November 25, 2011


Over the years we, as a family, have experienced some…how can I phrase it?... some interesting Thanksgivings. Which begs the question, what is a traditional Thanksgiving? Even over the past few years alone Thanksgiving memories vary vastly; some with laughter, some with tears, some sullen and sad, others full of joy.

This year, again, shaped up to be another uniquely memorable Thanksgiving for the whole family. Even for Lady Hiva and I, it was the first Thanksgiving for us outside of the United States without other family here with us. Friends, who also are missing their far away families, fill in the holes and we become a patchwork quilt version of a family.

As Lady and I prepared the Thanksgiving dinner I realized that as a family no matter how far away we are from each other, or how unique the season is, there are some things about the Holiday that never change. Some unchangeable parts are physical and others emotional, either way these simple pieces of life remind us we are loved.

First of all is the fact that Thanksgiving is about FAMILY. No matter what weirdness, disjointedness, sadness, joy, or success the family has gone through each year, we experience it together. That same weird, disjointed and loving family is always there with open arms and a soothing shoulder to cry on. It is amazing how life works, at any given moment someone in the family unit is struggling and needs to be lifted. Later, down the road, they are the ones doing the lifting for another.

One part of being in a foreign country and trying to celebrate a “Traditional” Thanksgiving means you have to be creative. Hiva and I made a list of things we wanted to have on the table when dinner time came. It was an odd collection of favorite family recipes from both our families. Rolls like Aunt Vyonne and Madre bake, Pecan Pie ala mode, Grandma Ginger’s orange slush, Moana’s blueberry cheesecake pie, Aunt Melanie styled candied yams, and of course stuffing. In order to get all of the ingredients we had to shop in 6 different stores all over metro Manila. Hiva’s favorite find was a package of Western Family Marshmallows! (she said the local version does not quite make the grade)

Each one of these dishes brought back a flood of memories for me—all of which reminded me that we are LOVED. Throughout the day Family members had a place at our table and in our hearts. It was comforting to know that all those family members we miss all over the world are drinking slush and eating blueberry cheesecake pie too...because you wouldn’t do it any other way on Thanksgiving.

As we baked the turkey I could not help but remember the first time Hiva and I cooked a turkey together. We were poor-college-student-newlyweds and we could not afford a turkey but Hiva’s brother had given us his turkey that work had given him for a holiday bonus. We were so thankful for that turkey; it fed us for a week straight.

Most of all Thanksgiving is about being THANKFUL. Having a heart of GRATITUDE. There are so many reasons I can think of why I should be thankful. Heavenly Father has truly blessed Lady Hiva and I continually. I have tried to keep a list of some of these blessings each day with the Gratitude Challenge and it has been a humbling experience to focus on all that I DO have not on what I think I lack. It is the little, most often non-monetary, things that mean the most to me. Sadly, those are the things I take for granted the easiest too. For example, being lucky enough to marry my best friend who is willing to help me become a better person even when it would be easy to just see all my faults (I do have many); Or the fact that if I need a hug, a call, or a kind word there are family members who would do anything to provide those without hesitation.

As Josh Groban says in his song, Thankful “There is so much to be thankful for.” So in light of all the unique Thanksgivings we all experience, I would challenge us all to look around the effective table of our lives and see who is sitting with us that needs to know that we are thankful for them being part of our lives and to know that we love them; Because we never know, with the fast pace that life changes, if they will be sitting with us next year. I am thankful for the people in my life that have let me know that I am loved, so that even when I am doing small things like drinking slush I think of them and I am filled with gratitude for their love in my life.

Here is the link to Josh Groban's Thankful if you want a 'feel good' song to listen to:

November 19, 2011

Decorating for CHRISTMAS!

Last Wednesday I decided that since we had the artificial Christmas tree that Madre and Kell had sent to us now, we should decorate for Christmas!  Lady Hiva reminded me several times that we should wait until AFTER Thanksgiving. Yes, it is a week before Thanksgiving, but I was excited! In an effort to appease her as I opened the box, I told her we could celebrate BOTH holidays! Good compromise, right? Nobody can fault me for being too early, here in the Philippines they have been playing carols in the stores for months now!

