9/25/2017

67th Palanca Awards 2017


Attending a Palanca Awards Night, often held on September 1, has always been an exceptional grace for me. There I get to chat with fellow writers/readers whose passion is literature.

At the awards night this year, the guest speaker was Butch Dalisay, (a highly respected professor and author). He eloquently articulated what I have always thought of the Palanca Awards: “Writing for the truth, writing for honor and glory, writing for the love of language–these are what your being here is all about, what the Palancas have existed for these past 67 years.”  


He added, “This is especially important in these darkening times, when megalomaniacal and murderous despotism threatens societies across the ocean, debases the truth, and cheapens human life.”

This year, however, I had one tiny dread. For the first time in Palanca’s history, there was no winner in the Short Story for Children category, for which I chaired the three-man board of judges.

Although my co-judges and I were confident of our stand, there was still a possibility of censure from some quarters.

True enough, the following day, I read snide remarks on FB about the result of our judging. These spurred a writer of Rappler to message me and ask for the judges’ POV. We welcomed the interview; it gave us a chance to candidly air our side, without being defensive.

After the article was published, we were deluged with overwhelming support. Not one disagreed with our decision.

It’s been four weeks since the Rappler story and I am still getting messages from FB friends and people I have not met:

“I can't believe the judges earned flak for not choosing a winner! It’s as though they’re saying, ‘that’s only a story for children.”

“I totally respect the judges' decision NOT to compromise the standards set for the Short Story for Children category. Lowering your standards would only reinforce other people's impression that writing for children is a breeze.”

“In my book, you did the right thing.”

“That was a bold move. But am so glad you made a statement that needed to be said.”

My fervent wish as an author of children’s book is that writers who plan to write for kids should take the craft seriously, very seriously. Kids deserve the very best, and the Palanca is the perfect venue to show it.

Regrettably, this year, not one made the grade.



9/21/2017

Rock of Ages


Silence was all I could hear while writing in the last two years. It began when my CD player, which I played all day, conked out on me.

Finally, last night, I asked Tony to please buy me a new CD player.

He said, “I’d be glad to.” All I had to do was ask.

Son #3 overheard and exclaimed, “CD players are passé. All the types of music you listen to are on the Internet, non-stop!”

Duh.

Then he gave instructions on how to access hymns, Broadway songs, and oldies.

Early this morning, I did as told, and hey presto! I typed HYMNS and the first one that came on was “Rock of Ages.”
What a coincidence.

It had been one of my father’s favorite hymns and today, 35 years ago (just two days after his 70th birthday), he “drew his fleeting breath, and his eyes closed in death.”  

Written by the Reverend Augustus Toplady in 1763, this hymn would be sung softly by Dad all the time, alternating it with with "The Old Rugged Cross."  He couldn’t carry a tune—a trait I half inherited—but the words rang clear. Let me quote the last stanza: 

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyes shall close in death,
When I rise to worlds unknown,
And behold Thee on Thy throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.


Today I remember Daddy and say a prayer of thanksgiving to our Rock of ages for his life.

I also say good-bye to silence while writing. I have music once again—and all the tunes I love—while my computer is on. And I can even change gears anytime.

Wow. Like discovering grace, I learned a new digital “magic” at a most unexpected hour.

9/17/2017

Grace under Pressure:

The backstory

“Would you consider writing a book on brokenness?” Joy, Editorial Manager of Church Strengthening Ministry (CSM), asked me as she held her breath.

She didn’t have to hold it too long. I replied in a heartbeat, “One word, yes.”

Joy laughed, “The title we have in mind is ‘Grace under Pressure.’”

Anything with the word “grace” pumps adrenaline into my core. “You’re on,” I said, after which we discussed the details.

When I started writing, however, I could not reconcile the title with brokenness. Nobody ever gets broken when grace comes to the rescue, was the thought that kept me awake at night.

I had two choices, drop the title and write about brokenness, or retain the title and talk about grace coming just before breaking point. 

After much agony, I chose to retain the title, and wrote a “position paper” to present to CSM.

During our round-table discussion (with the editorial team), we sliced, minced, carved, shredded, and pureed the issue until it was crystal clear in our minds that indeed, “Grace under Pressure” is not about brokenness. Yet, pressure is just as crucial and as urgent an issue in our world today. 

