Sunday, October 2, 2011

Jammin' with Musicians, Talk-stories with Writers and more..

It started with a simple request, Nonoy, a violinist wanted to jam with great musicians.  He asked that I invite some. I did and also invited writers and publishers and community folks on Sept. 30, 2011, and two favorite priests.

I have been planning what to cook for a month, shopping for ingredients for a week and cooking for two days and loving every moment of it.

First, I sauteed crimini mushrooms in garlic and olive oil. Then, I added provencal herbs, and flavored it with white balsamic vinegar and a bit of lemon zest and rice wine vinegar.  I then added some of the roasted bell peppers ( red, orange, yellow ) and marinated it for two days.  Today, I boiled penne and rigatoni multicolore.  I then sauteed chopped sage, chopped leeks, and anchovies. As I was cutting up the fresh pineapple ( I have two kinds of fruits - papaya and pineapple ) to serve as a side entree, I burnt the leeks, and sage and anchovies, flavored with provencal herbs and red pepper flakes.  I looked at it, and it was salvageable, I added the pasta, and added the mushrooms and peppers, and some diced up red pepper, and shaved parmesan cheese, and two ladles of pasta water.  Wow, I cannot believe how tasty it is. I gave a spoon to taste to my hubby, Enrique and he nodded.  He is a man of few words.  Then, I told him what happened. In his most reassuring comments, enough said " Maybe that is how it is supposed to be. " My, he can be uplifting, and quite precise to be emotionally satisfying.

Well, I am going to call this Jamie Lazzara and Caroline Kennedy's pasta, for it is in their honor that I am making this pasta. I am taking a photo to show it off, I will serve it as is, next to the La Maison du Pain cheese bread.  It was a hit, the rib roast that I asked the butcher to skewer, to poke holes just below the fat surface, well, they closed up after freezing,  I should have inserted my garlic even then.  But, because the "pre-poked holes" closed up, I poked the midportions and inserted a paste of kosher salt and minced garlic. Then, I made a dry rub of chopped sage, chopped rosemary and chopped thyme. I then roasted, slowly, at 300F for almost 8 hours.  It was just so tender and flavorful, it went with the multigrain oatmeal bread from La Maison du Pain, who also created a great dessert for us: chocolate mousse with fresh fruits, topped with champagne grapes and dusted pistachio bits.  Elegant, simple but perfect!!

I then made a green salad mixing up romaine lettuce, arugula, and mesclun mix with diced up persimmons, surrounded with shavings of carrots and added figs and nectarines.  It looked such a bowl of art, I did not want to touch it and the guests were so gingerly polite in getting one serving, they did not want to disturb it.  I wanted to say, please this is a huge bowl, go dig in. But, I remember what my children sometimes tease me with, " Mom, do not be a food pusher. " So, I don't I simply show folks the buffet table and slice the meats for them as a way of my connecting them with the amore I prepared the food with.  When I am cooking for company, I am in a different world,  I am creating recipes and if that recipe is so successful, I am just ecstatic that even though I have reviewed the cookbook of Mario Batali, I had an idea of what my table would look like: full of vibrant colors and full of textures.

Then, another side dish I thought of is to be prepared for my vegetarian friends, just in case some arrive late. And they did, two of them, so I hurriedly heated the pan with sauteed leeks and yams, and then, added the pre-steamed snap peas and chicharo also called sugar peas and then added the citrus marinated firm tofu and of course my secret ingredient, that is no longer a secret as I am broadcasting, oyster sauce. Wow, in five minutes, I had a dish that the vegetarians loved and ate every morsel of.

But, I forgot to snap a photo and when I remembered, it was gone, which I was happy about. When I cook, I want all of it to be eaten up, it is a mark that all enjoyed it.

This is the dish that was the star, it disappeared in five minutes, which I predicted it would. It is black cod, a gift from a very generous friend, Masaaki Hori, who even dropped it off while I was gone and luckily, my hubby was home to accept it. He delivered it on ice, mind you, a true food safety expert who walks his talk.  Anyway, I marinated the black cod in sake, rice vinegar, miso ( fermented soy beans ) and a bit of sugar for two days, then, broiled it until the fish flakes off and the skin bubbled up. It was gone, every bit of it!!

