Mateo Goes to America

The invitation to read one of my Mateo books in a school in America was a pleasant, very pleasant, surprise. But it also frightened me a little. Would American kids relate to Mateo?

He is the eight-year-old character in the Oh, Mateo! series of 15 books. In second grade, he lives in a small town in the Philippines and his environment (place, people, activities, and things) are purely Pinoy.

Mateo’s father is a poor farmer who works with his hands, so different from the wealthy, landed farmers in developed countries where farming is totally mechanized.

Putting dread aside, I read “Half and Half” to 30 fourth graders. The book uses tropical fruits to illustrate sharing. To my extreme delight, the kids listened with rapt attention and raced each other in asking questions.  

One of them said, “I know two Philippine fruits—rambutan and atis!”

“Ooooh,” the class gushed.

In our group picture, the photographer (my daughter-in-law, who graciously acted as my adjutant) asked for sour faces. Half-listening, I thought she meant “wacky” as we like to do in this country. Uh-oh.

The event must have turned out so well, the principal invited me to also read to the third graders—and then to the first graders, too.

It was “The Secret Ingredient” (a story about doing one’s best in any task) for the third grade class. The response was just as enthusiastic. I must confess that I was expecting a noisy group—my impression of American kids from TV shows—but these 10-year-olds listened so well they asked all the right questions.

And last, the first graders. I didn’t think they’d have attention span long enough for a story, so I read them one of my concept books, “God’s Favorite Color” instead. It was much appreciated, but could I please read them a story? Ooops, wrong assumption again.

For these little ones it was “Angel with One foot” (a story about gratitude). And what do you know? I got total listening silence and a “thank you” note from each of them.

The lovely photos below tell the story of that one special day in the US of A when Teo made friends with 90 American kids.              

Never could have I imagined grace to pour like it did.


Old Town, Old Me

In the late 60’s, it was hip to be seen in Chicago’s Old Town, a historic district in the north side of the city. A home to many Victorian-era buildings, this place teemed with bars frequented by  university students and intellectuals of foreign origin.

I’d go there with classmates at the Art Institute of Chicago. It sort of gave us bragging rights.

I have forgotten all about that part of my life, but it all came back when recently, son #2 treated Tony and me to the Old Town State Historic Park in San Diego.

These two Old Towns differ in character, but they both boast of old things. And my beloved old husband love old anything—that should include me (a laughing emoticon here).

Old Town San Diego is like old Mexico, particularly the Mexican-American period in the mid-1800s. It offers authentic Mexican food, clothes, trinkets and works of art. The place engaged me because it was bursting with vivid, happy colors reminiscent of the Philippines.

Unfortunately, I (old me!) lost all the photos I took with my phone. I was trying to edit one of them when I accidentally erased them all. I hope that by grace, my memory holds long enough to remember the exhilarating time I had there, including our trolley tour around San Diego and Coronado Island and visits to about a dozen museums—ranging from an old courthouse to an ancient cemetery.

These, similar to what I had, have been gleaned from the Internet.      
But really, what made Old Town San Diego more significant was: were it not for son #2, Tony and I would not have thought of going there.

Now I realize that, aside from a Chinatown (which we make time to visit), an Old Town is a must-see in every place where it exists.


Purple Splendor

“Repeat after me,” the jolly trolley bus driver said over his microphone, “Ja-ca-ran-da.”

“Jacaranda!” we echoed in unison, gasping with collective awe.

He would repeat these words over and over again as we passed through roads and roads lined with purple splendor. It was jaw-dropping!
I suddenly remembered my late mom who loved purple more than any other color. I wondered whether she passed this way when she visited California moons ago—maybe not, she was here in autumn. Otherwise, she’d have gushed over it non-stop. 

Jacaranda is probably the most exotic tree in California and one of the most beautiful, next to fire trees, that I have seen in my lifetime.

Californians, however, have a love-hate relationship with this purple splendor, the flowers of which are sticky.

“They are impossible to clean or wash off, especially if they get on one’s car.” Some also complain that Jacarandas near homes litter patios and choke spa filters.

But to a visitor like me, I felt nothing but pure delight and happy remembrances of mom.

It made our trolley bus tour of San Diego not only refreshing but idyllic. Eden must have had rows and rows of these trees, too!  

The images of Jacaranda, still on my mind one month later (am home now), makes me sing this old, joyful hymn (words by Charles Wesley, 1739):

Oh for a thousand tongues to sing   
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King 
The triumphs of His grace. 


Red Slippers

Of all the things to forget, it had to be my pair of house slippers. That, despite a two-month-long packing for a one-month US trip, checking my luggage daily whether I had all I needed.

My ever-thoughtful daughter-in-law, G, was quick on the draw. With no prior knowledge of my memory lapse, she had a lovely pair of red slippers waiting for me by the entrance door. She had a similar pair, in black, for Tony, too.
I loved it at first sight and from day one, we were inseparable. I even brought it to our trips in California. It provided the warmth I needed for the spring weather, much too cold even with three layers of clothing.  

