Archive of ‘life hacks’ category

cuisinart coffee

Galaw-galaw, Neni,” said Doc Nonoy. “Move it, move it.”

Walk fast and live long,” said Doc Amer.

Both physicians were my classmates from elementary to high school. Sometimes we see each other now that we’re older, and I’m struck by how they still look like teenagers. I, on the other hand, also still look like a teenager, but weigh twice as much as one.

Both of them have been into running since back then.

I have been into avoiding running since back then (like, what? where’s the fire?) but I can manage to put one foot in front of another to walk.

The new year having rolled around again, as it does every year, I trotted out that hoary old resolution of getting more exercise, and walking it is because it doesn’t require highly-developed motor coordination skills.

So today I went to the mall and bought a Cuisinart four-cup coffeemaker with steel carafe, endorsed on the box by chef Paul Bocuse. I’ve used a French press for eons and felt it was time for a change.

What does this coffeemaker have to do with exercise? We’ll get there, I promise.

This brand of coffeemaker advises the use of paper filters, and comes with two free ones. I do not like my coffee tasting of paper and I do not want trees chopped down just for me to get my caffeine on.

Well, what do you know, the Starbucks across the street from the appliance store had this lovely mesh permanent filter.

I went home and made coffee using ground arabica I bought in Baguio last July, since all my fresh coffee was at the office. The old Baguio arabica was stale and tasted horrible.

I refused to give up on brewing coffee en hora mismo in that smart Cuisinart. So I walked about a kilometer from my house to the nearest Starbucks, where I got this bag of Caffe Verona in the sweetest scarlet Valentine’s Day packaging. (I always was a sucker for cute packaging.)

I walked another kilometer back home and settled down to brew myself some strong, bold coffee for a night of writing.

And that’s how my love for coffee motivated me to get some exercise today and obey my physicians’ instructions.

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carrie fisher wants to lose…

..not the Slave Leia outfit. Rather, thirty pounds so she can get back in it.

Last Wednesday the actress launched her partnership with the Jenny Craig weight loss company, not only to lose weight but also to change the way she “interacts with food as a whole.”

Fisher played Princess Leia Organa in the ’70s Star Wars trilogy, and one of her most memorable costumes is the ‘metal’ bikini she wore while a captive of the repulsive and villainous slug Jabba the Hutt.

In her blog post on the topic she writes:

I wish I still had the body I had when I was attached to that giant slug wearing that metal bikini… You know, I swear when I was shooting those films I never realized I was signing an invisible contract to stay looking the exact same way for the rest of my existence… Must have been in the small print.

So anyway, this is where my friends, at Jenny Craig come into the picture. The truth is I’ve been unhappy with my weight for a long time now, & so when the world takes a snapshot of you like that and you get locked forever into it, it doesn’t make it any easier.

I adored her in the Star Wars movies, but for me she is Leia only on the screen; I admire her as the strong person that she is, actress and writer and human being, whatever she looks like. Fisher portrayed Leia; she is not Leia.

But most people tend to judge celebrities more harshly than they would ordinary people. They are held to higher standards. Fame comes with a price.

Yet she is doing this not only to regain her looks, but also to become healthier. Her positive steps towards wellness are an inspiration to all of us struggling with weight issues.

Slave Leia image here. Carrie Fisher image here.

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fragrant smoke

UPDATE: This piece was published in slightly modified form in the 15 July 2012 issue of Sunday Manila Standard-Today.

My late father was into yoga in the 1970s, during the hippie age here and abroad. He said he even helped the first Krishna devotees set up in Manila, having met their founder guru (an American man) at the airport, and befriended him. He helped find an apartment for the group. One thing he could not forget was how the guru insisted on glass or ceramic things for drinking and eating, never plastic, which he said were unclean. Or couldn’t be cleaned properly. Or something like that.

In any case, that meeting heralded the start of my father’s interest in Eastern religions and rituals. He would sit cross-legged with eyes closed, at night, in the dark, in the living room, with only an incense stick burning, as my sister and I tiptoed hush hush around him, wondering if he had fallen asleep sitting up. Later he said he was “meditating.” We wondered if that was another word for “napping uncomfortably in places other than the bedroom.”

He continued his vegetarianism (begun when he was an adolescent and a Seventh-Day Adventist), and avoided over-processed food  - no white sugar, brown sugar and honey were his preferred sweeteners; brown rice instead of white; wheat bread instead of Tasty; cottage cheese instead of cheddar from the supermarket.

