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Sometimes the best things in life emerge from our biggest disappointments. Last month I took my nieces on our 1st annual vacation, which we decided to call The Barongan Girls Take D.C. This trip would not have been possible if the trip to Germany that my niece Paloma and I were supposed to go on hadn’t been canceled due to the craziness in Europe. A friend suggested that I take a trip with her and go somewhere else, but I wasn’t sure a trip with me would be as appealing as a trip to Germany. Fortunately for me, it was, and since my other niece Sadie was there when I brought it up, I figured I’d invite her, too.


A Monumentous occasion

I have found that in life it is rare for things to turn out exactly as you expect them to. When I imagine the worst, things often turn out better than I expected. And when I think something is going to be great, I often end up feeling disappointed. But this was one of those rare times when everything was as perfect as I imagined it would be. We enjoyed some great meals…


Sadie and Paloma enjoying a light dinner


Anxiously awaiting our cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory

and took in the sights of the city….


Sadie enjoying some high end window shopping

But surprisingly, the best moments were the ones between the museums, the monuments, and the meals. They were the times when we were hanging out in the room, and Sadie and Paloma were building a fortress with the couch cushions. (Remember how fun that used to be?) The times when they sang, danced, talked about friends and boys, and discussed how many children they wanted. They were the unspoken ways they expressed their desire to be together all the time–like the fact that they wouldn’t put their luggage in their bedroom, preferring that we all get dressed in the living room instead.


Sadie’s fortress of solitude. And my bed.

As a fitting end to a perfect trip, on the drive home I saw a falling star. And then a few hours later I saw a shooting star. In my entire life, I’ve seen one other falling star and shooting star, so this seemed significant to me. My nieces were asleep at the time but when I told them about it later, they assured me it was lucky.

And truthfully, I was going to need some luck. All of the problems and decisions I had left behind were awaiting me. Frantic phone calls and intense email discussions were about to ensue. I was going to be expected to perform miracles. The magic of the trip was fading, and feelings of helplessness and hopeless were returning.

I was telling a friend about the shooting star and falling star, and he asked if I had made a wish. Which I totally forgot to do. He thought it still counted if I made the wish a week later. I’m not sure what the rules are on wishing upon stars, but I didn’t want to miss this opportunity to capitalize on the possibility of miraculous solutions.

But then the scientist in me wanted to know what the difference was between shooting stars and falling stars, so I looked it up and found out that they weren’t stars at all. They’re meteors! And even though it’s all make-believe anyway, I was disappointed, because I was pretty sure that wishing on meteors didn’t count.

But then I saw my niece Sadie last weekend for my dad’s birthday and broke the bad news about how I saw 2 meteors instead of stars and now my wishes weren’t going to come true. She assured me that my wishes still counted. And then she asked me if I had wished I could meet Federer. Damn! I can’t believe I didn’t think of that myself!

But perhaps the point of seeing the shooting star and falling star at the end of our trip wasn’t about meteors and wishes and luck. Perhaps it was meant to be appreciated as is, in the moment, as something rare and wondrous. Which still made it a perfect end to a perfect trip. Because my nieces are like stars to me–beautiful, brilliant, and awe-inspiring. Whatever the next moment may bring, in this moment, I am thankful for my time with them.

But I still hope my wishes come true.


Live Like You Were Dying…Without Obsessing About Death


I went on my second vacation for the summer–the one where I get to spend time with my niece, Sadie. For the most part, it was a nice break from the demons of depression, anxiety, boredom, and loneliness. But there were some moments of existential angst. And at the weirdest times, too.

Like on the water ride Escape from Pompeii at Busch Gardens. If you haven’t been to Busch Gardens, I’m sure you’ve been on a similar ride with perhaps a different name in some other amusement park. It’s the one that is really short and primarily focuses on one drop where you get drenched at the bottom. There’s even a viewing area where people can get soaked without actually having to get on the ride.

While there were many educational moments on the trip, this was not meant to be one of them. There was no history of Pompeii description anywhere that you could read as you stood in line or anything. And yet, while we were in the section of the ride where they make you feel like they’re going to set you on fire, I couldn’t help but imagine what it must have been like to be going about your day, buying groceries or whatever, completely unaware of the fact that you and your entire city were about to be destroyed.

Hopefully they didn’t suffer for very long. I imagine death must have come pretty quickly. And while people who prepare for the apocalypse hope to be one of the few survivors, I think I’d rather not be. Because there would be more suffering involved in surviving the annihilation of civilization than there would be in immediate death.

At one point in the ride this fake statue almost falls on your head. I thought how terrible it must be to have all of these buildings and statues that you spent years creating get destroyed in however long it takes a volcano to erupt and wipe out civilization. If you survived and had a chance to reflect on it, I’m sure that would be devastating. So maybe it’s good that they didn’t.

