Halo-halo Especial

The main characters in the novel I’m writing are a husband and wife. I’ve set the scene for them in lots of different places. They talk and fight in the car and at the beach. They talk and laugh and cry in the kitchen, dining room, and bedroom of their Manila apartment. They talk on the phone, and they go out to eat, together and with friends. That gives me a chance to write about food.

Like most cities around the world, Manila’s restaurants serve a variety of cuisines. So far my characters have talked and argued over eggs and pancakes at McDonalds. They’ve invited guests to a Spanish restaurant where they ordered paella Valenciana and sangria. When their electricity went out, they had Japanese food at a hotel restaurant.

Now they’re about to stop for a snack. And I can think of no better snack to go with the serious conversation I have in store for them than halo-halo especial. Unfortunately, a full description of halo-halo isn’t going to fit into the narrative of my novel, so I thought I’d write about it here.

Halo-halo (meaning mix-mix) allows for many variations. This is the way I remember it. They serve it to you in a tall, old-fashioned soda shoppe glass, the kind with a pedestal. If you ask for especial, it comes with a scoop of ice cream on top—mango or ube being the favorites. Through the glass, you can see crushed ice over messy layers of colorful, exotic ingredients.

The whole concoction requires some stirring with a long spoon. It’s up to the customer how much he or she wants to stir it and whether to eat the ice cream first or stir it in.

Here are some of the ingredients you might find in the messy, colorful layers at the bottom:

  • Sweet red beans and/or sweet white beans
  • Nata de coco and/or nata de piña
  • Macapuno
  • Jack fruit
  • Sago (tapioca)
  • Sweetened saba banana
  • Sweet corn kernels
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Ube (a purple sweet potato)

Before topping the halo-halo with a scoop of ice cream, sweetened evaporated milk is poured over the ice.

A few explanations:

Nata de coco and nata de piña are small, translucent, slightly chewy, jelly-like cubes. The nata de coco is made by fermenting grated coconut, coconut water, water, and sugar with acetic acid and a starter. Nata de piña starts with pineapple juice. They’re both delicious! Here are some instructions for making nata de coco. It’s easier, of course, to buy it already bottled.

Macapuno, another interesting and delicious ingredient, is the meat of a coconut from a naturally occurring mutant dwarf coconut tree. The coconut meat, instead of hardening into the firm, white solid coconut we’re used to seeing, remains soft and slightly translucent. It’s usually preserved in long shreds in a heavy syrup.

Saba bananas are a Philippine variety of plantain. They’re used in cooking, mostly for desserts.

Here’s wishing you a happy Thanksgiving, a great holiday for counting your blessings and enjoying family, friends, and lots of good food.

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food, Philippines, writing , , , , , ,

Another time, Another Place

 I’ve always liked autumn—the bright colors, the golden tint of the light, the scent and crackle of newly fallen leaves. You’d think I would have missed it when we lived overseas. Somehow, though, it never occurred to me.

For more than twenty years, we lived in the tropics where the only two seasons were rainy and dry.

I heard other expats lament the lack of seasons, but the sentiment slipped through my consciousness without making a dent. Four seasons was something that happened in another time and place. I was busy living my life where I was.

Eventually we moved back to the States. There were daffodils and tulips in spring, lilacs and petunias in summer. Then it was fall. Wow! How had I forgotten about this lovely season?

The distinctive fresh scent of fallen leaves brought back memories from childhood of walking to school, leaves crunching under my feet, memories of sifting through those leaves for the most beautiful ones to bring to my teacher or press in a book.

Experiencing fall again brought back to me how special the autumn light is. It’s slanted and golden, more dramatic than light at other times of year. Shadows and light conspire to show each other at their best. Some trees are so brightly colored they seem to be lit from within.

People have asked me if I’ve been back to Manila or Port Vila for a visit. Don’t I want to go back? they ask. But for me, that was another time, another place. I’m here now and happy to be.

How about you? When you were a child at camp, did you miss home? Do you long for days past or for some place you lived before?

