Love in Lasagna

15 Nov

lasagna-copyThe very first dish I ever learned to make was a lasagna. Not adobo, which took me 15 years to learn; not sinigang, which I could not stand to eat till I was in my forties. Apart from grilled cheese and liver pâté sandwiches my father taught me to make for our midnight snack dates, lasagna was the only thing I knew how to make for years. I learned from necessity, because I wanted to eat it.

In the beginning, I cooked only for myself. I would make one 9 x 13 pan and devour it in one sitting. No leftovers, I’m not kidding! Well, most of the time, really, heehee. Today, I’m sorry I did not share with my brothers and sisters more, maybe then, I’d  have shared part of my heft too.

When I had made the dish enough times, I found the confidence to share it with others. And so, I made it for my friends in med school. They seemed to like it, judging by the empty pans I would lug home. Well, it was that, or they were just being kind to me.

I also made lasagna to impress my then-boyfriend and years later, when we got married, the dish became his special request for occasions like his birthday or our anniversaries. Of course, as much as we would have wanted to have it everyday, it was a bit over our measly budget as newlyweds and, later on, too labor intensive for new parents.

One memory that comes to mind when I think about lasagna happened when we were very young. On his 25th birthday, amid a series of family disputes (long story), I burnt the lasagna meant for his birthday dinner. In the drama of the day, I totally forgot about it and by the time I remembered, thick, black smoke was coming out of the oven. I remember holding the burnt pan over the sink, crying over it and our woes. I was about to throw the whole thing in the trash when A♥ silently took it from my hands. He set it on the table, helped himself to a huge serving, and ate it without complaint.

“Thank you for a wonderful birthday, hon,” he whispered in my ear.

“It’s burnt,” I bawled loudly.

“I could eat everything in one sitting. I love it because you made it. And I got to spend my birthday with you again,” he said gently.

I cried even harder after that. I also never burned a single pan after that day.

Last weekend, upon request, I made lasagna for the family and an extra pan for Alex’s friends. I worked late Friday night to get them ready and then woke up extra early to bake them. Making them was not easy for my numb, clumsy hands anymore, I discovered, but I worked with only the best ingredients and poured my best efforts into making sure they tasted the same as they always have.

Alex has already asked me to teach him how to make it. On occasions when he is inspired to make something more than a lazy cup of instant ramen, this son of mine dabbles in the kitchen. One day, he will be making the lasagna in the family. Hopefully, he will share it with friends, with loved ones, and with the family he will make. I find this thought comforting.

When he makes his own lasagna, he will be sharing more than just food that has become a special part of our family. He will be passing on years of our memories, of a family history that included one special dish, and all the joys and sorrows that came with it. He will also be passing on love and snippets of our lives.

Which, I hope, much like the lasagna I served for lunch last Saturday, will be enjoyed to the fullest and to the last bite.

When Life Happens: A Birthday Rolls Around Again

7 Nov

I owe you all an apology again for not having updated in a while. Each time something happens, I make a mental note to write about it, even going so far as to draft it in my mind, but for one reason or another, I never get around to sharing it with you. There’s been a flurry of changes in our home in the last three months. Even as the weather has changed from being hot and unbearable to being cold and rainy and then back to hot again, so has our home and our lives. It’s getting harder to just roll with the changes when they do come, I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s just part of getting old.

The biggest news in our lives, and I mean that of the pleasant variety, is that Alphonse turned 22 last week. I’ve been dreaming of throwing him a party for his birthday for forever, but it simply has not happened and not for lack of trying. He still doesn’t do so well in crowds and noisy places so we figured another way to celebrate this special occasion. Instead of one big blowout, we decided to serve him his favorite dishes- one special dish a day- on the days leading to his birthday. We had pizzas one day, KFC fried chicken the next, garlic shrimps after, and Tita Lulu’s tokwa’t baboy (tofu and pork) after that. On his birthday, we went Asian with Chap Chae as his birthday noodles, Korean fried chicken with honey garlic sauce, and Szechuan style prawns. Not bad for a homemade birthday feast, right?

