Caring for Children

To my shame and embarrassment, I was clueless about this advocacy.

I didn't realize that that there are almost 200 youth advocates for children under the aegis of Youth for Safety (Y4S), one of the major programs of Philippine Children’s Ministries Network (PCMN), also a registered NGO.

Y4S has the vision to free Filipino children from sexual abuse and exploitation through youth advocates.

Impossible dream? 

No. These Y4S youth advocates are being equipped by PCMN to be effective in various areas through training—writing is one of the skills they need "to be able to lead, advocate and communicate." 

Ensconced in a safe and peaceful world of writing, I had some kind of blinders for raw and edgy programs.

But one day, after uploading to FB my photos in a recent creative writing workshop, I received a cryptic message from someone I had not met. Fe, national director of PCMN, wrote, “I wish you could conduct your creative writing workshop for PCMN youth.”

I got curious and later found out that the PCMN youth (Y4S), volunteers from various evangelical churches, are trained peer mentors and advocates against child sexual abuse.

This cut right through my middle. My impression of millennials made a u-turn. A “no” was not an option.

The workshop was then scheduled by Garicel, Y4S’s program coordinator. Simultaneously, I informed Hiyas, my publisher of children's books, and they sent over copies of different titles to be given away to each of the attendees.

On D-day, I was blessed to have worked with 20 young men and women—ages 16 to 24—from various parts of the country, in one room, for one whole day.

It was a spirited session, from opening to closing. As I watched the youth passionately write and share their magnum opus, I prayed that more millennials be stirred to care for disadvantaged children in whatever manner or form.  

The day was long, but so was the fun. The immense joy hauled in by grace bunked in my heart long after the day was over.


Bully versus Bully

As scheduled, this 3rd book in the Happy Home series was launched at the Manila International Book Fair on September 16, a Friday.

However, the school that was to attend the launching cancelled. Due to the recent spate of killings brought about by the drug war waged by our newly elected president, the school authorities felt unsafe bringing a horde of small schoolchildren to a crowded place.

But as they say in showbiz, “The show must go on.” Trouper that they were, the four people who staged a radio rendition of the story performed as though they had a full-house sports arena for an audience.

I had visions of a very quiet launching with just me and Leo Kempis Ang, the illustrator of the series, chatting the one and a half hours away.  

Undaunted and untiring, OMF Lit’s staff got busy inviting people through the microphone and by holding up copies of the book like playing cards in all the busy aisles. 

And without warning, grace swooped in.

Adults—some with their kids—dropped by, bought copies of the book, and had them singed by Leo and me. The stream of people who came kept us wonderfully busy all morning!

The photos below tell only half the story of the happy launching of Hiyas' Bully versus Bully.      
We raise our hands up to praise the Lord.


Twin Blessings

Back story: The title of my latest book (a children’s devotional-cum-novelette) was chosen from about 20 others. The original title was Double Delight, but my editor said it sounded like an ice-cream flavor. So I sent her a few more alternatives, and voila, Twin Blessings!

Many of the stories were rewritten while my husband and I were in the US for a vacation. There I had been able to watch and interact closely with my grandson, Adrian, from whom I borrowed many of Dom’s (the twin sister who grew up in the US) traits and antics. It is a blessing that Adrian is the same age as the twins, so the writing seemed easier and infinitely more delightful.

The gist of the story had been frozen in my hard drive for years. But it thawed last year when it suddenly popped out of my head while chatting with the Editorial Manager of Church Strengthening Ministry (CSM) at the 40th Manila International Book Fair (MIBF). 

Her name, Joy, was what I felt when she said . . . ooops, sorry, I could only recall how I felt, not the words of Joy, but it was a green light or a need for another devotional.

That led to CSM's approval of the story (treated like a devoseries).

But as I always do before finalizing a story for kids—to make sure the intent is clear—I conducted a Focus Group Discussion among advocates for children. From them I got new insights and questions I could never have asked myself. That showed my way to writing, and finally to the book’s launching at the CSM’s Grand Unveiling of Resources at the 41st MIBF last week.
This was followed two days later by an on-site launch at the CSM booths with a children’s party that included a puppet show, face painting, games, and giving away of loot bags to the children who joined the fun.
All told, the title Twin Blessings makes me feel as though grace surged like a flash flood twice.

First, at the Book Fair last year when the story had a chance to be defrosted, which then made me write, write, write (an activity I love best, bar none).

Second, at the Book Fair again one year later, when—now a book—Twin Blessings landed in  readers' hands. 

May every kid (or adult) who reads every devotion in Twin Blessings be doubly blessed by the richness of the Lord’s Word, packaged in slices of life, sewn together into one story that celebrates God-given relationships.


