Laughing with Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron makes me laugh, but now she's dead. Should I still laugh? 

She was known as an intellectual, a journalist, an accomplished woman, a celebrity, a novelist/essayist, film director/screen writer, but for me, she was someone who, like a confidante who lived next door, told me so many truths about myself that would have been tragic had she not made them hilarious.

By writing about herself in her bestselling books, she was also writing about others who saw themselves in her adventures, in turn of phrases that make one guffaw in near tears. She could write about the bitterest experiences with such unpredictable wit they become funny quirks.    

When my day becomes unreasonably tight and stressful, I turn to Nora Ephron's books and in a few minutes, the tight knots in my neck begin to loosen and disappear. She has (I talk about her in the present tense because her works will be around long after the tears of her passing shall have dried) a way of bringing on the ha-ha-ha. Her Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail are two of my favorite feel-good movies.  

She poked fun at aging, the bane of women over 40.  She went as far as taking her illness (a six-year battle with Leukemia) and fading memory with a spoonful of sugar. Her thoughts on being a woman influenced and were enjoyed by many women who admired her works.

To die at age 71 is young in my book. Losing one who has been a part of your reading life at her age makes one sad.

So I did myself a favor and took down from my bookshelf her “I Feel Bad about My Neck,” bought on sale in a second-hand book shop years ago, and re-read a chapter or two.

What she did in life, she does exactly in death: make me laugh.  

Lord, thank you for bringing into our lives people like Nora Ephron who could lighten our days with your grace of laughter.


Fat Cops

This photo had me in stitches one early morning:
Ate Vi rushed to see what was wrong.  She was sure I had snapped, not having heard me laugh that loud in a long time. A great way to start another extremely hot day. How refreshing it was to LOL!

I found this so funny because it hit home. Once I also couldn't bend from having a waistline as wide as my hips. That was when I suddenly found myself out of the workplace, unprepared for an early retirement.

My new pace in slomo and change of lifestyle made me eat more, sit around more, and sleep more. Before I knew it, I was thirty pounds overweight! My doctor found everything wrong with me after that and made me go through a daily-walk regimen.

Ah, how I wish I were a fat cat instead, but the loss of steady income had reduced me to a fat mess and mass.

It took many months and daily grace to shed off the unwanted pounds. And today, maintaining the ideal weight is still a constant battle for me. And I am not alone.    

Back to fat cops: According to the Philippine National Police (PNP), one in 10 policemen are obese and will have to undergo a slimming program.

The findings prompted the PNP head to warn the 145,000-strong nationwide force they could lose their jobs if they were not physically fit.

Well, Philippine cops are not alone either. Obesity is a global phenomenon:

Now, how about fat superheroes?

Well, I won't go into alien territory. I'll stay close to home.

In my own ongoing war against weight gain and other excesses, I reflect on what Paul said in his letter to the Romans (Chapter 12:1-2 KJV), “. . . present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and perfect, will of God."

Top photo: Philippine Daily Inquirer, June 21, 2012 issue


My Atheist Friend

John (not his real name), a Caucasian, was my client for about five years in my other life. He was the fair-haired boy of his multi-national company. Although he was young (30s), he was promoted by the US head office to Marketing Director in its Philippine subsidiary (the biggest in Asia in those days).

He headed the huge department that had a workforce of a dozen bright brand people and over 200 aggressive sales agents. 

John was exceptionally smart, aggressive, and perceptive; he towered over most of my clients in our eyes. He could grasp ad concepts just by glimpsing tiny thumbnails (doodles), and we in the creative department did not have to go through elaborate presentations to make him see our point.   

It was always a joy meeting with John in the board room.  He was never rude and had a dry sense of humor.

He became a friend when he and I traveled abroad one day to see to a post-production of one of his products. Thoughtful and gentle, he was the epitome of GMRC (good manners and right conduct)—saying all the proper things, careful not to offend anyone.

That's why I almost choked on my sashimi when he mentioned that he was an atheist. In the same breath, he said in words to this effect, “I may not believe in the existence of a god, but I have a deep appreciation of what is right and wrong.”

I was not about to debate the subject. First off, an ad person is cautioned never to antagonize her client, especially one whose ad budget pays the salaries of everyone in the agency.

Like a turtle, I retreated into my shell and lost the golden opportunity to share my faith. 

But my thought balloon was crowded with, How can you have a conscience and not believe in God?  How can you, who have been incredibly blessed with so much, not see God's hand? I changed the subject to how well our TV ad had turned out.

