Grace at the Movies

“Amah, let’s go watch Guardians of the Galaxy!” exclaimed my grandson Adrian, excitement all over his handsome face.

Uh-oh, I thought. I was never a fan of intergalactic creatures.

My taste in movies runs along the likes of Forrest Gump. As a storybook author, I stick to real-life fiction. And the closest I got to liking a flying object was Mary Poppins. As a little girl, my first  storybooks were Cinderella and Goldilocks, and my first chapter book was The Little Prince (this is intergalactic, too, but in a quiet, simple way and there are no guns nor violence). I fancied Superman, as well, but I only had to reckon with one additional planet, Krypton. 

On the other hand, I promised myself that for this short US R&R, I’d use new eyes and be joyful always. 

“Let’s!” I said to Adrian, turning on my best smile. 

To the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 we went, but not before I researched on the movie. The idea, the plot, the characters—they were all gobbledygook to me; I had to unscramble my brain to take them all in. I had to admit, once again, I do belong to a Jurassic generation.

As we settled in our comfortable movie seats, I was afraid my ancient body would take an involuntary shut-eye.

But the movie was all it was touted to be—full of digital gongs, bells, and cymbals in larger-than-life-extra-long shots, with loud, intrusive sound effects to match. There were heartwarming, poignant scenes, too, that zoomed in on the characters. It had everything—the whole kit and caboodle (that phrase is Jurassic, too).

So did I fall asleep? No.

Did I like it? No. 

I loved it. So much that I wondered aloud whether Vol. 1 was just as good.

Before I knew it, son #2 had a DVD of Vol. 1 and we all watched it in the comfort of the family room. Yes, both volumes are enchanting, each with a charm of its own. 

My shrieks of delight matched Adrian’s. And I mused, I am not as Jurassic as I thought.  

“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Proverbs 17:22 (ESV)



Collapsing Years and Distances

“Almost two decades ago, all I had to do was go into her room and slump on her sofa. She then would leave her table and join me and we would talk—as lengthily as decency during office hours would allow.

“Today one of us had to cross an ocean with husband, fly 12 hours and another hour to get just nearer to where I was. And I had to cross two interstate highways with my husband driving.

“And then, there we were face-to-face, eyeballing each other.

“The years, the decades, melted away.

“It was US all over again. With wrinkles and creaking bones this time. Friendship that saw us through the good and bad, the happy and sad, the triumphs and losses, and the joys and heartbreaks.

"Everything that you go through when you go through life.

“It was great seeing you again, Grace and Tony!”

That’s how my friend Lucy, who always had a way with words, wrote on her FB wall about our meeting in LA recently. I couldn’t have said it better.

Another friend, Cherry, immediately wrote a riposte, “What decades? What oceans? Friends are never far away from each other's thoughts . . . BTW, you two look like there weren't any decades.”

Both born before the digital age, Lucy and I forgot to document our meeting, except for two hastily and poorly taken selfies and shots by our equally techno-challenged escorts before we said our hurried good-byes.    

(These photos got a ton of ribbing from our younger, techno-savvy friends, whose brand of affection is wry wit—but that’s for another post).

Our eyeballing was brief, much too brief, and not enough to catch up on all that happened in each of our worlds, headed by equally controversial presidents. But it was a meeting nevertheless, something that FB or emails can never replace.

I will forget what we ate, or what we drank, or where we went to, or what we talked about, but I will always remember the date, May 27, 2017. I will celebrate it next year the way we celebrate Thanksgiving Day.

I will thank God for His grace of friendship that collapses years and distances.


My Writing Gasoline

“Grace can live without eating, but she can’t live without writing.”

That was how I was introduced by one of the editors I work with, in one gathering where I was the speaker. Guilty as charged. Well, sort of.

I brought along my laptop when Tony and I went to the US of A for a vacation. Whenever there was a bit of a lull (laundry or rest time) I’d either read or write—a blog, a letter, an essay, a story, a re-write of a finished manuscript, or a beginning of a new book.

Now . . . about writing and eating, I cheat a little.

At home in the Philippines, I usually gas up while writing. The fridge is my gasoline station.

In America, I was shown the bursting pantry—shelves upon shelves of snacks of every kind—and was welcomed by the lady of the house (my dear daughter-in-law, G) to help myself anytime.  It was seven steps away from my writing table, which needed less than 10 seconds of leisurely walk.

That was premium gasoline station!

Before I could blink, G brought one of the petrol pumps (my favorite) to my table so there was no need to move an inch to gas up.  
This is the life, I mused.

The price was a bit steep, though: calories galore.

And now, back home, I am reaping the rewards (also called flabs) of my human frailty. To lower my blood sugar, which I am sure shot through the roof, I need to add miles to my early morning walks.

Or maybe I should shift from gasoline to diesel: carrot or celery sticks, minus the dip. Then that would really be non-eating!