Then, friends came on time. It was so lovely to start a party on time. But I could not have enjoyed it if Rocio did not arrive early and helped me set up. She is a professional at public events and quickly set up the table and made everything looked so yummy.  She even picked up the dessert and the breads.  My it was truly lovely.

The clouds had darkened a bit, it started to sprinkle but,  it stopped but the sky was kinda hot pink and with a rainbow. Wow, that was a good sign for me that we are surrounded by folks we love.  Fr. Rodel called it a full platter of blessings, of people who love art, music, humanity and had good leadership.  My, he must have connected with all the guests!

Here are photos taken by Christine Oshima, which she agreed to be posted in this blog, the rainbows were quite a blessing, a sign that our efforts for this evening would be blessed by grace and magic.

My one regret: I have no photos of friends who came, so, whoever reads my blog and wants to post photos, email me your favorite images, Christine, please! Benel, Janet, please!  I had a blast, and the last guest left at 2am, a blessing as we had a chance to converse about genres of musicians' styles and I love the generous, positive, giving spirits of all the friends who attended. I think the event filtered itself to cluster folks with rich, purpose driven lives who continue to be generous to others. I also like the new term that Mon David gave to our library " Soulful art and heart chamber ".  But, truly, I cannot thank enough my nephew, Brian who offered a ride to folks willingly and supported me in the kitchen, as well my sister, Sion and all our generous friends who came who gave of themselves and shared their talents!  And I must thank all my generous friends who brought food and drinks to share: Janet, Ruben, Fritz, Christine, Benel, Rocio, Yong, and if I miss some, know that I love you just the same!

Photo by Christine Oshima

PS: Christine came to the rescue, all these photos are hers, except those identified as not.  Thanks, Christine Oshima and thanks Janet and Ruben Nepales!

Photo by Ruben and Janet Nepales

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

One Spring Day that Inspired a Dinner!

Happy Spring!
Spring Calla Lillies


Garden Roses

One Spring Morning, quite early for me, I went to downtown Los Angeles to buy some flowers.   I got distracted taking photos and kept clicking away.  The result was like being immersed in a palette of colors that stayed with me throughout the day.  Someone was teasing me as I had so much energy, I did some gardening, then, did some housecleaning, and even a trip to Trader Joe's.  Whew, I did not get tired..oh yes, I did, but it simply took me a few minutes to re-center myself.  

Flowers give me their innate nature's energies.  They inspire me so much.  I witnessed so many beautiful wreaths that surrounded my father's casket that I told my family, I prefer to get my flowers now, rather than later when I am six feet under.  So, my good hubby gives me the best looking orchids for our wedding anniversary and my birthday.  Once, my cousin, Alfred teased him and said, you mean Kuya your love is only seasonal?  Ha,  jokes have their underlying subtext of truth or not?  Well, I have gotten flowers for over three decades now, so there is an enduring sweetness to that.

Inspired by that thought and recalling memories of flowers for three decades,  I created my husband's dinner tonight, which included me of course, using colors.  Yes, I love colors for my meals.  

Here is what I created.

Ravioli with Arugula and Cheese in Olive oil and Sage, with Snap and Sweet Peas and Shaved Parmesan

Boil ravioli until they emerge to the surface.  Set aside.   In a separate pan, boil for few seconds, the sweet peas and snap peas.  

I love the combination as the snap peas have the crunch, while the sweet peas have the sweetness.  Harvest them after a few seconds, they turn from raw color to bright green cooked color; set aside in a platter.

In a hot pan, add a combination of olive oil and few dabs of butter. You need to combine oil and butter to prevent the burning of olive oil by itself or burning butter by itself, but together, they mellow each other out.   I suppose that might be true for how a person mellows out when with a partner, as the partner mirrors to the other, her strengths and weaknesses.  

Okay, back to the sauce.  Add the sage leaves and herbes de provence to the heated oil/butter combination.  Add the cooked ravioli and toss lightly.  Plate the ravioli in your favorite platter, and surround it with sweet peas and snap peas.  If desired, add parmesan cheese shavings.

My side entree was pan - roasted brussel sprouts in garlic and olive oil, pictured below, that was then baked for a few minutes until done.  Keep an eye on brussel sprouts, if overcooked, it tastes not just soggy but slightly bitter.  If cooked just right, they taste somewhat sweet and a bit crunchy.  If undercooked, they taste inedible.  

