Forming New Habits? This App Can Help

First, a note: It’s been a while since my last blog post, and I thought maybe it’s perfect time to post about things that may actually be of value.

So I’ll be starting a series of reviews of the apps that have somehow made their way into my mobile screens. I try to retain a minimal number of apps, so perhaps whatever apps have remained have some worth in my daily life — and maybe they’ll have in yours, too.

My phone’s main home screen as of yesterday. Yep, it changes a lot.

Here goes.

First up is Habit.

Over the years I’ve tried various habit-tracking apps, but none has matched the aesthetic simplicity and functionality of the Habit app. I like its predominantly gray interface, which you get to color by ticking off habits: the more habits you fulfill, the more colorful the habit boxes become. There is also a sense of everything being conveniently compact yet with enough breathing space.

The app’s main interface. Okay, the Rosary bit is strong at zero percent, but in my defense, at least the intention was there. 😅

But the more important part of habit tracking is, of course, the analytics. I love how the app presents data in a straightforward manner. A line graph, a calendar, and a percentage figure. Why bother about other details?

All these features, by the way, are in the app’s free version. The only difference a premium user gets is basically a cloud function and a dark theme option. Unfortunately for the app’s makers, I don’t care about those.

What’s not to love about this app? I guess it’s just that you can’t use its widget form on iOS unless you’re on premium. But, really, that’s okay.

LinkedIn Learning is expensive sh*t, so it earns a spot in my Habit app. Every peso counts.

So if you’re eyeing on winning that battle against the snooze button consistently or getting yourself to use a certain app so as not to waste money on subscriptions (looking at you, LinkedIn Learning), you really might want to give the Habit app a try.

Confessions of an Inept Plant Daddy

No one can kill snake plants and devil’s ivy.

They have such sinister names because, whatever you do or not do, they’re simply hard to kill. Like monsters.

Well, whoever said that hasn’t met me yet.

For years I’ve been trying to develop a green thumb. All attempts were in vain.

First there was Paloma (not her real name), a stout cactus I bought at a kiosk. The idea was, cacti don’t need to be watered, so I can just place it somewhere — my desk at home preferably — and then I’ll just forget about it; it’ll thrive.

Nobody reminded me Paloma should get some sun.

She shrank in three weeks, as if the flesh under her fat green body melted like wax. She stank, too.

And then there was Miranda (a pseudonym), which my girlfriend, Kath, bought for me during a stroll in Chinatown. Miranda was some sort of succulent.

Uh-oh.

This was after about two years of grieving Paloma’s passing.

“Thanks, hon,” I told Kath, concerned.”I really love this; it’s gonna give me more oxygen while I scuba-dive into deep work; I just don’t think I can take care of it.”

“Sure you can, baby” was the confident reply.

Four weeks later, something happened to Miranda. I made sure she had enough sun. But I also made sure she had enough water to help her last through the summer.

Soggy and brown, she died of having too much water.

No more plants for me then.

Even if they look really nice and calming and cheery when placed on the work table…

No more, nada, zilch!

I couldn’t kill any more plants!


And…”Send”.

Less than a year later, I ordered a pot of snake plant on Instagram. Because where else to buy an Instagrammable plant than in the platform itself?

My new place’s relative coziness demanded some type of posh-looking plant. To elevate the ambiance. To heed NASA’s endorsement of snake plants as air-purifying agents.

The lucky plant arrived a few days later, just after my birthday, so I duly considered it a gift from myself to myself.

I’m gonna be a good plant daddy, I declared inwardly. “Her name is Lucia, because her leaves are like the rays of the sun,” I told Kath.

She smiled encouragingly, with a mysterious twinkle in her eye. (Or was that my own eyes reflected in hers?)

This time, as a repentant plant parent, I was more careful. First of all, I did some research. (Even my choice of snake plant, a.k.a. sanseveria and mother-in-law’s tongue, was fruit of arduous research.)

I learned snake plants aren’t fussy. They’re perfect in small, low-light condos with adorably forgetful residents.

Things were okay for weeks. Lucia felt like what a planned pregnancy would be like: guilt free, but you feel cautious just the same.

