Tuesday, July 22, 2014

pros & cons: manila

A short list, but you've got to start somewhere so let's just jump right in.

pro: the weather!
It's beautiful. This may be because I hate winter, but the warm, sunny days are perfect!

con: the weather.
It's rainy season right now, and the Philippines sees about 20 typhoons a year. These can mean some pretty nasty weather and are a huge danger for those that live in settlement housing, causing displacement, damage to infrastructure, loss of property and even loss of life.

pro: so many western things
As I learn to navigate the rings of malls and specialty shops, and get to know the big expat community, it's easier and easier to find all the things I love from home. Maybe the brands won't be what I'm used to, but that's not usually a problem.

con: so many western things often sell out and are restocked way later in the season
You want it? Buy it now. Actually, buy two. One time I found stroopwafels and that was amazing.

pro: easy transfer of driver's licence
Even though mine will forever say I weigh in at 63 kg because I was pregnant, all I had to do was pick up a form and fill it out, walk to another building for a "medical", wait for awhile ma'am, step on a scale, wait for awhile ma'am, read letters on the wall wearing my glasses, walk back to the main building, hand in the paperwork, sign some things, sit and wait, sign some more things beside that first place, sit and wait, sign yet more things beside that place, sit and wait, pay, sit and wait even more, pick up my fancy new plastic licence! So yes, maybe it sounds like a long process, but I don't even think they actually looked at my Ontario licence - so I get the feeling that anyone can be licensed here. And I get that feeling because... 

con: traffic
There's so much of it and it is not pretty. We've got:

  • maniacal drivers
  • jeepneys
  • lack of signage
  • lanes that end or do not connect past an intersection
  • lanes that don't really matter. If your vehicle can fit, you get in every last small space you can see.
  • so many cars
  • optional turn signals
  • motorcycles that sneak in everywhere
  • sloooow and erratic three-wheeled vehicles in some parts of the city
Although I have my licence, I still have yet to drive here. Jeff drives, and he's done a great job navigating the "rules" of the road here. I suppose if you don't like it you could hire someone to do your driving for you.

pro: household helpers
You can hire people to do all the things you don't want to do and it's affordable. Gardeners, drivers, helpers or all-arounders (to clean the house, pay your bills, shop, run errands, water your plants, take care of your cat or even your kids... whatever you need), yayas (nannys), pool guys, you name it. You can even hire people to come to your home and give you a manicure or pedicure, a massage, even take your blood if needed.

That said, a big con is major income inequality.
I live in a neighbourhood that's private property, which is right beside a gated community, which is right beside an informal settlement. To say there is a major divide between the rich and the poor in this city is an understatement. I know I am very fortunate.

In the same breath, they say the Filipino spirit is unbreakable, and most people we meet are incredibly friendly, welcoming, and so helpful. It's an adventure living here and I can't wait to explore more of the over 7000 islands the Philippines has to offer!

Monday, July 14, 2014

board game review: tales of arabian nights

[Guest author: my husband, Jeff!]

Bit by bit I have (and by extension my beautiful wife, Amanda, has) been getting into board gaming. [editor's note: I swear, I didn't ask him to say that!]

The first game that we really purchased together was Pandemic.  It is a wonderful cooperative board game where you try to cure various diseases before the world erupts in chaos.  Amanda wrote a bit about it here.  That game helped to nurture the new interest because it was easy to learn, cooperative, relatively short (<60 minutes), and exciting to play.  Since we bought Pandemic, we (more I, I guess) have been adding bits and pieces to our collection.  When buying games, I first and foremost try to understand the mechanics in order to see if it is something Amanda and I might enjoy together.  Seems simple enough, but Amanda typically doesn’t like hardcore competitive games or games with a large degree of luck.  [editor's note: Risk is the worst.] Board games can be quite expensive, so I don’t like the idea of buying one that she will never want to play.  To be fair to Amanda, she is a good sport and will pretty much play any of the ones we own even if they aren’t her favorites.

