Thursday, September 13, 2018

The 3-year old 3km marathon runner

Last week we organized a marathon, a fundraising activity to support those who will be taking the November bar exams from our school. The month-long preparations felt like a marathon in itself, especially for students who were actively working on this event while juggling it with their day job and law studies.

On the day of the race, we had to be at the venue by 3:30AM, never mind that we went home at almost midnight to ensure everything was in order. Like any event, there were lapses and confusions with some participants ended up arguing with our secretariat head. It was all too overwhelming for our tired and exhausted heads.

Then came this teeny tiny little 3-year old, wearing the tiniest shirt with the race bib almost occupying her entire upper body. She was all smiles as she approached the finish line, no trace of physical exhaustion. At first I thought she was only made to run from a few meters away. Perhaps when her mom –I assumed the lady who ran by her side was her mom but I don’t know for sure – was about to reach the finish line, they had the three-year old girl ran with her. But I was told the little girl did run for the entire 3 kilometres! And she was not the last to arrive either. I was stunned.
I could not stop looking at and admiring her. When the adults reached the finish line, you could see their tired faces despite their smiles of success. But the little girl, that cute innocent soul just kept smiling with a smile that has no trace of regrets, of that ‘why am I doing this to myself but I love it at the same time’ kind of face. It got me thinking, why is running something burdensome for some adults but for children it is pure fun? Really, what is wrong with us lazy adults? And she kept running around the plaza still, even after we’ve finished awarding the prizes, where she got the Youngest Runner Award.

I can’t help but wish I had her spirit. If we were not the organizer, I would have ran myself but I was sure along the way I would also keep cursing myself for imposing that challenge until I reach the finish line where I can forget all about the pain and just relish success. But still, along the way, I knew I would have complained and regretted and felt bad like I most often do when faced with difficult tasks, even if at the back of my head I am loving the challenge.

That little girl reminded me to just enjoy despite any discomfort, to think of it as play, to have a mindset that looks at the fun, good side of it all instead of dwelling on which part is uncomfortable. I have been planning to run for a long long time but never quite found the will to do it. Thanks to this little girl, my mindset is changing. But yeah, it takes a 3-year old to slap me on the face and make me realize how lazy I had become not only in running on a marathon but most importantly in running for my life goals.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Surviving my ‘no soft drinks for a year’ challenge

I love soft drinks. When I was living abroad, not a day would go by without me having a glass. In fact, I would usually have a can of coke during lunch and dinner; none in the morning because I don’t eat breakfast most of the time. I used to think that I will never survive without them. My soft drinks intake was only curbed when I was studying in Australia during winter that I would prefer hot beverages.

When I came back to the Philippines, I would find myself always craving for cold soft drinks because of the warm weather making me constantly in need of refreshments. I am fully aware though that it has absolutely no health benefits. On the contrary, it will only wreak havoc on our health. Still, how can we ever resist?

This year though, I finally vowed never to drink a single drop of soft drinks for the entire year. I was hoping that if I could do it for a year, maybe — just maybe, I could do it forever. That was one of my New Year’s resolutions and the only one I was able to keep, unfortunately. Looking back, I would never have imagined myself resisting the urge for almost 8 months but I did! I am pretty proud of myself for having had the strength to say no to an extremely cold glass of coke on a hot summer day at the beach after eating too much meat. Can you?

How I managed to keep up with the challenge
I don’t really have any brilliant strategy to share though; nothing extraordinary. Making the commitment was the first step. It was my commitment that served as the pillar of this self-imposed rule. Then I took the challenge on a daily basis, telling myself ‘not today’. I found it extremely difficult during summer when it was too warm and I craved for that all too familiar refreshing comfort from a cold can of soda. But every time I am tempted, I would gently remind myself that I did not go this far for nothing and that my commitment is stronger than the damaging temptation. It also helped that I told people I was on this challenge because it held me even more accountable. Before I knew it, days turned into weeks and weeks into months and now I am almost 8 months into the challenge. Yes, 8 months without a single glass of any soft drinks. Instead, I settled with cold water or fruit juice.

