Yet Another Cat Story

I hope you don’t mind, dear reader, if I tell you more about our cats for now. In the middle of a quarantine that sees no end in sight any time soon (Metro Manila has been under varying levels of quarantine since March 15, 2020, with no let-up), our cats have given our lives their much needed change in pace. So, indulge me, please, as I write about the cats that have made our lives a little more colorful during this time.

Peek-a-boo! Guess who! (I took this picture when I was sneaking a peek at the new kitten; that expression makes me laugh each time!)

Yes, you read it right. Cats. Not just one cat. It seems once you open your home to one cat, the lure to add another becomes irresistible. We never planned it that way, though. While Skyflakes was an awaited gift, the other cats that joined our household arrived much like Kitty did.

I remember that when Kitty, our rescue kitten, was still with us, she used to greet Anthony’s arrival with excitement. She would run to the car as soon as it came in (we had to hold her for fear of her being run over) and she would walk with Anthony as he made his way to the back door. All the time, she would mewl and meow gently to him, as if expecting a conversation. Anthony was never a big fan of cats but for sure, Kitty was a fan of his.

Shortly after Kitty passed away, Anthony came out of the house to find an adult cat waiting for him by the back door. It was the first time this cat had approached any one of us but we had seen her many times before, often fleetingly, in cctv footages of her climbing our roof. We saw her in late August, when she left Kitty with us. And we saw her again a few days after Kitty passed away, sniffing around the spot where Kitty used to stay in the afternoons.

Why do they like Alphonse’s trampoline?

She followed Anthony around the garage, but disappeared again that same night. Then, about a week later, we found her crouching under Alphonse’s trampoline, half her face swollen. When we tried to approach her, she ran away in fright. We knew she needed help, but unable to do anything more, we left her food and water.

Towards the end of November, she started coming more frequently to our garage. She would eat the food we left and sit by the gate, eyeing us warily. But each day, we noticed her sitting closer and closer to us. She finally decided on a spot midway in the garage where she could watch us from afar and yet still be near enough her usual points of entry/exit. For the most part, as long as we set out food, water, and later on, a box, she seemed content just watching us from a distance.

By early December, she was in our garage whole days and even nights. She roamed the garage on her own, keeping some distance from us still, but she no longer seemed jittery or terrified of us. After a while, she would wander briefly near us, even trying a few times to rub her head on our feet. We couldn’t touch her, though; the sight of hands coming near her made her shriek and scamper away so we just stopped trying. We figured she’d let us know when she was ready to be petted or touched.

It got to be that she would strut around the garage like she owned it, even chasing away would-be competitors from her spot. One day, she discovered an almost empty, open cabinet in the garage. She decided to leave her box in favor of the cabinet. When she ventured out for toileting, we quickly lined the cabinet with pieces of clean cardboard and Kitty’s old mats. We even put in Kitty’s scratch pad and a few of her toys.

On December 17, 2020, she gave birth to a single female kitten we named Kitty Two aka KiTwo. Nanay (as we now call her) and her kitten are now housed indoors but during the day, they play in the same spot outside where Kitty once stayed. Nanay still resists handling and holding so we give her lots of space with the hope of losing her distrust one day soon. For now, they seem content to stay out but the plan is to spay Nanay as soon as KiTwo is weaned completely.

Nanay and Kitty Two aka KiTwo

KiTwo has grown to be rambunctious girl who loves climbing and jumping. She is also a tail menace as she loves to pounce on her mom’s tail. Nanay tackles her and sits on her each time, but KiTwo just shakes off the rough play and comes back for more. We feel she could hold her own against Skyflakes once she grows bigger. Mom and daughter

After KiTwo completes her fourth round of deworming, we will slowly introduce KiTwo and Skyflakes to each other so they can play during the day. In the meantime, we’re just happy to see them thriving healthily and happily. Now, who knew we’d turn out to be a cat family?

February’s First Favor

As I continue to fill the pages of this blog, allow me to dwell in the spirit of mindful gratitude. I’ve let too many of these pass in the last year and I should remind myself to cherish each and every one, however fleeting they may be.

February opens with a small gift that brings me tremendous joy. I joined a photo contest of a local cattery yesterday morning, and to my surprise, my entry won! I couldn’t be more thrilled!

