The Philippine culture is diverse. It’s exactly like halo-halo (mix-mix), the country’s yummy dessert and our cooling grace this summer. Many people believe that the halo-halo might have been derived from a Japanese dessert called, kakigori (shaved ice with sweet beans) introduced prior to WWII.

It has since evolved into shaved ice with evaporated milk and mixed with different kinds of fruits and tiny pieces of native delicacies.
Although we are a part of Southeast Asia, our culture spans Euro-American. I am not a historian, so I am treading on this topic carefully with research data from various sources. 

There are many ethnic groups scattered all over our 7,000+ islands, but nearly four centuries of Western rule greatly influenced us. While the Christian churches built by the Spanish and the mosques built by the Muslims provided spiritual anchors, the educational system from the US—expanded by Filipino academicians—has contributed to our cultural halo-halo.

(Brief background: Our history books say that the Philippines is named after King Philip II of Spain [1556-1598] as we were a Spanish colony for over 300 years. But long before that, in the 10th century, indigenous Filipinos traded with China. By the 12th Century, Arab merchants reached the Philippines and introduced Islam. And even before all that, as the discovery of the Callao Man* in 2007 suggests, the first humans—Negrito groups—perhaps using rafts or boats at least 67,000 years ago, inhabited our shores.)   

And so, today, we are a halo-halo of various traits and practices, brought on by the countries that stepped on our archipelago.

“From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us.” Acts 17:26-27

* * *

*Archaeologists from the University of the Philippines dug up a human foot bone in the Callao caves about 210 north of Manila. Their report was released in the Journal of Human Evolution, “after tests in France established the fossil's age,” said professor Armand Mijares, the expedition leader. Cut marks on bones of deer and wild boar found around Callao Man suggest he/she could have hunted and was skilled with tools. Excavation continues to find other parts of the skeleton and hunting tools.)



The first time I heard shookt and how one person used it, I was appalled. Then I heard it again and read it on social media posts—sometimes spelled “shook” to actually mean “shocked” or "shaken."

“Where have you been?” my friend W, who loves and uses gayspeak-and-millennial-trendy-words-in-one, asked.

“From a deep sleep or freeze, I guess,” I replied facetiously.

But words, if used often enough by people around you, become yours too. And now I am using it to describe how I felt during yesterday’s earthquake (6.1 magnitude in Zambales province, west of Manila).

It was a lazy afternoon and I was leisurely writing some ideas creeping inside my head when my computer chair swayed. I thought it was the second coming and I was ready to rejoice, but the swaying went on for a few more seconds.

That was when I was shookt. 

Frazzled, I felt many emotions all at once. I ran to the garden, where Tony was watering the plants to warn him, “Earthquake!”

Calmly, he replied, “Is that what it is? I thought I was losing my balance again.” (The last time he lost his balance, we rushed him to the hospital.)

Posts on social media were frantic and many wrote, “Shookt!”

But many were prayers, too, asking God for grace to spare lives and properties.

These photos (borrowed from news websites) show why people were shookt. Many more of these will leave us shookt as the end times near. 
"For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.” Matthew 24:7 9 (ESV)

(Note: As of this writing, a stronger earthquake, 6.5 magnitude, rocked the Philippines. This time, the epicenter was traced to San Juan, Eastern Samar.)  


One Pair of Hands

My cousin Gadong, knowing how big a fan Tony is of Elvis Presley, sent via Messenger a video: One Pair of Hands. He wrote,”This is one of Elvis’ least heard songs.”

Upon hearing the first notes, Tony remarked, “That’s not Elvis.”

“But it sounds like him!” I argued. 

“The song is beautiful, but the voice is not Elvis’.”

What do I know? So I visited YouTube and found that it is being passed off as an Elvis number.

One of the comments was, “How could any Elvis fan not know the difference? Please give credit where credit is due.”

Credit is due Carroll Roberson, born July 17, 1955, whom I never heard of till Gadong’s message.  An evangelist, gospel singer-songwriter, and author, he is the founder and president of Carroll Roberson Ministries in Ripley, Mississippi, where he lives with his wife and two sons. 

I loved his song at first line. And I have  turned into a fan, especially because he also sings old hymns. His albums have since served as my background sounds as I pore over the drafts of my latest book due today, Easter Sunday. 

