11/28/2010

Ode to Insects


“No way!” my aunt Mary (an American) would reply when asked if she planned on visiting the Philippines.

She was actually a very nice lady—kind and generous.  I know, I lived with her and my uncle Joe (a Filipino) all of five years in Chicago.  She was the first chapter of my very first Gifts of Grace book.  

But Aunt Mary had some kind of an insect phobia: entomophobia, I believe it's called.

She knew that tropical countries like the Philippines has lots of insects—representing over 90% of the variety of life forms on earth. Her phobia worsened because my uncle often teased her, “We eat insects over there. You should try some.”

Aunt Mary is gone now, but whenever I see or EAT insects, I remember her fondly.

Before you start saying, “No way” like Aunt Mary did, let me tell you about my favorite insects. 

(1) Bees.  You know all about honey, don't you?  This lovely rich golden liquid is the marvelous product of honey bees. Delicious and a healthy alternative to sugar, the  honey's unique composition makes it an antimicrobial agent and antioxidant.

There is this bee farm in Cavite where we usually buy our personal care products—shampoo, soap, conditioner, balm—made of beeswax.

(2) Mole crickets.

They are 1-2 inches long, with large beady eyes and shovel-like forelimbs. Although they can fly, they are nocturnal, spending nearly all their lives underground. 

But when crisp-fried to perfection, they are yummy.  Fried Camaru is a delicacy in Pampanga and served in many restaurants, Everybody's Cafe among them. 

There are hundreds of insect delicacies all over the world. I'd try them if I had the chance. My adventurous streak I inherited from my late father—an Ilocano.  He had a long bragging list of all the animals and insects he had eaten.  

I have always believed that insects are the miniature miracles of creation. The Bible mentions many of them—ant, bee, beetle, caterpillar, flea, fly, grasshopper, locust, worm, etc. 

They teach us life-changing lessons. We've been told, for instance, how hard-working and forward-looking ants are; how a lowly worm can metamorphose into a beautiful butterfly.  

Indeed, God has created these tiny wonders with attention to the finest of details. 

"And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good." Genesis 1:25 (KJV)

11/24/2010

Celebrating my 4th Year:

on the Net and in the World

I imagined my books to be in bookstores, homes, schools—wishfully around the globe somewhere—but never in the New York subway.  And yet, there it was!

This photo was sent to me via email and I've treasured it since.  The same way I treasure  all the little surprises from the Net.   

I created this site exactly four years ago, today.  From then on, I have unearthed treasures here and there on blogosphere. One was a blog I stumbled upon while I was googling my name:  

My Favorite Authors:

Grace D. Chong—She's a local author in the Philippines and I really love her works. She wrote the "Oh Mateo!" Series, "Hello God!" Prayer books for kids, and "The Magic of Apo Mayor."

Yes, I know I'm too old for these books but I really cherish her works.

J.K. Rowling—Hello?! Do I have to say more? She's absolutely, positively amazing!

C.S. Lewis—He's practically a legend at his game! All his works are written greatly.

Lemony Snicket—He specializes in the drama category and is a real master. He may write about gloomy stuff but he rocks!!


The blogger lumped me with the great authors I drool over and read! 

Then I also found my book Gift of Grace 1 being auctioned on eBay for P150 plus P50 shipping charge (the book is retailed at only P195 in book stores). It was described as brand new.  Which means, the owner had not read it and already he/she was selling it (?!) I had in mind to buy my precious book just to make sure someone did, but, someone beat me to it.  Sigh of relief.    

Yes, grace finds me in cyberspace. 

And to celebrate my 4th blogging anniversary, I have wordled my post on my 3rd anniversary entitled, I have turned Yellow.  It looks much better than this photo in my monitor.

I am likewise taking down my header (1st photo below) and replacing it with a new one (2nd photo). 

Although my numbers remain modest, I am overwhelmed and grateful for the joy of posting a leaf on grace every four days or less: 405 posts; 81,800 hits from 141 countries; 52 followers; 400 reviews; and hundreds of uplifting messages from friends, old and new.   

O give thanks unto the LORD; for He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever.  1 Chronicles 16:34 (KJV)

11/23/2010

Scary Sign

My hair stood on ends when I read this sign along EDSA. I've never seen a traffic sign more explicit.

(English translation: Don't cross, someone died here.)

Whoever thought of this sign sure knows how pig-headed pedestrians can be. 

Then I almost screamed when I saw a man darting across.  Yes, mindlessly and foolishly crossing the busy highway—despite the sign!

