May you be blessed in the city, and blessed in the country! (Deuteronomy 28:3)

Friday, November 30, 2012

The “Frugirl’s” Guide to Christmas Decorating

” ”I’m participating in the Spend-Less Holidays: Saving While Savoring the Season Blog Carnival, hosted by The Frugal Fil-Am and Dainty Mom. We’ll be sharing our tips on how to spend less this holiday season, so that we can have a more meaningful Christmas. Please scroll down to the end of the post to see the list of carnival entries.”

I love Christmas! It’s my favorite season of the year! That’s because it’s the time to celebrate the birthday of Jesus, the reason for the season! And being an avid home decorator, I so enjoy sprucing up my home during the holidays. Honestly, some years ago I actually considered not decorating our home at Christmas, that being a low point in my life. But as I prayed and reflected, I realized that all the more I needed to decorate — as a way to honor and celebrate the Birthday Celebrant! So I did, and it made a difference (for me, at least!).

I’m the frugal type, so as much as I don’t have to spend for something, I won’t. (I even call myself, “Frugirl.”) And that goes for Christmas decorations! So here are some points that have helped me make the most of Christmas decorating without having to spend a whole lot (really!):

1. Find an inexpensive Nativity Scene. This was my top priority as I was about to decorate my own home. Being a Catholic, I believe that Christmas ought to center on Jesus. So I found this beautiful, yet very affordable Nativity Scene at a local bookstore some years ago.

2. Simply receive. If people give you Christmas decorations as gifts, simply receive! Then find out how they can fit in your Christmas décor.
Got these pillows (or pillow cases) from three different people
Got this candle holder from my uncle last Christmas

3. Simply ask. “Mom, do you have any Christmas décor that you don’t need? I’m open to donations,” so said I a few weeks ago. My mom has a whole lot of Christmas décor stored up in her attic, many of which are not being used anymore. So I just ask. And she gives. (Many times, though, I don’t ask; she simply gives. In this case, see #2.)
All these trinkets from my mom!
Still from my mom (told you she had lots of stuff! Which is why I ask!)
4. Go natural. Last year, we moved into a bigger home. But we didn’t have a Christmas tree. So my husband and I went window-shopping, only to realize that Christmas trees are expensive! Not to worry — I had a back-up plan. A few months before the Christmas season, I was able to retrieve some bamboo branches that were about to fall on our backyard. And these I used to make “your-not-so-usual” Christmas tree.

Since we already have a Christmas tree this year,
this is what I did with our branches from last year
5. Repurpose. Keep an eye out for stuff you can use in new ways, such as used cans and bottles.

6. Find inspiration for new things. Look no further than the Internet for new ideas on how to decorate.

Found this idea online...

7. Make your own Christmas décor. I’m not very good at making stuff, but since our Christmas tree didn’t have a star on top, and I could hardly find any Christmas tree stars being sold in the shops, I decided to make one. Our Christmas tree had to have a star, as it symbolizes the star of Bethlehem that pointed to the Baby Jesus.

8. Research on how what you have can work. While thinking about how to decorate our home this year, I remembered that my father-in-law brought this certain red carpet to our home which wasn’t being used anymore and was just rolled up in one room. (When he brings stuff to our home, it usually means we can already use them.) When I had our helper unroll it, I realized we could use it during this season, especially with its color. My challenge was how to make it work with our sofas, a thin and not-so-tall Christmas tree (also given by my in-laws), and a second-hand white ottoman given to us by friends. So I surfed the Internet for some ideas, and here’s how our living room turned out:

So there you go. I’d say about 90% of the Christmas décor in our house is given. Which is why when I look at all these, I don’t just see things; I see stories. And people. Individuals even. My heart wells up in gratitude to the Lord for using them to add beauty and warmth to our home. And at the same time, I say a prayer of blessing for them.

Enjoy your decorations, and may your homes reflect the Christmas spirit!

