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!

The Blessing That is Blessy

“Dogs die. But dogs live, too. Right up until they die, they live. They live brave, beautiful lives. They protect their families. And love us, and make our lives a little brighter, and they don’t waste time being afraid of tomorrow.” – Dan Gemeinhart

It was late April 2012 when my cousin, Arvin, brought these two mini-pinschers into our lives.

They were named Boknoy and Blessy.  But if you ask my cousin’s wife, Tweetty, the names are Lucky and Blessy. Lucky is male and Blessy is female.

Look at how tiny they were!

When Arvin learned that sibling dogs of different sexes who grow up together in the same house run the risk of inbreeding, he left Blessy in our care.  She lived in a spacious cage in the garage.

We felt that the cage was a lonely place for Blessy so we take her out of the cage on special occasions.

We blew my birthday cake.

She was with me one Valentine’s day.

She comforted Joaqui from the New Year’s Day revelry.

My cousin and I were the crazy dog people who think the siblings can communicate through Skype.

When Blessy was pregnant, she moved from the cage to the house.

Like a pro, she single-handedly gave birth to these puppies on her own.  I was out that day and when I came back she already had puppies.

Arvin had to help her nurse her puppies, though.

She permanently stayed inside the house after giving birth. One of her favorite places in the house was my couch. We had to cover it with blanket to prevent her fur from sticking to the slipcover. 

She loves sleeping on pillows and…

… on any surface with foam.

And if there weren’t any soft surfaces, she would scrunch up a fabric to serve as her mat.

I would like to believe that her most favorite place to hang out was on my lap.

She liked to be with me while I worked.

Even if I was too busy to be bothered, she just wanted to be with me.

She sometimes fell asleep while waiting for me to finish what I was doing on my laptop.

When I had chikungunya, I was in bed for days.  Having Blessy beside me gave me comfort that all is well in the world.

She was one prayerful dog. She had a special seat in front of the altar. Whenever it was time to pray the rosary, she would go to her seat and pray with us.  And when she sensed that it took too long for me to go and sit beside her to pray, she would go to my room and bark as if telling me it was time to pray. Every Sunday, the minister goes to the house so that my uncle who is unable to go to church can receive communion. Blessy would insist to be brought to her seat at the altar so that she, too, can hear God’s words.

She was a sweet, sweet dog.  She was always happy to see me whenever I arrive home after being away for work or vacation.  She always showered me with kisses.

She had a quiet side…

… but not for long! She was very hyperactive especially when she sensed that Arvin was just around the corner. She was our Arvin alarm. Ha!

Her loyalty remained with Arvin. She knew he loved her first.

But I know in my heart, she loved me, too. She knew I love her, too.

It broke my heart to see her nose bled two weeks ago. 

She was not her usual bubbly self a week before that.  We thought she just liked to stay in because the weather was cold.

We sent her to the vet and we found out she had Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis. These are diseases caused by ticks. We did not notice the ticks because they were small and she had jet black fur.  The bacteria caused her platelets to drop and inflamed her pancreas. She stayed with the vet for five days. Arvin and Tweetty brought her to their house to look after her.

Last night, Tweetty messaged to tell me they sent Blessy to the vet. Blessy had difficulty standing and had low oxygen in her blood. I told Tweetty I will visit Blessy today.  When I woke up early this morning, I got a message from Tweetty that Blessy did not make it.

My heart broke and is still breaking.  I miss her. Terribly.

I take comfort in knowing that heaven is smiling to welcome such an angel.

Hug Papa, Mama and Peachy for me, Bless!



“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” – Will Rogers

10 Things I Remembered About my Friend, Erwin

“Our memories, they have to be passed down by those who knew us in life – in the stories they tell about us.”

-Hector from the movie, Coco.

I recently lost a friend and the loss deeply affected many of us who knew him. I should have written about him when he was still alive. He would have read what I thought of him. Honestly, I never realized the many roles Erwin played in my life until I browsed his profile on Facebook and clicked those three tiny dots that led me to that “see friendship” option. All the memories flooded in and I need to keep them alive somehow so let me share my memories of Erwin through the years in this blog post.

1. Erwin was a childhood friend. Although I am very close to Ernelyn, his wife, Erwin was my friend long before I became friends with Ernelyn. We were classmates in kindergarten and from Grade 4 to Grade 6.

2. Erwin was my partner in one beauty pageant. I do not remember what happened in the selection process but Erwin and I became the unlikely representatives of our section to a Mr. and Ms. Science contest. I would like to believe we were natural at strutting the runway for we ended up among the pairs to represent the grade level after an elimination process. Unbelievable! Ha! Palakpakan naman diyan na hindi kami na-eliminate! I do not have a picture as proof but just believe me that it really happened. (So now we know where Josh got his pageant genes from. Hehehe!)

3. Erwin was my ally in the morning class (buntagon) vs afternoon class (haponon) rivalry. In many get-togethers, my friends and I often talked about our school years since most of us came from the same grade school. Our batch was the only batch with two graduations- one for the morning class and one for the afternoon class. Erwin and I belonged to the morning class. Many of my friends who were often present in gatherings belonged to the afternoon class. Whenever I was outnumbered by them, I would call on Erwin to my side. (Absent man gud Wela pirmi bah. Hahaha)

4. Erwin was a fellow September baby. Mitzi, Erwin and I often took pictures together whenever one of us celebrated a birthday.

5. Erwin was my secret access to Ernelyn’s yummy leche flan. This was our interaction when I missed one of his birthdays.