I took a picture of Skyflakes (my new cat, whose story will be told another day) early yesterday morning. Skyflakes has a habit of waking me up at 7:30 every morning to ask for food but I was surprised to find him dozing right after eating a full breakfast. It must have been the enticing bed weather. Metro Manila has been unusually cool this past month, much to our delight. Then again, I didn’t mind; I wanted to sleep in too, hehehe. Still, he was just too beautiful in his sleep that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a few pictures. I took some in color, a couple in black and white, and I figured that one was actually good enough to pass muster. So I posted the picture on Instagram, tagged it for the contest, then went back to sleep. By the time Skyflakes and I woke up, we were both ready to get immersed in the day’s activities. Skyflakes wanted more play time (his favorite toy is a toothbrush!) and well, I needed to catch up on laundry. When I finally had time to review email and check on social media early that night, I saw the good news on my IG post. Yay!

This is the picture I submitted as my entry to SirNicolay Cattery’s contest. I used the iPhone 12 to take this shot and it turned out pretty well, I think. Skyflakes is just a beautiful cat hands down, but he is a whirling dervish most of the time, bouncing up walls and always chasing after something. He is difficult to catch still so when he is sleepy or sleeping, I always take a few shots, moving ever so quietly so as not to wake him.

After breakfast, what does a kitty do on a cold Sunday morning? Enjoy the weather and snooze a little more! #rarechillydayinmanila #skyflakesthecat #lazySunday #sirnicolaycattery #blackandwhite

SirNicolay Cattery is hosting monthly photography contests this year, as well as a raffle for subscribers and official members of its YT channel. There are also regular updates on new kittens for rehoming and they are, indeed, lovely little babies. I’m not going to sugarcoat this: these kittens are worth a fortune and lucky are the people who can afford them. Still, a glimpse of them playing happily with the many gadgets and treats James (Sir Nicolay) provides for them is enough to make my heart happy.

If you didn’t know yet, SirNicolay Cattery is a local cattery that raises and rehomes Scottish fold, British shorthair, and British longhair cats. Cats that come from this cattery are all pedigreed (the parent cats are imported from Europe and are TICA-registered) and come with official papers. What I like best about this cattery, though, is that it spares no expense in providing for the kittens’ early start in life. All kittens complete their course of kitten deworming and vaccinations. They are fed premium food at all times, given more than adequate supplementation to ensure their best health, and raised in an environment that is “cattified,” safe, and welcoming. If you love these specific breeds of cats, you’ll find that SirNicolay Cattery is a good place to start your search for your fur baby.

SirNicolay Cattery can be found in YouTube, where Sir Nicolay can be seen sharing his cat experience and wisdom to both old and new cat parents. It also has an active presence in Facebook and Instagram. You can find more information here: SirNicolay Cattery website.

Want to try for next month’s contest? Keep taking photos of your cats!

P.S. It looks like I’ll be keeping my promise, friends, so please wish me luck!

P.P.S. Not a paid post!

Just One Promise

At the end of annus horribilis 2020, the only promise I made to myself was to keep writing. Oh, sure, I had other things on my mind, but I knew making other resolutions would be fruitless if I couldn’t even keep this one promise. To be fair, though, throughout the year that just passed, I had managed to put down snippets of my thoughts in my personal diary, yet for some reason, I felt reluctant to share them with anyone.

Our lives, already removed from much of the world because of the difficulties of our son’s profound autism, became even more isolated. What respite we had, or what was left of it, was taken away from us by the forced quarantine measures of the pandemic. And our world, already small, got even smaller.

Many times, I would wake up in the middle of the night in a panic, the feeling of dread so overwhelmingly intense that I was convinced something bad was happening right at that moment. It took all of my energy to focus and concentrate as my mounting fears threatened to pull me down deeper into the quicksand of my thoughts. In the past, I had been able to quell and stifle anxiety by praying the rosary from beginning to end, but as the months in quarantine grew longer, it took more and more loops of the rosary to stave off the fear.

