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Preschool Survival Tips

As I write this, I am preparing my son's application to a "big" preschool.
And in a world where everybody is forced to be a round peg to fit perfectly into a round hole, my son’s disability (as a person with autism) is so obvious that it makes me want to hide him and protect him from the world. Not the best thing to do, I know. But can you blame me? I carried this precious little boy in my womb for 9 months-nursed him, bathed him and rocked him to sleep. Letting him out into the big, bad world of preschool- knowing full well that he will always be different- is like taking a dagger to the heart.

Preschool is difficult enough for neuro-typical children- sharing toys, fighting for a spot in the playground and following the teacher’s instructions. Not easy, right? For a boy like mine, preschool can be brutal- especially if it is not a “special needs” school.

So, what does a parent like me have to do to prepare my son (and myself) to join the world of (typical) preschoolers? Here are some tips to help moms like myself deal with sending our precious little boys and girls off to school:

1. Talk to your child about what to expect. Draw photos of what the school will look like (It doesn’t matter if you have no artistic bone in your body. I can only do stick figures.). Write down names of teachers and teacher aids and talk about them with your child constantly.

2. Take him on a tour of the school way ahead of the start of the school year. Familiarizing him with the school grounds, classroom and playground might help ease his anxiety on the actual first day.

3. Get him excited about learning by reading books, practicing how to write and singing songs.

4. Tell the teachers, school principal and guidance counselor what to expect. It will help everybody not to go into this blindly. Having said this, though, I suggest that you allow your child to surprise them. Sometimes, the worst case scenarios that play in our head (screaming child, terrible tantrums, etc.) don’t even happen. Children behave differently under authority- this is true of both neuro typical and non neuro typical children.

5. Establish a good feeding and sleeping routine. Kids who go to bed early and eat on time do better in school- very basic, right? Experts say growth happens between 9-10 pm at night, so make sure your preschooler is in bed way before that.

6. Relax! Your stress and anxiety can be felt by your child. If you seem uneasy about sending him to school, he will feel that and feed off that. Treat this as any other day and you will be fine!

7. If number 6 doesn’t help, have a glass of wine, shot of tequila, bottle of beer (or whatever floats your boat) to help you relax. That should do the trick!

8. Be involved in school but don’t be the "overbearing mom of the kid with special needs." Let your child blossom on his own. He might just surprise you.

9. If possible, try to get a weekly “anecdotal” report from your child’s teacher. If your child is like mine, he will not respond to questions like, “What did you do in school today?” It helps to know exactly what they’re learning and how he’s responding to what is being taught from the teachers themselves. This way, you can reinforce learning at home by talking about the same things they talk about in school.

10. Remember that it’s just preschool. It is merely a way to get him to socialize with other children his age. So, enjoy the “free hours” you have and do something for yourself, for a change.

Sending your child off to school for the first time is always a big deal- special needs or not. Hats off to you for taking that first big step. Now, let go of the reins and allow your child to take flight.

Nomad on the Move

This year is proving to be quite an exciting one for me. Change is coming and it's going to be good. If you've been following my blog, you'll be pleased to know that I will be moving to a new (virtual) home soon.

My new home on the web will also be linked via twitter and facebook. So, I hope you'll stay on this journey with me. It's going to be amazing. Still the same nomad, different URL- with more of the same things (you and) I love- food, family, travel and life!

The Perm

I am so happy that I finally took the leap. It took me a full year to grow my hair to an acceptable length so I could have it curled (uurong lang kung maiksi pa yung hair). Of course, right now, the curls are still too tight and too “high” but I’m excited to see what it will be like in a week or two when they look more like “waves” instead of “corkscrews.”

I was going to go to a friend’s salon to have my hair done but he is out of the country and won’t be back until the 17th. So, I immediately called Louis Phillip Kee at the Fort and set an appointment.

