Every Nine Years

Tomorrow I am taking a four-day trip out of town. I am chair of our clan reunion. This is a job that comes to me every nine years by virtue of my birth.                                     

Despite the able help of my siblings, their spouses and children, including my husband and my own children, I am so harassed and so panicky I am in no proper frame of mind to write about it and why I come into such privilege.

This is the 63rd reunion, which started in 1944. Our clan on my mother's side get together to end each old year and meet the new one. At the stroke of twelve, we are in a circle singing our signature hymn, "Blest be the tie that binds," and praising God for His grace and the gift of family. We are expecting about 170 people, aged eight months to eighty, this year.

I am bringing along with me my life-support-system consisting of my reading glasses, my sign pen, and my calendar. In a job like this, one could get really disoriented.

Meanwhile, I will be out of blogosphere till the second of January. As early as now I think I may be having withdrawal syndrome.

Let me be the first to greet all of you, my friends in the wide big yonder, a happy New Year!

Wit, Humor, and Old Age

On Christmas afternoon, after a festive eve till the wee hours of the morning, our home settled into a quiet lull. Everyone was doing his own thing.

I, for one, followed the e-mailed advice of Pastor Bong, a dear friend, who stressed, “Don't just eat and eat. Don't just talk and talk. Don't just run around going from mall to mall. Take some time to reflect on yourself. Make this Christmas a meaningful one. Make the time to be silent before the Lord and assess yourself honestly. There's always room for growth. Once the light of God's word and Spirit penetrate your heart, you will see reality from a better perspective. Then you will be able to make worthwhile goals for the future, not just New Year resolutions.”

After sometime, I turned on the TV set and was delighted to watch (for the nth time) a replay of “The Sound of Music.” Movies hardly come in this package anymore—full of music, homespun values, nationalism, and filial love. I watched it with a smile till the end. Then I searched for the e-mail sent by a friend sometime ago.

I needed to reflect on it after the hectic pace of the last few days—and then I didn’t feel so bad.

On Julie Andrews’ 69th birthday (she’s now 72), she made a special appearance at the Manhattan's Radio City Music Hall for the benefit of the AARP. One of the musical numbers she performed was "My Favorite Things" from, yes, the all-time-favorite, legendary movie "Sound Of Music."

Here are the actual lyrics she used (please pay attention because these will be a few of your favorite things when you get to be her age). If you are still very young, you may enjoy it, too, by singing it to your grandmother and watching her laugh.

Maalox and nose drops and needles for knitting,
Walkers and handrails and new dental fittings,

Bundles of magazines tied up in string,

These are a few of my favorite things.

Cadillacs and cataracts, and hearing aids and glasses,

Polident and Fixodent and false teeth in glasses,
Pacemakers, golf carts and porches with swings,
These are a few of my favorite things.

When the pipes leak, when the bones creak,

When the knees go bad,

I simply remember my favorite things,
And then I don't feel so bad.

Hot tea and crumpets and corn pads for bunions,

No spicy hot food or food cooked with onions,

Bathrobes, heating pads and hot meals they bring,
These are a few of my favorite things.

Back pains, confused brains, and no need for sinnin',

Thin bones and fractures and hair that is thinnin',

And we won't mention our short, shrunken frames,
When we remember our favorite things.


When the joints ache,

When the hips break,
When the eyes grow dim,

Then I remember the great life I've had,

And then I don't feel so bad.

Ms. Andrews received a standing ovation from the crowd that lasted over four minutes and repeated encores.

May God, whose only Son’s birth is celebrated by the whole world on Christmas, give me grace to have the same wit and humor when I reach her age.


Merry Christmas!!

Around our traditional turkey dinner on Christmas eve: Tony, JC, Moi, and our chef JR. Not in photo are son JB, daughter-in-law Gianina, and first and only grandson Adrian who gave us a call at exactly 12 midnight on Christmas day.

For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Have a grace-filled, Christ-full Christmas everyone!


Ugly but Yummy

“Please buy me P500 worth of tupig,” my friend Irene e-mailed me when she found out I was going home to Pangasinan.

“That’s a whole lot of tupig!” I replied. At P2 each, that would be 250 pieces of tupig!

“Not enough of something soooo goooood,” she said.

Tupig is a delicacy in my home province. Made of ground sticky rice, strips of young coconut, unrefined brown sugar and wrapped in banana leaves, tupig is roasted on charcoal. The banana leaves naturally turn black in the process and what you get is an ugly piece of unusual goody.

As you might have guessed, I love the ugly thing. If I didn’t watch my sugar intake, I could eat a dozen in one sitting. I love it so much I made it a part of one of my children’s books.

It wasn’t a very good move. My art director had a hard time prettifying it. It was the greatest challenge to her sense of aesthetics.

I took the challenge, too, with my digicam. I arranged them on textured silk red tablecloth to make them look Christmasy—reminding me of our caroling days in the province when we gorged on them. Someone’s mom would cook them for us and they warmed our tummies while we went from house to house, on foot.

But as you can see, they’re still ugly. And still yummy.

Please don’t judge a tupig by its cover.


The Gifts I wrap

Two days ago I kept my whole day free for gift-wrapping. As I was about to wrap my gift for eldest son, JC, I happened to glimpse the first line of the book:

“The world is no friend to grace.”

That stopped me in my tracks and I got hooked. I couldn’t put down “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” by Eugene H. Peterson.
I rationalized that wrapping gifts can wait. But reading the gifts I am about to wrap can’t. (I hope I don’t get forty lashes for this.)

JC likes Peterson’s Bible translation, “The Message.” So I decided to give him a book by the author. As I have been doing the past Christmases since I became an author myself, I give books as presents (books I have read or books I plan on reading).

