December 30, 2007

Book Review: Life Safari by John Strelecky

Available only at

Many of us have it on our "to-do-before-I-die" list: go on an African Safari. John Strelecky (as Jack) had it on his list, too. Life Safari is about how he had dreamed of experiencing Africa, when he decided to take the trip, who and what he discovered there, and why it changed his life.

John Strelecky tells us about an old woman, Ma Ma Gombe, an experienced safari guide, who not only showed Jack where the animals were, but also shared the wisdom, and the secrets, of the wild continent. Jack told Ma Ma Gombe that he wanted to walk across Africa to see five animals, his African Big Five. The old woman agreed to help him because doing so meant she would also have the chance to pursue one of her "Big Five for Life"--the five things to see or do to declare one’s life a success.

Life Safari is a simple story that can be read in one sitting; but each chapter, each lesson that Ma Ma Gombe shares, each adventure with the wild animals, hides a deeper meaning. Interestingly, these "deeper meanings" are universal. Readers, no matter their circumstance in life, can relate and find countless takeaways from the book.

Through Life Safari, Strelecky succeeds in inspiring his readers to contemplate on their personal "Big Five for Life." What are the five things you want to see or do to be able to say that your life was a success? Through Ma Ma Gombe’s stories and advice, the book shares some specific strategies on how to pursue them.

It doesn't have to be Africa. You only need to immerse in the story, be amazed at how it often touches on your own dreams of adventure and excitement, and dwell on the magic and mystery of life and the universe. This book is really an essential guide... for a life journey, a life safari, that each of us will have to take.

Read my other book reviews at OurSimpleJoys: Inspiration: Book Reviews

November 30, 2007

My "tsukubai" Project

I wanted to build a water feature on the corner near the door to our patio. I deliberated on a lot of ideas: a small koi pond, a stillwater pond, a small fountain. I couldn't decide. Then I found a book about "Theme Gardens" and one theme that attracted me was the Japanese "tsukubai" or water basin.

The "official" tsukubai is composed of four rocks, a water vessel, water that flows through a bamboo fixture, and stones or pebbles to unify the whole setup.

The four flat-topped rocks are: a stepping stone, a kneeling stone, a setting-down rock on the right for a pitcher or teakettle, and a slightly higher rock on the left to set down a lantern or candle.

The water basin can be a hollowed out rock or a stone jar or basin. The pebbles between the rocks and the basin are symbolic of a sea in the middle of the rocks. And they serve to absorb the water spills.

The tsukubai is traditionally a water basin built outside a tearoom. Guests wash their hands there before the tea ceremony. It's also found outside temples for the symbolic cleansing of the spirit.

A Japanese-style water basin garden feature would be pretty easy to do, but I still had to figure out the logistics... the rocks and the jar, which were the main elements, would be expensive and difficult to work with.

All of a sudden, from out of the blue, everything came together. With the help of and a clearance sale of fiberglass stone jars at a neighborhood Super Target store, I was finally able to build my tsukubai.

The article about the step-by-step process is now published in
How to Make a Japanese-Style Water Feature.

Tsukubai Project

October 30, 2007

How-tos at

A long time ago, there was Then there was After that I got picked up by and, then Of course, the whole time I was a mainstay at Aside from, where my Introduction to Backpacking tutorial still resides, all the content sites I used to work for are now history. The stints were good while they lasted, but true to the volatility of the World Wide Web phenomenon, they, well, evolved.

Now there's I've been hired to be one of their resident "Experts" in the Home & Garden section. I love it because I get to write about how to do the things I enjoy doing. I've always been a home and garden person. I got it from my parents. They gave me the handyman handcrafter gene, and the opportunity to try my hand at anything I'd be curious about. I think it's just about time to share the knowledge and experience I've accumulated over the years.

So, where will you find me at Right here: Ruby Bayan

My two latest articles are:
How to Provide Adequate Lighting to Indoor Plants
How to Find Your Ideal Partner

Many more articles... I'll post the titles here as they get published.

May 31, 2007

Harnessing ADD

Like most parents dreaming of the best for their children, mine wanted me to be a doctor. When I told them I failed both my Qualitative and Organic Chemistry courses, their dreams faded into oblivion. Over the years, I realized I couldn't have been a good doctor, anyway -- and it was their fault... because they gave me ADD.

There was no "Attention Deficit Disorder" back then. We, young ones, were just "distracted" (it was the dawn of color TV!) or "over-stimulated" (good ol' rock 'n' roll!). Most of the time we were just experiencing a surge of hormones. Nobody thought we had some kind of "disorder."