Aside from the special dinner we shared with a few of our extended family, we planned a picnic for him last Saturday. This one may strike you as strange, but it really isn’t, considering he hates crowdsalphonse-nov52016 and noise. So where to have a quiet picnic away from everyone else? At the cemetery, of course. by my dad’s graveside and on a weekend after All Souls’ Day. Perfect, right?

We brought mats and rechargeable fans, an extra tent, umbrellas, and four pizzas, three orders of buffalo wings, and lots of cold drinks. We sat around for two hours and made small talk while we ate, Alphonse in the middle of it all, relaxed and unfettered. When the temperature soared, we packed up our stuff and cleaned up, then headed home. Alphonse was content and happy, singing his wordless ditties all the way home.

Unfortunately, the planned Sunday trip to Tagaytay didn’t push through. We had a sudden home emergency that necessitated scrapping our plans at the last minute. Poor Alphonse! He was all dressed up and ready to go. I knew he was disappointed, judging by the way he puckered his lips into pouts the whole day. Later in the day, he took two short rides with his dad but even those didn’t seem to make up for the canceled plans. We have to reschedule soon because we made a promise to him; here’s hoping the next one pushes through.

I know I haven’t shared much about Alphonse in recent months. Truth is, as Alphonse gets older, it gets harder to keep writing about him. Physically, he is an adult. Already, he has almost four inches on me and can match me pound by pound, weight-wise. He is strong and strapping, with firm arms and sturdy legs. Cognitively, however, he functions somewhere between three and five years old; emotionally, he is at an even lower developmental level. He is impulsive, obsessive, and requires 24/7 attention. The mismatch between his size and mental age have obviously become wider with time. As such, behavior that may be considered amusing when done by a young child no longer seems cute or funny at his age.

As his family, we see him always through the lens of love. Even at the worst of times, when our lives are consumed by rigidity and explosive violence, our anger comes from our own helplessness and failings and not from a place of hate and indifference, not of him or his autism. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of others who may now view him as threatening and frightening. This is the quandary I find myself in. To keep writing about Alphonse and all his challenges may mean creating fear and revulsion in those who do not know him or have no wish to get to know him. To stop altogether may mean sweeping his story, and many others like his, under the rug, at a time when we severely need to rectify the public’s misconceptions on autism.

Forgive me for the reluctance to share more stories about him in the future. I will not stop writing, that is a promise I made to myself many years ago when I started to blog, but perhaps it is time to reconsider the direction I may wish to take in this online journal. I’d like to think of it as a way to redefine and reshape our relationship as he grows older. And though you may see him still through snippets of our lives, he will occupy less and less space on this journal as I allow him the privacy demanded of his age.

Thank you to all those who have loved him, even from afar. And thank you for watching him grow up through these pages. It’s time for him to be 22.

25

20 Sep

img_3090_20150917I woke up in the middle of the night to a bad dream. I’ve been having a lot of them lately, it seems. I woke up groaning, almost falling down my side of the bed. I reached out to you and snuggled closer, burrowing underneath the sheets, my leg beneath yours. Instinctively, you reached out for my hand and pulled me closer, my hand over your heart. I felt the slow, regular rhythm of your heart through my fingers. In the darkness, I listened to your soft snoring. I counted your breaths till mine matched yours. I closed my eyes to the blackness around me, no longer afraid, because you were there.

Once upon a time, I wondered if love would ever find me. I had been hurt before- yes, duped and dumped- and my heart had been broken many times over. I found love where and when I least expected it. I found it freely given, without expectation of return or reciprocation. I found it stripped of deception and subterfuge, offered honestly and wholeheartedly. And I found it with forgiveness and unconditional acceptance, in a friendship bound by time, loyalty, and a shared history.

img_3111_20150906And what a history it has been. Our friendship has spanned these many years since high school at Pisay, past bitter rivalry and devastating heartbreaks, beyond lonely separations and joyful reunions. From that very first time we met (I was 14, you were 13) to the day we started a new adventure as husband and wife, ours has been a journey of all good things born of our friendship. We made a family. We helped our sons grow. We built a home and set down roots into the deep, hard ground. We stood against challenges that would have bowed and bent many. We not only know each other’s life stories; we have written ours together.