So I was given the green light to write “Grace under Pressure.”

It was a bitter-sweet journey that spanned two continents. I began writing the book in the Philippines then continued writing in the US, where my husband and I spent some time.

I say bitter-sweet because as I re-lived my own anguish through the years and other people’s pressures, it felt like going through the grinding mill again—or to use a more appropriate metaphor, like being sealed in a pressure cooker, with a slim chance of escaping. 

But ultimately, and despite everything, I am a believer of and an advocate for happy endings.

I therefore ended the book thus:

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed.  We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God.  We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.  Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (NLT)

At 3:30 this afternoon, I will be at the CSM Booth at the Manila International Book Fair, SMX MOA, for book signing. Won’t you come and grab a copy?   

 

9/15/2017

Dump Truck in My Heart:

The backstory

The idea for this book, which was inspired by my friend C, was roosting on the back burner for three years.

One day, another friend, L, called asking if I had an unpublished story for children. And would I send it to him? He was doing an anthology of children’s literature and looking for something fresh.

I told him to give me a day to rummage through my files. And I found this! The story revolved around coping with poverty. But this theme was not what he was looking for.    

I knew, however, that the idea had endless possibilities, if only I could sit down to re-work it. With an audacity I don’t normally possess, I called L, “I think I may have what you’re looking for! But I can’t send it to you yet. Can you give me two weeks?”

“I give you one,” he replied.

One week?! The shortest time (and I call that a miracle) I ever took in writing a children’s story was four months. How on earth could I write this in one week?!”

The voice inside my head whispered, You already have a manuscript, which you worked on for almost two years. That, plus one week, would be more than three dozen months. Not a short deadline at all.

I cancelled all my appointments that week, begged off from errands, and did nothing but re-think the idea and pound on my keyboard. I might have missed several meals—and never once glanced at FB. I also lost some sleep, and appreciated the fact that one does not need eight hours of snooze to stay alert.

From coping with poverty to coping with death of a loved one—it was a detour, but I had just lost a dear friend and I was in deep grief, like there was a dump truck parked in my heart.

The verse that kept me sane was, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Revelation 21:4 (NLT)

After I had two (instead of six) kids and two (instead of three) writers read it for their comments or violent reactions, I fine-tuned my 1,300-word story and e-mailed it to my friend. He said he loved it at first read. Whew!

It was published in an anthology of children’s literature (for adult readers). I thought that since I wrote it for children who might be grieving over the loss of someone dear, it should be read by them.

I sent the manuscript to Hiyas, my publisher of children's books. "Could you pare it down to 1,000 words for kids' easier reading?"

Today, at the Manila International Book Fair, at 11 AM, I will be at the Hiyas booth (with Dominic Agsaway, illustrator extraordinaire) interacting with kids and discussing this 1,000-word story with them.

I pray that it will help bring hope that one day, the loss of a loved one will not hurt as much—and the dump truck parked in one's heart will drive away.  


9/12/2017

Tea Party

and Writing Workshop

I had barely breathed enough Philippine air—jet-lagged to the bone—when I rushed to facilitate what was dubbed as “Tea Party and Writing Workshop for a Children’s Cause,” less than 24 hours after flying in.  

It was a commitment I made before I left for the US, prior to finalizing my flight schedules. It couldn’t be canceled because about 40 attendees had already confirmed.

Strength, Lord, strength, was my recurrent plea.

Strength He gave me, generously. 

The event was to push-start the project of PCMN and OMF Lit to publish a devotional for adults who work with children. The day-long affair gathered a mixture of professors, grade school teachers, youth pastors, NGO volunteers for children’s projects, children’s book writers, and church VBS and Sunday school volunteers.

There was bottomless tea alright. It bred bottomless ideas and enthusiasm.

The idea is to come up with 365 daily devotions, with every writer contributing at least five. More than ever, there is a need to equip, affirm, and encourage workers for children because these are perilous times.

Many kids today are: abused and exploited (one in five have experienced violence in various forms); stressed and are digital natives; exposed to dangerous information on cyberspace; lacking in basic life skills and values. And many of them still don’t know Jesus.