Happy Hour for Happy Home

Since the year 2000, when my first book (The Boy Who Had Five Lolas) was published, about this time of the year I hold my breath waiting for the Happy Hour. In marketing, this is the limited period of time when bars or other social venues offer drinks at a discount with free hors d'oeuvres. It turns into a night of revelry. 

My own Happy Hour—and I mean happy, minus the drinks and hors d'oeuvres —is when a new book is launched, usually during the Manila International Book Fair held every September. 

The publisher usually offers my just-born baby at a discount and gives freebies such as a bookmark or a notebook. And there’s a revelry of joy and excitement that mounts to its highest peak in my heart.

Tomorrow, one more Happy Hour is coming up! It will be held at the Book Fair. This time it’s for the 3rd book in the Happy Home series: Bully versus Bully. I hope the kids for whom it was written will emulate and take to heart the values in it.

Please come and join me as I celebrate the grace that inundates every book launching, indeed a happy hour. 


A Celebrity in the Clan

There aren't too many celebrities in this world. That's why we lionize them. They are a select breed of people who have done something extraordinary that merits applause and fame.

We have a celebrity in the clan!

There, I was waiting to say that at the proper time and proper place. What better time and place than my blogsite, where I fear no censure. In short, I can brag to my heart's content.

The current Christine in Broadway's Phantom of the Opera is Ali Ewoldt, a niece. She's the daughter of a first cousin and therefore a close blood relative.
So what?

Phantom of the Opera is the longest-running Broadway musical and many actresses have been cast in that role over the years.

Oh, but Ali is different. In those 25 years that the show has been running, Ali is the first woman of color chosen for the lead role!

Ali, therefore, has broken barriers, paving the way for women of all colors and backgrounds to be given the opportunity on The Great White Way.

Because of this historic feat in a groundbreaking role, Ali has been written about by many writers all over the US and the Philippines. I consider it grace to be able to write about her, too.  

She comes from a family blessed with an ear for music. Allow me now to namedrop. Her grandma (my aunt) loved to sing and used to perform with her sisters (one of them was my mom) on stage. Her eldest aunt (my BFF) had a voice that won in all the singing contests in our youth; she is a Broadway habituĂ© and used to take then little Ali to watch musicals. I believe she was Ali’s harshest critic, too.

I don’t know much about her dad’s side of the family since Ali was born and grew up in the US, but I am sure she has their genes as well.

Although she has a Psychology degree from Yale, cum laude, Ali chose the volatile path to the stage—from audition to audition—where she is always cast in plum roles. There she shines, like the neon lights on her billboards, and shines even more brightly in Phantom of the Opera.

Can an aunt be prouder?   

Photo credit: Matthew Murphy   


Lovers of Literature

In one big room (usually the ballroom of Manila Peninsula Hotel), every first week of September, lovers of literature get together for the Palanca Awards Night. I am privileged to be among them again this year—as one of the 57 judges. 

This is the night when excellence is celebrated.

The winners are identified and feted, with their loved ones and judges in all categories, plus special guests—famed literary enthusiasts and published authors—in the audience to applaud them and take their photos to record the moment. 

Now on its 66th year, the Palanca Awards is the longest running literary contest organized by the Carlos Palanca Foundation Inc. This year, there were 986 entries in 20 categories—among which were 51 winners, 24 of whom were first-time awardees.

A friend of mine who never misses a Palanca Night calls it a family reunion. In a way it is. It brings together people who belong to different demographics, but with common psychographics (meaning: same mindset), a term we invented in advertising, and in whose veins flows the same passion for the printed word.

Although it is a family reunion, I don’t know many of them personally (especially the famous ones)—neither do they know me—but I have read their books, and therefore, they are kindred spirits.

In this age of selfie, I still haven’t learned to take one, so I pass up opportunities to have photos with those whom I admire like F. Sionil Jose, Krip Yuson, Butch Dalisay, Tony Mabesa, National Artist Virgilio Almario, etc. Philippine literature wouldn’t be without them. 

My photos are limited (taken by third son JR, who had to be cajoled to take them), but they represent the grace that permeated the soft air.      

I take the chance to talk to the winner in the category which I judged with two others. He is a high school teacher and this is the first time he joined the Palanca.

“Beginner’s luck,” he grins.

Literature has nothing to do with luck, I want to reply, it is a gift from the Master writer Himself, but his wife wants a quick selfie and so the conversation turns to smiles and endless “Congratulations!”

Ah, literature!   


No Hiding Place

With practically everyone in the world wired to technology, there is no information, name, person, book, idea, disease, item, foreign word, slang—you name it—that you can’t google anymore. Everything is out there somewhere. And someone, somehow, can find it.