Service was fast, friendly and efficient. I talked to the man himself, Louis Phillip Kee, to discuss what I wanted done to my hair. I like him- very friendly but also very matter of fact. No BS, no trying to sell me stuff I don’t need. I even had to ask him if there’s a special shampoo or treatment I would need after my digital perm and he said, “None. Regular shampoo will do. Just don’t shampoo your hair for 2 days to make sure the curls take hold.” Of course, I ended up buying some styling/moisturizing product since I don’t want my hair to look dry and frizzy later on. I am extremely happy with how my hair looks now. I can imagine how much nicer it will be in the next few weeks.

So far, no downside to this new hairstyle except that I can't wash my hair for 2 full days (gross!). The price is a bit on the high side, too- must be directly proportional to the time it takes to get it done (4 hours- gaaahh!). That's longer than a flight to Hong Kong.

That being said, though, I am excited about this change. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a perm in my entire life. I’ve always just had a short bob or long, straight, one length hair. I wonder if curly haired girls have more fun than their straight haired counterparts. Hmmm...guess I will just have to wait and see.

The Vatican Museum

Disclaimer: I'm no art expert. I like what I like. On this particular trip, I saw more sculptures, paintings and frescoes than I could actually even absorb. All photos here are mine except for the ones of the Sistine Chapel and The Last Judgement- those were from Wikipedia and Destination 360. (Proper photo credits under the photos themselves) Enjoy!


ST. PETER'S SQUARE


The Vatican City or the Stato della Citta del Vaticano, in Italian, is literally translated as State of the City of the Vatican. Yes, it is within the city of Rome, within the country of Italy- but it is ruled by the pope. I’d like to think of it as its own country- with its own set of rules and even its own radio station! It is approximately 44 hectares with a population of just over 800- making it the smallest independent state in the world. Cool, huh?

This city was our last stop in our Italian trip. We thought it would be fitting to end our vacation by viewing what is probably man’s greatest contribution to art- the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo.

Before even leaving for Italy, I booked and bought our Vatican Museum tickets online thru viator.com. I’m sure there are many other sites that offer a “skip the line” service but viator was the first URL that popped up after I did a search on google so that’s where I got our tickets.



My advice, if you want to see St. Peter’s Basilica AND the Vatican Museum (which includes the Sistine Chapel), is to arrive at the Vatican between 7 to 7:30 am, so you can do just that. We tried to be at the Vatican at 7 am but it was just not meant to be. We were scheduled to enter the museum at 10:30 am so we only had just enough time to walk to St. Peter’s Square, admire the church from the outside and take a few photos. Because we didn’t get to go inside St. Peter’s Basilica, we also missed out on seeing the famous Pieta by Michelangelo. The only consolation is that now I have an excuse to go back, right? By the way, the Vatican imposes a very stict dress code. No shorts, no sleeveless tops, no mini skirts. Dress modestly or run the risk of being refused entry. Sayang naman diba?



Anyway, the little that I got to see of St. Peter’s, I did enjoy to the fullest.



Rumor has it that instead of at the Colloseum, Christians were actually burned at the stake here at the square, at the spot where the Obelisk is- where Nero used to hold his chariot races. Prior to becoming the seat of Catholicism, this square was actually known as Nero’s playground- where all the evil and macabre activities of Nero were displayed for the entire city to see. How ironic is it that now it is considered the holiest place for the Catholic religion?

From St. Peter’s Square, we walked back to meet our guide at the foot of the steps right across the street from the entrance of the Vatican Museum.



It was pretty painless as we just bypassed the lines (yes, there were lines even during our off-peak visit) and went straight ahead to pick up our tickets at the booth. From the booth, we went straight up and rented our audio guides. I must say, the audio guides are important in giving you a complete museum experience. I can imagine how walking around on your own can be quite overwhelming. It really makes a huge difference when you know what you're looking at (most of the time, anyway!).


MUSEUM ENTRANCE

The museum is made up of different sections (i.e. Egyptian, Tapestries, etc.) However, you will see that all of them lead up to the main attraction- the Sistine Chapel- with the “Raphael” rooms setting the stage. Instead of doing a “short cut” and heading straight to the main event, we tried to see as much of the museum as we could so as not to be anti-climactic. And mind you, the exhibits and art collections along the way were mind blowing! Here are some of my favorites:











With my head swimming with art facts and figures, I decided to step outside for a bit to take a breather. Even the courtyards had massive pieces of sculpture adorning every doorway.



