Easter Fun

There is no stopping the trend—Christian holidays are becoming more and more commercialized, products of astute marketing minds.  

To some people in the US, thanksgiving is now a day of unabashed gluttony and very few actually think about the sacrifices made by the Pilgrims who were grateful for what they were blessed with.

The same thing can be said about Christmas. In many parts of the world, it is one big party—a time for revelry; to shop, give and receive gifts, decorate, and pig out. 

And Easter, the day Christ conquered death and offered forgiveness to all who will accept it, has taken the same route.

On Easter this year, Hiyas (my children's books publisher) was invited to partner with Manila Bulletin at Sofitel Hotel's big day for kids. Hiyas had a booth to display its children's books and a time slot to tell one story to the kids.

To capture the significance of the occasion, and to guide the children on how they should view their activities that day, Hiyas chose “The Secret Ingredient” (Oh, Mateo Book 9), which Mars Mercado of Alitaptap (organization of storytellers in the Philippines) read to kids ages 5-12.

The book focuses on doing one's best for the Lord. “Whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, you must do all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31.

After the storytelling, Mars centered the mini contest on this verse. Alternately giggling and roaring, the kids stood in attention to answer all questions, wanting to win for themselves free books from Hiyas and goodies from Manila Bulletin.

Book signing  and gift giving
Hiyas booth (left); Entry to the hotel (bottom right)
Contest;  On stage with Mars of Alitaptap and Claro of Manila Bulletin
Kids, kids, and more kids
As in all the contests we've mounted after storytelling sessions, I wished we had a gift for everyone. But that would be logistically impossible.

I saw several kids crying and being appeased by their parents in that big, big hall crowded with approximately a thousand bodies. Either they failed to find eggs or lost in a game/contest.

But I pray that God's grace will enable them to have happy memories of that day, when, in their growing up, they will learn and find the true meaning of Easter.


Flower Arrangement

One thing that baffles me is finding something new about yourself even when you are already fossilized by chronological time.

I recently found out something new about me.   

I love (adore!) flowers—looking at them, picking them, painting them, receiving them, buying them, and giving them away as gifts.

But this I discovered: I loathe arranging them!

Now, I also love flower arrangements and always marvel at how ingenious florists are on occasions such as weddings, debuts, anniversaries and other events where flowers play a major role.

My friend Mabel is a florist extraordinaire and I always gush over her spectacular works. Another friend, Lucy, likes drying flowers, painstakingly arranging them in baskets, and calling her shop (when she decides to have one) Lucy's labor of Love.  

So when my friends in church scheduled a seminar on flower arrangement, the day before Easter, I couldn't wait. 

Our teacher, who actually has a PhD, but is gearing up to be a florist when she retires, was an engaging speaker, complete with electronics that showed the color chart and principles of flower arrangement. She had for each student (10 of us) a bundle of flowers, foam, and a vase.

As soon as I got my share with which to apply what we have learned, I balked. Okay, I got cold feet. Either I didn't think I could do it or didn't like the tedium (soaking the sponge, cutting the stems, measuring the width and height, etc.). Whatever. 

I didn't even try, I simply spent my time kibitzing and encouraging each one to keep going. In fact, I gave away my flowers to someone.

The results were outstanding. All nine students (minus moi) came up with beautiful arrangements we drooled over. 
What a waste, you might say. Why would anyone even attend such a session when she wouldn't put it to use anyway?

Oh, but the company! The joy of being with friends, who wished to pretty up our place of worship on Easter, was grace arranged as beautifully as the flowers in the vases—and the next day, at the altar.

Why couldn't I bring myself to arrange flowers? That is a puzzle, the same way that I've been trying to figure out why I can't cook when I love (adore!) food. 

I am consoled by the fact that in the Bible we are told (Romans 12:6): “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us . . .” 

And although each of us is individually created, we are all fearfully and wonderfully made!


Graduation Dreams

There are as many differences in graduation rites as there are schools.

I've attended several as a graduation speaker over the years, but this last one—at Agapeland Christian Academy—stands out in my mind. I witnessed, ringside view, the graduates' confidence about their future.  

When I graduated from grade school, I was clueless about where I was headed—except, of course, high school. But the Agapeland students were encouraged to dream, to see in their heart where they want to go. After receiving their diplomas, each of them took the mike: 

“Fifteen years from now, I shall have become . . .

. . . a lawyer, helping victims of injustice.

. . . a pediatrician to help children whose parents couldn't afford medical fees.

. . . a chef so I can build a mansion for me and my family.

. . . a pastor!”

Grounded on Christian precepts, these graduates will certainly continue to be God's delight (“Becoming God's delight” was the theme) in the years to come.

Whether these dreams, or something better, will come true is immaterial. God in his infinite love and wisdom will guide these children who love Him to wonderful places they could not begin to imagine. They just need to be humbly open to God's unfolding of their future.

I was drenched with grace that day just by watching and hearing the children speak their minds and hearts—so clearly, so purely, so candidly.  

One day, when time permits, I'd ask the teachers of Agapeland how they inspired the children to do it.


