Thursday, April 29, 2010

Saizen: A Store For The Japanophile In You

Is it just in Manila, or is it happening elsewhere in the world, that everyone is loving everything Japanese nowadays?  Several friends and family just made the trip to the Land of the Rising Sun and everyone came home raving about the food and the wild and funky Japanese street fashion.

As for me, I do not need to go board a plane to get my fill of Japan.  All I need to do is head to the Saizen (Daiso) center in Robinson’s Galleria.   There are a lot of Japanese discount stores sprouting all over, but this one at the Galleria is the original Daiso, the same store that has branches in Japan, Singapore, HongKong, etc.

In my latest visit, I filled my shopping basket with things to make a bento box lunch, a planned summer activity with my kids; a few more items to add to my baking paraphernalia, and a lot of other things I don't really need but seemed too good a deal to pass up.  Everything at P85.

There's something here for everyone, scroll down and you'll know what I mean.  (Sorry if the quality of the photos is less than spectacular, all photos are taken with my Nokia camphone.)

For those who might be a little obsessed with organizing their kitchen, there is a long aisle of plastic containers:

What else do you expect from a country with a fanatical infatuation with cleanliness...

There are silicone liners, paper cupcake liners, cake boxes, for the happy home baker:

and if you are looking for something to give
origami paper for the creative set:

mini travel kits for the wanderlust 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Summer Art Camp: Origami

It’s the middle of summer and after everyone in my family has savored a month of being able to sleep in until eight in the morning, this is right about the time when our collective mood shifts from being languid to creative. 

Two summers ago, I have decided to take charge of the kids’ arts and crafts activities at home instead of paying someone else to do it for me.  It is sort of like home-schooling, only this one lasts only for the summer and doesn’t really involve any rigid structure or academic pressure. 

My kids all look forward to summer all year long because of our family summer art camp.   Not only does it allow me the comfort of not having to drive them around the metro, it provides me that feeling of magnificence, too wonderful for words, as I help them discover and nurture their God-given talent.  It even saved me a few grand without really trying.

For the past summers, we have tried pizza making, sushi making, soap making, cupcake baking and decorating, drawing and painting, tie-dyed shirts making, card making, sand art, having a picnic in a nature park.  It was quite a challenge to come up with new activities to do this year.

J and B got hooked on origami when their aunt gave them a Pokemon origami set, but we didn’t get any chance to do it together yet, so this summer is a perfect chance for that.  

Here are some of their works...


Trust me when I say origami is easy enough for anyone five years and up.  Just follow the rules in the origami book and you will be fine.  Dotted lines mean “fold here.” Arrows mean “fold this direction.” A curly cue arrow means “flip paper over.”  Just make sure to be nearby and assist your li'l ones the first time they do it.  It's best that they make a clean and crisp fold.  Let them do it with their thumb, nail side down on the paper. 
It is a perfect hobby to have the kids hooked on because it teaches hand-eye coordination, trains the kids to follow instructions, develops their sense of concentration and shows them that the result of any concentrated purpose is a thing of beauty.  But more than any of that, for a harried mom of three talkative bunch, the greatest function of this ancient Japanese art of paper folding  is the tranquil and uninterrupted sound of silence.  While their heads are all bent down and their fingers are occupied, the house is calm and peaceful for a while - even if only for a short, short while.  :)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Recollections of My Travel (Mis)Adventures

I received a group email a few weeks ago from a friend who is going on a U.S. vacation with her hubby and three kids. The topic was how many luggage to bring for a three week trip. "One big and one small?" she asked one friend who has taken the trip last year. I couldn't help but join in the email discussion thread because, really, one big and one small luggage for the entire family of five?!? That's what my family bring to the beach!

Although I have almost mastered the art of packing for my family of five, the science of traveling light doesn't really make sense to me. When I was much younger (and foolishly vain!), I needed to bring along two suitcases to cover the different pairs of shoes and bags and accessories...

