a year with a princess

A couple of years ago, our life looked like this. Turo was running our farm, and managing two other farms in two different locations. He also held a desk-based job, and had to travel to the city several times a month to attend meetings. I, on the other hand, was homeschooling two kids, and exclusively breastfeeding an infant, all while working full-time for a small consulting group. I spend the day with the kids at home, while Turo is away for work. I spend evenings working at a different time zone, while Turo puts the kids to bed. We cook and clean and garden and do the laundry in between.

887536_904070393009096_2169584439598184230_o

Those were tough times. We had no househelp, and we had to do every single thing ourselves. Until one afternoon twenty months ago, while I was scrubbing the floor, I saw my own blood staining the floor. How ironic. I was alone with the kids and had to wait (bleeding and nauseous) for Turo to come home before I could be brought to the emergency room of the hospital.

It was a near miscarriage. I was pregnant and didn’t know it. And we were living our lives like there was no tomorrow. While there was a very weak baby, fighting for life, inside my womb. I had to stop. We had not planned on another baby. But I was not planning on losing this one by continuing to live our life the way we had been.

13559025_1111482762242556_875034158803537959_o

I quit my job. We hired back our househelp. I took things slower. And I dedicated my entire time to taking care of my children like mothers are created to.

Several months later I gave birth to a baby girl. It was the best surprise and a wonderful blessing. We had three boys, and now we had a princess in our home. For the first time, our life felt complete. And it felt like I knew exactly where our life was headed from this point on.

13575906_1111482825575883_158119343242406090_o

Exactly a week after our princess was born, we had to take her back again to the hospital. Her laboratory results confirmed a urinary tract infection. It was the first time, in my ten years of being a parent, that any of my children was confined in a hospital. And it had to be our fragile one-week-old princess. My postpartum “baby blues” had never been bluer.

13495656_1111483005575865_4176699713712159737_o

We spent the next few days in the hospital. And when we were finally discharged, we had to keep taking her back to the hospital twice a day for the next four days for her antibiotic shots. Oh my princess, it was so heartbreaking.

13576657_1111483198909179_1010610092478747540_o

After her round of antibiotics was complete, her lab results still showed some signs of infection. And she had to take a second round of antibiotics. And then after this round, her laboratory results still didn’t look like she was completely clear of the infection. We had to take urinary samples every week, and then every month, until her fourth month. I had to eat a low sodium diet and drink plenty of fluids, to better hydrate her when she nurses.

13576682_1111482948909204_5446979147317669700_o

On her six-month pediatric checkup, she was noticeably delayed in her motor skills. She was underweight and underheight. Her head circumference was larger than normal, and her eyes opened wide, as if there was swelling inside her head. We took her to the hospital for a cranial ultrasound. Her pedia was suspecting hydrocephalus, which was no surprise at all, as Uri was diagnosed with it when he was several months old. Thankfully, the results came back and she was normal, no hydrocephalus.

13497800_1111483242242508_1433300576204533480_o

We then went on with our days. She was always a quiet little girl. She slept well through the night. She laughs adorably at her brothers and her brothers adored her. She had a tiny body, and a small appetite. She never got sick, though, but she was also never very active. She’s a princess, that’s why she’s so unlike our other boys, we always say.

13923835_1135879269802905_8945524756135036979_o

On her eleventh month we took her back to her pediatrician. She was not yet sitting up, or even making an effort to try to sit up. Her neck control was weak, and she was wobbly when carried. Her doctor wanted to rule out seizures as the cause of delayed motor skills. She was scheduled for an electroencephalogram (EEG) to monitor brain activity. The results came out after a week, and it was normal. Thank God.

18056107_1388819094508920_5696482761179005305_o

Still she was grossly delayed in terms of motor development. But at least there was nothing more to it than just that, developmental delay. We need to help her catch up and make up for the delayed development. We need to stimulate brain function. We talk to her, sing to her, read to her, play music to her.

16797048_1324349687622528_1480361412302782495_o

We take her to places, let her explore the world around her using her senses. She needs physical therapy to improve muscle function. We let her swim at the tub several times a day. And thanks to summer, we can spend several weekends a month by the beach.

18359481_1407706742620155_7015619270228420415_o

Our little princess will turn one in a couple of days. She is our fourth child, and you might think that we’ll have had all bases covered this time around. But each child is unique and special in his/her own way. Our meek little princess reminded us of just that. She surprises us and warms our hearts all at the same time. We love her. We so cherish the last 365 days of having her in our family. And we see her game face on and ready to confront another wonderful year of life.

