Category Archives: Beyond the Letter Box

The Heart of a Volunteer

With the kind of schedule – packed – that we lead nowadays, who has time for volunteer work, right?

Some weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a volunteer orientation seminar where, I was informed, many people signed up for. The original number the organizer was expecting ended up with a handful of participants.

On one hand, I couldn’t blame them (those who didn’t make it to the orientation seminar). It was a Saturday, after all, and it was early at that. Second, the venue of the orientation (a school building) is a place people don’t commonly go to. That being said, I can only presume some got lost on their way to the venue.

While it was regrettable that many couldn’t make it, I was proud of those who did show up on that weekend morning. It proves that they have the heart of a volunteer!

Volunteers are committed.

They walk the talk. If they say they’ll do something, expect them to show up and ‘do the work.’ If they’ll be late, and is sincerely so, they’ll find a way to get the message across. Incidentally, some of the participants came from opposite sides of the metro. Now, THAT is commitment!

Volunteers treat ‘volunteer work’ like it’s ‘real work.’

They prepare for it and give their best in whatever activity they choose.

There may be no monetary rewards or recognition in this kind of ‘work,’ but it doesn’t matter. True volunteers know that the real reward comes in knowing they’ve made – or they will make – a positive difference in someone’s life.

Volunteers know that giving back is a responsibility, and they gladly do so.

Listening to the participants and why they want to volunteer, I noticed a common sentiment: the need to balance their careers and free time with some form of community service.

Personally, I also think that because we’ve been blessed with so much, it’s only ‘right’ that we give back to those who don’t have access to the same privileges as many of us do. In fact, sometimes I think that’s our role in life: each of us is given a talent so we can be conduits of God/ the Universe.

Hopefully, this sharing makes you think about sparing even a few hours a month to do a bit of community service or volunteer work. With the number of options we have nowadays, choose an activity or advocacy that you’re passionate about. Doing so will easily take the “work” out of ‘volunteer work.’


Those Brown Spots Aren’t Freckles

If I had known early on that having one’s place repainted would be emotionally, and not just physically, draining, I would’ve better prepared myself.

I had long wanted to have my unit renovated because molds had taken over many of the walls and other surfaces inside a home that you can think of. Molds look innocuously like brown spots until you realize they’re on that wall here, on that wall over there, on the ceiling, and . . . are those molds on the surface of the fridge?

When you see something similar in your residence – or even where you work – be slightly wary. If for some reason you develop an unexplained bout of colds or rash on your skin that won’t go away, chances are they’re caused by these small but offending organisms. Thinking of scraping them off the walls with a solution of soap, water, and bleach? It won’t work. Molds are hardy; once they grow on surfaces, especially those that attract moisture, the only way to remove them is to sand them away.

It actually took me several months since last year to find someone who’ll do the job, and the first thing he said when he saw my place was, “What happened here?” It sounds funny now, but in hindsight, it meant the situation was bad and needed remedy as soon as possible.

It took only a few days thereafter for the sanding and repainting job to begin. This is the start of the emotionally draining journey I mentioned earlier because what was once an orderly home instantly turned into disarray: pieces of furniture covered with newspapers or wraps were moved to the middle of the room or from room to room; there was masking tape everywhere; there was dust everywhere. “War zone” is a good description. For five days or so, I also had to supervise the painter, monitor (the quality of) his work, prepare his meals, and pay his daily wages. Oh, let’s not forget the trips to the hardware store to buy the paint and other materials we needed.

One would think that after all has been said and done, things will turn out “beautifully” or at least “great.” Not quite. You see, one has to let the paint dry thoroughly before all the covers and the tapes can be removed. And even then, brace yourself for some ‘surprises.’ In my case, I discovered areas that weren’t painted over properly, so guess what? I took the remaining paint and retouched those spots, hidden or not-so-hidden from plain view. It’s actually quite therapeutic, much like applying make-up on walls. Don’t rush the process, and you just might find yourself looking forward to doing a paint job yourself in the future!

This minor renovation project ended last week, but I’m still in the process of moving things back to where they were. I still espy paint drippings here and there (frustrating, I know), and there are still dust on some shelves. Overall, my place looks near normal again and should be fully ‘operational’ soon. I can’t wait to hit the home section of stores and shops to buy new accessories!

And what of the molds that triggered this roller coaster of a journey in the first place? I’m happy to report they’re gone, and so are my colds. And now that the walls are much more pleasant to look at, will it surprise you if I say I find more and more reasons to stay at home as the days go by?