“I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

What are your tips on Christmas decorating on a budget? Feel free to post your comments! J

Please do check out the other participants of the Spend-Less Christmas Carnival participants! God bless you!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

When in the World Am I Getting Married?

I remember it very well. My boyfriend and I were in this restaurant on a date. But unlike other dates, I had my head down most of the time while eating my food. This was not a happy date. He told me some news, something that I didn’t want to hear. He would be relocating to the province soon, as he truly believed in his heart that God wanted him to work there.

OK…what about our future? We had been in a committed relationship for more than three years, and it was clear that marriage was part of the plan. And living in the city. So why did this wild card suddenly surface and catch me off guard? This was not part of the original plan.

Guess what? This was reality. Who was I to get in the way of God’s plan? As we exited the restaurant, I began to cry. While walking past partying weekend people. I must have looked like a mess.

So our relationship would soon be classified under “LDR” (long-distance relationship). But wait. I was hoping at this time that he would’ve already proposed marriage. After all, he expressed years back that after he took the Bar Exams, his plan was to settle down already. So the Bar was over, but no hint of a proposal.

Maybe at Christmas, I thought. Christmas came and went, and no proposal.

Anyway, he did relocate at the start of the new year, and we got used to seeing each other only every other week. Meanwhile, I wondered when he would ask me to marry him. Maybe during Valentine’s Day. (OK, I’m the romantic type, so this would be the perfect time to pop the question!) But nope. Maybe during my birthday. My birthday’s in May, and by this time, the results of the Bar were already out for sometime (he passed!), so I figured this might be the time. Wrong!

After this, I finally surrendered my expectations to the Lord. Up went the white flag. I decided to just trust in God’s timing. I continued to live my single life fully, enjoying the opportunities to serve the Lord in our singles ministry, putting nothing on hold.

One normal day in July, as my boyfriend and I went out for coffee after having dinner with his family in a dampa*, he started saying something like the more he got to know me, the more he realized I was the one for him. I was totally clueless as to what this was leading to. Then he asked me, “Will you marry me?” I could hardly believe my ears. So much so that I began to rattle on (I can’t remember now what I said) and my tongue couldn’t even enunciate a “yes!” (I think that made him nervous.) Finally, after what seemed like an eternity (to him…I think it was just a few minutes, though), I said, “Yes!”

While he was bringing me home, I was giddy. But I wondered, Where’s the ring? I tried to brush it off, not wanting to be demanding. But minutes after we arrived at my house, my fiancé of less than an hour caught me by surprise. A tiny box emerged from his hand. He opened it to reveal…the ring! OK, that got me. I started to cry (for joy now).

Oh cool, wedding mode was officially on! But provincial living mode? Um…say what? Let’s deny that for the meantime, folks…I am getting married!!!

* A restaurant where you can buy fresh seafood and have it cooked to your liking; “a wet market restaurant,” says my hubby

> Howdy, readers! Thanks for reading! Just post your own comments below, whether it be about your own proposal stories, waiting and what not! God bless!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Washing Dishes or The Sanctified Sink

(Note: I posted this on an old social networking site back in October 18, 2006.)

I like washing dishes. For some reason, I enjoy it. I like getting the plates and pots and pans and utensils all squeaky clean. I like the smell of the dishwashing liquid.

For nearly a week, we hadn't had much water here in our apartment. This was pretty unusual, since water hadn't been scarce for months. Emily, our helper, told us that our landlady said there was some pipe construction going on somewhere. That being the case, a trickle would come about lunchtime, but only downstairs. For our bathroom upstairs, water would start pouring again mid to late evening. So it was a surprise when Ferdie, my husband, opened the faucet in the kitchen sink after lunch today and told me to look — water! Not just trickles, but strong, flowing water! "Praise the Lord!" I said. "I'm excited to wash the dishes," I told him. (Or maybe I was more excited to get the place cleaned up of the mess! Emily comes only twice a week, by the way.)

