This card game for one, which my grandmother taught me to play when I was a little girl, seemed like my only option between short dozes up on the plane that took 14 hours to fly me home from the US.

It also symbolized how I felt—alone.        

Tony, as planned, stayed behind to see more friends and places, and be with son #2’s family longer. I had to come home earlier because of duties I said “yes” to long before our trip.

I was seated with a millennial who had on her ear phone from the time she strapped herself until we were allowed to disembark. She never looked in my direction except when she went to the bathroom.

My conversations were with the steward or stewardess.

“May I have a glass of water, please?”

“I prefer the beef with noodles.”

“Can you help me with my overhead lamp?”

As an author, I am always alone, prefer to be alone with my computer. But on a plane?! For 14 hours?!

My five-week stay in the US was packed with chatty people, lively activities, and the grace of family—enough memory bytes that would last until such time that my mind will be unhinged.

I suddenly missed my traveling companion, who, although not exactly created for exhaustive tete-a-tetes, at least gave oral reactions to my endless prattles: “Uh-huh.” I guess so.” You’re right.” “Maybe.” “More or less.”

A book, a laptop, and crossword puzzles—my boredom busters—were unfortunately ensconced in my carry-all up on the overhead bin two meters away. It would have been inconsiderate to bother sleeping passengers just to bring it down and bring it up again.

So, Solitaire!

I must have played over a hundred games and won nada. I had lost my touch. 

Peter Pan’s, “Think happy thoughts and you’ll fly!” came to mind. But, I was already flying!

When finally the pilot announced, “Cabin crew, please take your seats for landing,” I knew I was a hair’s breadth away from the land of my birth.

I said good-bye to Solitaire, and looked up to thank the Lord for a safe, uneventful flight.  


Mrs. B

B is for beautiful.

That’s how Auntie Hedy was called by everyone in our household and in the household of my late mother-in-law (Amah of my boys).  Just one look at her, and you’d know why.

She was a frequent visitor of Amah because they were BFFs, the term kids use today.  I always knew when she was around because Ate Vi, our long-time househelp, would squeal in an excited voice, “Mrs. B is at Amah’s!”

She always brought along yummy dishes, which she prepared herself, and would stay for hours so she and Amah could chat about . . . well, I only understand some words of Chinese so I never really knew why they laughed and talked non-stop.  

When Amah died ten years ago, Mrs. B was in our home, seeing to every detail. She helped with the funeral arrangements and always, she had food to feed everyone. 

Just last year in the US, she went the way of Amah. We could not be with her on her last days as she was for my mom-in-law, so Tony and I tried to make up for it (even if no gesture could ever make up for all she’d done for her BFF and what we had not done for her) in one small way.  

We visited her resting place.   

It was in a beautiful temple up the top of a hill, where one could feel through the breeze the presence of our Creator while viewing the magnificence of many parts of California.

At her grave site, I silently thanked the Lord for the long life he gave Mrs. B, and for sharing her with us.

Yes, Auntie Hedy not only stood for Mrs. B., but for Bountiful . . . bountiful grace unselfishly blown in from the heavens.


Rising Above

For one whole month, I missed worshiping in our home church.

But one does not have to be starved with spiritual food just because she is away from home. The home church of our #2 son and his family in the US nourished us and it became our home church, too, albeit temporarily.

It was an opportune time. The theme was “Rising Above,” a call to action that is both encouraging and challenging.

It spoke to me: Break free from the doldrums of comfort zones; aspire for what is lofty to honor the God from Whom all blessings flow. 

We attended the contemporary service, which was like being at home: announcements, gospel songs, scripture reading, message, and more worship songs. But the similarity ends there.

Our church is only 41 years old. That church has a long history dating back to the 1800s.

What this church has that particularly made my heart jump was a baptistery, still a pipe dream in our village church.
We’ve discussed it but, there is this “small” impediment such as funds. So we make do; baptism is done in a swimming pool with only a small group of witnesses, unlike inside a church where all faith brethren participate in this important rite as part of worship.  
Baptism is a key step in a believer's walk with Jesus. It is when he/she makes a public confession of his/her faith. In the Bible, Jesus led the way in example of baptism.

“At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” Mark 1:9-11 (NIV)

During one of those rising-above Sundays, over a dozen millennials were baptized. It was a moving, hair-raising hallelujah moment. As each person emerged from the water, we in the pews broke into a loud and prolonged applause. I heard a voice in my head, You are my son whom I love . . .

Someday, we will rise above petty problems such as cash. Our own church’s baptistery, by God’s surprising grace, may yet happen so that every public confession of faith will be witnessed by all.


I Believe I Can Fly

My friends in church know that my favorite part of the chicken is the neck. Each time we have a potluck fellowship, which is often, they would give me all the necks. 

Sometimes I gather as many as a dozen and I would be up to my neck with necks. Marvelous! 

This was up until I went for my next medical work-up. My cholesterol shot through the rafters. After making me confess what my diet consisted of and what my favorite foods were, my doctor said, “Enough of chicken neck!”

I found out later that one neck with skin is the biggest source of cholesterol in a chicken—all 159 calories of it—that will take 36 minutes of walking to burn!

What now?

I decided to switch to wings. One piece has only 99 calories and will take 20 minutes to burn. Well, I thought, I walk one hour a day so that should take care of wings.

About this time, my husband and I visited our grandson, Adrian, in California. When one day the little one chose to dine at Wing Zone, my pulse sprinted. Grace in food baskets—all the wings one could eat!
I had enough wings to make me fly that day.

Now that I am back home, I should remember to tell my friends that I have switched from necks to  wings. Since wings come in pairs, I should be getting 24 instead of a dozen in our next potluck fellowship.

“I believe I can fly,” is an apt song to sing at this point.