But the past few months have been too hectic I haven’t been able to buy books and do enough reading. I simply read the back-cover blurbs of my chosen books and matched them with people close to me.

Peterson explains—in my gift to JC—that a person who makes a commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior does not find a crowd applauding his decision; no friends gathering around to offer congratulations. Grace is non-news to the world. Sad.

Yet it is grace that saves man from death and brings him to eternal life.

Between chapters, I leafed through the pages of the other gifts I was about to wrap: “Hope Away from Home” by Evelyn Feliciano, “Finding God’s Will” by Zap Poonen, etc. There was no way I could read them all and wrap them all, too. So, you’re right, I have postponed gift wrapping for another day.

As of this day, I have not finished reading them all—yet—even if all I have been doing is speed read.

Meanwhile, I need to continue my marathon reading and finish all these wonderful books so I could wrap them before time runs out and it would be Christmas!

(I must remember not to dog-ear any of the pages; and to buy my own copies when the mad rush is over.)


Yay and I

Teaching university students in a trans-national school is not stressful—or, in today’s language, not toxic but benign. A teacher can set her own pace for as long as the London-moderated syllabus is covered.

But it can be frustrating. That is, if you get diligent students and indolent ones all together in one room. When you excite one group, you are likely to bore the other. When you tackle a point, you can either over explain or under explain, depending on whose point of view.

Yay and I share the same frustration. We teach the same subject, Marketing, and by a stroke of luck, we’ve been saddled with the same mixture of students.

So what do we do? We take coffee and tea in a nearby café and try to iron our wrinkles brought on by our twin piques.

There’s nothing a lazy after-class hour cannot cure. This photo was taken midway down the frustration scale. The laugh lines would come another half hour later.

“I’ll drive you home,” Yay offered when it was time to go. And so we buckled up our now-happy-again original selves. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

On the main highway, however, a traffic policeman signaled us to stop. Uh-oh, what now?

“Aaaakh,” Yay, cried. My car is color coded!” (Meaning, it’s against the traffic law for her car to be on the highway that day!)

“Your driver’s license, Ma’am,” the policeman asked. He looked forbidding.

“Please, please, Sir, we’re very sorry. Please, please forgive us, we forgot all about color coding,” we pleaded in perfect harmony.

(This duet went on for, uh, approximately the length of one song on a CD.)

Finally, Yay reluctantly handed him her license. The policeman handed it back smugly and said, “Okay, I forgive you this first time. Go!”


I couldn’t wait to tell Tony about our close shave that afternoon. “That policeman was such a kind soul. He let us go,” I said tearfully, sensitive as I am to any act of kindness.

Tony laughed out loud, “There is no color coding ordinance in Las Pinas!”

“Aaaakh,” I cried, feeling the frustration kick in all over again.


Christmas Tree: Why Bother?

“Why spend so much time on a tree? That’s not what Christmas is all about!” My friend Sonia asked. Well, she did not really say those words. Sonia is always very nice, very tactful.

But that’s how it hit me when she and I were talking about Christmas and the whole commercial hullabaloo of it.

Why, indeed. Every year, I take great effort in trimming our family Christmas tree—with a motif different from all the others before it.

I brainstorm with myself and after I have agreed with me, I implement with passion. In all this, it’s just me, I, myself, and moi.

My family, made up of a husband and three sons, don’t really have a part in this mania. Deep inside me, I think they care little (or nil) if the tree is put up at all. But once long ago they did.

When our sons were little, Tony and I would put wrapped gifts under our tree weeks before Christmas. Every chance they got, the three boys would touch those gifts and try to peek into the wrappers with much excitement. And those faces which glowed when those gifts were opened were every parent’s delight.

They’ve outgrown opening gifts (but not in giving them, because for as long as I am their mother I’d insist) and Christmas trees. They know, as I do, that trimmings do not a Christmas make.

The Bible describes that first Christmas in Luke 2:12, “. . . you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." The birth of our Savior was a time for great celebration, but not in the manner that we celebrate it today: with grandeur, pomp and circumstance—and Christmas trees.

Why, then, do I bother putting up a tree at all?

Humor me and listen to my psychoanalysis of, or theories, on this mad behavior. It could be any, or all, of the following:

I wish to freeze in my mind those happy little boys’ faces around the tree?

As far back as I could remember, my mother would put up a Christmas tree—with exactly the same trimmings year after year. In the last Christmases, before the tree finally disintegrated from age, the faux snow (cotton) had turned beige and brown. Maybe I was wishing she’d change them because I liked my snow white?

My nature to be easily bored (I multi-task in the middle of something—like reading five different books in the same span of time; or writing five other different pieces before I could finish the first one) manifests itself also at Christmastime?

This year, we have our first grandson who is so far away we can’t dote on him. So I decided to trim the tree with teddy bears. Is it a sign of things to come—that like all other grandparents we will spoil our Adrian when his parents aren’t looking?

After 12 months of being held apart by different schedules, busyness, and business, the family is always together around the Christmas Tree on Christmas eve. Does my tree symbolize family—and togetherness?

Whatever. I had a ball trimming my tree again this year. Behold the teddy bears! My househelps of many years, Ate Vi and Jen, shared my joyful task and they giggled no end when Tony, sons JC and JR said, “Wow, nice!”

It didn’t matter that the boys said it hours after they had come home and only after I asked them, “What do you think of my Christmas tree this year?”


Earthquake Aftershock

On the fourth floor where I was conducting my International Marketing class, my students were trying to appreciate the examples of Global Advertising from my former workplace.

“There’s an earthquake,” Cinry said.

“Yes, I am swaying,” Jessica, turning ashen, added.