This section of the ride only took about a minute, by the way. Literally. You wouldn’t think that would be enough time to reflect on death and destruction and surviving the apocalypse, but it was for me.

And then we went down the drop and got soaked.

And then we got on the ride again.

I’m a big proponent of the idea that we should live like every day is our last. That we savor every moment, pursue every goal, and spend time with the people we love as often as we can. But since I have an anxiety disorder, I also obsess about death and bodily harm. And things that aren’t necessarily dangerous but terrify me nonetheless. Like closed spaces. I almost had an anxiety attack on a flight simulator on this same trip for that reason.

Incidentally, while we were on another water ride, these two girls who couldn’t be more than 12 casually related this story of how they were stuck in the part of the Pompeii ride where they make you feel like they’re going to set you on fire for 30 minutes. And they couldn’t turn off the fire for 15 minutes. No big deal! Totally freaked me out.

Anyway, like I was saying, I have a hard time finding a balance between living like I were dying without actually obsessing about the dying part. For now, my primary strategy is to do what I learned in the self-compassion retreat. I tell myself not to think about that right now, because it causes me suffering. And I don’t want to do anything that causes myself unnecessary suffering.

And in that moment, it worked.

Until we went to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and I found out that some fossils of two dinosaurs fighting were preserved because flash floods in the desert buried them on the spot.

In a Perfect World

I think I would really enjoy living in paradise.

Although I do wonder sometimes if it would get boring after a while. I know some people who live at the beach say they hardly ever go, even though they moved there because they love the beach. It is no longer the place they fantasize about escaping to; it just becomes the place they live.

I know I said in my last post that perhaps things can only be extraordinary when you compare them to something ordinary. Maybe that doesn’t just apply to paradise. Maybe that applies to everything. A beautiful day. An exciting win. A perfect date. Maybe things can only be wonderful if sometimes things are terrible. At least that’s what I tell my clients as a way to help them appreciate sadness, anger, fear, and heartbreak.

Still, I’d like to give it a shot, just to make sure.

For me, in a perfect world…

I would have a place in Hawaii and Switzerland. And it wouldn’t take an entire day to get there.

It would be easy to find someone to date. And he would never drive me crazy.

Federer would always win.

The weather would always be perfect for tennis. And when it rained, it would do so after midnight.

I would have enough money to get awesome seats at any sporting event.

UVA would win the national championship in football and basketball in the same year.

My family and friends would always be healthy, happy, and safe. And so would I.

Every morning I would wake up feeling like something exciting was going to happen.

No one would make me feel ashamed that I woke up at noon.

Every book I read would be the kind that I never want to end.

And when it did, there would be a sequel that’s just as good as the first one. Maybe a whole series, even.

And then the author would write another series and that one would be just as good.

My blog would be widely read.

Some big-time publisher would approach me and tell me they want to turn my blog into a book.

I would be packing right now instead of procrastinating. And I would have put away my laundry last night instead of sleeping with all my folded clothes next to me in the bed.

I would be excited before a trip instead of stressed out about all of the things that I have to do before I leave.

I would not be depressed after the trip was over because there would be something new and exciting waiting for me when I got home.

Today I woke up at 6 am, which is crazy for me. I was all excited and couldn’t fall back asleep. There’s lots of good tennis on at Wimbledon today. My mixed doubles team plays tonight, and we have a good chance of winning. And all I have to do today is pack for my trip tomorrow, where I will get to play more tennis and spend time with my niece.

Maybe it’s not a perfect world, but we can still have moments of perfection. And this is one of them, because Federer’s match is about to start.

Beginnings and Endings, Part 3


Interlaken, Switzerland

You know how I said I’m not good with beginnings and endings? Well I think I’m getting better at it!

After obsessing about it for seven months, I finally decided to go on a trip to Germany and Switzerland because I wanted to stop worrying about money and start living with no regrets. But I was still wasn’t excited about the trip until the day we left because, as with the meditation retreat in California, I was consumed by seemingly insignificant details. Things like:

What kind of clothes should I pack? Will I be able to wear anything other than tennis shoes? How cold do I need to dress for the glacier?

Which luggage should I bring? Is there any way I can weigh my luggage without having to get on a scale? Because that might depress me.

What should I do about my snoring? I can’t pack my GERD pillow. Should I go to my dentist and get one of those mouth guards?

Should I try to get cell service? Would that make me obsess about my tennis teams the whole time? Can I go 10 days without texting?

Will I get along with my roommate? Will I feel like an outsider, since everyone else has some kind of German connection? Will I go crazy without having any alone time?


