Tuesday, June 21, 2011

BTW, the cake was grrreat

Everything you need to know about Martina can be summed up in this tiny story that happened two nights before her 5th birthday.

My family and Ate's family stayed at Sofitel over the weekend for a joint Father's Day and Martina's Day celebration. For some reason, staying at hotels is a thing now in the family ... because that's how we roll (only in my mind). The kids love these little overnight stays: Juancho loves the beds and elevators and pools; Martina thinks hotels are simply fantastic. Just two weeks ago, as we entered the lobby of Taal Vista Hotel (venue of our family's 'official' summer trip), Martina exclaimed at the top of her lungs, "This is the most wonderful place I've ever seen!!!" (which is really not saying much, given that she was barely 5 at the time) (but we should've been paid for such a good endorsement [just FYI, Taal Vista])

Back to the original story.

Sofitel gave us a free chocolate cake for Martina's birthday and when we found it in the room after coming back from dinner, we decided to surprise her. We all called her into the room and everyone started belting out the usual 'Happy birthday' song.

The cake of a thousand tears and a million calories

When Martina saw the cake, she smiled for a millisecond, then the surprise started to hit her. While we were in mid-song, she desperately tried to figure out what to do with herself. One can only imagine what her young brain was processing: What is this I'm feeling? Happiness? Terror? Pleasure? WHAT'S HAPPENING, PEOPLE??? Instead of calmly handling the situation, Martina hid her face with her hands, hunched over the table while starting to whine a bit, then finally bawled with all her might into the arms of her amused mother, who was busy recording the whole calamity on video (guess how many times Marteens will want to watch that in the coming years).

Mia: Are those tears of joy?
Juancho: Tears of pain! (he's always been smart, that kid)

So we cut our on-the-spot performance short, pretended nothing happened and got ready for bed. Martina, on the other hand, wiped her tears and asked for a slice of cake before sleeping – the very same cake that we thought she had already condemned to the trash can of her mind. It's true: Chocolate trumps psychological trauma (and everything else on earth, really).

The next day, we found out that Martina had talked to Juancho after the whole surprise disaster, and asked accusingly,

"Why didn't you sing 'Happy birthday', Juancho???"

Apparently, in the throes of her despair, she still noticed that her brother refused to participate in the grownups' instant presentation. Note (more like warning) to self: Nothing gets past Martina.

And with that slightly creepy undertone, the short story ends.

Here's a baby pic to make it all right again:

Martina at the hospital, looking like she's suppressing a comment

Happy birthday, little beloved one! I wish you more courage to deal with curveballs, a continuing love for dessert (trust me, this will help you someday in many, many ways) and a heart that can forgive people for not singing on command.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Links are fun (and self-indulgent)

Blogger started counting page views only relatively recently, so the 'Popular Posts' on the left side of my blog aren't necessarily my favorite ones. I have really old entries that I re-read when I need to reminisce the stories I like sharing until my listeners' ears hurt or when I need to fill in the gaps in my hole-filled memory.

I'm posting the links of some of my personal favorites, just in case you're in the mood for some light re-reading too.
  • The leech story – If I would ever be accused of fabricating my stories, this would have to be my accuser's proof. I assure you though that this happened ... because that's how my parents roll. I love this story.
  • The epic mountain drama that involved warming oil and unreliable doctors, myself included – This happened the year that I decided to be adventurous. It almost cost me my life. OK, maybe not so much 'life' as it was 'pride'.
  • I like all the anecdotes about my nephew Juancho and niece Martina but a few that stand out are Juancho's nativity story and Martina's story about Sparkly Neever
  • An embarrassing kindergarten presentation where I learned how to be paranoid and overcompensate all in one go.
  • Panicking in Macau – This is one of the reasons why I don't associate running with happy times.
  • Cashews to the rescue – Another classic Mama story. Like the time she alarmingly said, after seeing a snake completely wrapped around a tiny monkey so the monkey's hands and feet were sticking out, "I didn't know snakes had feet!" (I have a feeling I've written about this, but I can't find it.)