John was promoted to a bigger subsidiary two years later, and today, he is the president of the entire conglomerate!

I have always believed that our conscience is a gift from a loving God, who likewise gave His only Son to save us. When we accept His Son's love, He guides us closely through our many weaknesses by heightening our conscience. In the process, we see God’s holy ways.

Our conscience is God’s way of saving us from further temptations, making us realize we need to cling to Him to see right from wrong.
Listening to our conscience is like listening to the voice of God; our conscience is His Holy Spirit in our heart day and night, showing us the way of truth. We are safe there. 

On days when my conscience pricks me, I think of John.

I pray that one day, he will come to know that his “deep appreciation of right and wrong” is grace that could only come from a living God, who exists from everlasting to everlasting. 

Photo credit: http://debunkingatheists.blogspot.com/2010/07/atheism-is-religion.html


Emperor Chicken

a.k.a. Beggar's Chicken

This ancient dish, which originated in China, is prepared by wrapping chicken in clumps of mud or soft dough made from wheat flour and then cooking it over fire. It was a poor man's (or beggar's) food.

But a story is told that an emperor who happened to taste it took a fancy to this poor man's food and had it cooked in the palace, eventually becoming his favorite dish. With the addition of some herbal and fancy concoction fit for an emperor, the dish was baked in an oven for hours, and became the Emperor Chicken. 

I speak not as a big cook but as a non-cook with a big appetite, which we call in my family the Chong palate.  

True to this tag, JR came home from Singapore with a luggage half-filled with packed marinades of all kinds, one of which is for Emperor Chicken.

So to the kitchen he went, and with the enthusiastic help of Ate Vi, our resident empress and chef, he whipped up (by adding some herbs freshly picked from our garden) one of the most delicious chicken recipes a food beggar like me has ever tasted.

Through all generations, the grace of palate encompasses both beggars and emperors.


Older Women

"Older women have an important role in church," spoke a much younger woman (a lawyer whom I have known since she was a toddler in Sunday School), not much older than my youngest son.

In one statement she catapulted me into a specific echelon, and handed me my job description. There were other older women in the room, but somehow, I took the jolting remark personally.

"It is in the scriptures that you have to teach the younger women," she was relentless.  Then she turned the pages of her Bible and read Titus 2:3-4.

"Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children . . ."

I had read those verses before (many times), but God chose that day in a small group meeting and Atty. Karen to dig it in.

Reviewing my hurriedly written notes later, I read her points loud and clear.

“Teach and train young married women to:

"1. Love their husband;
2. Love their children;
3. Have discernment over what is right, and self control over what is wrong;
4. Keep the marriage honored by being pure;
5. Be busy at home—ministry in the home should be their top priority;
6. Do good deeds and be kind to others;
7. Submit to their husband.”    

Tough job.

I have not done any of the above—not consciously anyway.  Not once had I sat down with any of the young married women (most of whom are my godchildren in either child dedication or wedding rites). Many of our chats had centered on . . . maybe I had, one way or the other?

“Older women,” she added, “should model for us a life that honors God. From your lives, we can learn to give glory to our Creator with ours,” she continued. She and the young moms in our circle seem to be doing pretty well—happy and well-adjusted in their marriages.  I guess their mothers (my friends) taught them well.

And maybe they likewise saw a thing or two in me and learned from it . . . 

Karen was just a toddler when I first met her parents, now dear, forever friends who have big ears that listen and giant hearts that love God.

The toddler is now a lawyer . . .
. . . and a mother.
A distinguished lawyer, loving wife, and caring mother, Karen today has the gall to say to me, her mom, her titas in church, about what we might have forgotten to focus on—but thankfully, still have every chance to do so.

“This is not for us, neither is it for you,” she said to conclude her short talk. “You must do it so no one will malign the word of God.”

This job description is a document of grace, my heart spoke. And in total submission, it signed the conforme, pledging to beat for a Titus 2 woman.


Robber Caught on Camera

Shamelessly and hurriedly, she robbed.  

She crammed three, four, five copies of books into a bag. It was a steal! She was rabid, uncontrollable.

The R.O.B. Us! (Raid Our Bookshop: Ultimate Sale) of OMF Lit had turned her into a ferocious ROBber.

You can't be giving your books away! she half-whispered to Gracia, the lady in charge of OMF Pergola. Gracia laughed heartily despite being slumped over the cash register for two hours straight, serving the mile-long queue of equally unrestrained ROBbers with bags brimming with books. 

There are actually several exciting sale permutations in celebration of OMF Lit's 55th anniversary this year.

