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! 😳🤪😂

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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.

Easter and Autism

Alphonse didn’t sleep on Thursday night, which meant the whole household went with little or no sleep, too. We were all addled and dazed the next day, doing our chores on autopilot even as our brains were blinking red in distress. Lack of sleep, repeated over and over again over time, has a way of wearing all of us down.

While most families were in their rest and relaxation modes for the long weekend, ours was in full work mode- keeping him busy, pacifying his fears, redirecting his aggression, and making him happy. There is no respite in sight. It’s not fair, I know, most especially for Alex, but for better or for worse, this is our life.

Then yesterday, in a sudden fit of anger, Alphonse pulled my hair again -what’s left of it, anyway- and kicked me on the chest while I was down. As I staggered beneath the weight of his heavy hands, I felt his foot connect with my chest. The kick came so unexpectedly that against my better judgment, I shrieked and cried for help. In the last few weeks, talking Alphonse down from the edge had worked rather well, but yesterday, he was in full meltdown mode that he was unable to pull back anymore. My husband, alerted to my cries, rushed to my aid and was able to disengage Alphonse from me. He took over the rest of the afternoon, doing gross motor exercises with Alphonse to tire him for the night.

This morning, my head heavy and throbbing, my chest tender and hurting, I had to summon all of my good cheer and positive energy to face Alphonse again. I have to be honest; sometimes, it isn’t easy to wake up raring to face the world again, more so when the past day has been a particularly bruising one. Some days, I wish I could just bury my head in the sand and not come up for air. But seeing Alphonse- wide-eyed and unsure each morning, stepping into our world with such fear and trepidation- erases all my ambivalence and I dive back head first into our daily grind.

When I reflect upon the Holy Week and what it means to us as a family, I am reminded that Love is a truly powerful force. It is Love that makes forgiveness possible, even when we have been hurt over and over again. It is Love that summons mercy and compassion even when anger and disappointment threaten to overwhelm us. It is Love that covers us with an impenetrable armor of hope and optimism. In the middle of tears, it is Love that makes us laugh and smile again.

I admit I have been dispirited and disheartened many times over the last few weeks. Working with Alphonse daily is exhausting work that requires pouring all my emotions, energy, and attention into him; when he rejects me as he does, I am crushed and defeated, submerged in a sorrow so deep that my strength and determination are often not enough to drag me out of my despair. But Love, even in the darkest, deepest hole, brings a sliver of His light and I am able to recognize- nay, see-something beautiful and hopeful in Alphonse and in our lives again. Without darkness, there is no light, this we know only too well.

In the season of His rebirth, we are grateful to be reborn in hope as well.

Happiness is… a Hot Cup of Coffee

Most mornings, I break my fast with a cup of coffee. Some days I brew coffee; most days, because sleep is a premium, I go instant. I heat about two cups of water in an electric kettle and pour it over a heaping teaspoon of coffee granules. I add a packet of stevia, then a tablespoon each of heavy cream, butter, and coconut oil/MCT oil, the last depending on what I have at the moment. I pull out my Aerolatte frother and stir away, creating a rich, smooth, and creamy concoction. I smell the faint hint of coconut and the strong notes of coffee, and already, my senses are wide awake.

I like to take my time to savor my coffee. I usually just have one cup a day; on special occasions, though, I make an extra cup. But when Alphonse- my coffee guzzling son- comes out of his little schoolhouse in the morning, I have to gulp the whole thing down in a hurry, leaving only a teaspoonful or so at the bottom of the cup for him to drink. I have to tell you that caffeine and Alphonse don’t mix very well, unless I want a hyperactive man-child literally climbing the walls.

Lately, Alphonse has been asking for more and more coffee. I take that as a sign to stop drinking coffee in front of him so I decided to extend my intermittent fast to 18 hours, moving my BPC in the afternoons while Alphonse is busy. This way, I have a few hours to enjoy coffee without downing the whole thing in one go.

Now this is where Ember comes in to give my life an extra boost of happiness. I got the Ember travel mug as a Christmas gift over the holidays, and while I have accumulated a wide variety of mugs and tumblers over the years- from double walled stainless steel vacuum flasks to plastic reusable mugs and hardy acrylic cups to dainty ceramic teacups- nothing quite beats the virtues of the Ember.

Just what is the Ember?

The Ember is the the first temperature controlled travel mug that keeps your beverage at your desired temperature for hours, allowing you to enjoy your drink without hurry. For people like me who like to sip and savor, the Ember is a handy mug to have around. It may seem like a novelty, especially since some thermal mugs can keep things warm for hours, but once you’ve tried it, you’ll love the way your coffee (or tea) stays exactly the same way for hours.

At USD150, the Ember travel mug is a pricey deal, particularly when one considers that its volume is only 12 ounces. The 10-oz Ember ceramic mug is a little more affordable at USD80, but without a lid, it is more useful for home and office use. I prefer the flexibility and durability of the travel mug. The huge advantage Ember has over newer, less expensive temperature mugs (such as the Lexo tumbler or Joeveo’s Temperfect mug) is that it allows one to remotely set the temperature via a smartphone. While I write, or clean, or bake, or even get the occasional catnap, I keep the Ember filled with hot coffee and it helps me get through another afternoon of chores. I’ve been using it for a few months now and I can say with certainty that it is a great way to enjoy a hot drink any time of the day.

Most US Starbucks stores carry the Ember, but for those of us here in Asia, Amazon is our best bet for purchasing one. The good news is that the product is available for delivery to the Philippines.

Pros: easy to use, remote fine tuning available, completely washable

Cons: price, availability in the country

Verdict: If you love coffee, you won’t go wrong with the Ember. 🙂 It’s worth every cent.