First Day of School

For six months, I was into everything but teaching at the university where I have been a lecturer, once a week, for the past eight years.

All too soon, my one-semester leave expires. Rested and revved up, I throw away my jeans and flip-flops for skirts and high heels.

A stickler for promptness, I am in school one hour before my 8’o’clock class. At this time, students are still yawning their way into their uniforms at home.

I expect to be greeted by the ice cream man in the lobby. It has been a tradition for students and faculty to be treated to as much ice cream as you can lick on the first day of school. He greets me all right, offering a three-scoop cone which would have sent my blood sugar soaring.

 But early in the morning my defenses are still up. Like a mouse from a cat, I scampered.

However, two strange scenes stop me: a sanitizer by the door, and a masked nurse waiting to take my temperature.

Signs of troubled times indeed! The A(H1N1) virus scare keeps us all leery and weary. I am grateful to the school officers for taking steps to contain it (like postponing the opening of classes), but sights like this jolt us into staring at the precariousness of life.

 Fortunately, these days, believers are hanging by an unbreakable thread called grace. Otherwise, we’d all be racing each other down to the pit of hopelessness.


Farrah Fawcett's Jill Munroe

Farrah Fawcett’s death on the same day as Michael Jackson’s is getting much less column inches in periodicals and airtime on broadcast media. But it gets 100% space on this cyber page because Farrah meant a lot to the young bride and mother that I was in the 70’s.

Busy with an exacting job in advertising at daytime and occupied with my baby boys at nighttime, I de-stressed once a week by watching Charlie’s Angels, which might have been produced for the likes of me. Farrah represented the opposite of who I was. As Jill Munroe, she was the sporty and athletic angel playing various sports on the show. I was not into sports (and never will be) but those who are never cease to fascinate me.

I was not alone in my enchantment of her. The world felt as I did. Those of you who are familiar with the 70’s will remember the poster (above) of Farrah. It was first published in Life magazine in 1976, and it is the best-selling pin-up poster of all time.

These days I don’t watch much TV except when American Idol is on. Because now that I am soaking in the joy of writing about grace, I have declared TV (Tony, JR, and the rest of the TV fanatics out there will pulverize me for saying this) to be the greatest time-waster of all.

Farrah’s demise at age 62 makes me look back at my TV-viewing days when a Jill Munroe’s spark and spunk gave my stifling week a space in which to breathe.

Thank you, Farrah, a.k.a. Jill Munroe.


Tiny Red Dots

The time has come for my ClustrMaps to be archived:

I am surprised and delighted at how many cyber friends visited my site in 365 days. My cyber list of guests says 125 countries in all! That number never figured in my imagination when I started out blogging. Oh, the wonders of the internet.

On the first day after this one-year-old map was taken down, my new map was bald, naturally, except for one spot on Philippine shore where a teeny red dot seemed to pulse with life.

And now, four days later, I see many new dots. I marvel at how they trickle in and surprise me each time. My son JC, a techie, laughed when he heard me gushing over this ordinary occurrence (to him), but extraordinary phenomenon (to me).

I guess that’s how I see grace. It comes in every little dot—in red, or any color, and as I write, even in black and white.



My doctor just warned me about my rising blood sugar. He gave me a list of food I can stare at but not eat. Here's one. I am staring . . . and staring . . . and staring.

I am praying hard, really hard, for the grace of self-restraint.


Hibiscus for Leddy

Leddy was more of a cousin than the cousin-in-law that she actually was. When she married my first cousin, Benny, and came into our clan, it was as though she had been a part of the family tree and bloodline from birth.

She was diagnosed with leukemia in August last year. Since then, she had been in and out of the hospital for chemotherapy and blood transfusion. But Leddy, a fellow believer of God’s grace, and whom I have always admired for her simplicity and philosophy on material wealth (“I always have more money than I need) would say, “I have been blessed enough, I don’t want to ask for anything more.”

She refused to take a second round of treatments. She instead opted to spend her last days with her family.

Leddy is now with God’s angels, most likely worshiping along with them, singing
praises to our Lord and King whom she served with unquestionable dedication and commitment.

Those of you who knew Leddy will remember her through a brightly-colored hibiscus flower (orange petals with pink eye and ruffled petals), as beautiful as the way she lived her life.

In her honor, it has been named by the Institute of Plant Breeding, “Ledivina V. Carino.”



Unforgettable Photo

This photo was taken when I was six.

I could never forget why I wasn't smiling despite the photographer's hilarious antics, which rivaled those of a circus clown.

It was the last day of our town fiesta, the highlight of the one-week celebration: Coronation Night.

Miss Umingan was to be crowned by a big-name guest from Manila (it was either a congressman, a basketball player, or a movie star). And I was chosen as the crown bearer—you know, the little underling anointed to carry the crown to the throne.

My job was to march (in a long gown of haute couture that matched the queen's, and with hair permed to the max) slowly to the throne carrying the precious glittery crown, perched on a matching glittery pillow, and I would just stand there, smile, be cute, till the the important guest moved the crown to the queen's royal head.

Even as a child I was terrified of loud bangs. I hated (still do!) firecrackers. But those loud bangers came with town fiestas, especially on coronation nights. I kept jumping in my seat before I could even march. When I was given the crown to finally start marching, another loud bang startled me. And my chin landed on the tip of the crown.

That split-second jerk nipped my chin and flattened the crown's apex. Yet, I had to march!

