Hello, Environment!

Let us not stop bringing children closer to the environment.

Traveling with Kids

These are their first little steps toward exploring the world, and you are privileged to take those steps with them.

A Yummy Database!

I accumulated so many recipes that I have created this simple recipe database to store them in.

Hydroponic Systems: Grow a Garden Without Soil

Environment-friendly and space-saving way to grow your own food.

Why Prayer is the Best Stress Reliever

To banish stress, try prayers.

My Fitness Adventure - the Beginning

Thus began my journey to bring good health into my life.

The IT Men and Women

People who work in the IT industry are in a class of their own.

Does God Really Listen and Answer Prayers?

If we are not sure that He will listen, does this mean we should quit praying?

Where is the Followers Gadget in Blogger?

If you'd still like to use the old Followers gadget in Blogger, here's how.

Pesto Love

You can wing it with pesto and never go wrong with the taste.

Oct 30, 2013

Historic Cemeteries in the Philippines

Here's one for history buffs and tourists.  Cemeteries not only hold the dear departed's remains in peaceful protective slumber, some cemeteries actually hold parts of Philippine history!

If you take a stroll through some of the cemeteries listed below, you will gain important lessons in the nation's interesting history.

1.  Paco Park Cemetery

Now a well-tended recreational area, Paco Park was once called Cementerio General de Dilao or Cementerio General de Paco.  During the time when the Philippines was still a colony of Spain, Paco Park Cemetery was Manila's municipal grave site.  Built in the late 18th century, many of Manila's wealthy residents were buried here, until 1822 when it was used as a mass burial site for cholera epidemic victims.

After his execution at Bagumbayan, National Hero Dr. Jose P. Rizal was buried at Paco Park, until his remains were later moved to its current location at the Rizal Monument.

Paco Park is also the burial site of  the three Filipino priests Jose Burgos, Mario Gomez and Jacinto Zamora, who were accused of mutiny and rebellion in Cavite in 1872, and were eventually executed by the Spanish colonial government.

In 1912, Paco Park ceased becoming a burial ground, and eventually turned into a beautiful garden and recreational area for Manila residents.

Dr. Jose P Rizal was initially interred at Paco Park cemetery after his execution.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2.  La Loma Cemetery

Cementerio General de La Loma began receiving interments in 1884.  It is the oldest cemetery in the city.  It earned a spot in Philippine history because during Spanish colonial times, Filipinos who rebelled against the Spanish authorities were banned from being buried in La Loma.  Being denied burial in holy grounds such as cemeteries was considered a grievous misfortune in the Spain-catholicized country back then.

La Loma cemetery survived destruction in 1945 during World War II.  The historic Battle of Manila laid most of the city's structures in ruin, but the cemetery remained intact, preserving its historical and architectural value.

St. Pancratius Chapel in La Loma Cemetery
(Photo credit: Spot.ph)

3.  Manila North Cemetery

The Manila North Cemetery is one of the biggest and oldest grave sites in the city.  It was known as the Cementerio del Norte during the 19th century under Spanish colonial rule. 

The cemetery was and still is the burial grounds of many prominent figures in the nation's historical landscape.  María Agoncillo-Aguinaldo, the wife of the first Philippine President Emilio Aguionaldo, was originally interred here. The mother of the Katipunan, Melchora Aquino or Tandang Sora, used to rest here.  Emilio Jacinto, Marcelo del Pilar, and many Filipino heroes were once buried at the same cemetery.  Several Philippine Presidents, senators, artists, and the most famous showbiz personality in Philippine cinema -- Fernando Poe Jr. -- are in this cemetery.

Mausoleo de los Veteranos de la Revolución, Manila North Cemetery
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4.  Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery

The underground cemetery in the town of Nagcarlan at the province of Laguna is the only underground cemetery in the country.  It served as the secret meeting place of Filipino Katipuneros after it was built in 1851.  Because of this part in history, the cemetery has been deemed a National Historical Landmark. 

Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The cemetery is a favorite tourist stopover nowadays, because of the detailed architecture of the burial grounds, the church and the crypts underneath.

Underground crypts at the Nagcarlan Cemetery

5.  Camiguin Sunken Cemetery

The Sunken Cemetery in Catarman, Camiguin is so-called because there was once a large burial site in this community.  When the island volcano, Mount Vulcan, erupted in 1871, the cemetery together with portions of the town sank 20 feet below sea level.  What was left of the cemetery was marked by a large cross that can be seen in the water from the shores of nearby Barrio Bonbon.