My brain and hands went numb so I couldn't click my camera quickly enough to catch him.

We are not the only people who never learn.  We read in our Bible that God's people violated God's laws over and over again, book after book. Despite epic lessons learned,  people just kept sinning, straying away, disobeying commands, rules, or even threats. 

And yet, the grace of forgiveness on the cross came to us free. Available 24/7 to whomever comes clean and asks for it.  

My prayer is that we don't die in the process of crossing.  By then it will be too late.

(Uh, oh.  What a creepy post I just wrote!  Well, the man who defied the chilling sign on EDSA is a creepy reminder of how we can be lost forever.)  

“Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 18:5)

11/19/2010

All's Well in Michigan

Please don't let these photos start you running to the nearest police station.

Adrian is not a victim of child abuse. He is a victim of thespian genes. His Amah has a degree in Theater Arts, and his parents are drama enthusiasts.

All it takes is a quick click from his mom's (now a photographer par excellence) camera and he's into winning an acting award in best performance.

Below is the father he takes after; another magnum opus by his mother.




















Hilarious photos such as these, from across the Pacific Ocean, bridge space and bring grace. They show us that all's well in Michigan.

11/15/2010

Simple Joys


This happened a few years ago, but when I remember it today, I can see similarities between then and now.

I decided to treat my mother and her three sisters to a road trip when they came to the city. Two were in their 70's and two in their 80's. Their eldest sister (right) was already ailing at that time, otherwise she would have come, too.


So to Tagaytay we went. All through the trip, they were gushing about this and that, non-stop.

“Oh, look at those flowers, how beautiful!”

“The sky is so clear, it's a wonderful day!”

“The view is spectacular!”

“See those intricately carved furniture?”

“Wow, I've never seen so many pineapples in my life!”

“Lord, how great Thou art!”

For lunch I took them to Gourmet's Cafe. After glimpsing the prices on the menu, they said:

“Oh, I am a small eater, I'll just share whatever you order.”

“Let's not order food we can't finish!”

“At this age, we should watch our diet!”

My mother whispered in my ear, “You should have brought us to a cheaper restaurant.” I ended up ordering for everyone, otherwise they'd have settled for the cheapest dish to be shared by all four of them. Not a morsel was left on every plate; we were all big eaters after all!

Easy-to-please, they all were. They relished simple joys. Being with each other and seeing a new place together was like seeing the Hope diamond up close. After taking photos of Taal Volcano and excitedly gawking at the many nurseries along the road, we headed home.

Although exhausted from the long trip, they were just as profuse in their appreciation of everything we passed by. They were also punctuating every interjection with hymns of thanksgiving. And they each gave my driver a tip.

Two are gone now, and two have Alzheimer's—with only the shell of their old selves left. But my memory of them comes alive when I find myself gushing and enjoying the little things I see everyday.

Just last week, I thanked God for the grace of a day like no other—simply going over the proofs of my latest book, “Grace found Me.”

From morning till night, all I did was go through each word, each punctuation mark, looking for errors, misprints—page after page; and munching on Vargas Biscotti (a good substitute for my favorite Bacolod Haus Biscocho which isn't available in my neighborhood) I recently discovered in a booth tucked away in a supermarket.


When the day ended, I felt as though I was one of the old ladies whom I took to Tagaytay on a road trip. It was exciting every page of the way. Every chapter was an adventure.

And it was uncanny to realize how five women of God, who hovered around when I was growing up, influenced the way I look at life today.

11/11/2010

A Funny Thing Happened


One of life's best moments is when when you're laughing yourself silly, with only inane thoughts (or no thoughts at all) occupying your brain.

Unfortunately, these moments don't happen very often, not at this multi-media age when so many things are exploding all around you all at the same time. The brain is always busy editing, trying to figure out which need to be trashed and which need to be treasured.

I was blessed with one such moment (four hours to be exact) when all I did was snap, crackle, and pop. For once, I did not pause to ask myself, “What lesson is this teaching me?”

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the play by Stephen sondheim, was grace beyond tears of laughter. Written in an era before political correctness, this bawdy, naughty comedy—which had won many awards since it was produced on Broadway and re-staged in many places—makes no apologies for not having any intellectual weight.

Its sole purpose is to elicit the shallowest, but the best, of laughter.

I have JR to thank for this. He bought the tickets that took the two of us all the way up to the balcony where the stage looks like a peephole and the actors, like ants, “So if the play turns out to be blah, there won't be regrets.”

There were no regrets.

