Mamma Mia!

Nobody could have predicted that Abba’s timeless songs would create a phenomenon years after their heyday. When Mamma Mia! (based on Abba’s tunes) premiered at the West End on April 6, 1999, it became the biggest smash hit musical in almost 20 years!

And wonder of wonders, I happen to have a CD of the original cast recording.

I  plead guilty to one vice—collecting original cast recording of stage musicals (either Broadway or the West End, depending where the musical was first staged). To date, I have close to 300 CD’s, a lot of which are gifts from Minna, my best cousin who lives in New York. I think it’s apt to call her now Minna Mia!

When Minna Mia! learned of my collection years ago, she’d send me the latest musicals through friends who’d fly in to the Philippines. Over the years she’s also been sending via balikbayan (back-to-the-country) boxes or cart them herself.

So five years after its premier, Mamma Mia! became the world’s no. 1 musical show, with more productions playing simultaneously worldwide than any other.

And now Mamma Mia! the movie. The musical arrangement is so much more spirited, more vibrant, more unpredictable than my CD’s. The storytelling and musical numbers are fast-paced, like an MTV, lighthearted and oftentimes deliciously silly. The movie doesn’t take itself seriously and neither do the excellent cast. Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and the rest amuse, tickle, and cheer. The movement is fluid, constant and bursting with energy.

Abba’s music! It’s perfect on a fantasy Greek Island, where the movie takes place.

Unfortunately, there was only one other couple (aside from Tony and me) in the movie house at the last full show. Humanity missed half of its life; but two couples had the whole theater all to themselves to sing and dance in their seats. It was a raucous night.

Mental note: I should buy the movie soundtrack recording. 

Then surprise, surprise, my friend Lucy from Palm Springs, California (Lucy Mia!) hears my thoughts and sends me the soundtrack.

Grace, grace, it’s everywhere.


How to Wear Your Sunglasses

1) Hold them firmly with both hands.

2) Put them up on your mouth and pause a little.

3) Try hard to get them past your upper lip.

4) Make them settle on your nose as they cover both your eyes.
5) Voila! Smile for a job well done.

It’s been three months since Adrian’s two-week visit to the Philippines. I am surprised at how many more teeth he has and how his motor functions have developed. He's all of 14 months.

Poring over his photos—and sharing them with cyber friends—is the next best thing to watching him grow up in person.

Adrian’s photos are not only posted on Leaves of Grace, they are stored in the hard disk of his grandma’s grateful heart.


Five Unsolved Puzzles

Mornings are always a puzzle, five puzzles! I get to solve five crosswords in a row—after finishing my 7,000-step walk and before breakfast. I do this from one half to one hour in our veranda while the rising sun rouses the neighborhood.

Every weekday, Tony brings home from his office five dailies (The Phil. Star, Phil. Daily Inquirer, Business world, The Manila Bulletin, and The Manila Times). They all have a crossword puzzle. He attempts to solve all of them between his meetings and work. But that’s about it—he attempts. He has yet to finish one.

The leftover blank boxes—which are many, on good days—are mine. The wrong entries—which are also many and which take some brain twisting to undo—are also mine. Although I find much pleasure in filling up the blank squares, I find much more joy in undoing the wrong answers. More challenging!

What a mundane activity, you might say. Well, as I have experienced, it matters not how mundane or how spectacular an activity is. What counts really is the amount or quality of fun you get from it.

Reflecting upon God’s grace on this blog and my books, the most mundane tasks are often those that allow me to feel the vastness of joy.

I am grateful that I have not turned callous and cynical in my olden years.

On the contrary, I have become less of a perfectionist and now delight in the mundane—such as five unfinished crossword puzzles at sunrise!


Birthday Blessings

Through loved ones, family, friends, friends, and friends in all of 366 (2008 is a leap year) days since my last birthday, grace had been at work.

Now, what about the next 365 days? Hey, let’s take it one day at a time. I look forward to growing in years and in faith, and discovering more ways of investing the rest of my days in writing about life's chiaroscuro.

Today, I thank my friends for their email and text greetings. I also thank Tony, JC, JB, Gianina, Adrian, and JR for these surprises:                           

A chatty dinner at Circles, Makati Shangri-la. The boys thought Chinatown food is infinitely yummier. Well, they could say anything they wanted, I was determined to enjoy every morsel.

Appetizer or main course? For me, nothing beats juicy, fresh oysters anytime of day. We used to have them almost every day, fresh from the sea, in the town where I was born (Agoo, la Union) for free. Tonight, the boys just had to pay for them through their teeth.                                                 

Lamb chops with mint jelly, main course or appetizer? In the town where I grew up (Umingan, Pangasinan), we had goat meat, cooked in five different ways. We had boggoong (fish sauce) instead of mint jelly.

Dessert? The raspberry jelly is sugar free; the rest, well, I allow myself some guilty pleasures one day a year, the 20th of this month. The photo does not include a tall glass of halo-halo (mixed native sweets with crushed ice). We had no chocolate fountains in those days but we sure had the best halo-halo under the big tamarind tree in the wet market.

I have been around so long, times and foods have changed!

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with Whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
James 1:17


My Messy Bed

This mess is heaped upon my bed once a year, at least. Those multi-colored thingies are clear books—you know, folders containing plastic pockets where you can file photos and documents.

No table at home is big enough to carry this mess. So I lock up myself in the bedroom all day—taking a short lunch break—and organize my writing life in these bright memory filers.

There have been heaps of photos, documents, and press clippings since I started writing. In the beginning I simply threw them inside a cabinet.

A year later, however, I met a lady who wanted me to write about her sterling career that had ended. I hesitated. But when she showed me her color-coded, chronologically-filed photographs and documents—wow, a writer’s dream! The complete collection was so impressive I said “yes” to doing the project.

