Friday, June 24, 2016

Exceptional Kids


Teachers today mourn the fact that students do not read anymore. These digital netizens simply skim over internet soundbites, FB messages, watch vlogs, MTVs, and videos of their choice.  Therefore, they struggle writing a decent sentence with a coherent idea.

Well, yes, but there are exceptions to that observation. And those exceptions are exceptional!

I had 19 of them in one room one day this month—children aged 8 to 12, who voraciously read and love to write. They were gathered by HIYAS, OMF Literature’s imprint for children’s books, for a creative writing workshop, which I was privileged to facilitate.

From 9 AM to 12 noon, they were attentive and enthusiastic, doing all the exercises with gusto. They were quick thinkers, too, writing ideas within the short minutes given them. Asked to each read a storybook, they tackled the pages immediately.

You can easily tell a reader from a non-reader. Upon seeing a book, the reader’s eyes twinkle before he  grabs and reads the first page—not stopping till he gets to the back cover, lapping up even the blurb. In contrast, the non-reader's eyes meander; he sets the book aside and manages to do everything but read it.

(I took my grandson, Adrian, to a book store when he was here for vacation. He ran past the toys and went straight to the book section. After about half an hour scanning through many books, he started to cajole me into buying him one. He didn't have to utter one word, I bought him two.)

At the OMF Lit creative writing workshop, I was reminded of Adrian 19 times. Here were children who behaved for three straight hours, pausing only to eat a sandwich and drink some juice. But even while having snacks, they were either reading the books strewn on the table or writing.

One day, some of these reading children will be authors. Those who will choose other careers will remain readers.

For a teacher, meeting exceptional kids is exceptional grace.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Listen with Your Heart


Five years ago, I blogged about the 24/7 noise inside my ears—tinnitus—a symptom that my hearing was slowly going.  

The noise is still there. Whether it has worsened or I have grown used to it, I do not know. What I do know is that, sometimes, when I answer someone's question, he/she does two acts in succession: laugh, then shout.

Neither act is very encouraging. You have to be prepared to welcome both with a smile or a shrug.  

Hearing loss, people call it. 

"Faulty word recognition," was what the audiologist in the US, called it. I could hear the sound but couldn't figure out the word.

"Repeat after me," she said. "Gratitude." 

Moi: "Very rude."

Audiologist: "Extender." 

Moi: "Stand there."

Audiologist: “Shameful.”

Moi: "Stay cool." 

Etc.

People who are hearing impaired are missing out on the words of the world. There is no cure for this degenerative malady.

But there is help—from a pair of hearing aids. Among those that I tried on in the US and here, the best ones reduced the tinnitus and environment sounds, and made me recognize spoken words. They ushered me into a whole new world!

Trouble is, these digital gizmos cost the moon and stars.

I was quoted an outrageously indecent amount for one pair that would still need change of batteries every week and regular maintenance such as electronic adjustments, forever and ever.

If anyone had that amount, I thought, she could enroll ten needy children in school for one year. A poor family of five could live on it for two years.

These thoughts brought me back to what my best cousin wrote in the comment box of my blog five years ago, “It is amazing how, even with that tini-tinni 24/7 annoyance, you have managed to listen with your heart, cuz. Always.”

My resolve therefore: Since this condition is non-life-threatening, I can live with this noise. And pretty soon, with our Father's generous grace, I can shrug off people laughing and shouting, too.

I will continue listening with my heart. 


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Nameless Friends


A recent trip to Singapore with my husband earned us countless but nameless friends.

As Tony and I leisurely roamed the streets, visited interesting spots, and dined in restaurants of the world’s only island-city state, he with his cane and I with my scarf, we idly talked about what we didn’t see the last time we were there.

That’s when it happened. 

Filipinos within hearing distance (shoppers, idlers, waiters, salespeople) smiled, came closer, and like old friends, engaged us in conversations about their family and why they came to Singapore. They asked which part of the Philippines we are from and for how long was our visit there.  

What they didn’t ask were our names, neither did we ask theirs—perhaps mutually thinking our paths would never cross again. 

The Filipino diaspora, which has transported our countrymen to probably all parts of the world, cannot—and will not—sublimate one’s longing for home. Talking to someone who speaks the same language in a foreign land somehow makes home a little closer.

I liken these shop talks with these strangers-turned-friends to grace thrown in, like a spice in a brew that perks up what would have been a flat and bland face-off between two people who have had these same-old, same-old exchanges for over four decades. 

There are approximately 200,000 Filipinos working and residing in Singapore today. What a blessing for Tony and me to have befriended a fraction of them!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

My 1000th Blog Post


What’s so historically significant about the number 1000? None.

What I readily think of, however, when I hear the number 1000 is found 1 Peter 3:8 (NLT): ". . . a day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day."