My heart swayed as well. I remembered the big earthquake many years ago when the whole of Baguio City, where my brother Matt and his family live, was cut off from the rest of the country. No communication lines were working. We would not receive any news—you can’t imagine how horrible it felt not knowing whether one’s close kin were alive or not—till after a few days.

I felt my body twitch, from dread. It was another strong earthquake—I thought I was standing on a hammock. I quickly sat down and tried to make light of the situation. But the noise of many feet rushing down alarmed us.

We soon hurried down with the horde while being told to assemble in the campus’ open space. We stayed there for an hour, lest there be any aftershock.

There was an aftershock alright—but of a different kind. We were not allowed to go back to the fourth floor. Instead, we were told to occupy the “hotel suite” (our university offers Hotel and Restaurant Management) since there were only six of us in the class.

The “hotel suite” is sacrosanct.

On ordinary days, nobody is allowed there. That we (all five of my students: Cinry, Jessica, Angela, Martin, Carlo, and I) were shocked by this unexpected windfall is an understatement.                                                       

And so we continued our discussion on global advertising in the comfort of a couch instead of school chairs, in a receiving area instead of a classroom, relishing a most welcome earthquake aftershock.


Boiled Bananas

These are no ordinary boiled bananas. These are every-Sunday-after-Service boiled bananas.

Boiled bananas Sunday after Sunday?

Yes, a Sunday in our small community church isn’t complete without them.

The tradition or ritual, in a manner of speaking, started many years ago. One of our church members, the Balabagno couple, bought bunches of bananas from the park where they do their daily morning exercise. They brought them to church where our caretaker boiled them.

Were they hot and steamy! They were just the kind of food one’s growling tummy was looking for at past twelve noon. Unmindful of the stinging heat of the just-boiled bananas, we wolfed them down while blowing off the steam. No one was in a hurry to go home. We had a wonderful fellowship over boiled bananas.

Every Sunday since then, for many, many years now, the Balabagnos would bring bunches of bananas—for boiling just before the Sunday Service ended so they’d be piping hot for everyone to munch on. They were great reasons to tarry awhile and chat and laugh and enjoy Sabbath.

On one Wednesday prayer meeting, the Balabagno couple was absent. We learned that they flew to the US for a seminar or other.

“Well, next Sunday we will be banana-less,” we whispered about.

We were wrong. That Sunday, there were the usual piping-hot boiled bananas. Mr. and Mrs. Balabagno left word to their children to bring bananas to church!

What a gracious God for giving us such a gracious family. He never ceases to use people to channel His blessings.

Every Sunday, after being fed with the Word, we are fed with the wonder of fellowship over boiled bananas. Burp!

(I missed this morning's boiled bananas. I was in Cebu and instead attended both Sunday Worship Services of Bread of Life and Greenhills Christian Fellowship churches before my flight back to Manila. Am now home safe, sound, and sleepy. Yawn.)


Cebu, My Kind of Town

I used to say that Chicago was my kind of town. That was in my salad days when I was a carefree mass communications/art student awed at its sights and sounds. Chicago, for me, was a combination of old-world charm and new-world pizzazz.

It was also the place where I met my husband. But that is another story.

It’s been ages since I revisited Chicago and as they say, out of sight, out of mind.

I have found a worthy replacement: Cebu. This burgeoning city, which, according to market researches, replicates Manila, has been my most frequent destination in the last six years. There I am invited for book talks, book signing, and other activities that mostly have to do with my books.

I am going again—this weekend. Starting Friday, I am scheduled for several activities and talks that end on Sunday morning. The organizers call the Friday do in their poster "A Bunch of Treats."

Despite the growing traffic problem, everything in Cebu is five minutes away. New buildings are sprouting like mushrooms. But the old buildings are kept in good condition, allowing one to enjoy the charm reminiscent of small towns.

There are nooks and crannies boasting of glorious food, nature spas offering half the prize of those in Manila, and flea markets showcasing native arts and crafts at dirt-cheap prices. Most of all, Cebu’s people are warm, extra warm, and welcoming.

Not only do I relish my weekends in Cebu, I also enjoy writing my column entitled “Big Little People” for one of its major newspapers.

With apologies to Frank Sinatra, here’s my version of his song, “My Kind of Town.” By simply changing the word Chicago to Cebu, the song speaks my heart.

This is my kind of town, Cebu is
My kind of town, Cebu is
My kind of people too

People who smile at you

And each time I roam,
Cebu is
Calling me home,
Cebu is
Why I just grin like a clown
Its my kind of town

My kind of town, Cebu is
My kind of town, Cebu is

My kind of razzmatazz
And it has, all that jazz


Yesterday Deadline

"When do you need this?" I'd ask, mentally calculating it would take a week to do an excellent ad campaign if my team and I singularly focused on it, abandoning all other projects.


“When is your deadliest deadline?” I'd haggle.


This is the deadline I had been used to in the workplace. Every project was rushed as though tomorrow was erased from every time zone. Well, we were rewarded every luxury known to man—except time.

I don't want to remember the results of a "yesterday deadline." They are horrid—starting with frayed nerves, raging tempers to rising blood pressure. But mediocre work was the worst of all.

One of the great lessons I learned from this is—to work as fast as one possibly could without compromising excellence.

Now that I am out of the advertising milieu, I have carried the habit, or the discipline. I don't know whether that is good or bad. My friends (women of leisure) say I’m being too hard on myself. “We have to take things easy now that we have paid our dues.” Their words, not mine.

Habits die hard. When I am working on a book, I ask my publisher, "When do you need this?" Or when I am assigned something to write about in church or in my other concerns, I ask the same question, "When is this due?”

Outside of advertising, everything is slow, excruciatingly slow. Deadlines are flexible. They are not cast in stone. Yes, in book writing, publication deadlines can be moved at any time. They can be re-scheduled—for another quarter or two, another year or two. There are no media cut-off dates, no clients to please, no time and motion studies, no brand to build.

