Not Another New Year’s Reflection (.. okay, just kidding, yes it is)

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FROM THE DESK OF: Nina

Dear 2016,

I’m sure you’ve heard this enough already, but you have been one hell of a year. I’m not going to list the reasons why you’ve made me want to pull my hair out more than once these past 360-something days – I’m sure we’ll see plenty of those as we get closer to December 31st – but let’s just say my “good riddance” to you come the new year will be one expressed with lots of gusto.

Now, that said… I do have to thank you for pushing me forward to the next phase of this strange journey I call adulthood. Not one to sugarcoat anything, you pushed me through the Quarter-Life Crisis without resolve and shoved me right into the terrifying preliminary stages of Saturn’s Return; I can’t remember another time when I’ve had to face my fears and confront what makes me so uncomfortable, and on such a regular, consistent basis.

You helped rekindle my love of writing again by encouraging me to start tinydeskwriters with Aiza and Deo, something I probably wouldn’t have done by myself. (And I am so glad I did!)

You gave me an excuse to take the ultimate anthropological excursion to the Motherland, having my Lola volun-tell me to be in the wedding of a cousin whom I’d never previously met (balut snacks, matchmaking lolas, maximum socializing, and python excursions included). I went in not knowing what to expect but returned with a plethora of colorful stories and new friendships.

You taught me some brutally honest lessons on humanity and broke down that illusion of invincibility that so often accumulates when not reminded otherwise. Your not-so-subtle style of dropping hints reminds me that my elders are, in fact, getting older, and that health isn’t something that stays constant throughout time.

You gave me the confidence to stand my ground in the fashion industry and finally say goodbye to it, leaving it to explore the world of food – something I’d been interested in for awhile. Then you decided to play a sick game of hide-and-seek with said confidence when I jumped into that new world, which has thrown me into a bit of a tizzy and existential crisis as of late. I am still presently looking for where you hid the confidence – you sure did pick a tricky hiding place for it – and am hoping I recover it sooner rather than later.

With just a few days left of being together and getting through this thing we call life (RIP Prince), I’ll be reflecting on what you threw my way this past year, looking back with respect (and a little bit of frustration) for what you taught me. You’ve been a year of confrontation, 2016, and I have a feeling those teachings you started with me won’t really be over when I meet 2017. Whereas you were the year to help me open up to the idea of vulnerability and understanding it, I think you’ve left the task of helping me act upon that openness to 2017. I think you’ve passed the torch to 2017 to help me reach the next step in my journey of personal development. At least, I hope you have.

So, on that note, thank you, 2016, for giving me the ass-kicking I probably needed at this point in my life. But I hope you will understand wholeheartedly when 2017 rolls around and I say to you…

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Respectfully Yours,

Nina

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Thanksgiving: A Big, Fat, Filipino Eating Fest

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A Filipino rendition of Thanksgiving. This isn’t even the full spread – there’s a whole turkey not pictured that’s on the other side of these dishes.

FROM THE DESK OF: Nina

Thanksgiving is that time of year when we reflect on our lives and count our blessings… which we celebrate by gorging ourselves and engaging in some good ol’ communal gluttony.

Traditional American Thanksgiving fixins include turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and usually some veggie dish that’s coated in some creamy substance that negates any health benefits said veggies might’ve contained.

Filipino-American Thanksgiving fixins (or the ones by my family, at least) include all of that, plus lechon, menudo, pancit, macaroni and cheese, oxtail soup, humba, potatoes au gratin, garlic fried chicken, rice, Filipino spaghetti, a whole lotta other dishes I could never identify but name but have definitely eaten frequently in my life, and not a whole lotta veggies.

How the heck do you tackle this beast of a Thanksgiving spread, you ask? Well, let me give you a brief overview of how it usually goes down in my family.

STEP 1: Oxtail soup. Always go for the oxtail. Lolo Joe makes this out-of-this-world soup made from oxtail, greens, and… actually, I have no idea what’s in it. But the broth and the fall-off-the-bone meat with some rice is definitely my go-to warm-up dish to get things going.

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For those unfamiliar, oxtail soup can look a bit scary at first. But trust me: this fall-off-the-bone meat, soaked in a mild broth with greens and rice, is definitely not one dish to miss at the party.

STEP 2: Filipino food plate. Usually, at this point, I’m so pumped to find Filipino food that I go for those dishes first. (I don’t have Filipino food often, so these are the times when I get my fill.) This time, a huge slab of lechon ended up on my plate, so I worked around that by adding just a few other sides like rice, Filipino spaghetti*, lumpia, more oxtail, and some grapes (for color).

*Filipino spaghetti: pasta noodles with sweet, thick red sauce, hot dogs (yes, hot dogs), cheese, and I’m sure loads of sugar somewhere in there. So wrong, it’s right.