So, keep an eye, it is about patience when cooking, patient to wait till the flavors mellow into one another.  It cannot be rushed, for the flavors are raw and have not quite marinated well together. 

I suppose that is like life, or nature, one cannot rush the ripening of fruits or for veggies to be harvested at a given moment.  Instead, with careful investment of labor, water, attention, weeding, the fruits of the tree are ready for picking!  

Happy Spring to all of you! 

Brussel sprouts, pan roasted with garlic in olive oil, then, baked till cooked and served with shaved parmesan cheese.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Rainbows on Our Dinner Plate!

Prosy's Provencal Salad

What happens when health becomes wealth?  I had experienced the depths of inconsistent self-care, brought on by indulgent meals while vacationing in the Philippines. Yup, I was fed well, but also since there abound so many sources of triggers for allergens, my asthma was so out of control, but life-threatening, when combined with flu and allergies in 2007.  I thought I would remain so hooked to inhalers to get relief for my asthma. 

But, my husband, Enrique Delacruz,  was so determined to strengthen our immune systems. He experimented and came up with his formula for our morning breakfast, juicing nine varieties of fruits and vegetables.  In my old archives of blogs, the juice recipe appears.  But to make it easier on my reader, here it is

Then, we incorporated more exercise into our daily lives.  The regimen kept us away from major bouts of diseases and illnesses. But, not quite yet on reaching the peak of health is wealth.  We are still on our journey.  Being healthy is not just about the absence of illnesses.  It is the condition of one's body which fully supports the rigors of one's life.  Until I got to where I felt I could move around without aches and pains, I did not consider myself healthy.  

Mind you, I have logged in 214 days of exercising since 385 days ago as of today, March 28, 2011.   The rigor of the routine is pretty intense, walking uphill to the summit, alternating with two days of kettle bells, now lifting 53 pounds and while holding this heavy kettle bell, sometimes with one hand, sometimes with two, I have to do swings.  

Then, on cardio days, it is a triset, with no rest in between three different sets, more like continous that by the end of the third set of exercise, you feel like so deprived of oxygen, which you won't be, if you had remembered how to inhale and then exhale with each move.  It does not come that easy, but I persist, because the reward, the payoff is a deep, deep sleep!

Another payoff is the ability to write, to have a clear head, to be able to think and to compose my essays. This way, my editor, I like her, as she does not mince language on me, she says like it is, she uses no poetry to deliver that my work needs editing, and then she comments that her editing work can  sometimes become " karumal-dumal. "

Look up that word and you will see that she paints it precisely.  But, after working with her for a year now,  I believe we are more receptive to each other's feedback.  But mind you, she can be sparse with good tidings.  Of course, our interpretation is no news is good news.  As long as I have one reader, yes, just one reader affected, influenced or impacted by my writing, I am content.

Back to health is wealth.  So, with exercise, with juicing, nothing changes in my body.  It seems to hold onto to every pound of fat I have.  Of course, I love my fat grooves, but as I grow older, I wish there can be more muscular grooves.  After all, I work so hard exercising and eating nutritious foods. 

As a last resort,  I listened and I even applied my creativity to what my coach suggested for my nutrition for the week: lean meats and veggies, no dairy, limited good fats, no whites ( sugar, flour, pasta, etc. ) What made it easier to stay on it is the allowance of one cheat day while doing six days of nutritious eating.  Fruits are forbidden, well limited, and since this salad was more yummy with mango, I added it and ate few chunks.  He was so convincing, he was ready with his science to explain why white rice, white sugar, white flour, white pasta all become sugars in my body.  So, when he explained it that way, refined carbs became a once a week guest in my meals. 

So here goes Prosy's Provencal Salad. I called it Provencal, as the dressing was inspired by my Provencal master teacher in cooking, Tessa.   

2 blood oranges, peel then, cut in semi-thick circles
1 fennel bulb, sliced thinly
1 avocado, sliced into serving sizes 
1 or 2 tomatoes, quartered
Radicchio, sliced
1 Mexican mango, cut up into serving sizes, like the avocados ( you can slice it the way you want )
Balsamic Blanc
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Pour the balsamic blanc and olive oil into the salad, a ratio of 12 parts of olive oil to 1 part of balsamic, depending on your taste.  I have lessened it to 6 parts to 1 part and both my husband and I like that combination. 