In my simplistic logic, this is why it often takes a mighty long time for God to answer my prayers. I only have a lifetime of, should He allow it, 80+ years, while God has eternity.

But I digress.

I feel I need to celebrate my 1000th post as I upload it now, because I never thought I'd reach this number. When I started blogging on 24 November 2016, I vowed to have a rhythm of one entry every four days—till my mind could no longer manage to string words in coherent sentences or my hands could no longer type those thoughts on my keyboard, whichever comes first. 

My vow remains steadfast and so do my mind, hands, and even eyesight. I can't say the same for my hearing, but then again, I digress.

The fact is, this is my 1000th blog post, and I am celebrating!


Aside from changing my header, I am singing a song of thanksgiving to God for this glorious grace—He has brought me this far despite my myopic and okay, pessimistic, view of my earthly faculties and mortality. 

I think I just might sneak toward the fridge and gobble up that chocolate bar waiting with a thought balloon, "Eat Me!" Or I could call my amigas and treat each of them to a cup of chamomile tea.

“The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” Psalm 28:7 (NLT)


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Creative Writing Workshop for Kids


For some years now, I have been conducting creative writing workshops initiated by organizations here and abroad, and just recently, by my publisher.  In those workshops (mostly for children), many budding writers have been discovered and a number of their stories have been published.

It is always a thrill—and a refreshing time of grace—to work with children who brim with enthusiasm and, unlike adults, write without fear. Not only are they bold, they are also extremely imaginative.

My friends with children who voraciously read and are raring to write (some even keep journals) have been urging me to conduct one in this area. They want their kids to be encouraged and inspired in a class with fellow budding writers. 

Okay, why not? The time has come.  

Let’s see . . . parents who are interested in enrolling their kids in this Creative Writing Workshop on July 2, 1 to 5 PM, please call: 836-0313 and ask for Leone or JC for reservation. You may also text 0916-26400-22 (Globe); 0928-7173167 (Smart).   

We can, however, accommodate only 15 (ages 8 to 12).  So it has to be on a first-come-first-served basis.
 

Monday, June 6, 2016

ASEAN Grand Prize (Part 2)


Two hours before the awarding ceremony dubbed “Celebrating Our Stars,” I was all dolled up, enduring the punishing pinch of my girdle and hose.

“Why the rush?” Tony asked. Well, he knew better than to stall. Not even wild horses could stop me then. 

At the venue, we caught the proverbial worm. The organizers were still arranging the chairs and installing the sound system. 

The program was simple, almost austere—and finished in no time. When I was called on stage, I must have sprinted, so fast that Tony, with his aching right knee, had not been able to take a decent picture of me receiving my precious award. The photos in this post are the best he could manage. 

My next act was to claim my prize money at a designated table. I was given an envelope with my name on it. I hurriedly put it in my purse, signed a receipt, then off I went to the buffet table.

After dinner, I looked in my purse for . . . “OMG!” I cried, breaking out in cold sweat. “My envelope is gone!”

Tony rummaged through my very small purse, but there was nothing there except my lipstick.

“Ask for help from the person-in-charge,” my cool-headed photographer suggested.

I did, but not before I had asked for grace in a most ardent and urgent prayer.

“Stay there,” the organizer told me.

After about five minutes, which seemed like eternity, he came back with an envelope. It had my name on it!

“You must have dropped it,” he said. “Someone had picked it up and gave it to one of my staff.”

I gave him a grateful and relieved hug.

In other places in the world, I thought, this envelope could have been lost. But this was Singapore and my cash prize was intact to the last dollar. 

I was taught an old lesson at that moment. It’s a lesson I keep re-learning: mind your every action, just as you mind your every word.

As an author, I painstakingly mind every written word, but with every unwritten action . . .  

“Why the rush?”

Why indeed.

Friday, June 3, 2016

ASEAN Grand Prize (Part 1)


“YOU JUST WON A GRAND PRIZE . . .”

Thus screamed, in all caps, the subject-line of one of my unread email messages. 

I receive emails of this nature often and they are, you guessed it, all scams.

It took two days before I opened the email. I intended to cursory read the content before dumping it. But to my complete surprise, it was real!

Indeed, Beth (the illustrator of all 15 books of the Oh, Mateo! series) and I won a grand prize for this No. 6 book, “Look for the Star,” published by OMF Lit under its Children's book imprint, Hiyas, and we were being invited to go to Singapore to receive the award.
My jaw dropped and stayed there for what seemed like hours. I visited the website of the organizer and yes, it is a legitimate award, a prestigious one, which sifts through  published children’s storybooks in all of Asia and declares the winners.

I bowed my head to thank the Lord for this fortuitous good news.

“Look for the Star” is a story of a wayward, stowaway boy, led back home by a larger-than-life star handmade by his parents, who never gave up on him through the years.

