My COVID Stories: My 2020 So Far

Prelude to Quarantine

For three years, I have kept this kind of journal. These contain pictures of the highlights of my year.

I have allocated the same type for this year but it is currently empty. I hope to find time to fill them with pictures.

This year, I upped the ante by writing more. I finally used the journal a friend gave me after I hoarded 2 more from a trip. So I am probably good for 2 more years of journal pages. I wrote this in December 31, 2019 to welcome 2020:

For 2020, I hope to fill my days with art, conversations, laughter and ideas. May I have moments of peace where I can listen to my heart, listen to God and just be. I hope to stay healthy and be a friend and family to the people around me. Life may not have given me longer time with my own family but I do get to spend time with the ones I have left. (Something wrong with the sentence but that’s what I wrote. I need an editor. hahaha) It is amazing how people form (become) part of my life through the years and I am glad with the ones I met along the way. I am looking forward to more fulfilling and purposeful life. May I live with intent and love. Goodbye 2019 and hello 2020!

I still have bad penmanship.

Funny how I never mentioned travel, how I wrote about moments of peace, being healthy and living with intent. And I now realize that the intention was just to stay alive.

This is what nine months of writing looks like. Yeah, not only do I write for a living, I also made it a hobby.  Grammar, be damned.  As if I don’t have enough hobbies to begin with. Full-time hobbyist, part-time worker.

As much as I enjoyed being at home, I looked through my photos before the pandemic and there were many things I did early this year that I surely missed. These are something I look forward to doing again when this COVID-19 pandemic is over.

I almost forgot it was only this year that I went to a fiesta with friends, had a Chinese New Year’s party , singles’ valentine’s party with cousins and met up with friends.

I got to hug these kids. I can’t now.

I miss my nephew, Adi. I browsed through my phone. I did not get to see him this year.

I never thought last February was the last time that, in maybe a long while, I get to fly for leisure…

… and travel for work.

The Quarantine Life

Things changed in March. Supposedly, I had a full schedule. I made a fuss about it in one of my projects. Then the pandemic happened and, boom, I was cooped up at home. While art and gardening helped me manage my anxiety, adjusting to life in quarantine has it ups and downs. I take it one day at the time.

I was supposed to spend the onset of summer in Dinagat with friends. I did not even get to meet them anymore but they sure know how to make me happy. They made sure I get my pasalubong nevertheless.

Then, there was the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). Just outside my gate, there was a barricade. No one can pass this side of the street. Well, except me, since they placed it before my gate. But if you know me, I do not go out unless it is my schedule to do essential stuff.

I wore mask and sunglasses whenever I go out. The streets then were almost empty (unlike today). I usually go to the grocery to buy food.

I try to keep my small pantry stocked. I am not really a hoarder. Maybe because I live in the middle of the city surrounded with food supplies. I can always take a quick trip to buy essentials twice a week.

This is my quarantine pass. I can do my errands twice a week. However, it is really such a hassle to go out.

I do not like wearing masks. It is suffocating for me. It is much more difficult now that we are required to wear a face shield.

I do my errands as quickly as I can. Prolonged wearing of face masks makes me tired. I usually just rest after an errand because it is so tiring. My middle-aged body calls for a rest. Just two hours of errand and I would be in my bed the rest of the day. So many wasted time. But didn’t I wish for moments of peace in 2020? This is the universe granting my wish. Ha! I know someday when we are back to the daily grind, I would look back at these days where I could just rest as I please.

Yes, staying at home is a way better option for me. I acknowledge that I may belong to the privileged few that can manage to stay at home. I am thankful for that. I pray for those who uncomfortably work full-time with mask and shield on.

I am thankful that I can work from home. My work entailed documenting seminars and other capacity building activities and these had shifted online via different web conferencing platforms. I used my parents’ old room as work area. I get the privacy I needed and this room has air-conditioning.

Not a fancy setup.

I have chosen this space so as not to cause mishaps like somebody passing behind my back while on videocall. I made sure there was a wall behind me.

I also made sure not to set it up in my own room where I get dressed. I read too many stories about those who did not turn off their cameras and ended up in a viral video in a bad way.

I have set aside my lounge pants for online meetings. No mishaps from me! But crazy old me still exists. I have enough lounge-y pants in my closet that I have not worn denims since the start of the quarantine. I should try to wear jeans again just to check if they still fit.

I stopped wearing makeup because no matter how fresh I feel. I looked like I am fresh out of bed on the screen. Let’s blame my 7-year-old laptop, shall we?

One of the things that kept me sane in this pandemic is that I have to walk these two twice a day. That is my exercise. I read we need Vitamin D every day so I get mine by walking and by gardening. Since I avoid hugging people, I am happy I have these two to hug.