He took us with him to eat at the now-defunct Gandharva restaurant in Manila, which smelled more of incense than food. It was a self-service cafeteria where one took trays to a counter, piled them with curries and rotis, and took them to eat at tables besides walls hand-painted from ceiling to floor with colorful murals of Krishna and Arjuna and Radha. We always wondered why Krishna’s skin was a striking deep blue.

He burned incense nearly every night that he was home during the yoga years.

So when I saw these incense sticks and incense case at Scent for Senses in Megamall last week, I made sure to take them home. The incense box is studded with inlaid brass stars and has a carved fretwork lid and sides, which allows the scent of incense placed inside to waft gently into the room, even when the incense is unburned.

Rose incense smells of the flower; clove and myrrh remind me of the scents my father used to burn, the names of which we did not know. I do remember he also had sampaguita and sandalwood sticks.

Inside the box is a groove to catch falling ash. The sticks shown here are rose-scented masala (hand-dipped).

The metal disks are for incense cones. The holes at the sides at the box are for holding the incense stick while burning.

A compartment beneath the box is for storage.

In Hinduism, as in other religions that use incense in their rituals, the burning of incense is used during worship as a vehicle for prayer to reach the gods. The fragrance reminds worshippers of the positive attributes of the deities that they must imitate. One of my father’s friends  named me after the Hindu goddess of peace - Shanti Devi. I have been trying to live up to the name ever since; not succeeding all the time, but getting better at it.

An image of Lakshmi Devi, Goddess of Wealth and Health, who is also the Goddess of Peace in one of her 108 avatars. Image here.

Sometimes peace doesn’t come easy. Sometimes you have to work at it by examining your life and consciously making decisions to eliminate causes of stress, and finding whatever you enjoy that puts you in a more relaxed state of mind. Let it all flow from there.

These nights, as the scent of roses wafts up from my incense box, I remember my father, who is at peace. And I am grateful I have reached a point where I have that in my own life as well, where serenity and calm are as fragrances to my nostrils.

As they say at the end of the Upanishads – “Om shanti shanti shanti.” Peace peace peace.

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new year, new decade

Refilling a fountain pen in some haste the other day, I got a smudge of ink on the back of my hand which I didn’t notice until later. By then the ink had crept into the faint lines on my skin. Ordinarily invisible, the lines were thrown in sharp focus, the ink creating a tracery like a spiderweb or rivers on a map.

The bracelet is of amethyst, lapis lazuli, and sodalite beads; in the background is a Christmas quilt I made some years ago.

Life experiences are like that – they shape and define us, and influence our decisions and actions, because they become embedded in our psyche. For instance, in the face of too much pain and rejection over the years, the initial reaction for some may be sulky withdrawal or acting out. Others prefer to say goodbye, let go, and look forward to what comes next. Because there is usually more than one way to approach a problem, the question to ask is, what tack is more productive? More constructive? More likely to lead to situations of happiness and contentment?

The ink on my skin looked like a stain. What kind of experiences have made that sort of mark on us? Do these mind stains have negative or positive effects on our behavior and attitudes?

It will soon be 2011, a new year and the beginning of a new decade – an auspicious time to make a fresh start. I considered my life so far and the options I have for future directions, and realized that I am trapped by constructs of my own making: expectations, desires, and illusions which had crept like ink into the crevices of my soul.

I was the one holding myself back.

Once I understood this, I resolved to let loose of the mental moorings that tie me down. To be untethered, I must set myself free to breathe and create and live.

Some of the things on my “to do” list for 2011:

1. I will no longer “hold back what is owed to the work.” (See poem by Marge Piercy below.) My life informs my art. My experiences are the raw material from which I create. My stories are born from the narratives of my life. My life is filled with people, places, and happenings. And some of it or all of it will find its way into the stories and essays that I write and the photographs I take. I will give to the work what is owed to the work. Having made this decision, I can now finish for publication my uncompleted pieces and start new ones that I’ve been longing to write.

2. Write a blog post everyday.

3. Do more walking. Walking is underrated and running is getting the hype, but people who have been mostly sedentary will have an easier time sticking to an exercise routine if they choose a low-impact activity. Now where are my training shoes…? Gaah, I don’t think I even have socks anymore.

4. Let go of the people and activities in my life that bring stress, and embrace those bringing calm and joy. This includes actually burning the scented Yankee Candles and incense sticks I’ve collected through the years.

5. Ink my demonstrator fountain pens – the Pilots and the Sailors. With permanently-staining Noodler’s Baystate Blue ink. Wait, maybe I’m being too hasty with this…!