It was inspired by the unconditional love that God shines upon anyone who acknowledges and believes in Him. It shines even brighter when, taking the metaphor further, the road is pitch dark and we don’t know which way to go. 

For this unexpected grace, however, I (unfortunately, Beth couldn't make it) knew exactly which way to go, “Singapore, here I come!”

“. . . ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” John 8:12 (ESV)
  

Monday, May 30, 2016

A Single Yellow Rose


Being a principal sponsor or witness (ninang) in a wedding is, for me, a big responsibility.

I take it seriously especially because the pastor usually asks during the ceremony, “Will you promise to counsel, guide, pray for, and act as second parents to the couple?”

Due to life’s roadblocks, I have not been totally faithful in carrying out this responsibility.  But in some areas, or when there are red flags, I try.

There was that one couple who held modest jobs and lived modest lives, but with plans to include all the frills that shape modern weddings today: fresh flowers, well-known caterer, pre-during-after videos, fancy invitation, new clothes for the entourage, etc.

I invited both the groom-to-be and bride-to-be to dinner and there I spoke about my own wedding.

I had a single yellow rose in lieu of a bouquet.
That symbolized the beauty of simplicity that would define my wedding and married life. We only had immediate family members in a small church plus the pastor, who declined to join us for dinner. Thirteen people. Thirteen photos.  

Our savings and gifts allowed us to fully furnish our first apartment with enough left-over for emergencies and for helping others in need.

“Focus on what’s important. A wedding is a ceremony of two people committing to stay together and to love each other, before God. Beyond that, everything else is luxury to impress the guests,” was the essence of what I said through dinner.

I re-enact  the same scene (in a different restaurant) with other couples—as needed—hoping they at least half-listen and will consider leading a simple lifestyle.

This concept of simplicity has been affirmed time and again in Sunday school when we study stewardship: that the owner of everything we have is God, even if we think we earned it all through our own smarts and hard work; we are only His managers. We should not lavish ourselves with what we don’t own.   

At the risk of being a fuddy-duddy, I advise young couples who choose me to be their ninang not to  squander the grace that comes to them on the day they say their vows before God, after which they become one, “till death do them part.”  

“. . . aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands - ” 1 Thessalonians 4:11 (ESV)    

Thursday, May 26, 2016

White Castle


Long ago, when I was a starving art student in Chicago, my small circle of Filipino friends, all faith brethren, and I would treat ourselves to teeny burgers in a place called White Castle. 

Back then, it was the cheapest burger joint in town—open 24/7.

With these friends I attended the church service and Sunday school every week. One of us, Cito, had an excellent ear for music, composed gospel songs, and played the guitar. He initiated our forming a singing group, which we forgot to name (or was there a name that I can’t remember?).

This tightly-knit group with a limited repertoire would be invited to sing in suburban churches. At night, on our way home, we’d drop by White Castle.

As life would dictate, the road forked and we went on separate ways, hearing from each other only intermittently. I came back home to get married and live here for good.

Fast forward to 2016.

We heard that Esoy had a massive stroke, with 70% of his brain affected, the left side of his body paralyzed, and his speech impaired. He was in ICU for weeks.

So when Tony and I made our sentimental trip to Chicago, our first act was to visit him.  

I held his hand and he surprised me with a grip so tight I thought my bones had cracked. The image that popped in my head was White Castle. I asked him, “Hey, do you remember White Castle?”

He smiled, teared up, and whispered what sounded like “yes.” These were first-time feats, surprising even his wife. It was a grand grace moment.

I spoke into his ear about our White Castle days and I could feel his hand grasping mine even more tightly. He smiled, mouthed some phrases, and his eyes told us he was latching on to those memories.  

Medical science tells us that Esoy is not likely to recover fully. Well, science does not know everything. We reserve our questions for the One who has all the answers.

But for now . . .

“Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit.” 3 John 1:2

Photo credit

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Twin Butterflies


Let me quote HonorĂ© de Balzac today, “When the heart is full, the lips are silent.”

Unexpectedly, I came upon twin good news, like twin butterflies coming out of one chrysalis. And because the heart is full, there is no way my lips can utter a squeak.

That’s half true, of course.

I always blurt out every good news the moment I receive it. But this time, both news constrain me—one has been “embargoed” (that’s what the email said), and the other can’t be announced till the proper time.

So why am I even blabbing about them?

I want to honor the Creator of butterflies. As I asked in one of my books . . .

How can a squiggly, ugly worm morph into a beautiful, colorful flying wonder? Does this crawling misery know that one day, it will morph into epiphany? Does it realize it will transform into a new spectacular shape with exquisite design? And then when it flies freely, sipping sweet nectar from one lovely flower to another, does it not show the fullness of grace?   

