Contradiction in Terms
You say to-may-toe; I say toh-mah-tah. Deal with it.
Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Books for Pre-Schoolers

Warning: This is a "mommy post", so if you're not interested in books for very young kids, or don't have any kids in your life that you're interested in reading to, you may want to skip it.
My good friend Pauline (pronounced Pawleen in New Jersey, where she lives, haha!) wrote to ask me for recommendations for children's books. She's a reader like me, and her son Dylan is about the same age as my Sage--three-ish--so we have a shared interest in finding good books for very short people with even shorter attention spans.

This can be challenging because there are many books out there that are supposed to be for children, but are either way too long and involved, or just, you know, stupid, clearly published by persons out to make a buck who don't actually know or like children. Also, you want to find books that the person who's reading them can actually stand, since kids tend to demand that their favorites be read over and over again.

Pauline's other parameters were: (1) no Maurice Sendak, Eric Carle, Sandra Boynton, or Thomas the Tank, as she and Dylan have exhausted those already; and (2) nothing overtly "girly", Dylan being a boy. So if you don't find those in this list, that's why.

3-Minute Stories, published by PI Kids, my number-one resource for quick reading sessions. There are several variations: 3-Minute Fairy Tales, 3-Minute Adventure Stories, 3-Minute Bible Stories (if that's your thing), etc. You can get in two or three stories at a time; it's illustrated on nearly every page; and there's a neat lenticular clock thingie on the cover that Sage finds fascinating. The fairy tale one has stories ranging from 'King Midas' to 'The Wild Swans' to the more common 'Cinderella' and 'Sleeping Beauty' tales. It's made in China, though, so I don't know if Pauline will be able to get her hands on it.

the early-stage Dora the Explorer books. Not especially girly, since they're generally adventuresome, and I don't know any kid who doesn't like Dora. There are all sorts of Dora books, but the ones I'm talking about have "reader levels" indicated on the front cover. The neat thing is that the text is interspersed with little picture icons, so that kids learn to associate words with items they stand for. Sage likes these because she gets to "help" do the reading.

selected Dr. Seuss books. You have to be careful with the good doctor, as some of his books are too long or actually more geared for adults. I haven't gotten Sage to sit all the way through The Cat in the Hat yet, but we always have fun with Green Eggs and Ham and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. The whimsical nonsense and clever use of rhyme are what appear to enrapture Sage, and usually there's some kind of useful lesson cleverly embedded in the story. (I sometimes use Green Eggs and Ham to make her try unfamiliar foods, for example.)

Goodnight, Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. This is the all-time champion bedtime story. It's not actually a story in the formal sense--more like an illustrated poem about objects in a child's bedroom--but it's so short it's painless for the reader, yet just long enough that a drowsy child should be out like a light by the end. Read in a suitably hushed cadence for best results.

Wolves in the Wall by Neil Gaiman. I actually thought Sage was too young for this one, until I saw her listening raptly as her Uncle Andrew read it to her. I think it's the juxtaposition of everyday family reality with sheer weirdness. I've yet to try other children's books by Gaiman, though I'm sure Coraline is much too long.

activity books by Priddy-Bricknell. This publisher makes great board books with all those extras kids love: touch-and-feel pictures, peekaboo panels, and so on. They're not exactly stories, either, but it's fun to guide your kid through the activities, especially since they use fresh, unexpected representations for letters and concepts (e.g., 'd' is for 'duckling' rather than 'dog'). The Learn to Write your Letters and Learn to Write your Numbers books have been particularly useful in teaching Sage to identify and write her ABCs and 123s. They have connect-the-dot numbers and letters that kids can trace, and the books are made from whiteboard-like material so you can wipe them off and use them over and over again.


Pantheon Books has some very nice compilations of fairy tales from different cultures, from The Complete Grimm's to Russian and Chinese collections. Obviously, these will be too long and too "lit'ry" for a small child, but what you can do is read a couple of stories on your own, then paraphrase 'em into child-sized portions. Same goes for more unorthodox sources like the really excellent Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales.

You can also use myths as resource material--World Mythology by Donna Rosenberg offers a satisfyingly global mix--but it can get pretty complicated trying to explain the difference between "God" and "gods", so use your discretion. (And by the way, no folklore/myth bookshelf can be considered complete without Aleksandr Afanasev's Russian Fairy Tales or Edith Hamilton's Mythology, which I consider highly superior to the Bullfinch.)

Make it up as you go along. If you're a writer, like Pauline is and I am, feel free to create your own stories--hey, Lewis Carroll did it, and look how well that turned out! Seriously, though, you don't need to come up with Alice or anything; my big secret is, if you use the child's name for the protagonist of the story, he/she will be hooked. You can make up fanciful tales about how his/her birthmark is actually a kiss from a good fairy, or it can be something as simple as how Mom and Dad brought home a favorite teddy bear. Throw in the names of their friends, grandparents, people and places they love, and they'll love it.

Do it impromptu, or you can actually type it up, print it, and make it into his/her own special book for the two of you to illustrate or whatever. The other way you can do this is to sit down and have a painting/drawing session, then make up a story about the pictures you've made. Sage and I ended up with a nice fable about 'The Moon Lady' this way.

Have fun!
This has inspired me to take a page from Gigi. So send me any questions currently burning in your minds; and if I know the answers or can look them up, I'll post 'em here on the blog. Just drop a line in the tagboard or comments section, and I'll see what I can do.
Nikki bit in at 3:52 PM :: ::
Tuesday, July 26, 2005

excerpt: Heritage

Once, a man named Magbangal told his wife, "My wife, tomorrow I am going to clear our field. I do not want you to come with me--you must stay here at home." The next morning he took his ten axes, his bolos, his sharpening stone, and a bamboo tube full of water, and set off for the field alone.

When he reached their field, he cut some wood and made the wood into a bench. He sat down on the bench and told his bolos, "You bolos must be sharpened on the stone." At once the bolos rose up in the air and began to sharpen themselves on the sharpening stone that he had brought with him.

