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Coffee for All Seasons

18 Apr

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

~0~

P. S. This is NOT a paid post.

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Easter and Autism

1 Apr

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

14 Mar

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.

Help-less, not Helpless

16 Feb

It’s Friday morning; one more day and another busy week will come to a close. I look forward to the weekends, as many of us do. It’s when I get a couple more hours of shuteye without interruption, when I don’t have to wake up too early to get a jumpstart on a long day. On weekends, we usually get breakfast to go for the kids and that, by itself, feels like a rewarding treat after a long, hard week. Compared to weekdays, weekends are not as stressful, although they can be just as physically taxing. The time when we spent Sunday mornings in bed doing nothing is a time long gone.

We’re surviving these help-less seasons in our household strongly, something no one would ever have thought possible in a household with autism. In a country where domestic help is legal and available, our family is one of the few who have decided to do things our way. In this case, everyone pitches in and everyone pulls his or her own weight. Not even Alphonse is exempted. Of course, we’re dead tired at night but the house is clean (somewhat, haha), our bellies are full, and Alphonse is almost always happy. That, by itself, is already big change.

When I injured my neck in 2009, I had a lot of difficulty moving my upper extremities. Back then, I couldn’t lift my arms, my hands were thick and numb, and my neck stayed uncomfortably bent for months. I couldn’t do a lot of things that I used to do. I was suddenly very dependent on others to help me with activities of daily living. My husband took care of me when he was at home but when he was at work, we needed more help around the house, people who would care not just for Alphonse but for me as well. Thankfully, my neck got gradually better over a two-year period and I was able to take over some of my previous chores again.

The nannies stayed because Alphonse fell in love with them. They became his lifelines to the world and having just lived through my “limited participation” in his life, we didn’t want to take away any of his emotional and physical security blankets.

In time, however, they all said goodbye to make new lives for themselves. We looked for replacements to help with Alphonse but none worked out. We went through a succession of people before we finally decided to quit the cycle. By then, we noticed the emotional toil this revolving door of nannies left on Alphonse. He was, in turns, self-injurious and highly aggressive, unable to trust anyone, not even us.

In the many months since then, we’ve overhauled how our household works, splitting chores among the three of us and assigning simple tasks to Alphonse (mostly clean up scut work and removing laundry from the laundry wash line). Over time, we also reestablished a new relationship with Alphonse. Today, Alphonse is thriving under our care. He is expressing himself more, and for a nonverbal fellow who is used to using his burly brawn to get his way, it is quite a feat. We haven’t had to use the wrap/restraint his previous caregivers employed for meltdowns (knock on wood) and I think that’s because he feels more secure with us around him. He knows we are always here for him. We don’t put him off for a cellphone call or Facebook. We kiss him more, hug him more, and just love him more.

Lest you think I make it sound so easy, allow me to disabuse you of any rose-colored notion. Being without help isn’t so bad really; any full-grown adult should be able to fend for himself. But when autism gets thrown into the mix, it becomes quite a different thing altogether. Think about having an overgrown man-child constantly needing you, demanding one-on-one time, requiring 24/7 supervision, and think about how one can only do so much in a day and within limits, and you can maybe scratch the surface of what we live with autism.

The truth is, most nights, we are dead on our feet and running on empty. Some nights, even rest isn’t possible as Alphonse occasionally finds sleep elusive. These are the moments that test our patience and strength. When most everyone would be willing to throw in the towel and give up, we draw on our rediscovered sense of unity to help each other get through one more night. And one more day. And maybe just another night again. And so on and so forth.

I guess it’s true. You never really know how strong you are unless you are tested and pushed to your limits. And knowing that, I don’t think we can ever call ourselves helpless again.

Alphonse says hello! ❤️

Journeys

19 Dec

I came home on Sunday afternoon, rejuvenated, refreshed, and with a newfound sense of purpose, from the Son-Rise Program Start Up, the very first in the Philippines. For the five days I was away from my family, I learned new things, made fast friends, and gained a whole community of support. Over a hundred parents participated in this life-changing program, each one with a different, yet completely relatable, autism journey of his/ her own. In those five days, we learned to shift our mindsets to a new paradigm, forever altering the way we see our interactions with our children in the autism spectrum.

With Ron K. Kaufman

On our last morning, before we all said goodbye to each other, we wrote letters to our children- letters of affirmation, of commitment, of love- and some bravely shared theirs with us. It took all I had not to dissolve into a blabbering, whimpering crybaby as one father said “I would go to hell and back for you.” I still get teary-eyed when I think about it.

Last night, as I said my bedtime prayers after another long day with Alphonse (yes, it’s him and me again!), it struck me how apt and how perfect that line was. Alphonse was reticent and distant the whole day, ignoring me most determinedly. My absence had hurt him, and I knew he was not going to let me back in his life without an apology, which I gave, repeatedly. No dice. He also wasn’t feeling well and a sudden tummy ache turned into a “poo-nami” (think tsunami, but poo😳) at dinner time. While he writhed in what I can only assume to be colicky pain, he threw our dinner to the floor and spilled everything within reach of his hands. Then, he looked at us expectantly, waiting for our reaction. While I silently perused the scene of devastation, A❤️ kept his composure and reached out for Alphonse’s hand. Alphonse took it. My husband helped him get cleaned up, but Alphonse had several more poo-nami episodes that didn’t reach the bathroom just in time. A❤️ patiently washed our son, deftly steering him away from the remains of food and waste on the floor.