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The heart has no wrinkles.🙂

All this, and always with your hand in mine.

Today, 25 years to the start of our lifetime together, I am in awe at all we have done together. Thank you for always believing in us. Your unwavering confidence in the inevitability of us, your certainty of who and what we could be together, and your faithful, constant love have healed my wounds and changed me for good.

In you, I have found redemption every single day.

With you, I have found us.

Happy 25th to us, hon. I love you so.

Alphonse Gets His Passport (Renewed)

30 Aug

When Alphonse got his passport years ago, the application and renewal processes for minors and persons with disabilities were as limited as just showing up at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for a personal appearance. We filled out the forms by hand and submitted photographs and documentation. I don’t remember if they required proof of his disability then, but I remember bringing a letter from his developmental pediatrician, just in case. Sadly, Alphonse never got a chance to use his passport; aside from a planned long haul trip that went kaput, Alphonse’s resistance to change made it almost impossible to even try. His passport lapsed afterwards and, almost giving up on the dream of Disneyland for him, we let it stay expired.

A couple of months ago, buoyed by his unusual stretch of good behavior, we decided to have his passport renewed. To facilitate the process, we decided to schedule both his and his brother’s applications at the same time. I got appointments for both of them and prepared all the necessary documents.DFA 02 copy

In the midst of the preparations, however, Alphonse got sick. In our experience, any change always upsets his equilibrium; thus, I was tempted to forgo the appointment. But, having waited for it for close to two months, we did not relish the thought of postponing it for another 30 days. Fortunately, Alphonse was calm on the days leading to the date and given that he was on the road to recovery, we green-lighted the trip.

On the day of their appointments, we were at the DFA satellite branch in Megamall a full hour before opening. This guaranteed that we would be on time, with enough leeway to allow for eating or toilet accidents. It also allowed Alphonse to settle in and become more familiar with the area before the early morning crowd came in.

We were first in line when the doors opened at 10 in the morning. Because Alphonse required two persons to keep him company, the officers manning the appointments desk allowed me and my husband to accompany him. We got our numbers (first and second for the day for the  boys) after our appointment papers were verified. I explained each step to Alphonse, carefully assessing if he was anxious, afraid, or angry. There were quite a few people behind us already and we wanted to avoid a meltdown in public. Step One, done.

While waiting for the documents to be received, the four of us sat in the front row on seats reserved for PWDs and senior citizens. When our number flashed on the screen, we went to the designated window to hand in the papers. The DFA personnel were understanding of Alphonse’s inclination to run away when he feels threatened and did their best to talk to him in a low, friendly tone. My husband and I held Alphonse’s hands throughout the process and reminded him continuously that we were beside him all the way. Step Two went without a hitch; except for a swift tussle with the fingerprinting (in lieu of his signature), we managed to move to Step Three right away.

Step Three was a brief stop at the cashier for payment. Alphonse sat down quietly while we waited for his dad to finish paying for their passports. As soon as he was done, my husband joined us in the seating area by the Encoding section.

Step Four, Biometrics Encoding, took the longest. Were Alphonse more cooperative, we would have been in and out in half an hour flat. As it was, it took around 35 takes with the digital camera before the officer could get an acceptable shot, and even then, it looked like a mugshot. Alphonse was obviously anxious and scared by that time. His heart was beating very fast and he had a wild eyed look on him, like a deer in headlights. Moreover, taking his fingerprints via the electronic reader turned out to be a battle of wills. He was stronger than all three of us combined and no amount of hand holding, finger twisting, forcing, and cajoling could set those fingers on the scanner. In the end, we had to let him shake off his fear himself. I had him do a series of touching exercises with his fingers, showing him each time that nothing would cause an “ouchie.” I got him to touch the scanner successfully a few times before we did the actual biometric reading. By the time he was done, he and I were both drenched in sweat.