Do you have a similar repainting project and experience? Please feel free to share.

Crafternoon Activity II – Book Thongs

2015 - Book thongs for Tita Fely (19 December)(2)

If you have an idea for book thongs or charms, let me share with you one tip: look for beads that have heft or weight in them. But not too much, though. You’ll want just the right amount of weight that will easily slip over the pages of your book.

Are books still in vogue? I think they are. Printed materials may be on the wane, but if bookstores are any indication, those paperbacks and hardbound reading materials will always find loving ‘homes.’

Crafternoon Activity I – Key Rings

2015 - Project key rings (12 December)

I think gone are the days when everything inside a handbag should be in black. (Admittedly, I used to do that.) Something has to stand out, especially if they need to be ‘fished out’ every so often.

Some may find these key rings ‘bulky’ in the pocket. Not really, and I’m not saying that because I made them. For a tactile person, it’s reassuring to know that as long as I can feel the beads, the keys are safe along with them.

Simple Lessons from this Holiday Season

“Baby! Baby!”

Earlier, a little girl’s voice, squealing with delight, caught my attention as I rushed to an appointment.

Looking up, I saw a few feet away from me two young girls, one about three years old and the other about two. Both were running excitedly towards their father. He was holding aloft a doll, while a playful smile hovered over his lips.

The doll looks dirty, as if it had been unearthed from a long-forgotten toy box. It was intact, however, with its body clothed in a light pink onesie and its head covered with a matching pink-colored bonnet. The girls couldn’t care less, judging from the gleeful expressions on their faces. Daddy has a toy, and it’s for them!

When they finally got to where he was standing, the girls tried in vain to reach up and get the doll. The playful father waved it briefly over their heads before handing it over to the younger one who had been pleading in earnest, “Baby! Baby!”

I wish I had a camera at the time to capture the expression on the young girl’s face as she tightly hugged the doll. It was pure joy. As for the older sister, she simply looked on, and not once did I hear her whine. Perhaps her innocent heart knew how important it was for her sister to get the doll . . . and to retain the peace between them.

And the father? When I had the chance to look away from the girls and glance at him, he had a look of contentment. “Mission accomplished,” his expression seemed to convey. “I made my little ones happy just in time for Christmas, and that’s more than enough for me.” After a few more minutes, he picked up his younger daughter, held the older one by the hand, and they turned to walk away.

No, I don’t think a camera would’ve helped me capture those ‘lessons’ – simple joy, peace, contentment, sharing – in such a brief moment. Some are better seen and heard and committed to memory.

“What makes a good coach?”

Today was a bittersweet day of sorts because it was the last day of my swim session. That, in itself, should not be a reason to feel bad, I know. I could always continue practicing on my own, I know.

But if I were to be honest, I think I enjoyed the “laugh trip” with our swim coach as much as I enjoyed being in the water. Let me explain.

As with many coaches/ instructors, this one hopes for nothing but the best for his students. He’s strict when he needs to be, but he also unfailingly dishes out the funniest comments (at least to me). Comments that are actually motivational tips, but are covered with layers of humor. He would also just suddenly burst into singing when something you say catches his attention.

Coach, thank you: for consistently demonstrating patience to my consistent ‘complaining’; for believing that beginner swimmers always have the potential to become better if they would put their heart into every practice. Who would’ve thought I’d see the day when I could finally cross a 25-meter lap pool without stopping? Here’s a secret: I could not wait for the class to be over when we started 19 sessions ago.

Image - 25 meter lap pool
Image and credit: 25-meter lap pool / Wikimedia

I think I have to be most grateful for that period when you must have sensed I was feeling despondent, and yet you never let on that you knew. Instead, in your own way, you managed to tease me out of the doldrums with street-smart advice wrapped in lots of wit.

Enjoy the holiday season! I’ll keep on practicing that (sigh) butterfly stroke until I think I get it right. This isn’t the end of the “laugh trip.” See you next year!

Work in Progress – Fabric banners

Image - Fabric banners (22 November 2015)

This is a result of the “Create something new today” quote that was posted last 18 November.

The original pattern was for a heart-shaped bumper. You know, those softies hanging on one side of a crib? But since I didn’t have fiberfill (also referred to as cotton or poly-cotton stuffing) on hand, I decided to use the same pattern to make a row of fabric banners.

