Friday, January 30, 2009

5 out of 7: name the original justice league of america

Can you name all 7 of the original characters of the Justice League of America? I only remembered 5 of the 7. Take the quiz to test your childhood memory.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

In my youth

Nostalgia is an emotion typically tinged with sadness: a favorite toy to be given away, long lost traditions over Christmas, riding a special carnival ride, reminiscing with childhood friends over one's youth. From a bright and optimistic morning, I've hit a late afternoon post-caffeine crash, and reading the news that Hershey's is closing the Joseph Schmidt and Scharffenberger factories in SF didn't help. The latter was never as closely connected to my younger days as Joseph Schmidt, however, I do understand that the many fans of the SB chocolates will be regrettably upset over the closure of the plants in the Bay area. But Joseph Schmidt was as close to nirvana when I was in college, beautiful belgian chocolate truffles, decorated, molded, boxed beautifully, rich and redolent, and hard to find. Nordstrom's carried them infrequently when I was in college, so I would sometimes wait for my sister up in SF to send me a box if she remembered. I took a factory tour one year, and how it opened my eyes to what real chocolate was all about, the velvety textures on the tongue, palate and back of the throat when it melts and lingers. How even the disliked alcoholic liquer-ed chocolates tasted better because they weren't using cheap harsh brandy or rum. And the smell... my olfactoral memories remember the heady depths of roasted cocoa beans in that space, seeped into the pores of the timbers of the walls and posts.
It's all going the way of what was. A day ending in nostalgia.

Fruit at the door

I walked in through the back entrance of the building, whistling. There was a tune in my head, I couldn't identify it. Climbing down the stairs, I grinned at the lady security guard, and saw a man standing next to her with a plastic container filled with small clementines, kiat-kiat's we call them here. He noticed I was interested in the fruit and offered to sell me some. For P100 a kilo, he said they were sweet and seedless. The guard shared a couple of segments with me, I popped them into my mouth; juicy, citrusy, sugary goodness. The fruit-man said he'd weigh the fruits nearby and bring me my order.
A few minutes later, he comes straight to the door, a large bag of kiat-kiat ready for me. Pears and larger clementines are also on sale, but I only have eyes (and stomach) for the small fruit. He tells me he's here daily, and will have grapes tomorrow if I like, mangoes too. He promises to bring me some extra large carabao mangoes from Pangasinan, and adds me to his list of suki in the building.
I've begun peeling the kiatkiats, their skin is so thin, and barely any air in the body. The fruit segments are not dry, as you sometimes find in supermarket bags of kiats, and each one is as sweet as the last. Fruitman has made my morning even brighter than I expected.

Just a spoonful of worms and dirt

Alleluia! Finally, an article that says everything I believe in about letting kids roll around in dirt, having pets, and how all this extreme cleanliness is not always good for you. Thank you, Ms. Brody for writing the article, and especially to Drs. Weinstock and Elliott!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dance dance brow-volution

Week 7, diagnoistics and moving forward

Today was a hard day for dog training, handlers and dogs alike seemed out of sync. I thought it was just me, but everyone mentioned it at one point or another, that their dogs were not acting normal (we think Makisig is sick), wondering why a dog who used to be a snappy Down stay suddenly seemed to be deaf when her handler said Down (or she'd just go into a Sit). Sigh. I had to work with two dogs, Hazel (who has her owner with her now, so we're working in tandem) and Putol (who will end up pulling my arms out of their sockets, since he's so difficult to run with). The latter was stubborn and willful all through the run, but turned into a near dreamboat inside the training area. He did his sits and sit-stays beautifully; we struggled a bit with the downs, but by the end of the training session he was plopping down into downs relatively well.

I was so thrilled to see Hazel doing downs without having to be put into a sit. She hadn't been too keen on going into the Down position for weeks now, having to be lured constantly, and sometimes not wanting the treat if she had to work for it. Now, she did her sits perfectly, her sit stays are getting longer, and her downs are spot on! Yay! I'm giving her owner, John, a schedule to work with this week so she retains all her commands, and we look forward to a potentially smooth graduation in 4 weeks.

But the other dogs caused JI to worry a bit. He felt that after 7 weeks of training, the dogs should be able to do the Sit, Down, and hold longer stays by now. Not everyone was up to par though and it was troublesome to say the least. He held a diagnostic for the 8 dogs and only 5 could handle the basic commands, but Mitch wasn't as on the mark as she normally is and Makisig wasn't going to do the down at all. Iris, our old dame, is a bit friskier, but she has had too many handlers, she needs one person to work with instead of being passed on to someone else.