This year we’ve had a gorgeous fall in the Pacific Northwest. Here are a few photos from my iPhone.

Yellow against the blue

scarlet beside the green (a burning bush?)

scattered leaves

pastels

my stewartia

reflections in a puddle

looking up

a rose in November

delicate leaves starting to turn

at Third Place Books for a meeting of my critique group

at the edge of the parking lot

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expatriate life, fall, seasons, Washington State

Bookcases and Hot Air Balloons

 

Hot air balloons, Prosser WA, 2011

This past weekend I drove across the mountains to spend some time with my daughter, T, on her birthday. When I left home on the coast, it was raining, sprinkling when I reached the pass. Even with the sprinkles, there was enough sunshine to bring out the colors. Bright yellow leaves against the evergreens. Pinky-red bushes climbing the mountains. Snow more than a thousand feet up.

Driving through Eastern Washington is a real treat in the fall. If it wasn’t such a long drive, I would have stopped to take pictures of the orchards blushing with red apples, the grapevines dressed for autumn, and the sparkling rivers. And overseeing it all were two solemn mountains, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams.

On Saturday, T and I celebrated her birthday with Indian food and cupcakes. We had planned to take in the Balloon Stampede in Walla Walla early Sunday morning. Balloonists seem to prefer the calm of dawn to take to the sky.

Prosser, WA 2011

But sometime in the middle of the night, all hope for calm disappeared as a vicious, noisy windstorm blew in, rattling the windows and bending the trees. And it just kept on blowing.

Before the sun rose, the festival website had announced that the balloon launch was cancelled. I guess hot air balloons and high winds don’t mix.

No worry. We had a backup plan. Or rather I did. I’d noticed books spilling out of T’s bookcases. Wouldn’t this be a good time to weed through them? T gave me a skeptical look. But she just couldn’t resist my enthusiasm and my mother-power.

So … while she sat on the floor in the TV room, I carried stacks of books in to her. All she had to do was divide them into piles:  TBR (to be read), TBK (to be kept), GA (give away), and LMTAI (Let me think about it.)

Within a few hours, the LMTAI pile had been reduced to nothing, the TBR pile had been given its own convenient shelf, the TBK books were classified and shelved, and The GA pile had been stuffed into nine large bags and donated to the city library.

I’m an author who hopes to sell lots of books, still, collecting them doesn’t hold the same appeal for me as it used to. I remember once, about twenty years ago, staying in a bed-and-breakfast in a college town. The owner was a very literate woman, an English professor, I think, and her walls were covered with bookcases. At the time, I was impressed. Now, not so much.

I still have lots of books. But I’ve been weeding through them, giving a few bags to the library every now and then. Most of my reading lately has been on my Kindle.

I did bring three books back from my daughter’s house, one for my sister and two for me: What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton from the TBR pile and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz from the GA pile.

 

See also: Up, Up and Away in a Hot Air Balloon.

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books, home, Washington State , , , , ,

Don’t Forget about UN Day … Not This Year.

 

For twenty-two years my late husband worked for an international organization, the Asian Development Bank. He and his colleagues, men and women from every continent except Antarctica, devoted themselves to the economic development of developing countries in Asia.

Asian Development Bank Bldg., Roxas Blvd.

As a result of his job, our family moved to the Philippines and later to Vanuatu and I became an expat wife. Like military spouses, expatriate wives consider themselves supporters of and contributors to their husbands’ work. So it may not be surprising that I feel strongly about the work done by international agencies and NGOs and the people who devote their lives to cooperation among nations and service to strangers.

During the past year, sadly, my country seems to be turning away from ideals of international cooperation. The latest example is the US withdrawal on October 12, 2017 from UNESCO (the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization). Among other things, we’re also withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord and threatening to drop out of the Iran nuclear deal that we negotiated together with our European allies.

UN Day

UN Day, October 24th.

I’ve mentioned UN Day in my blog before. But this year especially I don’t want to forget about it.