One game she does enjoy is a newer purchase: Tales of Arabian Nights.  Tales of Arabian Nights is a storytelling game based on 1001 Nights and those types of classic Arabic stories.  Think Aladdin, Sinbad, Scheherazade, etc.  The game is played with 1-6 players (yes - you can play by yourself!).  Mechanically it is quite simple: You move your pawn (Aladdin, as an example) a number of spaces determined by how wealthy you are.  Once you have finished moving, you have an encounter in your current space.

Encounters are dealt with by using certain numbers and some dice rolling to guide you to a particular paragraph in this BEAST:

I won’t go into the whole process of finding the results of your encounter, but the guys at the board game website Shut Up and Sit Down do an excellent job of explaining the mechanics and why this game is great.  The book of tales is essentially a giant book of crazy stuff that happens to your character. Think choose your own adventure stories, and you are not far off. Encounters can give you Story or Destiny Points, which are how you “win” the game.  The game really isn’t about winning, though.  It is about the crazy, fun experiences you have playing it.

Here is an example:
One time when we were playing, my Sinbad character got married.  Isn’t that nice?  Marriage is great, because you earn more Story Points.  However, one turn later I was adventuring when I came across a wizard of some kind.  I failed to impress him and I was turned into a beast.  Perfect.  Shortly after that, I became ensorcelled and went insane.  Those last two statuses meant that another player had to move my character and another player had to choose how I reacted to situations.  Essentially, Sinbad went crazy and made erratic decisions and his every movement was being controlled by some distant sorcerer.  Brilliant use of mechanics to convey story.

A lot of bad things happen in the game, but they are always funny.  The gameplay isn’t deep or difficult, but the theme and the stories you get to tell are wonderful. This is a great game for anyone who just wants to sit down with friends or family and have a silly, fun evening.

Saturday, July 12, 2014


These beautiful flowering trees are up all over the city right now and I love them so much! What are they called?

I bought some fun flavoured salts - herb garden, chili peppercorn, & garlic chili - but I have no idea what to do with them. A couple of times I made chocolate peanut butter cups and topped them with the chili pepper for some heat and that was good. But what else? And don't say popcorn because nothing beats plain old sea salt.

More about salt: one of my students gave me this salt scrub in coconut and jasmine as a year-end gift and it smells amazing! (Though I've been reading that scrubs are not the healthiest habit for our skin...) Plus it's all natural, fair trade, and locally sourced (they bought it while in Thailand) - he must know I'm a bit of a hippie. (The rye flour is out, by the way. Listened to my hair and it said no. not my thing. Will be trying out a bentonite clay mix (with some acv for pH balancing).)

Because it's on topic and I can't resist: Scrubs like you've never heard it.

Moving on.

We're watching Fargo. It's so good, it's got us talking in hecks and saying things are sooper.

Watch this trailer from Richard Linklater - such a fantastic idea that looks brilliantly executed.

This is my favourite granola to make but I almost always almost burn the top layer to a crisp and we eat it anyway.

Last week I shared about the misfortune of our plants, due in part to the fact that I'm not particularly green-thumbed. (Seriously, how do you kill a plant that thrives on air?!) This after one old bud ( ha ha.) up and died early in June. Sadly, we also have an old bamboo that's on the fence about life and just got a new hydroponic plant that's also not shining. So I got some cacti because there's no way I'm going to kill those by underwatering or otherwise neglecting. I don't know why I'm so obsessed with plants. Or so bad at them.

Speaking of plants... I'm from a small town in Ontario, Canada, and never thought anything of our provincial logo, the trillium. Until now. Perspective!

Jeff has started a ginger bug for us so soon we'll have our own ginger ale! That's exciting!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


A few shots from around the city while my parents were visiting.

perfect weather

jeepneys. the worst.

and one cute one from home earlier today!

ps - this is what Manila looks like this afternoon! the pending storm is feeling more like evening time.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

a few words on living abroad

It's sometimes difficult living overseas.
We miss a lot of things at home; milestones, etc.
Like weddings - we've missed several.
Birthdays, births, holidays... 
Even impromptu family gatherings around the dinner table.