When the bolos were sharp enough to slice a whisper, Magbangal said to his axes, "You axes must also be sharpened." The ten axes rose up as well and began to sharpen themselves on the stone. When all the sharpening was complete, Magbangal told his implements, "Now you bolos must cut the grass, and you axes must cut the trees." The axes and bolos set to work swiftly and obediently.

At home, Magbangal's wife was surprised to hear the sound of many trees falling at a very rapid pace. "My husband must have found many people to help him," she said to herself. "I will go and see." She had not forgotten what her husband had said to her, so she hid behind a tree near their field--and was surprised to see Magbangal fast asleep on a wooden bench! She was even more surprised to see all the bolos and axes working steadily away with no one to wield them.

Suddenly, one of the bolos swung away from the grass and chopped off her husband's arm. Magbangal immediately jumped up and said, "I think someone must be looking at me, for my arm is cut off. If you are watching me, my wife, please show yourself now."

Trembling, Magbangal's wife stepped out from behind her tree, but she found that her husband was more sorrowful than angry. "Now I must go away," he told her. "It is better for me to return to the sky; and you, my wife, will have to go to the water and become a fish."

So Magbangal's poor wife was turned into a fish, while her husband went back to the sky and became the constellation known as the dipper, which the Bukidnon call Magbangal. His bolos became the constellation called Malala; his axes, the ten stars known as Ta-on; and his cut-off arm, the constellation Balokau. To this day, the farmers of Bukidnon plot their field work by the positions of these stars, so that they know when to plant, when to harvest, and when to clear the fields.
This is an excerpt from the story I'm working on for Dean's Philippine speculative fiction anthology. If you have the time and the inclination to submit, I'm reminding you to get cracking now, as the deadline is this weekend.

And no, the rest of my story isn't quite like this. If the editor actually accepts it--without my having to seduce him, ha!--you can read the whole thing when the book comes out.

Whoops, sorry!
Turns out that end-of-July deadline was only for me... because That Editor Guy is just tougher on me than on everyone else. Apologies to everyone I may have panicked; the actual deadline is August 15.
Check out the rest of the posse!

Tobie Abad
Gabby Lee
Andre Mischa Cleofe
Cathy delos Santos
Nikki bit in at 2:40 PM :: ::
Monday, July 25, 2005

Mangled Music

I've been meaning to share these hilariously misinterpreted lyrics with you guys for a while. Since it's a holiday here in Manila, I figure it's the perfect time for a short and silly post like this...
sung to the tune of Outkast's "Heya":

"My baby don't mess around because she's just so-so.
Lea... Lea..."
Nikki bit in at 3:22 PM :: ::
Friday, July 22, 2005

Speaking Straight, part two

Not quite as sweet as the one where Dean called me his "life", but vaguely reminiscent. It happened like this: Sage and I were happily blowing bubbles, an activity we both enjoy despite the fact that we inevitably end up soaking ourselves and the nearby floor area in bubble solution.

Since I had just created a particularly large bubble, Sage praised me: "Wow, Mommy, you're so good at blowing!"

To which her father instantly and smugly replied: "Yeeesssss..."

Fortunately, for once, our daughter elected not to ask too many questions.

Image hosted by
Sage, hearing no evil as she chills out at Powerbooks
Nikki bit in at 3:30 PM :: ::
Thursday, July 21, 2005

Movie Moments

Not my favorite scenes from movies, but rather, movies that have in some way marked moments of my life.

Grease. The first movie I ever watched in a theater. Actually, at that time, about the only place you could watch movies was in a theater. Betamax was still several years away, and its successors yet undreamt-of in the minds of the public. Probably having a musical as my very first film influenced my lifelong love for Broadway and singing in the shower.

Battlestar Galactica. Another film from my childhood, this one is memorable for me because my brothers wanted to watch it, but my parents wanted to see some "grown-up" flick. As the youngest, it was decided that I would get to pick; and my brothers lied to me, saying that my idol Princess Leia would be in it. (See? A princess with a blaster... even then, I wanted to see strong women in pop culture.) I patiently kept an eye out for Leia throughout the film--she never did show up, but we had a good time anyway.

Kramer vs. Kramer. My first "grown-up" flick, when my mother triumphed in the "What to Watch" Wars. I didn't understand half of what was going on, or why it mattered whether the little boy whose parents were divorcing had clouds painted on his ceiling or not.

Race for your Life, Charlie Brown. The first film I watched on Betamax, after which I devoured every cartoon I could get my hands on, particularly the Disney fairy tales. I preferred Sleeping Beauty over the girlier princess movies because there was a fight scene with a dragon. (And so we fast forward 20+ years to the future, where I now have a daughter who sees herself as a Pro-Active Princess, complete with her own sword, shield, and a take-no-prisoners attitude.)

Bukas Luluhod ang mga Tala. My first Tagalog movie, which my grand-aunt dragged me to watch with her. Given my difficulties with my own native language, I understood even less than I did watching Kramer vs. Kramer, though I certainly got Cherie Gil's immortal line, spoken in English: "You're nothing but a second-rate, trying-hard copycat!" It was head-and-shoulders better than my next Pinoy flick, Friends in Love, which probably led to my current shameful indifference to the majority of Filipino cinema.

Footloose. The first film I really identified with. I was in sixth grade, and Kevin Bacon's struggles against the Evil Adults who outlawed dancing seemed of monumental importance to me. Oh, the injustice! The pathos! The angst! Despite the actual shallowness of the topic (which did not seem one bit shallow to me at the time), this probably marked the beginnings of my awareness as a human being capable of sentient thought.

some porn video or another. My mother was very liberal about sex and nudity, and didn't care if I wandered through the room while she was watching pornography. As a result, I don't even remember the first one I saw, it was so not a big deal. My big brothers were queasy about watching porn when I was around, though, so they'd lock me out of the room. More annoyed at being excluded than at missing the actual film, I'd pound on the door and demand to know what all the groaning and panting was about. "They're moving a piano!" the boys would tell me.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off. The first movie I cut class to see, which is fitting since it's about a guy and his friends cutting class. I was in high school and not yet permitted to watch movies in a theater without adult supervision, so my best friend Janet and I sneaked off to see it on our own. Matthew Broderick as Ferris was likely the inspiration for my rampant class-cutting all throughout high school.