If you have ever written a comment or posted your photo on the Net, at any point in the future, they can be traced to you.

Is there a place to hide?

The word “incognito” is in danger of becoming extinct. 

I know of many friends who have lost track of each other many years ago, but through the Net, have found each other again.

Try googling your name . . .

Scary, isn’t it?

Before the digital revolution, only God knew where to find us.  

In the Bible, we are introduced to the first hiding in the first book. Immediately after eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve hid from God. But with the Lord, there is no hiding place.

“Can anyone hide from me in a secret place? Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?" says the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:24 NLT)

"Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable." (Hebrews 4:13) 

Indeed, He sees everything, including what’s in the secret place of our heart. 

And yet, in this troubled world, when there is no safe place to hide, the God from whom we can’t hide, is the same God who can hide us from assaults, sieges, and such.

“For he will conceal me there when troubles come; he will hide me in his sanctuary. He will place me out of reach on a high rock.” Psalm 27:5

There is a hiding place. It is ensconced in grace.


Low Blow

Boxing/wrestling aficionados or not, we all know what low blow means. It is an illegal strike below the opponent’s waist—unsportsmanlike and unfair.            
The phrase has since entered our lingo as being cruel and callous. It cuts like a knife; it hurts.

That’s what we witness during political campaigns, and what we are witnessing—long after the elections are over—from our highest official of the land. And media blows it up, making it the banner headline, relegating bigger issues in the background.

Low blows are on TV for us to watch, and in newspapers and the Internet for us to read. 

In his war against drugs (for which he gave himself a six-month deadline), our president takes to the podium and strikes a low blow against those suspected of the crime and those who oppose his tactics—including the international community.

His shame-and-name strategy to wipe out drugs has cut like a well-honed knife among people in practically all branches of government.

I am not one to judge the wisdom or style of our newly elected president. Those who adore and voted for him say he is right and this is all part of his brilliant strategy. “Change has come.” 

Along the way, however, without solid proof or due process, reputations are damaged, hearts are broken, lives are snuffed out, and I don’t know what harm or good this is doing to our children (the little ones for whom I write about grace, for whom I carefully choose my words).  

One friend, a die-hard apologist for the president snapped at me, “Oh, come on. If children have been raised well by their parents, these kids shouldn’t be affected by cursing and low blows. Besides, those offenders have been warned, so they deserve it!”

I wept. That, too, was a low blow.


Everything Okay?

Tattoos go back thousands of years.

Humans have marked their bodies since ancient times. Tattoos then served many purposes: amulets, status symbols, signs of love and beliefs, adornments and punishment.

In the Philippines, as I remember, only hoodlums and criminals had tattoos, graphic signs of “bad.” People would speak in whispered derision or fear when they saw people (mostly men) with tattoos.

This photo from a newspaper reminded me of those days—convicts in a jail were stripped bare for illegal-drugs inspection. This is not a photo of “then.” This is a photo of “now.”

Tattoo is more in now than ever before. In fact, it is now a part of life.

In addition to convicts and would-be convicts, all strata of society are enamored with tattoos—from high-schoolers, to millennials, to celebrities. The designs may be different (finer, more colorful and artistic today) but they are called the same name: tattoo.          

Aside from tattoos, I can cite a myriad of things that were once not-okay but have become okay.

In fashion, one couldn’t wear pearls or lace with jeans. Neither could one wear dresses without hose or a slip. Just look around any day, everything is okay—short hemline, uneven hemline, or sheer hemline matched with denims, slippers, or rubber shoes.  

In parenting, a child couldn’t talk back to his parents. Today, children are encouraged to speak their minds and they feel entitled to equal respect.  Laws are such that capital punishment is now illegal.

What were once wrong are now "right." Lying, name-calling, cursing, accusing, ranting, shaming, and killing are a daily fare on the Internet, especially social media. I can’t name all that has become a norm—from what used to be wrong—due to my self-imposed blog word count.  

But I am afraid, deathly afraid, that soon, we may no longer see the difference between what’s wrong and what’s right. The yardstick for what’s okay has radically changed.

Isaiah 5:20 (ESV) warns and reminds me and anyone who shares my faith: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”

The grace to see the difference is what we seek, because not everything is okay.


Lola Dusing

Have you met a nonagenarian?

I haven’t. The octogenarians I knew went to glory before they could reach the awesome age of 90.

But one day, Ching (a faith sister) introduced me to her grandmother, Lola Dusing, all of 95—not in a face-to-face meeting, but through my books.

Ching said the old lady, a faithful woman of God, loves to read and she especially enjoyed my “Flying on Broken Wings.”

“She still reads at 95?!” I was surprised.