I am happy with Hazel working so hard and the instances when Putol and I worked in synchronicity, but I hope today was merely a bump in the road. We all want our dogs to finish this level and move on to better, happier things, like a happy home.

Seguing a bit to my own dog, she's been groomed and sheared of her "winter" er "wet weather" coat. She looks half her size, and has this poof on her head (I didn't ask for it, grrrr). My mother will not recognize her I'm sure.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Death by (pick your poison)

If I drank 346.2 cans of Coke Zero at my current weight, it could kill me. Likewise, I'd have to drink over 2000 glasses of chocolate milk to push me over the edge. Meanwhile, I'd die a happy death by scooping myself 248.83 cups of Haagen Dazs coffee ice cream.
How would you like to die? Death by Caffeine can help you figure it out.

Day 3: one week later

After 7 days away from the gym, I went back this morning. Too many excuses this week over not waking up in time meant zero time at the gym, so I went to sleep extra early last night and woke up at 5:45 am to prepare and be ready for the gym before 7 am.

Treadmill, 41 minutes, 3.5 km (200 calories)
Rowing machine, 20 minutes, 4 km (155 calories)
Ab exercises, 20 minutes. 70 crunches/bicycle crunches, 5 plank holds, 10 reps on back exercises.

My left upper thigh and hip still feel sore after last week's experience on the climber.

Read an article that explained in some detail how long haul weight loss has more to do with the diet than exercise, reason being that a diet high in fruits, vegetables, good proteins, healthy fats maintains a body's needs, and is more about the behavior change necessary to remain healthy. Exercise is important, but it causes some people to eat more which translates to higher calorie intake. A holistic doctor also wrote how having too much simple sugars and processed foods in one's diet affects more than just the amount of weight you carry around but the hormonal adjustments as one ages. One female client noticed weird male pattern baldness symptoms as she aged and it was but a matter of changing her diet. But it's all easier said than done. I am eating more fruit, at least 1 apple or pear in the morning, and 5 pieces of kiat-kiats in the afternoon. My veg intake is still infrequent though! I have to make sure I get my fiber intake up, and not through processed edibles.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Line up for half-smokes

In a post about where to eat in DC, a photo was taken of the lines outside Ben's Chili Bowl, famous for their half-smoke and chili, plus the rule that the only person who eats free at Ben's is Bill Cosby. He was joined recently on that list by the new President and his family. The 50+ year old institution in the heart of U St. district hosted Mr. Obama a few weeks back; he was overheard asking one of the diners what a half-smoke was. Mr. Cosby jokingly complained that the new President dropped the ball on that issue and shouldn't be allowed the free dogs!
Last September, I was staying with friends who live near Adams Morgan, and the U St/Cardozo Metro was one of the easiest stations to get to from their place. On one of our walks around the neighborhood, J recommended I stop by Ben's for a half-smoke when I had free time. There are several places to get the half-smoke in DC, and it is rather amusing that some bloggers think that the only "indigenous" food to the DC area is the half-smoke. Since Ben's is rather famous for their dogs and chili, I was loathe not to try it, being in the neighborhood and all. After a long day out and about, I did go in for a half-smoke with chili, and then had myself a chocolate milkshake. I think it might have been my nostalgic act of always having a shake with my burgers at in-n-out that made me go with the somewhat disastrous combination of hotdog, chilli, and milkshake. Children, listen up. Don't do what I did. It's not good for the tummy, even though flavorwise it sure tasted great. The place was not full, I didn't have any lines to fight my way through, and the server was a nice young woman who helped me figure out what I wanted. I'm glad I don't have to go to DC anytime soon to get a half-smoke, those lines are ridiculous! But if I ever go back to DC, there are some interesting Eritrean restaurants I must go back to try!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Speech! Speech!

Friends who are lucky enough to be in Washington DC are going to be part of a projected 3 to 4 million people attending the inauguration of Barack Obama, as the 44th President of the United States of America. One friend has promised to share his photos, another will post details of the balls. Friends who are working for US Embassies around the world are going to enjoy the day (or night) celebrating this historic event.