Marketing in the Morning After

It's ironic that in the morning after (or after turning my back on marketing), I get invited to be one of two speakers—the other is a celebrity entrepreneur—at the Philippine Marketing Association.

“Frankly, I was a bit apprehensive in inviting you,” Vince said, smiling impishly.  “I've heard many inspirational speakers before and sure, they make you feel good, but . . .”

Vince, whom I met in another event where I also spoke, took a leap of faith. Touche. I didn't think I'd be qualified to talk about marketing again either, but . . .” 

I did—and didn't.  

I spoke of my morning after—that defining period in my life when I turned the corner, took up my old love for writing, walked to the opposite end of my lifestyle, and became an author totally dependent on grace.

This is detailed in a book on retirement, I told the marketing men and women in the room, that I just finished writing (hopefully to be launched at the International Book Fair in September).  

Used to speaking directly to a crowd, in a brightly lit room where you could look people in the eye and react to them, I felt like a trying-hard-would-be diva on stage, washed in spotlight, unseeing anyone in the audience—just a black, blank vast space with spotty shadows. So this is what Taylor Swift sees every time she performs, I thought. I decided I won't be a diva when I grow up.

There was no way then for me to have even a glimpse of whether the talk added value to the audience's day,  but it sure added value to mine.

In preparing  my slides, I thought hard about marketing again, remembered much, and gained new knowledge while doing research.

At the event I met old clients and collected new friends.  I was delighted at the many impressive projects the PMA has undertaken in the past and will continue to undertake under the leadership of Gwenn, the incumbent president.

I have always suspected that marketing men are the most vigilant and observant people in the world, continually improving upon their last acts and reinventing the wheel. 

That day at the Intercontinental Hotel, my suspicion proved to be correct. Wherever you find marketing people (in the boardroom where I used to wrangle with brand managers) and in a general meeting like this one, they are one step ahead of the consumer and know where he is going—the day before or the morning after.  

How can an ex-marketing gal not be inordinately blessed?



Deciding what my children would call me before I even had one was a tedious process: Mommy? Mummy? Mama? Mamsy? Nanay?

Real Mommies with real babies
I weighed the pros and cons in the same way that hubby and I grappled with whether Filipino or English would be the language in our home.

Filipino it was (a good cross between my Ilocano and Tony's Chinese). And we didn't want them saying “mon” for “moon,” or “ples” for “please” or “Yaya, I want to make ligo na.”

Mommy, I (hubby pretty much left me on my own here) decided. It has a tinge of  childlikeness and respectfulness all at once. It can be shortened to an affectionate “Mom.”

When JC was able to babble Mommy for the very first time (he was seven months old) I thought I had won the lotto and a free luxury cruise on the Caribbean. 

Even when my three sons started having lives of their own, Mommy still made me feel the electric current that ran through my fingertips the first time I heard my first son say it.   

Then one day last year, I had to see a new obstetrician after two decades of ignoring my own (who has since died of old age). As I entered the clinic, the secretary exclaimed,  “Mommy, come in!” I looked behind me, thinking she was greeting her mother. But there was no one there, and she was looking directly at me. 

Then a series of questions, “Mommy, do you have a record na here?” “Mommy, do you --” She began every statement with Mommy! Try as I might, I couldn't remember giving birth to a daughter. Neither could I recall using the word for anyone other than my Mommy, not even when I was fresh and young.

A few days later in a boutique, I was deciding to buy a pricey blouse. “Mommy,” the saleslady said, "that will look good on you!” She was no daughter of mine either.

I was on my worst behavior that day. Smiling my biggest, I said, “For calling me Mommy, you just lost a sale,” and walked away leisurely.

Then like a deluge brought about by Typhoon Ondoy (or maybe that of Noah's time), it came:  “Mommy!” From the tricycle driver, the cashier at a deli, the new hairdresser in the salon, the masseuse in a spa, the ice cream man, the mailman, etc. And soon even from my own gastroenterologist. (Note to self: scout around for someone less sacrilegious.)  

The next time JR called from Singapore and said Mommy, my fingertips went limp—the electricity had a short circuit; the power source went kaput. Now when JC, JB, and Gianina call me Mommy, too, the tingle's gone.

I know I am now totally grace (and SSS) dependent, advancing in years and looking it, but strangers calling me Mommy? That term was a painstaking decision, an electric spark, a privilege handed on as a precious legacy to my offspring.

How did this phenomenon start? What made people desecrate this once-hallowed, exclusive honorific that turned on my light? When did these aliens and odd-looking creatures, who neither resemble me nor hubby, nor any of my forbears, usurp the privilege for themselves to call me . . .?

See,  I can't even say the word now without feeling a bit of a shudder (akin to that of watching a horror movie that sends insects crawling down your spine).   

Well, as I like telling friends who complain of their woes (other than being called . . . ), “We all have our own cross to bear.”

I guess I will have to bear the weight of being the . . . of every Tom (Tomas), Dick (Carding), and Harry (Henring) till they collectively bring my ears (or my mind, whichever comes first) to total ruin.  