Now that I am a mom, packing (almost) everything means that I feel comfortable and relaxed throughout the course of the vacation, knowing that I have everything my kids need. More so now that I have someone to carry all those heavy suitcases for me. :)

My predilection for carrying everything in my luggage aside, I have fond memories of my travels...
I was fourteen when I went on my first solo trip overseas, to Japan for a 2-week stay with a Japanese family. I recall packing my suitcase by myself, and being young (and foolish, may I rightfully add), the only fundamental packing rule for me was to plan my outfits thoroughly, making sure they were coordinated day by day, leaving the other more important essentials forgotten. It was in the tail end of winter, the weather in Japan when I landed hovered from a high of 8 degrees Celsius to a low of 4 degrees. Not used to that kind of chilly weather, my dry skin, which unfortunately, has not felt the benefit of a moisturizer in years, dried out and erupted in scaly patches that were so itchy and lasted for days. The sensation was a discomfort such as it is and the experience a very miserable one, that on every subsequent trip after that I never fail to include a bottle of lotion in my suitcase.

After a year or two, I went on my first transpacific trip mainland US with a youth tour group. I cannot remember anything from this trip that stood out in my memory so it would be safe to assume everything turned out right.

A few trips within Asia added some more traveling experience that by the time I was in my late teens, my parents deemed me experienced enough to let me travel to the United States on my own, with only my sister, who was a year younger, for company. Never changing, my foremost consideration when packing was to look fashionable. No Pain For The Vain. And so into the suitcase went my ankle boots with heels this high, and as an alternate, I brought a strappy heeled sandal, just in case the boots would give me a problem (I recklessly thought to myself). I walked up and down the streets of New Orleans, and explored the vibrant night life of the French Quarters. There were a few remnants of festivities as the merriment of Mardi Gras has just wrapped up only a few days before. By the time I reached our next stop, New York, my poor blistered feet were so abused they couldn’t afford one more stride. Petrified that I lost all sensation in my toes, I finally had to accept defeat and face humiliation as I went in the nearest Nike store and bought for myself a pair of sports sandals. It took a few days before the numbness in my toes went away. I wore these sandals everyday upto the last day of the trip. After that, I swore off heels when traveling.

Right after graduating from university and left with nothing better to do, my parents sent me off to Australia for a couple of weeks. I stayed in this wonderful serviced apartment that was walking distance from Bondi Beach. As a girl from the tropics, when I hear the word "beach" it is almost synonymous with scorching sun and very warm weather. There's only one way I know to dress for that: long sleeved shirt, shorts, and sandals. If you must know, it was in between seasons when I was there. It was not really winter but not quite spring yet. This was not a problem during the day for even as it is too chilly for a dip in the ocean, it is warm enough to stroll along the beach. Come dinner time, I was freezing to death as the open water brought some chilly winds to the seaside Italian restaurant located near the shore where my friends and I were having dinner. It wasn't long till I literally heard my teeth chattering and knees nobbling from the cold. True Story.

Fashion mishaps aside, I have quite a few travel peculiarities. For instance, the first thing I do when I get to my hotel room is to clean the toilet. I am very detailed and thorough with this. First I spray it with alcohol, and then wipe it down with soap using a towel and rinse it off with very hot water. Only then will I be comfortable enough to seat on it. I always bring my own slippers to use inside the hotel room, even if some hotels provide disposable ones. I always bring my own bath towels, too.

Travel peculiarities are no stranger in my family as I have one sister who wouldn’t lie down on a bed with her feet facing a mirror. A silly superstition she believes in which I never knew the origin of. She would always change beds with one of us whenever the bed assigned to her was facing one. I remember we all had a good and long laugh when our hotel in Vegas had one side all covered with mirrors. She found a way out of that one by sleeping with her feet facing the headboard. :)

Image credits:   simple tess and eliselovesprada

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dad and Me Camp Year 2

C left for the camping grounds uncertain about why he had agreed to go camping - again. As he kissed me good-bye, he muttered under his breath, “why did I say yes to this again?” The dreadful memory of last year’s camping trip at the Rizal Recreation Center giving him reservations.

This year’s camp was at Camp Explore in Antipolo, inside the Mount Purro Nature Reserve, at the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountain ranges.

The camp facilitators prepared a jungle and survival training course for the participants patterned after the TV show, Survival. The whole group was divided into ten teams, each composed of eight fathers and their kids. Each team was required to complete the ten stations, with each station having one physical and one mental challenge. Challenges consisted of tasks requiring endurance, agility, teamwork and problem solving skills.
Some of the outdoor recreation the camp offers:
As with the TV show, the teams competed against each other for luxuries; in this case, sleeping
accommodations. Housing was dependent on how the ten teams fared in the challenges. Accommodations were a choice of either a cottage (with single beds and an ensuite bathroom) or a cabin (where sleeping is tatami style). Fortuitously, their team completed the challenges competently as to score their own room – with a mattress and their own private bathroom.

