Monday, October 31, 2011

Kvitova wins the WTA year-end champioships

Petra Kvitova definitely has the makings of a future #1 and multiple slam winner. She showed her wares earlier this year when she took out Maria Sharapova in the Wimbledon final for her first Grand Slam title. And despite a lackluster performance during the American hardcourt season (which is surprising, because her power hitting is perfect for faster courts), she backed up that first Slam title by besting the rest of the top players and winning the WTA year-end championships. Way to go!

Kvitova is now ranked #2 and is only a few points behind Caroline Wozniacki. Both of them have won 6 tournaments this year but Kvitova did win Wimbledon and won the 5th biggest tournament of the year so has a claim to being this year's best female tennis player. A strong showing early in the year could give her the top spot. We know she has the goods. The only question is if she has the desire. I hope she does. And I hope she starts winning more titles and more slams and gets to #1.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Free Starbucks: 2 in a row

It's been a while since I got lucky one of those free tall-beverage lucky receipts that are randomly generated when you make a purchase in Starbucks. I think it's been about 2 years since my last free coffee.

Well, just this last week, I bought coffee in Starbucks - I must have been the last customer of the day since that Starbucks was about to close as I rushed in - and just as the cashier punched in my order, a really long receipt came out of the register. Free coffee on my next visit! Cool. :)

So what's cooler than free coffee? How about two of them? I claim my free coffee a few days later and the day after that, I get another coffee in Starbucks. Guess what? I get another free coffee receipt. Wow! So I don't get any free coffees in a couple of years then in a span of a week, I get two of them. Not bad!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

(An attempt at) exercising at home

I work Europe shift most of the time, so by the time I'm done working, the gym I go to is already closed. I could in theory exercise before going to work, but I am often exhausted by the time I hit the sack so I normally wake up just in time to rush to my first meeting at work. Hence, no more trips to the gym for me. Not good!

So I've looked into youtube to give me a couple of quick workout options at home. For a high intensity full body work-out, check out the burpee:

video uploaded in youtube by charliejames1975

Given my current stress levels, I figured some basic yoga might also be helpful. Esther Ekhart has a series of yoga-for-beginners videos (I find her voice to be incredibly soothing). I've tried doing following her yoga-for-beginners parts 1 and 2 and you do break into a sweat even with the basic stuff. Here's her part 1 video:

video uploaded in youtube by user yogatic

Hopefully I can manage to go through either exercise on a regular basis.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Federer drops to #4

It has been more than 8 years - back in 2003 - since Roger Federer was not ranked in the top 2. However, the rise of Novak Djokovic this year shook things up in the tennis world, knocking both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal out of the top spot. With Rafa winning the French Open and getting to the finals of Wimbledon and the US Open, he has produced enough solid results to keep him at #2. Which means Roger dropped to #3.

What I didn't see coming was Andy Murray's own surge that took him to #3 in the rankings. He lost his way a bit early in the year after losing to Novak in the Australian Open. But he found his form quickly enough and managed to reach the semifinals in the remaining three slams (losing to Rafa in all of them). While he hasn't broken through in a slam just yet, Murray took advantage of the top 3 slowing down during the Asian swing and won 3 tournaments - in Thailand, Japan, and China. It was this last win in the Shanghai Masters that pushed him past Federer in the rankings and securing a #3 ranking. Roger Federer at #4? That's definitely not something we are used to seeing, but I guess it was bound to happen at some point.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Trying to make the world a better place, one tree at a time

It was only a couple of years ago when I attended my first tree-planting activity. Since then, I've co-organized two of them at work, the more recent one happening this October.

The one I co-organized last year had about 50 volunteers. This year, we were hoping to have 150 but almost half backed out so instead we ended up with close to 80 participants. While it isn't as good as what we initially set out to achieve, it's still a bigger activity than the one we had last year.

We partnered yet again with Haribon Foundation for this event. When we got to the venue, Haribon gave us a brief overview of their ROAD to 2020 program. Tanay, Rizal has become a prime tree planting spot ever since Ondoy because Tanay and its nearby areas were significantly impacted by the Ondoy floods. Of course, given how hilly Tanay is, it made for an interesting trek from our assembly point to the actual tree planting area.

Before we started, a guide gave us instructions on how we should plant the seedlings. This was a lot more physically challenging than last year's event because the heat in the days leading up to our activity left the soil very dry and hard so we needed to crumble them with our hands (or even pound the tough soil with rocks or our shoes) before putting them back into the holes in which we placed the seedlings. The degree of difficulty of course made this activity even more rewarding for the volunteers.

Thankfully, we didn't have to dig holes into the ground. Haribon had already ensured that the holes were prepared and the trees placed right next to each hole. Bamboo markers were placed right next to each hole to make it easy for us to spot them. We gently remove the plastic bag that the seedling had been placed in, put it into the hole, and add soil into the hole to make the ground more or less level and ensure that the tree is stable. Once this is done, the plastic bag from which we took the seedling will be stuck onto the bamboo marker. This will help Haribon identify which trees had been planted so they can take good care of them and ensure proper seedling maintenance and cleaning.

