Sunday, December 28, 2003

Bring It: The Disney Princess Party

I am powerless against the siren call of Disney and its panoply of offerings for anyone who stands under four feet tall; I cannot keep my daughters away from Belle, Snow White, Aurora (or "A-whoa-wa" as my girls say) Jasmine, Ariel and their flowing-haired, slender-waisted ilk. I have even forgotten why I was trying to. And so it has come to pass that Risa and Vida will soon revel, prance, and grow frighteningly overstimulated at their very own Disney Princess Birthday Party.

To this end, I dragged my carcass—already weary from an overabundance of holiday shopping—to the inelegant and one can only assume ironically named "Party City." At this fine emporium, I selected a blindingly tacky assortment of pink! pink! everything pink! Disney Princess party decorations, including tiaras for all, large cardboard cutouts of Cinderella and Snow White, and streamers with which to desecrate my home.

The crowning (pardon the princess pun) glory in my shopping cart was the preternaturally large Disney Princess pull-string piñata. It is of the pull-string variety because, as you can imagine, no violent hacking is allowed at Disney Princess parties. At Disney Princess parties, each guest takes a turn selecting a ribbon from the piñata and tugs gently until the treasures within—costume jewelry and candy—cascade to the floor.

May we all live happily ever after.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

It Was Ever Thus

Following is the conversation that my otherwise perfect husband and I have had every year since the dawn of time, and which it is quite likely we will continue to have until I. Get. My. Way.:

"We always opened them at midnight."

"Nope. Christmas morning is the way to go."

"But it was so great."

"Christmas morning. It has to be the morning."

"But when we were kids, we'd have this huge dinner and go to sleep at about nine and then the grown-ups would wake us up at like 11:30 by somehow managing to make noise on the roof—noise meant to evoke Santa and his reindeer—and we'd all run out to see if Santa had eaten his snack. And the snack was always eaten, but he never drank the milk and we finally figured out it's because the grown-ups in my family hated milk. Then we'd get to do the whole stocking thing, and open up our presents, and then we'd go back to sleep, and sleep really late Christmas morning, and when we woke up my mom would have a big old thing of Spam fried rice waiting."

"Christmas morning."

"And then when we got older, we'd go to midnight Mass and then come home and open our gifts, and then we'd go to sleep, and sleep really late Christmas morning, and when we woke up my mom would have a big old thing of Spam fried rice waiting."


"Sleep late. Spam fried rice!"

"The morning."

Here is where I flare my nostrils in classic Pinay-style and emit a half-snort/half-grunt that is, in fact, the sound of defeat.

I'm biding my time for now, sure. But one day, the Insane Clown Posse (that would be my three daughters—remember?) and I shall band together to insist that Montes holiday traditions be revered; held up to the light and admired for their genius and pure sparkle. Let's put it this way: he may be able to tolerate the sound of one female shrieking, "Sleep late. Spam fried rice!" but four? I think not.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

How Many Filipinos Does It Take To Create a Power Outage?

We thought it was our fault. Warmly ensconced in my grandparents’ (now my Auntie and Uncle's) big ol’ Richmond District house, four generations of my family politely salivated as we awaited the serving of a feast that would fell ordinary humans: a Flinstones-sized prime rib; a pot of cioppino large enough to bathe a toddler in (you know, if you had to); too many Dungeness crab to count; my mom’s insane pork/chicken adobo; my Lola Pilar’s famed chicken relleno; and my cousin Matt’s chocolate bread pudding, which he perfected at The Public, the San Francisco restaurant where he toils as Chef and where, for mysterious reasons, he answers only to the name “Chili." Oh. And a turducken.

But then the power went out. For many, many hours. We believed that the combination of excessive holiday lighting, the stereo, six stove burners, two ovens, and the collective energy of our very Filipino-ness caused the problem. But never mind: nothing can stop fifty hungry Delfino family members from eating. Besides, we needed to fuel up for what later proved to be the world’s largest, most unruly, and highly disturbing (what was that thing in the cylindrical container that required large batteries? Who brought that Whitney Houston CD?) white elephant gift exchange ever to occur anywhere, at any time.