15325363_1242324662491698_6778894272646086499_o

our bahaySKUL day (2016-2017)

It’s before 7 a.m. I anticipate the alarm on my phone. Very often, the alarm doesn’t go off, because, as you may have guessed, I forgot to turn my alarm on the night before. I’m now half awake. I look at the nursing child beside me and do an imaginary, happy dance when she finally unlatches. Finally I am fully awake, tiptoe out the bedroom, and get my glorious “hot cup”. On sleepy days, it’s oolong tea. On hyper-I-totally-have-this-in-the-bag days, it’s ACV with honey and a cinnamon stick. I go to the laundry and do a final rinse on the batch of clothes I started washing the night before.

I check the time, 7:15 a.m. There’s just enough time to check my email, write up some invoices, and pack a box of KalamanC++ orders, which will be picked up by a new client later in the morning. I run our organic farm business. We grow fresh salad greens, and process other farm produce into bottled food products. I also work as a freelance writer and have a report to write, but, at the moment, the writing work will have to wait.

(Of course, this is the best-case scenario. The worst case is when the little girl unli-latches and I am stuck helplessly to the bed until she decides to get off the boob.)

15977913_1287715034619327_1172733212381290464_n
when the little girl is wide awake and leaves me with only half of the morning to do anything

8:30 a.m. The two older boys are up. Yey! They’re my super support system. I manage to pop slices of ham into the toaster, ask Uri to snip off some lettuce from the garden, and Ari to grill cheese on bread. We each assemble our own sandwich and be chatty over breakfast. We talk video games, fold-a-bots, the latest Geronimo Stilton book, Poppa smurf, or whatever is the thing of the moment.

17265216_1342770539113776_2077085571230761084_n
Uri harvesting some lettuce from the garden for breakfast

9 a.m. My new client is calling to check if they got the directions going to our apartment right. I pick up the baby and run outside to meet them. Well what do you know, they have a pick-up truck full of kids, plants, and organic food products. It all looks uncannily familiar. Our SUV is almost always packed the same way too, except we also bring along three bicycles, and sacks of fertilizer. So, me and this new client, we hit it off instantly. She is opening an all-organic store in the city and they will be selling KalamanC++ there. They came to pick up their first batch of orders, which Turo managed to fit under the passenger seat. We are both hopeful that product sales will do well in her store.

We aim to start with our lessons at 10:30, which we do today, Yay! We are working our way through our last two Language Arts LifePacs this week. I ask both Ari and Uri to start work on spelling and handwriting, which they can do rather independently, while I take care of the littles.

I turn on my babysitter, we call her Netflix (!), and bathe the baby. The toddler and I then dance around to Mother Goose Club songs, and after about two episodes the baby has fallen asleep. I lure the toddler downstairs with a chocolate cookie and a glass of chocolate milk. We sit in the table with the big boys. Armed with peg puzzles and board books, paper and pencils and scissors, I manage to keep the toddler on the table for a good 30 minutes, so I could look over the boys’ work and answer their most pressing questions.

17103388_1340465642677599_7288584868546812855_n
how to keep a toddler at bay

12:45 p.m. We break for lunch. Thankfully we have our househelp to cook for us, so we only have to clear the dining table of books, and replace them with eating utensils, so we can eat. We are almost always starving when we break for lunch, so we eat rather quickly. The boys clean up the dining area after the meal, and enjoy some time to play with their toys.

It’s almost summer and midday’s getting much warmer lately. I ask the older boys to go take a bath, and the toddler joins them in the shower. The boys are kind enough to bathe their younger brother. I only need to check in midway through to scrub his little body, and his brothers will take it from there until he is toweled dry. Yeah, those are my precious boys, I totally love them.

We resume Language lessons around 3 p.m. By this time, the baby has been put down for another nap by our househelp, so I could work more closely with the boys, as needed. Uri and I read together a story about farm life, and have a short discussion, before he resumes independent work. I check Ari’s previous test and, together, we go over the items he missed. He then continues to work independently, summarizing two fables by Aesop, and writing his own ending to the story of “The Farmer, his Son and the Donkey.” His version was hilarious and we ended up spending a good ten minutes laughing about it. I enjoy this time with my boys. I am kept motivated by how much they learn, although at times I also easily lose my patience over silly, forgettable mistakes, like fractions or verb tenses (sheesh). This is also the time when I get to have my lone cup of coffee, which I thoroughly enjoy, as I make another attempt to write the report due this week.