My fearless travel companions

While my travel companions were excitedly researching our hotels and itinerary, I could barely name two cities we were visiting. Which my friends thought was weird. Which brought up those feelings of not being normal. But I tried to practice self-acceptance and reminded myself that this is who I am. I obsess about all of the things I have to do before I can look forward to any trip. At some point, I would know what city I was in. Hopefully.

And luckily, once I was there, I was fully present. I got a few emails about tennis but didn’t try to fix everything as I normally would. I didn’t obsess about my sleep cycle, even though I got very little sleep. I wasn’t anxious at all on the trip–which is astounding. I didn’t worry about how much I was eating or whether I looked fat in pictures. I just enjoyed the experience of being in another country.


Mountains and Glaciers

The trip exceeded my expectations in so many ways. Switzerland was breathtaking. The scenery was so beautiful it almost hurt to look at it. No wonder Federer lives there! I tried to take in every detail and store it in memory for future reference. So that when I need an image to make me feel calm, I can close my eyes and remember how it felt to be in the presence of so much beauty.

I got to feel like I was in my early 20’s again, which was an unexpected gift. I sang and danced in the rain, stalked band members, and took hundreds of pictures of stuffed animals. Sometimes when I look at happy family pictures on Facebook, I feel this envy and uncertainty about how I live my life. It doesn’t seem very adult-like. But the feeling of euphoria I had on this trip would not have been possible unless my life were exactly as it is.


Even riding on the train was fun!

Even though I only knew one person in the group, I felt at home with my travel companions. No moments of insecurity about being accepted. About saying the wrong thing or embarrassing myself. I even blew out all of the power in our hotel with my hairdryer and no one held it against me!

And on my way home I wasn’t sad, even though I would never be able to repeat this experience again. And I wasn’t anxious about returning to the stress of tennis drama, boredom, and loneliness. Today, four days after the trip, I still feel happy when I remember how much fun I had. But I also feel happy about returning to my life of playing tennis and eating out with my friends.

I’m sure at some point this dream-like state will fade, but for now I will allow myself to enjoy this feeling for as long as it lasts.


Waddles, our trip mascot, getting shot from a cannon at Hohenzollern Castle

Beginnings and Endings, Part 2

My job follows the academic calendar, so today is my first day back at work. I was never one of those kids who looked forward to the beginning of school. I didn’t care about seeing my friends; I didn’t want to have to do homework. I didn’t want to have to go to bed and wake up early. I pretty much have the same mentality now that I did when I was in elementary school. Some things never change, I guess.

My summers follow a distinct pattern: I have a hard time transitioning from being stressed and having to be super-productive to not having a whole lot that needs to get done. Boredom doesn’t do justice to the intensity of how badly I feel during that adjustment period. It’s more like, my existence is a complete waste of time. I have nothing of value to offer to the world. I know it’s is my inner critic talking, but it still makes me question my worth. I think that’s why most people would rather be stressed than bored: it makes you feel more useful.

However, by the time I have about 2 weeks of vacation left, I start panicking about having to go back to work. I don’t want to feel stressed out again–to be on call, have back-to-back clients, rush to get my nightly routine completed. By the end of the summer, I feel like I could quit my job altogether. But I have no one to support me, so that’s not an option.

This summer I had the added adjustment of being alone for the first time. Braking down on the side of the freeway alone. Attending weddings alone. Spending holidays and weekends alone. At least when I was working, I was guaranteed to see people every day. Over the summer, I had to make plans to motivate myself to leave the house, and sometimes I couldn’t do it.

Plus, I was also going through the steps to finalize my divorce, so I no longer had the illusion that I could return to the more stable state of matrimony. I didn’t date anyone or even have someone I could fantasize about dating. Well, I guess there’s Federer, but even in his case, the most I could imagine was being one of the nannies for his new twin boys. Not terribly romantic.

Despite the struggles with boredom, reversed sleep cycles, and solitude, I think the highs and lows actually helped me tolerate my emotions better. I would remind myself that boredom and loneliness are painful sometimes, but I’ll be busy eventually. (Usually the next day, because I played in 7 tennis leagues and captained 5 of them over the summer.) And when school starts and I’m feeling overwhelmed, I’ll remind myself that I have a long break to look forward to at the end of the term.

I think it also helped that I spent the past 2 weeks on vacation with family and friends. It was the highlight of the summer, but it was also hard to be around people 24-7. Now that I am accustomed to extended periods of solitude, I realize how much I need down time to feel sane. So by the time my vacation ended on Friday, I was ready to go home. Ready to catch up on tennis, blogging, and even work.