American Ninja. My actor brother's first film, in which he played a cannon fodder ninja, concealed from head to foot in black ninja-wear. "There! That's me!" he would say, pointing at the screen. "Where?" I'd ask, trying to tell one poor, doomed ninja from another. "Too late, I'm dead," Richard said, resigned. Later, I watched him again in Disgrasyada, in which Ruffa Gutierrez tells him, "Ang galing mo pala sa kama." ("You're so good in bed.") It was so absurd watching my brother doing sex scenes that I kept hooting and guffawing throughout the supposedly-sexy movie, no doubt incensing all the other theater patrons.

King Kong. Not the original, but a remake starring Jessica Lange. It was probably old itself by the time they showed it at our school auditorium, which explains why I preferred to have my first movie makeout session rather than watch the actual film. I was in one of those "off" periods with my on-again/off-again boyfriend, which is why I somehow ended up making out with one of my batchmates, a guy I often traded comic books with. He got to second base.

Missing in Action 3. An international movie filmed in Manila, in which my parents acted as extras in a party scene. Mom and Dad are shown crossing the party floor together in the theater version, but in the video version, my father is cut out of the scene. Which just goes to show that art not only imitates, but sometimes predates life.

Navy Seals. A movie premiere which my date and I ditched, opting for a looong, drawn-out dinner at Dean St. Cafe instead. He asked me to be his girlfriend the same night: "Of course, you can think about it as long as you want," he said. "Okay," said I, cribbing a line from Oscar Wilde: "but you should know that I fully intend to say yes." He was my first college boyfriend and the first man I had all-the-way sex with. I broke up with him two and a half years later, little knowing that he had already saved up half the money he had planned to spend on my engagement ring. We're still friends, and now married to different people, so it's all good.

Valmont. The highly superior art film version of Dangerous Liaisons (albeit lacking the Malkovich Factor). My best male friend/co-conspirator and I were so taken with the evil Vicomte and Marquise that we went around making bets on who we could seduce into falling in love with us and/or sleeping with us. The bet I particularly remember hinged on him winning the heart of a tough-nut-to-crack named Isabella. If she slept with him, my penalty would be to sleep with him as well; if she stayed out of his bed for a given period of time, his penalty would be to shave his head. You will note that Dean is bald, although whether he actually lost the bet remains a topic for occasional debate.

Journey to Bountiful. A film Dean and I (We were together by then, though not yet married) were watching on his laser disc player when the power cut out. Left hanging, we naturally had sex while waiting for the electricity to come back on. When it did, however, we agreed that the movie had clearly been moving towards an unspeakably tragic end, and that it would certainly be less depressing and more edifying for us to have more sex rather than watch the end of the movie. Which we did.

Naturally, I've watched a lot more movies since then, but these are the ones that jog my memory; that make me realize, in retrospect, some of the things that have led me to become the person I am. My own little Cinema Paradiso... who'd'a thunk it?
Nikki bit in at 1:53 PM :: ::
Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Attributes of Attraction

Last Saturday night (Sunday morning, really), Dean, Vin, Andrew, and I got to talking about the 5 "M"s--in other words, the five attributes that Filipino males supposedly look for in a prospective girlfriend. It's a rather horrifying list, really: Maganda (pretty), Malambing (affectionate), Masunurin (obedient), May Telepono (has a phone), Malapit ang bahay (lives nearby).

Now, this is a mostly tongue-in-cheek (um, I hope) set of requirements that was popular when I was in college, but naturally it led to what each of us really looks for in a romantic partner. I realized that my list has changed a lot from the days of my youth--well, back then, you know, when I said "good-looking", I basically meant "bears a stunning resemblance to Johnny Depp". Now that I'm older and presumably wiser, my priorities have altered significantly:

1. The Look. I've often said that women go for quality, not packaging--however, we do like the packaging to look decent. You know, a guy you can actually introduce to people without having to go, "This is my, um, well, okay, friend." In my case, I care less about a guy's actual physical features than how he presents himself. I like a man to have a strong sense of personal style--not that he has to go around looking like a GQ fashion spread, but that his appearance expresses his character, and he doesn't look like every other Joe Schmoe who wears the clothes his mommy buys him. And basically, he should look nice, clean, and not have any horripilating characteristics like dirty ears or hair growing out of his nostrils. I have zero interest in grooming my guy or dressing him up like a Ken doll--as far as I'm concerned, if he can't take care of himself, he's not a grown-up; and My Toys are Not For Boys.

2. Things in Common. Preferably, my guy likes to read, has discerning taste in movies, enjoys a good Broadway musical, etc. More important, however, are the fundamental commonalities--like socio-economic background, restaurant savvy, and the ability to speak good English. Call me a snob: I am, I won't deny it. But am I willing to spend an entire relationship adjusting to someone else's level? No, I am not. I want us both to start on fairly level ground, and build from there. It may be snobbery, but it's also good sense.

3. Sexual Compatibility. Not something you can tell right off the bat, but prolonged conversation can eventually reveal a person's outlook on this vital element of romantic interaction. Obviously, a guy who believes that the missionary position once a month is the be-all and end-all of intimate relations is not the guy for me! (Or, y'know, anyone, I should think...) And as Gigi said recently, you can learn a lot--not everything, I maintain, but a lot--from the way a guy kisses. It's not so much about sexual prowess, but sexual openness.

4. Mental Matters. If he's not at least as smart as me, he's gone. That practically goes without saying, but in my case, he also needs to be weird. Not an out-and-out freakshow, mind you, but I like a little quirkiness, a certain level of out-of-the-ordinary obssession. I just would not be into a guy whose interests consist of standard testosterone tropes like cars and sound systems. Yawn. Tell me you keep snakes; tell me you still like to build Lego skyscrapers; tell me that comic book characters are the mythological pantheon of the 20th century, and explain why you think so. I'm your girl.