Which is probably why I love blogging. I pressure myself: i.e., 100th post on first anniversary; two blogs a week, and so forth.

Why am I so concerned about deadlines?

I am glad to meet someone in the scriptures who was so keen on an urgent deadline: the second coming of Jesus. The man: Paul. He tried to spread the gospel all his waking hours, with unrelenting passion, because Jesus would be coming very, very soon. That was 2,000 years ago.

But what a deadline to ponder!

Now, if I could only replicate a teeny bit of Paul's attitude and look at deadlines his way.

If I followed the urgency of Paul's cut-off date, I should, and must write, as much as I could to let people know about His grace, in the short time I have left between now and my “going home,” or, till He comes again—whichever comes first.


The Mosquito That Won't Go Away

The “pesky little mosquito” that first appeared before my right eye six months ago—and which scared me to death because if I lost my eyesight I won’t be able to do the things I love most doing: reading and writing and painting and beading and solving crosswords and oh, so many things!—is still there.       

My ophthalmologist said floaters stay on for a long time, although she couldn’t specify the exact length. The prescription eye-drops she gave me is not working. Well, she did say that no medication has yet been invented to make them go away instantly. But, she was reassuring, it’s nothing to be worried about. "You will not die."

“Is it a part of aging?” I had to ask what she was too polite to verbalize loud enough for me to hear. She turned mute.

If I paid the tiny black thing a lot of attention, though, it hovers still.

But it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. In fact, it doesn’t bother me at all anymore. There are days when I don’t even know it’s there.

I guess, like everything in life, it’s all a matter of mindset—of getting used to anything. If you don’t think of something as bothersome, it won’t bother you.

Our Pastor said something about this in our latest Bible lesson. If you entertain bad thoughts, they become words. Words become actions. Actions become habits. Habits become character.

“Pesky little mosquito?” Why am I even writing about it?


Has It Been a Year?!

My old header comes down:

My new header goes up—to mark the beginning of another year: 
Today I complete 365 days of blogging with this 100th post. It’s been 12 months of adventure—laughter and anguish, triumphs and losses, anger and forgiveness. The year has been about discovery; and reflecting on it.

And stripping, my friend Aleks may add.

It didn’t start out that way. All I ever needed was a journal on which I could monitor my written works and write down nagging thoughts on my current work or initial thoughts for future ones.

I have a small, nondescript notebook which I carry around. But reading my jottings has become exhausting. I could hardly read my own squiggles—more due to impatience rather than failing eyesight or poor handwriting. On a small notebook, I see how often I changed my mind or altered my thoughts through confusing arrows, erasures, exes, and crosses.

But on a blog? Once you’re on-line, things happen. You travel to far away places in blogosphere and come back in seconds, at will—deleting, rewriting, revising, editing, adding, re-thinking, and all the many quirky little things you can do on the computer, in minutes.

What charms me most about blogging is that, unlike writing a book where I am totally immersed and consumed 24/7, writing a post allows me to come and go—with all the freedom to go from mundane to profound; to write one paragraph or ten, 50 words or 5,000, in between trips to the bathroom or the mall or to Adboard meetings or to my speaking engagements and book signing, or to the university where I teach.

I thank the two young men who pushed me into blogging, first son JC and third son JR, who, I doubt, have sustained the interest to read beyond my earliest post. Little do they know that their mother has taken off to many cyber trips and entertained thousands of friends on home base right under their noses.

My numbers are modest, but for someone who became a proud grandma while blogging, they are more like googols: close to 12,000 hits, more than a thousand profile views, and almost two thousand reviews, comments, and emails from guests representing 71 countries.

Each of those is a story of grace.

Let me quote one: “I feel privileged to have discovered your remarkable blog. I enjoyed your great writing, deep and fresh insights, your flower photos, and blogs about the Philippines. Great colors and fantastic design! What I can relate most to is your belief in God's amazing grace!”

Indeed, it’s been a year of God’s amazing grace. In thanksgiving, won’t you sing with me?

Amazing Grace
(by John Newton)

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed!

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.


So Much for Customer Care

This was how I felt (and most certainly looked) like for almost two hours while I was in my bank today:       

Now, imagine some other thirty people before and after me looking and feeling exactly the same way.

I don’t like myself very much when this happens.

But it does happen, whenever I go to Banco de Oro. There is a long queue of similar-looking depositors for, at the very least, one hour, blubbering and blustering, but they stay in line anyway. There are no chairs, no welcoming smile, just gestapo-like guards, a chilly atmosphere, and a long line of people waiting endlessly for their turn to be served by two apathetic tellers.

You’d think that a bank with this type of non-service would be abandoned by depositors and the tellers be left counting their fingers instead of money. But no, this gargantuan bank is now probably the biggest in the country, having bought out one of the bigger banks recently.

This defies everything I teach in my Customer Care and Service class. The growing number of textbooks being written on the subject says this clearly: with globalization, the only way to survive in business, and to rise above competitors, is to be customer-oriented.

One must give the customer the caring he deserves from end to end. Starting with product development, the customer’s welfare must be paramount—until he has experienced the product, so that he will come back for more, again and again. The books also have many case studies on successful customer-oriented companies.

The customer is king. Not King-kong.

Yet, why do people—me included—stay with this bank?

It’s the only bank open till seven at night every day, from Monday to Saturday. This unique service guarantees the bank a bulk of customers—seething though they maybe. I guess there has to be a trade-off somewhere: longer hours sans customer care vs. shorter hours with topnotch customer care.  

The textbooks tell me unique service and customer care ought to go together. But that would be expecting too much, or open to debate for which—after my legs have gone into rigor mortis for two hours—I have no more energy.