From worm to butterfly—this is what unexpected good news does, especially after having been barraged with bad news and thrown down into a dark, dunk place.

I am changing my header, in thanksgiving for the twin butterflies that doubly delighted me one dreary day.         

 
“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” John 1:16 (ESV)

 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Beaten Black and Blue


The bruising presidential campaign/election in the country has left the electorate black and blue.

Sensibilities, personalities, ideologies, and especially egos have been savagely smashed, leaving a gushing, gaping wound in people’s hearts. Just visit group sites in social media and you can feel the depth and breadth of people’s collective moaning (vanquished) and collective gloating (victor).

We have elected another minority president, Rody Duterte, who got roughly 39% of boisterous votes, 3% short of the mandate of his predecessor, Pres. Benigno C. Aquino III, our current president.

For the sake of our country, which has been through so much self-inflicted turmoil, I sincerely hope our new president will slowly get the cooperation of the rest of the equally boisterous, but much larger, 61%.  

“Change is coming!” was his campaign battlecry, which he orated with expletives, cusses, and braggadocio.

Change is a catch-all phrase that the 39% interpreted as a U-turn; no to continuity of our gains (as espoused by his closest rival); all new—a quick-fix to still unresolved issues and unsolved problems. And 39% bought it.

Having been beaten black and blue in this 2016 election myself, I believe we can’t be healed by one tough-talking president, no matter how well-meaning his battlecry was. 

Change can only come from each individual heart. And that change can happen only if that heart is open to accept grace. 

“. . . And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” Ezequiel 36:26

Photo credits: Top; bottom, The Silent Majority FB page

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Grace Month


If I were to reduce to numbers our one-month stay in America from mid-March to mid-April this year, they would be:

Nine airplanes, nine cities, seven beds, 16 blog posts, 567 photos, and thousands of dollars, courtesy of second son.

Those stunning numbers for two seniors traveling far and wide, after a long time, was nothing short of a miracle that is unlikely to happen again.  

But numbers do not a life make.

The new experiences, new encounters, and new perspectives—those are non-quantifiable. I could only sum it all up as: Grace Month, a month when we woke up to God’s mercies every morning.

It took years before we made the decision to make that one-month trip. When we finally did, and after setting the schedule, we were at our busiest and unhealthiest time.

Life does have a wry sense of humor.

But all through the trips, not once did we have to see a doctor (well, seeing doctor-son every day does not count) nor take emergency medication, nor feel our usual aches and pains. 

It was the first time in 12 years that we got to celebrate second son’s birthday with him and his family. It was the first time we saw Adrian’s school, room, church, and all the places he likes to go to. It was the first time I had marathon chats and went shopping with my daughter-in-law. It was the first time to literally walk down memory lanes in Chicago where it all began.

It was my first time to paint grace on clay. 

It was the first time for countless things. 

Now, as our broadcast-media friends would say, we are back to regular programming.

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Heat is On!


Spring in America for tropical beings like my husband and me was winter weather. It was so unbearably brrr, every one of our hosts turned the heat on.

Now, with the heater turned on, it was pretty comfortable for us, like enjoying our own Baguio weather in December. But our hosts peeled their clothes off and wore either shorts and sleeveless tees or fanned themselves furiously to beat the heat.

The problem with the heater is it dries up your throat—an occurrence that when you are treated to the grace of deep sleep, your mouth opens and makes funny noises. 

In every home we visited, our hosts went over the top to welcome us; they suffered for our convenience and treated us like royalty—pampered, coddled, and indulged.

Then we came home.

Everything was (and still is) just as hot. Our summer this year is the hottest in years. As soon as we deplaned, we felt the searing, debilitating heat.

Not only is the weather oven-hot, the political campaign for national positions, which ended on Election Day, May 9, turned out to be the hottest ever (coincidentally, heat index was 41 degrees!). In recent weeks, the campaign turned vicious, ugly, and lava-hot.  

I tried to keep my peace, but my piece had to be said.

The heat (weather) will not abate till the rains come; the heat (politics) will not abate till . . . we don’t know.

But I, for one, a citizen of this country, take comfort in the knowledge that . . .

". . . our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ . . .” Philippians 3:20


Friday, May 6, 2016

Silent No More


This has been a most divisive and derisive presidential election.

Traditional media and social media have been fast and furious. Often, news items and memes are published without thorough research or verification. Some are purposely cruel, inflicting pain upon those who have differing opinions. And whichever side we're on, we've been quick to believe, re-post, and repeat them, with our own additional careless rants.

Brothers and sisters by blood and in faith have been ripped apart. Some are more vocal than others and would lash out with innuendos or plain insult on cyberspace. Some nurse their hurt in private. 