At the international school where our daughters studied, UN Day was the biggest holiday of the year. With students from all over the world, the school couldn’t very well celebrate national holidays.  For American children, that meant no Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Martin Luther King Day, Columbus Day, end-of-summer Labor Day, or even American Thanksgiving. In a student body of varied religions, celebrating religious holidays didn’t make much sense either.

At the Manila International School, the UN Day celebrations often lasted for a week. The older children participated in mock-UN sessions and learned national dances. The younger children brought their mothers in to share games, crafts, and traditional dishes from their respective countries.

The culmination of the week-long festivities was the Parade of Nations.

The United Nations was born on October 24, 1945. This coming Tuesday, it will be 72 years old. Let us all wish it a happy birthday.

Here is a list of its four main purposes as found in the UN Charter:

  1. Maintaining worldwide peace and security
  2. Developing relations among nations
  3. Fostering cooperation between nations in order to solve economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian international problems
  4. Providing a forum for bringing countries together to meet the UN’s purposes and goals

Worthy goals all.

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Culture, expatriate life, holidays, Philippines , , , , , ,

Keep on Learning.

Write on the Sound

Monday morning, and Jane, one of my favorite clerks at QFC, was scanning my baby spinach and ground beef and avocado.

“How was your weekend,” she asked.

“Good. I went to Write on the Sound.”

“Oh!” It was an upbeat “oh.” Most people in Edmonds have heard of the local writers’ conference. “What did you learn?”

Whoa! Such a difficult question so early in the morning? “Odds and ends,” I said, inserting my credit card. “The keynote speaker was Kristen Hannah,” I added. “Have you read The Nightingale?”

“Yes.”

I wasn’t surprised. In earlier conversations, Jane had mentioned a family military connection, and she was the right age to be interested in World War Two.

While she scanned my broccoli and cold cuts and canned black beans, I told her about all the research Hannah did before starting the book. “She read everything she could about the war and the French resistance. Then she flew to France where she interviewed people and explored all the locations she would use in her book.”

We were still talking out Kristen Hannah and also about what I was writing when she finished scanning my groceries. “Okay,” she said, about to hand me the receipt. For a moment, neither of us noticed that I hadn’t paid and she hadn’t given me my “cash back.”

I started to stuff my wallet into my handbag and stopped. “Wait. Don’t I have to sign?”

She laughed and jabbed a button to bring up the screen. I signed and took my cash. Then I gave a quick goodbye wave and pushed my cart out to the parking lot.

The question, however, still remained: What did I learn?

Write on the Sound is a popular writers’ conference. With a capacity of about 275, registration fills up within a week or less. Dawdlers lose out. I figure all those 275 participants must think they’re going to learn something. But it’s hard to put your finger on what exactly that thing is.

I’ve been writing for a long time, so a lot of what I hear at a writers’ conference is in the category of tips and reminders.

For example: One of the presenters, Ray Rhamey, talked about “Crafting a Compelling First Page.” Obviously, I’ve written first pages before and I’ve read advice about how to do it well. Nevertheless, it’s really hard to write a good first page. And it’s really important—the most important page in the book. If a reader doesn’t like your first page, she may simply close your book and look for another one.

After talking about compelling first pages and looking at examples, both good and bad, Mr. Rhamey provided us with a ten-point checklist. Here are some of the points:

* The character desires something.

* The character takes action.

* (I like this one near the end.) Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.

* (And this one.) Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.

For the whole checklist, visit his website, Flogging the Quill.

Another presenter, Eric Witchey, held a session on The Irreconcilable Self. His theory is that the best stories are about a character that possesses two extreme and contrary characteristics. Clashing extremes within a single person create turmoil and conflict. Unless the story turns out to be a tragedy, the character will need to experience some sort of transformation in order to reconcile the two parts of his Irreconcilable Self.

Other presentations I attended discussed crafting a great novel synopsis, historical research, finding your writer’s voice, writing and selling personal essays, moment by moment character development, and story structure.

I skipped the last one, which probably was worth attending, but I was full of enough ideas by then. It was time to go home and veg out for a while.

