First-ever Rizal Monument

I was all agog to blog about why I went to Daet, Camarines Norte. But since we are commemorating Jose Rizal’s martyrdom today, I decided to postpone that post and instead blog about Rizal’s first-ever monument in Daet, which is 110 years old!

Yes, by grace, I was right there—at the foot of this historic memorial marker for the Philippine National Hero.

This three-tiered, 15-foot stone pylon, with two-level triangles, was completed in February 1899, two months after construction begun. It was erected in compliance with a decree by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, president of the revolutionary government, to observe Dec. 30 as a national holiday in the “Free Philippines.” Camarines Norte was the first province to celebrate Rizal Day.

A popular tourist attraction, this monument is 14 years older than the most recognized Rizal Monument in Luneta in Manila.

Inscribed on the square podium are Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo; and Morga, author of Sucesos de las islas Filipinas in 1609, a book which recognized the Philippines as a civilization even prior to the coming of the Spaniards. On both sides of the top triangle are: a sun, a star, and “A Jose Rizal” (To Jose Rizal).

“Where’s Rizal?” I asked my host, Rex Bernardo. He laughed. “What makes this monument different from other Rizal monuments is that is does not bear Rizal’s image.”

According to Daet Mayor Tito Sarion, whom I personally met, the province of Camarines Norte holds grandeous Dec. 30 rites there, which includes a re-enactment of Rizal’s martyrdom on the streets, ending at the Monument.

“While in Daet, visit it. Or it would be a tragedy of monumental proportions,” Mayor Sarion stressed.

I was able to take shots of the original (top photo), including the smaller replica (photo collage) erected in another park. It's correct to say, my Daet experience was a monumental success!


Christmas Rituals

For the past five years, since JB and Gianina left for the US (where Adrian was born), it’s just been the four of us—Tony, JC, JR and moi.

On Christmas, we celebrate the coming of our King, and His gift of family, through age-old rituals.

One of them is shopping for and preparing a turkey, which takes at least two days. With the economic crisis, we considered scrapping this particular ritual, but I guess we take family traditions seriously. They connect the joyful days of our past to the hopeful nights of our future.

The rituals of our lives shape the journey of a family in its quest for lasting relationships. They make us feel we belong to a God-given inner circle where we learn to love unconditionally, overlooking and forgiving imperfections.

"Rituals," according to Robert Fulghum, “are repeated patterns of meaningful acts.”

There is something meaningful about putting together a special Christmas eve dinner, begun with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving for grace given to every member of the family, present around the table or somewhere miles away.

There is something warm about gathering beside a fully lit tree, opening gifts symbolic of the greatest Gift ever received by man. There is something spectacular about snapping happy moments of grace.

The rituals of our lives today are topics for reflection of God's love tomorrow.

What better time to have the best of them than on Christmas eve?

The turkey this year is only 6.7 kilos—but good for four servings. Dinner, breakfast (sandwich), lunch (tortilla filling), afternoon snack (salad), and dinner on Christmas day (paksiw or vinegared stew).

JR was our cooking chef and JC, our eating chef. Tony and I alternated as photographers.

In His infinite goodness, God blessed us with a family with whom we could celebrate His coming to earth with the rituals of our lives.

(P.S. My tree this year matches my blog site. Yellow ribbons and sunflowers. If Jesus were born in this country today, I would tie yellow ribbons everywhere and strew his manger with sunflowers to welcome Him!)

Grace at Christmas

On Christmas day over 2,000 years ago, the Savior of mankind was born in a lowly manger. The Word was made flesh. And grace came free.

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas!

"And the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14


Tearful Tuesday

While I was away in Daet, Camarines Norte, for a book talk over the weekend, Justice fell ill.

Her Vet had earlier postponed giving her a shot of anti-parvo-virus because she was still on anti-biotics.

Unfortunately, parvo virus couldn't wait and hit Justice hard in her weakened condition. She was rushed to the hospital (again!).

When I came home, Justice was gone.

This proves, once again, that nothing on earth is permanent. But His grace is, till He comes again.


Justice Cometh

Attorney, our pet dog (a marvelous mutt), has a new friend. Rather, a new pet whom we hope would be her friend.

She's a beautiful black and brown beagle. Her name? Justice.

Justice, a gift from my friend, Baby, completes our home court. And Attorney and Justice lived happily ever after.

Not quite, your Honor.

On the first day Justice was home, Attorney snarled. Tony tried his best to keep them chummy as you can see.

But while we were not looking, Attorney—used to being the center of our universe—found a way to escape her leash and bit Justice on the neck. This caused us to rush her to the dog hospital where her wound was stitched. The Vet prescribed anti-biotics. Tony had to buy Justice a new, separate cage.

Week 2. Despite our caution and care, Attorney got to Justice again, bit her on the neck and this time, wouldn’t let go. My whole brood went to the rescue, their voices reaching the Himalayas, trying to stop Attorney from harming her new “friend.”