So there I was again, my usual spot — the sanctified sink. I like washing dishes not just because I like washing dishes. I like washing dishes because I get to ponder or praise or plan or pray or do other things. At times, I find myself worshiping the Lord while rounding up the plates with liquid suds. Sometimes, I ponder about my life while removing the grease off the grill pan. Other times, I pray for others while rinsing the glasses. Or I pray for those who gave us the plates and pots and pans for our wedding. Still other times, I think about projects at work while lining up the dishes on the drainer.

I remember one time, while washing the dishes, I was sharing stories with my sister-in-law, Sim. (She and my brother, Dino, came from their couples' Time Out Vacation and they were our houseguests; Dino and Ferdie were out playing badminton at that time.) It just amused me how much we shared about the Lord while I was at the sink! Then there are other times when I find myself singing and/or dancing to cool worship or Christian music while washing dishes.

A lot of thanksgiving goes out, too, while I'm busy letting the water run over these tools used for cooking and eating. I tell the Lord I'm grateful for all that's happening in my life...and yes, non-stick pans! Oh, dishwashing (or should I say, "panwashing") is so easy with these wonderful inventions! Thank You, Lord, for Teflon! It's a different story with the rice cooker pot when the hardened rice stuck to the bottom and sides is as stubborn as a mule. Or the grill pan when bits of burnt meat are stuck in between grooves. During these times, it's rather difficult to worship, as I am very much focused on the task at hand. So I keep at it — several rounds of washing till the pot and pan are free of any food residue. The lesson here? Perseverance.

So there you go, the kitchen sink has become a place of God's visitation for me in many ways. That's why I can call it the sanctified sink. Just now I remember [a saint…was it St Teresa of Avila? I could be wrong…] who, while cooking an egg, would levitate in ecstasy because of her love for the Lord. Well, I have never yet levitated in ecstasy while washing dishes. But I can account for the joy I've experienced because of the Lord while doing this mundane task.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be preparing in a need for me to wash dishes tonight. Ferdie and I are having [local] steak at [a nearby diner].

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Living in Opposites Is Just Fine

Friday night over here in my country home. I finally got to exercise again at dusk, after a long time. As is usual to my pondering self, thoughts come to me during my walk.

From where I blogged this post

Just last Friday, at about the same time, I was in a huge building with contemporary architecture and interiors, in the heart of Makati’s Central Business District. I enjoyed the artistry, the air-conditioning, and the sight of people chatting al fresco over coffee.

This Friday, I am not contained in concrete. I am outdoors, marveling at the layers of “cloud-art” that swathe the sky (I love looking at the sky). I enjoy God’s awesome dome above me, the cool breeze, and the sight of a line of mahogany trees.

Living in opposites is just fine.

Last Friday, while I was waiting in one area of the building, many people swiftly walked past me from both left and right — call center types, expats, regular working folk in their corporate attire.

This Friday, I am the one swiftly walking, but only because of the exercise pace. Most of the people who work in this area have gone home, and the sound I hear is not that of city-busy clatter but that of a bird — a dark one with white tail.

Living in opposites is just fine.

Last Friday, I was an attendee during a seminar in a university campus extension.

This Friday, I was the speaker during a workshop in a university campus.

Living in opposites is just fine.

Nice trend — these opposites — don’t you think? Jesus Himself said, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). I “lost” my life when I told the Lord to have His way in my life. In the process, I have gained so much more — life to the full.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Airport Musings

I’m at the airport again.

This time, I’m off to the countryside with my hubby and son, to my other home. I’m quite excited about going back — I’ve been in the city for about seven weeks already — as I’ll finally get to decorate my home with Christmas décor. Yippee!

I’m in Gate 133.

 [Cut! Had to shut down because an announcement suddenly came on saying that we were boarding already…earlier than usual.]

I’m now back in our country home, leaning comfortably on two pillows, and typing comfortably on my laptop stationed on my new laptop table. But let me just share a few things that crossed my mind while at the airport.

So I’m at the airport lots of times due to this lifestyle of city-life-country-life.