Inspiration from a book
There’s this book that I read every year. I wrote about it here. In the book, there is a fable about a Sumo wrestler wearing nothing but a pink wire cable covering his private parts. The pink cable represents the power of self-control and discipline. Alone, each tiny wire that makes up the cable is flimsy and weak. “But, together, their sum is much greater than their constituent parts and the cable becomes tougher than iron. Self-control and willpower are similar to this. To build a will of iron, it is essential to take small, tiny acts in tribute to the virtue of personal discipline. Routinely performed, the little acts pile one on top of another to eventually produce an abundance of inner strength.”

Every time I am tempted to have soft drinks, I would remind myself of this lesson from the book. I am hoping that these tiny steps at discipline will strengthen my grit and enable me to make other greater personal commitments that I can keep. As the book says, “When you continually practice the ancient art of self-government, there will be no hurdle too high for you to overcome, no challenge too tough for you to surmount and no crisis too hot for you to cool down. Self-discipline will provide you with the mental reserves required to persevere when life throws you one of its little curves.”

Buy your copy of the book here!

Friday, June 1, 2018

How thirsty is your food?

My husband Omar Piamonte Jayag, an agricultural and water resources engineer, took a break from preparing his 3-hour presentation for an environmental resources management seminar to be attended by over 200 participants and asked me this question, “how much water do you use everyday?” It seemed to be an easy question to answer. I estimated about 3 buckets of water for shower in the morning and wash up in the evening, 2 liters to drink including juice, tea or coffee, maybe another bucket or two for all the dirty jobs in the toilet, a few liters for cooking meals, another couple of buckets for washing the clothes and dishes. Basically, I mentioned the obvious water necessities which literally require me to use water directly. However, I cannot be more wrong.

Omar then introduced to me the concept of water footprint. Unfortunately, despite my desire to live an environment conscious lifestyle, it is rather a shame that I have heard of this for the first time. Water footprint covers not only the water we use directly everyday but also those that were used in making our food or the products we use. For example, a slice of bread requires 10 gallons of water; that is the total amount of water needed for growing the wheat and sugarcane, raising chicken for the eggs, manufacturing the flour and sugar up to the baking process of the bread. That is a lot of water for a single slice of bread! In the Philippines, every person uses an average of 3,800 liters of water daily.

There are several data available online that shows how much water is needed in producing our food and basic necessities such as these infographics. Aside from our own, we also have to consider the water footprints of various sectors such as the industrial, medical, tourism, education among others to deepen our appreciation of how reliant we are to water.

Photo from
Photo from
Photo from
Photo from
Unfortunately, according to the World Water Assessment Programme 97.5% of the earth’s water are salty and only 2.5% are fresh water. Of these 2.5% fresh water, 68.1% are in glacial form, 30.1% are ground water and only 1.2% are surface water where most of the water we use are sourced. What is more disheartening is that according to Omar not all of the available 1.2% surface water are safe to use at present because several rivers and lakes are already gravely polluted.

We are currently facing a water crisis with billions of people not having access to safe drinking water and a quarter of the world’s population face water shortages. In the Philippines despite the existence of several rivers, lakes and other surface water sources, majority of the population still face water shortages with several barangays frequently experiencing water supply interruptions during the day. Families are left to make do with what little water they can gather early in the morning with containers and wait until evening when water supply can run through their faucets again.

There is an urgent need to conserve water. Whilst experts in the field such as my husband are working hard to provide people with sufficient and safe water supply, we have a crucial role to play in water conservation. We need to be mindful of our lifestyle and reduce our water footprint because the agriculture sector uses up to 70% of the global water supply. Our food are extremely thirsty and we need to ensure they get enough water otherwise we will not only get thirsty ourselves, we will also run out of food to eat. Indeed, water is the oil of the 21st century.

Photo from

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Romanticized stories

This morning I unfollowed several accounts on Instagram, mostly from travelers with well-curated photos. I love Instagram. It is one of my sanity keepers. The beautiful, creative photos give me joy, make me forget whatever negative feelings I was going through even though only momentarily sometimes. This morning though, looking at those travelers’ photos felt suffocating. The photos were oh so lovely but looking at them made me feel disconnected with reality. It made me feel like I was a recipient of a capitalist brainwashing movement about what life should be. Clicking that unfollow button gave me a breath of fresh air.