What new things have you been learning?

Do you have (or have you had) a job that requires continuing education?

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books, Edmonds, writing , , , , , ,

The Lady Washington’s Short but Eventful Life

the Lady Washington

 In August, a few days before the eclipse, two tall ships sailed into town: the Lady Washington and its companion vessel, the Hawaiian Chieftain.

the Hawaiian Chieftain

They tied up at a couple of docks along the Edmonds waterfront where I often take walks, so I stopped by to take a look. A crew member had conveniently placed a step beside the Hawaiian Chieftain, and since he was offering his hand, I took it and climbed aboard.

a little visitor at the wheel

below deck

sturdy ropes and casual knots

Of the two ships, the Lady Washington is the larger one and the one with a more interesting story. She is the official tall ship of Washington State. But it wasn’t our state that gave her her name. She’s a full-scale replica of the original Lady Washington which was named after Martha Washington.

The original Lady Washington left Boston Harbor in 1787 and for the next ten years sailed the world. Here’s some of what she accomplished:

* She was the first American-flagged ship to sail around Cape Horn.

* She traded furs with Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest

and took part in the tea and porcelain trade in China.

* She was the first American-flagged vessel to reach Japan. Commodore Mathew Perry didn’t sail into Tokyo Bay until 62 years later.

* Another couple of firsts: visiting Honolulu and Hong Kong.

Finally, in 1797, after her short but history-making life, the Lady Washington foundered in the Philippines.

Lady Washington masthead

masthead on Hawaiian Chieftain

Her namesake has also had some shining moments. She appeared in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl; she was Captain Hook’s ship in Once Upon a Time; she played a prominent role in Blackbeard; and she was in the Macklemore video for Can’t Hold Us.

On more ordinary days, the Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain and their crews visit ports up and down the West Coast where they educate students, welcome the curious, and offer cruises. When they were in Edmonds, they had a special eclipse cruise.

Nothing’s more graceful that a ship at full sail. But since the two ships didn’t hoist their sails while I was there, I missed out on that sight. I did, however, enjoy the patterns made by their ropes and riggings and the view of a daring man climbing the masts.

Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain

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Edmonds, Washington State , , , ,

Family Visits–Eat, Talk, and Walk

 

R and P at Hurricane Ridge

My three daughters live in places with nice weather in the spring and fall (Indiana, Maryland, and Eastern Washington). So that’s when I visit them. But nothing beats our summers here in the Pacific Northwest.

This year all three of them plus one son-in-law, and one grandchild showed up in August.

So what do we do when we all get together?

On this trip, we visited a spray park, a street market, and a rock-climbing place. And we took in the Terracotta Warriors Exhibit at the Pacific Science Center. But most of the time we stuck to our old favorites: eating, talking, and walking.

Eat

I have a picture in my head of family gatherings centered around the kitchen, mom up to her elbows in pie dough and pot roast, sweating, her hair falling in her eyes. Well, that’s not me. I did make a couple of good dinners, and my daughters and I put together some tasty lunches. But we also ate out at some favorite spots, and when my nephew and his family visited, we had Thai takeout.

Breakfasts were mostly self-serve. Even my nine-year-old grandson made his own, which was good because, still being on East Coast time, he wanted to eat before I wanted to get up.

Talk

I talk to my daughters on the phone at least once a week. But talking on the phone is not the same as talking face-to-face or talking while we eat or walk. It’s not the same as conversing as a group.

Walk

Walking is our old stand-by, one of our favorite things to do. We walk for exercise and pleasure, and we walk to experience beautiful or interesting spots.

Here are a few photos from our walks.

Hurricane Ridge is a beautiful place for hiking.

It was a hot day with lots of hills to climb. My grandson took a moment to rest and hydrate.

The next day we hiked on a shaded trail on the shore of Lake Crescent.

sitting on a mossy rock with Lake Crescent behind

When daughter #1 arrived, we took the ferry across to Kingston.

a break to pick blackberries

The next day, we walked through Washington Park Arboretum.