Cross marker at the Camiguin Sunken Cemetery
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6.  Sagada Hanging Coffins

Journey back to the Philippines' pre-colonial period with the hanging coffins at Sagada in the Mountain Province.  This place is not the traditional cemetery that can be found everywhere else in the country.  The hanging coffins are literally coffins hanging on the cliffs of Echo Valley.
It was the burial custom of pre-colonial Igorots, the ethnic dwellers of Sagada,  to carve their coffins from hollowed pine trees, and place these coffins on ledges in the cliffs.  They placed their dead on cliffs because they believed that the higher the coffins were located here on earth, the closer the dead were to heaven. 

Some of the hanging coffins in Sagada
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of the islands of the Philippines hold their own interesting culture and traditions.  Burial rituals and therefore cemeteries are part of this rich heritage.  Wherever you happen to be in the Philippines, try visiting the community cemetery and discover more of the country through the way they Filipinos  their dead.

Oct 23, 2013

On Saints and Souls

November 1 is just around the corner.  In the Philippines, the days leading to this day are awash with preparations. Classes stop.  Colleges and universities go on semester breaks. The workforce plans for a skeleton crew because of the impending office shutdown on the week that this day falls.  People book flights to travel to their hometowns.  Mothers start planning the food menu.  Flower shops start increasing their inventory.  Candles are saturating stores and shops.  Tent and chair rentals surge in demand.

What's the fuss all about?  Is it Christmas already?  No, it is the celebration of All Saint's Day and All Soul's Day in the Philippines.  And it is one hell (pardon the pun) or heaven of an event.

The Mysteries of Life and Death

Undas, or Todos Los Santos, or Araw ng mga Patay, falls on November 1 and 2 of every year.  November 1 is the observance of All Saints' Day, and November 2 is All Souls' Day.

Part of the underground cemetery at Nagcarlan in Laguna

The Latin Right of the Catholic Church decrees that November 1 and 2 are Holy Days of Obligation.  All Saints Day pays honor to all the saints and martyrs that had lived and died for Christ and are now getting their rewards in Heaven.  It is believed by Filipino Catholics that the saints and martyrs, having entered into God's grace by their actions here on earth, are granted powers to intercede in behalf of the living.  Our prayers and petitions to God will be easily heard and have a higher chance of being granted when we ask the saints to pray to God for us.

All Souls' Day, which falls on November 2, is in remembrance of our loved ones who had already died.  Unlike the saints and martyrs that are now basking in the presence of God in Heaven, our  departed may still be in purgatory awaiting God's mercy.  The living need to pray unceasingly for these penitent souls for them to obtain, too, the grace of God and Heaven.  And it helps a lot if the saints' intercessions are invoked for the penitent souls in purgatory.

All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day remind the living that there are two things that can either happen to us when we die.  We either go to Heaven like the saints, or to purgatory like the penitent souls.  The observance of these days give hope that as long as we are living, we have the power to act appropriately here on earth and obtain the reward of where we go when we die.

The Day of the Dead is the Day of the Living

During the said days, we go to Church to hear Mass, visit the graves of our departed loved ones, light candles, offer prayers and flowers.  This is also a chance for Filipino families to get together and hold reunions.  Filipinos may move to different parts of the Philippines to either work, study, or take up residence, but we always find time to come back to our hometowns for Undas.  We Filipinos look forward to the mini-vacation that is also a national holiday.

Days before Todos Los Santos, airports, bus and ferry stations are packed with travelers going home to their provinces.  Road traffic increases by the end of October due to the exodus of people.  At graveyards or cemeteries, people begin the work of cleaning tombs and graves.  They pull at the yearly growth of weeds around the graves, wash the concrete slabs with soap and water, apply a fresh coat of white paint at the tombs, and patiently remove the dirt from tombstones to make the writing visible.  The local government begins putting up lights in the cemetery.  They plan the pathways, security, and first aid stations in the mini-streets of the cemetery in anticipation of visitor traffic.

At the actual days, Filipinos hear mass together as a family, either in Church or in the cemetery itself when Mass is offered.  We place flowers and candles on the graves of departed loved ones.   Some of us bring chairs and put up tents, and even bring food and drinks, with full intention of a lengthy stay up until night.

There are a lot of things to do at the cemetery.  Immediately upon arrival, we pray fervently in front of the tomb.  We love to talk to our loved ones, through the tombstone, with utmost sincerity and often with a break in our voices as if the departed can really hear across the distance of death that separates us.  We talk about missing the departed.  Then we talk about the news and goings-on in our lives, even assuring the departed that we are doing fine.

Then we sit down to hours of chatting with family and friends who drop by the tomb.  Seldom-seen relatives are welcome faces and we love to spend time catching up with them.  Later when there is a lull in visitors, we leave our loved one's tomb and take a stroll through the streets of the grave yard, stopping by now and then to greet people we know who are keeping vigil in their relative's tombs too.  More catching up and chatting.  The stroll is really a leisurely walk with many pleasant stops and starts.  When we get to the tombs of more of our relatives, we light candles and offer prayers, chat some more with cousins and uncles, and amble along.