Come dinner time, their team got lucky again as one of their teammates turned out to have his own catering company and did a superb job of steaming the rice inside the bamboo chamber and grilling the chicken and pork to perfection.

The cool mountain wind is sufficiently breezy; the temperature at night is chilly that, even with the ceiling fan turned off, most of the campers are wrapped in jackets, and come sleeping time, bundled up in blankets.

C came home humbly admitting that his misgivings about the camp at the start of the trip was unwarranted. The activities were well-planned, the motivational speakers were very engaging, and coffee was served in the main hall 24/7. There was a good balance between the daytime rigors of a camp-out and the convenience and comfort of sleeping inside a cottage, on a mattress for a night time respite. He is now looking forward to next year's camp. He said that this gave him and J a chance to grow closer while strengthening their relationship with God.

His FB wall says it all: "Spend some time and get to know your child, it is an investment that has a recurring payout for life."

image credits:  John Ong Photography and Gemma Cheng

Friday, April 9, 2010

Me and Dad Camp

I am home alone with the 2 younger kids for this weekend, C and J went on a "Dad and Me" camping trip - their second in two years. As with the first camping trip, it is J who is really looking forward to it, C just goes along with her... dragging his feet. :)

Same time last year, C was very proud to report to me that he was one of the first dads to put up the tent. I remember...
They returned to their tent late afternoon, planning to take a well-deserved respite from the afternoon's activities, only to find that the heavy downpour had found a way inside their "water-proof" tent. Everything was soaking wet. From the sleeping bags that they attentively laid out, the bags that they thoughtfully placed at the sides of the tent to make way for ease of entry, to the shirts, toiletries and cooking/grilling utensils. To make matters worse, the 4 sides of the tent not covered by the rain trap were now also dripping with water.

She persisted in encouraging him to go out and ask if someone had an extra tent, "Come on, dad, it never hurts to ask," she prodded. And luckily, the camp had one more tent to spare - and it was the last one! C admitted later on that were it not for her encouraging spirit, he was just about ready to give up and head home already. Of course, being a parent, he did not want to show any reaction other than a positive one. But J is perceptive with emotions, it has always been her gift that she could read through people easily. Poor C! He had to take down the drenched tent and put up the new one.

It was lights out at the camping ground by 10pm. Everybody was tired and retreated to their tents, ready to call it a night. A few minutes before midnight, J woke up and wanted to go to the bathroom. It was raining lightly as they stepped out of their tent to make way to the toilet which was nearby. Lightning helped illuminate what would otherwise be a dark path. As luck would have it, the drizzle quickly turned into a downpour as they made their way back to the tent. The uproar made by the thunder competed with the noise that the heavy rain water made as it plowed into the ground. J worried about the lightning striking them as they go to sleep, however, she was swiftly assured by C that no such thing would happen. Taking his word to heart, she was soon sound asleep.

C came home learning a whole lot about J. And he is so proud of the way she turned out. She was an encourager, who kept him focused on the positive side of things, even as they faced disaster upon disaster at the camp site. She was a joyful companion who kept things light and easy with her animated banter and silly jokes. A considerate and undemanding girl who always thinks of her friends and loved ones. She may not always put their needs before hers, but she is always perceptive of their wants and tolerant of their shortcomings.
I am excited to have them back home tomorrow night and hear their camp stories. Already, I know it is a different adventure as they updated me this afternoon that they tried the zipline activity.

Image credit: JAOPhotography

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Laiya Batangas: Acuatico Beach Resort

We started our drive to Batangas at 4am, the dusky sky at a standstill, showing no sign of emerging sun-up. The kids are awake and excited, although I wished for them to fall back to sleep as I do not have the unbridled energy to match theirs at this unholy hour of the day. As expected of a Holy Week excursion, the travel took around 4 hours, not counting the breakfast stop-over.

Due to its proximity to Manila, the province of Batangas is the primary preference for urban dwellers wanting to take off on a sojourn. The number of white sand beaches in the province are widely scattered throughout the different municipalities. The road that runs north and south through the west coast of the province has the famous Matabungkay Beach which can be found in the northern province of Lian; still farther up north is Nasugbu where the very exclusive Punta Fuego is situated; Calatagan can be found downward south, home of the country’s cable ski park and resort, Lago de Oro. On the south-eastern boundary, in the province of San Juan, is the salt-water Laiya beach.