The sale is ongoing till the 27th of June, but this blog is about that one single day before the official sale began. That was the day one woman turned into a big-time robber. 

On OMF Lit's Facebook shout out, this woman had read that for only P550, she can stuff all the books she wants in a bag. That she did, ravenously—and she was caught on camera with her loot.

Here's more.

From all the receipts on that day, a winner will be chosen from each OMF Lit Bookshop branch for the “Most Stuffed Bag” and will be awarded a prize by end July. The prize? A special book pack!

Yes, in addition to all the ROBbed books, OMF Lit will give away more books!

This particular robber's receipt says she ROBbed a total of 29 books, with a whopping savings of P6,700! That's an average of P19 (!) per book.

I had to talk about me in the third person, and blur my face like they do on TV when they present cons, because I am now suffering from guilt pangs for being such an insatiable ROBber and for being slapped with an incredible discount.

What is it about the printed page that makes book lovers become book ROBbers? Not a book, nor a book series, can answer that question adequately.

So let me answer it with one word, “Because!”

Turning book readers into book ROBbers on sale days helps OMF Lit fulfill its desire to disseminate as many Christian books (short of giving them away) as it could to readers in every part of the country.

But if truth be told, the volume of books that are pushed out on said days cannot begin to match the volume of God's grace that has yet to be written, shared, ROBbed, read, and  believed. 

Meanwhile, you still have a chance to ROB until June 27!


Most Relaxing Place

The most relaxing place in the world, for me, is the hammock. The spa comes a poor second. 

What sets a hammock apart from a spa is people. There is nobody in the hammock but you and there you can allow life to really slow down.

An hour in a hammock frees mind and soul from the disappointments and frustrations of days past.

Maybe the neurons in our brain take us back to those nine months we swam in our mother's womb or to those days of infancy when our mom rocked us to sleep humming a lullaby.      

No wonder people have been making all sorts of hammocks—some elaborate, some simple, some in-between.

This one's ours: a simple rattan hammock handmade in my province, Pangasinan.

It's a recent purchase. The family was driving home from out of town when Tony spotted a caravan of vendors on cart-bearing oxen. He got off and bought this quickly. He'd always wanted one but he neither had the time nor knew where to find them.

I had in mind the exact place for our new hammock—between two coconut trees in our garden. I was beginning to imagine me in the great outdoors enjoying the song of birds, the smell of grass, and the breeze of the hour swaying me gently.

Hammocks, however, are not the easiest to install. One has to have the strength and courage to climb trees to hang the ropes. Tony no longer possesses both, and neither do I.  Our boys have no interest in this ancient invention so they didn't figure in the plan.

We settled for a semi-outdoor place of the house where the ropes can be secured with minor effort.  It's not the place I imagined, but hey, a hammock is a hammock is a hammock.

The first try was tragic—the ropes lacked strong enough knots, causing Tony to land on his rear. The second try was an exact repeat of the first. A sore tush twice over is twice tragic.   

Past that, I can now have wordless Wednesdays and silent Saturdays.

How does one explain God's peace beyond understanding? Well, how does one explain the grace of rest?

“…Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-29


Guessing Game

Three young women in the campsite office, where I dropped by to request for supplies for our cottage, met me with warm smiles. “Are you Ms. Grace Chong?” they asked. 

Wow, you know who your guests are, I thought, delighted. Our group of 200 had about 10 speakers, including me.

“Are you a doctor?”

“No,” I replied, glad I wasn't mistaken for a patient.

“A pastor?” one guessed.

“No.” Maybe I look a little holy.

“A lawyer?”

“No.” Maybe I have some of Cuevas' chutzpah.


“Well, partly . . .” I replied.

“And mostly . . .?” another pushed.

“An author.”

“Ooooh,” a chorus.

At this point I was sure one of them would say, “Yes, I've read one of your books!” 

Instead, one asked, “What does an author like you do?”

My bubble burst.

When I came to, I rationalized that this campsite is at the end of the earth, a valley ensconced between mountains, and bookstores are miles away.

I scribbled my website on a sheet of paper and said, “If you have time, please visit this url and you'll find what I do." And I stressed before walking away, "Only if you find time."

“May we invite you to be a speaker in the staff camp we are planning for next month?” they called out.

Without knowing what I do? “I suggest you visit my blog first before you decide!” I beamed. 

“But she said she is a part-time teacher, didn't she?" they might have asked each other.  

People know exactly what doctors, pastors, lawyers, and teachers do. But an author?