One night, sometime towards the end of the excruciatingly long year we just had, I woke up to another bad dream. As I turned over in bed, now wide awake but still terrified and confused, my hand was suddenly seized by my husband. Curled under a triple pile of comforters and still asleep, he clutched my hand to his chest. His breathing was calm and regular as he held on to my hand. I couldn’t move without waking him, so despite my tears, I curled right next to him and closed my eyes. I started the rosary in my head again but before I finished the first decade, I was asleep. It was the first time I slept dreamless in a long while.

I’m better these days. My dreams are still as vivid as ever- and in color too- but they no longer terrify me as much. I still have the occasional ones that leave me shivering in fear in the middle of the night, but when I do, I snuggle closer to my husband, clutch his hands, start the rosary in my head, and I can put off my fears for another night.

I wanted to put all this down before the first month of this new year ends. Already, the days pass us in a blur of ordinary sameness-today being a repeat of yesterday, and tomorrow, a repeat of today- that I don’t even remember where all the days of January have gone.

I guess I just wanted to let anyone who still cares to read this blog that I am still here. I’m struggling, like so much of the world these days, but I’m not giving up. Not just yet.

And with your help, perhaps I can keep this one resolution. Maybe then the rest of my courage will follow.

Thankful

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” ~Melody Beattie

A life with autism was not something we wanted for our son or for our family. When my husband and I were newly married, we prayed for children- daughters, to be exact- and we asked for healthy, bouncy baby girls.

Our first child was a son, born six and a half weeks early, and he was a cute little boy with a lightbulb-shaped head and a button nose who made us forget we asked for daughters, “California-rolling-baby-style.” Eighteen months later, we had our second child, and early sonograms told us we were expecting a daughter- yes! Because there were complications with this pregnancy, we had bi-monthly check-ups to track growth and development. At the last sonogram barely a week before delivery, “she” turned around and flashed us with a highly visible third leg. This baby was already playing tricks on us early on, so his Mama decided to get even. Alphonse wore pink during his entire infancy, haha.

So we were zero for two- no daughters and our sons didn’t exactly come into this world perfectly healthy and bouncy. Both boys had early health issues, but a lot of them were resolved by their sixth month, and let me tell you, they were the two most beautiful babies we had ever seen in our life!

While Alex went on to blossom beautifully, Alphonse’s development began lagging. After his first birthday, he lost his words and stopped making eye contact. When he needed something, he would grab us by the hands and lead us to what he wanted. He didn’t know how to ask. He no longer tried to speak; he just grunted a lot. He flapped his arms and hands, walked on tiptoes, and spun everything he could lay his hands on, even Oreo cookies. After some wait, at a year and a half old, Alphonse received a clear-cut diagnosis of autism.

In the last 25 years, we have had a rollercoaster ride with autism; it has led us to depths and places we never even knew existed. To say it has been difficult would be an understatement because the truth is, this kind of life is not something we would wish on anyone. It is draining, exhausting, incapacitating, and a lot of times, demoralizing. When you deal with meltdowns, aggression, and self-injury on a daily basis, it takes all your energy just to get through another day.

Still, what we lack in so many things that make up a “normal” life, we try to make up for it in the things that matter. Laughter. Love. Faith. Grit. Gratitude.

These are the things that allow us to wake up every single morning, get out of bed, and do the same things over and over again. They allow us to bravely welcome a struggling man-child into our arms to calm and soothe him, certain that we will get hurt in the process. They allow us to laugh, to take things in stride, and say “Hey, at least, it wasn’t THIS bad.” They remind us that this difficult, prickly, oftentimes combative, young person is a child we have loved since the day he was conceived; we just always wish we could make things easier for him.

When you have love, you have gratitude. And when you have gratitude, everything is enough.

This smile, this moment captured forever in this photograph, this is enough.

Tears for Fears

Towards the fifth month of our kitchen training/enterprise with Alphonse Reece, our son with severe autism, we realized one thing: although he was encouraged by the extremely gracious feedback we were getting, he was also becoming increasingly jittery, anxious, self-harming, and aggressive over the last few weeks. Every day, we experienced longer and longer meltdowns triggered by just about anything. We knew the signs; we had seen them before. It was time for a break.

So, last week, we decided to take a brief respite from the kitchen to reorganise his activities and identify his key participation points. We decided that we would use the time to decompress and allow all of us to regain our equilibrium. We wanted to be able to get back to the kitchen with joy and inspiration, and not have it feel like a chore or a responsibility he would dread each day.