I serve this salad with smoked milkfish or tinapa, or steak or porkchops or sometimes fresh crabs or garlic sauteed shrimps.  Tonight we had it with pork.  The salad leaves a satisfying feeling first, in your mouth: textures are both crunchy and smooth, and second, the eyes are so satisfied, looking at all the vibrant colors on the plate, it feels like you are eating rainbows on your dinner plate.  It is a period, a high five, a slam dunk for both of us!  It is light enough, and it has plenty of fiber to keep us not quite so hungry until the next morning's breakfast!

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Care of the Soul begins with Right Eating of Right Foods

Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are, says a wise nutritionist.

One glum, dark, gloomy day when rains were robustly coming down, I wanted to infuse some life into my home.  Well, I could not turn on anymore lights.  But, I wanted my home to feel like it is lived in, populated by energetic, vibrant folks.  Well, we are vibrant, we are energetic, but when we work out so hard, we feel so weary and tired, almost without any energy left to make meals.  Not a right attitude, as we pay for it in terms of aches and pains. So, after resting quite a bit, I decided to pull out the frozen beef shank and make a soup called bulalo. But, then, I just went to the produce store, so I had leeks, two ears of corn, purple potatoes, green cabbage, and saba bananas.  So here goes:

1 beef shank, cut up into cubes, like beef stew serving sizes
1 leeks, chopped finely
chervil leaves, chopped
1 young garlic bulb with leaves, chopped finely
a whole garlic clove ( mince the segments and over heated olive oil, brown them, and set aside )
purple potatoes, cubed and do not bother to peel
corn on the cob, remove the husk ( that is the outer skin ), split into half
saba bananas ( they are like plantains, but smaller and tastier ) - remove the peel and cut in half
green cabbage ( slice in 8 wedges )
bok choy
asparagus spears ( 8 )

Yes, it feels like the beef shank is merely an accessory. It almost is, except the fragrant marrow is the big star, as it gives the soup its unique flavor. So, get your big pot, heat it up. Add olive oil and then add right away the leeks, young garlic bulb, some garlic.  Caramelize the leeks and add the beef cubes and shank. Brown the meat and add fish sauce and salt to taste.  After the meat changes color from raw to somewhat cooked, add four cups of water. You might need more as you tenderize the shanks to a texture of easy to chew.  Taste the broth, is it to your liking?  If it is, leave it alone to boil at the slowest, lowest flame.  Keep at it for several hours until you taste the flavors blending out to mellow out each other.

The veggies before they were added to the puchero/bulalo stew: Corn on the cob, leeks, purple potatoes, bok choy.
Then, a series of cooking the veggies.  Cook asparagus, it takes a few seconds, as soon as the stalk changes color from white to almost green, remove and set aside. Add potatoes and when it is semi-soft, remove.  Add the cabbage and it takes a few minutes, do not overcook as overcooked cabbage taste soggy and somewhat bitter, while cabbage that is somewhat crunchy still is kinda sweet.  When cooked to your liking, set aside.  Add corn, and when all the kernels are cooked to your liking, remove and set aside.  Add bokchoy, it only takes a few seconds to cook this vegetable.  Set aside.  Then, cook saba bananas or plantains, and set them aside.

Keep boiling the beef cubes and the shank.  At some point, you will notice the meat tenderizing. When fully cooked to your satisfaction, take a good bowl, layer it with the vegetables or surround the meat with the vegetables.  Serve with hot bowls of rice or without, as in my case, since my trainer forbade me from eating refined carbs. I settled into eating two cubed potatoes, a quarter of a whole potato that is.  Remember to place the brown garlic chips over the serving plate.

This is the key, as the garlic smell plus the well made soup and the blending of all different colors: brown, purple, green, yellow makes this such a delectable, tempting soup that brightens any rainy day.  Do not forget to thank the chef who labored to get the veggies, the meats, chopped them and cooked them with all the loving details.