We were supposed to plant 2000 trees that day and we were more than halfway when we were told that we needed to pack it up because rain clouds were approaching. And true enough, a few minutes later, the rains fell. It wasn't heavy rain but it was enough to drench us moderately on our trek back to our buses. By the time we got back into our buses, the rains had abated but the trail was now too slippery. So our tree planting activity officially came to and end. We still managed to take a few more post-rain photos...

While we may not have successfully planted out goal of 2,000 seedlings because our work was rudely interrupted by rain, it was still a very successful event with the volunteers being pleased about the experience. And heck, 1,000+ trees is nothing to sneeze at! We are planning an even bigger activity next year so I can't wait for that. :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ethan and Jenna out

Nineteen seasons in and I'm still a fan of The Amazing Race. Possibly the most high profile team to join this year's contest is the tandem of Ethan and Jenna. Both of them won their respective seasons of Survivor (Ethan won Africa and Jenna won The Amazon) and have since become a couple. Ethan has been very open to the public about his battle with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a type of cancer and I was hoping that he and Jenna would do well in The Amazing Race.

Unfortunately, despite finishing 4th in the first leg (which turned out to be a non-elimination one), they ended up placing 10th out of 11 in the next leg. While that is normally a good thing, in this case, the bottom two teams were eliminated. So just like that, Ethan and Jenna's run comes to an end.

It would have been great for the two of them to stay in the show a lot longer and share the unique experience of traveling the world and being exposed to different cultures. In any case, I do hope that Ethan eventually wins his battle with cancer and that he and Jenna continue to have a wonderful post-Survivor (and now post-Amazing Race) life together.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Get well soon, Adele!

This is bad news. Adele is suffering from a vocal cord hemorrhage which has led her to cancel the rest of her 2011 tour dates. This will allow her to rest her vocal cords and hopefully get her voice back in shape.

Hope Adele gets better soon. It would be such a loss to the global music industry if we don't get to hear her sing soon.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Jenson Button wins the Japanese Grand Prix

Congratulations to Jenson Button for winning the Japanese Grand Prix! He didn't start in pole position but managed to take top honors, besting Fernardo Alonso and Sebastian Vettel. This was a tough race, with only 2 seconds separating the top 3 drivers.

After Button's banner year in 2009 when he drove for the now-defunct Brawn GP, I thought he would never really figure prominently in races again. And given that he is driving for McLaren with the very high profile Lewis Hamilton, I also figured he would end up playing second fiddle to the 2008 Formula One World Champion for the most part. However, after 2009, he was able to win two races last year and three more this year (he also won in Canada and Hungary). He's eclipsed Lewis in most races this year - despite the fact that Lewis has done a better job in qualifying - and he finished in the podium in 9 out of 15 races so far. That puts him in a solid position to end up in 2nd place this year (Sebastian Vettel has just been driving on a completely different plane from everyone else this year). Hopefully, JB can continue to drive well and win more races for the remainder of his career.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Kathy and John's wedding

Kathy is one of the most interesting people and unique individuals I know. So when she got married to John (actually, she got married to him in Holland earlier but they of course needed to have a Philippine leg of their wedding for the folks here who couldn't fly to Europe), it was no surprise that their wedding would be different and very memorable.

First off, Kathy's wedding dress wasn't your traditional white gown. It was a take on the traditional Filipino 'terno' complete with butterfly sleeves. Also, similar to her sister Ching's wedding (Ching is also a really good friend of mine), the UP Singing Ambassadors performed during the church ceremony as well as during dinner. Their performance in the small chapel overlooking the Taal lake was just otherworldly so we had to force ourselves not to clap since it was a church ceremony and not a concert. Yet.

The most unique bit though was when everyone was asked to step outside the chapel for the traditional group photos with the newlyweds. Instead of doing it at the altar, we had it next to a specially decorated jeepney! The couple even asked those of us who could to go on top of the jeepney. This was really one of the most unique moments ever in a wedding that I attended.

photo courtesy of Joel H. Garcia

We headed to the clubhouse for the reception. We were served drinks and cake as we waited for dinner to be served. Dessert before the meal? Only in Kathy's wedding. :) I have to say though that the cake was absolutely delicious! It was so good I was tempted to eat a lot more but I needed to make room for the main meal. :) The cake-cutting ceremony actually happened before the reception officially started. The wedding cake was in the shape of a ship out at sea, to commemorate the place where John and Kathy met for the first time. Before the took a slice out of it, they lit the sparkler attached to one end of the cake. Cool! Champagne was served as the wedding toast was done shortly after the cake was cut. We were then asked to head to our tables as the program commenced.