(I am poor in Math, so I could not compute how many calories two dozens of wings would add up to.) 


Tiger Lily

“They call me a tiger because I am strict, a disciplinarian,” laughed Auntie Lily, in her self-deprecating humor.

She is not really my auntie; she’s Tony’s favorite cousin, four years his senior, but since everyone calls her Auntie Lily then so be it.
Over the years, her huge, rambling house in LA has been home to many of her nephews and nieces from the Philippines, who had opted to study in the US.

“I would see to their needs, drive them to school, and cook them their meals. All of them, together with my two growing children, had to obey my rules or there would be chaos.”

Now with families and homes of their own, her former wards speak warmly of her and hold her in high esteem, calling her their second mom.

Fact is, Auntie Lily is everything but a tiger.

She is all steel outside, but all heart inside. Her house is now an empty nest, a commodious empty nest, where she and her husband (a retired surgeon) dabble in their hobbies and are aging gracefully.

They welcomed Tony and me to their home, as they did last year, for a wonderful week full of fun and food. We feasted on lauriat after lauriat, grace galore, whether at home or in a restaurant. Auntie Lily and Tony would reminisce the good old days when they were playmates and when Tony was perpetually punished for being the naughty one.

Her husband, who does great Chinese paintings and who reads three books at a time, was a kindred spirit.

I took photos of their huge mansion and garden (about only one tenth is trod on daily). These hardly capture their graciousness, which makes this home so livable and lovable. 


Stay Out of Jail

What motivates one to commit a crime?

Whenever I read about hardened convicts who commit crimes and are sent to jail, unmindful of the harm they had inflicted upon man and society, I am stumped.

Son #1 has this simplistic answer: they have no conscience.

I asked this question again when daughter-in-law, G, graciously took Tony and me to the infamous Alcatraz, also called The Rock, in San Francisco.

She’d been there a few times, but for us, she took the trip again.  I was there, too, once long ago, but not Tony.

So we headed to the once-impenetrable prison island, but closed in 1963, when three prisoners escaped through an elaborate route that took the guards by surprise. They were never caught nor found. Many believed they had died. But as late as 2015, there were reports that they survived the escape and may still be alive.

Today, there are earphones that enable guests to listen to the history of the place, highlighted by interviews and actual re-enactment of escape attempts, complete with sound effects.

This made me realize how dangerous it must have been for the wardens to supervise hardened criminals, whose devious minds were preoccupied with escaping or causing trouble.

The riots and escape attempts have been documented or romanticized in many movies and books. G bought me one in the gift shop, because author/historian Jolene Babyak was there in person, book signing. Her bio says she grew up in Alcatraz as her father was one of the associate wardens of the penitentiary. I turned into a fan.

“Breaking the Rock” is well researched—an exciting read. A bit pricey, as new books usually are anywhere in the world, but with the author’s signature, I feel it is worth more than its cost.

Visiting the penitentiary gives one the creeps, especially if you let your imagination run wild. It is not a happy place. It’s more like an ugly scar of a gaping wound that took years to heal. 

If I may add to son #1’s comment . . . the inhabitants of those cells looked the other way and ignored the grace that would have kept them out of jail.


Panning for Gold

People go gaga over gold. And why not? It’s the world’s most precious metal.

Remember the California gold rush in 1848?  Before then, the place was simply an agrarian state. But after gold was discovered there, California became a fast-growing and exciting part of the US.

Adrian’s class recently went on a field trip to the Kennedy Gold Mine in Jackson, California and we were happy kibitzers.

A bit of a background: The Kennedy Gold Mine (named for Irish immigrant Andrew Kennedy) was one of the deepest mines in the world at 5912 feet.

I write about it in the past tense because it was closed in 1942, but has been reopened as one of California's historical landmarks.

Prospected in 1860, the Kennedy Gold Mine tested and purified gold by fire and produced approximately $34,280,000 worth of this treasure, according to the CA Dept. of Conservation.

Volunteers toured us around as they explained what was left of this heritage site. The kids were curious, asking all the right questions.

Then the coup de grace: pan for gold!      

After listening to a few funny quips and clear instructions by an elderly volunteer, the kids set out to do it. Adrian didn’t need any help, but his doting grandpa thought he did.

They had gathered a vial of gold dust, over which Adrian complained, “It would have been more had I done it my way, not Angkong’s.” Haha!

It was a fun day visiting an era when people in California—many of whom died due to accidents and chemicals—had their fill of gold.

Which brings me to what Scripture says about something far greater than gold—faith:

 “. . . troubles test your faith as fire tests how genuine gold is. Your faith is more precious than gold, and by passing the test, it gives praise, glory, and honor to God. This will happen when Jesus Christ appears again.” 1 Peter 1:7 (GWT)


Freshly Baked Bread

In son #2’s home in the US, we often woke up to the aroma of freshly-baked bread.

It beckoned us to the breakfast table, where we’d give it our full attention—but not before singing our grace, “For health and strength and daily bread, we praise thy name oh, Lord. Amen.”
“Why go through all the trouble of baking your own bread when there is an ocean of them in bake/bread shops?” I asked.

“To avoid preservatives,” he replied simply.

It made perfect sense.

Being a doctor, son #2 knows how preservatives (small harmless doses every day could build up and become lethal to one’s body system) can affect our health and strength. Anyway, that thought never crossed my mind whenever we ate bread here at home.

Now it does. And with it comes the yummy thought of how good mornings began in his and his family’s home, which was Tony’s and mine, too, for a month or so in the Spring of 2017.

On my first morning back in the Philippines, I was awakened by the songs of birds that circle our trees in the yard and roost on our eaves. I sort of missed the aroma of freshly baked bread, but hey, life has different seasons.

With the avian melodies came the season of home.