There were warmer days, during which Californians instinctively turn on the centralized air-conditioning, so then it was still cold for a tropicanian like me.

"Red Slippers" is the title of one of Amy Lowell’s (1874-1925) poems. I marveled at her use of words, when I was trying my hand at poetry—but eventually turned to writing prose on grace.

One year after her death, she was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her collection of poetry, What's O'Clock?

Lowell wrote in polyphonic prose, which employs devices of verse such as alliteration and assonance—two literary devices I try to use in my prose, where I can.

I quote her first two stanzas below:

Red slippers in a shop-window; and outside in the street, flaws of gray, windy sleet!

Behind the polished glass the slippers hang in long threads of red, festooning from the ceiling like stalactites of blood, flooding the eyes of passers-by with dripping color, jamming their crimson reflections against the windows of cabs and tram-cars, screaming their claret and salmon into the teeth of the sleet, plopping their little round maroon lights upon the tops of umbrellas. 

Gripping words, aren’t they?

Now, let me borrow her next line and configure it for my own:

Lowell’s: The row of white, sparkling shop-fronts is gashed and bleeding, it bleeds red slippers.

Mine: The spread of white, fluffy, shaggy carpets is gashed and bleeding, it bleeds red slippers.   

But ooops, history repeats itself—I forgot to bring my red slippers home with me!


Hashtag #GoldtoForever

“I am done with travelling," I promised my aging-and-no-longer-agile self when Tony and I came home from our one-month US vacation last year.

I spoke too soon.

Early this year, son #2 called up his dad, "You have to be here for Tito Peding's 50th wedding anniversary."

Tito Peding is my Manong (older brother), a retired Pastor, who lives in the US with his family.

"Okay," my husband immediately agreed for both of us.

In these turbulent and troubled times, rarely do couples celebrate their 50th anniversary anymore. They either split up or don't live long enough to reach it. A milestone it certainly is. And son#2 wanted us to be a part of it—also to represent all the other members of Manong's family in the Philippines.

Armed with our maintenance pills and liniments, we took our 12-hour-non-stop flight (more like 20 if you add the traveling to and waiting time at the airport.) 

Manong's guests flew in or drove from faraway states—a demonstration of their affection for the couple, whose long years of ministry touched their and many others' lives. The 10,000+ miles Tony and I traveled were a small price to pay to witness this:     

The look of love at 50!*

"What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder." Mark 10:9 (KJV)

The renewal of vows took place in a lush, sunny garden, with the couple's children, daughter-in-law (who saw to every detail) and two grandchildren, with several pastors from different Christian churches, participating.

At the reception (indoors), there was much music, laughter, time for connections and re-connections, and reminiscences over Filipino food like lechon.

I was asked to say a few words during the program. Instead, I showed a video of how Manong Peding came into our lives, when he was fifteen. A distant relative of my father, he sought out my dad to help him go to school—the least of his blood family's priorities. From that day forward, he became my and my four siblings' Manong.

That’s all in the past. What of the future?

I think that when a husband and wife have been together for 50 golden years, it is certain they will be together as they promised, "Till death do us part."

Then after earthly death, to those who believe in the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, forever will be the ultimate promise fulfilled.  

*Captured by G, my daughter-in-law


Aaah, Art!

It has been said that art is the most potent form of emotional communication. Well, it is.

The purpose of artistic expression is to create an intense experience (for both artist and beholder) that indulges the senses.

Centuries before modern neuro-science came into our consciousness, painters’ works had been capturing beholders’ emotion—resulting in poetry, song and dance. These ancient works of art profoundly affect us even today, just as the newer ones do. They transport us to our imagined places somewhere out there.

That’s what happens to me when I see a piece of artwork, especially an original one that was caressed and touched by the artist’s brushes and hands, at close range.

When #2 son treated Tony and me to the San Diego Museum of Art, I gasped when I saw two of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings, one of which (in magazines or the Net) has always blown me away. And now it was right in front of me.

I gawked at it for uncounted minutes; were it not for the strict museum do-not-touch rule, I would have traced her shapes and lines with my fingers.

For the classics, I have always been taken with Juan de Pareja’s paintings of Jesus. This one was unsigned but art critics attribute it to him. A host of angels serve a visibly exhausted Jesus after  fasting for 40 days/40 nights, then led to the wilderness where the devil tried, but failed, to tempt Him. Pareja's interpretation gave me goose bumps.
One of El Greco’s was there, too.

We could only spend two hours there as we still had a long drive to go. The emotions in my reservoir were far from depleted, so I reserved them for future art exhibits.

Master painters are blessed with senses keener than normal beings. But I think beholders who appreciate their works are also gifted with the same. These make the emotional communication complete: a sender, a receiver, and a feedback, such as this post.