Half a Million Mark

Numbers scare me.

I almost failed my one Math subject in college. I still can’t figure out my pay check nor balance my checkbook.

But I am rejoicing over numbers today.  So I interrupt regular programming to celebrate my blog pageviews: half a million.

Well, that’s a number from long years of blogging—10 years and eight months to be exact.

It came while my latest post, “Magic in Monterey,” was on its second day. 

It’s probably the best time to celebrate since it is also my umpteenth birthday. It’s 4:45 AM and in 15 minutes, I should be outside for my morning walk.

I hope you all have a happy day as it is for me.

“. . . as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.” 2 Corinthians 4: 15 (NLT)


Magic in Monterey

In my youth, I was a Frank Sinatra fan. Today I still remember many of his songs. Sometimes, I sing a line,  "It happened in Monterey a long time ago . . .”

I now take the liberty of re-writing that to, “It happened in Monterey just two months ago . . .”

My Manong (older brother) and Manang (his wife), who had just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, invited Tony and me to a two-day R&R in Monterey, a city on California’s rugged central coast, so we could catch up on all the years we’ve been apart. (They have lived in Silicon Valley for five decades.)

What would have been a second honeymoon for two became a honeymoon for four.

Monterey is famous for its aquarium, craggy beaches, and a strip called Cannery Row, which teems with tourist thingies like boutiques, restaurants, and bars.

Our hotel, InterContinental, was right smack in the middle of the strip; every interesting spot was a stroll away. It also had a perfect view of the ocean.

Being early risers, we had the neighborhood all to ourselves for two mornings. We stepped into a cozy breakfast nook (Starbucks, where else?) and to other areas where we had photo ops close to the waters, populated with friendly, swooshing birds. In picture-perfect Monterey, you need not be a good photographer to take excellent shots.

The weather was 16°C, too cold for people of the tropics. So we staked our claim to the hotel's fireplace and roosted there for, uh, maybe hours, off and on.   

Nobody goes to Monterey without visiting the aquarium, with thousands of marine animals and plants on display in underwater and interactive exhibits. In there, one could get lost in the grandeur of the underworld, making Manang exclaim, "How can anyone not believe in God?"

Around the aquarium are natural landscapes and seascapes so awe-inspiring, they could make every painter wish for a dozen hands to capture their majesty.

Beyond the sights, sounds, and spectacles, it was the warmth of catching-up (which may not happen again) that spelled magic.

There, two couples—from opposite ends of the globe—found God in all the panoramas and details of His creation, each one a living proof of His boundless grace. 

"It happened in Monterey, just two months ago . . ."


Barkless Trees, Barkless Dogs

Barkless trees lined the village of Tony’s cousin, Lily, in California. But the biggest of them all was right in front of her house.  It was so huge, I thought it was a fake tree, its trunk sculpted with cement.

I had not known till then that a eucalyptus tree sheds its bark to keep healthy. Along with the shed bark go all the mosses, lichens fungi, and parasites. I was also told that the peeling bark can perform photosynthesis, contributing to the rapid growth and overall health of the tree.

One other thing that astonished me was barkless dogs. In the Philippines, as soon as I get out of our gate for my early morning walk, dogs begin to bark at me—whether they are on the same street I trod on, or behind fences of their owners’ homes.

In California, when I took a stroll in the neighborhood, all the dogs that I met were on a leash, either walking or running quietly alongside their master. They did not even look in my direction, making me almost fall sleep with boredom.

Why is that?

For one, there are no stray dogs in California. For another, almost every pet dog has gone to an obedience school.

Barkless trees do not grow in this country; every trunk needs to be covered.  

Barkless dogs do not thrive in this country; every dog needs to be heard. 

These are just two of the things that make the grace of traveling delightful. One discovers all sorts of oddities worth writing home about.


Mother of the Missions

We just had to be there.

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá is a must-see for anyone who visits Old Town San Diego State Historical Park. It was the first Franciscan mission in The Californias (out of 21, total), then a new province of New Spain.

Known as Mother of the Missions, Mission San Diego, in honor of Saint Didacus or Diego of Alcala, was founded in 1769 by Spanish friar JunĂ­pero Serra.  It was the site of the first Christian burial in Alta California.
The mission has six bells.  The very first one was hung on a tree and I regret not having taken a photo of it. Bells were important at any mission because they were rung to signal important activities for the day, such as: meals, work, religious services, births and funerals.

This mission is significant for many reasons: it was the first to have a cemetery. And in later years, the setting for many Hollywood films. It was also named a minor basilica by Pope Paul VI in the bicentennial year of 1976.

The place did not disappoint.

It had been reconstructed and is in tip-top condition. We posed beside the bells, the courtyard with its colorful flowers and shady trees, the cemetery, and the church with the original paintings, statues, and relics hanging from walls or sitting in glass-cased shelves.