Except in conversations with family and close friends, I had resisted the temptation to speak on the Net. I did not want to add fuel to the combustible heap of rash judgments and negativity.

Silently, I wished that the more sober people, our spiritual leaders especially, would be above it all—unifying, enlightening; more circumspect, instead of taking sides and stoking the fire. But from some of their walls, we see "shares" that vilify personalities, disparage institutions, or kill the spirit of their communities.    

Silently, I combed sites; read opinions and analyses of respectable journalists; hopped to pages of friends; read the candidates' biographies, track records, and ideologies; watched the debates; compared platforms; checked loyalties; reflected on the Word—and prayed for the grace of discernment and guidance.

Most importantly, I visited that part of me where I keep my treasures—values I hold dear, the foundation of my faith, my conscience.

So finally, today, careful not to divide nor deride, I choose to end my silence.

In a democracy, I have a voice—albeit a small one—that  is allowed to speak. Silent no more, this is my personal decision: 

I am voting for Mar Roxas as my President and Leni Robredo as my Vice President on May 9.

They are a team so they are on the same page.

I now know and have been affirmed that the future of the country where I was born, and where I am going to die, will be in good hands.

Image credit: The Silent Majority FB wall


Monday, May 2, 2016

Where It All Began


In our one-month trip back to the USA (from west to east), four days were for Chicago. It was going to be, for Tony and me, a nostalgic trip to the windy city where, as he calls it, it all began.

We planned on visiting old haunts that witnessed our young relationship in those ancient days.

Chicago was where Tony and I met. He was chosen Editor-in-Chief of the new newspaper to be published by the Filipino community. I was nominated as one of his section editors.

The Chief summoned me and his editorial staff to a meeting, where he would outline his vision and policies.

I remember that day very well—not because sparks flew between him and me, but because snow and wind blew, pummeling downtown Chicago relentlessly.

After that first meeting, where the Chief decreed in no uncertain terms who was the boss, buses and cabs in such woeful weather became sparse.  He volunteered to drive me home in his car (which, I later found out, was borrowed from his best friend).

Boy, you are snow-and-wind personified, I thought. His first salvo was a question: “Do you know where I work?”

“Where?”

“J. Walter Thompson.” (At that time it was the largest advertising agency in the world.)

Clueless, I asked back, “What’s that?”

He rattled off statistics, meant to shock and awe.

Un-shocked and un-awed (I was a starving art student and advertising agencies were the least of my concerns), I said, “Oh.” Or something monosyllabic. My thought balloon, Bring it on!   

One year and seven months later, I married my boss in the Philippines, where we settled, and Chicago became a part of our distant, historic past.

That’s how I remember it. Tony does not remember it at all. 

So despite the crazy Chicago weather in spring (rain, hail, snow, sunshine [all with accompanying wind] alternating within minutes) we did visit all the places that we both remember:

(Clockwise) The house where I lived . . . the apartment building where he stayed . . . the skyscraper where he worked . . . and the school which I attended.

The office where our editorial work was put to bed and where one newspaper every two weeks took shape, unfortunately, is gone. A new building stands in its place.

In this trip down memory lane, what we (or maybe, just I) remember most was the grace that brought two strangers, with a mutual passion for writing, together. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Thunderbolt on a Clear Day


It was a sunny Easter Sunday in LA.

Four of Tony’s old friends welcomed him with a sumptuous lunch and raucous reminiscences of shared young-and-foolish years.
They later moved to the coffee shop where I was meeting up with my dear friend Lucy, whom I have not also seen in years. The laughter was so loud it might have resounded all the way to the Philippines.

That lively and vibrant day set the tone for the reunion of pals who live on opposite ends of the world but found time to re-connect. The song in my mind then was Barbara Streisand’s “On a clear day you can see forever.”

But forever was not to be.

Just ten days later, while Tony and I continued with our travels, this time traipsing all over New York, we received word that one of those four friends, Art, had a heart attack and passed away.

No hints. No warnings. No good-byes.

It was a heartbreaking, shocking news, like a thunderbolt on a clear day. It can’t be, we cried. Those frightening thunderbolts happen only on a stormy day, not when the sky is blue. But this time, it did.

Because such is life.

Those whom we hold dear today may be gone tomorrow. Which is why we can’t, and shouldn't, postpone re-connecting, in whatever way we can, while we still have time. It is a small comfort that Tony and friends were with Art for one short day, one last time.

We grieve with Art’s family and loved ones. But we also thank God for the life He gave Art to share with kith and kin. He will be painfully missed, but never, ever, be forgotten.

Because such is grace.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Revelation 21:4 (NIV)


Monday, April 25, 2016

A Beautiful Day


It was definitely going to be a beautiful day in New York, never mind the weather forecast of an unbearably cold 30 degrees and rain showers.