We planned the break to coincide with the short trip I was taking with friends. Before I left, my husband and I discussed what we wanted out of his regular days at home- a little work, a lot of play. They would keep his activities light and demand-free. Through all of these, daily affirmations were required given with as much enthusiasm, energy, and excitement as we could muster. (This was harder done than said- we are mostly boring people, haha!) Anthony and Alex had to remind him continuously that we will help him always and that we love him, no matter what.

Daily phone calls kept me abreast of developments at home. Alphonse was clingy and possessive of his dad, as expected. Throughout the day, if he didn’t have a hand on his dad’s arm, he would glance at his dad to check on him and see if he had moved from his spot. If he did, say, even just to use the toilet, he would immediately run after him. There was less fear now but the insecurity was difficult to shake off.

When I got back, Alphonse was sweet and loving but still very apprehensive. His heart would race when one of us would go away even for a short time and we had to reassure him repeatedly with a pinky promise that we were coming back. There were some tense moments, with flashes of anger and aggression directed at us, but we really didn’t know the depths of his despair and fear until the night he broke down in tears.

Alphonse cries a lot, but they’re mostly vocal sounds- grunts, groans, howls, ululations- with no tears. We haven’t seen him cry with real tears in years, so we know that when he does, they come from a place of such deep anguish, pain, and grief.

A few nights ago, for reasons still unknown to all of us, he just started sobbing louder and louder, tears streaming down his face until he was all spent. We still don’t know why. All we know is at that moment, he poured his heart into those tears and we could do little but wipe them dry and remind him over and over again that he is loved.

Truth is, we’ve always wondered what he thinks. It’s a puzzle to us, even after all these years. His difficulty in acquiring more complex skills has limited his ability to communicate. When we started incorporating Son-Rise techniques in our everyday life, he developed more expressive vocalisations, more “eh-eh-eh-eh” with distinct intonations and patterns. His PECS cards come in handy but his volatility oftentimes preempts their use. Falling short, he has always resorted to self-injury and aggression.

Because of this, we’ve decided to extend our break for a few more days. Next week, when we resume our training, we hope to be stronger, happier, and healthier. May I ask you then, dear friends, a favour please? Please keep Alphonse and our family in your thoughts and prayers. We need them most now.

Thank you so much and God bless you all!

Only When Drunk?

I was browsing through an old planner when I read this entry. As you can tell, Big Brother Alex can be a bit of a wise-a**, but he never fails to make me smile.

~0~

August 3, 2015

From where we were in the house, Alex and I could hear Alphonse laughing out loud, his deep man voice punctuated with girlish squeals and giggles.

Alex: I love Alphonse’s laughter, Ma. There’s something really sweet about it. 😍

Mama: That’s because it’s so genuine and heartfelt. And it’s so hearty. 😍

Alex: Well, you can just imagine, Ma, that were he not autistic, you’d only get to hear that kind of laughter when he is drunk.😉

Mama: Toinks! 😳🤪😂

A Safe Space for Alphonse

So I finally did it. The first batch of my Sylvanian toys has been shipped to their new owners and Project Alphonse’s Safe Space is officially started!

Alphonse and his “six-teeth-less” smile, heehee

As many of you already know, I started collecting Sylvanian Families at one of the lowest points in my life. At that time, I had injured my neck and suffered stiffness and mobility issues in my neck, spine, and upper limbs. After one particularly rough day, my husband gave me a set of Sylvanian Families figures to make me feel better. Something in that gift ignited and fuelled an interest and passion for all things Sylvanian, and from that single four-figured family set (and a baby!), my collection grew exponentially over the years. Pretty soon, my Sylvanian Families toys took over every nook and cranny of our home.

Over time, I acquired items not only from local toy stores but also from abroad, all while navigating online websites for great deals. With my husband’s unwavering support and encouragement, I was also able to tick off my bucket list some Sylvanian-inspired dreams. A few years ago, I travelled to London to visit SSK (Sylvanian Storekeepers) and, in the same year, visited Japan to see the Sylvanian theme park in Grinpa. Collecting Sylvanian Families proved to be instrumental in my physical recovery from my injuries. Best of all, it linked me to a worldwide community of collectors who became my friends. Looking back, I truly enjoyed every second of this ride.