The Laiya shoreline is a seven kilometer strip of white sandy shores and warm azure water, nestled behind the peaks of the conspicuous Mt.Daguldol. The Laiya beach (pronounced as La-i-ya) is situated along the coast of Sibayan Bay and Verde Island Passage, which lay claim to having the peak concentration of marine life in the world as appraisedby the World Conservation Union.

The white sand this beach offers is, in reality, a far cry from the powdery smooth sand of Boracay; the Laiya sand is rough and coarse, more like the collection of very tiny pebbles you put at the bottom of a terrarium. Nonetheless, the water is clean and incredibly clear, so no worries.

Inspite of the rutted quality of the sand, C and I enjoyed walking along the shoreline. As soon as the sun breaks the monotony of the sky with her sprinkles of yellow, we are off to the beach. I thought of it as having some exercise combined with foot exfoliation. :)
The kids, though, were not too keen on it. J and R, although not that enthusiastic to walk on the sand, did not mind a short leisurely walk. B was a different thing all together. She was all up in arms, "Why do I have to walk on the sand?" Her stubbornness showing itself, "I won't walk! Even if you leave me alone!"

Ok, if she says so...
But C doesn't really have a choice ...
There were a lot of tiny sand crabs leaping about in the glistening wet sand. C and R spend a few minutes catching these shy yet speedy little creatures. It's tricky to do and it is best done by scooping the tiny crab hiding inside the moundful of sand and sifting the sand until the crab reveals itself. Of course, as soon as they were done with it, they wished the crabs bon voyage and returned them to the sand so they can go back to where they belong!

Although Acuatico doesn’t have the wide and spacious frontage that other resorts have, it lays claim to having the best pool among the Laiya resorts, or even the whole of Batangas, for that matter. The pool area itself is divided in four parts: the Jacuzzi is nearest the dining area, followed by the kiddie pool, and a wading pool with a floating bar in the middle, and finally the pièce de résistance - the infinity edge pool that looks out to the open sea.
The first phase of the resort has several Balinese inspired villas of different sizes built on both sides of the pool. The rooms are sparsely furnished and modestly sized with a choice of either 2 twin-sized beds or one queen bed. An extra twin-sized bed can be arranged for P700.00. There are LCD TV provided for every villa, with the bigger villas getting two units.

We stayed at Estancia, a three-bedroom villa, the biggest in the resort and with the best location. It allows you to step right out of the villa door and into the infinity pool. We were lucky to get the room on the second floor as it afforded us some privacy, and the exclusive use of our own LCD TV. The verandah provides a panoramic view of the resort and the sea. However, there was only one bathroom in the entire villa and it is located on the first floor. It was a minor hassle going down in the middle of the night to go take a pee. C always has issues with the bathroom - everywhere we go. He just about panicked when he found out that there was only one bathroom to be shared by 10 kids and 6 adults.
The second stage of the resort is put up in the structure housing the dining hall, far away from the beach. It features 7 more rooms with accommodations similar to a modern hotel, with a refrigerator and a bathroom in every room. Although the rooms here are more spacious, they offer a limited view of the pool and the sea.

Each villa has a well-manicured tropical garden which we easily managed to turn into a hodge-podge of clutter….
The resort is undoubtedly the priciest among the Laiya resorts, but discriminating guests can see that the steep price went into the exclusivity and the small niceties the resort provided. The resort has a maximum guests limit of 60 persons; this means less intrusion and more relaxation. I appreciate all the fine and luxurious details like the faint scent which lingers on your skin after you use their translucent and highly-glycerinated soap infused with green tea essence; the velvety soft bed sheets; the restful sleep that a good quality mattress can bring about.

The kids also enjoyed the use of the water activities which came at no extra cost.

They were in the water for a good 30 minutes before I noticed that the girls had taken over at the helm, and were pedaling – with their legs up in the air! While the boys were busy at the back … scooping out water off the boat.
Luckily, the resort had several lifeguards on duty that went out to bail them before their boat filled up with water.
We didn't really have time to pose for a family pic as everyone was too busy having fun. This photo is only one of two taken during our entire 3-day stay. We will definitely be back!