We tend to the candles and the flowers as the day goes by.  Children love rolling up the hot melting wax around the candles into balls, watching them getting bigger and bigger, while adults constantly caution them to be careful to not get burned.

At home, we partake of food mostly made of rice or malagkit.  Arroz ala Valenciana, palitaw, sinukmani, suman, sapin-sapin and more.  But not before taking the best parts of the food, putting them in a small plate, and placing the plate in front of our altars, to offer to our departed loved ones. 

All in all, the celebration of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day in the Philippines are deeply-tinged with spirituality, but it also have a festive feel to it.  It is the Filipinos' way of dealing with death -- to hope for a better place when we die, and to celebrate life with family and friends while we still live.

Oct 22, 2013

My Fitness Adventure - How to Take Up Running and Love It

It is amazingly easy to take up running as a favorite hobby or sports .  When I first chose to run, the first thing that I immediately realized was that all I literally needed were my own two feet!

The decision to take up running is probably one of the best decisions a person can make.  Not only does it promote good health and well-being, it is also a great way to socialize, unwind, and even have fun.  In my previous post, I have listed all the reasons why I like to run.

Once you have resolved to yourself that you will take up running, there are a few simple things that need to be considered.  These are to make your experience -- especially as a beginner -- easy, safe, and enjoyable.

  • Wear proper running shoes. They should fit your feet comfortably.  Not looks, nor price, just comfort.  Any signs of irritation when wearing a pair of shoes, when your feet are relaxed, is a major no-no, no matter how cool the shoe looks on your feet.  Imagine how your poor feet will feel when pounding the pavement with ill-fitted shoes!  Runners' World has some great tips on how to buy the right running shoes.  Personally, I prefer to run with very light shoes on.  The lighter the better.  My current running shoes is a  pair of Nike Lunarlon, in colorful neon colors, very light, and have see-through material at the sides that allow some breathing space for my feet.
         The NIKE Flyknit One+ Running Shoe (below) is the best running shoe of 2013.

NIKE Flyknit One+ Men's Running Shoe

NIKE Flyknit One+ Women's Running Shoe

  • Wear blister-free socks.  Surprisingly, the icon of comfort -- cotton -- is not a good idea as running socks.  You can easily get blisters while you run, making you regret your decision to take up running.  These days, a plethora of running socks have been designed to prevent blisters from forming.  There are soft socks that reduce friction as much as possible.  Some are made to support the heel, toes, and ankles.  Recent product releases now prevent odor from accumulating, are breathable, comfortable, all-weather, anti-slip, and can do almost anything but stand up.

ASICS Hera Eco Low Cut Socks are designed specifically for women's feet.

 Drymax Maximum Protection Run Mini Crew Socks offer the best protection against blisters

  • Wear proper running threads.  When you take up running,you need to wear comfortable clothes, the same clothes you would wear on any kind of workout or physical activities.  For women, a good support bra is needed to protect the protectables.  In running, one other important rule is to dress according to the weather:  Too little clothes on a cold or rainy day will send you to snifflesville, while too much clothes on a hot or humid day, together with your increasing body heat, will make you feel too warm and far too uncomfortable.
  • Plan your route. You can initially take up running at your own neighborhood.  You can widen your range later to the park or to community areas where there are wide open spaces for running.  The important thing is that you plan your running route with safety and convenience in mind.  If you are on travel and would like to run in the places you visit, use Google Maps to plan your running area.  Ask tips from the locals, such as the hotel receptionist, for best and safest places to run. 
  • Put fun into running.  Let's face it, running is less entertaining than, say,  chatting with friends or partying the night away.  It isn't Candy Crush or a movie that can really glue you to your seat for the next few hours.  To really enjoy running, you have to compensate for the lack of true entertainment and make an effort to put some fun into it.  You can listen to your favorite music with your head phones while you run.  These days, audio books can keep you glued to the pavement as you listen to the story.  You can also bring your favorite companion along with you  -- your best friend, boyfriend, or even your pet dog.
  • Keep the passion for running burning.  It won't hurt to grab a copy of a runners magazine, or surf online for anything related to running.  You can join groups and forums too.  This will keep you informed on running techniques, safety information, injury avoidance, race and run events, or just hang out with fellow running enthusiasts.  Basically just sustain and even increase your interest in and passion for  running.

