Book Review: “Ayesha at Last” by Uzma Jalaluddin

A mix of giving up on a dream in exchange for security, dealing with a bad boss, crazy relatives, a case of mistaken identity, and old family secrets already reads like the kickass start of a great romance novel. But add in the cultural context of the Canadian-Indian Muslim immigrant experience and you’ve got yourself the gem that is Ayesha at Last, Uzma Jalaluddin’s debut novel.

A modern and inclusive romance

Continue reading “Book Review: “Ayesha at Last” by Uzma Jalaluddin”

El Nido hugots in Mantle Magazine

El Nido’s one of my favorite things to write about because it’s one of my favorite places on Earth. So when I was approached by the wonderful editors of Mantle Magazine (oh hai friends Rej and Dante) to write about the El Nido experience, I quickly accepted. The catch? I had to write about El Nido’s development as a tourism destination.

El Nido town’s waterfront in 2018

The full article is available on Mantle’s website. Yes, I kept the title from my previous blog post because I really liked it.

Writing this was both easy and heartbreaking. Easy because it’s a topic I know well and once I got the outline and supporting statistics figured out, I hammered out the thing in two days. Heartbreaking because I had to put my experience to paper (err, keyboard?) and describe both the good and the bad that comes from increased tourism to a place that isn’t ready for it.

Tourism is often trotted out as the solution for funding protected areas, but that’s a simplistic answer. A destination can go after fewer but higher spending tourists, but that means only the rich get to experience the personal growth and satisfaction that comes from traveling and learning. But lower the price too much and you overwhelm the destination with an unsustainable number of visitors. How do we ensure that the local community benefits from increased tourism? How do we ensure that the proper infrastructure is in place? In short, how do we ensure visitor satisfaction and safety while protecting the environment that they came here to see?

There are no easy answers, but answering it needs the cooperation of the local government, community, businesses, and the tourists themselves.

El Nido, after all this time

I finally returned to El Nido, Palawan last June 2018 after three years away. The last time I was there was back in 2015 when I helped train DENR personnel in coral reef monitoring methods. At least this time, I was back for a vacation with the husband and some of our friends ❤️

I’d like to credit AirSwift’s New Year’s Day sale as the reason we were able to afford to fly directly into El Nido. Yes, the sale started at 12:00 midnight on January 1, 2018. Thank you also to our hosts, Patrick and Cindy, for understanding why I brought a laptop to their NYE party.

In all honesty, it’s taken this long to write about the El Nido trip because I wasn’t sure what to write. Coming back after practically living there for six years then being MIA since 2015 meant that I watched El Nido change through a screen, with my Facebook feed filled with posts from friends who had grown up there and friends who decided to move there. I watched El Nido turn into a crowded tourist destination, with all the good and ilk that comes with it. It was conflicting to see friends proudly start their own businesses alongside seeing the trash and pollution piling up in an unprepared town. I wasn’t sure how I felt then, and I’m not sure how I feel now. Continue reading “El Nido, after all this time”

How to Green Your Holidays

Christmas is upon us and with the joy and celebrations come the piles of torn wrapping paper, mounds of food waste, busted string lights,and other stresses that will make Mother Nature shout “Bah humbug!”. But it doesn’t have to be like that. It’s possible to celebrate Christmas without creating a trash pile for Santa’s elves.

  • Collect your coffee (and planner stickers) in a For Here mug or your own reusable tumbler. 

How many coffees do you need to buy to get a free planner? How many thousands of people want the same planner you do? Multiply the two and you have an idea how many paper cups are thrown in landfills just this Christmas season to get that free planner. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

Bring your own mug and save the planet. As a bonus, many coffee shops (both chain and independent) give you a discount for bringing your own mug. Chances are, by the time you collect enough stickers for that planner, you’d have saved enough from the cup discount to buy yourself a bonus coffee.

  • Unplug your Christmas lights before you go to sleep.

If you’ve had your Christmas lights installed since November 1st, you’re probably already feeling the monetary pinch from keeping them running all the time. Remember to unplug your lights before you go to sleep. Anyway, no one’s awake to appreciate them. If you can, invest in LED lights too. While they cost more in the beginning, they also last longer and are safer to use.

