Calm before the storm: 2021 holiday season

Before the nth surge of COVID cases swept through our country, there was a great couple of weeks where my family and I had time to rest, enjoy good food, and celebrate the holidays.

Here’s that wistful look-back.

Brunch with the girls

That slow Wednesday morning feels like a century ago. It was our first time physically meeting up in months, after several life milestones like graduating, moving homes, and applying for new jobs.

It’s kind of sweet that we had this moment in Nono’s BGC —a peek into our future Tita brunches and afternoon tea time, if you will. Only we’ll hopefully be paying out of our own pockets (and not our saved up allowances) in the future.

From 2016 to 2021. Thank you for everything. Chicken, waffle, no-truffle truffle dishes, and conversations on life.

*Extra thank you to Lea for being my transpo buddy. I’m a mess. My driver’s license has well and truly expired.

Kaleb’s First Christmas!

The middle days of December 2021 was a confusing mix of preparing for residency (working out my medical clearance and finding a place to stay, among other things) and preparing for the upcoming season.

At the end of the day, all the stress was worth it. We got to celebrate joy and exchange gifts and eat good food as a family. In Kuya and Ate Kim’s new house, as well!

Final take. It always takes at least 15 minutes for us to get that “perfect” family photo. In this picture: cute snazzy matching pajamas my mom ordered online, and three cute name ornaments on the Christmas tree. Also Kaleb looking adorably lost.

Kaleb helpfully woke up from his sleep late in the night so we can take this photo. Have I mentioned how cute he looks like when he sleeps? No? Take my word for it. He’s hella cute.

I couldn’t resist. We had a little photo op moment every time gifts were exchanged, so there were a LOT of photos to choose from. But this one really just called out to me… Kaleb’s face is so squishy.

My gifts this year aren’t as well thought out or impressive as last year’s. I didn’t get to finish my LOTR marathon while wrapping gifts. I haven’t even sent out my overdue Christmas cards yet.

But I did get one hilarious staple gift for Ate Risa. It’s just instant coffee, and it’s the same thing I got her for her birthday. There’s literally almost always nothing else in her wishlist. (I’ll figure out something better for next Christmas, I promise.)

Back in my childhood and teenhood, our usual schedule for Christmas was spending the eve with our father’s side (in their house in Nagcarlan, or in Rizal, or in their condo in QC). Then we’d make the drive to my maternal lola’s for Christmas day.

Drive-by Christmas. Given the pandemic, large gatherings were an out. My brother drove us all the way to Laguna to drop off gifts at my grandmom’s place, my grant-aunt’s, and aunt’s. It was a whole round of gift-giving.

Staycation in Okada, featuring BTS

As 2021 came to a close, there was a driving urgency in our little family to do something. Our last time properly out of the house was way back in 2020, when we welcomed the new year in Tokyo. And with my looming stint in residency, there was no guarantee I’d ever have time for a vacation in the near future.

(Read: Winter in Japan 2020)

I spent a hot couple of days preparing presentations for short trips we could make to Batangas, or Pampanga, or Tagaytay. We wanted to spend a couple of (safe) days out of the house, refreshing ouselves with a different view.

In the end, we decided on (1) a daytrip to Antipolo to get something resembling fresh air, and (2) a two-night stay in Okada Manila, for everything else.

Spoiler alert: our two-night stay got a free room upgrade and a one-night extension, all thanks to my mom’s loyalty perks. Or something like that. It was so fun. Thank you ma, thank you Okada.

Okada Manila is a city into itself. (Not to rip off City of Dreams’ theme or anything.) This place is still so impressive and entertaining even with more than half of the shops closed. I can’t wait for the pandemic to end and for the retail boulevard to come alive again.
Some day I’ll remember to bring bath bombs to hotels. Please, self, be more alert of these opportunities. Alas, there’s always next time.

I had a couple of goals in mind going into our staycation —I wanted to finish Hawkeye with my sister (which we did), and I wanted to finally shoot my year-end project. My mom’s goal was to shoot her first ever Tiktok video, and here it is. Featuring BTS. (It was loads of fun).

(My mom’s) first ever Tiktok. I was impressed by how easy it is to edit videos using TikTok. I see how it’s a thing people can get addicted to.
The Cove Manila. Not gonna get over how cute this indoor pool space is. I’m not a big fan of nightclubs, so this daytime breakfast buffet version of the Cove is perfect for me.
Spot for breakfast. I’d rate the breakfast buffet by Cove Manila as a middling 7/10. Variety’s not that great, and taste is so-so. Service is excellent though. And we all loved their coffee brew.
Dinner in Ayala Malls by the Bay. There aren’t a lot of options for food in Okada Manila. Yes, there’s a food court and a couple of restaurants, but everything’s literally indoors. As much as possible and reasonable, we went out to eat al fresco.

We were joined in our staycation by our family friends: Kuya Michael, Migs, and Ate Marianne (her fiance also stopped by a couple of times). The more the merrier, always.

‘MONEY’ Dance Cover. Yeah, this happened. I scouted for the right places where no one would see my cringe —11PM shoot near the elevators, and a 6AM shoot by this money tree lookalike. (I don’t actually know what this is).

(Read: Money Dance Cover)

A quiet New Year’s Eve

Because we went out (for a definition of out) for the staycation, we didn’t want to risk spreading the virus to the rest of our family. So a quiet dinner, an early night’s sleep, and a stitched together photo mark our introduction to 2022.

Have a happy (and pink) new year! Yes, we do have a 2022 agenda. Do you?

And since there were only four of us gathered at the table, our dinner was a lot simpler too. Of course, mom still made the effort to collect all fruits humanly possible. Ate Gianna even pitched in with the potatoes. And we all enjoyed the classics (the charcuterie board from Ate Marianne, and mom’s shrimp pasta).

New year dinner. A big contrast to the overflowing table we had last year, but still just as good.

(Read: New Year Chocolate Cake)

New Year, New Role

I greeted the first day and first Saturday of 2022 with a lot of excitement (and maybe a little bit of trepidation). My sister, Ate Risa and I headed to Manila at around 6AM, so I could have time to unpack and setup before heading over to PGH by 8AM.

That first duty feels like a fever dream. I’ll have time in the future to write about it. Hopefully.

OG UPHS Team, missing Marlo and Berty. In this phoot: Kata, Joeric and I after a long day (and even night) of trying to keep the system afloat in the middle of a crisis.

A lot of my favorite gifts that I received for Christmas were all related to this new chapter called ‘residency’. I’m still in the process of figuring it out, beyond the necessary tools and tricks.

Starter gadgets. A new work bag from my favorite brand ALT Manila, a gift from my sister; a new laptop from my mom, which has been a lifesaver; and a cute pair of mobile accessories from my brother and sister-in-law. I haven’t set it up yet since… I don’t have a study table yet. TBD. My mom also got me a couple of work pants. Uniqlo is life.
Petit Planner 2022. I’ve loved this so far. One of the top ten gifts I’ve given myself in recent memory, to be honest.

I’m really interested in how everyone’s holidays went. I know that for a lot of people, it was a time of great fun —but also the unfortunate beginning of waves of infection and reinfection.

Hope you’re all staying safe and doing well now. Take it slowly if you were unfortunate enough to catch the virus.

Keep sane. (I know I’m working on it.)

Until next time! ❤️

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