5. Deserved Arrogance. To me, there's a big difference between arrogance and conceit. A conceited man thinks he's the cat's meow when really, he's barely worth a mouse's squeak. An arrogant man is so secure in his qualities and capabilities that the way he carries himself roars it like a lion--and he's proven his right to walk around that way. Some women find this a turn-off, but I consider it sexy as all hell. I like a man whom I can't necessarily push around--who could possibly push me around, but doesn't, partly because he knows that he could if he wanted to. Maybe that's uncharacteristically chauvinistic of me, but I think that strength just calls to strength, that's all. All the muscles in the world cannot make me as weak in the knees as a rightfully arrogant man.

Yes, I know that I'm happily married, which makes this list more or less moot for me. But looking it over, I'm pleased to report that Dean definitely scores a five out of five. (Six, actually, because he gets bonus points for the arrogance requirement, haha!) As for my own compliance with the 5 "M"s... well, I am affectionate, at least. All other attributes are open for discussion.

Check out the rest of the posse!
the Tuesday Writers' Webring
Tobie Abad
Gabby Lee
Andre Mischa Cleofe
Cathy delos Santos
Nikki bit in at 1:37 PM :: ::
Monday, July 18, 2005

Lazy Lunch

There are people who are convinced that I'm some kind of fabulous chef--which is amusing since, in reality, I am possibly the laziest cook in existence. I scramble eggs straight in the pan not because it makes them fluffier, as some claim, but simply because I cannot bear the thought of having to wash one measly extra bowl. If I didn't have one of those egg-slicing gizmos, I'd probably never add boiled eggs to a salad or whatever, because then I'd have to--gasp!--chop them up.

This being the case, I have become something of an expert on hassle-free cooking. And since my friend Rei is currently brushing up on her (nearly-nonexistent, she says) culinary skills, I thought I'd post a few of what, for want of a better term, we will have to laughingly call my recipes:

Two-Minute Chicken Salad
1. Grab a can of PureFoods chicken chunks (the plain kind, in vegetable oil). Drain the lazy way--by opening the can just a little and shaking it upside down over your sink. Dump the chunks in a bowl and smush into shreds with the same fork you're planning to eat with.

2. Douse chicken shreds liberally with olive oil, then sprinkle with garlic salt. Add parmesan or cheddar cheese if you have the pre-grated kind; otherwise, don't even bother. Mix and eat with bread or on its own.

Counterfeit Carbonara
1. Make some pasta. If you don't know how to do this, here's how: Curl your index finger into a circle that just meets the base of your thumb. This is about enough spaghetti or angel hair for one man or two women. (What can I say? Some things are not gender-neutral.) Heat a pot of water till it's boiling loudly, then toss the pasta in with some oil. Keep checking with a fork until the pasta is no longer transparent and has that nice chewy texture known as al dente.

2. Melt an absurd amount of butter in a pan. (It's better to err on the side of excess here.) Use it to fry some onions and garlic until the onions are reasonably clear. Pour in a can of thick cream and as much grated cheese as your little heart can hold. Add salt, pepper, whatever other bottled spice floats your boat, and just a few drops of calamansi or lemon from one of those squeezy bottles. Stir whenever it occurs to you to do so.

3. When the cheese is melted, throw the whole mess on your pasta, and top with artificial bacon bits. Do not use artificial bacon chunks because fake bacon really doesn't taste like real bacon, but if the bits are small enough, no one will care. You can also add those pre-chopped canned mushrooms, so you can pretend it's actually healthy in some obscure way.

Really Faux Leche Flan
1. Dump half a can of condensed milk, a capful of vanilla extract (You know how they come in those little bottles), some sugar, and one or two whole eggs (depending on how firm you want it) in a microwaveable bowl. Mix until you can no longer identify the eggs as separate items, sprinkle a little more sugar on top, then microwave until the top sugar is slightly burnt.

2. Melt some brown sugar with water in a frying pan, or--even lazier--dilute pancake syrup with water. Drizzle it on your finished "flan" and pretend it's the real thing.

And there you have it! An entire meal that is simple to make, yet will delude your poor, credulous friends into believing you actually have some kind of genius in the kitchen. Thus you will eat happily, appear brilliant, and have more time for infinitely more important things like blogging.
Nikki bit in at 1:03 PM :: ::
Friday, July 15, 2005


... this hilarious post on Jesus' ethnicity, by Chin. I'm running late today (thanks to a particularly frisky husband, home from work for the afternoon!), so Chin will just have to amuse you. Thanks, girl, demented!
Nikki bit in at 2:53 PM :: ::
Thursday, July 14, 2005


My Caucasian stepfather is under the impression that five cars on the road constitutes traffic.

As a (practically) life-long Metro Manila dweller, I find this laughable. Anyone who lives in our fair Philippine capital knows that having only five cars around you means one of two things: (a) it's three a.m. on a Sunday, or (b) someone is holding a coup and no one told you about it.

It's kind of sad, upon consideration, that we live in a country where a coup d'etat is one of the first two explanations that immediately spring to mind in such a circumstance; but what can ya do? We change presidents more frequently than some TV stations change programming. Somewhere along the way, we've morphed into what suspiciously resembles a banana republic.

Have you noticed that our uprisings have been steadily moving south? And I mean that both literally and figuratively. Look:

People Power 1: held on EDSA, in front of Camps Crame and Aguinaldo. Totalitarian regime spanning around two decades toppled. Yay, us!

People Power 2: held at the corner of EDSA and Ortigas (annoyingly, just a block away from Nikki's home--these activists are so inconsiderate!). Corrupt and Hugely Embarrassing president removed from power. Still "yay, us", though not as unequivocally.

What-has-Been-Referred-to-but-Not-Universally-Recognized-as People Power 3: held at same corner of EDSA and Ortigas. Unsuccessful attempt to return said corrupt and embarrassing president to power. Possibility of people involved simply being high on exhaust fumes; which is better than the likelihood that we're all just, y'know, gluttons for punishment.