Why not start your own running regimen?  The great thing about running is you just get up and go.  No fuss, no frills.  And a whole lot of thrills

(Photo credits: Thinkstock and Amazon images)

Related Posts:

My Fitness Adventure - The Beginning
My Fitness Adventure - Why I Run

Oct 17, 2013

Earthquake Insurance in the Philippines -- or the Lack of It

The earth can turn violent once in a while.  It is a living breathing planet, after all.  Proof of that was the recent earthquake that hit the island provinces of Bohol and Cebu in the Philippines.  The ground shook suddenly and so violently that many people died and a lot of buildings and infrastructures collapsed with major damage.

A  house fell into a river after the earthquake in Bohol.
(REUTERS/Erik De Castro)

While natural disasters like earthquakes are rare, the financial impact can be devastating to its victims.  For businesses, damage to buildings and properties can put a big hole in the business' capital, since rebuilding the structures can be expensive and takes time.  The financial aftermath may even endanger the business' survival.

For homeowners who are victims of earthquakes, the loss of residence is a natural disaster in itself, since the cost to repair the damages or rebuild the house can be as financially devastating as the earthquake itself.

The Philippine Insurers and Reinsurers Association (PIRA) recently said that a very few percentage of buildings and properties in the country have earthquake risk cover.

Earthquake cover is only a part of the fire insurance policy, and it is by default excluded from the standard fire policy.  It is the option of the client to either leave the earthquake insurance cover out of the policy, or buy back the risk cover.

Because it is not mandatory to purchase earthquake insurance, industry reports estimate that only 12% of the country's structures are covered by fire insurance policies.  And out of this, only 20% have earthquake insurance enabled.  In a country that sits on many active seismic faults and trenches, this is courting disaster, indeed!

There's some hope at the end of the tunnel, however.  Just this year, the Asian Development Bank initiated the project study on Structuring a Public-Private Earthquake Insurance Pool in the Philippines which aims to develop a catastrophe insurance pool that will cover small- and mid-sized enterprise property owners.

PIRA is currently coordinating with ADB and the nation's lawmakers to craft a bill that will make earthquake insurance mandatory for residential, small- and medium-sized enterprises.  When this bill becomes a reality, property owners in the Philippines will be less vulnerable to financial damage brought by this natural disaster.

But while a mandatory earthquake insurance legislation has not yet materialized, it is up to the property owners to buy a risk cover against earthquakes and include this in their standard fire insurance policy.  Admittedly, it is an additional cost,with a low probability of being applied.  But the recent earthquake in Bohol and Cebu teaches a lesson in preparedness against the potential risk.

As a property owner, if you are deliberating on whether or not to buy earthquake insurance, the following factors can help you decide to finally buy one:
  • If you live in a high-risk, earthquake-prone area
  • If you have calculated the cost to repair or rebuild, and it is more than your resources can cover in the event of an actual earthquake
  • If your property is not properly fortified against sudden earth tremors and seismic activities

Keep safe everyone!

Oct 12, 2013

Flowers You Can Eat

When my grandfather was still alive, he used to tell stories about World War II, particularly the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in the 1940s.  He told stories of how our family, composed of my grandmother, my mother, aunts and uncles (who were little children then), had to eat anything edible that they could find because food was scarce during the war and they were always walking on jungles for days on end.  They ate bugs, roots, fruits, leaves, flowers, and whatever seemed non-dangerous.  They ate for nourishment, even if the taste left something to be desired.

These days, when my children tend to be picky with the food on the table, I tell my grandfather's story to them.  And I add the lesson of the story which is in situations like a war or something similar, they have to be prepared to eat whatever they can find, with no complaints, in order to survive.

Take the case of flowers.  We see them everyday everywhere.  But few of us may be aware that some of these flowers are edible or fit for human consumption.  We only know that flowers are beautiful and some even smell great.  But flowers as food?


Actually, flowers have been used as food since thousands of years ago.  The ancient Roman, Greek and Chinese civilizations have been known to use edible flowers in their food preparations.  At present, edible flowers are also included in traditional menus in many parts of the world.

Here are five edible flowers and how they are prepared:

1.  Roses

Roses are edible flowers that can be used for a variety of delicacies.  The rose petals have that sweet, scented, floral flavor that can be blended with many types of desserts.  Baking recipes, such as cookies, cupcakes, muffins and cakes can include rose petal syrup for that unique floral taste.  Rose petals ground together with sugar make store-able rose sugar that can be used for pastries and desserts.   Unprocessed rose petals can be eaten directly, or sprinkled on top of desserts, or added into fruit jams.'

2.  Lavender

Sweet Lavender are edible flowers that can be quite versatile in food preparation.  The sweet, slight spicy and pleasantly-scented flowers are dried and used for savory recipes such as cookies, marmalade, jellies and even ice cream!