What does it take to persevere? Grace from above.


The Lost Cell Phone

At this very hour, someone’s cell phone is being stolen. Cell phone thieves roam the earth; when one loses his cell phone, he loses it for eternity.

These thieves are so adept at it a victim usually can’t tell how it happened.

Aie, my sister, was one such victim—at a time of great loss, in a funeral parlor in our hometown. She was taking charge of my late cousin Letty’s hurried wake. It was a death so unexpected members of the family in Manila were still being informed. Thanks to her cell phone, Aie was wired to the world.

After a few initial calls and a few minutes of pause for composure, she reached for her cell phone again. It was gone!

There were very few people in that place in the wee hours of the morning—just an ambulant peanut vendor, from whom she bought a handful, an embalmer and his assistant.

Aie went on a prayer marathon while she communicated with us via the next best, but infinitely slower, routes—email and landline. It was a most unfortunate time to lose something so essential; just when help was most needed.

We prayed with her, and at the next possible hour, we left Manila to attend the wake.

While having dinner in our ancestral home, two boys and the embalmer’s assistant knocked on our door. They came to return Aie’s cell phone!

Their story was incomprehensible and incoherent. Their aunt, the peanut vendor, initially took it, they said. Then they happened to find it. The embalmer was likewise claiming he had been texting the number, pleading for the return of the sim pack, etc.

Aie was so happy she gave each of the boys reward money and a thousand “thank you.” We all shared her joy and played sleuth, analyzing why anyone would return a cellphone, and how it could have happened—from the time it was stolen to the time it was returned. It was a lusty discussion between my siblings and me.

“You inadvertently left it and the peanut vendor took it and . . .”

“The boys might have snatched it while you were not looking, then . . .”

“Their conscience bothered them so . . .”

“They were intimidated by the text messages . . .”

My youngest son JR who was quietly listening to our chatters said in a small, still voice, “It was a simple case of answered prayers.”

We were silenced—by a young man one tenth of our aggregate ages.

Even as believers of grace, we often like to trace the logic and science behind human behavior. We forget, I forget, that as we pray, the answer comes not in the way we expect it to come. The God of grace is the God of surprises.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9


The Pregnant Lady

A story is told that in the old days when the wide, paved highways today were still narrow, dirt roads, it took forever to get to Umingan, my hometown.

“Are we there yet?” hundreds of impatient bus passengers would ask, in regular intervals, no one in particular.

“Almost. Just watch out for the Pregnant Lady,” was their answer to their own question.

Then many years later (coming home to Umingan from anywhere), when roads were a bit improved, I would still crane my neck toward northeast, hoping that the Pregnant Lady would soon appear. She did not disappoint. She would be there in all her restful glory.

And I would chirp what people said before me, “Almost there!”

The pregnant lady is actually Mount Amurong, according to many people. (I googled it just now; it’s not listed anywhere.) Whoever baptized her Pregnant Lady, well, your guess is as good as mine. But no other name comes to mind—she does look like a reclining pregnant lady!

Now that the roads are fully cemented and the traveling time from Manila to our town, Umingan, has been cut in half or more, it is no longer necessary to watch out for the Pregnant Lady. She has become just a blur as you zoom by. Before you know it, you’re home.

But for me, the Pregnant Lady speaks volumes. It reminds me of my many “coming-home” and the excitement of “being almost there.” It tells me that I am, once again, revisiting my childhood, a niche in my heart that holds so many unique memories my three sons (who were all born and bred in Manila) cannot begin to understand.

They’re memories that alternately bring a grin on my face and a lump in my throat.

Which is probably why I re-live those happy thoughts in my book series, Oh Mateo! The Umingan scenes and people in those stories (12 books at last count) are real, although most of them have been deleted by “progress” or migration or death.

The trees I used to climb, the rice paddies I leaped over, the farm huts we napped in at harvest time, and the carabao carts we rode on—they’re gone now. The rivers, which were our swimming pools, are either dried up or have become garbage dumps.

But the Pregnant Lady, she is as she was—unmoving, unchanging. She will always be a monument of all that I was as a child, and of how grace has sustained me—then and now.


Good-bye Manang Letty . . .

We were on the road on Monday; rather, we were traveling on 3/4 of the road to and from Umingan, the small town where I grew up. It is harvest time and, as far back as I can remember, 1/4 of the highway is used by the farmers in the province of Pangasinan to dry their rice grains.

It was a very important long trip—we went to say our final good-byes to my cousin, Manang Letty, 77.

It’s been a month of so much sadness and so many good-byes. But we rest in the comfort of our Father’s grace, slowly easing us out of our grief and making us move on, one day at a time.

Manang Letty loomed large in my growing up years.

She was a respected teacher in the grade school fronting our house, a community leader, a most-sought-after ghost writer and emcee for many school and town activities, and eventually—after her retirement—a lay pastor in the local church.

Always very funny, she played what seemed to be a big joke on me when I was eleven. She made me the godmother (probably the youngest to ever be given such formidable role) of her older child, Melvin. Well, it wasn’t a joke; it was a privilege and a responsibility, which to this day I take very seriously.

Always very creative, she’d don the most outlandish costumes and perform the most unusual numbers during talent nights in our family reunions.

Manang Letty knew her music well, too—some cousins would describe her voice as that of an angel in her younger years. I’d describe her as a perpetual choir conductress extraordinaire, making even atonal people like me sing on key.

Many people at the wake said she knew her time was up. In the conferences that she attended, she was assigning people what to do at her funeral. To her nieces, she mentioned not being here for Christmas. And to her children, she’d joke, “Your papa is calling me to be with him.”

But no one believed she’d go away so soon. She was on the go, not bedridden. But, then, nobody knows God’s timetable.