(Photo credits: www.gettyimages.com)


Sunflowers for Easter

What a glorious day Easter is! 

Truth was slain and buried in a grave, but It didn't stay there. Three days later, Truth resurrected for the whole world to know.

For this special day, I am changing my header to sunflowers in celebration of Easter. My old New Year header comes down.

The sunflower has always fascinated me, as it had Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Klimt, Claude Monet and a host of famous artists.

Paul Gauguin
Vincent Van Gogh 
Gustav Klimt
Claude Monet
Such an illustrious company I keep! 

In the morning, sunflowers face east as the sun rises, then they follow the sun, stretching up to the heavens until they end the day facing west, at sunset.

Many children draw a sunflower when asked to draw the sun. The bright yellow petals are likened to, or mistaken for, the sun's rays.

In high school I used to pass by a field of sunflowers (one tenth the size of my new header) on my way home.

Those daily walks defined Baguio City for me—a field of sunflowers.

I should be in Umingan today, attending the memorial service for my mom's ninth death anniversary. I made time for it last year. All my siblings (except one who is in Australia) are there now.

But I am home in Manila, after attending the sunrise service in our village church. I couldn't leave because I have committed to attend a children's event/book signing at the Sofitel Hotel in a couple of hours.

Should I feel guilty? 

Aside from being exceedingly generous, my mother had one other  endearing trait, which I remember today. She was always careful not to impose on anyone, not even on her children. I missed a few important family occasions, including the funeral of my dad, but she was quick to dismiss the failing. And never dwelt on it.

If she were alive today, would she begrudge me for not going home to attend the Easter service in our little home church? No. So why is it pricking my conscience?  

Sunflowers. Easter. Mom. Grace. They somehow fit so well together.

When the Lord took my mother on Good Friday nine years ago, it was so natural for our family to decide that her death anniversary be remembered on Easter, the day hope for eternal life with God was given free to mankind. 

Let's all celebrate Easter with the warmth and glow of sunflowers, and the warmth and glow of our loved ones, near or far. 

“For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.” 1 Thessalonians 4:14 (NIV)


Free Taste Test

If you are cheap, as I am, you don't have to spend for lunch on grocery day.

In the supermarket where we shop every Sunday, there are all kinds of free taste tests.

Upon entering the main lobby/front aisle of the supermarket, you see a generous spread of food and beverages from wall to wall—at a glance.

Like grace, they're free and yours for the taking!

New brand or brand extension of spaghetti, pork leg, pickles, Snickers, fruit-flavored ice-tea, coffee, hotdog, ham, cheese, popcorn, cookies, sardines, corned beef, fruit cocktail, juices, etc. etc. come  in little cups or bite sizes:

I try them all.

Before you know it, you're burping and brimming with an amalgam of food having a spirited summit in your stomach.   

“Where would you like to have lunch?” Tony asks.

“Nowhere. That was lunch!” 

The only downside to this is, you end up buying a piece of everything that perked up your palate.

In my case, it's practically everything since we go to the supermarket after 12 noon, way past an early breakfast—on a growling tummy.


For Grandparents Only

Parents are  not allowed to read this post. 

After a very early blood chem test in a hospital, I walk over to a nearby McDonald's for my breakfast.  It is still empty, except for a grandmother and her grandson in one corner and another grandmother with a granddaughter two tables away.

Both are intently seeing to the breakfast of their wards. Not knowing each other, the grandmas are both doing the same thing—shredding fried chicken, mixing it with rice, and feeding their grandchildren (about 4 years old), who are doing everything except sitting down, spoon by spoon. Subo is the term we use for spoon feeding.

I am more fascinated with what they're doing than with my own breakfast. O, grand parenting, Filipino style!

I'm guilty (I'd rather call it a privilege) of doing the same for 4-year-old Adrian when he was left with Tony and me for three days last year.

His parents have two meal rules: 1) he is to eat by himself, and 2) not watch TV.

Now comes the first mealtime; Adrian refuses to eat. He says he isn't hungry and continues playing and running around with Attorney, our dog. After much cajoling and promising him the moon, he sits down at the dining table but wiggles around. So what does grandma do?


He now goes down his chair and crawls under it, making sounds like a superhero, but he finishes the first subo. So Amah is exceedingly encouraged and makes another successful subo.

Then she breaks the second rule! 

She motions Ate Vi, hovering just a breath away, to turn the TV on.  Adrian takes his seat and his eyes are riveted to the screen. After more subo after subo, his plate is clean!

Comes next mealtime.

Adrian: Amah, subo?

Amah: Sure, Adrian.

Adrian: Amah, TV?

Amah: Sure, Adrian.

When his parents arrive, they remark, "Adrian gained weight!"  Ate Vi (my loyal co-conspirator) and I look at each other, both trying hard not to look guilty.
O, the grand grace of grand parenting!

Come to think of it, we didn't break any rules, did we? When it comes to Adrian, Tony and I have absolutely no rules.

We just want to love this sweet, adorable boy, whom we pray will grow up loving and serving the same God who created him to be a part of our family.