While writing her book, I saw why she documented everything. This career had her heart and soul.

That spurred me to dig up my own writing mementos and started storing them in these folders. Nothing fancy about my filing—no artsy labels or witty captions. I simply arrange them chronologically, scribble the dates, and put the items in the pockets. For easier filing, I have color-coded these folders: one color for each book.

When I am gone, these will interest no one. My boys will not throw them away (in deference to their mother); they will enshrine them in some space where dust will gather.

Well, I am not doing these for them. I have done enough—kept for each one in albums his photographs from the day of birth to college graduation.

I am doing these for me. While I arrange and review this colorful mess, my heart leaps at how grace has steered me towards a writing career—one that gives me so much enthusiasm and energy I never thought I could ever have.


Work of Special Hands

Eleven Million people were murdered in the Holocaust, that’s what history tells us. To this day, I can’t imagine how such a genocide could have happened in such a manner. The murdered people came from different parts of society—one of which was the disabled.

My sister Aie brought me home from Germany—where she attended a three-week conference—a special pasalubong (arrival gift). It’s a cell phone case.

What is so special about it? It looks like a fabric pouch anybody can make.

Well, it was not made just by anybody. It was made by special hands—hands of people with Down Syndrome. They (and other disabled people), Aie said, are very important in Germany and are part of mainstream society. The government takes care of them so they could be as productive as any citizen. They are nurtured, schooled, trained, and employed!

Knowing I am writing a book on people with disability (PWD), Aie bought my cell phone case from a place called Werraland, where all the workers have Down Syndrome. Those she got to talk to were conversant, adept at, and mighty proud of what they do.

Germany today has many factories or plants that employ only PWD. These shops are suppliers to big companies. Yes, workplaces for PWD are institutionalized. And the working conditions are tailor-fitted to their needs. However you want to call it—reparation, atonement, guilt-trip, or apology for what was done during the Nazi regime—it is something other countries, ours included, need to emulate soon.

I will keep this treasure within touching distance as grace enables me to continue writing about the PWD, their needs and their right to the same quality of life able-bodied/normal people enjoy.


When I Am an Old Woman

I Shall Wear Purple 
This yellowing, tattered book sat in a small second-hand bookshop in Bohol as though whispering in my ear, “Buy me, I am yours.”

Ok, it’s mine now.

It reminds me of my mother. Through my eyes as a child, she was always old; and she often wore purple. When she passed on, we knew what she’d have wanted to wear for the last time—a purple chiffon dress with a matching scarf to cover the goiter that came with her twilight years.

But reading the poem, which is the title of this book by Jenny Joseph, I now know it also speaks of me:

When I Am an Old Woman

When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple,
With a red hat which doesn't go and doesn't suit me . . .

Happy colors I’ve always loved on today’s clothes and accessories. Unlike some people who choose an era and stay there, I like being in the current era. That’s why, today, when friends see clothes, bags, shoes, and blings in malls, they say, “That’s very Grace.”

When I was younger, nobody really cared about how I dressed. But as I age, I hear words like “Bizarre” “Flamboyant” “Loud” and “Ano ba yaaaan!” (Translation: What on earth are you wearing? Are you mad? Act your age!) They exaggerate.

I guess people have boxes in their minds about clothes: people of different ages should dress differently. And purple is not for aging women.

Well, it is for Jenny Joseph. And it is for me. I shall wear purple and all the colors of the rainbow (plus gold and silver) here, there, and everywhere. (Now you know why this site has such audacious colors.)

Call it defiance, as what this book seems all about, but I call it . . . the way I am (?) or maybe, aging with grace.

Any problem with that?


My July 4

The crossword puzzle in one of the dailies today had this clue: Today. It called for 15 letters. A tough one.

I moved to another clue somewhere in the middle: Honoree today. It needed another 15 letters. It got tougher.

And the last clue for the same number of letters at the bottom of the puzzle: Colors of today.

I finally got it. Red white and blue!

Today of course is Independence Day. And the honoree today is? You guessed right, United States of America.

I could have easily guessed it myself. On July 4, (Philippine-American Friendship Day in our country), Tony and I commemorate our wedding anniversary. But then again, it wouldn't have dawned on us early enough. Hadn’t our son JC greeted us at the breakfast table, Tony and I would have had to wait for more clues to remember.

Someone would remind us during the day, that’s for sure. Our pastor sent me his greetings one hour later through a text message, which I forwarded to Tony. From son JB, wife Gianina and grandson Adrian, we got gift certificates later in the afternoon for dinner at the Makati Shangri-la.

People remember, friends and loved ones remember. Now, why do Tony and I forget?

I guess that after years of marriage, which saw us through many tragedies—deaths of both our parents, our son Adrian, his only sister and only brother, loved ones, and close friends; sicknesses—not to count Tony’s bout with colon cancer which would have cut short his life fourteen years ago, and again a heart quadruple bypass four years later, my three surgeries, and many, many more crises, every day is a celebration.

Every morning when I open my eyes, I am thankful for another day of grace. Among our manifold blessings are three sons who grew up (despite their mother's motherly ineptness) to be fine young men who love God, in a richly textured life filled with life lessons that I write in books and blogs.

We don’t and can't wait a year to celebrate—a new day is always the best time for thanksgiving. And July 4 (without meaning to diminish its significance) is one of God’s grace works, as important as yesterday, and all the 365 days of the year.


So Long, Sonia . . .

Sonia was my sister in everything but blood and genes. She lived a life that taught me many things about growing in faith.

I will allow myself to grieve. But, as Sonia used to say, “In adversity, always be on the lookout for grace. Grace makes everything that seems unbearable bearable.”

May we—the friends she left behind—continue to be faithful.