Essay flashback: The continuing saga of Ms Sweet Tooth

I wrote this essay 10 years and 10 million desserts ago (I was just recently accused of exaggerating. You think?), when I wrote stuff because I was assigned a deadline and a small fee. Today I still write about dessert without the promise of compensation, just for the joy of savoring the memories of good sweets. The day I say 'no' to dessert is the day I tuck my shirt into pants again. So, anyway, here's the essay – slightly shorter than the original published version.


The continuing saga of Ms Sweet Tooth
August 2001

“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the 'Titanic' who waved off the dessert cart.” – Erma Bombeck

Along with an entire horde of hormonal women in the world, I cannot resist dessert. Dessert is not an option, it is inevitable. Passing up what is for me the most important part of any substantial meal is like walking out of the movie theater just before Harry finds Sally on New Year’s Eve to tell her that “when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” Okay, maybe not exactly like that, but you get the picture.

During one particularly heavy lunch, my friend proposed a rather questionable explanation for the phenomenon of always having room for dessert. We were trying to justify why we still wanted to order ice cream with barely enough space for our lungs to expand. At that point, I was willing to listen to anything that will allow me to get just a bit of chocolate into my system.

With enough conviction to incite public unrest, he said that dessert has a special ability to creep into the crevices of the food already inside your stomach. Of course, I didn’t point out that, for his theory to hold water, this only applied to dessert that melts or is already soft/liquid to begin with. It’s hard to imagine a slab of frozen turtle pie trying to work itself into the spaces between ingested pork chops … but then again, why bring it up? I tried not to probe him too much regarding his theory. You know what they say about not biting the hand that pays for lunch.

I was a dessert freak as far as I could remember.

When I was a kid, life and cartoons and math and dessert were simple. One of my favorite desserts back then was a certain Magnolia frozen delight with a name that escapes me right now. We called it “Up and Down,” but I’m (almost) sure that wasn’t on the label. It was one of the cheaper popsicles (price was and still is an important factor), and one of the most attractive, in my opinion. Its top half was yellow and the bottom, orange.

I don’t remember ever having a whole popsicle to myself, as my older sister and I shared everything at the time. The problem was she wanted the yellow part, so I had no choice but to wait for her to finish. Did it matter that I wanted the yellow part too? Was it ever taken into consideration that by the time I got to hold the stick, the orange part was already melting like crazy? That’s what I had to bear for being named after a flavor/color: everyone assumes I actually like orange. (The truth is my sister never assumed that, she just always took advantage of me.) To this day, I disdain melted ice cream and near-liquid popsicles.

If you don’t remember Up and Down (or think I just made the whole thing up), you may want to refresh your taste buds by trying Selecta’s Twister Pop, which comes remarkably close. Except I think they’ve discontinued making that, too.

When my lola (chief enabler extraordinaire) ran out of spare change, I had to settle for improvised desserts, one of which I still get a hankering for every now and then.

Our house was never without Milo, as my sister and I were raised to believe that it was some miraculous drink and that it was a tragedy not to have a cup of it in the morning. I don’t remember how or when it started, but a childhood dessert discovery involved the omnipresent Milo powder. We put about two heaping tablespoons of it in a cup and added a drop of water. We rolled the drop around the cup until it formed gooey ball of chocolate goodness. Voila! Instant dessert. A small drop went a very long way.

Skolatina of Cyma:
I've come a long way from Milo balls
(taken in 2011)
If you haven’t figured it out, let me say that I am easy to please when it comes to dessert. To this day, one of my finest memories of cool heaven is a huge cup (barrel?) of nonfat soft-serve chocolate yogurt at Universal Studios more than 10 years ago. Very cheap, all the taste, none of the guilt and, being in cold weather, didn’t melt at all. I enjoyed it more than the Back to the Future ride (that’s saying a lot, considering it was one of the main attractions at the time).

Now, trapped in an adult body, I find that I get stuck with regular, but no less sinful, desserts. After a while, all the restaurants seem to have the same stuff. Yes, I don’t love them any less, but something in me longs for something more than just another cake, ice cream concoction or fruit platter. For instance, I thoroughly enjoy the TGIF creation so grotesquely named Cup of Dirt – a cup of chocolate pudding laced with gummi worms and topped with cookie crumbs – but find that it’s beneath my dignity to order it after a normal adult-appropriate dish.

