On social media in the Philippines, the word "lodi” is a popular interjection, a fad at the moment. It is actually "idol" spelled in reverse. It is used as an exclamation or an ovation punctuated by, “Wow!” 

That’s exactly how I’d describe Lodi (pronounced lo-dye), my second favorite city in the US, the other being the place where son #2, his wife, and son live.
Lodi is best known for being a center of wine-grape production that earned its nickname, Wine Country. But there are many other plantations there as well. Driving to the center of the city, you behold endless farms and ranches—as far as the eye can see.

The city’s commercial area is quaint, reminiscent of the places of old America, described in many novels. If you are a wine lover, you can go to a wine store and have a taste, with diced or sliced cheese.

During weekdays, the tree-lined roads are almost deserted, a perfect setting for a sentimental homecoming of a long, lost love; or where one finds grace swirling with the wind in wide open spaces.

Lodi makes you wax poetic.
Or perhaps, I am just a small-town girl at heart. And Lodi makes me re-experience the days when the air was cleaner, the sky was bluer, and the people, kinder. 

“And I'll stride freely through wide open spaces as I look for your truth and your wisdom; Then I'll tell the world what I find, speak out boldly in public, unembarrassed.” Psalm 119:45-46 (MSG)


Drawing Diva in 30 Days?

I had worked with over 100 artists in my job as creative director in a multi-national ad agency.

They were a strange lot—and I mean that in a most endearing way. Their talents and the excellent work we produced together more than made up for their mood swings, temper, and reticence to communicate with words.

To this day, I hold advertising artists in high esteem (that was before digital art took over and now every Tom, Dick, and Harry can do some kind of "art").

I was and will always be in awe of their gift. When I left advertising, I thought I'd never see the likes of them again.

Till I took up writing children's book.

One of my first published books, "The Boy who Had Five Lolas” (a Palanca award-winning piece) was going to be illustrated by May Tobias, according to Bookmark, the publisher. So I set out to meet May. I was delighted to find out she was also an ad gal!

Her initial sketches breathed life into the characters in ways I never imagined. I turned into a fan since that first meet-up in a coffee shop.

Through the years, we'd “see” each other on FB, where I read about her writing activities and art adventures. One day she messages me, asking for a testimonial for her soon-to-be-launched art book, "Doodles and Daydreams."

It's a how-to book for hobbyists and crafters, who wish they could draw but think they can’t. "I want to prove them wrong . . . they can learn to draw in as little as 30 days with my exercises and practical, easy-to-follow tips,"  May writes.

Months later, she sends me a copy of the newly launched book via courier and once again, May wows me.

An unexpected bonus—my words are a part of the cover and back cover.       

It felt like Grace was delivered at my doorstep.

Scanning the pages, I want to shout out loud to fellow art lovers who have been struggling to draw: This book is guaranteed to turn you into a drawing diva in 30 days! 

That should include me. 


Mystical and Magical Mindanao

A cousin from the US asked me to please send her a copy of my book, Mystical and Magical Mindanao.

The title rang a bell, but I had no book with that title, "Maybe you're referring to a different author?"

But with the magic of Google, indeed there is such a book (designed by Mano Dela Rosa) and my name is on the cover!    

And then I remembered.

A few years ago, Jun Alfon (a true-blue Filipino artist whose subjects are mostly indigenous people of Mindanao) told me that someone wanted to publish his works in a coffee table book. I jumped with joy. It’s about time people took notice of Jun’s unique and vibrant art that showcases Filipino history and culture.

Now, would I be so kind as to write the text?

Jun Alfon was a neighbor and anything that has to do with writing perks me up, so I said, "It’d be an honor!” I suggested the title above (which is what it is!) and wrote about him and his works.

Jun moved to a different place and we've lost touch—but not before he gifted me with two of his beautiful paintings (one adorns our bedroom wall and the other hangs above my piano, making the vintage instrument look grand). 

That book project totally escaped my consciousness, but it came rushing back when I received my cousin's message. Yes, God's grace can come at you via the Net, too.

The Net also gifted me with many photos of Jun’s other exquisite art pieces. Here are a few of them:    

Now I am trying to look for a copy of Mystical and Magical Mindanao in all bookstores. Or maybe I could just order it online. Or I'll try to hunt Jun Alfon.

I am doing all three at the same time. 


"Sorry, God"

A public uproar erupted after our president, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, exclaimed in one of his rambling speeches, ". . . stupid God."

It was in the context of the fall in the Garden of Eden. He accused God of causing Eve's disobedience—eating a fruit from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge.

We who trust the Bible and who worship the God of creation (about 80% of the population) were outraged. How could the highest official of our land brazenly malign, in a public forum on live TV, the center of our faith?

I have atheist and agnostic friends, but not any of them dares say anything against my God to my face, not even in jest.