6. Listen to more music. It will me take years to comprehend the oeuvres of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, not to mention The Beatles.

7. Sort my books and give away those I don’t wish to keep. What I usually do is pack books in balikbayan boxes and leave them anonymously on the doorstep of the Sta. Ana, Manila public library.

Like ink on skin, kept resolutions will be embedded within us, further filling out our drawing of ourselves, as we are the artists of our lives and it is up to us to create the rendition as we wish.

Happy New Year and New Decade, everyone!

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pop goes the world: sinful and sweet

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 30 December 2010, Thursday

Sinful and Sweet

I was at work yesterday afternoon when someone dropped by with a luscious chocolate mousse cake. It was a three-layer concoction composed of a sinfully rich chocolate cake base, chocolate mousse center, and whipped cream rosette topping. Like all desserts are made to do, it beckoned, tempting me – “Eat me. You know you want to.” I knew it would melt in my mouth and coat my tongue with pleasure.

Yet I hesitated – it was a calorie- and fat-laden time bomb that would further expand my waistline and elevate my glucose and cholesterol levels. Should I taste it – or not?

The matter was taken out of my hands when an officemate cut a slice, plated it, and handed it to me along with a fork. Now, I couldn’t very well be rude and refuse it, could I? It would have hurt her feelings. So I sank the fork in that three-tiered treat and dissolved into a puddle of sugar-fueled ecstasy when the chocolatey goodness hit my tastebuds.

I was dumped from my cloud of baked bliss when a voice spoke. “Jenny, don’t finish that cake.” It was a visitor, one of my former bosses. “Give the rest to someone else to finish.”

I stared at the cake with different eyes. Yes, Attorney Mon was right. That cake would have gone from my lips straight to my hips. Already carrying excess poundage and having trouble losing it, any extra avoirdupois was just an added health liability I could ill afford.

Which brings me to the point of this article. The holidays are a traditionally a time for feasting, when abundance and the pleasures of the table are an essential part of the celebration. Almost every household has its Christmas and New Year recipes for ham, pasta, salad, whatever. It is a ritual, this preparation of the holiday food that is often not made at any other time of the year. And when the special dishes are served, it marks another cycle in the circle of cultural observances.

But many traditions we observe, while fulfilling psychological needs, are not always good for us. The overconsumption of sugar, fat, salt, protein, carbohydrates, and alcohol wreak havoc on our health, which we pay for in the future, if not right away in the form of, let’s say, indigestion, hypertension, and diarrhea.

After the holiday feasting, we step on a bathroom scale and watch the needle swing much farther to the right than we’d like. Some panic and look for quick fixes. Diet pills, for one. Through the years, there have been many, some with evil side effects.

Some 20 years ago, fen-phen – a combination of two drugs, fenfluramine and phentermine – caused a global sensation for resulting in very rapid weight loss.Fenfluramine was later shown to cause heart problems and other internal damage. It was withdrawn from the market and “led to legal damages of over $13 billion.” This is one case where the “cure” proved to be more harmful than the cause. (“Phentermine was not shown to cause harmful effects.”)

Undergoing scrutiny now by the American Food and Drug Administration is bupropion/naltrexone (trade name Contrave), “designed to affect the hypothalamus to decrease food intake over extended period of time…On 7 December 2010 an FDA Advisory Committee voted 13-7 for the approval of Contrave, and voted 11-8 for the conduct of a post-marketing cardiovascular outcomes study.”

The current popularly marketed medication, available over-the-counter here, is orlistat, “a drug designed to treat obesity… [by] preventing the absorption of fats…thereby reducing caloric intake.” (All citations from Wikipedia.)

Succumbing to the ease of taking a drug panders to our desire for convenience and immediate gratification. For some, under a physician’s care, such medications could even be necessary. But the best results come from the old-school way to weight loss – healthy eating that is predominantly vegetarian combined with sweaty exercise (both aerobic and strength training), adequate sleep, and less stress.

I’ve done it both ways, and only the natural method really worked and made me feel better. So this is one of my resolutions for the coming Year of the Rabbit – to regain wellness.

I will lay off the White Rabbit candy, and lace on my walking shoes once more. Because of my hypertension, I will reduce my caffeine intake. My 12-year-old daughter is helping me get healthy by giving frequent reminders. “Mama, you have to stop drinking too much coffee, eating sweets and chicharon, and sleeping late. Those are bad habits. I’m just glad they’re not illegal.” Thanks, Ik.