On my way back inside, I looked up and admired the wonderfully painted ceilings of the museum. It was enough to give anyone a stiff neck.



Like a “supporting” actor if you may, it’s Raphael that sort of “heralds” the way to the Sistine Chapel at the Museum. One of the most promising artists of the renaissance, Raphael’s paintings were a mastery in color and perspective. These paintings are showcased in several rooms (around 5 to 6, I lost count). These are the last rooms you’ll see before you enter Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.





Now, let me talk about the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II to work on the ceiling of the chapel in the early 1500s. Apparently, he turned him down in the beginning but the pope was insistent. Michelangelo agreed to do the work but on one condition- that he be allowed to do it his way.

Contrary to some beliefs that Michelangelo painted the ceiling lying down, he actually didn’t. He painted while standing on a scaffolding, with his neck bent backwards. And since it took him four years to finish the almost 5000 square feet fresco, I’m guessing he had quite a horrible stiff neck by the time he was done. By the way, I just learned that a fresco is a mural that is executed on plaster (usually still wet) on walls or celings.

To say that security was tight in this part of the museum would be an understatement. I can’t even count how many times the guards screamed out, “No photo!” the entire 2 hours that we were there.

So, nope, I wasn’t able to sneak in some shots. I didn’t want to get caught doing so. Here are some photos I found on Wikipedia to give you an idea of the grandeur of Michelangelo’s masterpiece.


Photo from wikipedia.com

Central to the whole fresco, is the creation of Man- symbolized by the hand of God giving life to Adam.


Photo from wikipedia.com

Surrounding the creation scene on each side are paintings of prophets- including, interestingly, the Sybil, a pagan prophet- who foretold the coming of the Messiah. You will also see the story of Noah depicted in the mural.


Photo from destination360.com

If the ceiling shows the colorful, hopeful side of Michelangelo’s art, his painting of the scene of the Last Judgement on the chapel’s altar wall is the total opposite.


Photo from wikipedia.com

Depicting scenes from the second coming of Jesus Christ and his judgement of humanity- this shows Michelangelo at his darkest. Here, the image of God is far from the loving one depicted on the ceiling fresco. He is muscular, strong and seems ready to send souls to hell in a heartbeat. This particular piece of work was the source of much debate between critics of the Catholic Reformation and those who knew Michelangelo. The artist was accused of being insensitive to proper decorum. At some point, the “genitalia” were covered up in the fresco after Michelangelo’s death.

One thing is certain- both the religious and the agnostics believe that the Last Judgement and Sistine Chapel Frescoes are the greatest works of art ever made. Michelangelo is revered all over the world as the greatest artist of the Renaissance. I am just grateful to have been given the chance to see some of his best works in this lifetime.

Upon leaving the museum, it only seemed fitting to go down these beautifully carved steps- probably the most photographed staircase in the world- and one of the most beautiful.

Balesin for a Day

It was rainy and gray and I was about to board a 12-seater Cessna to get to the island of Balesin in Quezon Province. Not exactly an ideal start to a relaxing day at the beach for a nervous flier like me, but I had no choice. Downing a glass of wine (thoughtfully given by the ground staff at the Balesin hangar) to calm my frazzled nerves, I and 6 others (excluding the pilot and co-pilot) boarded the brand new Cessna caravan for the 25-minute ride.



Balesin is an island 35 kilometers northeast of Mauban, Quezon Province. While totally new to me- this island was apparently the playground of Manila’s rich and famous in the early 60’s and 70’s. Recently, Alphaland corporation bought the island to turn it into an exclusive beach club- a private getaway for people with money to spare.



We definitely could have gone to Balesin on a sunnier day. The photos we took turned out to be dark and gray. Good thing Alphaland graciously lent me some of their own professional photos by Frankie Callaghan so I could give this beautiful island paradise justice.