Finishing off with xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung in University Village.

What do you do when your family gets together?

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Chinese food, photography, summer, walking, Washington , , , , , , , , ,

My Mysterious, Miraculous Cure.

 For the past eight years I’ve had asthma, the main symptom of which was frequent coughing. Several times a day the coughing would progress to a full-blown asthma attack with thick mucus building up in my throat and lungs.

My doctor sent me to a pulmonologist who measured my lung capacity and poked me with needles. He prescribed two kinds of inhalers, a steroidal nose spray, and an antihistamine.  At his suggestion, I bought special covers for my mattress and pillow; I washed my sheets every week in hot water; I even replaced my wall-to-wall carpeting with hardwood floors.

I was a good, obedient patient, doing everything he told me to do even though it didn’t seem to be helping. But hey! Maybe I would have been worse without it, and he didn’t seem to have any other workable ideas. (He’d already tried a scan of my sinuses and sent me to a gastroenterologist to see about GERD.)

On my own, I bought doctor-written books on asthma, changed my diet, did time-consuming breathing exercises.  (Are you getting tired of all this? In case you’re already bored, I’ll jump now to the cure.)

The Cure.

One of the side effects of my asthma was dental problems. I spent a good portion of most days sucking on cough drops. I think you can imagine the effect all that sugar had on my teeth.

One day last month (only weeks after a previous dental appointment) I noticed a bad taste in my mouth. I traced it to an upper molar and quickly called for a new appointment.

The tooth already had a crown, but I thought the dentist might be able to put a little filling down at the edge of the crown. But no. The crown had to be cracked in two and taken out. Well then, I thought, maybe she could give me a new filling and a new crown. Sorry. No can do. Oh, dear! I thought in my usual understated way. Not a root canal!

Nope. Not even a root canal. The tooth had to go.

I’d never had a tooth pulled before. Well, as it turns out, you don’t really get a tooth pulled. They extract it. A specialist cuts into your gums and digs the tooth out. In my case, the tooth had three roots, each heading in a different direction.

It was a long procedure, done with an adequate amount of pain killer. Not long afterwards, though, the meds started wearing off and my mouth hurt. That afternoon, I was focused on the pain and the bleeding. I barely noticed that I wasn’t coughing. Strange! By the next day, I still wasn’t coughing. Stranger still.

That was August 17, and I haven’t had an asthma attack since.  I guess I’m cured. Hurray!!!

So … how did that happen? Like I said, it was a mysterious cure. Although I do remember reading in one of my asthma books that a low-grade, chronic infection could trigger the immune system to overreact and result in asthma. That must be what happened. I told the dentist who did the extraction, and he said, “Hmm. Might have been a necrotic nerve.” The thing is, whatever it was, it didn’t show up on an x-ray.

Since my “miraculous cure”, many things have changed for me. When I had asthma, laughing made me cough; singing or talking for more than a few minutes made me cough. Lying on my back, eating spicy foods or drinking a cold drink, sitting still too long and exercising made me cough.

As you might imagine, it was hard to be sociable when I couldn’t laugh or engages in a conversation without interrupting it with my coughing. Now I’m feeling more friendly.

Last night my daughter and I watched Spy with Melissa McCarthy and Jude Law. It was hilarious. I laughed until I cried.

I hadn’t done that in a very long time.

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Health , , , , ,

Notes on a Typhoon

photo courtesy AusAID

Looking through some old journals, I found some jottings on a typhoon.

It was October 11, 1989. Our three daughters were in college or grad school in the United States. Eugene and I were living in Manila in an apartment on Roxas Boulevard, walking distance from Asian Development Bank where he worked.

I must have been standing on our balcony, looking out at the storm and its effects and writing my impressions in a journal.

Roxas Blvd. from our apartment

Here’s my journal entry:

High winds, not too much rain so far. Electricity out. The roar of the building’s generator. The insistent swish of wind in the trees, gusting to a low, rolling bellow. Leaves lifting from the ground, rushing past our sixteenth floor window.