Present-Day Rallies: occurring on Ayala Avenue, Makati. As-yet-unresolved effort to oust Current Corrupt President from power. Business successfully disrupted; outcome to be decided.

And the horrible thing is, not only have the uprisings apparently diminished in effectiveness, we've started to just not care. Perhaps we should more rightly be called a "bahala na republic"; but can we help it, when every president seems to be as bad as--if not worse than--the last, and nothing aside from the faces on the nightly news really seems to change?

Watch: even if the woman actually does get ousted, we'll never wind up prosecuting her, and we'll just start the whole rigmarole again with somebody else.

At least the traffic has gotten a little bit better. When you live in a bahala na republic, you have to take your improvements where--and if--you find them.
Nikki bit in at 3:21 PM :: ::
Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Tech Talk

I was all stressed out because my Beloved Mobile Phone refused to charge.

Given my horrendous inability to budget my own money (I am very responsible with family funds, but with my personal cash, my wallet is like a sieve), I was dreading the astronomical expense of having to buy new parts, a new battery, a new charger, or--worst of all, gasp--a new phone.

Unlike a lot of women, I'm actually pretty good with hardware and repairs--basically because my mother and I lived together on our own for many years; and if I hadn't figured out how to tinker with our perenially faulty fuse box, we'd have just had to survive in the dark for half my teenage life. Now, although Dean is responsible for sorting the tangled connections on both our computers as well as changing all our light bulbs (because he's the only one who can actually reach the damned ceiling!), I'm the one who installed the locks and knob on our front door; who hooks up various entertainment devices to the TV; who unclogs sinks and drains; who Sage persists in thinking of as She Who Can Resurrect Busted Toys (probably not in those words, though).

So I tried to resolve the phone problem myself: cleaning the contact points to the battery and charger, meticulously examining all the wires, chips, and whatnot I could manage to get access to without actually dismantling the entire phone. Finally, when all my efforts were met with zero success, I had to send the phone off to the Commercial Repair Folk, and damn the expense.

It cost me 15 pesos to purchase a new adaptor. Sometimes, solutions are simple, and right under your nose.
Nikki bit in at 1:20 PM :: ::
Tuesday, July 12, 2005

So You Think You Want a Nikki

Male friends of all flavors are always saying this to Dean: "Gee, you're so lucky. I wish I could find a Nikki of my own..." I find this immensely and invariably flattering; I also don't believe a word of it.


I'd wager my wardrobe that the moment Dean fell irrevocably in love with me was the moment I told him to his face that he was an asshole--with no anger or agenda, just a simple statement of fact. Ten years of marriage later, I'm sure he continues to appreciate my tits and my ability to make him yummy midnight snacks--but I believe what keeps him in love with me, year after year, is that:

I make it my mission to beat him at least 50% of the time in card or board games (except Monopoly, at which I continue to royally suck; and Boggle/Word Factory, at which no one but my best friend Jen can beat me, ha!).

I eat when I want to eat, smoke if I want to smoke, wear what I want to wear, and only do what he says when it was pretty much what I was planning to do in the first place.

I'm practically the only person who can tell the difference anymore between Brilliant and Merely Mediocre writing on his part; and I don't hesitate to tell him.

I laugh at him frequently, and dish it out right back at him when he laughs at me.

I'm at least as lustful as he is, and likely to know more about pornographic terminology and depraved sexual practices than he does.

I am the proud owner of a Certified Potty Mouth, and I'll talk about pretty much anything and everything, including, yes, the precise size and shape of his penis.

I flirt indiscriminately with everyone: male, female, and in-between. I'd flirt with rocks and trees if I thought they might respond once in a while. I am given to hugging male friends without warning, leaning on their shoulders, and mussing their hair (or rubbing their bald heads, as the case may be).

And it's just not every guy who thinks that these qualities are good things. I'm sorry--it probably looks wonderful and enviable when you're watching us together from across the room--but it takes work and a strong sense of self and balls of tempered steel to love me in the long term.

In my not-so-humble opinion, most males don't really want an equal who will challenge them, but an inferior who will obey them. Something like a puppy--a cute little thing you can stroke and cuddle when you feel like it, and ignore when you don't. Every single guy who once said he wanted a "Nikki" and now has a girlfriend/spouse has ended up choosing a Meek Miss who happily plays second--or third--fiddle in her guy's shadow. (Ugh, how's that for a mixed metaphor?) Either they discovered that they didn't really want someone like me, or I've been seriously dissed.

The sad truth is, there are "Nikkis" running around all over the place--several of them are listed among my links, just over there to the left of this post. We are not puppies--rather, we are a curious breed that is perfectly capable of treating a man like a silly little thing and a god on earth at one and the same time. We can respect and adore a man--but not unconditionally; and we don't think that loving them has to mean worshipping them, and certainly not fearing them. And there will always be boys who think they want a woman Just Like Us.

Which is silly, because any kid can tell you that boys belong with girls. It takes a man to love a woman.

Check out the rest of the posse!
the Tuesday Writers' Webring
Tobie Abad
Gabby Lee
Andre Mischa Cleofe
Cathy delos Santos
Nikki bit in at 1:12 PM :: ::
Saturday, July 09, 2005

One More Slice

...of Hollywood Reality, inspired by Melissa:

8. The thicker the non-American accent, the higher the probability of eeevil. Women with pronounced accents are sexy and bad; or just sexy; or just bad. Men with pronounced accents are slightly bad, thoroughly bad, or Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Nikki bit in at 4:51 PM :: ::

Scaling Down

I finally decided to listen to my big brother's diet advice.

Although he is a certified fitness consultant, I've been ignoring him for years, because, well, he's my brother. If any of you actually think sibling advice should be automatically listened to, you probably don't have siblings--or at least, not the kind who told you, when you were six, that sunbeams could be trapped and held in the palm of your hand if you were quick enough to catch them. (An afternoon of fruitless frustration that probably contributed significantly to my current skeptic nature.)