The book said snake plants should be watered once every two weeks, sometimes once a month, or whatever the specific plant needs. Ummm, thank you, book?

Much of the literature I had weren’t as helpful as hoped. Because two months after we got Lucia, one of her “sunrays” drooped then dropped in dramatic slo-mo. That day was tragic.

Desperate, I DMed the plant shop and took photos of the suffering Lucia.

“Whatever happened to her?!” You could almost hear my cry through the message.

Replying two days later, the plant shop was nonchalant, giving me questions instead of answers: “Is it under direct sunlight? When was the last time you watered it?” Couldn’t they see my Lucia was dying? They’re acting like it was just some kind of fever!

So Lucia died. I mean, parts of her did. Over the next few days, Kath and I counted about six of Lucia’s previously long, luscious leaves dropping to the ground.

The culprit? Mealybugs, according to Google Images. Bugs from hell that look like white spots attacking the plant’s base and leaves.

I did try to save Lucia’s leaves from dying, by spraying alcohol and even insecticides.

But the pests were just too insidious. Like they’re the ones you can’t kill! It was a nightmare.


STATUS REPORT: Lucia is alive and well now. Thanks to a bottle of neem seed oil, which I had clumsily dropped down the balcony and onto a petulant neighbor’s car (both bottle and balcony were okay, thank you). Apparently neem seed oil is a natural pesticide.


It is true that I’ve killed many plants. In fact, before Lucia came, there were Padma and Parvati, nickel plants which had gone to plant heaven, thanks to me. (I didn’t tell you about them because they would only lengthen this boring story further.)

But I should say that amidst all this death and rotten leaves because of my horticultural ineptitude, I remain hopeful that someday I’ll finally be a good plant daddy.

Someday I’m gonna prove that whoever said snake plants and devil’s ivy are unkillable was indeed right.

Someday I’m gonna make Paloma, Miranda, Padma, Parvati — and parts of Lucia — look upon me from plant paradise with mercy and pride.

The Sparkling-White Side of Doing the Dishes

In this quarantine, I discovered the ugly beauty of doing the dishes.

Often considered the ultimate penalty chore of the 90s (when wifi was not yet a thing), it’s the one task at home that is often the meat of contention among brothers and sisters, the origin of all sibling rivalries.

When I was a kid, my sister and I would fight over who gets to clean the table after dinner — a hateful chore per se, but not as loathsome as the dirtier task of washing the dishes.

Doing the dishes was the accursed chore. Perhaps, more accurately, it was the chore of the accursed. It’s when you stand face to face with undesirable leftovers…and saliva and grease and, quite possibly, vomit laced with phlegm. Not only do you touch them, but scrape them off with your fingers, the same ones you lick when at KFC.

Ugheugh!

But now that a pandemic is upon us, plaguing our sense of time and making prisons out of homes, an inevitable metaphorical vomit must be swallowed: it-that-must-not-be-named.

My fiancée, Kath, calls doing the chore a sign of love; I call it martyrdom.

After many nights of doing the dishes, however, I came to an unexpected realization: this damned chore is an opportunity in disguise. An opportunity for a horde of benefits.

First of all, it’s my half-hour me-time (I can go longer than that when the OC spirit moves me…to clean the sink and kitchen and dining area as well, and then mop the floor too). In these odd times, it has become the chance for me to listen to podcasts uninterrupted, particularly Tim Ferriss’ interviews with “world-class performers”, because I’m a pretentious productivity snob like that; it has become my time to learn new things and open my mind to lesser known topics and esoteric life hacks.

Second, it is therapeutic. The chore has become a ritual libation, washing away the dark, slimy frustrations I’ve gathered after a whole day of aiming for perfection, a totally realistic objective.

Third, it is — admit it — poetic. The rushing water are the tears of my grief over the loss of prepandemic normal life. The vigorous scrubbing is what I could have done to meetings that should have been emails. And the sparkling-white plates are akin to my soul when all this purgatory-of-a-chore is over.

When all is said and done and written passionately as above, however, doing the dishes remains one of life’s great tragedies. Which is probably why it’s now midnight, and I’m just sitting and staring at the dish-filled sink, typing this blog post for want of transcendence.