“Without reading glasses,” Ching laughed. She was going to visit Lola Dusing in Mindanao and wanted to bring her one of my books.


After reviewing my titles, Ching decided on “Circle of Compassion.” 

A few days later, I received messages from Ching, “Lola Dusing loves the book!” “She likes your writing style.” “She has a special present for you."

Can words be more energizing? I have been spoiled receiving messages and gifts from kids over the years, but from a 95-year-old?!

Her gift was something I never expected to receive:   

It’s entirely hand-sewn, every piece of cloth (in various shapes and sizes) carefully stitched together—certainly a labor of love. It's the most valuable table cloth I could ever own!

God sometimes gives some people many, many years in which to feel His presence and enjoy His blessings—Lola Dusing is one of them. And I am now privileged to count her as one of my readers and gifts of grace.  

Lola Dusing with two more of her grandchildren 


Divine Detour

Hurrying to one book-signing event, I bumped into an old friend, Conrad. He was on a short break from a writing workshop.

"I want to be an author like you," he said. "Let me be a copycat," he joked.

"Go for it!" I encouraged him. Conrad and I were both creative writers in competing ad agencies years ago. Friendly competitors we called ourselves outside of our individual offices.   

"You look happy," he said as we hugged.

"Very!" I told him. "There's nothing I'd rather do!" 

"You should have left advertising sooner then," he replied.

"Yeah, I should have," I replied. "But, then . . . there would not have been enough insight or issues to write about."

"Right," he agreed. "No wounds, cuts, or bruises." 

We laughed, having both known the incessant trauma inflicted upon admen by deadly deadlines, unrealistic expectations of clients, fierce competitors, and the punishing pressure to keep coming up with something fresh.   

That thought of pursuing writing sooner stayed with me.

I seriously took up creative writing very late in life—in fact, it came at the end of a career and motherhood that drained me of energy and chutzpah. My career had reached a plateau and motherhood had become irrelevant because my children had grown up.  

It was like making a detour to the main road, where I am today.      
I took that long, sometimes-bumpy-often-shaky, inconvenient way around that drove me off the short path. But the thing about a detour is, you see new vistas you never saw before, sceneries totally different from those on the highway.

After that short chat with Conrad, I realized that my detour prepared me for this writing ministry, where I am able to see grace more clearly than I ever did.

Was the delay, then, a divine detour?

I believe it was. Because now I have finally reached the place where I want to be for as long as I am allowed to travel on mother Earth.

You may have made detours, too, because new roads were being built or old ones were being fixed. And if you have, you know that detours can be long or longer, with vistas that are either ghastly or lovely. 

But always, a divine detour leads us to eternal gratitude for and perpetual appreciation of the main road.


Playing Hide-and-Seek with Patience

Patience: a word derived from the Latin verb patior that means, to suffer. Ergo, patience is the inner strength to bear what gets our goat with composure, instead of anger.

More than any other virtue, patience is what I’ve tackled most in my writings. It’s because it comes and goes with me—like playing hide and seek. In one of my books I wrote, “I was born with a wart: impatience.”

When things do not come up to my standards or sense of urgency, I suffer inside—okay, seethe. In recent days on TV and the newspapers, we’ve witnessed how impatience can translate to road rage and kill!

What I have learned over the years (through the process of aging) is to mask it. But masking and exterminating are two different things.

Patience, for a Christian, is supposed to be rooted in faith in our savior, Jesus. In His life, He demonstrated patience for us. He went through humiliation, betrayal, suffering, and finally death on the cross—without anger, not a tinge, to seek vengeance.

As I reflect on my illusive patience for the millionth time, I seek to have a glimpse of the deeper meaning of every day circumstances—that things are not always what they seem, or how I want them to happen.

I now ponder this verse for the nth time, too, personally highlighting patience, “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, PATIENCE, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control . . .” Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

This fruit is what every Christian covets.  

The first cyber poster below talked to me, so I borrowed it and added my own second poster. Both are for my benefit.  
Am I succeeding? With dollops of daily grace, I am—most of the time now. That is far better than none-of-the-time, which took the lion's share of my persona in years past. 

It’s probably why the Lord continues to allow me to closely interact with millennials—in both my writing and teaching—for 16 years now. Nobody can try your patience more than they can! 

In response, their emoji would be this:


Movie Review: Pamilya Ordinaryo

The dirt, grime, and filth are so real you can feel them on your skin and in your soul.

On the other side of the world that we, the educated/working class, don’t see or close our eyes to, live two people so steeped in reality they have no space in their lives for the abstract—such as opinions or dreams.

They only struggle to survive, day after day, receiving or deflecting whatever comes. They are deprived of morals and vocabulary, the subtle nuances of language and emotions. So they curse when they’re angry, sad, or frustrated—about the only feelings they are familiar with. And because joy simply trickles in, they have no words to express it.  