I am reading a witty article that explains the history of Presidential inaugurations, the traditions, the speeches, the color of this day of days, celebrated (or shunned) by millions of American once every four years, betwixt the Olympics and the World Cup. Using historical references, reading every inaugural speech over the last 200 plus years, eyeballing every inaugural photograph taken since that of James Buchanan in 1857, referencing all the traditions that have evolved, the constitutional aspects affecting the event, Ted Widmer writes about how this celebration has renewed the spirit of the American people, or signified, perhaps nothing. My favorite part is his condensation of the theme of a Presidential inauguration speech (and a topic that has been beaten to death of late, with previous speech writers commenting on how and what should be said, what significance may be drawn from one word or another). Simply put, the speech includes the following process:

"1. I am not worthy of this great honor.
2. But I congratulate the people that they elected me.
3. Now we must all come together, even those of us who really hate each other.
4. I love the Constitution, the Union, and George Washington.
5. I will work against bad threats.
6. I will work for good things.
7. We must avoid entangling alliances.
8. America’s strength = democracy.
9. Democracy’s strength = America.
10. Thanks, God."

I also couldn't help but guffaw when I read that President Eisenhower's "God Float" in the parade looked like a deformed molar from a dental exhibit.

But the article, written before the second inauguration of President Bush in 2005, has it's solemn moments, reminding us all how words and actions don't always mesh. To paraphrase George Orwell, democracy does not whitewash injustice, does not condone complacency in the face of evil. The inauguration, tonight or those in the future, should be the basis for holding those in power accountable to their words. A promise for a better tomorrow.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Week 6: Heel, plus agility tests

What a packed day of lessons!
Before going into all the details of the class, I found out that Hazel had been adopted. Good for her, and doubly wonderful is that her new owner, Jon, is going to continue her training. We met up at the training session and he's willing to keep her through the training program until she graduates. We'll also plan to hold some extra training sessions at his home so she can be ready to do the major exercises JI has planned to graduate both dog and trainer.
As for what we learned today, we had to train our dogs to heel, which is not just about keeping the dog by our side, but training the dog to maintain eye contact in motion. We walked with the dog by our left side, fed at a regular interval so long as the dog stayed next to us (always at the left) and didn't break from the exercise. The point of teaching a dog to heel is to avoid having a dog go off on its own, to smell another dog or approach another person while out and about in a crowded situation. JI explained that when the military trained dogs, they kept the dog on the left side since they had to have their right hands free (guns were usually hung at the right hip). The dog is in a somewhat uncomfortable position in a heel, they are expected to focus on their walker/trainer/owner while walking, their heads turned upward to the right, keeping contact with their person.
Most of our dogs are now well socialized, with few cases of complete insubordination (!), so they took to the Heel training relatively well. We didn't have a case where the dog didn't follow, but it did happen that one dog tried to herd her walker until JI told the trainer not to let the dog choose the direction of the path. If a dog tries to jump ahead of the trainer during the Heel, use the left knee to stop that behavior. Also, he told us to call the dog to Heel before any turns, otherwise you lose the attention of your dog.
I was working with Hazel alongside her new owner, and it took awhile for her to get a sense of what we were doing, since she is still learning to bond with Jon. He also had to pick up the philosophy of the clicker training all in one morning. He was sort of thrown into the puddle but managed quite well by the end of the morning.
The next major lesson we worked on was agility training. JI brought in hurdles, a tire and a tunnel, which we were taught to use to get the dogs to jump over or through, or run/walk through. It was lots of fun to get the dogs to hop over the hurdles or try to get them to jump through the tire (we skipped this exercise since Hazel's head isn't past the tire's lower run, she's energetic but not ready for this yet). The tunnel took a bit of work, since dogs don't like having something that hangs over their heads; Hazel took time and several repeated runs before she had the courage to go through the tunnel. But when JI was observing her at this, she balked! We had to shorten the tunnel and lure her through again, only to fail at the last walk through. She was pooped, poor thing, and so were we all. Several of the dogs just plopped down after all this work, only attempting to beg for some of the chicken sandwiches we had for lunch, but with less exuberance than they normally do before the exercise.
Tiring day, full day, we're moving forward towards graduating the dogs in a month, and it's an exciting but scary plan. If the dog or the trainer fail, then we have to keep at it until JI evaluates us to have passed the course. We have a month to get the dogs to do all of the ff: a one minute sit stay, a three minute down stay (oh no, this is the one that is going to be the harder command for Hazel), a 5 minute bed stay, walking loosely on leash, the Come command, and Heel. The sit and bed isn't going to be too hard for Hazel, what will be the focus of our training will be to work on the Down, and to improve her leash walk since she's got a stubborn streak.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Chocolate dreams