A Fear Untold

It was not the best time to have a fever.

But I had it.

It was hours after I did some grocery shopping, for which I had lined up for five — ruthless — hours.

My fiancee, Kath, called it a sinat and asked me to take a rest. At her mom’s advice, she prepared ginger tea with lemon and had me take some Bioflu (“Not ibuprofen!”). She was panicking, muttering she really should’ve gone shopping and not me who is asthmatic.

“I don’t have cough and shortness of breath,” I said, reassuring her — but really nervous at the same time. Isn’t covid-19 supposed to have an incubation period? Aren’t symptoms supposed to appear at least two days after exposure? If this is — heavens forbid, covid-19 — then maybe I got this two weeks ago, before the lockdown?

It’s bad when you’re a chronic overthinker.

That night, I carefully noted that I didn’t have chills, but any draft of air felt noticeably cold. Thankfully I slept like a baby. But the next day, the fever came back (or maybe it just didn’t leave?). We didn’t have a thermometer, but I knew what’s normal temp or not. Worse, I found the left side of my neck swollen and red.

It was sunburn.

I concluded the fever had been due to severe sunburn. After grocery-shopping, I carried three bags with both hands, right while the sun was at its apex. I would hide my face from it, exposing my nape.

It was sunburn. Just a sunburn. With a side effect.

The next day, however, I started to feel tight in the chest. I suddenly felt aware I was heaving deep breaths. I didn’t hear any wheezing sound — wheezing is part of an asthma attack — which is bad. This may NOT be asthma. Maybe it’s worse. My heart skipped a beat.

Did I get infected? But I was obedient and stayed home and went out only to get food! Do I have to go to hospital? Can my fiancée accompany me? Am I going to die?

I told you being an overthinker is inconvenient.

And what does “shortness of breath” mean? Is it the same as one experiences when having asthma?

I read as much as I could about the virus and its symptoms. Trouble is, the more information I got, the more I sensed that there is still a lot more to know and that nothing is certain. When the spectrum of manifestations of the virus is from having none to having severe breathing difficulty, it’s quite haphazard to say you’re virus-free unless you get tested.

So I took a puff out of my trusty inhaler. I had it since an asthmatic episode last year. With 200 actuations, it can last me maybe one or two years, if I effectively avoid my triggers.

I could hardly notice any difference in my breathing after that one inhalation. But I didn’t want to take another, else I might grow dependent on it.

I took more rest.

Fortunately, my throat was alright, my body didn’t feel weak (I was just sleepy, but maybe it’s the paracetamol working), and most importantly, I didn’t have cough.

When I called my mom, she also dismissed my symptoms as my body’s terrible reaction to having been trapped indoors for weeks then suddenly getting exposed outside without meal and water for almost half the day.

I felt relieved. Mothers know best, after all.

But on the third day, and on the fourth, the “asthma” repeatedly appeared. I was gasping for breath, kind of. So I began to doubt myself. Is this really just asthma?

Overthinker mode was on. When you say the disease’s symptoms are fever, cough, and shortness of breath, do you mean all of them at the same time or one or two at a time? And in that order, or not really?

I was drowning with questions, and Kath was starting to worry again. But I admired the quiet strength she acquired since two days ago.

“Maybe you should call the hotline,” she told me, after I brought up the idea.

But I couldn’t bring myself to dial the numbers. My dread added to my breathing difficulty.

“I don’t have cough, and I’m not feeling weak,” I told her, unsure.

“You better call, or else we’ll be worrying the whole time” was the reply.

So I called. 155–200. PGH’s hotline. Since PGH was practically my “teritoryo” until two years ago, I preferred it to DOH’s hotline which is scarily called “COVID-19 HOTLINE” in capital letters. PGH seemed more approachable.

I’m just going to consult, that’s all. I’m not gonna die.

“Hello, I’m not feeling very well.”

The operator asked for my basic information, then the symptoms. I also told him about my adventure to the supermarket some days back. And my asthma meds.

“No body aches or sore throat?”