Okay, let me know how it turns out, but this is really a hybrid of Sunday's meal that my mother, Asuncion Abarquez used to serve us, puchero, and because I love bulalo so much, I am using beef shank. This way, I get the best of both worlds, remembering my mom's cooking and doing my own version.  Now, I am also leaving this in my blog for my family and friends to also try.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Grace and Gratitude Dinner - Dec. 30, 2010

Mon David, Nicole David and Carlo David singing their own compositions!
My neighbor's heart-shaped lilac ground flowers bounded by pink cactus flowers - it is my inspiration!

Chianti-braised filet mignon with mushrooms and sauteed red peppers

It was instinctive, actually it was a thought of the moment to thank folks who made my life lighter with  laughter, with graceful, thoughtful demeanors of service, and being sources of inspiration.  Let the photos speak for themselves.
The entire spread of steamed okra, chayote, green papaya, kalabasa, green beans, mustard greens, okra with mangoes, roasted eggplant, grape tomatoes, salted egg, shrimp paste and bagoong.  Side entrees are chianti - braised beef, garlic - braised adobo, steamed striped bass with lemon zest, ginger, tomatoes and onions and La Maison du Pain's cheese bread.

Steamed Okra

Steamed Green Beans and Mustard Greens
Here is Ruben Nepales' writeup of the evening.

P.S. Here are truly my intentions and what moved me to do it...

The dinner was instinctively planned. I did not even have a theme until one morning, my heart said " gratitude and grace " -- gratitude to the folks who love you, who help make your dreams come true, who give you a lightness about life and grace to bring in new blessings for 2011, for I believe that 1/1/11 = 4 which is unlucky in Chinese mythology, it means death, but it means death to 2010's greed, selfishness, and bringing in 1/1/2011 = which when multiplied is 22, a double dose of grace, gratitude and good blessings, just like the double rainbows we got in LA the other day.

Kazuyo's fundraiser was a miraculous success.  After waking up early to do simbang gabi, the parishioners and friends of Immaculate Heart, all 71, paid $50 for a fundraising dinner where the priests sang a total of 11 songs, where each of the five priests, Fr. Rodel Balagtas, our pastor, Fr. Camilo Pacanza ( Associate Pastor of IHMC, the broadway priest, with theater background, he was organizing plays during his school days, he went to see Oberamaggau, the passion play executed every ten years, he was trained in Ateneo, and been assigned to 7 parishes in 30 years as a priest ), Fr. John Era ( was not at my dinner ) Fr. Kenneth Masong, Fr. Anthony Carreon, and Fr. Adrian San Juan ( was not at my dinner ). I am not sure how much was raised, but it was a positive fundraiser not just in terms of unifying the core of the parish, but also raising funds for the capital campaign.

Hmm, the simbang gabi is another miracle, every morning at 430am, the church fills up, rain or shine. Some of the parishioners are caregivers, they take the bus, but they are first at the gate, like me, I was lining up with them to wait for the church gates to open at 4am.  It did not matter that it was cold, it was gray or it was raining, the parishioners were there.  In the last day, they overflowed.  But the Christmas mass at night overflowed to the sidewalks, patio, streets, and every available space, including exits and entrances had folks standing.  From over 600 to almost a thousand was the increasing attendance.  This is a phenomenon, as in St. Brendan's, Monsignor Fleming complains of decreasing attendance of their simbang and singles out the Filipino families ( which is why I stopped going there - not quite hospitable ), but Fr. Rodel has worked hard in nurturing pastoral and community unity in his parish - he holds retreats, he encourages passion plays during Holy Week, there are over 65 ministry groups, and now IHMC school started a musical program to attract more families to go to the school. 

I got to the church last Dec. 2009, so I was impressed seeing the banners that $1.9 million has been pledged, involving 80% of the parishioners. I asked Fr. Rodel how many families are those - he told me 400 families, but I suspect that has increased as they have now collected $400,000 or 21%.  When I joined the parish, Fr. Rodel reported 11% has been collected at that point, in a year, during a recessionary period when families lost jobs and some their houses, the parish increased their capital campaign collection by 10% in one year.  So, that it is in my book, miraculous. The church by the way was built during 1940s, arguably post - depression and world war II hardship years.  The church is now starting its renovation, first with the roof, again in the midst of two wars: Iraq and Afghanistan.  So, I believe there is an underlying peace and renewal mission behind this church renovation!