I have refused to attend gatherings even if my relatives said there are only “a few of us”. In my head, I counted the possible few. I felt that (if my math was right) the number of people and area of their house defy social distancing rules.-not to mention being in an enclosed air-conditioned space with masks off, sharing of meals, laughter and chitchatting. I can imagine the saliva flying in the air and how easy it is to spread some deadly disease. No thanks. This is how I put my mathematics degree to practice. Hahaha I try to calculate things in my head and roll my eyes. I say no to gatherings and spare everyone of my anxiety.

I do understand how some people may be tired of following the protocols and just want to live their life the way the want to save their sanity. I am tired, too, but I still want to live so I wear my mask, wash my hands, practice social distancing and go out only for essentials. We have different ways to cope. I always follow the “Better be safe than sorry” route. And if for some reason, I catch the disease after doing all the possible precautions, I will try my best to live to tell the tale.

Even if I missed all the gatherings, I always keep in touch online. I enjoy the videocalls to family, high school classmates, friends and college roommates. I’ll just blur their faces because I am too lazy to message each one of them that I am posting their photos.

I also have my daily updates from friends through group chat. I get to keep in touch more with friends whether near or far and in various communication channels. I really do not miss much of the outside world. (Well, except when my friends post beach photos in areas where COVID-19 cases are low, I get jealous. That is when I feel I am missing a lot. )

I was able to go out to dine only once so far. It was in this not-so-accessible area in the city. My cousin was driving me around while our dog was being groomed. Aside from us, there was a couple in a table behind this divider.

The cafe was practically empty which soothed my anxious heart. The people in the photo were waiting for their take out.

Social distancing guides are in place.

I can’t reach my cousin from across the table so good job, Roadtrip Cafe.

By August, my hardinera heart became a plantita. Hardinera is what I can myself when I grow vegetables while plantita is for what I call myself for taking care of ornamental plants. Between my aunt and I, there was an unwritten delineation of tasks. I take care of my vegetables while she takes care of her plants. For some reason, the algorithm always shows all plants on my social media feed. I love this huge caladiums I saw in my feed that I said I wanted to collect plants with pink and white leaves. (Photo is from @plantqueenloves on IG.)

My aunt gave me my first few plants and now I have a few in my collection given by friends. I hope I can grow the leaves as large as the ones from @plantqueenloves. ( I will write more about the challenges of being a plantita in future posts.)

I also spent my birthday in quarantine.

I celebrated it with my aunts and cousins.

Two people came for lunch and two for dinner. I just ordered food I saw on my feed. I don’t want to spend my birthday cooking. Honestly, this is how I want to celebrate my birthday (pandemic or not)- not stressing about entertaining people and worrying if they enjoyed the food. (I sound like the introvert that I am. I guess the pandemic intensified my aloofness.) Besides, life should be celebrated every day.

So what interests have I caught on this year? Drum roll please. K-drama! I remember watching three K-dramas (which was called Koreanovela then) in the mid 2000s. These were Lovers in Paris, Save the Last Dance for Me and Princess Hours. I also watch Descendants of the Sun a few years ago. I wondered why I never watched more after that. This year I watched Crash Landing on You, Kingdom, Encounter, Goblin and It’s Okay Not to be Okay. I am currently watching Reply 1988.

Let’s see how long I can continue my interest in K-drama.

Oh, I finally got myself a Netflix subscription. Uh-oh. Since I am no longer watching movies in the theater, the subscription is way cheaper than the movie tickets. I hope I am making the most out of the fees I paid. I hope I don’t get sucked into the Netflix blackhole and  hope to learn to opt out someday so that I can explore the world when it is safe.

So far, it is a different and interesting year. I am immensely grateful for the memories and the opportunities that came my way. I hope this pandemic will be over soon and I hope we all survive it.

How’s your 2020 so far?

My COVID Stories: My Art Journey Continues

title page

It has been six years since I started picking up that brush again and thirty one years since I learned how to paint. Yes, I learned how to paint from the womb. Nah, I am a relic. Ha!

At the start of the year, I wrote about getting my hands into digital illustrations. I had plans of getting a cheap graphics tablet just to get some creative juices flowing. We all know that many of our plans for this year did not happen. I only created a single digital illustration this year. There was a toon me challenge on Instagram where you turn into cartoon the half of youf face. This was my take on that challenge.

illustration

On the positive side, I had ample time to do some watercolor artworks.