I got to the throne intact, but the crown looked smashed and my chin was hurting. In my shoes, would you have smiled?

To this day, whenever I see this photo, I could recall what was going on in my mind: I wish firecrackers were banned from the face of the earth—forever.

I still wish the same thing, especially on New Year's Eve, but by grace, I can now grin and bear it.


XDYR Welcomes Lucy!

After nine years in the US of A, Lucy comes home for a short vacation. Naturally, all of us, her XDYR friends, are falling over ourselves in welcoming her.

XDYR—my favorite letters in the alphabet—is a group of over 200 friends who were once colleagues at DYR (the acronym of the advertising agency where choice led us all) in various eras.

The X means, well, ex—past, gone, yesterday. But this particular X is sort of indestructible; it has been fortified with grace, which has welded all the X's together in mysterious ways.

We see each other rarely—once in a blue moon, in fact—but we are drawn together on Facebook and an e-mail e-group. And somehow, the bond has been like Portland cement after all of nine years since the ad agency became extinct, splitting into two distinctly different joints—one named after D, and the other, after YR.

When Lucy emails she is coming home, cyburbia gets manic. What an excuse to have an eye-ball after a, uh, millennium. In record time, someone or some-two or some-three organize three get-togethers, one of which is at Boy P’s summer palace in Tagaytay on a Saturday.

We trek to the hills and our path is directed by signs like this.

Boy P, one of the world's greatest hosts in my book, took no chances. Some of us had been to his grand villa-retreat-getaway-hotelish-resort mansion before, but we are always on the verge of getting lost. As soon as we get there, the gluey potion that is labeled XDYR gives everyone a high.  

Pandemonium and melee ensue when Lucy arrives. The many years that separated us all go. . . pooof! Sure, torsos now have paunches, mops of hair are gray, faces are lined, arms sport flabs, and figures are, well, disfigured, but everyone's spirit has remained unchanged.

Then Lucy belts out, “Why, we all look better now than we did before!”

These photos show that for once, our dearest friend Lucy—queen of hyperbole—speaks the naked truth.

Photo credits: Ronald, Tom, and . . . sorry, due to failing memory I can't remember. 


Cory: Humility of the Highest Order

No doubt about it, former President Cory Aquino was a paragon of humility. During her term, she preferred to be called "Cory." She was photographed wearing her simple clothes over and over again. Her parties were subdued and spartan. She flew in economy class.

At the end of her term, she stepped down with nary a sign of lust for power. And she kept insisting she was just a transition president from dictatorship to democracy.

But humility is often forgotten and ignored. Like all other virtues, it is clouded by more interesting scandals on sex videos, overpricing, and grand-scale corruption.

I had just read the newspaper headline that morning—it was another one of those juicy gossips about celebrities. That was playing in my mind when my sister, Aie, walked me to the World Vision Building where I was to facilitate a writing workshop.

After we turned right at the first corner, Aie pointed to a small, simple house, the roof of which was only a bit higher that the short height of its gate. I couldn’t see the house but it's definitely nothing to write home about.

“That’s Cory’s house,” she said.

I knew Cory lived in an ordinary house but I didn’t expect one which was the size of a low-cost subdivision box. “Cory’s house?!”

“There’s the marker,” she stressed.

I took two photographs—from two different angles. But the house of the former president of the Republic of the Philippines still looked the same. A structure of basic lines, and nothing else.

The newspaper headline seemed suddenly so miniscule. The teeny house was more important than any news I have read that day. It spoke to me of humility, a virtue that was consistently lived by the Savior.

May His grace, in all its abundance, make me see it well and live it, too—consistently.


Two Generations of Fans

I have always valued the opinions of former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Isagani A. Cruz. He is a legal luminary with formidable credentials.

Okay, I am a fan.

So when I see him and his wife walking into the restaurant where Tony and I are having lunch, the only thing that comes to my mind is to have a photo with him.

“You can't do that to a Justice,” Tony says while slurping his Peking duck soup. “Give dignity to the profession,” he adds.

I ponder that. Sometimes Tony has a point.

Then from the door, a young mother and a girl about five rush to our direction. “You're Ms. Grace D. Chong, aren't you?” she asks. “My daughter is a fan of yours. She loves your books! In fact, we’re trying to complete our collection. May I take your picture with my daughter?”

“Sure, my pleasure!” I say, inviting the little girl to sit beside me. Her pretty little face beams. And I mutter, there is dignity in this!             

After a few exchanges with the little girl, her mother says, “Okay, say good-bye to Ms. Chong.” Then they join the table of—Isagani A. Cruz! They both give the famous man a buss on the cheek, signifying he is the father and grandfather of both, respectively.

As soon as we pay our bill, I walk over to their table to say good-bye to the little girl, and say “Hi” to her grandfather.

While I talk to Isagani A. Cruz, Tony blurts out from behind me, “Justice Cruz, may I take your picture with my wife? She is a fan of yours.”

“Why yes!” his wife eagerly replies. And like the gentleman that he is, the Justice stands up and gamely poses for our photo.

The young mother and her daughter light up and explain to the Justice who I am.

There is sunshine in my steps as Tony and I walk out of the restaurant, ever thankful for walk-in grace.

But I wanted to have the last laugh, “There's always dignity in a photo op, isn't there?”

Tony deadpans, “I took your picture, didn't I?”

Sometimes he has a point.