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Lolo Joe loaded my plate with a massive slab of lechon meat and skin, so that kind of threw a curveball into my overall vision for my first plate, in terms of variety. So I kinda just added some rice, Filipino spaghetti, lumpia, and a little more oxtail and called it a day. Oh, and a few grapes for produce, since veggies aren’t really a thing with Filipino feasts.

STEP 3: Take a break from the savory and dip into the dessert station. I always need a little sweet as an intermission before I resume my usual entree plate program. A few bites of cassava cake, a taste of ube, a tad bit of flan, maybe some fruit, and then I’m good to get back to business.

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Tiny sweet bites (Hans and Harry’s fruit strudel, ube, flan, cassava, grapes, and hopia) before I get into my next plate.

STEP 4: Back to the savory plates. Maybe a little more American this time. After my sweet fix, I get back to eating another plate. This time, it’s usually to get into traditional Thanksgiving dishes and maybe more veggies. I have no photo of this because today the lechon overshadowed most of my attempts to eat American, but typically this is the time when I go for the turkey, potatoes, mac and cheese, and maybe look for some veggies or fruit somewhere.

STEP 5: Repeat the process throughout the day. Eating is not a finite activity on these days; with the food on sternos throughout the day, it’s completely normal in this setting to keep eating and nibbling on different dishes. You want gluttony? Come check this scenario out. But this is how we spend our quality time together, and I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll head back to my food-drunk stupor now.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all! Hope you were able to spend it well surrounded by loved ones.

Rivalries and Reality

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In a time of division, is rivalry an escape or a blunt reflection of reality?

FROM THE DESK OF: Nina

A few months ago, I wrote about an annual tradition my alma mater carries on known as Blue and Gold Week. It’s that week prior to the UCLA vs. USC football game, when Bruins show their school pride and rally to face our cross-town rivals in football. Trojans call this week by a different name, of course, but however way you look at it, one thing is sure: it’s one week when both schools do not hold back in painting the town blue and gold and red. And it gets pretty nutty.

I’ve mentioned this before, but when I first started tinydeskwriters with Aiza and Deo, I always thought I’d for sure write a snarky little post (laced with USC burns) about why it’s awesome to be a Bruin when Blue and Gold Week rolled around. (Ideas for possible headlines: Questions for Trojans, or Did You Really Get Fooled By a Giant Toy Horse?; Brilliant Bruin Comebacks; Brown Bears Eat Gullible Humans… the possibilities are endless.) But now that it’s here, I’m finding myself at a slight loss of words. Not because I feel differently about my alma mater – I bleed blue and gold – but because I’m starting to question the merits of rivalries and their outcomes. In this age of politically heavy divisiveness, are rivalries an escape or a blunt reflection of reality?

Continue reading “Rivalries and Reality”

Looking to the Future

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FROM THE DESK OF: Nina

November 8th, 2016, 7:51PM

My Fellow Americans,

By the time you read this, we’ll have endured the nail-biting finale to this godforsaken thing we’ve unfortunately had to call Election 2016.

I – like many of you, I am sure – am watching the results roll in with a semi-permanent, blushing, wide-eyed emoji face… which, to be fair, would have been my face regardless of the results. We have endured months plagued with scandal and hateful, divisive rhetoric; to say that many of us feel like we’ve been stuck between a rock and a hard place throughout this whole year would be a serious understatement.

But as we enter this new era of… whatever we shall call it, I can’t help but wonder:

Where do we go from here?

Continue reading “Looking to the Future”

A Letter to Time

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When Time isn’t around to remind you to make dinner, you end up scraping together your own Frankenstein dinner like this one: leftover rotisserie chicken, paired with watermelon cubes and a pack of raspberries that were on sale a couple of days ago.

FROM THE DESK OF: Nina

Hi Time,

I hope this finds you well!

It’s been awhile since we last talked, and I’m not sure if you remember me… but it’s Nina, one of those kids you used to babysit a long time ago. Y’know, the one who used to nag you all the time to move faster and assume you’d always be there for me as I simultaneously matured at my own glacial pace? Yep, that one.

Well, I’m writing to tell you that I’m, uh, sorry about all of that. I was a brat for taking you for granted and shoving you to move faster. Could you please come back and hold my hand again? I promise, I’ll let you move at your own pace. Promise!

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Leisure Reading and the Inquisitive Itch

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All three of these will be on my nightstand tonight. I may or may not read these simultaneously.

FROM THE DESK OF: Nina

There was a pretty extended period of my life, not too long ago, during which the joy of reading was completely forgotten. Probably when college hit and all of the required reading one had to do took away all of the fun of it. Curse you, Xeroxed Course Readers Stuffed With (Mostly) Super Boring Papers…

But now that I’ve been away from school for awhile, I’m beginning to get what I’d like to call the Inquisitive Itch: a yearning for learning (hah, that rhymes) and an overwhelming sense of curiosity for how the world works, what motivates its overall functioning, how humans interact, and what our purpose in life truly is.