It was another hurried good-bye, so soon after we did one for my nephew Direck. But good-byes no matter how short or long-winded are, well, good-byes.

Good-bye, Manang Letty—for now. Again, nobody knows when our next reunion would be. All I know is, it will be in God’s own perfect will and time.


Mute Monday



The Looooong Weekend

Halloween (All Souls’ and All Saints’ Days) is a big thing in this country; so big our president declared two working days to devote to it. In addition to these two days were a Saturday and a Sunday, which gave everyone a four-day holiday.

Before this, Monday was also declared another non-working holiday, leaving us only two days during the week in which to work. This now qualifies us to be in the upper tier of countries with the most number of non-working days.

I don’t want to get started on how businesses lose revenue when work is stopped and how daily earners lose so much more. The authorities know that.

I am tempted to write about why I am queasy and uneasy about lionizing and giving undue importance to ghouls and vampires, ghosts and evil spirits, cadavers and satan, but that would be a discourse far longer than the longest weekend.

Let me just tell you one story about a group of children who didn’t go on “trick or treat,” neither did they stop working during the holidays. They used their time to help the living.

The living are us—my husband and two boys.

On our way to visiting ailing relatives on the farthest side of town, we dropped by Holy Cross, where my son Adriano was buried. The memorial park, two days after All Saints’ Day was filthy. Rotting flowers, left-over foods, melted candles, heaps of plastic bags filled with garbage, dried leaves, and stray dogs welcomed us.

The slab of marble that marks our child’s remains was just as filthy, badly needing cleaning. So much for the promised perpetual care in the memorial park contract.

A young boy holding a broom and cleaning rag was nearby. We asked him if he could clean the marble for us. He quoted a reasonable price and went to work. He started by cutting the grass really close to the ground. Then three of his siblings rushed over to help him. Under the heat of the noonday sun, they helped each other to wash down the grime from the marble, and repainted the etched lettering. The whole exercise took one whole hour.     

In between chores, I chatted with them. They were very conversant, confident, and committed to what they were doing. Rodel, the youngest (aged 10) said he and his nine siblings do this every year. They also have some clients who let them clean the tombs every month.

Nearby was a make-shift store selling footlong hotdog sandwiches, chips, and beverages. “That’s our mother’s,” they said. Their mother was moving about, cooking the snacks, serving the few people who, like us, were in that cemetery three days too late. In between, she would wash dishes, sweep the dried leaves strewn around. She was constantly moving.

So were her children. What impressed me most was the way they did their job—like real pros. They worked as a team without pausing in between. They even offered me a plastic chair to sit on while they finished their job.

My son JR kept whispering, “That’s honest living, mom. Make sure you give them a generous tip.”

My husband said, “The outstanding mothers this society honors always come from the upper crust of society. The committee in charge should scour the slums and cemeteries. There is one right here.”

Our side trip to the memorial park was certainly another gift of grace—through a group of children whose mother brought them up to show the living what it means to really live abundantly.


Amazing Glaze

Amazing Glaze is not a misspelling, it’s a doughnut. It’s the only kind of doughnut I order when my family and I take our coffee in a place called “Gonuts Donuts.”

It’s sugar free! I am a good patient, I am careful about my glucose intake.

This doughnut’s glaze is as amazing as its name. It’s very sweet, minus the sugar and the feeling of being deprived.

Amazing glaze is amazing grace.

“In everything give thanks . . .” 1 Thessalonians 5:18


My Boss Mr. Sev

(Former Chairman of the Board and President, Dentsu,Young and Rubicam-Alcantara; former Governor of Catanduanes; former Board Member, Colgate-Palmolive Philippines Sports Foundation; Former Board Member, Philippine Band of Mercy; one of the pillars and mavericks of the Philippine advertising industry; and my former boss passed away on October 31, 2007. Below was my message at the Necrological Service. )

Paying homage to Mr. Sev or SCA, as we fondly called him, is an extremely difficult task. You don’t know where to begin and where to end. He was a such a big, multi-faceted man that lauding his magnanimity and successes would be next to impossible.

I consider myself blessed that I had already paid him a tribute—five years ago, when he was still strong enough to hear it.

After I left DYR-Alcantara, I decided to spend the rest of my life writing. In my very first inspirational book, it seemed so natural for me to write about him—how much influence he had over my career and how he figured in my life in a very unique way.

I say unique because of all the members of the staff, I was the only one with the same birthday as his. Well, we were born many years apart, but we were born on the same day, July 20.

At my book launch, he was invited by my publisher to grace the occasion—without my knowledge. He was in Virac at that time but he flew all the way to Manila to surprise me.

So in all the 20 years I was with DYR-Alcantara, I shared all his birthday parties. Rather, he shared them with me. The staff looked forward, every year, to surprising him with a party better than the last. Lest I spend all night talking about how we conspired to surprise him, let me just share with you an excerpt from my book “Gifts of Grace.”

“Those birthday parties were special, not because of their grandness (yes, they were grand!) but because of what they awakened in all of us. Two words, team spirit. That sense of community which made us work together as one. People of different ages, mindsets, schedules, positions, all worked hand-in-hand, on equal terms, once a year, for a special project for one special boss.

“On that big day, we were all in the same costume theme, eating the same food, drinking the same champagne, dancing to the same music, laughing at the same jokes, and enjoying the same party prepared by all. It was like being seated in a huge round table—no corners, no heads, no bosses.

“And it was all possible because one man was big-hearted enough to allow it. Mr. Sev was as much the giver as we were. Reflecting on those parties now, I clearly see a kindly man walking about in a deadpan manner through all the feverish preparations. I see his face lighting up in "surprise" at every party. He gamely played along because he knew.

“He knew that we didn't do it only for him, but for the spirit it drew from all of us.