Anyway, day before yesterday, I checked my weight on the scale at the doctor's office and discovered that I have actually lost give-or-take fifteen pounds in just over two weeks. Since two of you have already asked how I did this, I'm posting the general rules of thumb to my brother's Sane Low-Carb Diet. ("Sane" meaning you can actually do it without fainting from weakness, killing everyone around you due to hunger-induced bad temper, or having to constantly refer to a list of "legal" foods that no one normal ever has in their kitchen anyway.)

1. Eat three main meals a day. Each of these meals should consist of no more than three fist-sized portions. (Your fist, which serves as an equivalent measure for your general body frame and size.) Women will most likely find that this is about as much or more than they usually eat, anyway. (Male readers will just have to suffer.)

2. Stay away from foods that you know are full of carbs or sugar. When in doubt, just don't eat anything that is white, yellow, or pale earth-toned in color. This means that rice, potatoes, and corn are bad; but you can eat bacon, steak, fried chicken, and other protein-y substances all day long. (Some exceptions to the color rule are eggs, milk, butter, cheese, and salt, which are okay; and squash and beans of any sort, which are not.)

3. If you want to lose weight more gradually, you can still eat the "forbidden" foods--just make sure you don't eat more than one fist-sized portion of them per meal. And whether you're after rapid or gradual weight loss, don't worry about minor carb intake like breadcrumb coating--incidental carbs like that are generally no big deal. (Just don't shovel breadcrumbs into your mouth or anything!)

4. In addition to your three meals, you can have up to two snacks a day, as long as they're not "forbidden" foods. Cheese, cold cuts, chicharon, and canned meat like vienna sausages make great munchies.

5. Pick one cheating day a week, during which you can throw the whole diet out the window and eat whatever the hell you want. This way, if you have a craving for a hot fudge sundae, you can just promise yourself an ice cream binge on your cheating day. Also, if you wind up breaking your diet one day--because you forgot, or couldn't resist, or ate someplace where there was nothing to eat but carbs--you can just decide that that day is your cheating day, and forego the "official" one for the week.

It's doable, I promise. I'm a chips-and-dip addict myself, and I've been doing it for 18 days now, without feeling weak or going crazy. You should not do it for more than two weeks, however, without consulting a doctor, nutritionist, or fitness expert. Drop me a line and I'll give you my brother's phone number.
Nikki bit in at 3:27 PM :: ::
Thursday, July 07, 2005

Speaking Straight

A couple of weeks ago, our daughter Sage was showing off her new vocabulary words, as we all hung around in our bedroom.

"Mommy," she explained to me, "Daddy is your husband."

"Yes, he is," I confirmed. "What a smart little girl you are!"

"And Daddy," she continued, "Mommy is your life."

"Sage!" I protested, laughing. "I'm Daddy's wife, not his life!"

From his place in front of his computer, Dean glanced over at us and shrugged, smiling. "Close enough," he remarked.

Have I told y'all that I love that man?
Nikki bit in at 1:17 PM :: ::
Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Hollywood Reality

Last night, Dean and I got to watch part of Mr. and Mrs. Smith on DVD. I say "part" because my foolish husband bought the pirated copy from a merchant other than our trusted supplier, Billy the Pirate. Thus, two-thirds of the way into the movie, we got a freeze-frame and the film refused to progress from there.

Argh! I'd been enjoying it a great deal, so we're just going to have to get a proper copy from Pirate Billy. During the part that we did get to see, however, I was reminded of certain rules I've observed over the years concerning reality as defined by Hollywood:

1. Happy couples eat at small kitchen tables, or otherwise close by one another. Estranged couples eat at opposite ends of long, rectangular tables. Why they don't just sit next to each other, or across from each other on the horizontal axis of the table is beyond me. Aside from being able to properly converse, this would enable them to more easily achieve vital tasks like passing the salt. Perhaps lack of condiment sharing equates to lack of communication?

2. Except for R-rated teen flicks, good guys never swim in swimming pools. Women can swim anywhere; but you mark my words, if you see an adult man swimming in a pool in a movie, it means that he is a Bad Man. Good guys can swim at the beach, or fall into the pool in the course of a fistfight or daring escape from a skyscraper. But they do not actually swim in pools for fun, because this is apparently a hallmark of Evil.

3. Bad people have bad equipment. Cars driven by good guys, for example, roll off cliffs all the time, but they will not explode until said good guys have managed to somehow escape (with the possible exception of Thelma and Louise). Cars driven by bad guys will promptly explode at the slightest provocation. Similarly, bullets shot by bad guys--even if, by some miracle, they actually manage to hit--are barely capable of punching holes through windshields or winging a good guy's shoulder. Guns wielded by heroes are generally metal-piercing and lethal.

4. If your best friend is not significantly less attractive than you, it means that he/she is not to be trusted. Clearly, in Hollywood Reality, unattractive people are capable of True Devotion to your welfare (to the point of dying for you without a word of regret or recrimination), while people on your level, looks-wise, are more than likely to betray you at their soonest convenience--if they haven't actually been betraying you from Day One.

5. People wearing sunglasses can be hazardous to your health. Sunglasses indicate any or all of the following: (a) a villain; (b) a good guy now determined to set things right and therefore prone to swat aside anyone in his/her way; (c) a sexual predator or would-be sexual predator; (d) some kind of spy whose shades are actually a type of camera, x-ray device, or weapon; and (e) a deranged individual who is probably hiding something horrific behind the shades, such as teeth. Ranging from the threat of imminent termination to mere annoyance, sunglasses are dangerous. Do not approach.

6. The disembodied voice of Morgan Freeman is wise and trustworthy. If, on the other hand, you happen to hear the voice of Kiefer Sutherland, you should be wary; and if you perceive any element belonging to the person of Christopher Walken, you need to get out while you still can. Do not walk; run.

7. Small children are big trouble. If you have anything to do with small children: (a) you will become unwillingly responsible for them, possibly in a life-threatening situation; (b) they will get you involved in a romantic relationship that will necessitate pain and heartbreak before anything good happens; (c) they will unload several tons of whup-ass on your sorry behind; or (d) worst case, they will turn out to be possessed by a malevolent supernatural entity. Don't say you weren't warned.
Nikki bit in at 1:58 PM :: ::
Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Menggay's Magical Chicken: a short story for children

Part Three of Three

“Stupid chicken!” they could hear the siokoy shouting, as they settled in for a landing on the sandy sea floor. “Useless, stubborn, ugly, stupid chicken!”