3.  Nasturtium

Nasturtium blossoms may be vibrant and beautiful to look at, but they are more than decorative ground cover.  These edible flowers are often used as attractive ingredients in salads.   With a bit of creativity, Nasturtiums can also be mixed with other food ingredients to make for interesting and flavorful recipes.  

4.  Moringa Flowers

Moringa flowers can be mixed with other foods to make a delicious salad.  In some places the edible flowers are fried in hot oil and served as calcium- and potassium-rich snacks.  When steeped in hot water for several minutes, Moringa flowers turn into flavorful hot tea that also serves a medicinal purpose.

5.  Squash Blossoms

The sunny colors of the squash blossoms are edible.  They are popular in Italy as fried delicacies.  The blossoms are also stuffed with herbs and cheeses to make for a filling menu.  The blossoms can also be made into a tasty soup.

There is actually a very long list of edible flowers that can be enjoyed because of their culinary potential.  The important thing in preparing edible flowers for consumption is that these flowers should be guaranteed safe to eat.  Preferably, the flowers should be grown organically and you are sure they are not treated with harmful pesticides and toxic chemicals.

(Photo credit: Google images)

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Oct 11, 2013

October - Month of the Holy Rosary

Catholics observe the month of October as the Month of the Holy Rosary.  Why?

A Turning Point in History

It was a fateful day in October 7, 1571 when forces of the powerful Ottoman Empire sailed west from their naval base in Lepanto, Greece.  They met with a Catholic maritime fleet collectively known as the Holy League.  The Christian forces were composed of Spain, Venice, some European duchies, the Knights Hospitaller, and the Papacy, among others.

Up to this time in history, the Ottoman Empire had been very successful in its goal of territorial expansion along the Mediterranean.  In early 1571, an island in the Greek territory of Cyprus named Famagusta was invaded by the Turks as part of the expansion.  The Christian coalition of the Holy League had been tasked by Pope Pius V to rescue Famagusta.

The Ottoman fleet had orders to fight all opposition forces that stood in their way, while the commander of the Christian fleet, John of Austria,  made a decision to attack to maintain the integrity of the expedition.  In a 5-hour battle, the Ottoman fleet suffered a heavy loss against the guns and ships of the Christian forces.

Many historians considered the Battle of Lepanto to be one of the most decisive naval battles in the world, one which made a turning point in history.  Historian Paul K. Davis has argued that:

"This Turkish defeat stopped Ottomans' expansion into the Mediterranean, thus maintaining western dominance, and confidence grew in the west that Turks, previously unstoppable, could be beaten."

The Battle of Lepanto, H. Letter, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich/London

The Religious Aspect

Why is there a religious significance attributed to the victory of October 7, 1571?

The victorious Holy League vocally attributed all credit of their triumph to the Virgin Mary.  The fleet had implored the Virgin Mary's intercession, asking God for victory in battle, using the Rosary.  One of the fleet commanders had the image of  Our Lady of Guadalupe at his ship's state room.  Soon after, Pope Pius V instituted  the Catholic feast day of Our Lady of Victory in thanksgiving to the Virgin Mary for the victory at the Battle of Lepanto.

Since the Virgin Mary is the Lady of Victory and also the Lady of the Rosary,  the Catholic Church now celebrates October 7 as the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, with the entire month of October as the month of the Holy Rosary.

Since then, Catholic faithfuls have prayed the Rosary to ask for petitions and indulgences from God through the mediation of the Virgin Mary.  A plenary indulgence may be gained by the recital of the five decades of the Rosary.  The Rosary can be prayed in Churches, at home or any convenient location conducive to praying.  It can be prayed alone or privately, or together with the family, or in religious community gatherings. 

Click here for details on how to pray the Holy Rosary.

Photo credit:  100% Katolikong Pinoy 

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Oct 10, 2013

My Fitness Adventure - Why I Run

When we're young, or at the peak of our health,keeping fit is often the least of the things we prioritize.  It's the same with me.  Youth seemed equivalent to invincibility the way I saw it then.

Fortunately, way before I realized that my health and, my weight in particular, should be a priority, I was already into activities that involve working my two feet.  I love walking and hiking.  It's an easy step to then jog and run.

When I began putting on some flab and weight as I age, running was the easiest go-to activity that I can think of to fight the growing bulge and keep myself in shape.  Read My Fitness Adventure - the Beginning about how I started my journey to being fit.