“In this silent hour, I thank the Author of birthdays for this team spirit that came alive every July 20 in the last 20 years. I thank God especially for a man called Mr. Sev or SCA who gallantly gave of himself to be the impetus for this astonishing sense of community, and whose magical birthdays made me feel the magic of mine.”

So long, Mr. Sev . . . till we celebrate our birthday again in that place where everything is forever.  
(Photos above were taken at the launching of "Gifts of Grace" Book 1)


We Will Remember Derick

Why my nephew, Derick, was driving westbound on an eastbound lane on Eisenhower Avenue, Chicago that fateful night, we may now never know.

That fatal accident claimed five lives.

An email from a cousin has this to say, "The toxicology tests were all negative: no drugs or alcohol were found. It was obvious from the huge attendance at the wake (both nights), that Derick was loved and admired by many people. He had many grieving friends from high school, college, and work (including many of his patients).

"The funeral home had to put together 3 individual chapels to accommodate the crowd which still spilled over into the hallway. There was an overflow of beautiful flower arrangements and huge wreaths."

Whatever made him drive the wrong way, well, everything we say will now be just conjectures.

What I know of Derick, aged 29, was he had been a responsible, well-bred, and pleasant kid whom his parents and his older brother, Harold, were so proud of. He was a licensed Physical Therapist and was just promoted to a new position before the tragedy happened.

Meanwhile, although we grieve his passing, we leave our cares at the feet of our Maker.

In his memory, his closest friends put up a blogsite with URL below. May I invite you to visit it?


Trash It!

There has been too much on my plate lately.

I have papers to check, articles to write, and speeches to craft. My book manuscripts need reviewing and finishing. Not to mention our grief over the terrible way in which my 29-year-old nephew’s life was snuffed out; and now the demise of my former big boss who was a big presence in my first career.

What do I do?

I clean up my computer’s innards. I check each and every folder and find duplicate photos and manuscripts. I trash them. I check some more and discover old heavy files that I no longer need. I trash those, too. I uncover many different versions of the same power point presentation, drafts of speeches, forgotten stories, unsent letters, and discontinued projects.

Trash, trash, trash.                

Four gigs of garbage gone. I feel good. I feel clean. But it has been two hours of my time—time I would have put to better use by working on my priority A-list.

This got me pondering about how much garbage I carry around, weighing me down—a long-time grudge, unvoiced anger towards someone, an itch to change circumstances beyond my control, a feeling of unease from unanswered questions, and pain over the loss of loved ones. These don’t go away because they’re allowed to fester in the gut.

I guess that’s why trashing useless files seem so right. Amidst important chores, I need to take time to do it—like a catharsis of sorts.

Above my monitor are my Bibles, daily reminders of how a grace-dependent life must be led.

Psalms 55:22, written thousands of years before computer was even an idea, says exactly what one must do when the weighed-down heart needs to be cleared of dross. “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you. He will never let the righteous to be moved.”


Dirty Finger

We trekked to the polls—husband, two sons, and siak (Ilocano term for “me”). I have a dirty finger to prove it.   

 If you're unfamiliar with Philipine elections . . . after casting one's vote, the election officials pour a drop of indelible ink (which washes off after two weeks or so) onto your point finger to prevent multiple voting.

On election day such as this, I remember my father. He drummed into my and my siblings’ head that, “voting is our birthright as citizens of this country.”

Since voting runs in my blood, I might have passed it on to my children. Or they might have inherited it from my husband who believes that the primary duties of citizens are to pay their taxes and vote.

This election time, we voted in barangay (community) officials—the people who make our small community a safer and healthier place to live in.

For me, it was an exercise as important as presidential elections. We were electing the people we hobnob with every day. Just a phone call away, they will help solve our day-to-day problems (garbage, vandalism, robbery), and maintain our equanimity.

The windows of heaven poured down the blessings of heavy rainfall the night before. But on cue, the downpour stopped when the polls opened. Naturally, we walked on mud and sludge.

On our short drive home, we had dirty feet and dirty fingers. It was perfect. It was another day of grace.


Unimaginable Grief

Just when I was about to drift off to dreamland, after a restful, wonderful respite from stress with my siblings and their families at a resort south of Manila, I was roused by my husband who was informed of very tragic news from the US:

My nephew, Derick, figured in a fatal car accident—a head-on collision on the expressway. He was 29 and single.

The accident was flashed in all the major newspapers and on TV in that part of the US. It was shocking news. He rammed into another car with four passengers—all of them dead.

The suddenness and magnitude of the event stun all of us in our clan. Earlier, in our family reunion, we talked about an ailing cousin who is in her late 70’s. We were concerned about what would happen in the next few months.

But this accident—it is so . . . unexpected. Unimaginable.

Upon insistence of my sister through successive and frantic phone calls to kith and kin nearing midnight, I called my nephew’s mom—my cousin Hilda. I was afraid to call because I couldn’t summon the right words to lighten her grief. She was distraught and beyond. But I didn’t need to say much. In between sobs and wails, she did all the talking. And all I could whisper was a series of “I know.”

In truth and in fact, I know. I know how she feels. Being a mom myself, I could feel the depth of her grief. At this time, she doesn’t need words--not from me or anyone. She simply needs to talk and to be reassured that she is not alone in her anguish. She isn’t.

We, her family, are with her, with her husband, and with her one other son in a circle of love and prayer across the globe. And as you read this, please be with us in prayer, as well, for the strength and comfort of Hilda and her family.

On my knees, I pray for extensive and intensive grace: to make me unequivocally trust in—not necessarily understand—Him; why things are the way they are. Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”


Frenzied Friday

The clock is quickly ticking and I can't seem to get it right.

Page after page, nothing is flowing as well as it should. Too many things going on at the same time.