“Why make when you can buy them?” I agree with you. Thing is, paper banners – which come in many colors and bright ones, too – tear easily. Not to mention, unless we take care of them, they don’t last long. When that happens, out goes the paper banners and the bit of money one invested in buying them.

Fabric banners, on the other hand, are more durable. But they take time to make; I’ll be the first to admit that. They’re also customizable, especially if there’s a particular event that one wants/ needs it for. Weddings and birthdays come to mind.

This row of banners, which is a work in progress, will eventually hang by the wall next to my workstation at home. The wall is pretty bare; I figured banners could “cheer” it up a bit. (I’ve tried sticky notes in the past; they didn’t last long either.)

Materials: cotton fabric (used on both sides); cotton floss, two strands for the blanket stitch; length of ribbon, twine, or cord to attach the fabrics to, and charms (optional)

Stay inspired everyone!

Today’s take-away from swim class: “Kick harder.”

Three sessions ago, our swim instructor introduced a new lesson: the butterfly stroke. Depending on one’s perspective, it’s a challenge you either welcome or avoid.

I’ve always had ambivalent feelings toward the butterfly stroke. On one hand, the movements demonstrate strength and grace, and though I’m left awe-inspired, it also makes me wonder, “Can I do that?” and sometimes, “Can I STILL do that?”

Our instructor often reminds me, “Don’t say you don’t like something until you’ve tried it.” and “Don’t say you can’t do it until you’ve put in enough hours to make it work.” He’s right on both counts.

I used to dislike freestyle because of a bad experience when we were first learning to swim many years ago. Now, I prefer that over backstroke, which I used to enjoy.

Similarly, I thought I’ll never get my breast stroke right. In the beginning, I was always sinking. Our instructor observed I have to put more strength in my kicks so I can glide farther and stay afloat longer. After many hours of practice in between classes, I’m finally getting the hang of it.

Practicing the butterfly stroke makes me feel like I’m a banana trying to get from point A to B. Sounds funny, but it’s true. Those who use this technique or are familiar with it know that you sort of bend at the waist before you kick both feet in the water. Since I started late in life learning how to do this, I admit bending at the waist isn’t as easy as it used to be.

Our instructor, ever so patient (and diplomatic), noted today that I’ve improved, but I have to use more force. In particular, he said, “You have to kick harder because that’s what will propel you forward.”

After several more attempts by this “banana getting from point A to B,” I feel less of the fruit and more of a seal pup trying to catch up with its mom and siblings as they swim deeper into the ocean. In short, upon following his advice, I began inching forward because of the effort I put into the kicks and the arm pulls.

Going home, Paul’s “kick harder” advice kept circling my mind. I realized it’s because it’s the same principle we apply whenever we want to achieve success or a goal. Want more sales . . . need more clients . . . want to be a better chef . . .? Kick harder or simply put:

Show up, do the work, exert more effort, focus on the quality of your output, learn from others, be grateful, and stay optimistic.

Have a great weekend everyone!

“Create something new today!”

Image - Create something new today

For the love of handmade: Making personalized bag tags

Handmade bag tags (2015)

Recently, I started making personalized bag tags or key chains, depending on how you use them, using cord, beads, and metal charms. While there are now a good number of kiosks in malls that make such items, I designed my own for a good reason. I wanted to make something for a friend, and I wanted to give her something she cannot readily buy: a pretty, handmade gift made especially for her. Thankfully, handmade items are popular again, so the bag tag didn’t sound ‘kitsch’ when I gave it to her.

It feels great to receive personalized items like these, and it’s tempting to order and have one – or a few – made for your friend or friends.

Admittedly, a tag using these materials ‘can’ be costly. The clasp . . . cord . . . beads . . . the number of letters . . . they can all add up. Take also into consideration the fact that it’s handmade. It’s tightly woven; no high-speed sewing machine can do that.

On the bright side, bag tags like these last longer than those made of cloth, which also has its own appeal. These look better when the recipient is a young professional or is looking for a ‘more’ polished-looking bag tag or key adornment. (The first prototype I made for my own use now hangs in my workout bag.)

Lastly, and I think this is the best part, almost all the components can be re-used, especially the letter charms. Want a different color for the cord or want to use a different set of beads? Go right ahead. It’s yours anyway.

Personally, if someone gave me an item with a backstory like “this is handmade just for you,” I’d use it till the very end. Aside from being sentimental, it’s to show appreciation for the person who put a lot of thought and care into making it.

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