I have nothing against people who post travel photos. In fact, we have one family account where we share some of our travel photos. And I’d still like to follow travelers who have ‘authentic feeds’ or those who make me feel connected to them just by following their journey around the globe. Such kind of people are the reason why I enjoy Instagram, where I’d feel I am traveling with them, learn from their experience and where I don’t have to deal with toxic political posts. The account I unfollowed were those that by just looking at their feed you’d know they spent so much time editing the photos and that the main motive was to earn money, where it seemed like you are leafing through a magazine that earns so much from telling you what you should be doing or buying.

The internet has transformed our life in various ways. Information are now easily accessible but so as propaganda. It has become difficult to identify truth from lies. Friends or family gathered together where each one is on their mobile phone has become a normal scenario. Each day we receive an influx of information that at the end of the day some of us may feel mentally exhausted but our knowledge bank is left empty.

And then there are these so-called ‘successful people’ who have interesting stories to tell. There is this single mom who left a lucrative corporate job to pursue a different career she is passionate about, there’s that dude who let go of a scholarship many of us can only dream of to paint, there’s that lady who sold everything, left a promising job in fashion to travel the world. Many of us are inspired by these kinds of stories. We become empowered to also face our fears, to follow our heart to succeed. But sometimes, these stories just like the well-curated Instagram accounts are so romanticized and well-crafted we are left in awe with the best part, the tip of the iceberg but in truth much of the not-so-pretty details are left untold.

That lady who is living a nomadic life is telling us we should leave everything behind and follow our desire to travel without telling us how to save for our retirement because hers is already secured by millions of inheritance from her parents. That single mom is telling us to leave a good corporate career path to follow our passion because if she can do it while raising her child alone then by all means we can too! What she failed to tell us is that she has a wide network and connections gathered from years of work at the corporate sector which helped her navigate her new career path, something many of us don’t have. That dude who left a promising life in the academe to pursue his passion in art is telling us that not all that glistens is gold, that we should always follow our heart but failed to tell us that while he can use that angle to create his brand and glorify his profile, we don’t have the same support system, skills and connections that he has to succeed if we opt to let go of once in a lifetime opportunities.

Stories carry the soul and legacy of every generation to the other. Stories help us endure the most difficult of times. Stories are inspiring, empowering, provoking. As they say, ‘a pen is mightier than a sword’. But some stories mislead us into the wrong path. Some make us question our choices, our capacity, our life. Some stories are so romanticized they make us believe we are nothing, that we are living in mediocrity, that we are superficial because we don’t have the audacity to do great things.

What many fail to appreciate is that they are already living inside one great story that is their destiny. Their stories are full of hardships and simple triumphs but when told through the lens of a storyteller, their story of genuine love, strength and endurance would inspire a thousand others. Their stories are so authentic that they would see nothing but raw, unglamorous life. But when you ask them to tell it, only then they’d learn to see their life with new eyes, only then they’d realize that theirs is an authentic, unique story worthy to be told.

These are the stories I want to follow; stories that are not romanticized; stories that are pure and true they make me feel connected with the rest of humanity.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The happiness list

It’s been over a month into the year of the dog and we are entering that period when the new year’s frenzy gradually subsides and we slip comfortably into our old patterns. The list of resolutions found the end of its fleeting life, more fleeting than that of the cherry blossom petals. At the tail of this transience comes the influx of sentiments anent to a drab life. The feeling of boredom would set in and when it does, slacking is most often the inevitable consequence.