The last two days have seen me in more than my usual share of supermarkets, delis and food purveyor stores. Tonight I was at another large supermarket, pushing my cart up and down the aisles, picking up fresh vegetables, pantry staples, and some necessities to keep the cat happy. Usually, I'll spend a few seconds checking if the Haagen-Dazs freezer has coffee or hoping against hope they'll bring back vanilla fudge. Tonight what really made me stop and lust was the well stocked Lindt display. Not just the typical bars of milk chocolate and white chocolate, but they had several of the dark chocolates (Madagasgar, 60%cacao for example), and orange infused chocolates, plus one bar on the bottom shelf infused with almonds. My mind raced thinking how I'd use the different flavors, my hand hovering over one choice over another. Truffles using the dark chocolate and maybe the white chocolate bar, or maybe add chips from the orange chocolate bar to some cookie dough, or maybe some of the small bars so I can nibble when I'm feeling blue...

On NPR, Kitchen Windows has an article about the Spanish obsession with chocolate. One of the brands given page time is Valor, a good spanish chocolate label, easily found locally at Terry's. But I don't think I've seen the bonbons sold locally, I wonder what the vinegar and chocolate flavor would taste like? It's unlikely they'd use something as harsh as a sinumak! The cream of chocolate recipe sounds easy and wonderfully rich, I know what to serve some friends this February for brunch. Or maybe I can make the whipped chocolate spread to go with some hearty toasted bread, just as they do in an Argentinian hotel I read about. Life's not always like a box of chocolates, I prefer making it a part of my life.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Day 2

Day two at the gym - 10 minutes on a step-climber that was painful and not at all what I had expected. I got on it thinking it was an elliptical trainer, but found myself painfully trying to stay in momentum. I don't like this machine at all! And now my left hip/buttock hurts like a muscle was pulled. Keeping far from that contraption from now on.
Moved on to the treadmill for 40 minutes, 3 km completed, with an incline of 5 (not sure how that translates). Forgot to check calorie count, but was far more pooped out this time around.
Lunges and squats - 40 reps each
shoulder and biceps - 30 reps each
Crunches on ball - 50 reps

The walk to work was pleasant, more sunshine today than yesterday, and a lot more humidity.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Resolution number 1

Resume workout. After 22 months of avoiding the lockers of a gym, I've resumed attending to my health. Today was day one! Along with writing about the dog training, this blog better be put to some use helping me get healthier, instead of being my navel gazing forum. Love my navel and happy I can still see past it to my toes, but better that I stop having to suck in my gut to see my toes.

Exercise detail:
35 minutes - treadmill, 3 km (reminder - bring pedometer)
12 minutes - rowing machine
Estimated calorie burned up - 250

Weights - arms and chest. 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
Crunches - 50 reps

After the workout, I took a 22 minute walk to work, through Glorietta, Greenbelt and the Ayala triangle. A lot of changes in the area, with two new buildings where old parking lots used to be. In Glorietta 5, they've placed Luk Yuen next to North Park with Chowking right on top of them both. Sort of a triumverate of cheap chinese food, MSG billowing out towards the customers. National Bookstore is moving to the new Glorietta 5 building, this signals somethings afoot with fixing up Glorietta 1 and 2, starting with the area that blew up/exploded/place your government conspiracy excuse here.

Things I like about the gym - not crowded, the bathroom is well stocked with fluffy towels, and a nice pepperminty shower gel. Plus the machines have those individual tv connections, so I can watch any cable channel I feel like for the time I'm huffing and puffing on the treadmill.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Week 5, free hazel free

The Sunday training sessions are averaging 4 hours a day, sometimes 5 like today. It isn't all about lectures, running the dog, or watching and commenting on how the lessons go, but it does take time and I end up at home close to 4 pm and weary. And wanting a donut. Yay for Krispy Kreme on days like today.