We lit a hundred candles. Oddly enough, the lack of music was more disturbing than the darkness. Not a problem: a 10-year-old cousin I’d only met a handful of times in my life had brought along his saxophone because in my family we have a sadistic need to force every child to exhibit an artistic talent of some kind. Trembling and tears do not stop us from insisting on these exhibitions; we are merciless. He blew a few holiday tunes, and all was right with the world. And then we ate.

I had to leave—with my children in their pajamas and too tired to protest—at 10:00, but the all-you-could eat buffet continued until nearly 2:00 in the morning, when those who were staying overnight finally floated up to their rooms.

The power came on fifteen minutes later.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Like I'm Gonna Fall For This

There are times during the day when--jaded and scarred though you are--you feel that life and circumstance may be about to intersect and explode in a moment of utter cosmic perfection.

But it's always bullshit.

My hordes, my legions, my...okay, my four faithful readers will remember my previous reference to a story I'm trying to finish writing. You know, the "mesmerizing (no, really) exploration of mixed-race marriages, colonization, Asian airline calendar girls, hair color, and the merits of pad thai--the famed noodle dish from Thailand--versus our very own pancit." Well, today, just as I was ruminating on said story and how I wish could just fling my weary bones across the finish line and be done with the thing, the following Call for Submissions appeared in my in-box:

Mixed: An Anthology of Short Fiction on the Multiracial Experience

WANTED FOR ANTHOLOGY: original, unpublished short stories addressing the biracial or multiracial experience.

Experienced editorial team is presently assembling an anthology of short stories (fiction only). The stories must speak either directly or indirectly about what it is to be biracial or multiracial. Once assembled, the anthology will be eligible for representation by a major U.S. literary agent and for review by nationally recognized publishing houses.

Submissions from both established and talented emerging authors are welcome. We are looking for stories that are skillfully rendered, emotionally involving, and in keeping with our theme. This is a great opportunity to spotlight mixed-race people, a rapidly growing segment of the population, but one that is rarely given an opportunity to speak on its own terms. This is also a great opportunity to explore the complications of identity that come with being a biracial or multiracial person.

As life and circumstance would have it, my story's protagonist is a half-Filipino and half-white comic book artist with an uncanny understanding of female breast curvature who also happens to be--you guessed it--struggling with his bi-racial identity. It's serendipity! you say. What are the chances?! you say. It's meant to be! you scream as you grab me by the collar and shake me 'til my teeth rattle.

I posted the Call for Submissions for all you other writing suckas. I'm not falling for this madness again. Nope. Not me. Say it to the hand, I shriek even as I reach for the unfinished manuscript, a pathetic glimmer of hope in my eyes...

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Learning Curve

My cousin, Luj, has mocked my little blog from the start because my visitors (I love you, I love you all) weren't able to make comments. His incessant clamoring continued despite the fact that 1) I told him I couldn't—not to save my life or the lives of my children—figure out how to add a comments section and 2) he was hardly one to harangue considering that his own blog—the most excellently named Adobo Factory—had not been updated in a fortnight. That's inaccurate. It had not been updated in five months or so; I just wanted to use the word "fortnight."

But today, spurred on by the example set by the delightful poet and gura Michelle Bautista, I managed to geekify myself enough to add the dang comments section.

Um, Luj? How ya like me now?

Monday, December 15, 2003

Peace, GG

Strange things brewing. For reasons unclear to me I, along with another hapless cohort, am spearheading the committee to plan the 20th Reunion of Westmoor High School's decidedly lackluster—but genuinely upstanding—Class of 1984.