I am beginning to succumb to the pull of my comfort zone, to stay where everything is all too familiar. But a part of me is determined to resist the old habits and remain on track towards making positive changes this year. To rekindle my spirit’s fire I decided to make a list of things that make me happy, the simple things that we often don’t take notice of because we are too fixated on those that are not within our grasp. So here’s my happiness list

* waking up to the sound of chirping birds
* waking up to or dozing off with the sweet lullaby of falling rain
* smell of soil when it starts to rain
* warm ginger, lemon and honey tea with the right sweetness
* reaching 10,000 steps in a day
* feel of my skin after a good scrub
* mild sweet scent
* smell of an infant
* smell of an infant’s breathing
* hubby’s caress on my back and scalp
* hubby’s head and body massage
* finishing a book
* finishing my reading list ahead of the timeline
* getting a high score in an exam when I expected to flunk
* receiving a book gift
* stargazing under a clear starry sky
* a magnificent sunset
* a delicious meal
* an upbeat song
* doing yoga and meditation against the temptation not to practice
* writing on my journal every night before going to sleep
* resisting the urge to drink soft drinks and alcoholic beverages beginning this year
* sound of a child’s laugh
* sight of a child’s sweet smile knowing it was because of me
* driving a car (it’s like sedative)
* icy-cold drinks, a bag of potato chips and a good movie
* reading on a hammock by the beach or with the sound of the rustling leaves
* flat tops chocolate
* long morning coffee time
* comfy white sheets
* Blueberry cheese Belgian waffle
* Jollibee’s cheese hotdog
* writing a blog
* a pretty photo composition
* finding an insightful article to read on Facebook
* my mom’s home-cooked food and snacks
* getting messages from friends
* waking up before sunrise
* taking a shower first thing in the morning
* climbing a hill and enjoying the scenery down below
* a walk by the beach at sunset
* the feeling after thoroughly cleaning the room and having taken a shower right after
* warm baths
* seeds beginning to sprout
* vegetable plants growing healthy
* seeing the first bloom of my flower plants
* smell of roots when weeding
* getting eight hours of sleep
* listening to Nicolas Jaar’s Mi Mujer on repeat mode

My heart is full after writing these and realizing there are so much that I am thankful for, so much to be content with. Indeed, just thinking about the simple things that make me happy gave me the needed boost to keep making the most of my time, to keep going and smelling the roses. Definitely, these roses aren’t found on the couch.

What about you? What are you most grateful for this year?

Monday, February 5, 2018

In memory of a friend

Photo credit: John Teo Abello
Some people come into our life like the fragrance of a flower carried by the breeze. The smell is fleeting but it can linger into our memory long after it is gone. That is how my friend Lee has been to me. We met in law school although I can no longer remember the first time we saw each other. What I remember to be our first interaction was after our class in criminal law, we just went through another round of recitation which can be a ‘traumatic’ experience commonly experienced in law school, he gave me a comforting smile as if to say we are all in this together or we are all on the same page. The next day he borrowed my book on Statutory Construction to have some pages photocopied.

We don’t belong to the same group of friends, me and Lee. In fact, I only see him during classes because he was always in a rush. He would come in late and leave right after class was over. I never had the opportunity to get to know him but I remember that each time I did see him, he was always smiling, always in a good mood. On rare occasions when he came early, our conversations were all about school, that he might miss our midterm exams for an official trip. He often sent me text messages asking for class updates and the things he missed when he was absent. It was from him I learned that there are several available reviewers online. Before our final exam in criminal law, he brought a reviewer that is not accessible online and allowed me to photocopy it. Despite not seeing him much, his constant text messages and those intermittent interactions full of encouragements and ideas gave me a feeling of closeness to him, something that I don’t have with some of my other classmates.

One uneventful day while still nursing my cough I learned that Lee has gone into a coma. Aneurysm, they said. Only miracle can save his life, they said. I couldn’t believe what I just heard. I tried to recollect the last moment I saw him. It was after class, we just smiled at each other as we walked out of the classroom as I was talking to my other classmate. He sent me a few text messages in the days that ensued. I even felt guilty because at one point I thought why couldn’t he just come to class instead of asking me all the time how did it go. But I reminded myself that I don’t know what circumstances he was in at the moment so I should not make any judgment. Instead of waiting for him to ask, I then sent him a message that our grades in Statutory Construction and Legal Research were out but I didn’t get a reply… because in that instant he was already unconscious in the hospital bed.