                       Our usual carry-on stuff, with an addition: Buster, my son's new stuffed pet

I leave. I stay. I leave again. I stay again. I come and go. I’m here and I’m there. This is the traveler’s life. This is my life. And God’s wonderful promise is “Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out” (Deuteronomy 28:6, NRSV).

Isn't it great to know that God promises blessings on all sides?

Good thing my son is used to this lifestyle, too. While waiting for our boarding announcement, he simply kept himself entertained by playing with his super-hero figures. 

    The guy in orange and green is "Manong," garbage-truck-driver-turned-super-hero (my son said  sometime ago that Manong delegated the trash-taking to Spidey)

Then when we arrived home, he immediately went to his room and started playing his drums with a vengeance (after all, it had been such a long time since he played it!)…even if it was already 10:30 PM! And then riding his bike (with training wheels) around the house as if in a playground. Yes, when you live in two places, every time you come back, things are new again!

Yes, I had a great seven weeks in the city. But I’m glad to be back in my country home.

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Friday, November 9, 2012

Seven Ways God Surprised Me at Singapore

Oh, blessed vacation!

Compared to previous years, my stay in the city at this time has been prolonged due to a recent trip to another city abroad — the Lion City, Singapore.

I prayed for a fun and Spirit-filled vacation. And God totally floored me. I was excited for the trip, yes. But my excitement proved no match to how He exceeded my expectations by leaps and bounds!

So how did God surprise me? Here are seven ways:

1. By allowing me to enjoy everything FOR FREE. That’s right — everything was free for me. I didn’t have to pay a single cent. Not for the airfare, not for the board and lodging, not for the pocket money. God provided generously through various sources that I didn’t even have to ask for anything. All I had to do was pack and show up. And voila! — blessing upon blessing!

You know what? God gave me a message for this trip: Isaiah 55, the whole chapter. The title in my Bible reads, “An Invitation to Grace.” Grace is a gift; all I needed to do was receive. What particularly struck me was verse 1b which says, “You who have no money, come receive grain and eat; Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!” Then verse 2b says, “Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare.” And boy, did I!

2. By giving me the gift of childlikeness in Universal Studios. Kung Fu Panda was the first character we met upon entrance, and I was thrilled! (Perhaps even more thrilled than my five-year-old.) I was wide-eyed at the Madagascar Crate Ride. I greatly enjoyed the Jurassic Rapids Adventure where all eight of us got wet. (Eight of us being my husband, son and me, parents-in-law, two sisters-in-law and niece.) And my favorite ride — the Transformers Ride! So cool! A Sesame Street fan, I might have gotten a little giddy over the Sesame Street structures (only Sesame Street fans will understand…).


3. By letting me see things I’ve never seen before at Gardens by the Bay. “Beautiful!” I kept on saying. The moment we entered the Flower Dome, we were greeted with all kinds of trees, plants and flowers. BEAUTIFUL! Flowers I had never seen in my life lined the walkway. Red and pink roses among the other flowers were as big or even bigger than my fist! Massive trees stood like dignified soldiers.

Then we went to the other dome, the Cloud Forest. As the door opened, I felt a mist. Upon entering…WOW! Magnificent waterfalls gushing down from the circular building. While walking along, I started to worship God for such a wonderful sight!

4. By granting me awesome views of the city and the sky. These, via our room on the 25th floor of Somerset Liang Court in the vicinity of Clarke Quay, and via the Singapore Flyer — a huge ferris wheel where you ride inside this big glass capsule that slowly goes up and down, giving you a fantastic aerial view.

                                           View from our room
                                           View from the Singapore Flyer

5. By fixing our schedules so that everyone ended up happy. We only had one day — make that, some hours — to do our shopping. I deemed this day as a “day for our passions” — my husband wanted to visit some golf stores, my son wanted to go to a toy store and I wanted to go to Ikea. (I just had to go to Ikea. This was my plan even prior to the trip.) That morning, I prayed that the Lord would fix our schedules so we could go to the places we wanted to go to, and still arrive at the hotel in time to be picked up at 5:30 pm (we were to serve in a prayer meeting of our Catholic community’s branch there).