Other classmates have offered to help along the way, notably one GG, who I remembered vaguely as a tall, friendly kind of guy. He wanted to set up a web site for our class. We took him up on the offer, and he put a skeleton site up in just a few days, making it part of his own domain. A few months ago, I received an e-mail message from him. He was sorry, he said, to have dropped the ball on the site, but he was ready to get it going and wanted to know what we'd like to include. A message board? A list of missing classmates? He could do whatever we wanted. I told GG that the committee was about to have its first meeting, and I'd let him know after that. "Sounds good!" he wrote back.

Then yesterday, my Reunion Cohort called me early in the morning. Had I seen the obituaries? GG was dead—no cause given or even hinted at. He left behind five kids and a wife (a fact which I would soon discover to be a bit inaccurate). While she read the obit to me, I typed GG's url into my browser. His site was unfinished, but there was a link to his blog. I clicked.

He'd started it at the beginning of September, right around the last time we'd been in touch. In his second entry, he wrote that his divorce was almost final, that it was hard on the kids, but better than living in a war zone. A few posts later, he wondered if anyone would ever read his blog. The last post, made at the end of September was a complaint about California's recent recall of Governor Davis. He was pissed, was GG, despite the fact that he was a Republican who should have been overjoyed. His last line announced that he'd be voting to keep Davis in office, which makes GG okay in my book.

I'd love to tell GG that yes, someone read his blog. But he probably already knows that, right? Rest. In. Peace.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

How Do These Things Happen, Exactly?

A few days ago I was in the strange position of having two hours to myself. The Insane Clown Posse (also known as my daughters) were in the indefatigable hands of their babysitter, so I grabbed my iBook and jumped into my car. I sat there for awhile, developing a plan of attack.

I would drive to Starbuck's or Peet's, I thought, and enjoy a snickerdoodle (oh, shut up) and a hot chocolate while working diligently on a draft of my new story. It's a mesmerizing (no, really) exploration of mixed-race marriages, colonization, Asian airline calendar girls, hair color, and the merits of pad thai—the famed noodle dish from Thailand—versus our very own pancit. Heady stuff, folks.

Alas, it was not meant to be. I ended up at Target, eating popcorn and sipping on a Barq's root beer while devouring US Weekly. I now know all I ever need to know about the current state of affairs between Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck. Heady stuff, folks. Plus, I bought about 50 rolls of toilet paper for $3.00.

Yes. Well. Moving along now.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

So Not Crafty

In my increasingly faltering quest to be the kind of mother (you know the kind—the kind with glazed-over eyes whose hair is held back with plastic duck barrettes and who talks out loud to Hello Kitty when she thinks no one is listening) who keeps her children enthralled during their every waking hour without the aid of a television, I purchased the Martha Stewart Kids December issue. Scanning desperately for "fun things to do together," I bypassed fudge (way too messy), gingerbread (way too...doughy), knitting (way too possible for the twins to erupt into one of their frequent "twin wars" and gouge each other's eyes out), and the—hold onto your newsboy caps for this one—baby sock advent calendar. I shit you not. A baby sock advent calendar.

I decided on—I shit you not again—felt mice with candy cane tails. We can handle this, I said to myself, eyeing the page (they're in the "Good Things" section. I love irony): seven pieces of felt, a little glue, and a candy cane. Feeling quite crafty, I had the girls make a list of friends who were to be the blessed recipients of a felt mouse with a candy cane stuck up its butt. Eighteen friends.

It looked so simple.

I am now entering Day 3 of Operation Felt Mice. We could have made an entire vat of fudge in the time it's taken to make just five of the necessary—and decidedly adorable—eighteen rodents. I'm weary. My fingertips are smeared in glue. My hair is festooned with stray bits of felt. My daughters keep pilfering the candy canes and feigning innocence even while reeking of peppermint.

Crafts: excellent in theory, hellish in execution.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Adobo, You Will Be Mine. In 7 Parts and an Addendum.

One. This is my memory only because other people tell me it happened; I don’t recall. I was given, at the age of six or so, a small brown doll, which I promptly named Adobo. At about the same time, I was given a black kitten. I named him Willie Mays. But I digress.