I must harness my willpower and discipline to achieve the goals I’ve set because it’s the only way I will get well. And only I can do this for myself – no one else. And because I have loved ones to take care of, I have to stay healthy as long as I can.

It’s a resolution I think we all need to make – and stick with. Happy new year, everyone.

My thoughts return to the chocolate mousse cake that got away. Bereft and forlorn without the other half, I console myself with a chunk of banana loaf someone else left behind. That should be healthier, I figure, because it’s got fruit in it.

Right?   ***

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hack you

Muji is a terrific little Japanese shop which carries houseware, stationery, and even clothes, all in neutral colors. It’s almost like Ikea but not quite because it doesn’t have the same staggering selection of goods. Still, it’s a place to get interesting stuff. Last week I visited the Powerplant Mall, Makati branch close to closing time; not having much time to look around, I went home with only a few items – a couple of erasers and this yummy kraft-paper covered notebook.

The cover is actually quite smooth, as is the creamy unruled paper inside. But the cover was excruciatingly plain. So I hacked it.

How to hack a boringly blah notebook or something of similar persuasion:

Step 1: Wait for an inspiration to come like a lightning bolt.

Step 1a: In the event that no creative brainstorm occurs, open drawers and rummage through stuff to quickstart the process. I found red and purple ink stamp pads, a flex-nib fountain pen, ink, and a great poem.

Step 3: Using the materials you have found, use them to embellish your notebook by gluing, painting, writing, drawing, cutting, folding, verb+ing, and so on.

Step 4: Enjoy your one-of-a-kind modded thing!

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a collection of j. herbin inks

“La Perle des Encres” – “The Jewel of Inks”. Thus now are known the inks first created in 1700 by sailor-entrepreneur M. Herbin in his atelier in the Rue des Fosses Saint Germain in Paris. The company, known as J. Herbin, has been in existence since 1670; they began as a purveyor of fine sealing waxes.

Using inks in fountain pens and sealing wax in correspondence is an enjoyable visit to a splendid age, when the educated people of that time wrote long letters on thick paper in an elegant hand, carefully sealing them afterward with colored wax, an impression from a seal or a ring, and perhaps a kiss.

It is a marvel that we today can enjoy these same things. J. Herbin still makes fountain pen inks from natural dyes; their neutral pH is fountain-pen friendly. Here’s my latest haul of J. Herbin, from Scribe Writing Essentials in Eastwood Mall.

The packages are very chic, a designer’s dream.

The ink bottles are also beautiful, as are the labels. And the names of the inks, in French, will make you fall in love. Je t’aime.

The bottles are of glass and come with plastic caps.

There is something so very satisfying about a well-made and well-designed product.

The bottles are a special shape – the caps are set slightly back to give space for a groove that functions as a pen rest.

The bottles are works of art in themselves.

Even the bottom of the ink bottles are lovely.

These simple writing samples show how spectacular these water-based, lightfast inks are. Can you imagine using one of these colors in a pen to write a letter to someone special? Or using several colors to create a watercolor artwork?

This new year, make it a resolution to tap in your own creativity. What is it you enjoy doing – writing, drawing, singing? Express yourself through that channel, do whatever it is that makes you happy, and renew your spirit in words, color, or sound.

Photos taken with a Nikon Coolpix L21 at PICC Complex, Pasay City.

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rockmelt rocks!

Penfriend and nibmeister Chito Limson sent me an invitation through Facebook to try a new browser called RockMelt.

The name alone was intriguing. It sounded like the seething, molten mass of metal at the center of the earth. Uber hard-core.

Naturally I downloaded it immediately, skipped the instructional video (I am INTP to the max and would rather intuit things than read the manual), and dove into it headfirst to explore how it walks and talks.

RockMelt is a lot like Chrome and feels just as fast, though my 12-year-old daughter Googled speed comparisons and says Chrome is swifter by eight hundredths of a second. Or pretty near something like that. Chrome is, after all, “faster than a speeding potato.”

RockMelt looks almost exactly like Chrome, though it doesn’t seem to have color schemes and themes yet. Still, the current default blue-and-gray motif is elegant and soothing.

It has Chrome’s “new tab” feature with the eight squares that are screenshots of the last websites you visited. You can also pin them down to serve as bookmarks.

My RockMelt all locked and loaded with my favorite websites.

RockMelt differs from Chrome in that it has social media features similar to Flock. I liked Flock’s easy access to Twitter and FB, but hated how slow it was. Much slower than a potato.