It's only now, in this semi-retirement phase of my life that I finally understood why I've been constantly curious and "highly creative" –- I have ADD. With a craving to learn something new, my short attention span takes me from one body of interest to another. Many times, I would exhaust a passion to the point where I can say, "I've done that," and then I'd move on and try something new. That's not such a bad thing, is it?

Lately, I noticed that I've actually structured my activities to jibe with my ADD. For example, my handicrafts projects (like the bookmarks and notepads I sell online) require drying time, so after I'm done with one task, I can pull out and do something else. When I write or edit, I give it one or two passes, then I pull out and go back the next day with a fresh set of eyes. When I do my jewelry, I have several projects on-going and move from one inspiration to another. In between all these, I cook, surf the 'Net, garden, take photos, workout, and putter about. I'm never bored and I learn something new everyday. It's all so exciting!

In a way, I feel that I've successfully harnessed my ADD. My parents may have been disappointed that I didn't become a doctor, but they’d be happy that I've made the most of the genes they handed down.

So, I should end this here... I feel this big urge to learn metalsmithing. Where's that site I bookmarked?

[Reprinted from my old Blurty journal, May 5, 2005]

April 12, 2007

John Kaizan Neptune

A while back, I scoured the Internet for a CD copy of one of my favorite easy-listening LPs, Mixed Bag, which had one of my favorite love songs, "Soft Melody." But it looked like the LP never made it to CD format.

So, I searched for the artist, John Kaizan Neptune, famous for his romance with the shakuhachi bamboo flute. That led me to his homepage,, where I found his email address and everything about him and his craft. He's been living in Japan and making his own flutes.

I was bent on finding out how I could get a digital copy of his Mixed Bag album because I had no means to convert the songs from LP to CD, so I wrote him an email. That was in December, 2005.

Last week, I received an answer. I was very pleasantly surprised!

John had been preparing a new album, which will be coming out very soon: Bamboo Magic. He said it was recorded in India and Japan. I'll be looking out for it for sure!

And he sent me some photos! I asked his permission to share them on my blog and he said, yes!

If you haven't heard of John Kaizan Neptune, or his shakuhachi music, you're missing a very essential experience. Trust me.

February 20, 2007

Why learn something new?

My father never smoked a cigarette in his life, but he suffered from emphysema, most likely brought on by his commission in the military. He was commander of an artillery brigade during World War II. While he lived to age 84, he spent a good share of his senior years on hospital beds.

The years before he passed away, he often said to me, "If you had become a doctor, you would be treating me. You should have studied medicine." That time I was into information technology and marketing.

I didn't know then how to reply to my father's sentiment. But now I know. I would never have become a doctor, even if I tried real hard. I wasn't born with the brain cells to store volumes of medical information and readily access them for the patients I needed to treat. I wasn't even born with the stomach to stay calm and collected when a fellow human being screams in pain and gushes blood. I wasn't born with doctor genes.

Instead, I was born with a deep sense of curiosity and awe... at the universe around me. I might be curious enough to learn about health and sickness, and biology and mortality, maybe even psychiatry or surgery, but I'm also curious about thousands of other non-medical things.

At age 13, my curiosity in the kitchen led me to learn how to bake different types of cakes, cookies, and desserts. My mother couldn't stop me from pedaling the sewing machine and making my own clothes. I knew how to crochet, embroider, and make handicrafts. I think I was 16 when I learned how to mix cement and lay down bathroom tiles. Balancing on ladders to paint walls and window grills was as much an adventure for me as raising aquarium fishes, growing cacti, and solving jigsaw puzzles. Later on I found myself building wall shelves, practicing karate, and climbing mountains. Then computers and the Internet came along, opening up more stuff to delve into.

Much of this curiosity must have been handed down by my mother. She was half Spanish and big on discipline, but as she taught me how to set the table and entertain guests the old fashioned way, she also taught me never to fear new things. Read. Travel. Mingle. Observe. Absorb and appreciate as much as possible.

I wasn't born with the brains and guts of a doctor. I was born with a heart compelled to explore, find adventure, and learn new things everyday. My ailing father wouldn't have understood, but I think that if he could read me now, he would still be pleased.

Stories about my parents as my inspiration and role models are here:

February 12, 2007

Flamingo A Go Go

In case you're not familiar with my Flickr photo site, username: MyRuby, I'd like to share a set of interesting shots that I took the last time I visited Seaworld.

There's a preserve at Seaworld where Caribbean Flamingos congregate. The other times I visited the park, the birds were loud and cackling at each other -- doing their bird thing. This time, they were all taking a nap.