Balesin Island Club is not the first members-only beach club in the country. What sets it apart, though, is the fact that it is located in a part of the country that has remained mostly untouched due to its "remote" location. The people behind Balesin have bought private Cessna caravan planes to shuttle its members back and forth on subsidized flights- eliminating the need to book flights on their own. No need to line up at the check in counters at the domestic airport- all that is done in the comfort of your own, private terminal. Just as it should be if you want to start off your vacation on the right foot.



The moment we arrived, we were ushered into the resort with fresh buko juice and floral leis. Then, we went on a tour of the island on a 4X4 vehicle to see what Balesin has to offer.



Balesin is roughly 500 hectares big. That is half the size of the island of Boracay. Just like Boracay, it has white sandy beaches, but because of its exclusivity, you won't have to deal with overcrowding in this place.

The resort will have 6 authentically designed villages- each village taking its inspiration from some of the most well known vacation destinations in the world- Mykonos in Greece, Costa Smeralda in Italy, St. Tropez in France, Bali in Indonesia, Phuket in Thailand and of course, the Philippines. Each village will have 30 villas each- making up a total of 180 villas in the entire island.

Currently, the Philippine village has some Villas all set up and ready to welcome visitors.



All villas have a spacious bedroom with a king-sized bed in the middle and a daybed on the side, accommodating a total of 4 persons.



Your private villa will also come with its own sundeck with whirlpool, barbecue facilities, flat screen tv, plunge pool, outdoor garden shower (for the uninhibited) and 24-hour golf buggy service.



Of course, each villa offers wonderful views of the sea.



If, unlike me on vacation, you are the active type, you will most likely not run out of things to do. You can go running thru the forest, ride horses on the beach trail or indulge in some water sports like scuba diving, snorkeling and hobie cat sailing among other things. I, on the other hand, will just be happy to lounge by the beach, drink in hand, getting a tan.



A spa is also in the works for those who enjoy a good massage or facial. I know that if I were to buy membership privileges at Balesin, the spa would be one of my favorite spots!



One of the things that impressed me the most about Balesin, though, is the fact that it was planned and built with the environment in mind. No trees were unnecessarily chopped off to make roads- which explains why none of the roads you'll pass are ever on a straight path. Trees that had to be cut off were transplanted right away. Designed by EcoPlan of Miami in Florida, Balesin is "beautifully sustainable"- with its own water harvesting and recycling system, eco-friendly transportation, organic farming and alternative sources of energy.



So despite the rains, my husband, in laws and I did enjoy our visit to the island of Balesin. After our tour of the island, we headed straight to the restaurant in the Philippine village for lunch. We had really good Binakol soup, grade A lapu lapu kilawin, grilled organic pork, grilled prawns and ginisang ampalaya. To end the meal, we had some ube ice cream.

We also went to the beach and walked along the shore. After all, what good is a beach trip without getting some sand in between your toes, right? I hope we get the chance to revisit Balesin on a sunny day in the very near future.



For more information, you may check out their main website: www.balesin.com, email them at: sales@alphaland.com.ph or call them at +632 302 5742.
So much hulla-balloo now about the new Philippine campaign by the Department of Tourism- "It's more fun in the Philippines." While issues of "copying" from a 1951 Swiss ad campaign are floating around online, I choose to ignore these negativities and just focus on why I really think it's more fun in the Philippines instead. I've moved to and lived in 4 different countries in the past 12 years, but I must say, there is no other place I'd rather be than good old Manila.

Why? Let me count the ways:

1. No matter how hard life is, people are ALWAYS laughing.

2. You can find almost anything in Manila- as long as you know where to look. I have a lot of expat friends who are pleasantly surprised to see that the food scene has actually blossomed here over the years.

3. Shopping in Manila is even better than the so called shopping meccas of Asia. Hong Kong has good designer shopping and market level shopping- but with not much choice in between. Manila has amazing "middle of the road" shopping- so everybody can look fabulous no matter what their budget is!

4. We are the warmest, most welcoming people in the world. Everybody is welcome here.

5. Watching movies is cheaper in Manila as compared to a lot of other countries. For USD 4.00, you get a nice movie, soda and popcorn. Where else can you get that?

6. We have the best "pulutan" (food to go with any alcoholic drink) in the world- sisig, crispy chicken skin, tengaling- san ka pa?