On either side of RockMelt’s interface are sidebars called “edges”. On the left are Facebook Friends. A green dot indicates they are online and available for chat; yellow, idle status; gray, offline. At the top left is your FB avatar: click on that, and a dialogue box will open with a dropdown menu to choose from Twitter or FB, and space to type in an update. Just like TweetDeck! On the right is the menu bar with buttons for easy access to Twitter, FB, your FB notifications, and apps and feeds.

A screenshot of the browser working for me, showing’s home page; the ‘edges’ at either side; and browser tabs at the top. The bottom shows my MS Windows 7 Professional toolbar.

What’s even more amazing about RockMelt is that it imports bookmarks from your current browser. I lost most of my bookmarks when I migrated from Internet Explorer (which is slower than the dirt potatoes grow in) to Chrome, which doesn’t have this feature either. What’s more, RockMelt can import both sets of bookmarks and keep them separate – a great feature for people like me who remember websites chronologically (when I last saw them) and spatially (what browser I used to view them).

Gizmodo wrote a “What Is…?” as did the NY Times.

Thanks to Chito for sending me one of his precious limited RockMelt invitations!

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starbucks via: instant brewed coffee

Last June my California-based mother sent my sister packets of these, which she passed to me, not being a coffee drinker herself. I liked it a lot. It blew me away that I could have the taste of brewed in this convenient form.

Earlier this month, Via was launched in the Philippines.  Starbucks Via Ready-Brew is, their website says, “not instant coffee as you know it. This is rich, flavorful Starbucks coffee in an instant.”

Okay, their copy could use some work, but what about the coffee?

First, the packaging. Via’s colors are red-orange, mustard, and dark brown, used extensively in the boxes of twelve and the three-packs. Why there are no six-packs, I have no idea.

If you’re a fan of design, as I am, these are sleek, classy, and conform to the Starbucks standard of style.

This Via double-walled tumbler has an inner metal container for the drink, encased in a plastic sleeve divided into compartments that hold up to six packets of Via. For the forgetful, this is a great way to ensure you’ll always have your Via wherever you go. Just remember to fill the compartments when empty.

The bottom of the Via tumbler unscrews for access to the stored packets.

I can’t resist merch! I already have the regular green Starbucks cup strap. The Via strap has more charms. I use these to keep my USB drives handy.

Try their three flavors – Colombia (medium), Italian Roast (extra bold), and decaf. What’s great is that Starbucks Philippines gives free single packets of Via with purchase.

This Via bearista makes my drinks and keeps them safe. Really.

Oh, the coffee? Brewed is in a league of its own, but Via tastes much better than the regular kind of instant coffee, coming much closer to the real thing. For that reason, it’s a fantastic innovation in caffeinated convenience.

Photos taken in available light with a 2-mp Nokia c3, except for the bear photo, taken with a Nikon Coolpix L21.

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pop goes the world: life keeps happening

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 9 September 2010, Thursday

Life Keeps Happening

Much has been written about the tragic Quirino Grandstand hostage-taking and its wide-ranging effects and massive impact not only in personal terms but those on a large scale – in politics, diplomacy, relations between nations.

In the aftermath, fingers are still being pointed here and there, with the authorities seeking to pin responsibility on those who made mistakes, while many of those being investigated evade culpability, artfully dodging the blame that may be laid at their door.

They say: “It’s not our fault.” And, “We were just doing our job.” And, “He told me to do it.” And, “We had poor equipment and inadequate training.”

Hey, that’s what my children tell me when they mess up.

Zambales congresswoman Mitos Magsaysay said it best at the recent hearing when she asked those under investigation: “Why can’t you be man enough?”- to admit fault and shoulder responsibility for the wrong choices made.

Zambales 1st district rep Mitos Magsaysay. Click here for image source.

Who was man enough?

President Noy, that’s who. He took responsibility for the incident because the buck stops with him, according to the chain of command.

But was he personally liable for the deaths of the hostages? No, because he wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger.

As for those who failed to rescue the hostages – they’ll have to live with their failure till the day they die, second-guessing themselves on the decisions they made.

When we all woke up that fateful morning, none of us knew what was in store that day, not even the hostage-taker. Incidents like these are unexpected and always unwanted. We have made our apologies to those concerned. The proper authorities must now make sure this does not happen again.

Meanwhile, what follows are some thoughts on negative situations in life, and some options on how we may face them.


The second half of the column is an expanded version of my previous blog post “Life – It Keeps Happening ’til You Die”. Click here to read the entire piece at MST Online.

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