A♥ stayed behind to pay for courier delivery of the passports while Alex and I led Alphonse out of the offices. Alphonse rushed down the flight of stairs and suddenly threw up, spewing the contents of his breakfast on the floor. We wiped him down, but he kept trying to grab a wet tissue off of us.  When I asked him why he needed a wet wipe, he lifted his right foot, grunted “Uh,” and showed us the vomit still sticking to his shoes. We laughed like crazy then, and he laughed along, the relief visible in his face.

A couple of weeks later, when his passport was delivered, I showed it to Alphonse. He giggled when he saw his picture. I asked him if he was ready to go in a plane and he nodded.

“To Disneyland, Alphonse?” I asked again. He started screeching in glee.

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There are many things that are difficult for Alphonse, and in turn, for this family. Travel is one of them. Still, we continue to dream that one day, Alphonse will be able to see more of the world. It’ll be a big step, but if we can’t dream big, who can?

Here are some tips we learned from our experience with Alphonse. I hope this helps your loved ones, especially those with autism, with their passport application:

  1. Set an early morning weekday appointment, the first morning schedule, if possible, so that there are fewer people. If members of the family will be applying or renewing as well, choose the family appointment option. Appointments can be done here: https://www.passport.gov.ph/
  2. Come early. Bring his/her PWD ID and inform the guard and appointments desk that you have a PWD with you. There is an option to use the Courtesy Lane, particularly for individuals with disabilities who find waiting intolerable.
  3. Prepare all documents and appointment papers beforehand. Make xerox copies of everything, even the IDs.
  4. Practice the steps for passport application and renewal. Prepare a social story if needed.
  5. If the individual with disability cannot sign his/her name, his/her fingerprints will be needed for data collection. Practice using an inkpad or make a toy replica of the scanner for practice.
  6. Bring all necessary support/materals during the appointment. PECS cards or assistive communications devices are absolutely necessary. Toys and snacks may help in the wait.
  7. Dress your loved one in comfortable clothing.
  8. Choose the satellite branch nearest you to reduce the stress of travel and traffic. Some branches have less foot traffic than others. Still, appointments ease the difficulty of application. Walk-ins are sometimes accommodated but I would not suggest this option for PWDs unless absolutely necessary.

In parting, we would like to thank the Department of Foreign Affairs officers and personnel who welcomed Alphonse with kindness and respect. We would have gotten all their names had Alphonse not needed our complete attention.  Maraming, maraming salamat po. You all made the process so much easier with your tolerance and understanding.

 

KittyMama meets Mama Cat: My Cat Cafe Adventure

29 Jul

tcc 10When my godson Terence came home for a holiday in Manila in late June, one of the places he wanted to visit was The Cat Cafe in Maginhawa Street. I have not been to this place before and deemed it unlikely for me to visit on my own or with my family for a variety of reasons. One, my boys are allergic to cat hair; it is a trigger for their asthma attacks. Two, even as I profess a liking for Hello Kitty and related feline merchandise, I have never had a cat as a pet. Three, the only cat I have ever had a relationship with was the cat I dissected for Zoology class in pre-Med. Not exactly confidence-inspiring, right?

Nonetheless, buoyed by my godson’s enthusiasm and enabled by R, his other godmother, I soon found myself in front of this small cafe in the second floor of an unnamed commercial building in Maginhawa Street, Sikatuna Village, Quezon City. I met up with Terence, R, our old friend L and her daughter Isabel at the venue shortly before the appointed time.

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Still closed when we got there

There was a short queue as we approached the narrow corridor leading to the cafe. While walk-ins are accepted based on availability of seats, the cafe prefers reservations which can be made at their website, CatCafeManila.com. The place is open from 12 noon to ten in the evening all week and can accommodate as many as 24 people at one time. A door charge of P200 per person allows the visitor an hour’s worth of Cat Cafe time, but half of the charge is consumable. For a small, unassuming cafe, they have remarkably good choices in their menu. Moreover, food and drinks are reasonably priced for the quality and value of their servings.

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Time spent with cats is never wasted.

