building
  • Ground Zero
  • Trinity Church
  • Wall Street (and yes, the bull)
  • South Seaport
  • Brooklyn Bridge
  • United Nations
  • Trump World Tower
  • Rockefeller Center
  • NBC
  • Times Square
  • Broadway
  • Waldorf-Astoria
  • Chinatown
  • Tribeca, Soho
  • and more...

Uptown Tour (Click on that link for the photos!)
  • Central Park
  • Julliard
  • Carnegie Hall
  • Time-Warner Building
  • Trump International Tower
  • Museum of Natural History
  • St Pauls Church
  • Dakota
  • Harlem
  • Duke Ellington Statue
  • Museum Mile
  • Guggenheim
  • The Met
  • and more...

Random Shots of NYC Streets and Buildings
(Click on that link for the photos!)

NYC Hotel
(Click on that link for the photos!)

Big city... plenty of happenings. Exciting city to visit... but it is just good to go home to my small city :)


Friday, November 14, 2008

Pilgrim UCC - Yet Still Another Church ...

... on the Same Sunday during our NYC vacation!

And see, we really were becoming good of this subway thing that we even have photo-ops there!

We serendipitously met 2 Filipina ladies near the subway station who turned out to be going to the same church we were looking for. What is the chance that in both churches that we went to, that this would happen??? Once again, God is in control!

After meeting Uncle Saling and Auntie Jane, we met other interesting Filipinos in the congregation, too! Manong, this is the picture with Dayday Malaki - tell Sal I met his sister. Small world, 'no?

In Pilgrim UCC, Daddy, Mamang, Al and Ann sung Blessed Assurance with the choir "impromptu" while I conveniently volunteered to document the event. Here's the proof:

Not bad... not bad at all!

It was Reformation Sunday so I got some history from the preaching. Key things I picked up:
1. Protestare (Latin) - to witness, a testimony
2. Sola Fides (Faith alone)
Sola Gracia (Grace alone)
Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) - scripture prevails over tradition.
3. So does your life show (reflect) your salvation?

And what is a Filipino church without a meal afterwards??? Of course there was pot luck! (Or pot bless as some would call it.)

Anyhow, my interest on the banduria was piqued when Maestro Michael Dadap played some parts of the song towards the end. This is Mr Dadap advicing me how to use the pick. He must have been horrified how I was doing the tremolo on his $500 banduria :)


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Inside the Brooklyn Tabernacle

Allow me to squeal a bit before I go to my real topic - The subway is sooo easy and convenient!

The Building
After going out of the subway station in Jay St-Borough Station, we were a bit confused though which way to walk towards.

North, south, east and west does not really mean anything to me unless I have a compass (which I didn't) or I can see the shadows (which in this case were absent because of the tall buildings and cloudy weather).

It was such a blessing that the person whom we asked for directions was going there too. So we were able to walk with her to the unassuming spot in Smith St. - sandwiched between other buildings.

It was a plain-looking building. Inside was a different story - the ceiling and the chandeliers were beautiful.

A distinct difference that I noticed though was that greeters were in abundance (!) in the entrance. This is unlike a lot of churches where there are a lot of information - leaflets, brochures, other media - that meet the church visitor. That people were the ones that meet you in front instead of papers was refreshing :)

We were there at 8:30am for the 9:00am service for we were told to get there early as there usually is a line to get in at their old location. At the new location, there were no lines even if we were relatively "late" and we were able to get good seats, too!

The People
The people were friendly and smiling. A contrast to the people we saw on our trip to church - mostly looking weary in the morning! In the 30 minutes that we were waiting for the service to start, there were about 10 people who came over to greet us and shake our hands.

There were mostly African American attendees and they were dressed sharply! They really looked good! There were a sprinkling of white people. And there was a small group of Asian people, too, aside from ourselves.

One thing I remember thinking about was if the people in there lit up the glum and dreary world outside of its walls?

The Sermon
Pastor Jim Cymbala's sermon is entitled Rejection and Rescue based on John 5:31-44, 6:16-21. It was a powerful message delivered very simply - no 3 points or longer.  I know I'm not going to do justice summarizing it so you can hear it for yourself at the Brooklyn Tabernacle website (download for $1.99 only)

But I do want to share the things I picked up from that preaching:
1. The Bible is NOT to be studied (so you can learn more). The Bible is to be read to OBEY it.
2. Like the Pharisees, if you gain biblical knowledge but do not obey (reject) what God commands in the bible, your heart will be hardened.
3. Like the disciples, "stormy weather" is what brought Jesus to them, not "sunny days". When the disciples were willing to take him into the boat, the boat reached the shore immediately.
4. So if your circumstance is stormy, know that it is an opportunity for Christ to rescue you.

So, I must be willing to take Him into my boat - trust Him, let Him take over the boat - and I will immediately reach the shore of His will.

The Choir
When we entered the sanctuary, some choir members were already in the stand. We were hearing music but I thought it was piped in recorded music. Wrong!

The song was being stopped in the middle and then resung. So upon putting on my glasses, I realised that the band and the choir were making last minute polishing of the songs! Wow! That was just practice?

We were able to capture 1.5 songs. The video is grainy but I guess it will do. You will not just be able to see the singers expression and body language as they sing, but you will be able to appreciate the powerful singing! Enjoy!

If I Tell God About My Problems
(He'll Work It Out For Me) - not really sure what the title is...

We Need You Lord

So whaddaya think? You convinced of adding the Brooklyn Tabernacle to your NYC itinerary? :)


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Brooklyn Tabernacle - I Never Imagined...

Al came to know about the Brooklyn Tabernacle from Pastor Jim Cymbala's book "Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire" - which he found in Book Sale (used books store in the Philippines) in the late 1990's. It was a very powerful testimony of the pastor, the church and how God works.

I found out first about the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir when I bought their God Is Working
CD which was on sale in Philippines Christian Book Store (PCBS) in the late 1990s. I loved their upbeat singing and has been a favorite in car rides and kitchen time :).

I then read the book and I understood the context of the magnificent praiseful singing...

I never imagined that I would one day ... see this church, hear their singing and be fed by the preaching ... to see the church (that is, the people) whom God has showered with miracles.

That day has come!
The Brooklyn Tabernacle was part of our recent east coast vacation itinerary. Of course, we did not miss the photo-op!

I'll detail more about my experience in Brooklyn Tabernacle in the next post! Meanwhile, I highly recommend Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire and any Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir CDs - it will knock your socks off!


A Few of My Favorite Songs

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