 Here are some reasons why I like running among the other sports activities I engage in:

  • I can do it in my spare time.  The best thing about running is that I can do it whenever my schedule allows.  It is perfect for people who work, go to school, or are busy with pursuits and activities that keep a regular time.  
  • It's free.  No gym fees or club fees to consider in running.  Just put on comfortable running gear and... go!
  • I can do it anywhere.  As long as there is a road, a trail, or enough space to run, such as in the neighborhood streets, in community parks or track and fields, I can run.  Unlike many sports that need a court, a swimming pool, or a designated area, running can be done in any location.  It also does not need any special ground cover -- we can run in concrete, soil, or grass, to name a few.
  • I can do it at my own pace.   There is no instructor to urge me to do several repetitions of something.  There is no pressure to keep up with the rest of the class.  There is no immediate need to execute a backhand shot to return a ball, or flail those arms to keep from drowning.  This is particularly nice when as a beginner, we get tired easily from sports activities.  In running, we can slow down or stop to rest if we feel faint or uncomfortable, with no added embarrassment on our part.
  • I can do it by myself or with friends.  Running is perfect for people who like to run by themselves, or people who thrive on social groups and among friends.  I belong to the former.  I think running in perfect solitude can be therapeutic.  For the latter, organized runs and races are always a source of bonding, camaraderie and good healthy fun.
  • The scenery always changes.  I never underestimate the power of a good backdrop when I do physical exercises.  Visual cues are effective motivators.  I tried working out in a stationary bike at home and, even with the TV on or a good view of the garden, the workout is boring and arduous.  When running, the constant change in scenery keeps me entertained and the time just passes by pleasantly.

These days, I don't run as often as I want to, to my dismay.  My schedule is pretty tight and leaves no room for regular runs.  But running will always be one of my favorite sports activities.

It's easy to get into a running routine that suits our individual and personal needs and schedule.  For those who would like to pursue a more active and healthier lifestyle, start running.  Who knows, you might just enjoy it and end up running for keeps.

(Photo credit: Google image)

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My Fitness Adventure - the Beginning

Oct 7, 2013

Houses You Would Want to Live In... or Not!

"I guess when you turn off the main road, you have to be prepared to see some funny houses."

                                                                                                                     - Stephen King

I recently went on a research rampage, curious about houses that people build in all parts of the world.   I guess a part of me was just tired of looking at my own house, my neighbors' houses, the houses I pass by everyday in my town, and houses in this part of the world in general.

Made of the same materials, of nearly the same design, and within the same environment, houses in the same general area tend to look similar to each other.   I was looking for houses that are really unique, and those that would tickle my imagination.

What I found were exciting houses.  Their builders must be crazy to even think of constructing these houses.  And the owners who live here, well, they must be some kind of cool!

Earth-Sheltered Hobbit Houses

The good Earth is used as walls  to keep the indoor air temperature stable. These houses look cozy.  And all that green!  I wonder if you have to trim the lawn in your roof occasionally?

 A real hobbit house in Wales. This house looks like it stepped out of the pages of the popular books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien.  With round doors, round windows, round roofs, and barely any straight lines anywhere, living in this house would really make you feel that you are in the Shire.

Shoe Houses

Scholars are still at a loss how to explain the meaning of the English nursery rhyme that starts with:

"There was an old woman who lived in a shoe..."

The world today is also at a loss why anyone would want to live in shoe-shaped houses.

Mountaintop Houses

Houses built on top of mountains must make the homeowners feel like they are on top of the world, looking down on creation, and the only explanation they can find... is the love that... oops, got carried away!

The view from mountaintop houses is spectacular, the mountain air is fresh.  Living there must be the closest to heaven on earth.  But the climb down to buy groceries and up again must be hell.

Island Houses

If you are looking for isolation, this house is perfect for you.  It brings the feeling of being "shipwrecked" or stranded in an island to the highest level.  You can just jump from your window when you want to take a dip at the waiting sea.

Water, water everywhere!  I wonder if it's fish for breakfast, fish for lunch and fish for dinner at this location.  But the view is breathtaking!

A post-card perfect house!  But what happens if it rains, and the water levels rises higher? Scary!

Gravity-defying Houses

This farm house in Ukraine looks oddly like it is floating, because a single cantilever anchors it to the ground.  There is no method to the madness here, except maybe the theory that alien architects designed this place.

Living in one of the apartments here in Habitat 67 in Montreal is like living in a Lego block.   You are stacked with your neighbors, but at least each apartment has its own patio, if that's any consolation.

Tree Houses

This tree house in Indonesia takes the concept to the highest level.  It's not built in the tree, but on top of it.  The view of the forest canopy is awesome, but it must be a long climb to the top.

This tree house can accommodate the whole town!  If I were to imagine the Elves' dwelling place in Lothlorien, one of the places in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings Trilogy, it would be something like this.

This tree house did not harm a single tree in its construction.

Underground/Cave Houses

This well-designed underground house is barely visible to casual observers, blending so skillfully with the surroundings.  The house offers very little disruption to the surrounding wildlife and landscape.