All structures sit on a 55,000-acre property that includes vineyards, orchards, vegetable and flower gardens.

It was there where I saw species of black flowers for the first time, and where I also realized that while I need to learn about the world and history, I should hold fast to my faith and focus on the grace of a forever-life I have received from the one true God, Jesus.

“Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.”  Proverbs 4:25-27 (ESV)


Black Cows

A funny thing happened on our road trip across California.

I was clicking away, enjoying the fascinating terrain changes through the car window and  humming silently, “This is my Father’s world . . .”

Tony was snoozing beside son #2, who was quietly driving and listening to some medical program on radio. Suddenly, son and I smelled an odor that reeked so, so, so badly, we were alarmed. I quickly woke Tony up.

“Hey!” I said, worried. “You need to go to the bathroom!”

“Papa,” son asked, like the doctor that he is, “is your tummy okay?” (Or some words to that effect.)

“What the—whoa!” Tony flinched, blinked his eyes open, and breathed out a loud snort from deep sleep. Unfairly and prematurely judged, he barked, “Sorry to disappoint you, folks, but it isn’t an inside job. Look out the window!”

And we saw the cattle ranch that seemed to stretch from one end of the world to the other. Black cows littered the hills and valleys like tiny dashes, dots, and other punctuation marks.
“Oh,” son and I were properly chastised.

I quickly took a shot of the vista as evidence of my poor husband’s innocence and non-offense.

The scene was picture perfect, but the smell was nasal torture—for a good twenty minutes, or more.

I can’t remember ever laughing this hard, this loud, and this long with son #2 and his dad. After which, the comedy of errors became the greatest topic of conversation for many miles thereafter. I never had this long a conversation with the both of them either.

One of my recent blog posts was about black flowers. And now I am writing about black cows—and the black humor sparked by them.

Black is beautiful; black is grace.


No Sweat

For one whole month in the US of A (Spring, 2017), I did not sweat. Not one teeny bead of sweat.

Having lived in the Philippines, a tropical country, for most of my life—the temperature of which runs from 32 to 42 degrees Celsius from March to June—I alternately chill and freeze in cooler environments.

That was my wonderful state of being for five weeks in California. The weather there never went up anywhere near our temperatures, so I always bundled up in two to three layers of clothing to enjoy even the nippy wind.

I was still wearing the same bulk of fabrics when I flew back home, because the plane was just as chilly as the place I left behind.

As soon as I got out of the air-conditioned airport and was welcomed back by my beloved homeland, however, I felt as though a humongous hair dryer was aimed at me, blowing full blast.

Every bead of sweat that hid under my skin while in the US erupted in a mighty force of fury. Unmindful of the crowd, I peeled off my clothes layer after layer and left only what was needed to  remain within the bounds of decency.

Now back home, I sweat from early morning—as soon as I turn off the air-conditioning—to late at night, unless I switch on the cooling appliance again. (I dread getting the electricity bill!)

Son #1 describes the oppressive heat best, "You sweat even while showering. As you get out of the bathroom, you can't tell which moisture is the result of an in-house job or outsourcing."

On the upside, we save money on clothes. We can live in holey undershirts and baggy shorts. 

It’s July. The rains have come, but the heat is nowhere near leaving. Immediately after it stops pouring, the hair dryer switches on. 

Sweat or no sweat, which do I prefer?

I am actually grateful for both.

Our body, one of God's masterpieces and gifts of grace, has been so designed to be resilient and adaptable to where we have been placed. And wherever that might be, Apostle Paul appeals to us:

". . . by the mercies of God . . .present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship." Romans 12:1 (ESV)


Black Flowers?!

We all know that flowers come in all colors of the rainbow. But what I didn’t know, till our vacation in California in May 2017, was that they come in black too.

Yes, black.

The first ones that I saw blew me away.  Are they for real? I wondered, almost shaking with excitement. This is one of them, blooming gloriously in the garden of the San Diego de Alcala Mission.
And then I saw many more, in different varieties, in other places, too. That surprised me even more. 

Yes, grace comes in all colors, and black is the presence of all colors.

Like a desert needing water, I read up voraciously on black flowers for almost half a day and found that there are indeed more than a dozen kinds, most—if not all—of which are found in California.
There are many things science already knows about flora, but I am sure there are many, many more undiscovered, unstudied, and unnamed.

“How great are your works, LORD, how profound your thoughts!” Psalm 92:5 (NIV)

As I contemplated the unusual black flowers, I stumbled upon . . . lantern flowers!

Whoever invented the lantern took inspiration from these flowers.

It has always been conclusive, beyond reasonable doubt, that all inventions of man have been copied from God’s creation.

Nothing made by man is original. Putting it another way, no invention by man on earth has been created from nothing.