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Chair of Privilege

The Chair of Privilege, taken in Oregon Coast, on July 2010 by Prosy Delacruz  

"Life is a battle – you must enter into it fully, and do what needs to be done. You cannot shrink from your duty. Life presents difficult, sometimes horrendous situations, unwelcome tasks, and obstacles of every sort. Despite this harsh reality, you must resolutely go forward." Pierro Ferrucci

I have wrongly believed life is a battle, in which I have to face all the challenges everyday by myself. It was much later in life that I realized that my Universal Partner is always with me and that I have the capacity to create my own life of privilege.

I have often wondered what it is like to sit in "The Chair of Privilege," wherein one’s check book is freely accessible towards a donation to a church project or a non-profit cause. Or perhaps where one’s circle already includes the ‘sifted and the centrifuged ‘ crème de la crème of society. They can be folks who have endured their own life’s challenges, embraced them, and now are at a point of coming to their privileged times of harvesting the fruits of their labor.

Or simply folks who are children of elites, who have no financial barriers yet still, have interior challenges of living a life of purpose, fulfilling their own goals using motivation and determination that we all must have to reach ours.

When I was going to the University of the Philippines’ College of Home Economics to pursue a science degree in food technology, I was part of a different universe. Some of my classmates were children of elites, chauffered by their own drivers, in their own cars, to the university campus. I was trained by my working parents and my elder sister to take the bus and to ride the "ikot jeepney" to reach one end of the campus, and back. It was a sheltered life: go to classes, go to mass, go to cafeteria, do laboratory experiments and sleep in the dorm. Our weekends were spent at Ma Mon Luk for siopao and mami and the movies.

While I lived a sheltered campus life, I was not content. I instead, compared myself to the children of elites, as if I have much less. My mindset was quite wrong. Somehow, I expected a rich person, an elite to reorient my life to work for me. I did not educate myself to look at my parents as my role models. Not having that secure belief in my family and myself hindered me.

Could it have been my Christian education then in the early sixties, wherein the nuns emphasized a life centered on academics and prayers, but not service to country and its poor? Or was it my university education which emphasized having the skills to work abroad, but not harnessing my skills to improve the industries in the Philippines? While my core education gave me skills, I did not have the inner fortitude to have a correct mindset.

It was not till much later when I was in the United States, that I came to realize how much my father, Eleazar, sacrificed to get his higher education in law. He was an orphan, and without financial means of support from his parents, he befriended hunger. It was his daily companion. He walked barefoot several miles to go to school. He had water but no food. He believed that his higher education was his ticket out of poverty. And it was by divine providence that he got to eat.

His active imagination helped him visualize a better life for himself. Then, he met my mother, Asuncion, who herself was determined, and had her own inner determination. She burned the midnight oil to get her master’s degree in Science, while teaching full-time and raising five girls. She showed me by example how to work hard to reach our goals.

While I had those life examples to learn from, I took them for granted. I incorrectly viewed myself as poor, when I am richly endowed with my parents’ life examples of patience, perseverance, true grit and imagination.

Because of what they showed me, I instinctively knew I can pursue higher education. Because of how my dad and my mom sacrificed, I knew I can achieve, with sacrifice and hard work.

But, my life did not turn around to a life of privilege until I was grateful for what God has endowed me: my own skills, talents and knowledge. It did become a life of meaning, of purpose when I serve others, mentoring them to reach their own life’s goals.

I began to realize that my own poverty of imagination and my own poverty of spirit stopped me from having a life of privilege, one that is connected to the Higher Source of imagination and creativity. I stopped desiring what others have. I started cultivating my own gifts of imagination and creativity.

So here goes now, my life begins with an ambitious climb of 282 steps. This overlook trail was created by the collective foresight of the community and good governance by the state government. It took over a decade for the community to gain this public victory. Yet, the Baldwin Hills’ African American community persisted, and sustained their community efforts not to fall apart to dissension. They solidified their ranks, through their social ties, and with their own creative skills of coming together by holding coffee klatches, movie nights and dinner potlucks, they succeeded in stopping the development of 241 homes over 50 acres of private land. It was not till the land was bought, and state rangers appeared did the community truly recognized their own strength.