And then one day, when one of my old high school friends passed away unexpectedly, it suddenly dawned on me how little time is really given to each one of us. I was also reminded of the tedious, exhausting year I spent disposing of my father’s collection of various items when he died- knowing none of us had the time or predilection to care for it- and the burden, sorrow, and dread it filled me every single day. I certainly didn’t want to pass on this same burden to Alex when he will have enough on his plate with the care of his brother.

As I pondered on all these, I was faced with another pressing concern. As Alphonse grew bigger and stronger than us, we realized that our daily living accommodations were no longer enough to keep him protected; we needed to create a “safe space” for him for those nights when his energy refuses to dissipate into rest or for those times when his anxiety and anger get the better of him. While Alphonse already has his playroom (which doubles as his bedroom), we felt we needed an even more controlled environment where he could decompress and relax. The room we envisioned would be padded, sensory-friendly, and child-safe, but also relaxing and comfortable.

One night without sleep is one night too many. 🤯

When Alphonse doesn’t sleep, we don’t sleep! 🥴

We looked at the Internet for inspiration and we found companies that specialized and custom-built them. I spent more than a few nights poring over pictures and prices, customization and colors, sizes, and designs. Alas, not only were they expensive; they were also available only in Europe and in the US. The cost of transporting one to the country, with the current tax measures in place, would be more than our pockets can bear.

The most logical option is to DIY one for him. After taking a good look at our home’s layout, we found the perfect location to be my Sylvanian storeroom. This extra space could easily be an adjunct to his living space, making the transition easier for him.

Ultimately, it was Alphonse’s need that proved to be the tipping point in my decision to let go of some of my Sylvanian Families, dolls, and other sundries. When the Sylvanian storeroom is cleared enough, the funds acquired from this sale will jumpstart the renovation to install wall and floor paddings, smart lights, cctv cameras, and audio/video equipment.

Over the last few months, I have already re-homed some of my precious toys, but there are still more to be organized, sorted, and sold. I will keep my favourites to give to my future grandkids, but the rest will have to go to give Alphonse his safe space.

Should you be interested in the purchase of Sylvanian Families or dolls (I also have duplicates of Blythes, Barbies, and accessories) or even just in helping out to make Alphonse’s safe space a reality, please send me a message here or on Facebook. I welcome all help.

Someone asked me if this means I am saying goodbye to toy collecting, and, consequently, to the friends I’ve made. Truthfully, I don’t feel like I am giving up on my community of collector friends. The desire to enjoy Sylvanian Families toys remains just as strong as the first time I laid eyes on them. I look at this decision as simply an opportunity to enjoy playing again instead of always obsessing for the next big thing.

The long and short of it is this: I want to love more and want less. And in wanting less, I hope we will be able to give Alphonse his own safe place.

Kittymama loves her new SF family! 😍

Grill Diaries #1: Sumo Niku

The day “Aquaman” started its run in local theatres, A❤️ and I found ourselves on a date right after giving Alphonse his dinner and meds. We had tired him all day with all sorts of activities— a lot of jumping, running, and crawling through a tunnel of recycled refrigerator box— and we were confident he would be able to sleep soundly that night. Alex had promised to give us regular updates from home and had pushed us to squeeze in a few hours of “us” time before we clocked out for the day.

With barely half an hour to get ready (another plus for short hair, yay!), we reached the mall with enough time to get a late dinner and catch the last show. It was serendipitous, and a little scary, too, how Facebook knew exactly what I was looking for. (Wait, does my iPhone have ears?) I got a Facebook recommendation for a restaurant at the newly opened North Tower of SM North EDSA and it closed late! Woohoo!

We found Sumo Niku on the second floor of the North Tower, near the end of a long corridor of establishments, many of which were still closed, and in front of the mall walkway connecting the North Tower with The Block. We had come on a most fortuitous day, the restaurant’s first, but, even during the soft opening and at that time of the night, it already had a sizeable crowd.