I'm not sure what it is that inspires them to nap at the same time, at this particular time, but there they were, their long necks all curled up, their heads tucked under a wing, and, yes, standing on one leg. All of them!

Flamingo nap time

So, while I was pretending to be a photographer there, getting bored at all the ball of feathers I was waiting to move around for some semblance of a flamingo photo shoot, two of them woke up and walked toward each other. They seemed to have awoken too early, and decided to confront each other.

Flamingo Stare

"Did YOU wake me up?"

"Of course not! Maybe YOU woke me up!"

Then a third one woke up and approached the other two. Their heads came together, bobbed up and down, their rubbery necks almost twisting around one another. They looked like they were planning something. For a few seconds there, I imagined them hatching a plan (get it, "hatching"?! LOL!).

Three Flamigoes walk into a pond...

"Hey, Vinni... here's what we'll do. On my signal, we'll flap our wings and run about, cackling like crazy, you get that?! We'll wake 'em up and show 'em who's boss!"

Well, they didn't really do anything like that. After a few more minutes of bobbing heads and nudging each other, probably some macho territorial ritual, they walked away and slowly faded into the pond-ful of balls of feathers. At least I got a few neat-o photos of these exotic iconic birds.

Next time I visit Seaworld, I'll camp out next to the penguins.

HINT: click on photos for larger versions and to browse my Flickr site.

February 8, 2007


Back in the 70s, I overheard a couple of classmates talk about meeting up over some cliff to try out some new hang gliders. Wow! Hang gliding! I would've crashed their party if I weren't too busy memorizing lines for a drama presentation. Looking back, I should've just flown off a cliff considering how far I -didn't- go with that drama workshop.

Over the years, I've always contemplated on trying out some method of flying -- if not dead dropping with a parachute, maybe air-swimming about with a hang glider, or floating about with a motorized oversized kite.

A few days ago, we saw a guy doing just that -- floating about an open field under an oversized kite, with a huge fan and a motor strapped to his back. The fan and motor remind me of the airboats that maneuver through the everglades.

Motorized Paragliding... or Paramotoring... is what it's called. Here are a couple of photos I snapped in a hurry as we passed by.

Fly high against the sky

Motorized Paragliding or Paramotoring

It looks like a lot of fun -- you don't have to depend on the wind for your flight, and you don't have to jump off a plane, a cliff, or a tall building to get your thrill. Of course, you have to fork over most of your inheritance for the gear and the fuel, but hey, you gotta have some form of investment to literally fly high.

Want to learn more? See more photos? I found these two sites (I'm not affiliated with them in any way).

Maybe one of these days.

February 2, 2007

Cleaning Dried Eucalyptus

It was time to clean my dried flower arrangements. The last time I cleaned the one in the bathroom was... never. Not that they didn't really need any cleaning, but because it's a big arrangement with assorted flowers and reeds that it would really require a considerable block of time to clean them.

You wish you could just throw them in a bucket of sudsy water, shwish them around, pull them out, and shake them dry. But you can't. You have to hold each stalk and gently brush off the dust and dirt. You could lose a dried flower or break a twig here and there, but it's part of the cleaning process.

Most of my arrangements are eucalyptus -- I like them for their resiliency. The fragrance is distinct, although I've encountered some that get nasty after a while, smelling like old socks -- I think some driers mess with additive fragrances. But, dried eucalyptus really last forever.

So, I picked up my trusty soft-bristled paintbrush, took a seat out in the patio, dumped all the preserved eucalyptus branches, dried wheat stalks, mini-bamboos, twisted cane sticks, and dehydrated flowers on the round table, and went to work.

It took me about an hour to clean three floral arrangements. I re-arranged only enough for one vase. The rest, I laid out in an oversized shirt box to store for future use. I could've thrown them away... they're dead anyway. But I'm a certified card-carrying packrat, er, conservationist-recycler, who believes that every item in this world could potentially be a component of a revolutionary art piece. Okay, I'm a packrat. But look, these preserved eucalyptus leaves still look good after... so many years!

Eucalyptus leaves are particularly prone to dust... they attract dust... or more like dust clings to them for dear life. That's because the leaves and stems are naturally oily. Eucalyptus is preserved by letting them absorb water spiked with glycerin, an ingredient in the soap-making process. Effectively, the branches are "dry" but remain oily. Therefore, it requires a little patience to clean these branches because you have to brush both sides of each leaf to really do a good job. Blowing or "swiffer"-ing won't do. Well, consider it a zen experience -- not unlike pruning and shaping bonsai. Or, just like you polish your silver, you brush your dried eucalyptus.

Here are some photos I took during my zen moments: