Difficult Days

Writing these past three weeks has been difficult. MyDSL has been acting up. On, off, on, off.

Despite daily calls to PLDT, nada. Some PLDT guys came once to check the problem, and while they were here, the problem seemed to have been solved. But after they left, MyDSL came and went again. It's a miracle I am able to blog at all.

Just when I am about to send an email, pffft. Or when I am about to upload a manuscript, blink. Or while looking up a Bible passage, ooops. In the middle of a conversation on Vonage, dut, dut, dut.

What makes this problem even more frustrating is the very heavy advertising of PLDT MyDSL to entice new users: "Instant connection!" Now, how about faithful users like me?

An OMF Lit School Tour came to the rescue. Instead of fuming and whining before my computer monitor, I went to four schools in a row and shared my experiences as a writer to large crowds of energetic children.

One last school tomorrow, after which I have to attend the Christian Writers Fellowship where I was invited to talk about “The Writing Habit.” Below is the e-poster that the organizers prepared for this purpose.

As I've always believed—grace comes just in time to save one from drowning in the river of difficult days.


Four Kisses and One Heart

I got those on Valentine's Day this year.

But first, let me tell you about one February 14 years ago.

We got caught in a three-hour traffic jam looking for a restaurant without the whole mankind in it. We finally saw one but we waited half an hour, while enduring the overworked air-conditioning units, before we got a table; waited another half hour for a waiter to attend to us; and waited for yet another half hour to have our first dish served.

I tried to shush up three wailing little boys who were too hungry and too irritable from the oppressive heat, plus other misadventures you don't want to know.

Since that year on that day, we vowed never again to eat out on Valentine's Day!

We broke our vow this year. February 14 was a Sunday, which happened to also be Chinese New Year, which we celebrate. And as a matter of tradition, the family always lunches out after the church service.

Our restaurant choice was narrowed down to: 1) a place so unromantic Valentine's celebrators will evade it; 2) a place where the Chinese don't go to for celebration.

The place: Good old Chicken Bacolod. It was not bad at all. We were the only guests. Food was like the grace that comes to us at home through Ate Vi's cooking.

And now, for the four kisses and a heart.

For dessert, the waiter handed over to Tony four freebies: Kisses chocolates for each of us. Tony gave them all to me. "Now you can't say I didn't give you a Valentine's gift," he said grinning.

Then at a small coffee shop beside the supermaket, the rock of my life ordered a heart-shaped silvana and said, "You can have my heart."

Yup, on Valentine's Day I got four Kisses and a heart. Who can ask for anything more?


Heady and Hungry at Hunan

Hunan province is located in the south central part of the Chinese mainland.

Hunan is also the name of a nameless restaurant that serves authentic Hunan food in Makati, Philippines.

I say nameless because you can't find a sign on any of the four square walls of the town house's exterior that says, Hunan. The facade looks just like any ordinary, nondescript apartment door. But as you enter the small area crammed with tables and chairs, the aroma from the kitchen gives you a heady and hungry feeling.

So you sit down and stare at a menu written entirely in Chinese characters. And then you are told that the place's name is Hunan and that they serve Hunan food, shown in photos. Get it?

We got it.

This was our early celebration of Chinese New Year, rather, one of our celebrations of the New Year celebrated for generations by my husband's and children's forefathers. Our chosen dishes didn't disappoint. All of them a bit spicy—but yummy nevertheless.

We had to wash them down with coffee. So to Max Brenner (Israeli chocolate chain with a JC look-alike as logo, and where all waiters are bald!) at Trinoma we went. It was JC's treat. He had received gift certificates from JB and Gianina as birthday gift. He spent them all in one blow.

From China to Israel. That just proves, once again, that grace chooses no culture nor palate.

What a blessed family day it was.


Perry's House

I met Perry for the first time when Tony brought me to a Rotary function. Perry sang the Philippine National Anthem and I was dumbstruck. His voice was a powerful tenor that needed no microphone.

At dinner, Perry was seated beside me and I discovered he loves Broadway musicales as much as I do.

I bragged that I had over 200 CDs of original Broadway recordings. I showed him my list which I kept in my wallet. After scanning it, he started writing titles of what I still didn't have (which he had!). The additional list was four times more than my list, and he still had many more to add but we had run out of paper.