So we had to learn how to keep the dogs in a Stay position, specifically the Sit and Down. Basically the Stay command isn't a command, but a discipline. The dog remains in either a Sit or a Down position, and given several factors (duration, the distance the trainer moves away from the dog, and environmental distractions), the dog Stays (hence the term) until it has been released. It was also evident why we had been told to use the word Free when we wanted the dog to break the position. The Stay command is more an aggregate of whatever position you are requiring of the dog, the factors you put into play, and the release command (Free). There were some things that seemed a bit confusing to me. JI said that we were not to complicate or confuse our dogs by teaching them to stay for a length of time and add distance by walking away. However, it eventually was evident that duration and distance are closely knit. You hopefully get the dog to hold a position, learn patience by remaining as they were, and by adding a couple of movements on your end away from them, they must focus on a stillness that is not inherent to their nature. The distractions today were numerous, but at least Hazel showed fortitude in the face of other noises going on. I was very happy with her progress today even though we didn't get any time during the week. My plans today had included an hour with her before everyone else showed up but I woke up too late to put that into motion, so I spent 10 minutes with her offleash in the court while the other dogs went on their run.

However, my partnership with the puppy may be at an end. Germaine, one of the other puppies was adopted last week; his handler wants another puppy and has her eyes on Hazel. I think it might be good to have Hazel socialize with her and I can move on to a more problematic dog, like Putol. We'll see how that goes next Sunday.

JI said our graduation exercise will be a test of how good we train our dogs to stay, eeps! If I move to another dog, it won't be easy to get it to the level it needs but I shall try.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Lettuce and more lettuce

My sister returned from her new year foray in Baguio and dumped bags of lettuce on my doorstep. Am I a rabbit? Do I look like one to her? What am I going to do with kilos of lettuce? I gave some of the bounty away (thanks to friends J and C, and my cousin), but it still left me with a couple of bags of lola rosa and butter lettuce left. I went through online resources, munching on a salad for inspiration, and went to work. For my first lettuce meal, I crisped up two thin medallions of pork (originally meant for tonkatsu) in the broiler. When they were cooked and crispy, I chopped them into squares, strew them into the washed and dried lettuce, and tossed the salad with a pesto vinaigrette (basil pesto, lemon juice, a dash of sugar, and some paprika). The pork added a crunch to the salad, like croutons.

Tonight I was perusing Tastespotting and saw a simple coleslaw recipe. The blogger used cabbage, vinegar and salt to taste. I figured I needed to use up a head of lettuce, so I rough chopped the leftover 3/4 head of cabbage I had in my crisper, threw in the ribbons of butter lettuce, squeezed several cloves of roasted garlic, a swig of sesame oil, a glug of mirin, some honey, salt and pepper, cayenne pepper, and a glug of fish sauce with a pinch of ginger powder. Toss well. It's a light and pleasant salad. Zingy.

Travel track down

Since 2001 travelling to the US has seemed at times more hassle than its worth. I know of friends who have decided not to renew their visas or have simply announced never to travel to America, ever. The stress over applying for a visa, the interview, the cost, then the security at the border, plus the sense of is it worth all this trouble just to give your child a chance to see Mickey Mouse in person or to stand in line to enter the Statue of Liberty?

Last September I flew back to the US for a month of railroad travel, and had read about the problems some travellers encountered at the border, when their computers, cameras, blackberries, even ipods were taken from them by the customs officials and weren't returned to them for reasons of security. There was an article of one American traveller who didn't get his laptop back for a month, who wrote that colleagues of his from other countries didn't get their equipment returned even after 3 months had passed and innumerable queries from their company had been sent to Homeland Security. I chose not to bring too many electronic items with me, but it would still have been intolerable to have to turn over my camera if they demanded it. There's little you can do, there are laws they can use against a traveller, and it's not easy to recall one's rights at moments of stress.

An article I came across today also highlights the efforts of the US government to track both their citizens and other nationals when crossing into US soil. The writer, Sean O'Neill, explains that all border crossings are sent to DHS and files of all citizens are kept for up to 15 years.

"The commercial airlines send these passenger records to Customs and Border Protection, an agency within the Department of Homeland Security. Computers match the information with the databases of federal departments, such as Treasury, Agriculture, and Homeland Security. Computers uncover links between known and previously unidentified terrorists or terrorist suspects, as well as suspicious or irregular travel patterns. Some of this information comes from foreign governments and law enforcement agencies. The data is also crosschecked with American state and local law enforcement agencies, which are tracking persons who have warrants out for their arrest or who are under restraining orders. The data is used not only to fight terrorism but also to prevent and combat acts of organized crime and other illegal activity."

