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.