6. Erwin was a cool travel buddy. I went with Erns and him to Lanuza. Twice. And on both occasions, I threw up 5 times along the way. I never heard him complain or even tease me for squatting down the curb each time looking like I was trying to empty my guts out. Poise be damned, I looked worse than those people who had way too much to drink yet I never heard him mention my sorry state as a joke. I would have if tables were turned. This goes to show that he was really a nice person.

7. Erwin was one of my go-to drivers. If I went to parties or watched movies late at night, I knew I would not have to worry how to get home whenever Erwin and Ernelyn were around. I did not even have to ask. Erwin and Erns would drive me home in a heartbeat.

8. Erwin was supposed to be a godfather to my imaginary future wedding. I think I have declared this several times that it already became annoying. He tried to take matters into his own hands. There was one time when one of our friend’s mother mentioned that they had one of their bachelor’s pads rented to a foreigner, he asked if the foreigner was single because he wanted to introduce him to me. Ha! He was a better wingman than Erns. (And the answer to the question? No, the foreigner was married.)

9. Erwin was a devoted husband. He was always quiet. He never complained. He never fought with Erns. (Oh well, nobody ever dared to fight Erns anyway. Hi, Erns!) He always let her win any argument. He was a smart, smart man. Happy wife, happy life! He always went with Erns in many of our gatherings. He did not even mind all the girl talk even if he was the only guy around.

10. Erwin was a loving father. He constantly reminded Erns what the kids wanted and needed. I remember that in several times that they drove me home, they would drop by a bakery or convenience store for the food that the kids wanted them to bring home .

Thank you, Erwin, for the friendship. You are sorely missed.

10 Reasons Why My Friend, Wela, is Awesome.

friendship

I am lucky to have friends who had my back and Wela was one of them. It is only fitting to write about her today, her special day. So let me tell you how awesome Wela is.

1. She is one of my longtime friends. Our friendship spanned 32 years and counting. We first became friends when we were seatmates in grade 4. Both our mothers accompanied us on our first day of school and sat us together after telling us that we are cousins.

This is her grade 4 ID picture which I kept. I did not even have a copy of my own ID picture but I have hers with dedication from her.

Friendship

2. She taught me how to draw Garfield and we would create different cartoons featuring Garfield.  I need a lot practice now. Hahaha!

garfield

3. She is a true friend through and through. Even though I betrayed her, she saved me from embarassment. And that mistake was forever in my conscience. Yes, 32 years of forever apologizing to her. So here’s the story: We had a classmate who kept on teasing us. I can no longer remember what it was about. It was recess and we were hanging out at the terrace of our classroom. When recess was about to be over, I went inside and Wela followed leaving our classmate behind, oblivious that the class was about to start. I had the brilliant idea of closing the door with him locked out in the terrace (which should not be a huge deal because he could always knock and ask to be opened. Duh! There were at least 30 other classmates inside who could hear him.) So I told Wela to lock the door. The classmate started crying. The teacher heard the crying and asked me, “Katrina, what is that all about?” I answered, “Ma’am, it was Wela.” (I feel like Judas Iscariot betraying Jesus.) Wela then answered, “Sorry, Ma’am.” And she then opened the door. My heart sank and I carried the guilt all these years. Wela acted like it never happened- that I did not betray her. I do not know what nice things I did to her all those times that she still kept me as her friend.

friendship

4. She was my high school penpal along with our friend, Shirly. I studied in a different school in high school. I would always look forward to reading her letters whenever my mama visited me in my school. I lost all her letters when mama did some spring cleaning while I was away for college. I remember her drawing of her cheerleading uniform in one of her letters.

5. She was my college dorm mate. I was glad we went to the same university. We really did not hang out a lot because she spent her weekends with her relatives in Bulacan while I stayed in the dorm but it was comforting for me knowing that I have my childhood friend just two rooms away from me.

I am the one wearing striped shorts; Wela in blue shorts.

6. Wela was my officemate. For more than a year, we worked in the same company. We were both busy with our respective jobs. We may not look like close friends at work but unbeknownst to many, Wela was my voice of reason. She would get emails from me whenever I am upset at something work-related. She would share her thoughts on the matter and made me feel better. Wela made work meetings a lot better just because she was there. ( I hated meetings because I had processes I had to run on my computer that I need to monitor.)

I was sad when she left for another job because her leaving felt like losing an ally. When she broke the sad news that she was resigning, she also told me she found love. She made me forget the bad news by bringing happy news.

love

This is Wela and Kit on their wedding day.

7. Wela was there during my saddest birthday and made it a little better. It was 2009. My father was bedridden for a month already. He just suffered his worst side effects from oral chemo. Celebrating my birthday was the last thing on my mind. Wela came in the afternoon and brought me flowers and brownies. Even for a few minutes, I was happy to celebrate my birthday.

8. Wela is a great poet. I am lucky and blessed to receive two poems from her. You can read her poems about me in this post and this post. These poems are few of my treasured possessions that no one can take away.

Wela and I on my 40th birthday.

9. Wela is a great mother to Lui and wife to Kit. She makes sure she spends time with them that we already understand whenever she misses many of our get-together with friends.

10. Wela makes sure to drive me home whenever we spend time together. Even if it is difficult to navigate the narrow road to my house, she drives me home anyway. Thank you, Wela!

I am really blessed to have a friend in Wela. I love you, Wela. Happy, happy birthday! Thank you for your friendship! Mwah!

Note: I swiped some of the photos from her Facebook account.



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