11/30/2006

Saving Money is Expensive


(While I was putting up our Christmas tree last week, I couldn't help but squirmand laughat the story behind it. I wrote about it in my e-column in 2002. Let me share it with you.)

"Sale" is a marketing tool. That I know by heart as an advertising person almost all my working life. Where there is a "sale" there I am, too. My excuse—to save money.


When Traditions--a pricey gift and décor store—put up its Christmas display about three years ago, I spent hours gawking at one of its trees: a ten-foot simulated pine. Stunning, it carried no color but white. From top to bottom, every inch was trimmed with ethereal angels in white gowns. Peering at the angels, I noted the details
no two were alike.
 
Each was playing a different musical instrument with a different smile and pose.

"There are fifty different angels," the saleslady said. Each one cost P100. Which means, to buy all fifty (perfect for a small tree), one would have to shell out a whopping P5,000! Nope, too expensive; and I already had more than enough trimmings.

But at home, when I glanced at my (the male members of my family let me be) little tree decked with colorful balls, I would imagine the tree with a host of angels in white. Someday...

Someday came on December 26. The price of the angels (the very same ones which I coveted for months) was slashed by 80%! From P100, it was down to an incredible P20! I decided on the spot. I could save money for next Christmas
just twelve months away. For only P1,000, I could have not just ten but a whole set of fifty. A steal. Even without a calculator I instantly computed a savings of P4,000! "Wise woman," I patted my own back.

I carefully put them in a box and kept the expensive merchandise out of harm's way.

Zap to next year's Christmas season. Taking the box of angels from its perch, I sang. Unwrapping them, I wailed. Their white gowns had turned into varying shades of yellow and their gold-trimmed instruments were chipping away. There were also little black things resembling tiny seeds all over. "Cockroach dung," my househelp said.

I flew to the dry cleaners where I was charged P10 for each, P500 for the lot. After they were cleaned, the clothes were not in their original pristine white. "Ecru is classier than white," the salesman avowed.

And the peeling paint? Well, now was my chance to be a painter. The gold paint came in a one-liter can costing P100. I needed a paint brush worth P20. After three days I finally hung them up my tree. One after another, a branch snapped and broke its hinges to oblivion. My refurbished angels were too heavy for a tiny tree! I dashed to SM for a sturdy seven-foot evergreen at P3,000. 


With a bigger tree, I needed to augment my blinking lights. I bought ten sets for P600. I also paid a newspaper boy P100 to throw away the heap which was once my tree.

When finally my new evergreen had the angels and lights, it didn't look nearly as good as Tradition's. I followed my son's advice to install a spotlight (P750) as they do in stores. It's still not perfect. As a last resort, I asked an artist friend's opinion, "You need more angels to cover all the gaps and more...."

"Arghh!"

Yup, I've always known that to save money, I must buy only what I need, not buy what I covet on "sale." What gives? Knowing is one thing, having self control is another. Here's where I consistently need God's word: 1 Corinthians 12:31—But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way. And where I constantly crave His grace.

copyright © 2002 by Grace D. Chong


11/27/2006

Delayed Departure

 
(A five-year-old boy died of cancer one month from diagnosis. He was just one of the many people who die unexpectedly. On the other hand, my Uncle Billy, who led a very unhealthy lifestyle, defied death. Why?)

“His eyesight, I suspect, is failing. My prying, curious eyes peer at his own a bit too closely but he doesn't blink. Recently stooped, he is smaller than he already was, the vestiges of once sturdy arms fading. In their place is a promise of twin reeds, scaly and shriveled. The thick, durable fingers of old are almost transparent, with veins and bones like roots intertwined.”

Thus begun the unfinished essay I wrote about my uncle Bill, one of those who doted on me in America in my youth. His sharp wit, undiminished by his almost one hundred years of charmed life, made excellent copy. But I quit writing it because, who would want to read about a very, very old man, unknown to everyone but me?

Well, maybe health buffs, habitual dieters, or even doctors would.

Up until ten years ago when he came back to the Philippines for good (after over 60 years in the US), he was a walking cliché. He smoked like a chimney (three packs of non-filter cigarettes a day). He drunk like a fish (every lethal liquid). He loved wine, women and song (poker for two straight nights in a smoke-filled room blaring with loud casino music and and cusses). He lived it up (high-fat, high-cholesterol diet of bacon, ham, eggs, pork chops and pizza). He had sweet tooth (four heaping teaspoons of sugar in his coffee).

By medical statistics, he should have died of either lung cancer, kidney and liver failure, cardiac arrest, massive stroke, or diabetes years back.