A metal reflecting surface taped to a clothes rack on a balcony across from us comes loose and twangs and rustles in the wind. Shook foil. Palm trees bending, off-balance, their leaves pushed to one side, showing their coconuts.

Leaning antennas, long, draping TV cables, clay pots broken and scattered. Corrugated metal roofs ripped off in jagged, irregular pieces.

Broken tree branches, their white, virginal wood open to the elements. Branches, coconuts, leaves strewn around the old lady’s garden. Lots of work for her gardener tomorrow.

old lady’s garden before typhoon

Sign boards and canopies blown down. A man leaving a jeep covers his head with his jacket. Four men walk the service road looking for things to salvage. They find an antenna and cart it off.

Our curtains alternately billow in and get sucked out.

Later: The typhoon has passed. Out to the South China Sea, I suppose.

I didn’t write anything about the aftermath. This one must not have hit Manila, or at least our part of town, hard.

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expatriate life, Philippines, storms , , ,

Remembering Typhoons in Manila and Port Vila

 

photo courtesy of Graham Crumb, Imagicity

Watching the coverage of the two devastating hurricanes in the US southeast the past couple of weeks made me think of some of the tropical cyclones I’ve experienced.

We don’t have hurricanes in Washington State where I’d lived all my life before we moved to the Philippines. So I had no idea what to expect when my first typhoon approached Manila.

Fortunately, my husband grew up on an island on the southeastern coast of China. China has more tropical cyclones than any other country on earth, most of them on the southeastern coast, so he’d been through quite a few. When the storm warnings came into the residents of Manila, Eugene knew exactly what to do.

I must have been too young and foolish to feel frightened. But I do remember being surprised at how much work it was to prepare for a typhoon. Here are some of the pre-typhoon tasks we did:

* We stocked up on food, candles, matches, and batteries for the radio;

* we removed pictures and scrolls from the walls and tucked them away, rolled up the carpets and pushed all the furniture as far from the windows as possible;

* and we filled pots, tubs, basins, and buckets with water. (We always kept water containers taller than our children in our bathrooms. Our water depended on our own electric pump.)

little helpers

No one mentioned evacuation. With around six million people living in Manila at the time, few of them car owners, that could have been a big mess. Besides, when you live on an island, where can you go?

Over the years, we got used to preparing for typhoons and then putting things back again when the storm was past. The Philippines gets hit by more tropical cyclones each year than any country on earth besides China. We must have gone through dozens of them.

We were lucky though. We missed two of the most damaging typhoons. Typhoon Yoling hit Manila in 1970, less than a year before we arrived. We heard many stories of what people went through. Yoling left 611 people dead on land and 135 at sea. Metal roofs flew off houses, glass was shattered, acacias and palm trees were uprooted, and the electricity was off for weeks. The other big typhoon we missed was Ondoy which swept through Manila in 2009.

Port Vila, Vanuatu

In Vanuatu, they don’t call a tropical cyclone a hurricane or a typhoon. They just call it a cyclone.

Our life in Port Vila was usually peaceful, but Old Man Weather did shake, blow, and drench the country on a regular basis. During a three-year stay, we experienced a fair number of earthquakes and cyclones, and we visited one of its many volcanoes. Again, we were lucky–no tsunamis.

There’s something about living on a small island in the middle of a huge ocean that can make you feel small and helpless. If you think about it too much, you can imagine the wind and water blowing in and sweeping you off the other side of the island.

It didn’t happen, of course. Instead, when a cyclone hit Port Vila, we sat inside, listening to Australian weather news on the short-wave radio, and waited for it to pass.

I mentioned luck a couple of times. Obviously, good preparations and good choices by both individuals and governments are crucial. But you can’t rule out luck and the grace of God when it comes to surviving a typhoon or a hurricane.

Have you experienced hurricanes and/or typhoons? If so, I hope you were one of the lucky ones who made it through relatively unscathed.

I wish all the best to those touched by recent storms and wild fires.

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Philippines, storms, Vanuatu , , , , ,