My two cousins, L and M, were going to take Tony and me to the Broadway play, “Beautiful: The Carole King Musicale” at the Stephen Sondheim theater.

With umbrellas in tow, we headed to Manhattan all bundled up—Tony and I in borrowed winter clothes, complete with hats and gloves.

But first, they hauled us to the Rockefeller Center. On our way there, we passed by familiar landmarks of yore: a building that housed past clients, with whom I had a meeting years ago; Empire State Building; Waldorf Astoria; Saks Fifth Avenue; and sidewalk hotdog stands.

At the Top of the Rock, we saw all the other areas of NY we couldn’t visit otherwise, not with our limited time of only four days. Click, click, click, we turned into tourists.

Tony struggled, step by step, from 36th to 43rd St. where the theater was. 
But “Beautiful” was worth every pained limp. We tapped our feet and clicked our fingers while singing quietly to the songs of our youth. (Fond memories of my theater days even came flashing back.) 

After the curtain call, hailing a cab in the “city that never sleeps” was like finding a needle in a haystack. My teeth chattered and Tony’s knee quivered. But seconds before we could succumb to frostbite, grace braked right before us and into the cab we clambered.

It was a beautiful day!


Friday, April 22, 2016

Speed Reading in America


A slow writer and a slow reader—that’s how I’d describe me. When I write, I agonize over every word. When I read, I romance every sentence.

I have to put this slow habit (or luxury) aside in America where our vacation has a deadline: one month.
So we visit a library in Stockton that has all the books I’d have wanted to read but couldn’t find in the Philippines (buying them online, in dollars, is prohibitive). Now here they all are in one library—where you could borrow up to 25 books in four weeks.

I am overwhelmed, but will take on the challenge. With only fourteen days left before we fly back home, I could only take in two books, and only on speed reading. So I choose the two books of Jan Karon that I haven’t yet read.
This makes me ponder the disparity between my country and America when it comes to books. USA is a paradise for every reader and author. A book lover like me has to come all the way to read two books hurriedly; and an author as well, I wonder if a paradise such as this will ever be in my country.

As I continue to write about grace, however, I am happy, content, that the only paradise we will ever need is somewhere up there, where Jesus lives, waiting for anyone who believes—whether he or she is from America or elsewhere.

In that unimaginable wonderland, nothing will ever be hurried, because everything is forever.

(Note: this post was written two weeks ago. Now back home, I was not able to read the books—not from cover to cover—as I had wished. Just the beginnings and endings, but both were a heavenly read just the same.) 
    

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

On the Run


My friend Lucy facetiously says that Tony and I are on the run. 

In a way we are: Four major US cities in one month, not including the other lesser known cities we visit along the way.

How glorious, how precious, what grace, to see Lucy again after many years—on Easter Sunday! We agreed to meet at a Krispy Kreme in the outskirts of LA after lunch. It was a 15-minute drive for me, one hour for Lucy.

She had instructed Jess to take a photo of the precise moment when she and I met again. Naturally, Jess—very much like Tony—always takes instructions as suggestions. When we saw each other, Lucy and I shrieked, hugged, and giggled, but no photo.

The photo would come later, after we have wolfed down our dessert and ready to say our good-byes and run.

It was a three-and-a-half hour chat, too short to catch up on everything, but we are on the run, remember? Our hosts planned on taking us out to a barbecue dinner with the members of their clan.

Lucy summed up our meeting on her FB page hours later, “Grace and I talked our heads off—our husbands mere garnishing.”

Years ago, travelling for me was visiting tourist spots and shopping. Not this time around. Tourist spots could easily be found on the Net and shopping could be done when we get home.

“Are you on tour?” asks a lady, who must have noticed we are not locals.

“We’re on people tour,” I reply.

She wrinkles her nose.

And so we are on the run—to the next city and the next—each stop to meet those from whom we were separated by time, space, and life’s choices.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Short Hop to Los Angeles


Our drive to the Sacramento airport (with daughter-in-law G on the wheel and grandson Adrian on a kiddie car seat), the check-in and security processes, plus the long walk and train ride to the departure area, is longer than our flight to LA. 

I catnap as soon as I put my seat belt on. When I wake up, we are taxiing on the runway.

Compared to Stockton, LA is a beehive. There is a super long queue to the Avis rent-a-car that lasts two hours. Famished from all the waiting, we drop by Panera, one of Adrian’s favorite eating places, to grab some salad and sandwiches before another hour drive to our destination: Tony’s side of the family.

I have forgotten that everything about the US is expansive, with all the synonyms of big—roads, parking lots, food servings, even sidewalks. No wonder second son always comments when he comes home to the Philippines for a visit, “This house seems much smaller than I remember.” 

