Thursday, December 29

Quite a Year

'Twas a fantastic year, to say the least. We as family had a great time this 2011, upping levels of expectations in various activities, especially in education, social and spiritual aspects.

In  homeschool, the kids had a very productive year: revalidas for all of them were essentially better than last year's (that's according to their teacher-coordinators themselves), and their activities (and outputs) were way better this year. This may have something to do with the fact that the previous school year was the second in our homeschooling activities, and that kinks in the initial year of homeschooling were ironed out (and perfected?) in the 2011 edition of our homeschool. Aside from the kids having more outputs in their portfolio, we were also able to connect more family activities in homeschool. The kids also showed improved skills in studying, as well as preparing for their periodical interviews.

Still in homeschool, more 'social' activities were incorporated for kids' studies: they attended several art classes (basic drawing, ceramic painting, etc) and also attended cooking, baking and other food lessons. These enable them to mingle with children of different nationalities and allowed them to get more socialization time which was lacking in the previous year's study.

It was an amazingly fantastic year for the family's travel activities as well.

Our first venture to Europe (as a family) happened in the summer of 2011, and even though we have to endure high temperatures in some areas, we still were able to achieve that family bonding that can only be attained by being together and doing family activities day in and day out. And we've successfully done it for more than two weeks!

The family enjoyed the sights and attractions (and sometimes even the nice summer weather) of Paris and Versailles in France, the Vatican City, and the cities of Rome, Florence and Pisa in Italy. We visited and climbed the Tour Eiffel, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Saint Chapelle, and cruised along the River Seine; we explored the Colosseum and the Romano Foro, visited Castel Sant Angelo, the Pantheon and Fontana de Trevi; we sat along the Spanish Steps (as most tourists do); and most importantly, we marveled at the grandness of Basilica San Pietro and the square in front of it, and had a serene experience, while gawking at the marvelous works of art inside the Sistine Chapel. The experience we had, and the spiritual renewal that went with it, while visiting basilicas, cathedrals and churches - Saint Germain de Prez, Santa Maria Maggiore, Santa Croce, Florence's Duomo, the Pisa Cathedral to name a few, was a memory the family will keep for a long time. Our visits to numerous parks provided welcome relief to our aching feet (from walking here and there), as well as time for light banter when the family starts getting grumpy for hours of walking. Exploring new places, understanding new culture, and learning new things become more meaningful when you do it with your loved ones.

And our adventures in traveling continued in 2011.

On the local front, we visited, and took a more in-depth look, at previously visited places: forts and castles, mosques and water fronts, ridges and mountain tops. We also had a short off-road activity (after two years of not doing it) and climbed the highest peak in the Arab region, the Grand Canyon of Arabia. Of course, we did not forget to visit our favorite park and spend some lazy afternoons there.

Towards the end of the year, we decided to head back to Europe to experience 'real' autumn. Munich and the Bavarian countryside were sights to behold. We had a grand time roaming around the Marienplatz area, as well as other notable areas such as the Stachus, Karlsplatz, the Nymphenburg, the Olympic Area and the English Garden. Ludwig II's castles in Neuschwanstein and Linderhof are grand and of course, fairytale-like, and the German countryside (through the town of Oberammergau) on the foot of the Alps gave us a feel of rural Europe which we loved.

Our short visit to Austria (Salzburg) and its thousands-year old structures was also both educational and entertaining to the family.

And of course, there is again, the visit to several churches, most notable of which was in St. Peter's (and the climb to the top, which will show you arguably the best view of 'real' Europe, in my opinion).

We also made strides in deepening our faith.

Aside from our 'panata' of attending the Filipino mass every 1st and 3rd Sundays, we also did a month-long Advent preparation activity in December. This enabled us to renew our faith more, and for the kids to re-visit theirs, by reading more scriptures. I hope this will continue to a deeper understanding of our religion and our faith, and more family activities towards this end.

'Twas a great year. We're looking forward to another great year ahead.