This is our first fake tree, even in Hawaii we would go wait in line at Wal-Mart until they opened the fresh tree section because they would sell out so fast (and they were expensive). Madre and Kell sent us a tree from Taipan Trading Co. and it looks so real that Lady Hiva and I both will comment how we think as we pass the tree, "We need to water the tree..." HAHAHA! Thanks Madre and Kell!

By the time I had the tree halfway set up, Lady had changed from saying "we need to wait," to "Lets go get the decorations because an empty tree looks weird." Now that's the spirit! Woohoo! We decided to do Red and Gold this year. (Last year was lime green, silver and navy). We made ribbon bows of several sizes to accent and within an hour we are done. You can see the yellow and orange Autumn decorations in the background. The whole idea of celebrating BOTH holidays went out the window because the "colors clashed" and Hiva told me to take the Autumn decorations down and turn on the Christmas music, "if we are going to do this, we HAVE to do it right!."
(Notice this was pre-removing the Autumn deco...)

We took the garland we had from before and remaining decorations from the tree, added a few extra things that we found here in a local accessory store and made two garlands for the living room and dining room.

Now the house smells like cinnamon, the tree is lit constantly when we are home, and we have been playing Christmas Carols continuously for the whole week! Christmas, here we come!...ahem...I mean, Thanksgiving here we come....THEN CHRISTMAS! YAY!

November 17, 2011

Today I Met My Boss

After over a year and a half I finally did something most people do in their interviewing process—I met my boss. And yes, it was such a cool experience I am writing a blog about it. Normally I make a habit of NOT writing about work, but this is worthy of an exception.

If you have not seen in the news, Secretary Clinton came to Manila. We were asked a few weeks ago at work if we wanted to volunteer to help plan her trip here. There were several stops that she made in her short stay in Manila and one of us was assigned to plan all of the logistics for each stop. All of our names were placed into a drawing for who was in charge of each event. Due to some luck and graciousness of colleagues I drew out to be at Malacanan Palace for the Secretary’s meeting with President Aquino.

For the last two weeks we have all been working with the team from Washington D.C. and the local government to get the events ready. Several site visits, phone calls, and emails had to be made in preparation for the big day. Needless to say, I made some really great friends over at the Palace after being in contact with them daily and hourly towards the end of the week. They were so gracious and accommodating. I thoroughly enjoyed working with them; I hope to work with them again soon. Amid the stress of getting this ‘perfect’ I found myself laughing or sharing a joke with one Palace staff member or another. They thought it was funny my name was Dust or “Alikabok” in Tagalog. I guess that is a new nickname! Haha

The event at the Palace went well. And to the participants it was seamless. However, those of you that have planned a large event that what looks seamless really has several people working frantically to ‘put out the potential fires’ just ahead of the program. Small details had to be resolved, plans needed to be revised, and people needed to be updated and informed. Then once it was time for the event, smiles met the waiting cameras when the doors opened.

It was extraordinary to see two world leaders and their staff working together—to see history in the making. I was sad I could not bring my camera (not that I would have had time to take photos anyway). Luckily, Lady Hiva won a place in the “Meet and Greet” for the Embassy employees at the Embassy and she had the camera so we have a few photos. Being around the Secretary and her staff closely all day, I can say I was impressed with her and the staff both as leaders and people.

There were some memorable moments for me for sure. Things that were either stressful, awkward, or plain old slap your forehead and mutter ‘did I really just do that?’ moments. For example, we were told to be “invisible but visible” during the event. In other words, don’t stand out too much, but stand out enough that if there is something that needs to be done, it can be done. (That was pretty hard considering me and my colleague were the only Americans that spoke Tagalog at the event and when Palace staff needed something they would find us first). So I was trying to do a good job of being invisible. I had some major fails though. Like when I was doing one last walk through to make sure everything was in place before the Secretary arrived and as I was walking down the grand staircase I got to the last three stairs and was admiring the red carpet, I looked up into the lobby of the main entrance and SHE WAS coming in! YIKES! I quickly stepped off to the side and let her pass like it was planned to happen like that the whole time. DOH!