Pamilya Ordinaryo robbed me of sleep the night after watching it at the Cinemalaya (Philippine Independent Film Festival) 12, especially because the director and writer, Eduardo Roy, Jr., chose teenage parents (ages 16 and 17), still children in my circle, to show us life at its rawest.   

Rugby-sniffing Ariel (Ronwaldo Martin) and Jane (Hasmine Killip) live on a scungy sidewalk with discarded cardboard for bed and stolen discards for furnishings. Where they poo or pee is not shown, but the answers are lodged in our mind.   

They have a less-than-a month-old baby, Arjan (a coined name after theirs), who gets stolen by a gay man, one of those alley prowlers who prey on the weak and the poor.

The rest of the well-crafted movie follows Ariel and Jane in their difficult quest to recover the only thing they ever owned. They are thrown into mainstream society, but are never welcomed. Here, where they don’t belong, they are soiled further. Apathy, scam, rape—adeptly portrayed sans melodrama—drive the hopelessness into the pits.     

I had hoped for redemptive grace in the end, a short sigh of relief, but that hope was dashed when the scene shows Ariel and Jane escaping from captors in a moving bus—probably headed to nowhere, the place that awaits them—among passengers as stoic as they are, lost in their own thoughts.

In that ultimate scene, you sort of wait for what would happen next. But it ends, depicting what has become of humanity.  

It is one of the more powerful indie films I have had the chance to watch this year. Not only because of the authenticity of the scenes, dialogues, silences (through the CCTV device), and actors, but because it is too intrusive to ignore.

Kudos to the other members of the cast for their noteworthy performances: Maria Isabel Lopez, Sue Prado, Ruby Ruiz, Moira Lang, Karl Medina, Erlinda Villalobos, Domingo Cobarrubias, Paolo Rodriguez, John Bon Andrew Lentejas, John Vincent Servilla, Rian Magtaan, Myla Monido, Alora Sasam, and Ruth Alferez.


Kids' Choice Awards

Before sending any children’s book manuscript to my publisher for finalization, I usually request four to five kids to read and critique it.  Their comments I seriously listen to—and work those elements into the story.

I believe that because they are my readers, they are my primary concern.

That’s why when I was told that one of my books, Coming Home, was one of nine finalists chosen by a group of kid judges (ages 8-13) at the National Children’s Book Awards (NCBA), I could not contain my joy.

Among all the awards my books have received over the years, this recent citation stands above the rest—a special grace. It reads: 

“Coming Home was chosen as a book in the Top 9 because of its touching story about an orphan boy coming to terms with living with his new family. The story is seen from the younger children's perspective and it definitely shows just how lucky millions of kids are. The moral and the plot come together in a way that is both educational and lovable.” 

The National Book Development Board (NBDB) and the Philippine Board of Books for the Young (PBBY) started awarding the NCBA during the celebration of National Children’s Book Day (NCBD) in 2010 “to honor significant children's books, created through the perfect marriage of text and illustrations.”

Launched after Coming Home, the second book in the Happy Home series—That First Sunday—was likewise featured at the Book Fair, which was part of the celebration of NCBD in July every year.
 The excitement that always comes with speaking about books before an audience, plus meeting new and old friends there, have been recorded in the photos below:   



Uncle Bob

Uncle Bob passed on as he moved in life—quickly.   

After a massive heart attack, he was cremated and buried before the beginning of what Chinese culture calls the Ghost Month, the 7th lunar month of the year, or August 3-31 in 2016.

He was gone too fast, way too fast; we regret not having had the chance to say goodbye or see him one last time. But that is not to say we can’t grieve his passing, because we do.

Two to three times a year, Uncle Bob would break bread with Tony and me. Those events were usually celebratory and therefore over authentic Chinese lauriat—Lunar New Year, Mooncake Festival, and someone’s birthday/anniversary on Tony’s side of the family.

One could tell when Uncle Bob had arrived. He would briskly come and greet us, with anecdotes to narrate. Around a table of usually quiet diners, his voice would prevail. But that is not the only thing that made Uncle Bob a bigger-than-life character for me.

He was a—let me invent a word that is not in the dictionary—carer.  He selflessly cared so much for others he would serve them in big-little ways. He would immediately stand up from where he sat to assist an elderly cousin all the way to the bathroom (as often as necessary), or pile dishes he thought were good on someone’s plate, or patiently guide and see to his wife’s needs who has recently been showing signs of dementia, plus many more acts of caring.  

Conversations about health had him saying, “My medical exams are always perfect, and I eat anything.” This octogenarian was on no maintenance pills and had zero problem with his weight. He was lean, almost scrawny, and lithe.