An unusual yet delightful dessert I’ve had the pleasure of discovering was in Hong Kong, at the Vong restaurant on the top floor of the Mandarin. My friend and I ordered one of the set lunches on the menu. After a glorious meal of what was supposed to be appetizers (they were more than enough, believe me), they served us a plate of what looked like red sorbet. It turned out to be raspberry chili ice cream. After the first taste, we couldn’t stop wow-ing and mmm-ing. The frozen liquid delivered a sharp pang to the tongue and made us all confused – it was both sweet and spicy. I didn’t know if I was smiling because of the view of Hong Kong harbor, the good company or the chilly chili.

As if that weren’t enough, the waiter served us an assortment of round chocolate confections. There was one piece that looked highly irregular. It looked like any other dark chocolate ball. Except it was sweating. As in big drops of moisture were running down its silken contour. It looked like it was scared to be eaten.

Playing the role of the heartless cannibal giant, I slowly took a bite. As it turns out, the chocolate shell was covering a ball of flavored ice (my friend and I agreed it was apple-flavored), which explained the condensation. It was a surprise beyond my wildest sweet dreams. And one I still think about every now and then with a faraway look in my eye and mild shooting pain in my tooth.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Martina, marriage, and the lack thereof

I absolutely love my phone chats with Martina, mostly because they just barely resemble real-world conversations. I wrote about some of our exchanges through the years and I am pleased to report, that today – about 2 weeks before her 5th birthday – I am still deeply baffled by our short talks.

Just this morning, in the span of 10 minutes, Martina called me three times to:
  • Share that her toys weren't working because they needed batteries;
  • Complain that Juancho used her bathroom and will probably make it dirty; and
  • Order me to call her mother because she promised she would be gone for only an hour.

(Ask me about my productivity level today. Ask me.)

The truth is I prefer the above topics versus her most recent 'problem' that has prompted her to call the house every day with a sense of urgency that 5-year-olds shouldn't even feel. Her concern?

"Tita Eng, why aren't you married? Who are you marrying?"

Prior to this, it was "Where is your real family?" (she meant "Where are your children?") I said I didn't have any. I suppose the marriage question was logical backtracking. To be fair, she also asked all her other single aunts and single uncle. I wasn't the sole target of her interrogation.

Of course, being thirty (*cough cough*) seven years old, I am used to being asked the marriage question because I live in a country where tact is endangered and, apparently, it is more hip to be in a loveless marriage than to be happily single. I have gotten tired of the polite response to "Why are you still single?" (the polite response being "Shut the hell up, you miserable excuse for a human being.") My actual responses have been variations of the following (some sound better in the vernacular, try it):

  • I can't choose among my boyfriends.
  • I AM married. Didn't I invite you to the wedding? So sorry.
  • Is marriage still a thing these days?
  • I'm too young.
  • *Closed-mouth evil smile* (see below)

Singleness: having time to take random pics

Anyway, back to my supposedly short story. Martina never got her answer because I was always still asleep when she called at 8 in the morning. When Martina finally visited and asked me to my face, I told her I was marrying Rafa (you know, 10-time Grand Slam champion ... of my heart), she gave me a skeptical look, as though she could see right through my thick screen of delusion. "No, really, who?"

I was able to distract her from that topic for the rest of the day but she remembered again the next day and called for the nth time. "Who are you marrying again?"

"No one, Marteens."


"Not everyone has to be married," I said.


"Some people get married, some people don't. OK?"

Martina thought about it for half a second and said, with a bit of resignation, "OK."

Single women all over the country will agree that it was probably one of the easiest and fastest times an unmarried lady has been let off the hook. It's refreshing to see how a pure soul can just accept the situation and move on. In Martina's case, she moved on to asking if I could buy her a skateboard.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to finish composing my video marriage proposal to Rafa.

BTW, Martina, *this* is my real family
(taken 3 years ago, when Martina first started using the phone)