16194921_1302970916427072_2130447654371557692_n
Ari writing his story summaries

Rats! It’s 5 p.m. I scramble to cook dinner. The phone rings with my husband announcing that he and I are going out for a date. My report will most definitely have to wait. Ari gets excited by the prospect of a “date” that I needed to shove his face back to his worksheet. Meanwhile, Uri has finished his to-do’s and decided to arrange his collection of paper robots on top of the stairs so he can take a photo of his entire collection. The toddler fell asleep by himself in the bedroom.

13690742_1124820504242115_673430732293827259_n
one among Uri’s fold-a-Bot collection

I take a shower, dress up, check on my braised pork, and nurse the baby for the nth time. A few minutes later, my husband gets home from work. I take one quick look at the stove, turn down the heat and leave the dish to simmer. I check on Ari, he is nearly done, so I give him my final instructions. I give instructions to Uri to make a bottle of milk for when his little brother wakes up, and that they are allowed some gadget time after Ari completes his lesson. I leave the baby with our househelp who puts her back to sleep.

5:45 p.m. Turo and I head out to the farm. We are having some work done here, some bamboo beds being set up. We assess the remaining farm activities to make sure we are still within budget and schedule. Things are looking good and we are both very pleased. We then proceed to the supermarket to gather reinforcements—fresh milk, black rice, and detergent, which we mysteriously ran out of in the middle of the month, when our stocks are supposed to last us all month. Hmmm.

WP_20170312_15_55_09_Pro
(taken earlier) a photo of the newly constructed bamboo beds in the farm

7:20 p.m. We arrive home to the boys playing video games and the little girl still sound asleep. I check on my braised pork, which is nearly done. I stir-fry some Malabar spinach, freshly harvested by a farmer friend, as a side dish. The boys keep their computers and set the table for dinner. It’s a blessing there are no picky eaters around here. Even the toddler is easy to feed and please with food. Dinner is peaceful (no tantrums) but filled with chatter from everyone around our six-seater table. The boys eat fast, and are finished before everybody else. For the hundredth time I remind them to stay put until the rest of us are done with dinner.

I help the boys clean up after eating, while Turo plays with the younger ones. Uri refills water bottles and fixes the bedrooms. Ari clears the table and sweeps the floor. I run a load of laundry then check if the assigned chores were done properly. When everything seems orderly downstairs, we watch a couple episodes of our current TV series, or a movie voted by the majority. I have a cup of oolong tea for me, and Turo has turmeric tea.

10:30 p.m. It’s supposed to be lights out. Turo is fast asleep. The babies are wide awake. And the boys keep bargaining to chat some more or watch more TV or sleep in our room. I shoo them away, and they oblige, leaving their bedroom light on until they fall asleep reading.

Finally, everyone is asleep. Aaaah. I turn off the light in the boys’ bedroom. I see the growing stash of books by their bedside, and keep a mental note to clear those away the following day. I fold clothes from the previous laundry. I arrange the stash of cloth diapers so our househelp will have no trouble finding which cloth diaper insert goes with what, when she changes any of the babies’ diapers.

12:00 m.n. Down to the last stretch. I bring out my laptop. I read my notes. I finish writing a full page for the report. And then I hear muffled sounds from the bedroom. I get there right on time to keep the baby from crying. I lie down beside her to nurse, and say a silent prayer of thanks for a day that has gone awfully well.

when I grow up I want to be a video game designer

I have two school-aged boys who were born in the YouTube and Minecraft generation, when everybody who wants to be anybody wants to follow in the footsteps of Dan TDM or Notch (creator of Minecraft). When the opportunity knocked for us to review an ebook with the title, “When I grow up I want to be… A Video Game Designer” of course I had to say ‘Yes!’

tos-wannabevideogamedesigne-240x300

WannaBe™-When I Grow Up I Want to be a Video Game Designer is part of the WannaBe series from The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. This ebook peeks into the lives of computer programmers who either makes video games for a living, or who dabbles in video game design as an interest or hobby.

In the ebook, five professionals tell stories about their lives as video game designers–each sharing how they started in video game design, and what their typical work day looks like. Some parts of the ebook emphasized character traits and attitudes necessary to attain success in this line of work. Others described the many steps involved in video game development. There were a number of technical terms scattered throughout the ebook, such as names of computer games, programming languages, and other programming-related terminologies. Thankfully, there were footnotes containing word definitions and links to related websites, which came in very handy, especially for readers who are not well versed in such terms.