In the process, our househelp Jen was bitten by Justice—all five fingers of her left hand.

These called for emergency measures. Justice had to be stitched again; and Jen had to be injected with anti-rabies.

The saga between Attorney and Justice will continue—I hope not forever. Grace will come and peace will be in the horizon. We are all working on it—like a community project, where everyone is involved and committed to the day of completion.


Changing Cebu (Part 2)

My latest book, “Crying Children,” features a song. In fact, the whole story revolves around this one song. Unfortunately, I only have words, not notes. I earlier asked a friend to put it to music for me, but she has been busy.

So when the time came for me to tell the story of “Crying Children” at the Childlink Center in Cebu, I had no tune for my song. But I decided to sing the song just the same—inventing the notes as I went along. Trouble was, singing is not one of my gifts. My notes kept changing with every paragraph. And if you ask me now to sing the song again, I will have an entirely different melody.

After the story telling, Lynnie (my most gracious host) decided to give away some copies of the book and I invented (again!) a game right there. “Sing one paragraph of the song to any tune and get a free book!”

One by one the children sang the song to a lovely lullaby tune—infinitely better than mine, with much better voices too!

I wish I had time to record the songs—any of them could be the tune I have been looking for. But as in all my trips to Cebu, I had limited time. We had to hop to the next activity.

So little time and so much grace!


Changing Cebu (Part 1)

Each time I go to Cebu it feels as though the landscape has changed. I was there in May, and suddenly the buildings that weren't there then are standing tall now. People don't seem to sleep anymore.

On my last night, after a leisurely dinner with dear friends Lynnie and Carol, and a trek to our favorite spa for aromatherapy, people dressed to the nines were out in the streets walking, chatting, and simply having a nice time.

Cebu's changing and changing—moving faster, farther, and higher.

I had a chance to meet hundreds of new friends in both my talks in Childlink Center and at the JC International's “Read to Lead” Program.

And a surprise awaited me. The University of Southern Philippines thespians performed “Look for the Star” on stage! I felt like Shakespeare whose plays have been staged all over the world—maybe more than a million times.

Okay, I am stretching the comparison a little bit (a lot) because my stories have been staged—well, twice. (A year ago, the dramatic guild of the University of the Philippines staged “No Lipstick for Mother.”)

It is an honor beyond measure to be accorded such a beautiful staging.

I was interviewed by Tribo of The Freeman, who has been my great e-pal for two years (I send him my columns by-weekly.), but whom I met only for the first time. Then there was Mai-Mai and the OMFLit staff who are probably the world's nicest people. Lynnie spoils me rotten.

And the food! Burp.

There is always a change inside of me as I take one last look at changing Cebu from above the clouds. And up there, maybe closer to the One who blesses me with these flights, I feel the highest altitude of grace.   



Off to Cebu!

In a few minutes, I should be heading to the airport for Cebu. I am scheduled to attend some activities, do some story telling, and be interviewed by The Freeman and the Cebu Daily News.  
I'll be back in two days.


Breaking Bread at Bawai's

I don’t normally do restaurant reviews but I will make an exception with Bawai’s, a Vietnamese restaurant with a difference.                                                                            

It is not your regular kind of restaurant where people come and go, ordering from a menu at random.

Bawai’s Vietnamese Kitchen is tucked away in a small road in Tagaytay, where retirees settle. It is actually a house—where the living room has been converted into a restaurant. First, you need to reserve and order ahead of time. Second, it is open only on weekends for lunch and dinner. Third, you need to ring a bell for the door to be opened.

Bawai is Vietnamese for grandmother. And yes, it is a grandmother, Yong, who does all the cooking. What makes Yong’s food particularly special is, all ingredients are imported from Vietnam. So there is that foreign, yet oddly familiar exotic taste that makes one think of a far-away land and home at the same time.

Bawai’s has been featured on TV and magazines. Word-of-mouth is its only advertising.

It was JR’s treat so he took care of the reservation and orders—he sure made some excellent choices: light but filling.

One other thing that makes Bawai’s a place worth visiting is that it reminds you of family dining; and you feel filial fondness for your grandma who always lovingly prepares food that is warmed with grace.


Pineapple Hut on a Hill

Scenes like this abound in Tagaytay—that cool, cool city south of Manila. And each pineapple plantation has a hut on a hill.

When I took this shot down a beaten path, I was reminded of Andrew Wyeth's “Christina's World.” There is no visual similarity, really. Wyeth didn't even paint pineapples. But the serenity and peace in the wide, wide open space give one the same feelings of serenity and peace that don't come in the busy, frazzled world of an urbanite.

The grace to enjoy scenes such as this makes every travel to the many places outside of Manila worth the long drive.

At the end of this month, we will travel to our clan reunion up the mountains of Antipolo where the grace to enjoy (again!) nature's bounty awaits.