After disinfecting hands, changing from shoes to slippers, and reading the house rules, we were shown in the place and our tickets stamped and dated. I lingered about the small display of cute cat merchandise by the counter and pastry display. Then, we sat on a thin, padded purple blanket around small wooden tables on the floor, although a couple of bar stools were available by the window.

The cats were amazingly friendly and wandered about the place freely. Cat Cafe Manila is a cat paradise for rescued PusPins (Pusang Pinoy), with swings, hammocks, and scratch posts for these cats to play with. If you wondered about any fishy(!) cat smell, I was just as surprised to find that there was none. The place was spic-and-span and smelled even cleaner.

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Swingers’ Paradise

We took the time to catch up on each other’s lives. While the younger folks played with the cats, the older ladies sipped our orders of coffees. I had not had lunch then, but in the nonstop chatter, I forgot to get something heavier on the stomach than a cold coffee. (I had an iced blended frappe called Nutty Meowcadamia, PhP140, and it was delicious!)

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“One must love a cat on its own terms.”

What was most surprising about my time at Cat Cafe was my unexpected one-on-one experience with an extraordinary cat. Soon after we came in, a large white cat sat with us. The other cats were frisky, hyperactive, and bounded from one corner to another, but this one stayed with us, me in particular, the entire time. And what do you know! It turned out the elegant feline who ambled languidly towards me was named Mama Cat!

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Close enough for a close-up!

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You are purr-y cute, Mama Cat!

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“Many things in life will catch your eye, but only a few will catch your heart.”

As I said in the early part of my post, I’ve never had much to do with cats before. I’d never have guessed I’d go gaga over a cat other than Hello Kitty. This one stole my heart, no doubt about it. I patted and petted her to my heart’s desire, the feel of her silky fur comforting to me. I scratched her forehead lightly as she dozed off to the sound of our voices.

Before we knew it, our hour was over. I did a thorough sweep of my clothes with a lint/hair remover the cafe had at the foyer.  (Mama Cat was a shedder, and I was covered with white cat hair.) I took one last look at Mama Cat and waved to her goodbye. I promised to visit her again, sooner rather than later.

If you are in the area, please drop by and spend an hour with these precious cats. Not only does your money help take care of the needs of these rescued cats, they also really enjoy human company. I got to admit that what they say is true: time spent with cats is never wasted. This Kittymama vouches for it! Meow!

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Grails and the Secret of Happiness

26 Jul

grail /ɡrāl/ (plural grails) a thing that is being earnestly pursued or sought after

I don’t have a grail doll. Honest.

I don’t even have a grail Sylvanian anymore. I used to. But I’m different now. I feel different.

I started thinking about this when a friend brought it up in a recent conversation. “You have so many toys now. Do you still have a wish list of dolls or toys? Do you have a grail doll? A grail Blythe doll?” I couldn’t really answer her without thinking about it.

And so I ruminated on this question for a couple of days. I ran through a list of what I could possibly want. I looked at pictures on the Net and surfed for dolls and toys. But the more I thought about it, the less I found to really ask for.

Some people -collectors most of them- find it strange that I don’t have a wish list of dolls and toys. I really don’t. Now that I think about it, I haven’t had one in a while. In the beginning, when I was starting out, I would spend hours looking at dolls and Sylvanians on the Net. I had a list; I knew what I wanted to look for on trips abroad or in local sales. Today, while there are still many beautiful things in this world that make me catch my breath and dream- even for a split second, for the most part, I am quite content to simply look at them from afar. In the last few years, I have torn my original list into pieces and started a new one filled with experiences and activities, of things to do and places to see, and of memories I would like to make with my husband and children. But things? No more.

I suppose you could say that I’ve experienced a change in mindset. By simply accepting what material graces come my way, I don’t feel the envy or covetousness that ruins the act of collecting. The truth is, I don’t beg or ask my husband for dolls and toys because he gives them willingly. Perhaps one could argue that I have it easy, and that would not be an unfair assessment at all. But I have seen firsthand what material want does to even the most prolific of collectors and it is not something I’d like to happen to me.