The submerged structures all make up a Swiss estate.  The clever design of the house is weather-proof and provides good insulation.

When you have money to burn and love the environment, you do what British football star Gary Neville did:  try to build a low-impact underground house that will consume very little energy.  That's the reason for the petal-shaped openings in the house: allow sunlight to come in for lesser energy spending. 

Hanging Houses

I suppose there is a certain charm to living precariously.

Or living life on edge.

Upside-Down Houses

Upside-down houses really escapes the laws of logic.  But the study in architectural balance is greatly appreciated here.  The house above one looks actually pretty, in a strange upside-down sort of way.

Upside down houses are, at the very least, great conversation  pieces.  The ohs and ahs must be numerous when you throw a party here.  If you don't mind getting weird looks from your neighbors first.

Upside down houses MUST exist for some reason.  This one, believe it or not, is as a form of socio-political protest during Poland's Communist Era. 

That was quite a fun ride, jumping from house to house, each house with its own unique kind of style and a distinct kind of crazy.  After searching those houses for days, I'm quite exhausted, as if I actually went and inspected each one of them.  And I have come to a singular conclusion after house-hunting online:  the best house ever, no matter the size, the location, the design, is where one's heart truly is.  With family and people you love.  Without them, you may as well be living in the dumpster.

(Photo credit: Google images)

Oct 2, 2013

Momzillas Movie Review

We took our mother-in-law to the movies recently.  It's the first showing day for the film Momzillas.  Our outing was impulsively planned and hurriedly implemented.  But it was fun -- the trip, the company and the movie!

Photo credit: Star Cinema

We went after lunch, praying that we won't get stuck in traffic.  We multi-tasked when we arrived at the  mall, with the husband finding some parking space while we girls (mom-in-law, sister-in-law and second-cousin-in-law (I know!)) rushed at the elevator to buy the tickets, popcorn and drinks.  We were rushing because we were 10 minutes away from the start of the movie when we arrived.  Thankfully, we got there just in time.

Momzillas is a Star Cinema film offering about two mothers (Maricel Soriano and Eugene Domingo) whose children (Billy Crawford and Andi Eigenmann, respectively) have fallen in love and are about to get married.  Unfortunately the two mothers have a bitter history involving one man, and they have been at odds since then.  When they met again at their children's "pamamanhikan" or betrothal, mayhem ensued.

To reconcile the two warring mothers, their children and friends conspired to throw them together in a yacht party, which turned into a disaster when the yacht was shipwrecked.  Then followed the adventures of the two combative moms  as they struggled to survive a hostile island and each other.   Their ensuing efforts to live through and escape the perils of the unknown environment were hilarious.

Eventually they became friends in the island and were rescued back to civilization, only to find that their children are now the ones having problems in their relationship. The momzillas now have to use their brains, wits and resources to get their children to reconcile, again with comedic results.

So how did we find Momzillas?

Visually it was very entertaining.  The characters looked great, individually and together.  It was good to see THE Maricel Soriano once again on the big screen.  She is still stunning despite the signs of age and body flab in some places, not to mention the strange way her lips seem to be fixed or paralyzed when she talks.  Eugene Domingo also looks good with her apparent weight loss. Her morena complexion is a perfect counter-foil to Maricel's blindingly white skin.  The two other lead stars -- Andi Eigenmann and Billy Crawford -- were able to hold their own in the eye-candy department.

Plus, the characters were well-dressed and very fashionable in this movie.  I love Maricel's, Uge's and Andi's shoes, dresses and accessories.  Some of Uge's outfits were outrageous, but she carried it off with panache. Kudos to the film's stylists, I was able to get some tips and ideas from the characters' fashion ensemble.  But the thing that really and mostly stood out for me in this movie was that Maricel looked incredibly classy in red, even when the gown she wore got torn and dirty.

Next, the plot.  The storyline was entertaining, not too deep, but not too "not there" either.  Efforts were made to establish the characters' personalities and motives early on, so that the audience would understand the ensuing dysfunction.  Momzillas did drag on after a while, and the whole film looked "episodic."  First was the "pamamanhinkan" conflict, then the "stranded-in-the-island" episode, then the "bring-the-children-back-together" part.  It's not such a bad thing, because each episode created hilarity at every chance, so I'm not complaining.

It was mostly the actors' delivery that seem to be the low point of Momzillas.  One word:  hysterical.  It was screaming and arguing in a loud voice all the time, with barely any let up.  The acting energy and noise decibel emanating from Maricel Soriano and Eugene Domingo combined threatened to give me a headache.  So much so that I welcomed with profound relief every rare dramatic moment in the movie, such as when they finally made peace with each other in the middle of the isolated island in the deep of night.  It's the only part of the movie when I caught a glimpse of the award-winning actresses in Maricel Soriano and Eugene Domingo, when their eyes and facial expressions conveyed more depth and emotion than lines of dialogue.