One Pair of Hands 

One pair of hands formed the mountains,
One pair of hands formed the sea
One pair of hands made the sun and the moon

Every bird, every flower, every tree
One pair of hands formed the valleys,
The ocean, the rivers and the sand

Those hands are so strong
so when life goes wrong
Put your faith into one pair of hands

One pair of hands, healed the sick,
One pair of hands raised the dead
One pair of hands calmed the raging storm
And thousands of people were fed 
One pair of hands said I love you

And those hands were made for me
Those hands are so strong
so when life goes wrong
Put your faith into one pair of hands x2 
I have put my faith in the God of grace, whose one pair of hands was nailed to the cross where He died to save me. But He rose on the third day to demonstrate His victory over our sins and give us eternal life. 

Happy Resurrection Day! 


Happy Home Reviewed

For a year now, I’ve been working on the 5th book of the Happy Home series and finally, we’re in the home stretch. And yet, my publisher and I are still agonizing over the title.

While we were hard at work, this old review of the series—when there were just three books—popped in my head and here I am revisiting it.
It was penned in Filipino by Dr. Eugene Yambot Evasco, a University of the Philippines' faculty member, Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature; and a Palanca Hall of Fame Awardee.  

Having inadequate familiarity with the language, I won’t be able to translate it to English accurately and as beautifully as Dr. Evasco wrote it, not in a million years. I will simply try to approximate his words—as best as this Ilocana could.

"It is quite apparent that many of Grace's children's books are about family and how people should develop good values." Yes, every book that I write should advocate family values, or I don't write at all. 

The series begins with Coming Home, where a 14-year-old street child is adopted by a Christian family and completes the household. "This first book is vital because, like any first chapter of a novel, the introduction of characters is key to the narrative."

"The 2nd book [That First Sunday] demonstrates the significance of the day as a time for worship and rest—as well as for family bonding and diligent study of the Bible."

"And the third book [Bully Vs. Bully] takes on a serious issue in schools, bullying."

"These books are essential and timely because they teach young readers the value of kindness, of adoption, and of sharing each other's grief. This series parallels what's happening in the world today—adoption of: refugees from hard, war-torn countries; babies abandoned by their parents; and street children . . . it likewise tackles the changing concept of family—from nuclear to extended."

Dr. Evasco ended his review with, "We often hear that charity begins at home. But in Grace's books, charity is not confined in the home, but can spring toward the dangerous spaces of the streets.”

Such insightful words, deeply perceptive of the series’ vision, are what's keeping the 5th book difficult to mount. In addressing delicate issues (the 4th book, The Real Thief, takes on children in conflict with the law), Happy Home cannot afford to offend the sensibilities of the readers for whom the books have been specially written.


Sitting is the New Smoking

I was lying on my tummy at the doctor’s clinic when he pressed a spot on my back, close to my spine.

“Owie!” I cried. The pain was piercing. He pressed some more spots beside it and my “owies” came one after the other.

A specialist in Anthroposophical medicine, Dr. Br. was actually my court of last resort. After seeing three doctors for my stubborn—and therefore immobilized and aching—right toes, I made my last ditch effort.

Dr. Br. combines Eastern medical practices with his Western medicine education, which he finished at the University of the Philippines. His post medical trainings have included further study of integrative and preventive medicine. Today he lectures in various universities in the country.

Here’s how I found him.

My friend, Ggie, sometimes asks me to partner with her in doing advertising/ promotional materials for her clients. She does the art and throws the conceptual words for me to write. Dr. Br. was one such client, and while I was doing his brochures and other collaterals, I marveled at his vast experience in restorative medicine.

“Sitting is the new smoking,” he said while he pressed more sensitive points on my back.

“Well, being a writer, I sit for hours at my computer,” I said, “so do all the rest of humanity today with their gadgets. How could that compare with smoking?”

“Smoking causes many diseases, so does sitting,” he replied simply.

After a two-hour work-up, I felt so relaxed I could sleep for days.

And what about my errant toes days later? They’re still obstinate, grasping as much as they could when I walk.

So I mentioned this to a neurologist friend whom I bumped into in a party. He said, “Muscle spasm caused by a degenerating spine.”

“Why would my spine degenerate?” I asked incredulously.

“Grace, you’re a writer. How many hours a day do you spend sitting down?” Always tactful, he did not mention aging.

Sitting has caught up with me as I age. But there’s no way I can change that, unless I type while standing or walking.

So I lie in wait for more windfall of grace:

“I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you. “I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age.” Isaiah 46:4


Home Court

Our home court is now complete with the addition of Judge to the roster. He joins Attorney (his mom and our pet dog for six years now) and Fiscal, our cat (who invited herself to be part of us last year).