There is no telling, however, how long or short our life on earth is or will be. Uncle Bob was feasting with us, with gusto, flitting back and forth between buffet dishes at the Shangri-la Hotel just two months ago.

To uncle Bob’s wife, children and grandchildren, let me just say, I am grateful beyond words for the privilege—through Tony—of knowing a quick-witted, fast-acting carer, and of being a part of his circle.


Advocating Short Paragraphs

“I advocate short paragraphs,” I told my class in Business English, after reviewing their term papers.

My obvious rationale: 

Paragraphing helps readers to process ideas into meaningful chunks of thought—where one point ends and where another begins.

In sum, a paragraph is a section in a piece of writing that begins on a new line and can be as short as one sentence and as long as 10 sentences. No more than that.

"What?!" one student, who turned in a three-page paper with a single paragraph, almost lunged at me.

"ONE sentence?! A sentence couldn't possibly be a paragraph?!"

"Why not?" I tried nonchalance, while groping for some grace of patience.

"All my life I've been taught that a paragraph is a collection of sentences, not ONE sentence!" His mouth was agape—as though he just heard an earth-shaking news.

I flashed on screen a page from the book they were assigned to read. On it was this one-sentence paragraph:

"It is such a secret place, the land of tears."

His head danced the hula. Undeniably, he didn't read the book.

And that's the crux of my problem with millennials today. In writing assignments, many turn in papers with paragraphs as long as the River Nile, and run-on sentences that are not far behind.

"Give your readers a break," I pleaded. "Give them time to digest one thought before you introduce a new one. Long paragraphs give readers too much information to manage all at once. Readers need planned pauses, especially when reading complex papers/articles/stories. Hit the enter button!"
"So how long should an ideal paragraph be?" he pushed.

"As long or as short as you want it—to meet your objective. It can unfold for one page or consist of one word, or even one letter."

"ONE letter?!" This time he stood up, like spoiling for a fight.

I wrote on the white board:

I . . .

“This one-letter paragraph in a story is said by a character who was interrupted by something or someone. The next words are in another line below it," I explained, my patience now in place.

He sat down, wordless.

"The rule of thumb," I stressed, “is that each paragraph should focus on only one idea or concept or emotion. When you shift to a new idea, shift to a new paragraph. Make the enter button your friend!”

Everyone in the classroom nodded, except the petulant one. Question marks crowded his confused demeanor. His mouth moved but I heard nothing, not a peep.

"Our reference book," I grinned at nobody in particular, "answers all questions about paragraphs. Try reading it.”
For this advocacy (or argument victory), let me change my header.



The Bright Side

Day and night. Light and darkness. There are two sides to everything.

But the dark side seems to be winning out lately. If you read the newspapers here and abroad, many of the articles are about the spilling of blood.

In the Philippines, after the election of a new president, who has waged an all-out war against drugs and who seems to have endorsed the killing of addicts and pushers, the statistics of drug-related deaths have gone up to 11 a day.

Social media is even worse. Through words and memes, people assassinate each other. On my news feed, the exchanges of brickbats outnumber the exchanges of birthday greetings. Anger and malice are tearing people apart. 

These are enough to make one’s day pitch black.

Thankfully, there are optimists around us—people who see grace clearly and therefore always look at the bright side. One of them is this website (link). It features photos that not only lift the spirit but give hope, warming the heart. I find this specially poignant:      

When we ache, we badly seek comfort. This little toddler, young as she is, shows us how to give it. A simple gesture of wiping tears away is like being ensconced in the palm of a loving God, the Source of all comforts. 

I wish we adults had her mindset—comfort-giving, instead of killing each other with words, images, bombs, and guns.


Should I Be Alarmed?

Has the world of children turned dark while I was sleeping?

I recently conducted another Creative Writing Workshop for kids ages 8-12. This batch had an additional hour in which to draft the stories they’ve been itching to write.

As gifted children go, they were intense, serious, and driven as they let their creative juices flow on paper.

The harvest was as I expected—imaginative and fresh.   

What made my jaw drop was the content in general: most of them were dark—some gruesome, some violent, some tragic—sans the happily-ever-after ending. 

One had one whole village wiped out.

Another had the hero stabbed to death by a monster-alien. 

And yet another had the scene in a filthy, leaky prison.

One more described two old people salivating, about to fulfill their lifelong dream to travel to a country. But the only craft that could bring them there acted up, then conked out—for good. 

Most of their characters have low-self-esteem and are in abusive relationships. They lose their battles; they are killed.

All these despite my rah-rah for them to offer hope and joy to their readers.

Since these kids are all voracious readers, I ask: What are they reading? What are their influencers? Why do they see the world differently from the way I see it? 