The rambling house of Tony’s cousin, L, sits on a half-acre lot, with two huge living rooms, one with a fountain and a pond filled with colorful Koi, and lots of spare bedrooms. Tony and I are assigned one, G and Adrian (joined by second son a few hours later) are assigned another, all complete with amenities not often offered in hotels or inns. 

Tony and L were playmates in childhood, but they have not seen each other since they-both-can’t-remember. Therefore, everything—both physical and emotional—is super large and overflows.

From my side of the family, a nephew organizes a mini reunion. Fifteen of them— nieces who were babies when they left the Philippines, new in-laws, etc.— come from all areas of LA. The joy of hugging kin one sees only on FB over the years go beyond words. I try to document everything with my trusty old camera and hope that my battery, with a charger that doesn’t fit in any socket  here, won't conk out on me.

Tony’s aching right knee is eased with Tylenol and with the cane he brought with him from home. I take my anti-allergy pills to lull me to sleep so my resistance can hold with our youthful schedule. 

In Los Angeles, grace has been abundant.

It flew us here on a short hop to reunite with people dear to our hearts. We leave for another place in three days, but already the airplane in my mind is packed to maximum with memories.



Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Our Home Base in the US of A


All too soon, our four-day stay in Cupertino ended with a three-hour drive (the GPS estimated it to be one hour and five minutes only) to Stockton, our US of A home base—where our second son, daughter-in-law G and grandson Adrian live.

My Manong Ped (with his wife, Manang C) drove us through a freeway that had a monumental traffic jam reminiscent of Manila’s. Tony slept through it all while I had to stay awake to keep the driver’s mind alert.

Our home base is off-white outside, girded with a wide patch of green, and pristine-white inside, including the carpet and cabinets. It is a home out of the pages of an architectural magazine. A dinner spread of American and Greek cuisine was laid out for us and a few other guests who jointly welcomed us.

Just next to Adrian’s bedroom is ours, which has a full view of the gated village. This is where we would be coming back to from all our hops to other cities meeting up with long-time friends and kin.

Second day in Stockton was spent with only G since second son had full clinic hours and Adrian had full school hours. But G drove us to second son’s clinic and toured us in Adrian’s school as highlights of our leisurely, touristy day . . .

A drive along acres and acres of farms and orchards; a wellness massage in a nature spa; a light lunch of American burgers and BLT in a quaint town called Lodi; a slow walk through a book store that carried both pre-owned and new books and where Tony grabbed two volumes of the American Revolution without looking at the price tag (which G insisted on paying for).

We don’t have a daughter, but in Stockton we found in G everything we could ever have wished for. She prepares our meals, around which Adrian regales us with his wit and antics. She more than makes up for the absence of her extremely busy husband by patiently driving us around and documenting our stay with photos.

Left: Adrian picked "patience" for me and "strength" for Tony.  Right: Adrian's version of pancake sandwich.


Most important, in Stockton, infamous for guns and goons, grace followed us to wherever we went.

That made Tony remark, “It is my kind of town.” 

 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions


Making decisions in America is a mind-boggling, brain-twisting, and synapse-altering experience.

We go into a burger shop and reading the menu alone makes me go insane. There are just too many variations and permutations. So I order a simple cheeseburger meal that comes with a side order and drink to simplify the process.

“What kind of cheese?” asks the waitress and rattles off, "American, cheddar, stilton, brie, roasted gouda, Monterey jack, yada, yada.”

“That one,” I say, my impaired hearing unable to make out her oral menu of choices.

“Which one?” she pushes.

“The first one,” I reply, crossing my fingers it is an edible choice.

She asks again, “How would you like your burger? Rare? Medium rare? Well done? Yada, yada, yada."

“The first one,” I cut her short.

She asks some more, “And dressing for your side salad? Vinaigrette? Caesar? Greek? Yada, yada, yada.”

“The first one,” I repeat like a looped recording.

“And drink? Coffee? How’d you like it brewed? Dark? Medium? Light? Yada, yada, yada. With cream? What kind? Sugar? Honey? Yada, yada, yada.”

To make a very complicated story short, I finally come face-to-face with my cheeseburger meal, after making millions of non-life-changing decisions that have caused my dormant acid reflux to erupt anew, with a vengeance.

Life in America became so complicated when I wasn't looking. Well, life in general has become so maddeningly complex.

But in God's infinite mercy, we only have two choices: to follow Him or not. That for me was the easiest decision of all. I pray that others will make that same choice, if not now, soon.

Before I dig in, I say grace for my cheeseburger meal, and spend a little more time asking for God’s grace of sanity.



Friday, April 8, 2016

Cupertino, a New Landmark


“Cupertino? Where is that?” people asked when I told them I’d be going there to visit my older brother.