Two. My Lola Naty made the best damn ichara in all of Daly City. She was a goddess among women. What I’m about to say amounts to sacrilege, but I will say it. Her adobo contained too many chicken wings. Waiting, now, for lightning to strike.

Three. My cousin says she cannot believe that my chosen accompaniment for adobo over rice is Reduced Fat Ruffles Potato Chips. She eats hers, she says, with a banana. This makes no sense to me.

Four. First apartment, first job, all that. I call my mom with what is undoubtedly the PROP (Pinay Rite of Passage) question: How do you make adobo? She’s so cryptic. A spoonful of this, a handful of garlic, water to cover, blah, blah, blah. How big is a spoonful, Mom? Oh, you know, like a cooking spoon. Well, what if my cooking spoon isn’t as big as your cooking spoon? Gotta run, honey—let me know how it turns out! And don’t forget: you need pork and chicken! Mom, wait! What does “water to cover” mean? Click. Well, the rice was good.

Five. Newlyweds, first house, new city. Having given up long ago on deciphering my mother’s maddeningly vague directions (she is the same, by the way, with beef stew), I turn in desperation to Bon Appétit magazine. A Filipina writes in with her recipe for adobo. Thank God in all his heavenly wisdom. But what’s this? Skinless, boneless chicken breasts? Cook it in the oven? Because I have no friends or reasonable distractions in Alexandria, Virginia, I give it a go. That night I dream of tracking down the woman who sent in the recipe and suing her for falsely representing Filipino cuisine. The rice was good, though.

Six. 10-year-marriage, three small kids, and I still can’t make a pot of adobo. Enter the New York Times and food writer Mark Bittman. He gives exact measurements (are you listening, Mom?), though he’s stingy on the garlic. I cut out the article and stick it on the refrigerator where I circle it for weeks, wondering if it’s worth the effort to pounce. Turns out it was too heavy on the vinegar. But the rice was good.

Seven. I have slain the mighty adobo beast. My mom’s version kicks ass what with the pork/chicken combo, but I’m all about chicken breasts (with the bone and skin). Half rice wine vinegar, half white vinegar. More garlic than Mr. Bittman says. And my mom was right: water to cover. Broil the meat after braising. Prepare for praise.

Addendum. These things cannot be rushed. When you are ready, the universe will grant your desire. When you are ready, the adobo will come to you. When you are ready, friends and family will fall at your feet, begging. Have a bag of Reduced Fat Ruffles at the ready. And a banana, just in case.


Many bloggers are waxing poetic about adobo today, creating an adobo love chain that stretches from here to, well, there. The fabulous Wily Filipino, who started it all, has gathered all the links together in his 12/8 post...

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Hooray! It's Time for the Bad Sex Awards

It's that time of year again. I read somewhere that none other than Sting (don't stand so don't stand so don't stand so close to him) presented this year's award to winner Anniruddha Bahal (for Bunker 13). You can read cringe-inducing passages from Bahal and all the nominees right here. Don't say I never gave you anything.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Back In The Saddle. Kind Of.

In an uncharacteristically chirpy bounce back from my last two rejections, I put a story in the mail to The Threepenny Review. crazed, glassy-eyed, two-fisted feast of online holiday shopping continues. My house looks like a loading dock, the UPS guy is my new best friend, and my three kiddos have discovered the unadulterated joy of stomping on bubble wrap.

Can we talk about homemade Chex Mix? Oh, let's. I'm speaking, of course, about the original recipe, not the "hot and spicy", "barbecue," "muddy buddy" or the odd Japanese-inspired version that my Auntie Yvonne makes. Original is the way to go. Except (okay, you could argue that the following adjustments stray from the concept of "original," but then that would make you bothersome) leave out the Wheat Chex and replace them with Cheerios and Crispix (because it's Crispy X Two!). And don't use pretzels or nuts or bagel chips. Do this and you will soon find yourself in a carbo-salt-and-butter stupor the likes of which you will not recover from until well into the new year. What are you waiting for?