282 Steps to Scenic Overlook Trail, taken by Mike Murase

Now this overlook scenic trail is populated by folks of different origins, of different ages, of families persisting to have their own lives rich in imagination, rich in creativity, but mostly, rich in connections with their Universal Partner. Here is where I found a 78 year old poet, running up these stairs and working through her own issues of poverty, unbeknownst to her, her own writing skills, stumped by her own grief, and expecting folks to like her. Here is where I found close to century old - couple whose formula for life is not about viewing challenges, but to take a step at a time, by loving one another for 64 years and smiling as they walk together. They appear to be living lives of privileges, connected to their Universal Partner, the source of all Goodness.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Step by Step: The Formula is Love!

Ellie after successfully climbing 282 steps to reach the expansive summit. I told her to remember this view whenever she is at a crossroads, and the steps we climbed to reach the top! She is now at the top enjoying the Universe's Grace!

90 year old Elsa and her husband, Fred, 96 years old. Both still drive and both were seated at the summit, enjoying the view one Saturday morning, after they walked on the trail from the parking lot. I watch them as they sat next to each other, so content with an inner radiance. "What is your secret?" Elsa replied, "Loving each other for 64 years!" What an unexpected gift to meet them at the summit! Years before this summit was opened, they did 8 mile walks, backpacking in the Sierras and Nordic skiing.

"Step by step your climb expands/ the cityscape a thousand fold/framing it ever so broadly with hillside and sky."

375 feet above sea level at Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook Trail

Change comes from a foundation of love, whether towards one's self or others. It does not come from self-loathing, self-denial, nor judgement towards others. It comes from reflection and a grateful attitude to those who cared for and nurtured you to be where you are today. Thank them and the Universe will open up to you so you can receive Grace!  That was the universal lesson I learned, climbing 282 steps to the summit with Ellie. 

Ellie posted on Facebook that she needs a life coach. I responded, even though I hardly knew her. I was somewhat familiar with her public relations work in the community. She was at a crossroads when I met her.  She wanted more out of life.  She could not decide between a job that offered her stability and an offer with opportunities for adventure and fraught with big risks.  

We talked for hours about life, dating, friendship, career choices, family and marriage.  The question I left her to ponder on was: " Why are you afraid of embracing a career with risks and opportunities for adventure, when all along, you prepared yourself, acquiring skills you need for this next job? "

Today, she is the face of inner joy!

The long and short of it, without giving away our private conversations, she wanted to create memories with friends before she left for her adventure.  I thought it was novel.  I decided to go along with some hesitation.  Ellie had rebuffed my offer twice, given her work schedule.  Just when I was about to give up on her, I decided to try one more time.

To my surprise, she sent a text message on Saturday at 7am, wondering where we should meet and what time.  I responded, 8am today and my home address. “Coming," she said.

Will she really show up after dancing the night before, at the Earth, Wind and Fire Concert in Hollywood Bowl? 

It was my second day of climbing the stairs, on my own, without the guiding hand of my husband, Enrique.  He enticed me before to climb all 282 stairs, but I rebuffed him.  I was not prepared. Or I was simply making excuses.  On the weekend he went camping to help our son, Carlo move, I decided to face this physical challenge.  Like Ellie, I was at my crossroads too, choosing between keeping fit or sliding back to a more comfortable, non-active life.  

Ellie came, wearing her glittered Converse sneakers. I proactively shared some breathing exercises, so as not to get dizzy with the quick climb. I felt my instructions were redundant, I should have asked first.  Ellie did not need them, as she got to the summit, with no effort.  And me - I huffed and puffed all the way, but made it!  

What I got was an expansive 360 degree scenic view of the city. It was hot, 80 degrees Fahrenheit with no wind.  My sweat had partially fogged up my left eye. It hurt, but I kept going and ignored my internal pains.  The last thing I wanted was to stop. 

At the summit, we met Elsa, 90 and Fred, 96. They sat next to each other.  Their faces betrayed their inner joy.  Ellie cozied up to them and asked them their secret of being so alive.  They asked me to guess their age, I said 80. They smiled again. 

While taking their photo, they shared their formula in life: “ Loving each other for 64 years." I asked how they reached the summit. I could not imagine them walking all 282 steps.  