Monday, December 26

Christmas Dinner

After taking rest the whole of Christmas Day, the family decided to go out for dinner, and the usual family time that Christmas night. We initially went to Spicy Village, our favorite restaurant, only to find out the place is closed as it has been reserved previously for a party. We then decided to take our dinner in a poolside restaurant of one of the hotels in the area, which happened to provide a buffet dinner that night especially for Christmas.

The family got to partake of a sumptuous dinner - beef, chicken, seafood, pasta... and lots of appetizers and desserts. It was a fun Christmas dinner, and an equally fun night out for the whole family.

 Have a blessed Christmas... hope you enjoyed it like us.

Sunday, December 25

waking up on Christmas morning

Santa's loot bag near the tree
 Cold, relaxed, ... no work!

Well, technically there's work, I'm just lucky that after five years of 'business as usual' on Christmas Day, today I was able to get two days off from that familiar 'cubicle' of mine for Christmas and Boxing Days. After a long time, it's good to savor the season's holiday feeling once again.

The sala is a mess: wraps and presents still litter everywhere. Santa's loot bag sits near the tree, and the kids and us take our sweet time whiling away time eating leftover spaghetti and 'maja' from last night's family pre-Noche Buena feast while watching Top Gear UK's Norway episode. This is the true holiday feeling. 

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24

another day at the office...

While most of the world is now in 'holiday' mode, and my friends and former classmates already in their vacations, trips and parties, I am still stuck here in my 'cubicle' trying to do some decent work and be productive (even if my mind continues to wander about what will happen in our small get-together later tonight). This, I think, is the single biggest disadvantage if you are a Roman Catholic living and working in this region. Well, the pay and work environment is good, which do not happen everywhere, and the work hours superb (total of 6 hours a day), but you don't get to observe your own holidays. I know that's being too shallow (and I don't mind observing Islamic holidays, as well). However, when you experience it firsthand, and then for it to be further intensified by what you learn from your social network (well, something's happening out there and we oughtta know), then it somehow becomes an issue (well, at least for me, it's happening).

Anyways, I am stuck on this chair for another few hours at least, and it's best, in the current scheme of things, to turn in some work. I just console myself about the fact that I am already used to this, and have been doing this for six years now. (wow!)

Will they allow me to take an internal leave tomorrow? 

Saturday, December 17

Google Dinner

As I take a peek inside the fridge, I got a glimpse of what's inside: half chicken breast, two thick pieces of turkey breast ham, a piece of potato, a packet of mushrooms and two eggplants. I said to myself, what will be for dinner?

 Here comes Google.

It's a bit tricky, but it's also very easy. As I began typing the ingredients I have in the fridge, a list of possible recipes are already being shown by Google. I finally settled for something that sounds like "chicken with eggplant and mushroom".

The directions were fairly straightforward: stir fry the chicken and turkey ham and when brown, add the vegetables. Then season with the usual salt, pepper and a dash of soy sauce. For added taste, I added two chicken bouillon. Voila! the family's dinner is ready.

Judging from the result, I think Google's recipe went well. The kids loved it, wifey said she's too full as she ate lots of it... and of course, I forgot to take a photo as everybody scrambled to get a piece of it after savoring the delicious smell.

Looks like a repeat of Google Dinner is in the making. 

Friday, December 16

Simbang Gabi

It is that same indescribable feeling.

Source: rhoelilagan (Flicker)
I remember attending the ‘Simbang Gabi’, or ‘Misa de Gallo’ when I was still a kid in our small town. We usually wake up early, around 3:00 or 3:30 in the morning, and brave the cold weather outside to walk the kilometer or so to the church. (This is the time when global warming hasn’t started to be a major world issue yet.) We normally reach the church with a little time to spare, and, being a kid, I remember spending that ‘precious’ time loitering near the small shanties dotting the fence in front of the church patio for an initial taste of that delicious ‘bibingka’ and very hot ‘salabat’. (Well, it sure is welcome to have something to help you ease that cold somehow.) I don’t know the real reason now, but I have no recollection of somebody selling ‘puto bumbong’ during Misa de Gallo when I was still a kid.

‘Simbang Gabi’ in our small town starts at 4:00 in the morning. I think it’s how the Philippines, as a predominantly Catholic country, customarily celebrate the nine-day mass in preparation for the nativity of Christ on Christmas Day. That is also probably why it is called ‘Misa de Gallo’. This practice remains the same until now.