In this emotional communication, we acknowledge the grace of mirth we all feel when beholding the depth and breadth of art, drawn from God’s creation.

“Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power,
not one is missing.”
Isaiah 40:26 (ESV)


What You See Is What You Get

This was the title of Richard Deacon’s first major museum survey in the United States. And we were able to view it!

I’ve heard of this contemporary sculptor’s works before and being an art enthusiast, I wished for a chance to gape at (not just on the internet) some of those masterpieces.

Wish fulfilled. 

My husband, son #2 and I caught this exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Art, Balboa Park. It included about 40 of Deacon’s works from more than 30 years of his oeuvre.

While I was sputtering with excitement, Tony (who prefers only classical art), quietly moved around with his signature deadpan look, probably wondering where the “real ones” are.

My thought balloon, Ggie and Caloy [excellent artists both, and two of my dearest friends] would enjoy these.
Multi-awarded Deacon, who calls himself "fabricator," uses everyday materials such as laminated wood, linoleum and limestone. His abstract forms, with their unusual structures, have made him a renowned British sculptor.

This summarizes the exhibit’s literature: “The show’s title What You See Is What You Get is a tongue-in-cheek nod to Deacon’s style—while the title can appear literal, his works are often meant to invoke a range of metaphors, and mythological and literary allusions.”

Some of the pieces are from a series dubbed Some More for the Road. It was a fitting stop-over in our road trip. Some more grace, I thought.

Behold a few of his works which awed me:        


Three for the Road

Among my three sons, #2 has been away from home the most.

He was in medical school for five years, in hospital internship and review for the medical board exam for another two years, then two more for some medical requirement I can’t remember. Shortly after that, he flew to the US thrice for job interviews and such, then got married and moved with his wife to the US, where my only grandson was born, and where they have been residing for over a dozen years.

It was therefore a rare, if not delicious, treat for Tony and me to be with him for six days on a road trip to different cities of California, going through one route and coming through another.

In San Diego, he treated us to the Old Town, where we took in museums after museums, and a trolley tour around the city and another city, Coronado.

We paused for meals in exotic restaurants, one of which was the Taco Mafia for authentic Mexican food.

We also tried a French-Basque restaurant where his dad feasted on frog legs and I pigged out on beef tongue. Both of which, we found out later from his wife, almost nauseated him as they bore strong resemblance to the specimens dissected in his Anatomy classes in medical school. To his credit, he showed no hint of disgust.

San Miguel Arcangel mission, the last of our stop-overs was in a bad state of decay and could fall apart anytime. Unlike the other missions, it has no funding and relies only on volunteers to keep it open to he public.

Tony was grateful, however, that we walked on its grounds before it could have the money for reconstruction.

Nothing compares with seeing something of the past in its original state through the eyes of a hopeless history-hound of a husband, indulged by his second son.        

Our conversations were few and far between. Having been blessed with all-boys for children (I am not complaining), I do not expect conversations; I am used to one-word replies to my mile-long questions.

As a result, I have mastered the art of conversations in my own mind, which is not a bad thing, as writing requires that of an author.
Three for the road. No adjective could accurately describe our full six days together. But there is a noun that says it all: grace.


California’s Flora

Easily, the charm of California, for me, stems from its flora.

Wherever we go—from county to city—beautiful and colorful flowers make huge, spectacular gardens. They are all over, as far as the eye can see.
They creep on roadsides and hills, climb up walls, embrace fences, look up toward the sun, dance with the wind, shoot out of bushes, hang from trees, bow to the ground, simply stand tall like sentries or sit like princesses on their thrones.

In truth, there are many things to appreciate in sunny, scenic California, but those that first get my attention (and adulation) are its flora. Maybe because when we visited last year, there was a drought and the flowers could not bloom. This time around, I turn into an inveterate photographer at every turn.

When I get back home to the Philippines, I will try, although I may not succeed, to capture their splendor on canvas. My fascination with flowers made me try out painting some 10 years ago, which is one of the things I immerse myself in—next to writing.

After tours of art museums and research on flower paintings, I can’t think of any artist, not even Georgia O’Keeffe, who has ever captured the fullness of grace in these jaw-dropping blossoms.

In all the five missions we have visited so far (San Luis Obispo, San Juan Bautista, San Luis Rey, San Miguel Gabriel, and San Diego Tolosa), I take to the flowers, while Tony contemplates the relics. There is a garden and a courtyard in every mission where one can meditate and reflect on how God created such magical magnificence.

I’ve read that the early friars from Spain who brought Christianity to California hauled in flower seeds and seedlings of every kind and planted them as directional signs to the structures they built for the natives, or American Indians. So did the early migrants, who strewed them around dwelling places, when they came for the gold rush.

Whether they were aware of it or not, they brought in joyful wonders, making people like me gush with gratitude three centuries later.