Christmas Spirit

  • Unplug appliances before you leave town.

Appliances left plugged in still use electricity – often called “phantom energy” – so unplug them when not in use, and especially when you’re about to leave on a long trip.

genius invention: why didn't I think of this?

  • Say no to food waste.

Food waste – whether it’s the waste from food preparation (think peelings) or waste from your plate – almost always also ends up in landfills. Once there, they decompose without air and produce methane.  Methane is an even worse greenhouse gas compared to carbon dioxide, trapping 28 to 36 times more heat compared to CO2.

Reduce food waste by planning properly so that there are no leftovers. If there are leftovers, give them away or eat them right away before they spoil.

Compost the food prep waste. If you have even a small garden, you can compost at home using the Bokashi method. If you need to compost food waste from a large party (your company party maybe?), consider hiring a composting service like Green Space.

The aftermath 3

  • Go for greener gifting.

Everybody loves gifts. We love getting them and we love giving them (to people we actually like). But to soften the blow to the environment and avoid all the messy post-unwrapping cleanup, consider:

  • Gifts that don’t need to be wrapped, like tickets to concerts or classes and store gift certificates. One of my friends gave me gift certificate for classes with Writer’s Block Philippines and it’s one of my favorite things ever.
  •  

  • Gifts that keep on giving, like donations to charity on behalf of your recipient
  • Buying gifts from environmentally and socially conscious SMEs. Buying locally made items from local companies supports more jobs and keeps the money inside our economy. Last year, I gave away bottles of tea concentrate from Bayani Brew. The tea leaves come from small Filipino farmers who are paid fairly, the price is right, and the tea itself is damned good. I’m also a big fan of SGD Coffee, who buys their beans directly from small farmers in Sagada,
  • Placing gifts in reusable gift bags. I save all the paper gift bags from the previous Christmas so I can reuse them for the next year. If you don’t like paper gift bags, maybe you can learn the art of furoshiki instead.

For this year’s gifts, I’ve gone for the following:

  • Bath and Home Care gift sets from Messy Bessy for the family titos and titas. Messy Bessy’s corporate gift guide, Christmas catalog, and regular catalog are available for download:

Messy Bessy Corporate Gift Guide 2018

Messy Bessy CATALOG 2018

They offer free shipping within Metro Manila for orders worth at least Php 5,000. If you’re getting items from the regular catalog, they offer 5% discount and free shipping for orders worth at least Php 5,000.

  • Baby-safe liquid laundry detergent from Messy Bessy for my brother and sister-in-law (and super cute niece)
  • Books from Adarna House and Tahanan Books for my inaanaks. Support local authors and publishers!
  • Homemade goodies for my friends and cousins. Yes, they are my (unwilling) test subjects for my baking.

 Merry Christmas everyone!

Book Review: “One Day in December”by Josie Silver

A novel just in time for Christmas

What do you do when you spot The One, fall irrevocably in love in the span of 60 seconds, lose them right after, spend the next year searching for them in every bus stop in London, then finally meet them again when they’re introduced as your best friend’s new boyfriend? Thus begins One Day in December and the love story of Laurie and Jack, spanning ten years of heartbreak, choosing to be happy, loss, what-might-have-beens, and finding happiness again.

Laurie James meets, or doesn’t meet, Jack O’Mara at the bus stop on December 21, 2008. She’son an overcrowded bus, on the way home from a long shift at a hotel reception desk – a job she’s working while she’s trying to get a job as a staff writer at a magazine. She looks out the window and sees the most beautiful man sitting at the bus stop. He looks up, their eyes meet, and something shifts in the universe. But as fate would have it, Laurie’s bus pulls away just as Jack gets up. Laurie spends a year looking for “Bus Boy” throughout London, roping in her best friend Sarah to help with the search. She doesn’t find him, not until that fateful day when Sarah introduces the new boyfriend that she’s head-over-heels for. “Bus Boy” is Jack, Sarah’s boyfriend.