And of course people at home miss a lot of our milestones.
Like the birth of our first child.

It's also sometimes amazing living overseas.
I am so grateful for the opportunities we've been given.
I've learned so much, traveled so many places, met so many interesting, unique, gracious, and giving people.
Living in another country is an experience not many will take, and we've grown from this.
A lot.

Now that we've started a family, the pressure will be on to return to Canada perhaps more often than we'd prefer.
The long haul flights, jet lag, packing and unpacking, living out of backpacks for weeks on end...
These things are less than desirable. 
As they say, though, home is where the heart is.
Time with family and friends is increasingly important to us, so we shouldn't be too bothered by this as time moves on.
It's all worth it.

Friday, July 4, 2014


Since we're not travelling this summer (still working on that baby passport) we're curing the wanderlust with Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown. My parents were able to come visit, though, so that's been great!

Also fixating on these amazing travel photos. Jeff thinks I have a crush on his girlfriend... Can you blame me? I mean, holy moly.

This video is for Beyonce lovers and for people who wish they could dance, but can't, like me.

Jeff has had this song on over and over and it is incredibly catchy. All the songs... just so great to dance around to with Mara!

Dancing, that is, to work off Green & Black's amazing organic chocolate.

We got an air plant (like this) last week and I think I'm already killing it. The flowers are definitely not pink anymore.

We also bought a calamansi tree for friends as a housewarming gift, and it, too, seems to be dying. Leaves all over the floor. Eeesh.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

natural beauty routine

Alternatively called My Life as a Hippie.
Someone asked recently about some of my homemade beauty recipes, so I thought I'd share. 


Shampoo + conditioner: I have been using baking soda and acv since April, but after reading more and more evidence against this method I've just started a switch to a more pH balanced method that I'm loving! With the baking soda my hair was very dry and staticky even with extra diluting - living in a very humid climate that was a concern - and I felt guilty washing more than once in a week, so the rye flour makes my hair much happier (although it takes forever to rinse out).

Aloe leave-in conditioner: equal parts 100% aloe and filtered water mixed with lavender essential oil (for scent) only after cleaning my hair (all other days I use a shower cap).

Dry shampoo: equal parts corn starch, baking soda, and cocoa powder applied with an old make up brush and brushed out with a boar bristle brush.

Hairspray: sugar + water (I don't use it often though).

body + face
Body wash: moisturizing honey body wash

Body moisturizer: I use a whipped coconut butter from a local company, Satinka Naturals, that only has four or five ingredients and is awesome (stall at Legazpi Sunday Market).

Face wash: raw local honey + bentonite clay mask every week or so at night. In the mornings I just use this sponge with water. (Though I have less than perfect skin, I'd say it's about the same or even a little better than when I was using commercial products.)

Day-time moisturizer: Desert Essence SPF 15 (a level 1 on EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database – a fantastic resource for learning about products you use or want to buy).

Eye make-up remover: coconut oil

Facial oil (serum/moisturizer at night): 2/3 jojoba oil, 1/3 rosehip seed oil, tea tree oil (there are a ton of different options for this!)

+ I use a drop of rosehip seed oil on fine lines at nighttime

Deodorant: I have been using this recipe since last September and having to rebalance every now and again; I don't love it, but hey.

Mascara: Physician's Formula 100% Natural Origin Fakeout Mascara - also a level 1 on EWG. (Thanks to my mom for bringing me a tube from Canada - it's great!)

Perfume: Finn & Co Black Sand roll-on (because it's an all natural formula that is sulfate-, paraben-, formaldehyde-, phthalate-, phosphate-, and cruelty-free and smells amazing!). I love it but really want to try making my own with bergamot and jasmine; I can't seem to find jasmine here in the Philippines, though, which seems crazy since it's the national flower...

Now that it's all out there, that seems like a lot of stuff for a more simplistic routine. I'm a bit of a hippie - or crunchy, as they say now - and loving it! Transitioning can be not fun but it's totally worth it. We even just use castille soap on Mara so far - no creams or powders or anything junky.