I have packs of postcard sized watercolor paper. So I started practicing painting dews. It is always a challenge for me to paint any form of water.

dew watercolor

So this is the first artwork for 2020.

leaf dew
And then Taal happened. I saw a video of the plumes of the erupting volcano.

taal volcano

Whenever I have pockets of free time, I paint on the watercolor postcards. A rocky brook, this time around.

I realized that I also made a rocky landscape 5 years before and I think I improved a lot.

I really think that constant practice matters. But then again, my art is also fueled with those intangible things like mood, inspiration and feelings. I think no amount of practice would help improve my art when those things are amiss. Even if I have the time but I do not have the inspiration, I don’t paint. There are no deadlines for me. But that’s just me. Other artists operate differently.

I always try to challenge myself. I have always avoided painting people because they look like caricatures when I paint them. Then I figured I will just paint the back view. Thus, this postcard piece. The reference photo is from unsplash.com.

And I tried to paint something metallic.

My aunt celebrated her 60th birthday last year. I had no gift. Ha! I was supposed to give her a koi painting after she expressed that she wanted one when she saw what I painted for a cousin. She wanted something bigger. I was not able to paint one for her birthday. I think it is never too late to give her one especially that I have a reference photo from the only place in the world with the widest variety of koi- Nishikigoi No Sato!

So after painting non-flowers, I had to go back to botanicals. Flowers are still my favorite subject for paintings.


By March, a friend messaged me if I have a painting that I can donate to a fund drive to help fire victims here in my city. There was a huge fire in a densely populated area. Many of the victims were informal settlers who took refuge in the community covered court. I had paintings in my file but they were unframed so I made one with a subject that has been brewing in my mind for a while.


Then COVID-19 happened. Although it has been on the news since the end of January before we left for Baguio, it was March 15 when community quarantine started and we were supposed to go to Dinagat by March 20 so it was cancelled. I can only dream of the sunrise/sunset by the sea.

My cousin also sent me bunch of beach photos. He had a bright idea to go to Batangas before the community quarantine. I sighed and I just painted.

The quarantine was really getting to my nerves. My stress level was up. My projects for the rest of the month were cancelled so I stayed at home, dreamt of nature and painted.


Somehow I needed to keep my mind off the internet for periods of time in a day. What better way to do that than paint a very detailed subject. Strawberries.


Those little specks in the indentations are actually the seeds. Thinking about it now that I am gardening, we should have saved some seeds! Here’s a backstory: These strawberries are the ones we bought in Baguio. They were huge so we were really enticed to buy even if it was expensive. The vendor told us it would last a week. We just have to leave it in room temperature in its packaging. Fast forward to 5 days after while we were still in Manila, the strawberries had molds. My inner brazen self was telling me that I could eat the parts without molds. Hahaha My cousin who is a nurse insisted that these should be discarded. We should listen to our health workers, right? So we threw away Php 900. Ouch. This painting was my therapy. A friend offered to buy it so that is also my therapy. 😉

strawberries
There were other things that occupied my time while in quarantine. And many of us are familiar with these scenes. *wink wink*


The thing with art is that I always try to challenge myself with something new. This time around I wanted to paint realistic hair. I found a Youtube video detailing how to paint hair and I applied what I learned in this piece.


On the other hand, this piece is not a new concept. However, this is a testament how my art is about how I feel and how I see things. I just wanted to paint peonies. Ha! This is the original piece.


I feel like it was too plain.  So I painted a dark background to make it pop.


Now I kind of miss the old painting. This is the trouble with watercolor. I cannot undo what I did unless I repaint everything. I just have to live with it. Just like life. (Naks! May reflections?)

I was also invited to an online art sale and exhibit, Love in the Time of COVID-19. Thirty percent of the proceeds of the sale was used to support relief operations for micro and small entrepreneurs, artists and designers that are affected by the pandemic. I sold seven paintings for that cause. Some of the paintings were made years ago. I just kept them for my dream art gallery. Yes, in my dreams, I will have my own art gallery. I guess the art gallery of my dreams had to wait. (Wala kang pera, Kat!)

The last two paintings, I did them in May which I also included in the art sale after the other paintings were sold. I am thankful for those who appreciated my art- most of them my friends. When you get such support from the people around you, you realize that not everything is bad in this pandemic. My friends also bought pieces from my artist friends. Thank you so much, friends! I feel the love! I have framed some of the works my friends bought.


My friend in Japan lives Niigata where COVID cases and population density are so low that they can spend their weekends outdoors. During cherry blossoms season, she sent me a lot of dreamy landscapes. They were so beautiful I could cry! So I painted them. I painted two pieces so far and I have at least two more planned when I have the time.