This devotional is envisioned help advocates for children grow more sensitive to these little ones’ needs and be role models to them. 

A pipe dream?

Not with the Lord’s grace in empowering all contributing writers.

This devotional will be launched at the next Manila International Book Fair in 2018. If you are reading this and are itching to write, please join us. Our writing guidelines are on our FB page.


The tea party in photos:

 
Yes, I lasted the day, with enough strength to survive the two-hour, bumper-to-bumper traffic on our drive home.

Thank you, Lord.

9/08/2017

35 Blogs of Memories


“What is your greatest fear?”

That was the question asked us in our Sunday school class (women’s group). 

I have actually too many tiny fears, which is a shame, because the God I believe in, and Whose grace saved me, repeatedly says: 

"I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid.” John 14:27 (NLT)

 “This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:19

“The LORD is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1

“My biggest fear is: Alzheimer’s disease. It seems to run in my mom’s family; three of her sisters had it.” There, I blurted it out to my Sunday school classmates.

I explained, "Because of this fear, I document memories—through my blog posts. Silly, but in my mind, I feel that if I write about my memories, they’d stay forever."

“But that is precisely what Alzheimer’s does!” they exclaimed. “It erases everything—documented or undocumented memories.” 

We got a good laugh over the absurdity of it all. 

With a quick change of mindset, I thought, Yeah, it’s not fear of the A-disease that made me write 35 posts about my 35 days in the US.
It was pleasure. Being with my one and only grandson and his parents that long—away from my daily grind at home—was pure, perfect pleasure.  

“Wow! Thirty-five blog posts for memories of 35 days!” one of my blog readers exclaimed when after two months, she was still reading about my and my husband’s US vacation.

“It could have been more,” I replied, “had I not been reminded by my editor of my book deadlines.” 

So what is my greatest fear?

What fear?

“. . . perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” 1 John 4:18



9/04/2017

Only Bigger


Every restaurant to where Tony and I were treated in the US had servings so big, we always had to request for a take-home box.

On our third day of eating out, we caught on and wised up. We agreed to have a single order to be split in half. Good decision—no more left-overs. If any, it was not indecently wasteful. This arrangement was definitely nifty and thrifty.

We sometimes dined in restaurants with chains or branches in the Philippines. The menu—food, packaging, and presentation—were the same as those at home, only bigger.  Be they hamburger, fried chicken, noodles, skewered meat (barbecue), or ice cream, the servings were the same, again, only bigger.


Deserts such as bananas, strawberries, mangoes, oranges, and all the fruits we grow at home were also in America, only bigger.

Once I needed a sachet of petroleum jelly for a lesion on my foot. I looked for one in store shelves but could only find them in big bottles.

America does not carry tingi packaging specially made for Filipino needs and lifestyle.

Coming home after 35 days, I noticed that the flora (roses, birds of paradise, orchids, poppies, peonies, etc.) I gushed over in America have existed here all along. The same goes true for the trees, roads, shops, malls, trees, linens, personal care products, and everything else.

They only differ in size: in America, everything is bigger.

As I compared sizes between there and here, something serendipitous happened to me: I grew bigger eyes!

Suddenly, my pair of orbs could see everything we also have, which I glossed over before.

“Look, how lovely those trees are!” I exclaimed on our way home from the airport.

“Mom,” son #3 almost sneered, “this is your usual route.”

Traveling can both enfeeble and sharpen the mind. What I thought were bigger blessings somewhere are actually the same blessings right here.

Bigger is not necessarily better. Smaller is not necessarily poorer.

I rubbed my eyes; they’re the same pair that came with my birth, now only bigger.

8/31/2017

Solitaire


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.  


8/27/2017

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.


8/23/2017

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.


8/19/2017

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.) 


8/15/2017

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. 

8/11/2017

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.

8/07/2017

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)

8/03/2017

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.           

7/30/2017

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)


 

7/26/2017

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 edgy 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.


7/22/2017

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!


7/20/2017

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)


7/18/2017

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 . . ."


7/14/2017

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.

7/10/2017

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 Junípero 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)


7/06/2017

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.

7/03/2017

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)


7/01/2017

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.

6/28/2017

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.


6/25/2017

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.

6/22/2017

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. 

6/19/2017

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!