This tradition has been part of my growing up. The only thing changed was that, instead of my parents, it was my friends who were with me in attending the masses during my teenage years, and that the frequency of attending it dwindled as I reached adulthood.

Then, all of a sudden it was gone when I decided to relocate to a Muslim country. 

Until last night.

There may be no bibingka, salabat or puto bumbong dotting the church patio… the mass may be celebrated late at night (10:00pm) instead of the customary 4:00am… instead of walking a kilometer, there may be that long 200-km drive from our place to the church (and another exhilarating 200 kms back!), but these differences aren’t really important. What’s important is that, after a long while, I got to experience ‘Simbang Gabi’ all over again. (...and as a bonus, share this moment with my family!)

Once in a while, it’s nice being a kid again.

Thursday, December 8

My Favorite Travel Apps

It's that time of year again.

Well, I mean this is the time of year when most of us start preparing for that holiday trip the family waited for during the year. Whether near or far doesn't matter, as long as the family gets to do that getaway to spend the holidays together.

Through the years, I was able to build an arsenal of apps that help me plan that perfect holiday trip for the family. These apps do not only make my preparation quick and easy, they also make the planning process more accessible and comfortable no matter where I am, whether at home or mobile. Further, they make tracking the trip itinerary easier, as I can have immediate access to them through my phone or my iPad. Here are some of them:

While I normally scour different airline websites to get that best deal when it comes to purchasing air tickets, I normally use to have my hotel reservation. Sometimes, I try to compare the rates I get from the ones in, but I almost always eventually get the deals I find in (both have iPhone and iPad apps). Of course, before I finally make the reservations, I check TripAdvisor first to get real traveler information on the hotel I prefer.

After getting the air tickets, travel insurance (usually from the same airlines), and the hotel reservations, I let my TripIt app do my trip itinerary for me. TripIt is a nice little app that I have for my iPhone and iPad, and it checks my mails for all reservations and bookings I make and organize them for me so that I have a ready access of my flight and hotel bookings (and schedule). TripIt also manages all other holiday activities that I plan (and book) for my trip (such as tours and the like); the ones I normally book using my Viator app. I also connected my TripIt app with another iPhone travel app I prefer - TripDeck - which is further connected to another app, FlightTrack (both are available from the Apps Store). The combination of all these make my holiday easier as I get notifications for flight schedules, alarms for my itinerary, and ready access to my sked during the whole vacation. 

In preparing for the trip, I use Packing Pro. It has ready checklist templates for different kinds of trips, and allows you to customize your checklist depending on your preference. Packing Pro has different templates to choose from and has checklists starting from pre-trip, to essentials, to medicines and everything. It's really a handy app that's very useful in preparing what you need for your holidays, especially if you have kids to tag along with you, just like us.

During the holiday, AroundMe, CityMaps ToGo and Wiki Offline become essential apps. During our recent trip to Europe, I also had an extensive use of the Metro app (all available in the Apps Store). These apps become handy when you need a map to know where you want to go, obviously to check metro stations, and to just plain know what essential establishments are near you at any point in time. Of course, I make sure I have at least one travel app of the city I prefer to visit (the likes of GuidePal, Triposo and City Walk variety). Believe me, they come in handy when you're resting your weary feet at the hotel at night and prepare for the next walking tour you'll do on the next day.

Although I don't always use them, I also have the Trip Journal and Trip Viewer apps to document my trips from time to time.

Well then, happy trip everyone... enjoy the holidays!

'cleaning' my mac

Spent most of the afternoon and evening 'weeding' out unnecessary files in my MacBook. Just found out I only have about 10GB of storage left due to more than 15,000 pics in my Aperture library, and a few .dmgs I left in the harddrive after installing new applications. I recovered about 90GB of space afterwards, then uploaded a few CFs of pics from our last two travels, which again occupied 10GB of precious storage space... if this goes on, I really need to put serious thought in buying another terabyte of external harddrive. (Or better yet, get me an iMac, of course, with a bigger storage.)