For identity security, the concern lies in the massive undertaking of tracking down the millions of Americans and international travellers who enter and exit the borders each year, managing all this data, and avoiding a security leak that would put at risk all these people's data if it were to be used by criminals. It's a scenario fit for an espionage thriller, with an crazed criminal using all our details for monetary gain or worse. I'm not sure there's a hero capable enough to keep something like that at bay.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


This week is turning into a botanical lesson, I've just learned of two varieties of limes that I had never heard of before.
The first is the finger lime, a elongated citrus fruit that grows in Australia, the fruit looks more like a tiny zucchini, and the pulp looks like caviar! They have grown fingerlimes in different colors, from eggplant purple to red to green, and the pebbly looking pulp also comes in a variety of colors, some of the combinations look like a Shanghai Tang mao jacket.
Today, I came across this article about the Rangpur lime, a variety grown in India, with a bright orange pulp. It's supposedly a hybrid between a mandarin orange and a lime, with tart flesh, a "smoky" essence, and a lot of juice.
Since I am currently trying to preserve some of the limes friends gave me for xmas, it seems like everywhere I turn, someone's talking limes.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Happy accidents

Sometimes the best things in life are complete mistakes. I've had my fair share of bad baking/cooking scenarios, and lately all the breads I've been trying to bake have either fallen flat, or turned into loaves of cement. Just yesterday, a simple thing like making plain steamed rice bit me in the ass, and instead of a well cooked pot of rice, I ended up with soggy rice in the bottom and crusty, undercooked kernels above. Argh. Today, not in the mood to cook, but having to clean out my fridge, I pulled out a bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough I had made on Sunday, and found the dough to be too hard to even shape. It was so hard that when I tried to poke at it with a fork, a chip flew out and bonked me in the nose. So I petulantly stuck the bowl in the microwave to warm the darn thing up. Unfortunately I put it in too long, and by the time I got it out, the chips had melted into the dough, uh oh. Would it bake? Was there any reprieve for my impatience? I put a few spoonfuls into my turbo on a round cookie pan I threw together, and hoped for the best (at 375 degrees celsius for 12 minutes). The smell of baking cookies lifted my mood, and I gulped down a glass of milk in anticipation, oh the wafting aroma of chocolate, how I heart thee.
When I lifted the pucks from the pan and let it cool a bit, I thought these are not going to win a cookie beauty contest, but they seem like they baked right. After jogging in place for a minute while they cooled, I finally grabbed a small cookie, and oh heaven. Accidents do happen, and when they do, stick them in the oven and bake for a bit. Who knows what glory will pop out to turn your mood around?

It's all chinese to me

Caught sight of this on the side of the road: two mannequins dressed up in ninja costumes (all black, long sleeves, a mask covering the lower half of the face and most of the head), with what looked like a plastic sword sticking out the back. Wearing red sashes that read, in both chinese characters and pinyin (this refers to the alphabetization of chinese characters), Happy Chinese New Year. I so want to stop by them one day and plunk a glittery tiara on one of their heads.

My friend is organizing a chinese new year dinner and has been asking what day to hold the dinner. She asked if it would be wrong to hold the dinner on the day of the chinese new year, since she thought it was a day to fast among the chinese community. Fast? Chinese people??? Unless they're monks cleansing themselves for physiological reasons, I can't recall ever hearing of any Chinese group that fasts, especially the new year. I pulled out my handbook on chinese traditions (ie my father) and sent her the list of traditional activities for celebrating the new year. And I don't see anything about fasting on it!

Day 1 welcomes the gods of the heavens and earth; some folks will abstain from eating meat to ensure long life. No fasting.

Day 2, pray to the ancestors as well as to all the gods. Be kind to dogs and feed them well as it is believed that the second day is the birthday of all dogs (strangely enough, a lot of older gen chinese folks are not too dog friendly, I wonder why...).

Days 3 and 4 are for sons-in-laws to pay respect to their parents-in-law.

On Day 5 people stay home to welcome the God of Wealth. No one visits families and friends on this day because it will bring both parties bad luck.

From the sixth to the tenth day, the Chinese visit their relatives and friends freely. They also visit the temples to pray for good fortune and health. Feasting at every stop, since no wants to be seen as too cheap to forget feeding the visitors.

The seventh day of the New Year is the day for farmers to display their produce. A juice from seven types of vegetables celebrates the bounty of the season; which is somewhat contradictory to normal Chinese weather patterns - it's the dead of winter, and farmers have to come up with their produce?? and juice 7 vegies?? It boggles the mind. The seventh day is also considered the birthday of human beings (all humans? even the ones born the day before? This one still befuddles me.). Uncut noodles are eaten to promote longevity and raw fish for success (the word for fish - yu - is a homonym to a word that refers to success).