Before we entered the Insular Life Theater for the last staging of the musical comedy by Theater Down South, directed by Michael Williams, I vowed to refrain from wearing my severe stage savant hat. Yes, no expectations, no regrets.

What I was gifted with were marvelous moments of laughter, unadulterated guffaws that persisted all through the two-act play, and even one hour after that. I'd have gone on and on had it not been way past my bedtime.

Try seizing a moment when you do nothing but laugh out loud. It's actually more than marvelous. It's detoxifying.

11/07/2010

Ordeal or No Deal?


My sister e-mailed me this old photo. Everyone, including me (in stripes), looks cool. But the back story is hot.


Once a year, my mother would require my siblings and me to go through the ordeal (o-r-d-e-a-l) of donning our Sunday best in the dead heat of summer, July 2.

Yes, my parents' wedding anniversary also had to be our family-picture-taking day. So while beads of sweat trickled down my back and brows, I had to put on my best dress (usually itchy, especially when petticoats were in vogue, and heavy) and smile for the camera like it was the coolest time of the year.

I never knew what my siblings’ thoughts were—we never discussed them—but I sure knew mine.

I used to dread that day. Worse, our clothes had to be pressed and so they bore the heat of the iron in addition to the oppressive air. It was like being fried in your own body lard.

Immediately after the photo session, I'd hurriedly take off and dump my soaked dress in the hamper, and run to the bathroom to take a shower. What a relief!

History repeats itself.

Once a year, I used to find myself coaxing my sons into going through the same ordeal on July 4, my mind deliberately forgetting what I went through while growing up. After a few unsuccessful tries, however, I gave up. In my time, kids never said “no” to their mother. Times have changed.

Fortunately, in the last six years, digicam came into my life. It does what couldn't be done in my youth, year-round.

A willing, smiling waiter is always on hand to take our family picture while we're still glued to the table. Nobody has to wear anything itchy. He just has to be there (not for the photo, but for the food). And food is 100% guarantee he will be there.

The family is never complete because three are in the US, but ¾ family photo is better than none at all. So I get my complete family photos once in year (those in the US come to visit once a year) and the ¾ family photo is taken on any occasion that there is food.

No more ordeal. Just a brief “cheese” pause while enjoying the grace of family and food.


11/03/2010

A Novelist Named Keila


Earlier today I was FB hopping and I chanced upon the page of Keila Ochoa Harris, a young novelist from Mexico.

All her posts are in Spanish so I understand only 5%, or less (despite my 21 units of Spanish in UP).

Once, she was my roommate in Thailand when we were both invited as coaches in a writers' conference.


“I couldn't have chosen a better roommate," I told her, meaning it.

She laughed and said something which I totally missed because I was listening to her accent more than to her words. She sounded like Selma Hayek or Penelope Cruz, two of my favorite Hispanic actresses. Keila's speech pattern had their same musical lilt. And I told her so.

"Penelope Cruz is from Spain; Selma is the one from Mexico," she clarified, laughing.

I couldn’t tell the difference. Just as I mistake Aussies for Brits by the way they ignore their final r's.

Keila is at least, uh, a century younger than I am. And already she has five published novels! Written in her native tongue, these books are internationally distributed in Spanish-speaking countries. When she reaches my age, at her writing speed, her books would fill a bookstore.
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Keila is as passionate about writing as teaching. “I’ve been a teacher all my life,” she replied when I asked how she felt about being a writing coach in the conference's novel track. If I weren't assigned another group to coach, I’d have attended her sessions.

(Just an aside: in my salad days, when I was daring and reckless, I wrote a romance novel and let my aging aunt read the manuscript. She began at 9 in the morning and missed lunch. She stirred only at around 3 PM after finishing the last page. She had a wide smile on her face. I was ecstatic. I knew I had a bestseller in the making. So I sent it to a big international publisher, and the reply I got totally devastated me. It was a rejection slip . . . “don't attempt to rewrite it.” Dejected, I hid my draft in the store room. When I found it again, after gaining wisdom from countless missteps, I turned redder than a steamed crab. It was dreadful. Immediately, I dumped it in the trash can. Gone.)

Apart from love for writing, Keila and I had something in common: love for sleep. As soon as we got back to our room from a tiring day, we both hit the hay. Then we were up early in the morning. “The grace of sleep,” we called it.

"I can't function without enough sleep," she said. Those words could have well been mine.

I have not kept in touch with Keila, but I remember her fondly after a good night's rest, or each time I attempt a novel and—fail.

So I read someone's novel instead, savor it, and forever wonder how on earth did he/she do it?