The comedic moments were plenty in this movie.  Some hit the right buttons, but some fell through the seams and didn't do it for me.  The location of the "island" where they were stranded was a big, fat laugh for the audience.

The ending?  Well, I welcomed the end of the movie if only for the relief that it is finally over.  It's the "all's well that ends well" formula, but I pity the two children for what's in store for them, given the nature of their momzillas.

Overall, Momzillas is well worth the money and time spent watching it.  If the yardstick is pure unadulterated fun and entertainment, then this one hits the mark.

Oct 1, 2013

A Miss World in Each One of Us

 Congratulations to Megan Young for besting 126 other equally beautiful women to become Miss World 2013.  It is a double achievement for her because she also became the first Filipina to ever win the elusive title for her country.

Photo courtesy of Miss World Organization

Megan Young's Miss World 2013 stint is particularly striking because as a model, actress, and entertainment host, her life has been accessible to the public for years.  So we know that her rise to where she is now is not a walk in the park.

Megan Young's triumph confirmed my long-held belief that a Filipina can stand out in world-class competitions.  It also affirms another belief I have, that it doesn't take a super-perfect woman to win in a competition.

Below are my take-aways on Megan Young's journey and triumph at the Miss World 2013 tilt:

1.  Every woman is beautiful in her own way.

No matter what people think, or the mirror shows, or the weighing scale says, each of us has something special and beautiful in ourselves.  No matter the color of our skin, age, or status in life.  Megan Young may be beautiful.  But she has her "off" days too, I presume.  In show business where fair-skinned mestizas are often cast in lead roles, Megan Young's morena features affect the kind of roles she gets.  In a world where beauty is defined in a particular way, big roles often passed her by and she was often cast as a villain, in supporting roles, or something similar.  She has seldom been in lead roles and she is not what you may call an A-list star in the Philippine show business firmament.

In fact, Megan Young is not the tallest of the candidates during the Miss World 2013 beauty pageant, nor the most beautiful, nor the sexiest.  But she held on to what she has, and won.

Photo courtesy of Miss World Organization

2.  We must not lose ourselves in the pursuit of anything.

Right after Megan Young won the Miss World Philippines 2013 crown, she called herself an "unconventional beauty queen" in an interview and revealed that part of her preparations for the international tilt was that she was "actually focused on what I'm gonna do as myself, or  can I make that mark in history that is different from other beauty queens?"

She also said when she finally won the Miss World 2013 pageant that: "I always tell everyone that I’ll just be myself in everything that I do."

Photo courtesy of Megan Young

Sometimes, we tend to put on a "good front", or what we think other people might like to see from us.  That keeps us from being true to ourselves and also prevents others from seeing our real beauty and what is special inside us.

3.  There is "beauty in giving"

"Beauty in giving" is part of Megan Young's winning answer during the interview portion of the Miss World Philippines 2013 contest.  Even before she competed, she is one of the National Peace Ambassadors for the government's  "I Am For Peace" campaign.  She participates in relief operations to extend help to her countrymen.

As we go through life and throw ourselves into the effort of reaching our personal dreams, part of our goals should always be for the good of others and not just ourselves.

Megan Young in a relief operation to flood-stricken areas in the Philippines.

4.  It takes extraordinary effort, not necessarily extraordinary talent.

Megan Young is not known for her singing voice in Philippine show business.  But she was brave enough to learn a couple of songs to sing at the Miss World Philippines 2013 and Miss World 2013 competitions.  Her talent lies in speaking and hosting, but since singing will increase her chance of winning, she took to it with dedication and determination.  She trained for it, made the most of what her voice is capable of, and just went ahead despite this apparent weakness.  Practice, hard work, and determination can make a difference.

5.  It's not the mistakes, but how we rise from them that makes us beautiful.

Megan Young has often been considered by many Filipinos as a sure bet to win in any beauty pageant, because of her height, beauty, intelligence and regal bearing.  It came as a surprise then that during this year's Binibining Pilipinas tilt, Megan did not even appear during the screening process, despite her intention to join.  It was later found out that she was disallowed to join the competition because she has posed topless on the cover of a magazine last 2012.  That photo shoot may have cost her the Binibining Pilipinas crown and a chance to become Miss Universe

Megan Young for Rouge, March 2012

But when she was given another chance to shine at the Miss World 2013 contest, she took that chance, gave it her best, and took home the crown. 

Photo Courtesy of Miss World Organization

Often, it's how graceful we are when we fall and stand up that matters.

Again, congratulations to you, Miss Megan Young, Miss World 2013!