On the eighth day the residents of Fujian province hold another family reunion dinner, and at midnight they pray to Tian Gong, the God of Heaven. No idea if the folks in Guangdong, Hubei, Shandong are just twiddling their fingers waiting for the Fujianese to finish up, or they could all still be visiting more family and friends.

The ninth day is to make offerings to the Jade Emperor.

Days 10 to 12 are intended for dinners with friends and relatives; rather than traipsing around visiting them and being fed, it's your turn to host!
By the 13th day and unable to stand anymore rich foods, cleanse your system with rice soup (zhou, congee) and mustard greens. This is as close to a fast as it gets. But you're still eating.

The 14th day is to prepare for the big night: Lantern Festival, held on the 15th night.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Week 4, Spot, Come

Oh boy, not only did we get at least 9 rules to remember, but we also had to try to teach two commands. One was to train the dog to touch an object with it's nose or to come close to it (one of the ways of training the dog is known as Shaping, rewarding the dog for approaching an object or performing an action incrementally, until the dog has completed the process). It took us a long time to get the dogs, particularly Mitch, who was not too keen on the object we first chose for her - an empty water bottle. It worked a bit better when we tried the frisbee, and one of the puppies, Germaine, took to it very quickly. Hazel only had a short couple of minutes to learn this and I don't think she understood the reason I was trying to feed her from the frisbee! She eventually got the idea that she was going to be given a treat when she looked at the frisbee, but we didn't get to the point where she was voluntarily touching the frisbee with her nose, I was still having to waggle the disk before she'd even glance at it.

She did a lot better when we used her to teach the command Come. JI explained that there are three deal breaking commands - come to me, go away, and stay wherever I tell you to. I sort of wonder why we didn't learn these right away, but perhaps they are the hardest level of commands and we needed the weeks to bond with our dogs first. Hazel still pulls on the leash and there's not much I can do to control her when she's got it in her head to go wherever she feels like. Maybe I'm not the right person for her. I feel sad thinking I could be creating more problems for her in the long run. She is sitting on command now, either with a word or the index finger. She has had a couple of problems going into the crate especially when she senses she's going to be in there without any of the other dogs around. She has no problems with the bed, but still needs to learn how to stay on the bed after she's received her treat. If she's to 'graduate' from the program, we're going to have to do a lot more morning sessions.

Goals for the week - work with Hazel at least 2x this week, focus on the bond, spot command, and build up crate training.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

My gratitude list for the past year

Things I am grateful for experiencing in the last 12 months:

1. The continued presence of my family. Both my parents suffered from poor health, but they're much stronger than they seem. They are still walking around, nagging us to death.
a. a subset to this point is that a good friend is now working at MMC and he helped me several times when we needed help with getting rooms at the hospital.

2. Longstanding friendships, some of whom are not physically nearby but continue to stay in touch even through separation of distance and time. I am also grateful for meeting a host of new friends through similar interests in food or blogging or dog training.

3. The lack of natural disasters - no super typhoons, no earthquakes, no tsunamis, no droughts. The year may have been tumultuous in so many other places and in so many other ways, but Manila survived another year with few hits compared to years past.

4. Working through tough times. I'm glad I can still work, still pay my rent, feed myself (and the pets), and donate things to others who need it more than I do.

5. The new dog, who is a bundle of curly, cinnamonny fur, bouncy joy. She makes my mother happy, even brings a smile to my dad's face, and has helped my nervous ninny of a niece get over her fear of animals.

6. The opportunities to eat great meals, not just here, but in Thailand, in Hong Kong, in the US.

7. Travel! A new passport is getting stamped with ports of entry and exit. Nothing is sadder than a passport that never gets used.

8. Podcasts. I have had an ipod for two years, and only began downloading free podcasts this year. What a joy to have such a resource during downtime, waiting in line at the bank, or stuck in traffic, or people watching in a cafe. Plug in the earphones and listen to something new.

9. New pair of shoes.

10. Chocolates in Manila. Not the waxy stuff either, real couverture stuff.

And even though the year is also one of loss, of saying goodbye to a relationship, of ending a job, of reducing the material items in life, I am thankful for the experience of having had the time with all those people and things.

Pike Market Peonies

Pike Market Peonies