So off we went to Far East Shopping Centre, one of the floors being a golfer’s haven! Then off we went to Takashimaya in Ngee Ann City at Orchard Road for the toy store — happiness for my son! Lunch…then off to Ikea! (I only had about an hour to breeze through it.) The moment I saw the blue and yellow building, I got so excited — “There it is!” God answered my prayer, in the midst of traffic and a long taxi queue. At the queue, I surrendered to the Lord, saying, “Lord, bahala Ka na if we get to go to Ikea.” But we were able to, Hallelujah! God really wants to make His children happy. “Take delight in the Lord, and he will grant you your heart’s requests” (Psalm 37:4).

6. By meeting me in the company of community. Two members from Elim Singapore met us at the hotel and brought us to the venue of the prayer meeting. Us meant my husband, son and me, my two sisters-in-law and niece. My sister-in-law led in worship, my husband taught about “The Fear of the Lord,” I shared a few insights and sang, my other sister-in-law led in a prayer. Then the community treated us to dinner at the Singapore Flyer area, where there was a lot of food and fellowship. God was indeed among us that evening.

                                           I am not in the photo as I am taking the shot :)

7. By speaking to me through the priest’s homily. We attended Sunday Mass at Sacred Heart Church. The priest and his homily were truly anointed. I could sense the fire of the Spirit in the priest. (I don’t even know his name.) Some of the things that he said that struck me:
·      We have to change our mindset. We usually say that man has original sin. But since God breathed life into man out of love, there is also original grace.
·      Therefore, to be human is to be divine. Because to be truly human is to love.
·      I am excited for this year, the year of faith.

My vacation was so packed! Indeed, God is a God of surprises!

Have you noticed His surprises? How has He surprised you lately? J

Friday, November 2, 2012

Of Apartments, Apprehension and Answered Prayers

Have you ever prayed to God for something really specific, and it actually got answered?

With regard to housing post-wedding, here's what I was praying for:
An apartment -
1. With reasonable rent
2. That was near my husband-to-be's workplace
3. That had two bathrooms

I think numbers 1 and 2 were more part of my hubby-to-be's prayers, whereas number 3 was what I emphasized to the Lord. For the record, this asking was not done haphazardly. I had learned through the years that as a child and servant of God, I could ask, and I would receive (Matthew 7:7). I also learned that as a regular tither (one who gives back to God 10% of blessings received, such as income), I would be on the receiving end of "blessings without measure," as God promises in Malachi 3:10.

Since my fiance was already working in the countryside, it was his job to go apartment-hunting. And every time he would come upon an apartment with check marks for numbers 1 and 2, but not number 3, I knew that wasn't the one. Turned out that most apartments in that place had only one bathroom. Nevertheless, I insisted on having two. I had several reasons, one of which was just in case anything happened to one (say, some toilet trouble), then we had another for contingency.

Long story short - God answered our prayers. After some more exploring, my fiance found the apartment that was suitable for us. Yes, the rent was within our league (and much lower than city rates); it was about two minutes away by car to his office; and yes, it had two bathrooms, to my joy!

Take note, I had only seen the apartment in pictures, as I had never left the city to see it for myself. When I finally got to see it with my own eyes...well...thank You, Lord, we have a place to stay...but honestly, the drab shades of green on the doors, the walls and the floors were...not to my liking. A paint job was not on our priority list of expenses, and I don't think Mrs Landlady - who lived five houses away - would allow us to simply change the look of this dwelling anyway, being the fourth in a row of same-looking apartments.

I had to remind myself that this, indeed, was a blessing, as God did answer all my prayers regarding the apartment. He didn't miss a thing. But maybe I should've added a number 4: that the apartment wouldn't have them drab shades of green to begin with...nah, I learned to live with it. And be thankful, too.