I don’t covet anyone else’s collections. I’ve never felt jealous or envious of things my friends own. On the contrary, I feel a great deal of pride in knowing they enjoy what they have, without reservations. I don’t “snake” someone else’s reservations or purchases to add to mine. And if I ever once thought of you as a friend, even just once, I would never ever think to compete with you.

I guess when you live with the gratitude that comes with knowing you have enough, another doll or toy won’t make a difference. I have what I have, and that’s enough. If I don’t have it, then it’s just another one of those things that I can probably live without.

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In the end, it all boils down to knowing that everything material in this life is transient, but love, peace, friendship, these things are eternal. These are my real grails.

Hello, Kitty Cafe!

25 Jul

I heard the news first from my friend Stacy when she tagged me in an album of pictures she took two weeks ago. I hadn’t heard that the Hello Kitty Cafe* would come to the North, so I was pleasantly surprised that it was back at the SM North EDSA after a long hiatus.

I knew it was coming, though. In December of last year, two pop-up stores opened at the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City and at the Fiesta Duty Free Mall in Parañaque. Both had limited running dates till January of this year and served as precursor to the Hello Kitty Cafe** at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig. Now, we Northeners don’t need to feel so left out of the good stuff. The Hello Kitty Cafe is back in town!

The last time I was in a local HKC, it was in 2000, shortly before the SM North EDSA branch closed. I remember because I have a memento of my last visit, a picture taken with a struggling eight-year-old boy who would not set foot inside the Cafe. Despite entreaties and bribery (with hefty servings of food which he ate, but outside the Cafe), my son refused to step in and had to be dragged inside for one picture with his Mama. Ahhh…memories!

kittymama with struggling child low res

I know I said I have sworn off Hello Kitty, but still, some youthful part of me longs for a little bit of her now and then. A♥, ever the enabler, suggested squeezing a quick visit to the Cafe during the last SM North EDSA 3-day Sale. We went in early Saturday morning to the mall to purchase shoes and some shirts for the boys and decided to drop in for a quick bite.

The new HKC can be found on the 3rd floor of The Block, and overlooks the main Atrium or Activity Center.

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The cafe, in keeping with Hello Kitty’s feminine, feline character, is done in mostly white and pink. The design is tasteful and elegant, almost minimalist with a touch of whimsy. White picket fences delineate the mall real estate it occupies. Seating is limited.

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Below, you can see Hello Kitty she lords it over the place. There is no mistaking that she is the center of the Sanrio universe.

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Even the pitchers had her face on them! Cute! (I didn’t check the table napkins.)

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But as concession to her friends, they can be found in cute doughnuts filling the display chillers. Below are My Melody doughnut faces with ribbon- themed doughnuts,

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Hello Kitty and Baad Batz Maru face doughnuts (why does Bad Batz remind me of Angry Birds?),

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and cheery Keroppi face doughnuts, with more ribbon doughnuts. You can’t get away from Hello Kitty and her ubiquitous red ribbons.

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The cafe also serve cupcakes and small cakes,

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and healthy green salads.

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Unlike its predecessor, the new Hello Kitty Cafe does not serve full meals.  It has a streamlined selection of sandwiches, salads, pasta and pastries. They also serve coffee and shakes. Since the Cafe is still on soft opening, some of the items on the menu may not be available but there is usually a sufficient stock of pastries on hand. The prices are a bit on the high side so be prepared to shell out serious money for Hello Kitty food.

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A♥ is not big on sweets and pasta so we deferred our Kitty date for another day. He did, however, buy me a souvenir of my visit, which came in this plain white paper bag sealed with a Kitty sticker.

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Who can resist a Kitty doughnut? Certainly not me!

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I’ll be coming back soon to stay longer. I hope to taste their salad, pasta, and coffee next time. In the meantime, let’s spread the word that the Hello Kitty Cafe is back!

~0~

*Hello Kitty Cafe SM North EDSA

3rd Floor, The Block,

SM North EDSA, Quezon City

 

**Hello Kitty Cafe BGC

Third Floor, Uptown Place Mall,

36th Street Corner 9th Avenue,

Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City