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Prompt, Hint, Nudge

My online writing group "meets" every Friday to deposit their submissions at Diaryland, and then over the weekend we comment on the, um, droppings. This week's prompt is "The air turned chill, and suddenly it was December again."

I like our little ragtag group. We have one woman who lives in Singapore, three in the Philippines, one in Los Angeles, and two here in the Bay Area. One of our members, the lovely Susan Evangelista, wrote an article about us for the online mag Our Own Voice.

One of my favorite prompts from this group, was the opening lines from The English Patient. Here's what I wrote (the first paragraph is from the novel):

It was already cold in the cave. He wrapped the parachute around her for warmth. He lit one small fire and burned the acacia twigs and waved smoke into all the corners of the cave.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"I'm not sure. I saw it in a movie." He began to cough. "Maybe it gets rid of bugs or something."
"And what is this again?" she was full of questions. She flapped her arms to let him know what she was asking about.
"It's a parachute," he said, as if this made perfect sense.
"Let me guess: you saw it in a movie."
He found her lovely. Her thick hair twirled into an enormous bun at the back of her head, her delicate wrists, the way she was underwhelmed by everything he did to impress her. He pulled a large flashlight from his backpack and flicked it on. This is when she
threw up.
"Oh my God," he said, scrambling through his backpack for a bottle of water. He'd filled the bag with everything from band-aids to condoms, the latter a testimony to his confidence. Set your sights high, his mother always said. He was finally taking her advice. "Are you okay?"
"There's a rat." Her voice was measured. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and took the water from him. "Well, half a rat." She took a sip of water and continued to stare at the partially eaten corpse. Then, remembering that she'd thrown up, she set to work piling some rocks over the mess she'd made. The smoke from the twigs masked any unpleasant odor.
He watched her, admiring her odd lack of embarrassment and wondering if he should help. Despite the decidedly unromantic turn of events, he longed to kiss her.
"Let's get something straight," she said, adjusting the parachute and, apparently, reading his mind. "I agreed to this 'date' because our mothers are friends, and they wouldn't leave me alone until I agreed to go out with Mr. Big Handsome Pinoy guy. That's it. I certainly didn't think I'd end up in a cave with a parachute, a rat, and you staring at me with puppy-dog eyes. So just cut it out. We aren't going to have sex. We're not even going to hold hands. You will have nothing—and I mean NOTHING—to report back to your football player friends."
"Okay." He was unfazed. "Let's just talk."
"Frankly, I don't even want to speak to you. This type of thing might work for those Barbie-types you're so fond of squiring around school, but not for me."
"Squiring? What's 'squiring?'
"Never mind."
She was right. This type of thing did work for the tousled-hair blondes he always asked out. He had never dated someone of his own race, and he knew that the Filipino girls he passed in the halls at school disliked him for it. He was vaguely ashamed about the whole thing, but the truth was that he felt intimidated by Filipino girls. It was as if they knew his secrets, could tell when he lied, could sense his weaknesses. This was true of his mother and even his little sister. But he couldn't admit it out loud.
"Wait," he said. "Are you jealous?"
"Of what?"
"Those girls you're talking about."
She sighed. "No."
"You're just as beautiful," he offered. "More, even."
"Shut up."
"You are."
"I'm smarter."
"That, too."
"And funnier," she said, finally smiling.
Their laughter echoed off the cave walls, surrounding them like the smoke. The silence that followed was long and uneasy. Any other girl would have filled it with giggles and empty talk, but she simply stared at him until he had to look away. Then she opened her arms wide, and the parachute spread like wings. He crawled over to her, laid her down gently, and wrapped the parachute around them.


Okey dokes, then. Just trying to psyche myself up to write for the new prompt. Wish me buena suerte...