After a couple of very heartfelt speeches, we were asked to get food from the massive buffet. Every item in the buffet was amazing and I just truly wished I had three stomachs so I could eat a lot more food. And on top of the cake I had earlier, there now was a huge spread of other desserts. Given that John is Dutch, the buffet had a few European-themed items like Hungarian Goulash and Sacher Torte. My mouth is watering as I think back to those great items. Free-flowing wine was served to the guests and the waiters even left a bottle on each table.

The UP Singing Ambassadors performed for the crowd yet again, and this time we didn't hold back on the applause. A few people, including myself, even gave them a standing ovation once their performance was done. They sang a stirring rendition of Sunrise, Sunset (from Fiddler on the Roof) for the father-daughter dance and it was moving to see both Kathy and her dad very emotional. The choreographed first dance almost didn't happen as John ended up with a knee problem from all the kneeling he had to do in church but they managed to do it. Probably one of the most memorable moments during the wedding was the speech given by Kathy's yaya. I swear, Kathy's yaya gave one of the best speeches in a wedding I have heard. Part roast, part tribute, it had all the elements of a great speech. And it was delivered very naturally. (I actually started thinking about my own Mama Guading as I listened to Kathy's yaya speak...)

The reception ended at around 9pm (and I was so tempted to ask to take home leftovers haha). Some of the folks there were planning to head out for more drinks but it was a Sunday and I had work the next day so I had to beg off. Regardless, it really wasa truly memorable of two great people. Congratulations, Kathy and John!

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Joint birthday dinners with friends

Three different sets of friends. Three different sets of joint birthday celebrations.

The first one was with my high school circle of friends (the one I've had for the longest time). Michele's birthday is four days ahead of mine so every year for several years, we've celebrated together. Michele said that Iona wanted to have a good steak so she suggested Mamou. However, I had three discount vouchers for Marciano's which I recently purchased for birthday celebration purposes and since Marciano's also had steaks, I suggested it instead. Michele said she had never eaten there before but had been wanting to so our venue was set. Given that Anna and Lia are both not Manila-based anymore, the rest of the gang and their families who are in the country were all present: Michele, Fergus, Aidan and Rory; Iona, JP, and Aya; and Joyce (she didn't bring Trigo with her). We ended up over-ordering since Aidan and Rory apparently had eaten a bit and Ferg didn't stay with us for most of dinner because he wanted to catch the Liverpool-Everton derby which was on that night (he ended up spending most of the evening in National Sports Grill). I took home all the leftovers but I do have to say the food and selection in Marciano's is pretty good, and the portion sizes can definitely fill you up.

A week later, I had a joint birthday celebration with Bett and Chari. Both of them have birthdays in October but since our circle of friends from the first company I worked for still meet up every few months, we ended up with the tradition of celebrating our birthdays together. Jette lives far up north and has difficulty going home so we usually have dinner somewhere in the QC area to make it easier for her to commute home even late in the evening. As such, we picked Romulo's in the Tomas Morato area as our celebration venue. Ric and Lany (and Bett's husband Pikes) joined us. I've blogged about Romulo's before and I really do enjoy the food here. Plus, the service and ambience are great. The only problem that night was that they ran out of a lot of dessert items, including their Lava Rock chocolate dessert. I ended up getting cheesecake instead while my friends got the crispy suman sa latik.

The next day, I celebrated my birthday with my co-Yaminoys Anj and Meg. Emmy suggested that we have dinner in Zao in Serendra and since Anj and Meg had no objections to this resto, we ended up celebrating there. It had been several months since I was out with my Yaminoy friends so it was great to see them. Joining Meg, Anj, and myself that night were Emmy, Marie, Lea, Beck, and Eliza. Unfortunately, Yam and Belle were out of the country and Fred was in Davao so they couldn't join us. Apart from catching up, our conversations that evening inevitably covered a lot of entertainment-related topics such as reality TV and TV shows in general, concerts, musicals, and artists and celebrities. And how could this be a Yaminoy without talking about Elliott Yamin? He released another album earlier this year - Gather 'Round - which is sold exclusively in Japan. I don't have that album, but I did get a copy of his previous (non-holiday) album Fight for Love. It contains what I think is his best song to date, "Know Better". Check it out!

uploaded in youtube by user Abliga8

Saturday, October 01, 2011

X Factor USA: Stacy Francis sings 'Summertime'

Ten seasons of American Idol have past and I still believe that Fantasia's performance of Summertime back in season 3 is one of the best moments in AI history. However, this performance of Stacy Francis of the same song on X-Factor USA just blows my mind. What a voice!

video uploaded in youtube by user ArtistsOnline2

The range, the control, the power, and the emotion make this absolutely extraordinary. Factor in the back-story of how her father died the first day she arrived at X Factor bootcamp and you can see exactly why her performance was so emotionally charged. She was flat in a couple of those unbelievably high notes but really, it wasn't all that relevant. I hope Stacy Francis makes it far in the show.