“Don’t call my chicken names!” cried Menggay, jumping out of the boat and running to pick up her pet--which was looking mostly scared and lonely, but also a bit insulted as the merman continued to yell at it. There were hundreds of pearls, rice grains, and other tiny bits of things scattered messily on the sand all around the chicken.

“I’ve scattered feed in front of that animal,” said the siokoy angrily. “I’ve scattered rice and seaweed and flower petals and even pearls, but it doesn’t tell me anything! All it does is eat some chicken feed and move things around on the sand!”

“Maybe you’re just not reading the messages right,” Menggay said reasonably, trying to get a proper look at the mess on the ocean floor.

“No, it’s just stupid,” snapped the siokoy. Then his watery blue eyes lit up greedily, as he spotted the gold ring Menggay was wearing on a string around her neck. “I’ll tell you what: if you want this chicken so badly, you can have it back... if you give me that gold ring you’re wearing.”

“What?” Menggay had completely forgotten the albularya’s ring, in her excitement at finding her chicken. “But it’s a magic ring--” she started to say.

“Even better!” said the siokoy, rudely snatching the ring right off Menggay’s neck, breaking the string that held it. “There, now it’s mine.” He was so busy staring at the golden ring that he no longer bothered to look at Menggay, her chicken, or the fisherman. “Go on, take your stupid chicken and go away.”

“Now, wait a minute,” said the fisherman, still in his boat. “You can’t just--”

“You mustn’t put it on!” cried Menggay, as the siokoy slid the ring onto his blue finger, already turning his hand this way and that to admire it.

As soon as the ring was firmly in place, there was a great whooshing and gurgling sound, as the siokoy began to lose his solid human shape, and to quickly turn into the water that he was really made of.

“What’s happening to me!?” the siokoy tried to say; but as his toes, knees, shoulders, and finally his head melted away into salt water, what he really ended up saying was, “What’s happening to mumble bubble burble.” And just like that, what was left of the greedy, selfish merman spilled down onto the sand like rain, and was quickly swallowed up by the spinning waters that once protected his home.

“What a foolish creature that siokoy was,” said the fisherman, climbing out of his boat, and nudging Menggay to help him collect the pearls that lay scattered on the ocean floor. “All this time that your chicken was becoming famous for its magic, we townsfolk knew that you were the only one who could read its messages. You were the only one who would have known to use carabao milk to find a safe path to the ocean floor. You were the only one who would not have been tempted to try on the magical ring. I don’t think it’s really the chicken that has magic, Menggay; I think it’s you.”

At first, Menggay was too amazed at this idea--and also too busy hugging her pet chicken--to know how to answer the fisherman. But before she had started using magic and long before she went off on an adventure, she had been brought up to be a very polite young girl; so she simply said, “Thank you.”

Then she and the fisherman finished picking up the pearls, and went home to share them with all the townspeople; and everyone was happy except for the greedy, selfish siokoy, who really didn’t deserve to be.

The End

Check out the rest of the posse!
the Tuesday Writers' Webring
Tobie Abad
Gabby Lee
Andre Mischa Cleofe
Cathy delos Santos
Nikki bit in at 2:08 PM :: ::

re: Jam Session

Jovan is the Awesome Art Director for Mango Jam; and she apparently reads my blog (the lurker!) because, directly following my related post, she sent me this:

Image hosted by
Erika Pangan's fan art of my Jam character Twilight

Nine years old, and this kid draws better than I do. Of course, drunk platypuses (platypi?) probably draw better than I do, but you know what I'm sayin', right?

Thanks, Erika; and thanks, Jovan!
Nikki bit in at 1:56 PM :: ::
Monday, July 04, 2005

Bee-coming Me

Last night, Dean and I had the pleasure of watching Spellbound, the completely enthralling, engaging documentary about the U.S. National Spelling Bee. We were amazed to learn that some kids spend up to nine hours a day, six months a year preparing for these things... Even scarier, some of the parents are so into it that they, too, devote a huge chunk of their time, eschewing any semblance of a social life to instead devise “spelling methodologies” and drill their kids to be letter-perfect in over 4,000 words. Apparently, winning the Nationals (over nine million competitors, mind you) is considered a life-changing event, over and above the 10,000 dollars (!) and media frenzy (!) that accompanies the victory.

It just goes to show you.

I won the Philippine National Spelling Bee way back when I was in fifth or sixth grade. I don’t remember getting any money for it, nor was there anything remotely resembling what you’d call a media frenzy. I got a special mention in our school newsletter, whoopee. I got a trophy, the whereabouts of which are now completely unknown to me. It did not change my life.

On the other hand, unlike those kids in the documentary, I did not have to study at all for the school competition, nor for the regionals. After I qualified for the actual nationals, my school did provide a spelling coach for me: we worked two hours a day at most, for all of a month or so. She’d give me a list of new words every day, and the next day she’d quiz me on them. Most of them were words I already knew, with the exception of weird whoppers like “triskaidekaphobia”. (Who would actually make up a word to encapsulate “fear of the number thirteen”?) In contrast, these poor American kids have to know and understand words that I, as a 32-year-old, had never even heard until yesterday: “Heleoplankton.” “Apocope.” “Logorrhea.”

So maybe the lesson is, the reward is equivalent to the challenge. Maybe my life would have been entirely different had I needed to do more than glance over a sheet of paper and mostly snicker at how many of the words I had already encountered as a mad and dedicated bibliovore. But I have to acknowledge that the experience did provide me with one defining moment...

One of my mom’s office friends happened to be attending the National Spelling Bee for a completely unrelated reason which I don’t remember. In any case, she knew that I was competing, but had never met me, so she didn’t know which kid I was. (We were identified by our school and region rather than by name.)

When I stepped up to the microphone, the announcer spoke the word I was supposed to spell for that round: “ReconnAISSance,” he said.