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Processing II

Surrounded by so much excellence, I doubt myself. Crazy-accomplished Filipinas pursuing their MFAs, teaching at universities, writing books, talking about literature and art—their own and everyone else’s—with a confidence that eludes me, performing their poetry with a fury and passion that simultaneously thrills me and puts me to shame. My writing is quiet; barely a whisper. On most days, I'm still the one in the back row, afraid to raise my hand.

But I'm working on it. I'm working.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003


Listening to:
Seal IV, Seal
Hard Candy, Counting Crows

Dream Jungle, Jessica Hagedorn
A Mind at a Time, Mel Levine
Vestiges of War: The Philippine-American War and the Aftermath of an Imperial Dream 1899-1999, Angel Velasco Shaw & Luis H. Francia, eds.

The O. Henry Prize Stories 2003, Laura Furman, ed.
The Lie That Tells a Truth, John Dufresne

My Christmas list.
My to-do list.
My sleep deprivation.
My writing.

Monday, December 01, 2003


Ohmalord, The Wily Filipino is calling for blog entries in celebration of adobo, our national dish, our culinary claim to greatness, our goodness and light. Entries must be made on December 8th. Much to do, no time to do it. Must put a pot on the stove now, and let the wafting aroma of vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic summon the muse. Kidding. There is no muse (if there is, she hates me). There is just my butt sitting on this bench, my hair falling in my eyes, and my fingers click-click-clacking.


I need a new story. Badly. I need a new story so badly that I opened a new Word document and named it "ineedanewstory.doc." I did that last week. Today, I opened it up to see what I had written (I rarely remember this type of thing these days, what with my three kids and their increasingly madcap ways). This was all I had to show for my sorry-ass self:

Marga held the small mirror up close and took a tour of her face, stopping with appropriate gasps at the imperfections that appeared daily now. This morning she located a new line starting from between her eyebrows and creeping like ivy up to the center of her forehead. Below her temple on the left, four grey hairs had sprouted—quite literally, for she had checked her hair before going to bed—overnight. She plucked them out one by one, punctuating each pull with a word: “You. Are. All. Assholes.”

Sunday, November 30, 2003


Thanksgiving with the in-laws (thirty-two of us altogether) was mighty loud and mighty amusing. My favorite moment was when our 5-year-old nephew chased his 7-year-old cousin around the house while yelling, "Hey, Will, are ya trying to lose me?" Which was, of course, exactly what Will was trying to do.

I slept for three nights in a bed so uncomfortable and a room so cold that I threw a turtleneck on over my pajamas and almost began to weep. It was the kind of ridiculous situation in which you are forced to keep reminding yourself that there are people who have no bed at all, no bed at all, no bed at all. Same technique I use when coveting a $400 pair of shoes...

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Processing I

This round of Going Home to a Landscape readings is over for me, so my editor says it's time for me to "process." That sounds like a beginning-of-the-year kind of thing to me, though, so I'll just pencil it in for January 1st, thanks.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Fingers Crossed

I'm pretty sure that this right here is how Britney started out. Let's just hope that this adorable 3-year-old North Korean girl doesn't show up fifteen years from now with her arse hanging out of spandex and black vinyl boy briefs. A nice thought to ponder on this, Thanksgiving week.

Monday, November 24, 2003

It's Elmo's World; I Just Live In It

A rejection arrived in my mailbox today, the second in as many weeks. There's always that ridiculous moment of hope before I open the envelope. It's just like Charlie peeling open his candy bar thinking that, you know, it's possible that the fifth golden ticket will be wrapped around the chocolate. Of course, he got to savor the sweet and also eventually made it to Willy Wonka's factory. All I got was a papercut. I only had Elmo Band-Aids in my bathroom cabinet, so now every time I catch a glimpse of my finger, a grinning muppet mocks both my physical discomfort and my bruised writer's ego. Fine. That's fine.

And So It Begins

"To blog or not to blog," was the question. "Blog"—apparently—is the answer.