The president's apologists, sensing the public outcry, quickly came to his defense, explaining that the boss was just exercising his freedom of speech, guaranteed in our constitution. Others went even further, “He didn’t really mean it . . .” “Try to understand his boyhood trauma . . .” etc.

But aren’t presidents supposed to be statesmen, respecting all the beliefs of their constituents—in public at least? We’ve repeatedly heard and watched how our president curses heads of states, the Pope, institutions, and individuals who disagree with him.

And now, God??!!

Many were appalled that he could be so mean as to mock the God of grace to Whom we pray for his administration’s well-being and wisdom. I grieved and wept when the people in the audience laughed at his blasphemous tirade.

Have we sunk this low?

Not content with his insult, our president stoked the fire the next day, "If you can prove to me that there is a God, I will resign."

Pressured by religious groups and individuals who expressed their indignation on social media, he finally said, albeit nonchalantly, "Sorry, God."
Max Lucado: “Repentance is a genuine, sincere regret that creates sorrow and moves us to admit wrong and desire to do better. It’s an inward conviction that expresses itself on outward actions.” 

Charles Spurgeon: "Repentance is a discovery of the evil of sin, a mourning that we have committed it, a resolution to forsake it. It is, in fact, a change of mind of a very deep and practical character, which makes the man love what once he hated, and hate what once he loved."  

John Piper: "Repenting means experiencing a change of mind that now sees God as true and beautiful and worthy of all our praise and all our obedience." 

Whether President Duterte is indeed sorry for defaming God, and for demeaning us, the people he governs, is not for me to say. Only God knows his heart. 
"Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.” Acts 3:19 (NLT)


Grasping Toes

When you reach a certain age and meet with friends of your generation, one of the topics of conversation would be maintenance medicines.  Most times, it is the only subject of interest.

This includes trips to the doctor, results of medical exams or blood tests, food to avoid, and insomnia.

My own fave topic at the moment are two of my doctors (a neurologist and an orthopedic surgeon).  After showing each of them, on two different days, the result of my MRI test, they both gave me the same answer. “Your complaint has nothing to do with your spine MRI. It is the first time I have seen something like this.”  

But they agreed on one thing:  “See your rehab doctor again.” 

What’s this mysterious malady?  My right toes.

I blogged about them curling and preventing me from doing my regular morning walk. But my description was not apt. The two doctors, after observing me walk back and forth inside their clinic said, “Grasping toes.” 

See, my toes just don’t curl, they grasp whatever surface I walk on. This causes my toe nails undue pressure because they involuntarily dig into my pumps, sandals, or slip ons. And this happens every time I walk, even on bare feet and even if it is just from my bed to the bathroom. 

My friends laugh at this phenomenon and as expected, each has his own conclusion, more than what my two doctors attempted to have or say: 

“You lack calcium.”  “Wear softer shoes.” “That’s a form of rheumatism.” “Eat bananas.” “Drink lots of fluids.” Plus many more.

As I write about this, I am due to see my rehab doctor, who, unfortunately is not available till next week. And so I wait and live with my “grasping toes” every waking hour, relying on grace to lessen the discomfort accompanied by pain.

Meanwhile, I look around me and thank the Lord for the untold blessings that I neglect to appreciate because of my stubborn digits.


What’s So Funny about Poop?

It’s foolproof. In all the creative writing workshops I have facilitated for children, there is one word that is guaranteed to elicit uncontrollable laughter: poop.
This four-letter-word is not in my agenda. But somehow, it comes up from one of them and when it does, the whole room goes wild with giggles and cackles. 

In my latest workshop, for instance, I asked the kids to describe their breakfast in five sentences, which must integrate the five senses.

Guess where the sense of smell led to?

When my kids were small, there was one way to keep them laughing: poop or bathroom humor.

This one tops them all: One of my sons was cast as one of the pigs in the school play, “Three Little Pigs.” His line was, “Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin!” After some rehearsals, he had it down pat. 

D-day came and the huge gymnasium was filled with excited parents and schoolchildren.

When my son’s play began, I stretched my neck to watch him, adorable in his piggy costume. A stage hand handed one “pig” the microphone, which the three wrestled over. When my son got hold of the mike, he said in his loudest-ever voice, “Hello, Mr. Poop!”

The schoolchildren went aroar, and I wanted to crawl under the nearest table.

How did the other parents react? I would never know; I had my face covered with my shawl.

Years later, when I re-tell this anecdote to kids, they crack up.

Child development experts say that humor is a universal aspect of human behavior. Only the subject of what’s funny changes as kids reach the age of reason. But poop humor is a phase longer than others. Well, some never outgrow it, which is why slapstick shows still sell.

When you feel low sometimes, like I do at the moment, try listening to kids’ merry twitters when they hear the word poop.