Without even thinking about it, I returned, “reCONNaissance,” instinctively and not-too-subtly correcting the announcer before going on to properly spell out the word.

“Ah,” thought my mother’s office mate, “that’s Mina’s daughter.”

So maybe it did change my life. Folks who know me know perfectly well that I go around habitually correcting people’s pronunciation when I think they won’t mind; and having to viciously bite my tongue to stop myself when I think they will mind. I also go around mentally editing the labels of food products, sniping at ungrammatical billboards, and, as you may know, lecturing endlessly on such topics in this blog. So maybe it was the National Spelling Bee that eventually turned me into a writer/editor by nature and profession.

But more likely, you know, it's just that I’m Mina’s daughter.
Nikki bit in at 2:00 PM :: ::
Saturday, July 02, 2005

Jam Session

Yesterday I picked up issue 3 of Mango Jam at Comic Quest. As a staff writer of this bi-monthly mag, I actually get a complimentary copy; but what with gasoline prices and the Very Reasonable Cost of Jam (70 bucks), it actually comes out cheaper for me to buy my own copy than to haul over to Makati and get my freebie. So I just pick up the comp copy when I happen to get together with redoubtable Jam project manager Pam Joaquin-Yonzon. (She's Pam of Jam, can you dig it?)

Back when I was editor-in-chief of this title, it was the hardest work I'd ever done in comics: coordinating creatives scattered across the country; chasing personalities down for interview articles; getting advertisers, sponsors, and their agendas to work in synergy with the rest of the content. Since I recovered my sanity and handed the reins over to fellow staff writer Karen Kunawicz, though, it has become my easiest job in comics! All I do is scribble 12 pages of script per issue; then my Amazing Artists Ellaine and Dianne (They take turns) turn it out with pretty pictures; and amazingly, this really quite admirable comics magazine comes out.

Obviously, Karen and her cohorts (particularly Marketing & Advertising Manager Aila Sim) are doing a pretty bang-up job, since we now appear to have some major advertisers (like Oishi and Globe), as well as some really very heartening fan mail. These include a young girl who says she "likes it better than W.I.T.C.H." (High praise in our target demographic) and a letter that boasts 22! laudatory! exclamation! points!

Writing Jam is kind of an interesting exercise for me, since it entails a couple of built-in challenges:
1. making what is, at base, a teen romance dramedy interesting and unusual enough for someone like me to read without gagging; and
2. injecting my trademark irreverence and non-comformity while maintaining an overall tone suitable for young female readers.

Apparently, I'm not doing too badly, as I've received my first fan art! Sadly, I don't have a scanned copy of nine-year-old Erika Pangan's rendition of my lead character, Twilight; instead, I'll just show you Twi as drawn by my artist Ellaine:
Image hosted by

If you're a regular reader of this blog, Mango Jam probably isn't for you, but if you're interested in a little grrl power grafiction aimed at pre- to early teens--or, you know, you just love me a lot--check it out at your nearest book, magazine, or comics store. (But especially at Comic Quest, 'cause we love Vin the best!)
By the way, I posted the pic here using Blogger's new photo upload feature. So far, it works well and is so easy to use!

RETRACTION: Now I have to take it back, because the damn picture hasn't been showing up. So much for my kudos for Blogger's new feature! Instead, the above image is courtesy of Photobucket, still--and apparently destined to remain--my image host of choice. Sigh.
Nikki bit in at 2:04 PM :: ::
Friday, July 01, 2005

Pet Peeve Number Umpteen

I was window-shopping with Sage today when I heard the woman next to me say to the sales clerk, “Ikuha mo nga ako ng ganito.”

Which translates roughly as: “Get me one of these, SLAVE!”

Okay, technically, the word “slave” wasn’t actually spoken anywhere in that sentence--but it fuckin’ well sounded like it should be. It really, royally pisses me off when people are so downright rude to other people whom they consider their “underlings”--such as helpers, salespeople, drivers, and wait staff*. I consider it reprehensible and inexcusable. I will bet you anything this woman doesn’t talk that way to her boss, or her clients or colleagues or whatever. Would it really have killed her to say--instead of “Get me this”--“Please get me this” or “Could you get me one of these?” Does she consider service professionals--who are professionals, albeit not doctors or lawyers--so far beneath her that she can’t be bothered to exercise a little common courtesy towards them?

One of the most important lessons my mother ever passed on to me was this: “You should be good to people not because of who they are, but because of who you are.” In other words, your treatment of other human beings should not depend on their rank or station in life, but on the kind of person you consider yourself to be. Barring, you know, mass murderers and people who have just Done You Wrong in the past, if you think you’re a good person, you ought to be good to people, whoever they happen be.

Now I’m not saying I manage to do this flawlessly all the time. Occasionally (like when I’m struggling with Sage and several bags and packages), I’ll forget to thank my cab driver for the ride. But I feel bad when I do--because, yes, I did pay the man for the service, but I still think I owe him some gratitude for getting me to my destination safely and (hopefully) pleasantly. We pay our nanny for taking care of Sage and our household; but I do my best to say “please” or “paki-” when I ask her to do something, and I try to phrase it as a request, rather than an order. Of course, she knows and I know that she has to do it regardless, but it’s a small pleasantry that smooths our relationship and helps keep us--her and me both--just that tiny bit more human.

Because whether it’s the janitor in our building, or the president of our country, I believe that everyone deserves a little courtesy and a lot of respect. Well, nowadays, possibly not the president of our country ('cause she Done Me Wrong!)... but you know what I mean.
*Before any of you smarty-parties says something snarky about my husband and his notorious Restaurant Reputation, I would just like to point out that Dean is perfectly polite with waiters--right up until the moment when he blows his top over bad service. Even then, he is far more likely to say “Where is your manager?” than “Get me your manager”. What’s more, I feel confident that he would behave exactly the same way if faced with unsatisfactory performance from, say, a Catholic bishop. “Where is your cardinal?” he would demand...
Nikki bit in at 1:26 PM :: ::
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