It gets worse…I stood there as a few of the other guests pass and I smiled and said hello. Then I realized I needed to be UPSTAIRS too! There was only one way up…with them! After a few seconds of panic—smile now forced as my mind spun with possible solutions—I stepped into the line of dignitaries climbing the stairs and acted like I was supposed to be with them!

Another one happened when I was watching the beginning of the event unfold and saw one of those ‘potential fires’ that needed to be put out and turned quickly to address it. It just happens that the American Ambassador was standing right behind me and when I turned I ran right into him almost knocking him over. DOH! I could not have apologized enough! Or another time when I ended up in a hallway where the security had all exits blocked and I could not slip out to be ‘invisible again.’ I decided to stand against the wall with some of the support staff and in an effort to help I offered to hold the door one of them was holding when I realized the reason they were all standing there, including the Ambassador, was waiting for the Secretary. AWKWARD! I must have looked like such an idiot! Hahaha, “here let me invite myself to stand right next to her and let me be her personal guide why I am at it!”
This is Lady Hiva's Photo of Secretary Clinton Leaving the Embassy...I was just outside the doors watching with the staff
Another memory was being in the motorcade and there was a flash-mob that attacked the vehicles by throwing eggs, rocks and paint balloons. The radios went wild. The driver said calmly, “Sir, you should put on your seatbelt, it is going to get bumpy.” We flipped a tire squealing 180 and sped off with the other vehicles to take another route while police pulled out the riot shields to quell the uprising. It was an intense ride, but I could not help but laugh to see the shocked faces of all the people on the sidewalk as we zoomed by.  And we arrived safe. Just another story to tell. (You can Google and see photos of that)

So, now you know how I met my boss, made some great friends, and saw the President of the Philippines all in the same day!

November 14, 2011

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year Lady Hiva and I were at the American Veterans Cemetery in honor of Veterans Day.  Each year the veterans are honored in a short ceremony.

We went early to volunteer, so we were able to watch all of the guests arrive. The Veterans, who are now older came in with escorts or holding onto each other for support. Maybe they learned to support each other during their time in the military. Their hats and vests designated them as veterans or else they would just look like any other grandparents. They sat ready for the ceremony to start, some hours before the scheduled time. As I walked around taking photos, I could not help but think of the stories each of them must be able to tell.

The military band played marching tunes as we all settled down. It was quite entertaining when the band played a marching rendition of Christmas songs, Disney’s Little Mermaid tunes, and finally Justin Bieber; Which goes to show you how popular he is here. Really, he is. A bit off topic, but just so you understand the respect he gets. One baby came in to work and his official first name was Prince Bieber and whenever I tell new people that my name is Dustin they will most often say, “Oh like Justin Bieber?” then proceed to do some Bieber-ish dance move or impress me with their knowledge of his lyrics…oh boy.

There were two parts of the ceremony that were memorable. One was watching a military officer walk with his son, who was dressed to be a military ‘man’ just like his dad. The other was when the reverend gave the invocation. He was a veteran himself and had to be wheeled to the podium. His words were full of patriotism and love of country. One line stuck out to me, “Dear Lord, we know that we have many trials and hardships before us, but we also know there is nothing we cannot accomplish with your help behind us.” How true and simple that phrase is. 

The American Ambassador gave his remarks and then a congressman from the Philippines. It was good to contemplate how each of these people in the seats, and those whose names are on the walls, gave their lives to help us live the lives we have today. The last part of the ceremony was the 21 gun salute and Taps being played by two trumpets placed on opposite sides of the memorial. It was moving. The silence lingered for several minutes after as if nobody wanted to ruin the moment of honor.

Then the band piped in with a fast paced marching version of Travie Macoy and Bruno Mars’ “I want to be a millionaire!” Hahaha..!