Sumo Niku, as you can guess, is a Japanese all-you-can-eat grill or yakiniku. “Sumo” refers to Japanese wrestling, the country’s official sport, but in English, the word could also be used as an adjective to mean “supreme or great” when referring to quality, and “hefty or large amounts” when referring to quantity. “Niku” is meat, and true to its name, Sumo Niku offers unlimited meat selections of chicken, pork, and beef. Sumo Niku also serves a variety of side dishes, Japanese rice, and drinks (iced tea and cold water), all of which are refillable upon request. Price-wise, at a starting point of P399 (lunch; chicken and pork combo), it offers a competitive choice for patrons who enjoy grill/buffets.

Before this, Sumo Niku could only be visited at the SM SouthMall, but with traffic getting worse every day, it was a stretch to be able to drop by on the other end of the Metropolis anytime of the week. With this new branch, we don’t have to feel like we’re missing out anymore.

A❤️ and I have been on a quest to find good grills in our area, and in the last few months, we’ve often found ourselves drifting to Korean samgyeopsal places that close quite late. After some hits and misses, we’ve learned to be discriminating when it comes to grills and meat selections. Some places offer good cuts but their grills use accelerants in charcoal, leaving the chemical aftertaste of kerosene in your meat. Some serve cheaper cuts of meat with little bits of gristle and bone but the efficient grills make up for this with even and fast cooking. Sumo Niku, fortunately, has got these areas covered with good cuts and a great grill.

The kitchen serves six preparations for pork, four for beef, and two for chicken. All of the meat we ate that night looked, smelled, and tasted fresh. The pork was flavorful and robust while the beef had this melt-in-your-mouth quality. The hibachi grill, shallowly submerged as a built-in, had an electronic ignition, was nonstick, distributed heat evenly, and cooked quite quickly. The air vents worked really well in dissipating smokes and odors, as well as fanning the heat coming from the barbecue.

As a general rule, we prefer plain meats (unseasoned or with just salt and pepper) to marinated ones, but trying all the preparations at the time, we quickly narrowed our choices to plain, pepper, and teriyaki for pork, and plain and wagyu for beef. For side dishes, we had quite a lot to begin with but we both recommend the dumplings, the crab claw, and the seaweed. They also served us some kimchi, which had just the right spice level with each nip, biting but not enough to make your eyes water.

Service was quick and friendly, and our requests for refills were readily granted. Sadly, the restaurant didn’t have lettuce, ice, or sodas that night, though our meal didn’t suffer at all from the lack of these items. Here’s hoping it gets to stock up on these items the next time we visit.

All in all, we had a great meal at Sumo Niku, making us more likely to return a second time.

P. S. There is a Starbucks Reserve just below it so a nice cup of joe to round up the meal was nice.

All in all, it was a good experience- two thumbs up! 👍🏼 👍🏼

Collateral Blessings

(Or How to Turn Crappy Days into Gratitude Days)

I came home with a rare social high from back-to-back outings recently. Truth is, it has been a long time since I did anything for myself and by myself that did not have anything to do with household chores and management.

The other Friday, I had gone to a very informative, whole-day baking class under Ms. Beng Legaspi. I learned loads about the science and art of gluten-free/sugar-free baking and picked up tips and tricks that can come only from years of research and experience. I also made new “Baking Mama” friends, some of whom were already pros in the kitchen.

With my “classmates” (Photo credit: Ms. Jan Rubi)

Our class photo (Photo credit: Ms. Beng Legaspi)

Then the next day, a Saturday, I attended a Sylvanian Families Christmas Party luncheon hosted by Sylvanian Families Collectors PH. I was reunited with old collector friends, Analyn and Ledz, both of whom I haven’t seen in years. I also met new collector friends, some of whom I have only seen in Facebook. I’m grateful and honoured to be friends with Rose and Robert, one of my favourite couples in the world, and with Joann, Nenette, Blair, Christine, Mely, and many others who welcomed this old Sylvanian junkie with open arms!

Sylvanian Families Collectors PH is ❤️

As you can already tell, I have been home bound for much of these past few months, taking care of Alphonse and nursing my knee injuries, that days out for myself and with friends have definitely been rare and far-in-between. A❤️, bless his kind heart, gave me the time to enjoy these events by taking over Alphonse’s care for those days. Alex, my eldest, pitched in to help, forgoing sleep to sub for his dad when A❤️ needed to do something else.

And then disaster struck.