“None.”

He asked to be excused for a few minutes. He probably sought advice from his superior. I had a feeling the operator was a young doctor, or maybe a nurse.

But I was nervous as hell. The silence was killing me.

When he came back to the line, he said, “It’s most probably just your asthma, sir.”

Sweet Jesus!

I didn’t hear much anymore of what he said next. “Stay home” something, “call us if it gets worse” something, and something more. What’s important for me then was the fact that he dismissed the possibility it’s covid-19.

But those few words were enough for me to be at peace again. It was like getting a full blow of cool, freeing oxygen into my lungs.

Lesson? It sucks to be asthmatic.

And I really should’ve taken breakfast and water and prepared for a five-hour queue at the supermarket that one time.

I’m feeling okay now. And for the first time in my life, I’m glad to have asthma — just asthma.

That ordeal taught me another — and deeper — lesson. And that is: Life is fragile, appreciate every moment.

When I was still heaving breaths, end-of-life scenes already started to appear. Dying unmarried to the love of my life, crying in contrition and isolation, awaiting judgment and clinging to a frail hope. It’s a terrible train of thought. But maybe good to jolt me back to realizing the real valuable things in life: the little things of love, the soft voices of loved ones, the silence of understanding and being understood.

Going through that health scare hadn’t been easy. But, thank God, I got through that tunnel stronger and more appreciative of each day.

It’s still not the best time to have a fever. But it’s always the best time to count your blessings, especially your loved ones and your every breath.

Real Talk with Saint Joseph

If discouragement overwhelms you, think of the faith of Saint Joseph; if anxiety has its grip on you, think of the hope of Saint Joseph. — Pope Benedict XVI


Today, March 19, was supposed to be the high point of a seven-Sunday period of meditating on the life of St. Joseph — not only because today is his feast day, but also because today is supposed to be my wedding day.

I had asked St. Joseph to be my guide in navigating the transition from bachelorhood to married life. After all, he married the best woman and became ‘father’ to the best Son.

That rosy outlook — nay, plan — did not, of course, play out as expected. A global pandemic exploded. The wedding was deferred. People got sick. Many died. The period that was supposed to be the happiest became one of the most difficult in recent memory.

Looking back on the past month-and-a-half, however — in that period of reflecting on St. Joseph’s “joys and sorrows” — I’ve come to realize the hard (and painfully obvious) lesson of that Seven Sundays devotion: life is joys and sorrows.

It’s an ancient custom wherein for seven Sundays before the feast of St. Joseph you ponder on the holy patriarch’s joys and sorrows — such as his sorrow when he lost the Boy Jesus in the Temple, and his joy when he found him three harrowing days later. The Seven Sundays of St. Joseph may be seem like an easy devotion (you only do it on Sundays!), but its lesson is quite the toughie.

Life is joys and sorrows! Many times we think sorrowful times are defects or blots that should never mar our life-story — such as the dark areas on a Caravaggio painting. We forget that it’s wrong to expect our lives to be perfect tales where no conflict or lack or loss exists. We are supposed to consider life as we do a Caravaggio: see the dark areas actually bringing out the beauty of the illuminated parts — indeed of the whole picture.

And given this salad or confetti nature of life (joys and sorrows galore), the deeper lesson from St. Joseph is that whether we are glad or sad, the love of God is as constant as the sky.

I can only imagine St. Joseph’s distress when he had to bring Mary and the Infant Jesus to faraway Egypt, because Herod was about to have a baby-killing spree in Bethlehem. But St. Joseph surely wasn’t troubled for very long: he understood that God Who is Constant Love was with him — literally — and so soon had peace and joy.

Of course, our unfortunate lot today is that we are amidst a ravenous pandemic. A sorrow in every way you look at it. But — without diminishing the gravity of the suffering of COVID-19 victims and their families — we also know this is just one of the sorrows we encounter throughout life. But we also understand — by faith — that despite these sorrows, God’s love remains mysteriously, inexplicably constant.

So we go through the crucible of this crisis with fortitude, as St. Joseph did in all his tribulations. We work, we pray, we help — we await the unfolding of the will of God.