This summer was a good reminder of how, even when something seems intolerable, that feeling will pass. And you might even find value in the experience that you hated so much at that time.

Beginnings and Endings

I don’t do well with endings. 

Yesterday, as I began my 2 day drive back home, I started feeling anxious for no reason–until I remembered that I always feel anxious at the end of a trip. I was so relaxed during my vacation that I forgot how stressful my life was. Even tennis, which I love more than anything, feels like a job that I have to get used to again. The emails, texts, and calls about team registrations, lineup changes, and board meetings began before I made it home.

I always obsess over the passage of time at the end of a trip. How quickly it seems to go. The things I fear about getting older and watching other people get older. The more I enjoy myself, the stronger this fear is.

The next time I see my niece, she won’t be 7 anymore. I asked her to stop getting older when she turned 5, but she didn’t listen. Of course, I enjoy her just as much now as I did then, but there is something sad about the parts of her that are left behind every time I see her. Interests that are no longer cool. I don’t really know how to put this feeling into words, although I’m sure there are some sentimental parents out there who know what I’m talking about.

I’m the same way with books that I love. I dread coming to the end of them because then I will have to say good-bye to this world and these characters whom I’ve grown fond of. Sure, you can read the book again, but it will never be like the first time, when you didn’t know what to expect.

I used to obsess so much about having to say good-bye that I couldn’t enjoy the time I had left with the person. Then, after they were gone, I would cut off my feelings for them so that I would not have to mourn their absence. Not on purpose, of course. In fact, it made me feel like some cold-hearted person. I think that’s why I’m so bad about keeping in touch. 

Today I had the realization that, while I was sad about the end of my vacation and the drive home, I also had a lot to look forward to. The beginning of summer. The start of new tennis leagues. More road trips–including one to see my niece again at the end of summer. In fact, I will be with her on her birthday, when she turns 8.

Perhaps instead of thinking of time as being linear, with clearly demarcated beginnings and endings, I can think of it as cyclical, like the seasons. That way, beginnings and endings are right next to each other. And while I may not be able to go back to a specific point in time again, whenever the cycle repeats itself, I can pay homage to that memory, and add another one to go with it.

And I can blog about it, which always seems to help.


I’m in the car with my brother and his family, on the way to Florida for vacation. We’ve been on the road for 9 hours, and we still have 4 more torturous hours to go. My niece almost had a breakdown in the restaurant when her dad told her how much longer it was going to be, and I have to admit, I had to restrain myself from throwing a temper tantrum, too.

But when I think back to when we were kids, I really have nothing to complain about. The four of us are seated comfortably in an SUV that seats 7 people with a DVD player, multiple tablets and cell phones, hot spots, satellite radio, and knitting projects to keep us entertained. My friends are texting, emailing, and calling with tennis updates so that I’m not out of the loop. Everyone can listen to or watch whatever they want without bothering anyone else. No sharing required. Nothing like the forced captivity of what I faced as a kid when my family went on vacation.

Back then they didn’t have SUVs that seated 7 people. Instead, 7 of us traveled in a sedan that sat 4 people. How, you ask? Luckily, Filipinos are small. Still, we had to be resourceful. My youngest brother would be on the floor at my mom’s feet on the passenger side in the front. My overweight grandmother, 2 brothers, and I would all be scrunched up in the back seat. All of us couldn’t sit back at the same time, so one of us 3 kids had to rotate sitting forward on the edge of the seat every hour or so. On trips that sometimes lasted 10-12 hours. I don’t know how we did it without killing each other.

And instead of having individual electronic devices that allowed everyone to enjoy their preferred music or movie, we listened to whatever my dad wanted to listen to.  For awhile it was this one cassette that came with his car and featured an assortment of the kind of instrumental songs you would hear on “The Lawrence Welk Show.” But I also remember listening to hits like “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Honey,” and “You Needed Me” several hundred times. Ask any of my brothers the lyrics to these songs and they can sing them to you word for word.

But even back then, we were better off than the families that traveled out west in covered wagons. All they could do to entertain themselves was talk and sing to each other for months. But maybe they didn’t have a lot of down time since they had to try to stay alive and all. I read once that families were so worried about making it before winter that they wouldn’t even stop the wagon when one of the kids fell out. Which kind of traumatized me. Maybe that’s the intimidation strategy they used to keep kids quiet back then. “Don’t make me come back there and throw you out of the wagon!”

My brother and I were just telling Sadie about what it was like for us back when we were kids to keep her from whining every 30 minutes about not being there yet. I’m sure we just sound like adults sounded to us when we were kids, with their tales of how hard life was before all the modern conveniences that kids have today.

Still, she did start watching another DVD so that she didn’t have to listen to us anymore. So that’s something.