My cousin’s birthday came up and I promised her a painting. She wanted koi after she saw my aunt’s painting. I no longer want to paint koi for a while. I do not have a decent reference photo that I truly love to replicate. I told her I don’t want to repeat the same concept in my painting. Since her name is Cherry, I painted cherry blossoms for her. I even wore my dress that I painted with cherry blossoms.

I was busy with work from May to July so I was only able to find few pockets of time to finish a commissioned piece which almost has the concept of three paintings this year- the back view of a woman. This time, I painted the side view and placed a lot of red roses since the recipient loves red roses.

I shipped this framed painting without glass but it was protected with cold wax – the same way I did with my largest painting to date.


July was world watercolor month and I wish I did a few pieces but I just couldn’t find time to paint. I really do not paint that fast. I take my time. I plan how to execute it. It is a therapeutic process for me. I wish I can be prolific but I am not and it is okay. I still have a number of commissioned pieces on my list and I am thankful for the trust. I’ll take it one rest day at a time since, surprisingly, I still have projects coming in my other job. I thank God for the opportunities because, with this pandemic, my thoughts often wander. Should I find new ways to earn a living? Should I start a full-time creative business with my art? I tread this path carefully. Austin Kleon wrote in his book, ‘Keep Going’: “One of the easiest ways to hate something you love is to turn it into your job: taking the thing that keeps you alive spiritually and turning it into the thing that keeps you alive literally.” Art truly feeds my soul so I try to nurture it well. I try to keep it that way.

But then again he also said something about keeping a daily routine with art which I do not have yet. So far what I do is to challenge myself with a few techniques once in a while and I try to improve on what I already know. Hopefully, in time, I find my own rhythm and continue to produce pieces I really love. Never mind if others do not like it. I paint really for myself and, if others appreciate it, it is already a bonus. Art really helped me ease my anxiety with the pandemic. I get to create scenes I wish to see even if I am stuck in my little corner in this world. I hope I continue to find inspiration in the world around me no matter how bleak things are. I hope everyone struggling in this pandemic is able to figure out how to cope in these trying times.

 

My COVID Stories: 10 Lessons Learned on the Road to Being a Hardinera

It has been four months since the quarantine started in the Philippines and I have not written anything about it. A friend of mine thought about temporarily shutting down her blog since she has not written anything new for years and she’s regularly paying for hosting. I was thinking about that, too, but I wanted to keep many of what I have written and I am too lazy busy to bother learning how to back up my files. So here I am pushing myself to write something by starting a series of posts about what I did during the COVID-19 quarantine.

The quarantine posed a lot of challenges but nothing motivated me more to start a vegetable garden than the thought that I might have trouble finding food in the future. The pandemic has rendered me an unessential worker and that bruised my ego a little bit. If this pandemic leaves me without a source of income, I should start learning how to survive by growing my own food. This started my journey to being a hardinera (gardener).

The local agriculture office had the same thought, I guess. They distributed seeds for households to grow. I asked my cousin who worked for the city government to get me some seeds which she sent my way by mid-April.

I was an eager beaver. I germinated all the seeds in the egg trays.

Lesson number one: germinate only what you can grow.

I learned this lesson the hard way. I was so happy that the vegetables started to grow after 3 days. I was given pechay, kangkong, eggplant, okra and string beans.


These trays were placed in a shelf outside the house. A rat probably ran through the trays and toppled everything because one morning, I found the trays on the ground with the seedlings scattered and dead.

Lesson number two: Try again

Since I wasted all the seeds given to me, I went to an agricultural store and bought seeds that are available so I bought carrots, cucumber and mustard greens. I only planted a few this time around and I germinated them inside the guest room. They were placed near the window for the sunlight. My family photos were even watching over the seed trays.

Still dead.


The sunlight may be too harsh and the room lacked ventilation.

Lesson number three: Seek help

It was already mid-May. Had I been successful with my gardening, I could have harvested something by this time. So I watched Youtube videos on how I can grow an urban garden with the limited space that I have. I also asked the help of my friend, Mitzi, where to source good soil, particulary vermicast (vermicast is a compost produced by earthworms). She underwent training on organic farming years ago and has started a hydroponic garden this year so she knows these things. She told me that the Caraga State University sells vermicast. I sent my cousin to buy soil for me there. When he came to deliver the soil, he also gave me three seedlings of lettuce which the caretaker gave him. He also gave me fresh lettuce he bought there which became my dinner that night.


I planted these on a self-watering containers made from coke bottles.

Gardening reginites my love for coca-cola. ( hahaha somebody found an excuse to drink more coke)

I cut and transformed the 1.5 liter bottles of coca-cola into self-watering containers. Also, my aunt helped me rummage the trash for these bottles. Yes, we became scavengers. Save mother earth!