Within an hour of my return home that Saturday, Alphonse had a meltdown that ended with Christmas ham and gluten-free chocolate cake samplers being smooshed all over my head. My short absence, coupled with the unexpected visit of relatives that day, had set him on edge, making him anxious and irritable. Even after that episode ended, when he would have otherwise been able to shrug off his nervous energy, he never lost his angry snarls and discomfiting whines. He was rigid, obsessive, and controlling, barking his often unintelligible demands one after the other the rest of the day.

To illustrate:

“Heh!” Alphonse shouts loudly to his dad. Translation: “Don’t move your leg, Papa!” A❤️ moves his leg slowly to return to an “acceptable” position.

“Heh!” Alphonse shouts again, this time at me. Translation: “Touch your glasses twice, Mama!” I nudge my glasses down my nose and up again.

“Heh!” Alphonse directs his bossiness at his brother. Translation: “Go back the house again!” Alex steps inside the house and steps back out, doing this twice, to complete a ritual that exists only in Alphonse’s head.

By early evening, we were all exhausted and impatient for the day to end. Our nerves were frayed, and we felt beaten. In the last few weeks, we had been hopeful that we had found a good formula of routine, play, and exercise to keep his bad days to a minimum. Saturday was a sudden turnaround to the progress we had been making. As is often the case with our journey with autism, when we take one step forward, we wind up taking two steps back again.

The following days turned out to be more of the same, angry, dark days that got worse at each transition point. Somehow, we found the strength to stand up and carry through each day, pacifying, calming, and working with Alphonse to dispel his anxieties.

But something worth telling happened to me that Saturday. While Alphonse had my head in a wrestling hold, his fingers alternately pulling out strands of my hair and massaging as much cake and ham as possible to my curly ‘do, I felt an unexpected wave of calm wash over me. It was weird because I suddenly felt disconnected from myself. At that moment, it dawned on me that even in that lock hold, there were still things I was in control of. I could choose to wallow in the sorrow of the occasion, or I could choose to be grateful. I had a choice.

With that, I quit struggling under Alphonse’s strong hands. My breathing slowed down. Instead of pulling away, I pushed nearer him and quietly stroked his hands. And then, I began to list all the things I could think of, making mental notes of each one and giving thanks in a silent prayer.

It started with this epiphany: Hey, my head didn’t hurt as much! It seems that short hair, even when pulled with all the strength of a vigorous, severely autistic, young man, doesn’t give in as easily as long hair does. I had rued the loss of my locks for a time but ultimately, I was grateful that Rose, my longtime hairdresser friend, had given me my (fat) pixie look.

Next, Ms. Beng’s gluten-free and sugar-free chocolate cake did not only taste good, it felt really soothing on my scalp too! Who’d have thought that was possible?

Also, Alphonse may have been raging with fury, but some semblance of restraint kicked in that day. The old Alphonse would’ve fought us off till he was spent of all his anger. His next move was patented: he would’ve kicked me in the chest even as he pulled down my hair. Yes, Alphonse would’ve wrought maximum damage easily had he wanted to. Saturday, however, despite his shouts of protests, he listened and backed down. Thank God for that!

Then too, and most important of all, A❤️ and Alex relieved me of the burden of Alphonse’s care until I could change and wash my hair. True, for a while, I did give in to tears, more from disappointment than from pain, but when my boys’ consoling arms enveloped me in a family hug, I was able to wipe my eyes dry again and feign a smile till it became real.

The way I see it, there will always be unintended, unintentional damage when it comes to dealing with profound autism. We get hurt, physically and emotionally. God knows how many cuts, bruises, bites, and wounds we’ve had to endure over the years. We get frustrated and disappointed. We become angry and afraid. We are, after all, human.

But if there’s one thing we’ve learned through the years, however, it is this: that autism, despite its many difficulties, also has its fair share of goodness – what I’d like to think of as collateral blessings.

Because of autism- and Alphonse- we discovered our personal strengths. We learned to roll with the punches and to shrug off episodes of sorrow and anger as just “blips” to a normal day. We learned to live with hope and optimism always, even when things look bleak and dreary. We honed our ability to laugh and celebrate even when we are hurt and in pain.