After the personal anecdotes of the video game designers, there were worksheets, quizzes, writing prompts and word puzzles, most of which we never really got to use as they were more suited for older children. Instead, I made cursive handwriting worksheets for some of the new vocabulary words we learned from the text.

wp_20170112_07_17_54_pro-2

We read the ebook aloud for one week, tackling one ‘day in the life’ story each day. My boys always say that they want to be ‘gamers’ when they grow up, but nobody in the family (given that we don’t have a technology background) really knew how to make an actual living out of video games, much less explain these stuff to 8- and 9-year old boys. Hearing the stories of real-life video game designers was the perfect entry point for digging up more information about computer programming, in general, and video games in particular.

wp_20161207_15_09_37_pro-2

Before we started reading the ebook, we watched the video Computer Science is Changing Everything to emphasize the practical uses for computers and computer programming in everyday life. When we read the stories, we also encountered different models of personal computers from as early as 1970s. The boys decided to do more Internet research about this topic, and ended up creating a Timeline of Personal Computers.

wp_20161116_19_05_48_pro

It also helped that they were attending a special class on Robotics. They were familiar with some of the computer programming lingo, having dabbled on some bits of programming here and there using Arduino. They even made a funny video about this, Teaching Spiderman How to Code, using stop-motion animation.

I would say that reading the stories from the ebook made them appreciate the kind of work put in by programmers in each video game. They now have a clearer picture of what ‘gamers’ do in real life, apart from playing video games, of course. They also drew what their future workspace would look like once they’ve become ‘pro’.

wp_20170112_07_16_51_pro-2

At the end of each ‘day in the life’ story, they get to do an Hour of Code–these are hands-on tutorials for introducing the basics of computer programming to children of any age. The site contains game-based programming activities in Minecraft, Star Wars, Flappy Bird, etc., which according to Ari and Uri, makes learning to code fun!

I like how the book highlighted the real, everyday stories of regular people doing their jobs (which just happened to be all about video games!). It clearly showed that working in something as fun as video games also requires a great deal of hard work. They both learned this from the book, and also experienced this when they did some of the coding themselves. Personally, I appreciated the emphasis given on the values and character traits needed to become a successful video game designer. I am not a computer programmer, and while I know that traits such as good communication, attention to detail, or strong work ethic is important, I would not be able to explain these things within the context of video game design and development, in a way as it was done in the book.

WP_20161207_15_09_11_Pro (2).jpg

When I asked the boys what they liked about the ebook, Ari said he enjoyed the stories the most. He admired how the people in the stories were able to find ways to learn more about computers and start doing programming stuff all by themselves. He felt inspired that he could do it too. Uri was especially amused by stories of the programmers when they were younger. He got a kick out of the video games they played, and the computers they used since way back. What he didn’t like about the book is that it did not have a lot of pictures, a natural remark from this visual learner.

If you have children interested in computers and gaming, and want to give them a realistic perspective of what goes on in this line of work, this is a good book to read aloud to them. WannaBe™-When I Grow Up I Want to be a Video Game Designer is an engaging introduction to the world of video game programming. It’s no idiot guide, though, so don’t expect that whoever reads the book comes up with his own video game in an instant. As I’ve said, the book is a great introduction, piques readers’ interest, but is not a complete reference in itself. BUT, with a little spark and a gentle nudge, you might just find in your household, tiny computer geeks all hunched up and writing code for their very first video game!

P.S. This review is for the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

3-crew-disclaimer-2016_zpscwpb9ywe

partnering with local crafters

appreciating all things handmade…

wp_20161105_11_40_35_pro-2-2

As an artisan producer myself, I have deep appreciation for all things handmade. I have mentioned before that I am not very artistic myself, so knowing ladies who are artists in their own right is a privilege.

636102895988783858-2

The lady behind Banonay (@banonaystore) is Turo’s childhood friend. She makes beautifully handcrafted jewelry and accessories with gemstones, beads and charms. I’ve ordered a couple of necklaces from her before. This time, I asked her to make customized brand tags for The Garden Kitchen, which I can give away to loyal clients. The end product… these hand stamped charms! They’re really nice up close and truly one-of-a-kind. They add so much oomph to my own products.

14714810_1244539602271815_1053277239262286544_o

I also recently learned that my friend’s sister, Lovely Grace (@jaded_jade_things) has been doing calligraphy and watercolor painting. Calligraphy is so “in” these days that I wanted to get in on the bandwagon myself. Besides I also find them really pretty. So I asked her to make product labels for The Garden Kitchen. And voila!