There’s no better medicine than a cheerful heart; there’s no better cheer than the grace of laughter.

 “A cheerful heart is good medicine . . .” Proverbs 17:22 (NIV)


Crimson Break

My crimson-leaves header (above) was supposed to come down after my blog on crimson leaves had played out its four-day run. But Tony decided to treat me and the two boys (son #1 and son #3) to a staycation in celebration of our umpteenth wedding anniversary.

Guess where. Crimson Hotel—a 20-minute drive from home. The header stays then, while this post is current.

Where did that come from? I asked myself.

I wondered not about the name of the hotel, but about the idea of a staycation. I refrained from verbalizing it for fear that Tony might change his mind. His was a left-field, yet definitely a great idea. It didn’t cost an arm and a leg since we have senior discounts and the hotel had some kind of a promotion.

Sleeping in a bed not your own, especially one that’s been spruced up for guests, is always a delight.
A small anniversary cake was delivered to our room on the 11th floor, where the view was breathtaking: the skyway, the skylines of three Metro Manila cities, and a large part of our district including Laguna Bay. Why, they seemed like postcards from some wonderland! 
We met the boys at the main dining hall for the buffet dinner, scrumptious to the hilt, even for seniors whose appetite for food has diminished over the years. 

The buffet breakfast (brunch) was just as toothsome—with much too many dishes to choose from.

Then at check-out time, after enjoying the indulging amenities (spa, gym, art gallery, etc.) of Crimson Hotel, we drove leisurely home and in 20 minutes we were greeted by the family pets: Fiscal, the cat; Attorney, the dog; and JC’s two guinea pigs.

It was a grand vacation from our routines, without having to suffer the horrendous traffic, the high cost of gas, and the stress of traveling. As for the sons, they didn’t have to stay away too long from their jobs, yet got the break they so badly needed.

In all, it was a heaven-sent wedding anniversary gift wrapped in grace.



My greatest frustration in the US of A for three consecutive years now is not being able to photograph these windmills.
I’d tried each time we drove past them but when I clicked my camera, the angle I had in mind had shifted. The photograph above, which I borrowed from cyberspace, is the exact shot I saw in my head.

We have these windmills in the Philippines, too. Although there are only 20 of them (arranged in a single row, stretching through a nine kilometer shoreline) in the Bangui Wind Farm in the north, they are a tourist attraction. Imagine my excitement then when I saw thousands upon thousands of them in California three years ago?

These wind turbines are the opposite of a fan. Instead of using electricity to make wind, like a fan, they use wind to make electricity. The energy in the wind turns the propeller-like blades around a rotor, which is connected to the main shaft, which in turn spins a generator to create electricity.

We would never have reached this digital age without electricity that powers just about all modern conveniences. Electricity lights up our homes, buildings, and schools; it allows us to listen to the news and music in places cooled by fans or air-conditioning units. Right now, you are using electricity as you read this.

Electricity has something to do with atoms . . . I will not go further as science ties my right brain in knots. More than the electricity the windmills create, I am more fascinated with their design, the aesthetics, and how they are arranged on mountain tops, like birds suspended on air.

As I marvel at new technology, I keep going back to the seeds of inventions—the natural elements produced by nature, and the Source of it all. The Lord of all creation has provided us with everything we will ever need.

“God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.” John 1:3 (NLT)

The windmills are but one example of the bounty of the Creator’s grace.


Crimson Leaves

As we entered the gate of son #2’s neighborhood, I gazed in awe at the trees with crimson leaves that lined the main road, serving as canopy for a colorful flower garden.  They looked like these up close.

It’s my blog header while this post is current.

“What do you call those trees?” I asked.

Neither son nor daughter-in-law knew. Anything that’s part of the landscape remains unidentified to locals, I guess. But transients like me, curious about everything new, gawked and asked.

I surfed the Net for the tree’s name but those with crimson leaves were varied. I thought I‘d ask the gardener but his time and mine never crossed. I took photos, but they came out as burgundy, not crimson.
"They might be Crimson King Maple,” son # 2 guessed.  “Might” isn’t the same as “is.”  They can’t be maple because the leaves’ shape are nothing near maple.

For me, the color that comes closest to describing the leaves is crimson, which conjures Biblical images. 

In the Old Testament (KJV), the word 'crimson' is mentioned five times. Many theologians believe that in Scripture, scarlet, red, and crimson refer to the same color.

In Isaiah 1:18 (NLT), we read “’Come now, let’s settle this,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.’”

The Bible often emphasizes something by repeating it in a different way—for our understanding. The verse above says that God can purify sins. And red, or crimson, or scarlet is used to describe sin, which must be cleansed.

This cleansing is made possible only by grace. This in the one truth the crimson leaves left me.