I think my cousin enjoyed his time there because he told he was going back to buy some herbs. By his next quarantine pass schedule, he got me mint and basil plants. My garden dreams slowly came to life.

Lesson number four: Get your friends and family involved.

I have already dragged my cousin and one aunt into this garden goal of mine. Anticipating my need for planting containers, I asked another aunt to buy me pots.

But look at what she bought me. They are too pretty.

So I asked my friend to buy me regular pots and while she was at it, I asked her if she might want to buy me garden soil and coco peat, too. Hahaha! Most gardening videos I watched suggested mixing regular garden soil, vermicast and coco peat. (Yes, my friend got them all for me.)

I even asked my friend all the way from Cabadbaran (2 localities away from Butuan) to buy me these pots.


My aunts went another notch higher. They gave me an indoor garden so I was able to use some of the pots here.

But wait there’s more!  There is another rack in my entryway.

Lesson number five: Keep trying

I still wanted a vegetable garden. I have a few herbs already but I wanted other vegetables. In particular, ampalaya (bitter gourd). I have tried growing from the seeds I collected from the vegetable I bought. No luck. So I decided to order online. Since shipping cost is lower if I buy more, I got as much as I can afford. Tada! I got all these online from Ramgo.

I germinated them. I planted only 5 to 10 seeds at a time so that I can try again if I fail. Since I am more successful with hanging pots, I got hanging germination containers from yogurt and ramen containers.

I germinated some in used tin cans.

I used wood coffee stirrers for nametags.


Lesson number six: Be inspired.

My friends have awesome vegetable gardens!

My friend, Mitzi, has a hydroponic garden here in my city.

My friend, Ginee, has a thriving vegetable garden in Canada.

My friend, Grace, grows these fruits and vegetables  in her yard in Japan.

I also saw gardens of other friends, too, and I am happy to see them happy with their plant babies.

When MGCQ (modified general community quarantine) was declared (for just a short time) in my city, my friends and I trooped to the Caraga State University. I bought seedlings for blue ternate, Thai basil and stevia. I saw their greenhouse where they germinate the seeds and the vermicast area. It felt nostalgic to set foot in the campus again. I spent five months of my short teaching career in that place. A lot has changed and I was happy that I was able to explore that place again even for a short while.

Lesson number seven: Enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Sometimes, the fruits come from what your parent labored. My cousin sent me two boxes of mangoes as my share from the trees Papa planted at least twenty years ago.

This was me and the mango trees more than 15 years ago.

I shared most of the mangoes to family and neighbors.

My meals often had mangoes.


And some ‘fruits’ come from my own labor.

The lettuce grew well and so does the basil and mint.

I have been eating samgyupsal using my lettuce. I cut a few leaves and they grew every time.

I have used the basil for pesto pasta…

..and the mint for my drinks.

Lesson number eight: Share what you can.

I sent some seeds to Azenith so she can grow her own herbs and veggies.

She planted them and was happy to see her seeds sprouting.


I also gave some seeds to Mitzi, too. She is way more successful in growing the vegetables compared to me. I also gave cuttings of my aunts “purple heart” plant to Jeanne.

Mitzi also gave me some of her harvested lettuce before.

I hope someday every family has their own vegetable garden and we just exchange our produce. My friend, Grace, in Japan gets veggies from her neighbors. When we were there, there was a box of eggplant in the entryway. She gets different veggies depending on what her neighbors are growing for the season.


Lesson number eight: You win some. You lose some.

Sometimes you lose them from the mentally challenged.


The day after I proudly showed my plants to friends, I found my very lush lettuce gone. Only the container remained. Thankfully, I have another lettuce plant growing and it remained untouched so I made a salad out of it before anyone tried to steal them.

After posting about it on Facebook, one neighbor informed me she found the plant on the ground near the barangay hall. My aunt’s lilies were also in the mix and she did not even notice them gone.


I surmised somebody with mental illness made the plants into a bouquet and played with them and when that person got tired, the plants were just thrown on the ground. My neighbor told me she brought the plants home. I hope that those will revive in her care.


We then hanged the containers higher that I have to stand on a chair if I need to water them. Ha!


I also lost a lot of plants to pests, inexperience and for reasons I still have to figure out. These mustard, basil and arugula succumbed to pests and lack of sunlight.


I realized my plants survive better when they are hanged.

Lesson number nine: Appreciate the plants that survive.

This is my current surviving garden. I have at least 33 containers hanging with basil, spearmint, chocolate mint, stevia, pechay, kale, lettuce, kangkong, tomatoes, bell pepper.

I have 3 vines of ampalaya left. The one vine hanging for dear life is now dead.  I don’t know why that one plant died and the rest are thriving.