7. Boracay- white sand, calm, blue waters, mango shake, massages- no annoying touts (like in Bali)

8. Our mangoes are the best in the world! Hay sarap :)

9. I seriously love the Manila sound- "Hinahanap-hanap kita Manila..."

10. San Miguel Beer- nuff said!

I resolve to travel locally a lot more this year, too. Looking forward to posting local travel stories in this blog in the very near future. Let's do this, Philippines!

Taking a break from travel blogging...

As I write this, I feel something close to panic. A feeling not so different from the feeling I had when I gave birth to my firstborn 11 years ago. Since that fateful night in September of 2000 (when I couldn't make my daughter stop screaming no matter what I did), I don't think I've ever really had a full night's sleep. And since that time, I actually haven't stopped wondering- why the heck didn't anybody tell me that parenthood was going to be this tough?

When people get pregnant or have their first babies, everybody is fussing over the soon-to-be parent or cooing over the new born baby. You hear things like, "Oh you're going to have so much fun being parents!" or "What color would you paint the nursery?" The most negative thing you'll ever hear at this point would be, "Good luck on the sleepless nights!" Nobody ever tells you, "You will be responsible for this person for the rest of his/her life." No one dares to say, "If your child grows up to be a sociopath or a psycho, it's on you!" Unless you want to get thrown out at a baby shower, you keep your mouth shut, join the inane games (sniff the baby food from a diaper anyone?)and smile.

Nobody wants to break the news to you that while parenting is definitely the most wonderful thing you'll ever experience, it is also the scariest. It will change you to the core until you can't even recognize yourself anymore. I've said it once on this blog and I'll say it again, parenting is not for the faint hearted.

My eldest is now 11 years old and not a day goes by that I don't worry about her the way I used to when she was just born. How could I not? At 2 days old, she had to undergo a complete blood transfusion to avoid the possibility of bilirubin staining her brain (that could have inevitably led to cerebral palsy). At 1 month old, in some public hospital in Thailand (she was born in Bangkok, by the way), a doctor told me that she wouldn't live past her first birthday because of a suspected liver disease. I look at her now and I am amazed at how she's grown. She's still tiny and will probably always be but she is alive and well! Take that Dr. Yong!

As for my youngest- well, you know about him. I look at him and wonder what the future holds for him. I wonder if in ten years, the world will actually see him for the person that he is and not for what he has. I wonder if he will ever know of love and how beautiful it is to have someone to share it with. Will he have friends? Even just one? Will he have meaningful conversations with us- ever?

I think about all these things, I look at my kids and my heart swells- with love, with pain, with fear, with joy. All these feelings rolled into one pack a mean punch. It's enough to bring me to my knees in prayer every night. But would I change this for anything? Never! My children, no matter how much they test me, have taught me greater things- patience, unconditional love and faith.

At the end of the day, as parents, we do the best we can and hope that it is enough. The rest of the dirty work, we leave up to God. Thank goodness for that. Maybe now I can finally sleep....

A History Lesson in Photos

No other city made me wish that I paid more attention in history class than Rome. If touring Florence was like walking in a living, breathing museum, staying in Rome was like walking right into the pages of your (medieval) history book.
It was the capital city of the Roman Kingdom, the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire for over 700 years from the 1st century BC until the 7th century AD. It is also the seat of the Papacy of the Roman Catholic Church.
Millions of tourists visit Rome every year just to see the many monuments and sights that have made the city’s historic center a UNESCO Heritage Site.


THE SPANISH STEPS

As for me, I was just excited to see the site of many killings, mock sea battles, executions and gladiatorial battles- the Colloseum.


THE INTRICATE MAZE UNDER THE COLLOSEUM ONCE HOUSED ANIMALS AND CRIMINALS

Amazing how a once “gory” and “morbid” ampitheater that has seen many deaths is now a beautiful part of Rome’s landscape. Known as the “Flavian Ampitheater,” all that is left of this imposing structure are ruins.


A CROSS WAS ERECTED TO HONOR CHRISTIANS THAT WERE RUMORED TO HAVE DIED AT THE COLLOSEUM


BEAUTIFUL!