 I have a talk in a few hours and my manuscript is halfway done. I have to beat a deadline for my magazine column but I simply can't squeeze enough time to craft it. Then there's the folio I need to send out and it isn't as good as I imagined it to be.

Focus, focus, focus.

One step at a time.

"Prioritize," I always tell my students, and now I am saying it to myself.

I can't blog when my mind is in all directions all at once.

What a frenzied Friday. Gotta find that old hymn: "Grace, grace, God's grace, grace that will pardon and cleanse within; grace, grace, God's grace, grace that is greater than all our sin."

Tomorrow will be better.


Old Circles

Two reunions are simultaneously being organized by my long-time friends from high school and more-recent friends from college. The organizers have set up e-groups for easier communication.   

Almost every day, I read a message from someone whose name is oh-so-familiar but whose face I could hardly recall. But Images of days long gone come flashing back.

I look at what I am doing today and what I did in those days and there seems to be no straight path to how I got here.

“Plan for your future,” we parents often tell our children. “You should know what you want and work hard to get it.”

I recall much of what happened in the past but I don’t recall having any game plan. I have always wanted to write but that was not what I pursued. I took up a post graduate course because it seemed like the in thing to do. After that—well, one thing led to another. There were kids to attend to, a family to keep together, and a career that held challenges.

It has all been a series of when . . .

When my husband got me a job in advertising (he must have read boredom all over me) before the babies started coming, I had no idea what advertising was all about. But I stayed there for over 20 years.

When I got out of advertising, I didn’t know what to do next, except to continue with the passion that had laid dormant all those years—writing.

When I started writing, I was clueless on what to do with my manuscripts.

When I write (a story, an essay, or whatever I feel like writing), I am not sure whether it is going to be published or not. A good thing there is this blogsite.

These are days for looking-back-to-old-circles-of-friends—reunion time and reflection time. I am discovering caches of memories between then and now.

What amazes me is this realization: I-did-not-make-things-happen. They happened because I followed what seemed to be the right choices among those that were shown my way in every stage of my life.

It has always been the Force far greater than my finite mind that made things possible for me to travel from point A to point B to point C and to the point where I am today.

It has always been grace at work. Simply put, I have always been grace dependent. And I will be, until the circle of God's children meet for the greatest reunion in eternity.


Inside and Outside

Over the weekend I was invited to one of the branches of National Bookstore for book signing. At the event, Jay, an engaging storyteller from Alitaptap (firefly), an organization of storytellers, read the book "Teo's cockatoo" to the children, after which the participants competed in a coloring contest.

About 25 kids, accompanied by their yayas (sitters) and mothers, enjoyed the activities—judging by their noise. They were excited over their signed books and other purchases.

From one corner of my eye I saw a little boy in a black t-shirt craning his neck and peeking from the outside, through the glass frontage. The activities were for free—he could have easily come in and joined the rest of the kids. I wondered why he didn’t.

After all the kids had left, I lolled around. It was nice and cool inside the bookstore. The air conditioning was in full blast and the activity area was spruced up for the occasion.

Getting out of the bookstore, I was assaulted by warm, humid air. It was unbelievably hot, a reminder of the gloom of global warming. Walking towards my husband, I was nudged from behind. Why, it was the boy in black looking in through the glass!

He was carrying a plastic container with a few pieces of suman (native rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves). Sweaty from the heat of the afternoon sun, he said, “These suman are good. Would you like to buy one?” Since there were just a few pieces left, I thought he might have had a good sale that day.

My husband, who always says, “no child should ever be made to work for a living,” beat me to the draw. He bought not one, but all. But not before I could take the boy’s photo. He was excited to pose for me with his suman, which would become ours soon after that.

I couldn’t quite put a finger to what I felt. Inside the air conditioned bookstore were children who bought a lot of my books. Outside, in the sweltering heat, was a boy who can never afford one—and has probably never even read a children’s book.

I talked to myself, which is what happens when I want to make myself feel better, “You can’t write books for all children, you know.”

“Why not?”

There has to be an answer to my own question.


Flowers in My Neighborhood

This post is all about flora. So what is this fauna critter doing here?

Those beady eyes staring at you saw everything my own eyes saw: the beautiful flowers in my neighborhood:

I decided to break my own rule one day at dawn and not walk as briskly as I have been doing the past seven years. Yes, it’s been that long since I took up walking—the best advise any doctor ever gave me. I wanted to finally—now that I have a lightweight digicam—capture in perpetuity the flowers which make brisk walking such a breathtaking experience.

The houses in my neighborhood, beginning with mine, are modest and have low fences. From the road, one can see people puttering around their gardens at the break of a new day. They always manage to say a nice thing or two, aside from “Good morning.”

There is always a profusion of varied flowers in all colors and hues because I suspect the love for flora is catching.

“The seedling you gave me now has four buds.”

“Good, tomorrow, they will bloom!”

I began my walk later than my usual 5 AM. I wanted a hint of the morning sun which always makes the flowers spring into life before one’s still-sleepy eyes.

As I aimed my camera at my first subject, the dog in the photo above suddenly appeared out of nowhere and posed in front of me, as though it wanted to be my first subject. I ignored this mysterious mutt, of course. I needed to focus. And this wasn’t a day for fauna.

But it literally dogged me, from garden to garden. It stopped when I stopped. It looked where I looked. And it walked where I walked. By the time I got to my last shot, it was still there. “I’m done, you may go now.” But it just stood there, looking up at me, unblinking. I blinked, and took its photo. It left me alone after that and quickly—too quickly—went on its way.

By this time, the whole neighborhood of garden people was awake, singing its morning greetings, while the flowers’ vivid colors glinted with the sun and danced with the wind.

So early in the morning and already, grace was all a-bloom!