Romance novels live and die by their characters, and One Day passes with flying colors. Laurie and Jack are fully formed and relatable: good people who genuinely care for each other and the people around them but are deeply flawed as well. The story is told from Laurie and Jack’s alternating point of views, which gives us a lot of insight into their motivations. The downside of this is that Sarah’s characterization gets lost in the shuffle. As Laurie’s BFF and Jack’s girlfriend, Sarah becomes the ultimate example of virtue and success, and any flaws she has is told to us,not shown.

The story also benefits from the longer time span. The ten years it takes for Laurie and Jack to finally be together are caused by both circumstances and their personal choices, which makes their journey all the better for it. There’s some pining to be sure, but neither one fully depends on the other for their personal growth. Josie Silver handles their will they-won’t they with a deft hand, making sure that there are no irredeemable bad guys.

One frustration of mine with regard sto romance novels is when the characters are at the mercy of the plot, where they have no agency and every roadblock to their happily ever after is an external force. I’m happy that it wasn’t the case here.

My only major regret is that the resolution happens so quickly. Laurie and Jack were separated for so long.Surely Ms. Silver could have devoted more page time to their happily ever after? As someone who got sucked into this story, I would have appreciated a longer and more substantial final act.

All in all, One Day in December is highly recommended for believers in love at first sight. And even if you don’t,it’s still recommended for its depiction of supportive female friendships and the importance of finding your own happiness and way in life even without The One.

This review was first published as part of Fully Booked’s First Look Club. Thank you very much to Fully Booked (and Ilia!) for the opportunity 🙂

How to green up your condo

Becoming the Sustainability Manager of a property management company wasn’t something that I anticipated going into after doing coral reef ecology and fisheries-related research around the Philippines. But now that I’m here, I appreciate the opportunity (and challenge! huhu) to influence hundreds of property managers, and by extension, the hundreds of thousands of residents, office tenants, and mallgoers that they interact with on a daily basis.

Last month, I was approached by Speed to write an article on green condo living for their November issue. Speed describes itself as “the technology magazine for the fast-paced lifestyle, bringing together not only the most up-to-date tech news, interesting features, and informative columns”. November is typically their Green Technology issue, and I’d already written something on sustainable living for their 2016 issue (you can read it  here). This new article was my chance to promote sustainable property management practices to a wider audience, so OF COURSE I wrote it.

Read the full article here:

Here’s hoping a lot of condo residents read this and start supporting practices in their own buildings 🙂

Lessons from the mixing bowl

One of the things I never thought I’d actually do was learn how to bake. Sure, I love to eat delicious baked goods (who doesn’t?), but after a disastrous attempt to bake my mom a birthday cake when I was 13 years old, I’d stayed as far away from an oven as possible.

Fast forward twenty years later and surprise: baking is now something I do for *gasp* fun! No, really. I bought a small electric oven last Christmas because I wanted to eat healthier and stop frying everything. Little did I know that with the baked vegetables, fish, and chicken would come cookies, cheesecakes, and muffins. Oh, the irony of it all.

Aside from the end goal of actual baked goods to eat, the process of baking lends itself to additional valuable lessons:

1. Be patient. The typical chocolate chip cookie recipe calls for you to scoop the cookie dough onto baking sheets and refrigerating the dough for at least an hour, but best for at least 24 hours. But why? Why have cookies tomorrow when you can have them today? As it turns out, refrigerating the cookies stops them from spreading out too much and also brings out more of the flavor. More patience = more delicious cookies.

2. Learn the ropes first before trying to tweak anything. Baking is that delicious blend of science and art. Unlike dishes where you can play with the recipe on the fly, baked goods need exact recipes because each ingredient reacts with everything else. Yes, substituting 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder with 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda when you change the recipe from 1 cup of milk to 1 cup of yogurt makes an absolute difference. Once you’ve mastered the basics and the ingredients, then you can change the recipe.

I learned this lesson the hard way when I figured hey, two medium eggs were the same as one large egg, right? Wrong. What were supposed to be eight cookies merged into a single huge COOKIE. The batter was too wet and thus spread too much. The cookie tasted fine, but still. Since then, the most off-recipe thing I’ve done so far is double the vanilla extract and cinnamon because I wanted a stronger flavor. I’ll get to the recipe development stage eventually. *crosses fingers*

Continue reading “Lessons from the mixing bowl”