We found within ourselves a fount of complete forgiveness – one that comes easily and bears no ill will or grudges. This process goes both ways, as we have sometimes also inadvertently wronged Alphonse in our lack of understanding of his needs. We learned to live each day with overwhelming gratitude that springs from rare moments of peace and joy. Perhaps, best of all, we are able to recall and summon love- at will- even in the midst of horrible, debilitating despair.

Life with autism is often wearisome and difficult. But Love, we’ve learned, is not.

These are the blessings that sustain us each day.

Coffee for All Seasons

One of my biggest indulgences in life is coffee. I’m a daily coffee drinker, and were it not for already unspent excesses of manic energy brought about by my new way of eating (and living), I’d be guzzling more coffee if I could. As it is, my maximum number on any given day is two cups, although I really don’t need much persuasion to take a third cup. Coffee is life!

When it comes to how I take it, however, I’m a latte and cappuccino type of girl. I love cream and milk with my coffee. Heavy cream is my new best friend, replacing regular creamers and milk, but since I’m also working within the constraints of a fixed daily caloric deficit, my heavy cream intake is not made with careless abandon.

While I have not given up completely on my lattes, I have kept with the search for additional choices to complement my new food choices. As such, I found the cold brew as the perfect fix to my coffee cravings. Anyone who likes coffee at all hours of the day- or the year- will surely enjoy this.

Unlike iced coffee which is simply variations of coffee with lots of ice added at the end, the cold brew is made by slowly steeping coffee grounds in cold water, a process that takes as long as 20-24 hours. Only small batches are produced at a time and no heat is involved in the extraction of flavors, leading to a smooth, robust drink that is significantly less bitter than its heated counterpart. I take mine unsweetened and without syrup, but with some cream, roughly 2 ounces, and just a little stevia for a hint of sweetness. It’s a refreshing take on coffee, perfect for an all-day pick-me-upper, especially for sizzling summers like ours.

The cold brew is a rather late addition to Starbucks’ coffee lineup, debuting only in 2015. However, it has found a loyal niche in the coffee-drinking market. At only 5 calories for the 16 oz cup, the unsweetened cold brew is the perfect drink to customize to one’s tastes; ounce for ounce, it also packs a lot of caffeine wallop!

Now I could go on and on and extol the virtues of the cold brew- to wit, it’s low-cal, less acidic, less harsh on the GI tract- except I’ve discovered something even better- the Starbucks Nitro Cold Brew!

In 2016, Starbucks launched the Nitro Cold Brew as an upgrade to its cold brew selection. Initially, this was available only in select US locations. The following year, 2017, an international rollout of the platform followed, with the Nitro making its way into our local Starbucks franchise in the middle of last year. The first Nitro Cold Brew tap was at Starbucks Reserve at Jupiter Street; today, 15 branches in Metro Manila have their own Nitro Cold Brew kegs and taps. Of these, three are in Quezon City, namely the Banawe Avenue and Banawe cor. Calamba Street branches, and the Katipunan Road store.

I found the list of Nitro Cold Brew stores in Starbucks’ Philippines Facebook page. I was pleasantly surprised to find a branch that crafts the Nitro near me so I got my first taste of it recently. Let me tell you this: I drank every last drop and wanted more right away.

Straight from the tap, it was sweeter than the original cold brew concoction and it came with a foamy, frothy top layer that lends itself to fizziness. Upon the barista’s recommendation, I took mine plain and unsweetened, allowing me to savor the full-bodied richness and natural sweetness of the cold brew. True enough, one doesn’t need ice, sugar, or even cream to enjoy the Nitro Cold Brew, although, these are available options for customization. Towards the end of my drink, I added a dollop of heavy cream, just to see how different it would be from the regular cold brew I usually buy. Hands down, the Nitro Cold Brew was outstandingly exquisite, creamier and smoother, with absolutely no bitter undertones or aftertaste. I’d take it over the regular cold brew any day.

The Nitro Cold Brew (Grande, PhP175) is a tad more expensive than the regular Cold Brew (Venti, PhP170) but it still provides more value for money than iced coffees or even blended drinks. And it’s one more reason why I am a loyal Starbucks Philippines follower.

Try the Nitro Cold Brew, available in select Metro Manila stores. Click the link below to get the list:

http://www.starbucks.ph/menu-list/beverage-list/nitro-cold-brew.html

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P. S. This is NOT a paid post.