Elsa replied: “ We both drive. That is how we got here.  And we walked." 

I could not contain my amazement and asked to hug them, “ You are a picture of absolute happiness that comes from within, “ I said.  Fred and Elsa obliged with more smiles.  

That got Ellie and I talking more about life. I imagined Ellie as a CEO someday. She got excited that I read her mind as she has not shared that goal of hers as yet. " Tita, how did you know? "

I gave her unsolicited advice: “ When you become a CEO, remember you will be challenged by some folks.  You will be faced with a decision, at another crossroad between choosing a limited, convenient option and another choice that seems inconvenient yet, it is foundational, long-term and strategic. Remember to choose the expansive, foundational and difficult option. 

"Why? It is choosing your dream. It is a spiritual test of sticking by your moral values that while you climb the summit, you remain true to what you declared to the Universe that you want to do," I added.                               

I was holding a water bottle and instinctively used it to illustrate my point.  "The tip of the bottle is a symbol of when you are at the top, many folks will hold you down.  Recognize those folks early enough.  Those who love you, work with them to discover their true core personas.  Those who don't, will come to figure out who you are in due time, but not in your own timetable.  The lesson is for you to keep discovering who you are, your true essence, your inner core of connection to the Higher Spirit, the source of all goodness.  But, not for you to reform them," I said.  

I pointed to the base of the bottle and said: "The bottom is always there, for you to drop into, to sink to the lowest, but know that you have the skills to climb back up again, just like these stairs.  It is up to you to find your spiritual friends, some to weed out, some to keep as they accept you with no judgment.  Never chase after money solely, for it disappears like quicksand.   It is about living a life with purpose, serving others, not by words, but through actions and money comes after. "

It was Ellie’s turn to give insight: “ The 282 steps, all diverse in width and height, are about life.  It is climbing the steps, easy, difficult, narrow, or wide, if you do them with preparation, step by step, and with love, you will reach the summit. “ 

Our discussion veered toward our journeys, our families. I shared with Ellie, how I came to fully understand my mom, that she too, took her own steps to reach her summit.  She had the self-discipline to study for her Master’s of Science, while teaching full-time science and math, and atttending to a house full of 5 young children. What a load that must have been for her!  Now, I feel her love, a mother who gave me all that she had the capacity for.  I told Ellie that I thanked my Mom for caring for me! “ Of course, anak, I love you! “ I love you too, Mom!  Tears fell from my eyes and Ellie’s.  

We all want love and to be loved back.  The most precious gift to give yourself is to change from a foundation of love. No amount of self-denial, self-doubt or self-loathing can move you to profound change.  Have a grateful attitude to those who nurtured you, I told Ellie. 

Ellie shared her own reflections in how she finally understood her father: “ You can make your life any way you want to. I did not know I can invent a new me and a new life, “ Ellie said.  She previously believed she simply had to passively wait for opportunities to be handed to her.  “I now know that it is about preparing myself to be at a point to accept these opportunities as they appear in my life.” 

Yes, you can be the architect of your own life, I told Ellie.

After a delicious breakfast of asparagus, mushroom, tomato quiche with salad for me and crab florentine for Ellie at La Maison, she whispered, “Tita, I am one of your mentees who listened. I am grateful for what I learned!" 

She then bought two fruit tarts, one for her and another for Megan.  She wanted to pay for my brunch but I said, “ No, it is your birthday, just pay it forward! “

Mentoring is not a quid for quo for mentor and mentee, it is for the mentee to claim her place on earth, to know her true value and to declare, “ I am here Lord ready to do what you want me to do with my talents that you endowed me, and pass the mentoring forward to the next person who needs to know his worth in the Universe! “

I too have an unselfish mentor/spiritual/physical coach, Quoc Ngo, who prepared me well to climb the 282 steps. When I told Quoc that I wanted to climb the summit, he modified my workout. He had me carry 12 kg. in each hand, and go up the entire flight of stairs.  The day before, he clocked how much time I took to climb 282 steps in continuum.  He prepared me mentally and psychologically so that I maybe capable of reaching my own summit in physical fitness. Thank you Quoc, I got to the summit, with unexpected grace from the Universe and your effective coaching!