Only three out of 17 kids had me smiling at the end of their stories: good triumphed over evil; redemption. The kind of stories I write for them.

Am I living in the dark ages? 

Ooops, even their dark and my dark have different meanings. 

As a children’s book author, what to do? Should I be alarmed?

While chewing on possible answers to these questions, I hum this song of grace: 

There's a friend for all the children
to guide us every day,
whose care is always faithful
and never fades away;
there's no-one else so loyal
his friendship stays the same;
he knows us and he loves us,
and Jesus is his name.


Going Paperless

“We are going paperless this term,” announced our department Chair during our faculty meeting.

I broke out in cold sweat and hives. I also started biting my nails, a habit I kicked way back in grade school.

For non-techies, who confuse logging out with logging in, especially in new sites or apps, this could be a punishment worse than hanging.

You’re kidding, of course, I replied silently.

“I am not kidding,” he said, when he saw my face and of those who belong to my generation.

The next hour was a seminar/workshop on how to do it, using a proprietary app/tool—the one which will be used by both teacher and students. 

“Now create your own site, with your own design for your class,” the IT said, “by simply doing this.” His cursor on the big screen darted from side to side.

I got lost before I could begin. Would it be better to quit now than to subject myself to humiliation and, uh, disgrace?  

This called to mind Hamlet’s famous soliloquy: “. . . Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and, by opposing, end them?”

The workshop was torture, so I am trying to self-study at home or wherever I could get hold of a computer. Meanwhile, my other non-computer jobs have to be abandoned in favor of going paperless.

It has been three weeks, and the learning curve is no less steep. I have already uploaded several files to my cyber class, but my students couldn’t find them. Where could they be?

Yet, as I often challenge my classes, “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right.”

Now deep in prayers for terabytes of grace from above, I am trying—frenziedly trying—to do it right.

To be continued. 


Take Two:

Creative Writing Workshop for Kids

I thought the first workshop was going to be a one-off event.

But to accommodate friends’ requests for a creative writing workshop for their kids in our neighborhood, my first son organized a second one. He dubbed it: Creative Writing Workshop for Kids in Las Pinas. 

Instead of just 15 expected attendees, we had 17!

How cool is that?

So, did we have fun? More than fun, grace was overwhelming. As a children’s book author, I have a lot to learn from and about kids today.

They. Are. Different. They already entertain issues that I thought were adults’ alone. Their ideas are out of the kiddie world’s firmament (this calls for another blog post). 

Also, I have always thought that kids have a short attention span. Not these 17 talented children. They were all ears and took in all the tasks with nary a complaint. Then I remembered that this was their thing. 

All of them are fast and furious readers. They are all potential authors, too. In fact, many of them have already written stories on their own. With just a dash of seasoning, they could give some adults stiff competition.  

They took to writing like birds to flying. Some of them even drew their ideas. And my fear that four straight hours for children ages eight to 12 (in fact, one was a six-year-old dynamo who seemed like she was six years older) would be too long was unfounded. I felt like they could work for another four.

And so, take two. On to the next batch of readers and writers.

This early, I am bracing up for a deluge of creativity that would keep me on my toes as I  continue to write for them.      



Double Delight: Year Six

This is my sixth and last blog post on our delightful twins, Maika and Nikka. They have graduated from grade school!

I intended to write and upload this last April, when they marched to receive their diplomas, but various things got in the way.

To backtrack a bit, my husband took on the education of then seven-year-old twins, who were out of school because of poverty. We enrolled them in a private Christian school (our church’s) and every year thereafter. In the beginning, because they were behind in knowledge and exposure, Tony tutored them privately.

It was uphill from there. They adapted quickly and soon, they were at par with their classmates in everything, including confidence.

During year four, tuition fees and other consumer prices increased, so we (now in our prime years, both retired) decided to move them to a public school the next year. But a benefactor (our second son) wouldn’t hear of it. He and his wife took on the twins from there.

And today, Maika and Nikka are six years wiser, bigger, older (soon to be teenagers)—and better!
We don’t see them on weekdays anymore, but on Sundays, through a window of the youth Sunday School room in our church's premises, they smile and wave, while off we go to the adult section. 

Last we heard, they are enrolled in a public high school. With their solid academic foundation, steeped in the Lord's Word and grace, we pray that they will be good role models there.

God, in His infinite love, will continue to see them through. 


The Fall

Escalators are pretty safe for adults; they are slow moving and have hand rails. How could anyone possibly meet an accident there?

Well, Tony did. He took a nasty spill backwards, and I, two steps ahead, came tumbling down too as I tried to help him.