I replanted 4 seeds of cucumber after 2 vines died.

I have lemon, lime and calamansi seedlings I bought from a cousin.

My blue ternate started to flower and it started to crawl in my aunt’s window grills.

My tomatoes started to bear fruits. So far, there are 4 fruits. I hope we get to harvest soon. Fingers crossed.

I celebrate these wins.

Lesson number ten: We all need a good laugh.

So I have been germinating these onions.

For some reason, one onion seemed to grow faster than others. When it was already big (after more than a month!), I transferred it to the hanging container. After a looking at it and observing it regularly throughout the day, I had an epiphany. Is this really onion? I messaged Grace asking her how to tell if I am planting an onion. She told me to smell the leaves.

These little plants in that container smelled like onion. Such thin and tiny leaves emitted the onion smell.

This large and lush onion plant smelled like grass.

WAAAAAAHHH! I planted weed!!!!! I am turning into a crazy plant lady who planted weed- the legal yet annoying kind.

The universe is trying to humor me.  I had a good laugh.

So far I am enjoying the gardening process. I was never into plants before. Now my aunt who spends a lot of her time in the garden has an ally.

My friend commented that her family knows me as Katrina laagan (wanderer or wanderlust). I traveled a lot before. I replied, “Not anymore! Meet Katrina hardinera!”

What is your gardening story?

10 Things You Might Want to Know About My Cousin, Azenith

My cousin, Azenith, is celebrating her 42nd birthday today (April 16) and it is only fitting to honor her on my blog. She is one of our heroes. She has been on the frontlines in this fight against COVID-19 in my city- even before the quarantine started. I am proud of her and scared for her at the same time but knowing how strong-willed she is (paired with thepower of prayers), she will pull through. I won’t be seeing her today or else she’ll be the first to have me pay fines for violating quarantine rules. I hate paying fines (or worse, be in detention) so this little tribute (or roast, whichever my thoughts lead me) is my little birthday present. We will celebrate when this pandemic is over (probably on my birthday! hahaha).

I am writing this with the assumption that our common friends are reading this. Here are the ten things you might want to know about Azenith:

1. She is my first friend in the whole wide world. We were born 7 months apart. Yes, I am the older one even if sometimes it is not obvious because of her maturity in her actions. She can carry herself well like the professional that she is while I remain the family’s introverted weirdo.


2. I am always her “Ate” (big sister). I am an only child so she is my closest thing to having a sister. We are actually first cousins. Her father and my mother are siblings. But we always treat each other like sisters. Whenever she talks to someone about “Ate”, most likely, that “Ate” is me. When we were little, I also made a big fuss that she should call me “Ate”. Only 7 months older and I demanded to be called “Ate”. What a diva! Ha! My mother’s siblings did not even call her “Ate” even if some of them were more than 10 years younger than her.

3. I am her biggest bully. Because I am the older one, I got to boss her around. There were countless of times that she suffered under my childhood superiority complex. At one time, we had a fight and in retaliation, I went to her closet and got all the nice hand-me-down dresses I gave her. What a mean kid this Ate of hers! Now that I am older (hopefully, wiser), I would willingly give the dresses she likes from my closet. (Because there are only few of those that she fancies and we do not have the same size for clothes. Ha! She also gives me clothes she thinks I would wear. )

4. She was a Milo-holic! She sold her loyalty to me for a bottle of Milo! When we were kids, she visited us in Magallanes where my family used to live. She was supposed to be spending a long vacation there. We planned on playing all day, all the time. Plus, Mama was a stay-at-home mom then so we had yummy snacks every time. Alas, I got sick. I had a fever. Mama asked Papa’s co-worker to accompany Azenith back to Butuan for fear she might get the fever also. Azenith would not go no matter how we convinced her. She did not mind getting sick with me. What a loyal cousin, right? When we told her that she could bring a bottle of Milo with her on her way home, without batting an eyelash, she said yes! Hahaha Milo should pay her for her loyalty.

5. She was the prettiest girl I know. She was always this pleasant and charming kid who was a friend to everyone while I was the grumpy kid that everyone tiptoed around. Now, she holds the title of being my most beautiful cousin. (Hilly, you will always be the sexiest.)

6. She is smart. As kids, we took an IQ test and she was in the above average range. She may not be as studious as I was but she can retain important concepts that are necessary in practical life. Never mind if there are spelling mishaps and grammar mistakes when she writes or the fact that I am her lifeline in anything that deals with numbers, everyone listens when she speaks. When she completed her nursing degree in March of 1999, she took the board exams in May of 1999 and passed. She disproved the notion that she’s all beauty and I am all brains. (Pwede sab baliktad uy! Nalain ko! Ha!)