From the Colloseum, we walked over to the Roman Forum- an archaelogical site where you can sit and imagine what Rome must have been like during its heyday. A rectangular forum- it houses several of the most important ancient government buildings during the time of Julius Cesar.


IF THESE RUINS COULD TALK

What I found interesting in this area was the Arch of Titus- the arch that was meant to commemorate the victory of Rome over the Jews.


LOOK AT THE INTRICATE CARVING

Apparently, Jewish slaves were brought in from Jerusalem to build this arch. The work was not completed, though. Still, the structure remains intact between the Colloseum and Palatine Hill.



If conjuring up images of majestic buildings by looking at ruins is difficult for you to do, head towards the Pantheon and see medieval architecture at its finest. Created by Marcus Aggripa as a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome, the Pantheon is the only structure from that time that has stood the test of time.


THE PANTHEON GLOWS AT NIGHT

Now, it houses the remains of some of Italy’s most important residents including those of the famous artist, Raphael.



Oh and another thing that I loved about Rome? The fountains!
The Fountain of 4 Rivers in Piazza Navona was our first stop. I expected it to be bigger and grander but it was actually quite small. However, there was still something about it that made me want to stop and stare.


FOUNTAIN OF THE FOUR RIVERS

My favorite, though, was Fontana di Trevi.


SIGH!

I was too cheap to throw a coin in the fountain to guarantee my return to Rome (P60 to a Euro kaya ang exchange!) but I made my husband promise to take me back there one day.


CHRISTMAS LIGHTS ITALIAN STYLE

And I'll make sure he makes good on that promise one day!

Castello di Gabbiano

Among all my memories of my recent Italian getaway, the beauty of the rolling Tuscan hills will always stand out as the most beautiful. Imagine being surrounded by this much beauty- day in, day out.



In between our Florence and Rome trips, we decided to take a break and hie off to a castle located in the heart of Chianti Classico. Thru a series of winding roads passing thru small villages and sloping hills, we stopped to gaze at this beautiful view infront of Castello di Gabbiano.



Castello di Gabbiano used to be a medieval castle and is now a prestigious wine estate in San Casciano Val di Pesa.



For the next 2 nights, it was home.



Gabbiano produces its own wine and olive oil. During a tour of the winery, we found out that they make about 1 million bottles of wine a year.



We were lucky enough to have had the privilege to be the only ones in the castle (the beauty of travelling off-peak) during our short stay. So we got to enjoy every nook and cranny of this beautiful property. Particularly the courtyard that faces the breakfast room- with this lone leafless tree.



Mornings were quiet and sunny. While afternoons and early evenings were cool and easy.





During our stay, we also learned a thing or two about wine and cheese pairing thru the Castello di Gabbiano's hospitality director, Cornelia.



I still dream about this place up to now and would love to go back one day.

Art Everywhere!

Being the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is expected to have some of the best museums in the world. And true enough, the Uffizzi- where you are surrounded by art from the masters in each room and the Academia- where the original statue of David by Michelangelo is housed- are true testaments to the beauty that was birthed in Firenze.

But more than art in the museums, it is the art that is easily accessible- on the streets and in public buildings- that makes the city even more special for me.


REPLICA OF DAVID OUTSIDE PALAZZO VECCHIO


THE RAPE OF THE SABINE AT THE LOGGIO ON PIAZZA SIGNORINA


BRUNELLESCHI'S DOME

Even the way the city looks from the top of the Duomo- one of Brunelleschi's masterpieces- is a sight to behold!


FANTASTIC VIEW

Edible art is everywhere as well!


SALAMI BEING SOLD AT THE OUTDOOR MARKET IN PIAZZA REPUBLICA


CHIANTI CLASSICO


CIOCCOLATA CALDA (HOT CHOCOLATE) IN GROM


VERNACCIA IN SOSTANZA

Walking around Florence is like being in a living, breathing museum- where you are not just an observer of art- but actually a part of it.


LOGGIO RIGHT OUTSIDE THE UFFIZZI

I can't wait to see you again, Florence.

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