Now, that might mean it may be time to head back to school – that’s a point of discussion for another time, I think – but in the interim, I’ve decided that picking up leisure reading again will probably be my best bet in satiating my desire to keep learning and growing my understanding of how to make the most of my life.

Here are some books I’ve picked up recently that I’m hoping will scratch that Inquisitive Itch.

You Are A Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life, by Jen Sincero.

Now, I know I mentioned this one before in another post, and I admit: I still haven’t finished it yet. (Life and work gets in the way, and it never seems like there are enough hours in the day, amirite?) But every so often, when I’m not catching up on work or exhausted from the day, I’ll take a minute to read a chapter or two before bed. I’m about to start Chapter 21 of 27, and it is called “Millions of Mirrors”; looks like it’s about how the people you surround yourself with reflect your level of self-love. Whoa.

The Float Tank Cure, by Shane Stott.

Earlier this year, Deo, Aiza, and I all tried this thing called floating, which is a form of therapeutic sensory deprivation intended to enable the deepest form of relaxation. TL;DR: you step in a tank of salt water and float there in the darkness until your mind just… wanders. After my first visit, I remember feeling light, refreshed, and capable of handling whatever life threw my way. I definitely wanted to learn more about the process. So I recently picked up this book by Shane Stott, a guy who kick-started the DIY isolation tank to practice float therapy, hoping to get a better understanding of the process and its full benefits. Based on the table of contents, it looks like his book The Float Tank Cure explains a little bit more about how to utilize float therapy to reduce anxiety and depression. I’m in.

And last, but certainly not least…

The Book of Joy, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams.

When I came across a Facebook video that Time Magazine posted of the Dalai Lama and Archbishop of South Africa Desmond Tutu hanging out, I was like, wuuuuuuut I need to figure out what these two wise humans are talking about. Watching the video further, I found out they had written a book about their time spent together celebrating the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday and exchanging stories about their experiences discovering joy in the face of adversity. The Book of Joy recounts this incredible encounter, and I’m really excited to learn a bit more about how to shift my perspective when I’m feeling like life’s getting a little tough.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to dig my head in all three of these books at once. The reading ADHD is so real.

 

What Wise People Say, Pt. I of (Maybe) Many

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FROM THE DESK OF: Nina

When I was a kid, I thought adults had all of the answers. I thought that my childhood was the time to ask all of the questions, indulge in one’s unbridled sense of curiosity, make all of the mistakes… and then when you hit adulthood, POOF! You get married, you have kids, and then suddenly you understand everything there is to know about life.

Now that I’m hitting the upper end of my twenties, I’m starting to realize that this is most definitely, 100% not the case. Why the heck was that ever an assumption that crossed my mind?

This has been one of the most terrifying revelations I’ve had as I dig deeper into adulthood.  What do you mean grown-ups don’t know everything? They’re human beings?? Inconceivable! The fact that no one really knows what they’re doing in this life, that we’re all winging it and faking it til we make it to get by, has been one tough pill for me to swallow.

As the gravity of adulthood sinks in more and more each day, I’ve found myself becoming increasingly introspective, turning to reflection, prayer, and stillness to get me re-centered and stay calm as I possibly can in the tumultuous storm that is the act of growing up. I’ve been reading more articles and reflections a lot, too; in particular, I’ve been fascinated with studying the lives of quiet and simple, yet profound and wise, historical figures in history.

One figure I’ve been reading about a lot lately is St. Therese of Lisieux. My favorite religion teacher in high school, Fr. Vincent, used to begin each of his classes by quoting a short saying by St. Therese: all is grace. Known as The Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux explained her reason for living with these three words – words that represent simple, pure humility and a complete trust in the grace of God. Here are a few quotes of hers that help remind me that there is beauty, value, and goodness in simplicity, even if it doesn’t seem obvious at times.

“The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily
do not rob the little violet of it’s scent nor the daisy of its simple charm.
If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.”

“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”

“I know now that true charity consists in bearing all our neighbors’ defects–not being surprised at their weakness, but edified at their smallest virtues.”

From these quotes, it seems to me that St. Therese quietly promoted a life of appreciation for the little things: recognizing the simple qualities that make one unique, expressing love through small acts of thoughtfulness, appreciating the subtle strengths of the people around us. Living a simplistic, yet sincere and faith-driven life is something that seems to become slightly more elusive as I become distracted by the chaos of adulthood, but stopping to read quotes like these seem to remind me that it’s not entirely impossible to live purposefully.