7. She is a woman of many talents. She sings well. She has no stage fright. She can cook well. She is a good makeup artist that one day I asked her to teach me how and now I get compliments that I know how to apply make-up. (Need na ni ate, di na masaligan ang natural beauty.)

8. She is one hard working woman. Life’s successes are sometimes dependent on the cards we are dealt with. She had bad cards but she powered through. She works full-time in an exhausting government job and when she gets home, she works online as an ESL teacher because it is hard to rely only on a salary that is dependent on contracts and bureaucracy. Yet no matter how exhausted she was, she would cook for us whenever I asked her. I am glad that we took that trip early this year. This girl badly needed a break. Given her workload now, I hope she will also be able to relax soon.

9. Her confidence is something I can only aspire. She speaks her mind. She participates in various activities to the best of her abilities-be it a simple production number, skit, report, workshop or as mundane as flower arranging. In today’s millennial language, she is so extra. She does everything with pizzazz and she is not afraid to commit mistakes because she can always correct them. Nobody’s perfect anyway. I remember she would readily put her hands up in the air to answer a question of the teacher even if she is not sure her answer is right while I cringed at her side begging her not to answer! Hahaha!

10. She is my personal ad agency. With all the bullying and demands I did as an “Ate”, she is always proud of me even if I did not achieve anything significant. I heard her tell my Tita once that “Ate has a nice voice”. It made me wonder if she wanted anything from me that bad. Oh, not my St Peter, girl! (inside joke) Even the minute personal triumphs I have, she is already so proud of me that I feel like I found a cure for cancer. Labyu, Sinit!

I hope in these trying times she’ll find a way to celebrate this day. Please send her a message if you are her friend. Or just stay at home as a gift to her. That might brighten her day more. Happy, happy birthday, Sinit! Mwah!

Antipolo in a Day: Pinto Art Museum and Luljetta’s Hanging Garden Spa

After our trip to Baguio, my cousin, Azenith, and I stayed a little longer in Manila. My cousin has been working hard for two years straight and never had a decent vacation. I think she deserved a break and I had a free rein on where to go.  Manila is not really a perfect place to relax.  I never really adjusted to the traffic, pollution and the crowd of this megalopolis so I looked for places where we can conveniently spend a day to relax. I thought of Antipolo.

As a traveler, I always try to go to museums, visit art shows or watch theatre so Antipolo was the perfect place for me.  I have always wanted to see the Pinto Art Museum.  Azenith was game with whatever destination I choose. 

We stayed at an Airbnb in the Newport Area just across NAIA terminal 3. I think it is the most convenient place for non-Manila residents like me. There is a walkway towards NAIA 3 and there are many P2P buses at the terminal. For Antipolo, we had two options: take the NAIA 3 P2P bus to Ortigas and from Ortigas, take another P2P bus to Antipolo or take NAIA 3 P2P bus to Cubao and from Cubao, take the UV Express to Antipolo.  We missed the P2P bus for Ortigas  so we took the Cubao route. There was ample walking involved from the Araneta bus terminal (where the P2P bus driver dropped us) to the UV express terminal in Cubao. We were dropped at a side street near the Antipolo Church; we hailed a tricycle to bring us to Pinto Art Museum.

The museum grounds looked like I am in a hacienda in Mexico.  Notice the hand sculpture. Did you play that game as a kid, too?

And, sometimes, because of the white structures, the place looked Santorini-esque to me. But what do I know about architecture? All I can say is that the place was heaven for an art lover like me. 

The first painting that welcomed me to the museum was this massive piece entitled, Karnabal, from the Salingpusa Group. Salingpusa Group is a group of then amateur artists in the likes of Elmer Borlongan, Manny Garibay,  to name a few, who used to hang out at this Dr. Joven Cuanang’s property in Antipolo.  The good doctor would hold exhibits for these emerging artists then. Look at where they are now! These artists have now earned a place in Philippine contemporary art history. Thanks to Dr, Cuanang’s appreciation and support for Philippine art.

Shout out to this graffiti art because we were not those kids really. We come and go without warning.  Hahaha!

The museum housed a massive collection of art that I gave up taking photos or else it would take me the whole day to complete the tour.

Here are a few pieces that caught my camera.

This is Aiya Balingit’s “Bright, Cheerful and Pleasant Acts”.

This is Keiye Miranda’s “Intro the Realm of Consciousness”.  I love how we, as a viewer, would look up at the painting with a subject that is looking up.

This looks so familiar to me and when I looked at the label, I knew why.  It is because Arnica Acantilado’s work was part of the ManilArt2019 last October.  This is her “Dolls on the Landscape”.