It wasn’t the homecoming I expected. After being away, I wanted Alphonse to run to me and act like he missed me. He did kiss and hug me once sincerely, but he moved away just as quickly, eyeing me suspiciously from the corner of his eye. I was hurt, truth to tell, and disappointed, but as my husband talked to Alphonse in a low, soothing voice, I saw in him the lessons I picked up from my time with Son-Rise and, like him, drew strength from love. Even after Alphonse was clean and had drank oral rehydration salts thrice, A❤️ had to scrub a whole section of the house for an hour before it was clean. We had to move furniture to make sure little bits and pieces of our dinner weren’t left for mice to feast on. He scrubbed the floor with bleach and soap and water to remove all traces of poo and I mopped up after him. I laundered the stained chair covers and table mats in one cycle and hang them up to dry. Later, I headed to the kitchen for my hour of washing up and A❤️ followed to help with the rest of our chores.

I realized this is what it means to “go to hell and back for you.” Because every single day, we do. And we do it without complaints, without begrudging him anything, and with much joy and enthusiasm, because we love Alphonse.

Before I finally fell asleep, I remembered something else. I’ve been meaning to write about this picture but a fog had settled in my brain. Anyway, I was sorting the photographs in my camera roll a few nights before I left home last week when my eyes wandered over a particular picture. It was one my husband took while we were in Taipei two weeks before that. It was part of a series of similar pictures- same pose, same squinty smile, same background- and were it not for the figures on the right side of the photograph, this particular photograph would have ended in the deleted pile along with ten others. For some reason, my eyes lingered on those two figures and stayed there.

I drew on my recollection of that day to place them in the picture. On that cold morning, as A❤️ and I ambled along while taking photographs, I didn’t even know that the camera had caught them. What I do remember most was the sound of a male voice mumbling slowly in a monotone behind me as an older female voice talked soothingly and calmly. I remember whirling around to catch a glimpse of where the voices came from. I remember seeing an adult man and an older woman holding hands as she gently led him across the wide main road, talking him through it. I remember thinking that anywhere in the world, a parent loves his/her child with special needs, and this love, while most unique and exceptional, can also be quite common.

Take A❤️, for example. Or the old Chinese woman with her adult son. Or even the father who choked back his tears while reading his letter to his son.

“I would go to hell and back for you.”

Yes, we Will.

Yes, we Do

One (Wo)Man’s Trash…

9 Dec

Is another (wo)man’s treasure.

I’ve been meaning to get a new case for my phone but I was too stingy to spend for one. I saw some really nice ones in Taipei just recently, but with the peso at a low, it just didn’t seem to make sense to spend for non-necessities right now.

So I made this.

Trash- packaging of Hello Kitty shampoo- turned into treasure- an upcycled iPhone case. What could be cooler than recycling?

The A- Team

18 Jun

An elderly man hurries down a flight of stairs, a packet of medicines in his hand. He stops by the kitchen to get a glass of tepid water and heads to his sons’ room. He opens the lights in the room and picks up things as he makes his way through – a towel left on the floor, a bubble wand thrown under a chair, even a shirt stuffed under the table. He nudges both boys awake, gently calling out their names. The younger boy meekly accepts his medicine, his first in a series for the day, as the older one holds his water ready for him. 

A young man unwraps a sandwich and cuts it into small pieces. He lays the pieces gently into a small plastic plate before handing it over to his younger brother. He wipes his brother’s mouth every now and then and catches falling crumbs on a tray. If he isn’t fast enough, those crumbs are eaten as fast as they are found, even if they’ve found their way to the floor.

The elderly man sits on an old armchair, visibly tired from a whole day of work. It is nine in the evening but his day isn’t about to end just yet. In his left hand, he holds his phone as he checks email and responds in real time; in his right, he holds a towel and clean underwear as he waits for his son to finish his after-bathing “touching” rituals. 

It’s three in the morning. A young man shrieks as the top of his lungs, singing, nay, shouting, his wordless songs. For some reason, he won’t, or can’t, sleep. His big brother, eyes bleary from the lateness of the hour, sits with him patiently as he tires himself out. It will be morning before they even get some sleep. 

This is what every single day is like in my home these long, hard days. And these men are my lifelines to the world. They are my A-Team. My Autism Team. 

Living with a loved one with severe disabilities is not for the faint of heart. Alphonse is 22, a grown, strapping young man by physical appearance, and yet, he remains a young child in many ways. He needs assistance and supervision in almost every aspect of life, from eating to toileting. He needs help asking for things and in getting them. He can’t be left alone for a single second as his compulsions almost always overcome any measure of restraint in him. 

Day in and day out, we work to help Alphonse find peace and joy in this turbulent world. And while I may play a small part in Alphonse’s life, in truth, it is Anthony and Alex who make our challenging lives work. They carry the weight and burden of caring for Alphonse as much as I do, maybe even more. 

Some would judge Alphonse as as unfortunate individual because of his disabilities. I happen to think otherwise. Alphonse, for all his limitations, is doubly lucky because he has the unconditional love and patient service of his father and brother. 

On Father’s Day, I pay tribute to his two fathers, two of the bravest, most loving men I’ve ever known. Would that every child gets loved the very same way. 

“If everyone helps to hold up the sky, then one person does not become tired.”