Even if it is a big chunk of the famous Silicon Valley, Cupertino is still an obscure city, not very well-known, not in the same league as San Jose or Palo Alto. But after staying there for four days this month, I am sure that pretty soon, people would instead be asking, in shock and awe,  “You were at Cupertino?!”

The development in that area is amazing and going on in a frenzied pace. Apple’s super huge Campus 2 is rising very quickly.
A year from now, 24,000 people will be hired and new, wider roads and recreation/shopping centers would have been built.

Real estate prices have quadrupled and the excitement is palpable.

My Manong’s wife, C, said, “When you and Tony come back sometime in the future, Cupertino will be the new landmark in California.”

In my book, Cupertino has always been a landmark. That’s where she, my Manong Ped, and their well-knit family, which now includes a six-year-old grandson, live. Grace always found me there. Or should I say, I always found grace there.

“Coming back sometime in the future,” though, may no longer be an option.

   

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Spring of Our Lives


It took about three years before I finally mustered enough courage to travel to the US again. Our second son, who lives here with his family, had been inviting (okay, urging) Tony and me to come and visit.

This was where Tony and I met (in his words: where it all began), and my past advertising job required me to travel endlessly to many parts of the world and the US. Traveling had been exciting then—new people, places, and feelings.

But since I took up writing after retirement, the body has picked up enough physical maladies that make one retreat to the comforts of home—particularly my spot in the computer room which is my daily window to all the new places and new inventions that invade our digitally-wired planet; particularly a home church brimming with praying friends.

Tony, however, loves traveling, despite some serious health problems last year (including a bad right knee that suddenly assaulted him two weeks before our scheduled flight). So I caved in and agreed to a month of travel that spans the west and east.

It happens to be spring in America!

Like a new beginning, it’s the season for new leaves sprouting after a long, cold winter (but not of discontent) of our lives.

We are actually seeing old things in new ways. And new things in newer ways.

We are re-learning that children of Filipinos are different from their American counterparts. They still possess our beautiful values, despite growing up or being born here.

We are re-learning that there is a great chasm between the rich and not-so-rich (Republicans vs Democrats), and how they view welfare and the Obama care.

We are re-learning that among our circle of friends and relatives, there is as much love that goes around as what we find at home.

We are re-learning that America is a land of plenty (in everything that money can buy) and opportunity, and that our homeland has many more years, way beyond my lifetime, to be in the same league.

We are re-learning that citizenship in a country, other than your own, is not a guarantee that you love that adopted country more.

We are re-learning that Tony and I both so love our country, warts and all, because that is where God put us. 

We’ve sprouted new leaves—worth more than the aching knee and scaly skin brought about by an almost-forgotten weather and an almost-alien landscape.

Spring has given us new grace. How much more bounty can traveling give? 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Perfect


Fatigued, spent, and disoriented from the long flight and the even longer queue at the Immigration that required some picture taking, some interview, and some bio-metrics, I couldn’t describe what I felt at the crowded San Francisco Airport.

It was a beautiful Sunday morning, cool and chilly—the same Sunday morning, hot and humid, we left in Manila 15 hours earlier.

At the arrival area, Adrian (who met us with his mom G) ran to hug us. Aaahhh. Then we walked some more in a huge parking area to find their car. It was another hour drive to our hotel in Cupertino, our home for the next four days, where the bed instantly sucked Tony, with his aching right knee, in.

My manong (big bother) Ped, a minister, called, saying he was half expecting us to be sitting in the pews while he delivered his sermon. He was prepared to lengthen it in case we came in late. That was the original plan, but our jet-lagged bodies refused to cooperate. He wanted to meet up with all of us at lunch; I didn’t have the heart to wake Tony up.

So only Adrian, G, and I drove to a nearby restaurant. My head was still afloat and I couldn’t put my finger on how or where I was, but hoped that lunch might make my head land atop my neck.

At Applebee’s the waitress was perky, pretty, and full of life—the opposite of where my body had dragged me down. “What would you have?” she asked.

I chose the first item my droopy eyelids could make out, “Romaine salad.”

“Perfect!” she said.

Adrian ordered teeny burgers, and she said, “Perfect!”

G’s order had the waitress saying, “Perfect!” too.

My manong arrived with his wife, all dressed-up from the church service. It was the long-awaited, wonderful reunion I had looked forward to. I wished Tony were around. Manong Ped was the reason our first stop was San Francisco—to be able re-connect with him and his family in Cupertino after many years.

Their orders made the waitress say, “Perfect!” as well.

As we lunched, chatting about then, this, and that, I felt grace embrace me, tightly, even as I tried to summon my head, still stubbornly hovering inches over my body, unable to land where it should be.

It was then that I was finally able to spell the word to describe our arrival in this foreign land that was once-upon-a-time Tony’s and my second home, p-e-r-f-e-c-t. In short, grace.