14681584_1244531945605914_8798328214712714717_n

She wrote the product names using brush lettering, and painted the product ingredients in watercolor. It’s so inspiring to see the different herbs and vegetables that I use in my own products as works of art. These are produce that we grow and harvest and cook with, and being portrayed in such a creative way, even in something as simple as a product label, just makes my heart skip a beat.

hydroponic setup in Hotel Kimberly

this weekend, we had an unexpected rendezvous with hydroponics…

Long-time readers of this blog would know that we started our farming venture using a hydroponics system. Turo trained in the SNAP Hydroponics technology from the Institute of Plant Breeding in UP Los Banos. SNAP stands for Simple Nutrient Addition Program, and is a low-cost, low-maintenance, non-circulating hydroponics system. Our first commercial venture into growing lettuce and herbs used this system, was successful at first, but encountered so many problems once we tried to scale up.

img_1176

Fast forward to the present, we are now implementing organic production practices for growing vegetables. We have fully replaced our hydroponic setup and converted into an organic farm. While more labor-intensive, organic farming requires less inputs, produces better quality vegetables, and is more adaptive to weather and seasonal changes.

Just this weekend, however, we had an unexpected rendezvous with hydroponics.

We were in Tagaytay for the weekend to celebrate my father’s 56th We stayed overnight in Hotel Kimberly, a nice hotel quite secluded from the busy Tagaytay restaurant scene. We, and the kids especially, enjoyed our short, sweet stay here. In the morning we were eating breakfast at the buffet, and noticed that part of the buffet spread was a tray of leafy greens, stems on, roots intact, held together by a tiny bottlecap-sized plug. This looked all too familiar to us, we knew these were hydroponically grown.

After breakfast, we asked around in the kitchen where they get the lettuce plants being served at the buffet. This was Tagaytay, and we knew many farms growing these types abound in the area. To our surprise, the source of the lettuce plugs was a mini-hydroponic facility housed in the hotel itself!

hydro-1

The hotel staff was kind enough to take us on a tour of their organic farm. Apparently, the organic farm is part of the hotel’s attractions. There were farm animals that guests can feed, ponies that kids could ride. We, of course, headed straight for the greenhouse once we saw it. It was tiny, about 50 sq.m. And it grew ALL the salad greens and herbs the hotel uses for its daily buffet! Now that is sustainable.

hydro-2

The farm staff told us they were using SNAP, the very same hydroponic system we used before, but failed. But here, in this tiny greenhouse, the SNAP system seemed to work really well. The difference, we soon found out, is aeration. With the addition of an aquarium-type pump circulating the SNAP nutrient solution through the system, nutrient absorption increased. Consequently, well-nourished plants are healthy, disease-free and had a very good eating quality.

To be honest, were very impressed (almost envious) with the hotel’s hydroponic facility. They grew lettuces, rocket arugula, microgreens, and various herbs like basil, parsley and even rosemary.

hydro-3

It felt serendipitous, actually, to be there, see a very efficient hydroponic system in place, providing fresh greens to a hotel kitchen, nonetheless. That tiny organic farm tour in a quaint hotel tucked away in Tagaytay roused our sleeping hydroponic bones in a totally unexpected way. It looks like Hydroponics 2.0 is going to be part of our present scheme of things.

when homeschoolers go to “school”

for the first time, the boys are spending a significant amount of time in “school” 

14633604_1191551207569044_6135501676073983795_o

This year, I (as de facto principal of our bahaySKUL) decided that the kids should have more time interacting with other children of their age in a school setting. Because this school year we have been on top of our school work more than we’ve ever been since we started homeschooling four years ago. Continue reading when homeschoolers go to “school”

creating and creativity in our bahaySKUL

it’s been a struggle finding ways to inspire artistry and foster creativity in our homeschool

11222560_962094893848011_1764239471553743133_o

I would hardly ever consider myself a creative person. So as a teacher to my children, it’s been a struggle finding ways to inspire artistry and foster creativity in our homeschool. Especially when many homeschooling families we know are really passionate about the arts and music, in their various forms. Continue reading creating and creativity in our bahaySKUL

supplies for our bahaySKUL

Because we homeschool, we do have at home a lot of the stuff the kids need to do school. We don’t have blackboards or lockers, but we do have versions of those stuff in our homeschool. Here’s a peek into the supplies and materials we need for bahaySKUL.

Workbox. Each child has his own workbox where he stores and retrieves everyday school stuff. They also have plastic file boxes where we store curriculum modules and books they are not currently working on or have completed.

12047084_960727723984728_6649879518056507956_n
the kids’  workboxes

Continue reading supplies for our bahaySKUL