The complete home court
Judge was born with three other siblings (females) on Christmas eve last year. After a month and one week, all four puppies were eating regular food and running confidently around. It was time to let the three females go.

It was a tough decision since the family had grown fond of all the puppies, but maintaining them was something else—drained best describes what all four reduced us to. Just cleaning their early morning discards took every bit of the energy one had regained during a whole night’s sleep. And their volume of food! Yes, that was absolutely draining on the pocket.

So here they are at play, the members of our home court, our family's sources of joy; grace that walked into our home from the streets: 

Judge and his playmate, Fiscal
Judge and his mom, Attorney
Attorney and her puppy, Judge, are askals—short for asong kalye (translation: street dogs).

Fiscal is a pusakal—short for pusang kalye (translation: street cat).

They are the members of our home court that make us all rise with excitement.


Beyond the Awards

Immediately after the announcement of winners of the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Francisco Balagtas* award,  the publisher of my children’s books, Hiyas (an imprint of OMF Lit), posted this on my FB page:

Just as immediately, friends wrote me congratulatory greetings in response to the announcement.

When people dear to you rejoice over such a recognition, your heart bubbles over with delight. I was leisurely reading and relishing each and every message, when one stopped me in my tracks:

Congratulations po! I've been your reader since 2009 and I grew up with Mateo Series~ I'm now a Language and Literature student and I would like to pursue a children's literature thesis. This is all thanks to you, Ma’am Grace, who inspired me with your books.

She’s been reading my books for ten years? And now she wants to write a thesis on children’s literature?

What an encouragement! More than awards like the above, narratives such as this make me profoundly grateful that I made children’s literature a a big chunk of my writing life.

*This annual institutional award is given out by UMPIL (Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas), Writers Union of the Philippines. It will be awarded at the 45th National Writers Congress and the 32nd Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Francisco Balagtas at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Pasay City this month of April.  


Online Grace (4)

Bypassed No More

Mr. Generoso, CEO of the company, introduced a young, bespectacled young man to Pearl. 

“My new boss!” Pearl guessed. 

"Yes. Raphael will take charge of HR starting next month."
"Welcome, Sir Raphael," said Pearl.

Mr. Generoso explained, "Pearl will assist you in every possible way. She has been with the department for five years now.”

Five years and five bypasses, Pearl thought, smiling. Mr. Generoso moved Pearl from another unit to HR because, "We need you to run this important department."

However, when the season for promotions came, she was always bypassed by people less experienced. Mr. Generoso would apologize, "If it were up to me, I’d have promoted you to head HR on day one. But the position requires a college degree.”

Pearl dropped out of college in her third year to work, because her ailing father had huge medical expenses. She’d been an asset in this company, but.

Her younger but degreed bosses, meanwhile, were not equipped for the pressure the job entailed. So like clockwork, they resigned after a year or less.

Pearl had read an ad about an online HR course offered by a UK university. With her savings, she enrolled. Why, it was peanuts! Her five-year experience in the workplace enabled her to breeze through it all.

Encouraged by the ease of getting a BA degree, she enrolled for her MBA, also online.

When promotion season came again, Pearl knew Mr. Generoso would apologize for the nth time why Pearl was not qualified for the top position. 

This time, Pearl had her ammo.

Mr. Generoso was shocked. He gawked in awe at Pearl's diploma and her tuition receipt for MBA. He sputtered, "Pearl, more than anyone, you deserve to head this department! Now you are!”
"Bypassed no more?" Pearl joked. 

Mr. Generoso turned red, embarrassed but ecstatic.


Online Grace (3):

Dream Degree in Situ

It was not too long ago when one had to leave the comforts of home and travel to a university where her dream degree was offered.

Back then, schools had specializations. Meaning, one school was known for its excellent engineering degrees and another would be known for humanities.

I had always wanted a degree in creative writing, but there was no university (at least a bus ride away) that offered such course. I’d have had to go abroad to find that dream course (which was out of the family budget), so I ended up in a state university offering a course that had one or two subjects requiring creative writing.

Today, online learning enables anyone to take any course she wants from any place in the world that offers her choice degree. 

Long-distance traveling for a diploma is a thing of the past. You can take your degree in situ—at your own time and place.

Out of curiosity, I googled  “online creative writing” and voila, I got a long list of schools and programs that offer it in various timelines and permutations. Had I been born in this digital age . . . well, I am sure you catch my drift.

This is just one of the many great things the Internet provides you and me. On the flip side . . . well, you won’t go up the stage wearing a cap. And you will receive your diploma flat, instead of rolled, sent to you via courier or snail mail in an envelope.