I remember my favorite piece of art during ManilArt2019.  It was a painting by Efren Carpio depicting a child hold a santol with leaves growing in on ear. It spoke to me because I knew that old wive’s tale. These pieces from Demetrio de la Cruz had the same effect.  The box of shoes below is entitled, “Lolong and Loleng”. By the title, one immediately gets what it is all about. Lolong was the world’s largest crocodile in captivity that also died in captivity and these shoes are made of … take a guess. Yes, crocodile skin. On top of the “Lolong and Loleng” is a painting entitled “Holy Cow” by the same artist. If one looks closely at the painting, the frail cow has a monogram of a popular luxury brand on its skin with a handbag placed on a designer chair. Notice the skull of an animal.  These paintings made one think about the human acts that affect nature.

Pinto Art Museum has 7 galleries! Seven!  I only dream of putting up one small gallery for myself in my own house but a museum with seven galleries with massive collection of art owned by a private individual is incredible. 

This is the seventh gallery and construction is still on-going.

So huge.   Look how small I am! (This is a sentence I wanted to write for so long. Hahaha) 

There are installation pieces like this tens of thousands toy cars in one room.

More paintings are displayed at the mezzanine.

Thank you, Dr. Cuanang for supporting Philippine Art and building Pinto Art Museum!

I hope visit again soon and just spend a leisurely tour to view each art piece.

We only spent an hour or two in the museum because, in the afternoon, we went to Luljetta’s Hanging Gardens Spa. This resort has been on my radar for some time now. Facebook algorithm knows I am always on the lookout for nice places to visit.

From Pinto Art museum, we asked the tricycle driver to drop us near the Antipolo Church. We ate lunch at a local eatery.  After lunch, we hailed another tricycle for Luljetta’s Hanging Garden and Spa.

We availed of their day tour where we can access the different pools and jacuzzi.

We were given a robe to wear over our swimwear and a basket to hold our things. I did not bring slippers so I was given a pair to wear.

Our first stop was this area which was commonly photographed in many of the feeds that appear on my Facebook timeline.

It was the first week of February when we went. It was cold. And there were frog statues so I did not linger.  Ha!

I tried the fish spa. I lasted a few seconds before feeling ticklish.

Azenith was ticklish.

So we went to the infinity pool.

Look at those majestic views.

I hope the view remains green in the future. I can see some subdivision development. It is sad. It might not take long before this view will be replaced with concrete jungle. So we linger a little to store the moment in our memories.

Truth be told, it was still cold.

We need to look for some heated pools.  There were photo opportunities along the way.

We finally found a heated jacuzzi.  But there were couples in it so we waited for our turn.   There was a lounge area near the jacuzzi.   One couple left.  Then, I guess the couple who were left behind they felt awkward staying longer with two Titas as spectators. Ha! They left.  We had this jacuzzi just for the Titas. We stayed as long as we can here.

We left before we turned into stew.

I guess looking for another water feature/activity exposed us to the cold breeze because we tried the sauna next.

Then we took a last dip in the smaller infinity pool.

We called it a day by taking the free merienda that came with the day tour.

We waited for the shuttle that would take us to the reception area.

Off to the reception area!

Luljetta’s has a garden covered with umbrellas.

Outside the compound, we hired a tricycle to bring us to Robinsons Mall.  There was a P2P bus in that mall that will take us to Ortigas.

So here’s our P2P bus story.  We arrived at Ortigas a little past 6 PM.  The P2P bus for NAIA 3 already left so we decided to eat dinner in Galleria.  We read the sign in the bus stop that the bus arrives every 2.5 hours. Since the previous bus left at around 6pm, we expected the bus to arrive at 8:30 pm. To be sure, we started to wait for the bus at 8 pm.  Then 8:30 pm came, no bus.  It might be caught in traffic. Then, 9 pm came. We started to think if we should have booked a Grab earlier. We waited for an hour already. We should have thought this through. All my brain cells were left in Antipolo swimming into the cold and hot pools.  By 9:15 pm. the bus arrived. At last! As soon as we entered the bus, we were told that it would leave at 10 pm.  Oh, well. Lesson learned: Check the schedule. I remember also that the bus passes through all the airports with NAIA 3 as the last stop.  We anticipated the long commute. Because we chatted with the driver while waiting for the bus, he learned that we were staying at the Newport city area. When we passed by the area, he told us he would make a stop for us instead of us alighting at NAIA 3. It takes a little to be kind. Thank you, Mister driver.

We were dead tired when we arrived in our Airbnb.  Talk about forced relaxation the next day!

I love Antipolo. I should try to explore more of the Rizal area next time.

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