But at 97, his vital organs were intact, defying laws of human nature and turning health facts into myths. He still read two newspapers, finishing the crosswords in one sitting; devoured the Bible; quoted Shakespeare; and wrote letters in ornate penmanship on unlined stationery. His body was slower, but his spirit was like the song, "Alive, alert, awake, enthusiastic," outliving everyone in his family.

He drawled in an American twang he couldn't shake off, "My flight to heaven has been too long in comin'!” When he sought back his home country ten years ago, he also sought back God -- like a dusty old book shelved, discovered, and read again.

And he was a cliché no more. "That's all in the past now, you're lookin' at a new old bull!” He settled in a beach house in far-away Bolinao, Pangasinan, where his lifestyle was diametrically opposed to what it once was. But, can one decade of clean living repair the damage wrought by over six decades of physical abuse?

Well, how many people ever make it to 97? Not many. Not even those who live fumigated lives, as medical journals show. But uncle Billy did. I've asked my doctor friends why. They could only reply, "God's ways are not our ways."

In Ecclesiastes 8:7, the teacher wrote, “Since no man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come?”

Now, how many people are ready to fly out? Again, not many. But uncle Billy was. Whenever my family and I would visit him (on halloween to keep a long-standing joke running: visit the living, not the dead), I'd begin with a terribly inane, "So how have you been?"

Like a recording he'd reply, “Eagerly awaitin' my flight out. But God keeps delayin' my departure. I'm ready when He is.”

He would add, “Next time you come I won't be here."

I'd reply, “The old man who cried wolf! You threatened us last year and the year before last.” But I begged God, By Your grace, he'll say it still next year... and the next...”

Uncle Billy's statement was right that last time. One month after our visit on halloween, in his sleep at age 97, he took his much-awaited flight to our permanent home.

I rushed back to visit him, praying I'd hear his twang one last time, but he had left.


11/24/2006

Should Grandmas Blog?


No, I am not yet a grandma. Not officially anyway.      
       


But you might as well call me one now since my age is eons off the blog generation. Also, sometime soonfollowing the example of my younger grannie friendsI should be one. My second of three sons has promised he would catapult me to that distinction.
 
So why am I blogging? Have I gone nuts?
 

I am not young, I am not a techie, I loathe (maybe that word is a bit strong; let me change it to "dislike") what I read in some young people's blogs, I am very private (add very ho-hum), and I am already a published author.

Well, I listen to the young. Though I sometimes feel their perspective can be appalling (compared to those in ancient time when the women were ladies and the men, gentlemen), they often make sense.

My eldest and youngest sons pushed me into blogging.

"Blog is a web page." (Which was what I planned on having.)

"You can write all you want." (Which I do anyway.)

"You can comment on young people's blogs. (Which I like doing, verbally.)

"You can openly advocate values." (Which I concentrate on in my children's books.)

"You can publish on-line your unpublished books." (Which I dream of night and day.)

"You can get immediate feedback on the manuscripts you're iffy about." (Which I saddle them with.)

"You will have more readers of your books because blogs are international." (Which I thought incredible since I live in a republic where people consider reading as non-essential.)

"All that for
FREE."

The last argument did it. A true-blue Ilocana, I am a sucker for sales promotions.

Ta-da, a grandma blogger! 


(First grandson's first photo)
Ooops. One nagging fear: my baby-boomer friends can't text and they have no emails. Or if they do, they ask their children or their secretary to open it for them—once a month, at most. Who will read me?

At best, my husband will, out of love professed on wedding day.

At worst, eldest and youngest son will, if only to prove that their idea of a blog will work even for grandmas.

Why Leaves of Grace?



For book authors, leaves are the off-shoot of days and nights of incessant banging on the keyboard, unmindful of discomforts, or scribbling on any surface, and transforming images and thoughts into concrete words—so they may be shared with those who equally love the printed page.

Every letter, space, and punctuation mark that come together in cohesive paragraphs, will eventually find their way into a book leaf . . . and then, leaves.

It's a process I fell in love with years ago, and which I continue to enjoy. This love and joy of   writing can only come from the One without Whose grace nothing is or will ever be.

In like manner, nature's wonders, mostly in all shades of green—and also called leaves—sprout from the ground or hang from twigs and stems to remind us of this grace.

As the world totters between printed and cyber pages in this digital age, I thought I'd join the adventure. I'll turn my computer screen into e-leaves that you may flip (or click) through. This blogsite, from today, will log the seemingly small, ordinary things that demonstrate how the Author of Life bestows unceasing grace even upon a small, ordinary mortal like me.

It is my hope that you find many things in your own life to reflect on, and acknowledge, with gratitude, the Source of them all.  

"And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace." John 1:16 (KJV)