His memory was beyond anything I had ever encountered. He could recite all the musicales that had won a Tony Award, the year they won, and who directed them. Incredible?

And oh, he doesn't stop at musicales. He knows music of every genre in any year and could sing them all from memory! Tony and I run to him for certain songs we could no longer find in music stores.

That was years ago. Since then, Perry has also become a close friend. In my book launches, he gives me a bouquet of flowers, and he never fails to invite me to any occasion held in his house.

His house! That is another story. It boggles the mind. He has collections of everything—from A to Z! Pianos, jukeboxes, eagles, mangers, key chains, CDs (my own collection is now smaller than a lilliputian, compared to his), horses, LPs, laser disks, you name it he has it: in all four floors of his impressive, unusual dwelling place!

I took pictures but pictures don't capture the magnitude of those collections (plural many times over).

Oh, by the way, Perry is also a doctor. A famous neurologist. And a gift of grace.


Full Page of Grace

My books, and how I write them, have been featured in various magazines and newspapers—blessings beyond measure. When one article occupied one-half page in a Manila newspaper sometime ago, I almost fell off my seat. I was ecstatic.

Now, in my shoes, what would you do if you saw your face and your works occupy one full page, in full color?

Please pick me up from the floor; I fell off my seat.

In The Freeman newspaper in Cebu, where I have a bi-weekly column in the Kid Stuff section, I found this:

It was written by the Kid Stuff Editor, Ritchie Salgado, who prefers to be called Tribo. I met Tribo in person for the first time when I flew to Cebu in December for some book talks and signing. We had a long, wonderful chat. And that chat found its way to this page!

Tribo, if you are reading this, I want to thank you for the honor of being featured in your newspaper. Let me congratulate you and all the people you work with for all the work The Freeman does for children.

The “Most Outstanding Newspaper Section" you won in the 6th UNICEF/Phil. Press Institute Child-friendly Newspaper and Journalist Awards affirm your commitment to excellence.

Let me end my post with this verse:

“Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'” Matthew 19:14


Hidden House Treasures

Tying-loose-ends day is how I call those rare, extremely rare, days I can set aside for doing the teeny odd jobs that I put on the back burner.

You're familiar with some of these: a seam in the drapes that needs re-stitching; press releases that need clipping; notes and receipts that need filing; little gift items that need sorting; little plastic bags that need unloading; cabinets that need cleaning; buttons that need re-sewing; a nail mark on the wall that needs painting over; oh, so many more!

So I finally had my long-delayed and much-postponed tying-loose-ends day.

After doing all of the above, I opened my sewing machine cabinet and what did I find? An unusually heavy pouch, the look of which I don't remember.

I untied it and guess what I saw? Coins! Lots and lots of coins!

How or when they got there, who put them there (chances are, it was I), why they were there—well, my mind was blank.

Counting them took so much time because they were in five-and-ten-peso denominations. They totaled over P3,000 (US$66)! I furiously looked for more hidden treasures in that tiny cabinet and found many small plastic bags containing . . . that's for the next tying-loose-ends-day.

The phone rang and the sun had set. The boys came home one after another, and then it was time to thank the Lord for His grace at the dining table.


Obscure Town

My storybook series, Oh, Mateo!, takes place in an obscure town called Umingan.

“Is it a real place?” “Where is that?” These are some of the questions my readers ask.

“It is a real place; and it's the place where I grew up,” is my reply. For Umingan is really on the map. Unfortunately, it is not one of the more popular places which people have heard of at least once in their lives.

In my books, Umingan is the quiet, serene town that I remember—and love. That was before the advent of computer, fast food, cellular phone, and tricycle. It has changed, as did many towns. But in my mind, and in my books, it remains the Umingan of my youth.

With typhoons Pepeng and Ondoy, Umingan was ravaged like it never was before. And suddenly, Umingan had its one brief shining moment. It was half of the front page of Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI)—in the form of a handmade thank-you card by the students of an Umingan school for the help extended to the town by PDI.

If I may, this heartwarming card might have been done by Mateo, a thoughtful, caring Umingan boy who is grateful for the outpouring of grace at a time of great danger and devastation.