There’s something about death or the possibility of dying that promptly brings us to the present moment, that enables us to reflect how well or badly we are spending the precious time we are given. I wondered how Lee spent the remaining hours of his conscious life. Did he enjoy the beautiful sunset the day before? Did he wake up to savor the warmth of sunrise, the cool morning breeze or that peculiar sound only heard in mornings? Did he take a few moments to relish his last meal, to savor every taste? Did he give his wife and six children warm hugs and sweet kisses? Did he tell them how much he loves them? It’s so sad to imagine that he spent his last day lazily, feeling sad about the past that he cannot undo or worrying about the future not knowing that such future isn’t ever going to come to him.

Thinking about it does change my perspective about tomorrows, as it always does with every death of a loved one. Unfortunately, such feeling of being in the present moment is so momentary it fades sooner than the mourning period is over. How easy it is for us to drift into our usual habits and forget to appreciate the mundane yet priceless moments before us.

Whatever you are doing right now, take a pause and allow yourself a few deep breathes, inhaling contentment and exhaling whatever negative feeling you are carrying at the moment. Whisper some words of gratitude to the universe, whatever it is that you are most thankful for. Give your sweetest smile to the first person you’ll bump into. And remember, we don’t know what tomorrow brings but we can change how we live today.

To my dear friend Lee, I may have missed my chances of telling you what an awesome person you are, I hope I made you feel that you matter somehow. When I visited you at the hospital, I learned from your siblings that aside from working as a full-time Literature teacher, you also teach during weekends at the Licensure Examination for Teachers Review Center. All these you did while attending a demanding law school. On top of these, I learned you were in the process of opening a restaurant and was looking for a chef. Oh, how I admire your hard work. You are someone who truly appreciates the time you were given and made the most of it. But most importantly, you brought up your kids so well, I’m sure someday you will be proud of them. Rest in peace, my friend. You are remembered fondly.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Exercise everyday with these easy hacks

I previously wrote about the most important new year’s resolution that we most often take for granted, our health. My attention was brought to this realization one day by a sickness which sabotaged all my activities laid for the several days that ensued. Then and there, I made the commitment to prioritise my health.

What seemed like an easy goal though is – in reality – an overwhelming task. I found it challenging to identify time to exercise. Whenever I’m immersed in a certain work, it was all too easy to make excuses not to exercise. In addition, I haven’t been fully well since the day I vowed to make health a priority. I have been nursing a cough which never went away, probably because I was reluctant to take medicines. I took vitamin C, ensured I am well hydrated, took ginger and lemon tea, and ate more fruits and vegetables so I’m gradually feeling better but still not fully recovered. My illness made my body feel heavier; so I got lazier.

Inclined to overcome my repugnance with exercise, I ascertained what made it feel overwhelming. I realised it was because I had this notion of an ‘ideal workout’. I think about long yoga sessions, kilometers stretch of jogging route, a treadmill and the likes. This tendency to set an unnecessary high standard holds true with other plans. Setting a high standard is not wrong, in fact we should aspire to achieve this in everything we do because the world deserves our best. What makes it wrong is when it hampers our growth; when it becomes a cause of our paralysis.

Some things take time to develop. Excellence is not achieved in one attempt but rather after a long process of trial and error. It’s the same with exercise or of being healthy in general; small everyday efforts can lead to notable results. Instead of aiming to do my ‘ideal workout’, I began to think about small ways that I can exercise. These ways aren’t like those exercise hacks suggested online which still involve ambitious, abrupt change of attitude that can get overwhelming and paralysing. Mindfulness helped me identify these pockets of opportunity which include the following:

* Walking instead of driving or taking a cab
* Doing some yoga poses while watching television
* Doing some lying yoga poses during days when I don’t feel like getting out of bed
* Doing some dance moves or belly dancing while cooking!
* Doing some stretching anytime, anywhere during the day
* When stuck in traffic, doing some breathing exercises or stretching poses such as eagle arm, ear to shoulder/neck rolls and shoulder rolls

These are just some ideas but when we continue to go on our day mindfully, I’m sure we will find more ways to move our bodies. Doing these simple steps will eventually lead to a positive change to our health. When we feel healthier and more energised, doing the ‘ideal workout’ will no longer feel overwhelming but a source of joy.