Before that happened, I was whistling a happy tune when I heard a heavy THUD-THUD and the rustling noises of packages up in the air behind me. My husband was struggling to sit up and four mall guards came to the rescue. I screamed so loud my voice might have reached our relatives in China. One of those who helped had the presence of mind to put a bag of ice on his bleeding head.

Attempt to stop the escalator failed. So we all reached the highest rung onto safety on all fours, with our things scattered all over.

Curious onlookers crowded around as the guards tried to hold Tony up. His bad knee prevented him from keeping a dignified front. Poise all gone, I continued to crawl— picking up my coins, pens, and all other items in my purse and our purchases.   

Soon there was wheelchair and we all rushed to the mall clinic, where I shuddered at the grotesque, gaping Adidas wounds on his head (inset). 

Three stripes, red and drippy. After some first-aid from the two nurses, we decided to rush him to the emergency room of a nearby hospital because his head stripes oozed non-stop.

To rule out brain hemorrhage (he’s on blood thinners due to a recent stroke) and broken bones, his doctor ordered CT-Scan, x-ray, and other medical thingamajigs.

Normal all, whew!

But his three gashes needed sutures and we were advised to be confined for further observation.

How could any adult meet an accident in an innocent escalator? Wise people say accidents can happen anywhere when you talk n’ text. You guessed right—that caused the fall. Grrr.

Things could have spiraled down, but friends in faith rallied around through prayers.

From the clinic, to the emergency room, to the private hospital room till check-out time 30 hours later, grace embraced us. Except for the Adidas stripes, body aches, and ink blots (hematomas) all over, my talk n' text husband will be good as new. Indeed, great is God’s faithfulness.

After the discounts, senior privileges, and government insurance policies . . . our hospital bill? ZERO.


Of Ears and Emails

On the first day of my English for Business class, I assigned my students to research on writing business emails. “Apply what you have learned by writing me an email, evaluating how our class went,” I said.

“After receiving my reply," I added, "print the email thread for discussion and grading the next time we meet." 

Every email raved over the first day of class, except one. It had something important to say: 

Dear Ms. Chong,

I enjoyed our first session in your class and I would want you to hear my evaluation of it. The class was smooth, well-paced, and fun. However, sometimes a student calls out to you and you do not answer him, including me. I hope you will be more inclined to answer your students when called out to in the future.

Thank you for your patience and consideration.

Sincerely ,

* * *

Dear KJ,

Thank you for your message. I am glad you had fun on our first day of class.

As for replying to students, may I request that you make your voice louder next time. If I wasn’t able to give you attention, please be assured it was not intentional. I have difficulty hearing when too many sounds are going on at the same time. I hope you can be a little more patient regarding this matter.

Please print this email thread and bring the hard copy to class for discussion and correction next session.

Ms. Chong

* * *

Hi, KJ!

I thought of a more practical idea—raise your hand when you want to say something. My eyes are better than my ears at the moment. That way, you can be acknowledged immediately. 

Ms. Chong

* * *

Hello, Ms. Chong,

That’s actually a good idea. I will be doing that. By the way, should I be adding this part of the conversation as well in the printed paper?

Thank you for your suggestion and see you next session. 


* * *

Dear KJ,

It’s your call.

You may print all—just for laughs and for my teaching moment. Or you may not, because you will be self-checking more emails than your classmates. This exercise comprises: guided self-marking, 50%, and marking by the tutor, me, 50%.  Added up, this will be your final grade for this assignment.

Ms. Chong 

* * *

Dear Ms. Chong,

I see.  Then I will be disregarding most of the messages.

Thank you very much for your advice.


* * *

I did not disregard any of the messages. I screen-grabbed them all and made them a part of my slide  presentation the next session.  Just as I thought, the class had a good laugh, learned  how email exchanges should go—and I had my own grace moment. 

Finding teaching moments like this is like finding a treasure in a trash heap.


Take What You Need

Patience was what I tried to summon for two weeks, but miserably failed. Within those dates, I had alternately cajoled, instructed, and warned one of my students to submit his paper because his grade had to be finalized (I am a stickler for deadlines).

It would have been so easy to write “Fail,” but our department head for Student Relations begged me, “Patience.”

Unfortunately, patience and other virtues are hard to come by.

This thought amused me when Tony and I were in the US for a short vacation. Our daughter in-law G and our grandson Adrian took us to a make-your-own-pizza place for lunch. While munching on the luscious our-own-concoction, Adrian pulled me to a nook at the restaurant to show me this:

“What do you need, Amah [grandma]?” he asked.

In a breath, I said, “Patience.”

He picked a small piece of paper from a canister marked “Patience” and in seconds, I got what I needed.

“I think Angkong [grandpa] needs strength,” Adrian added—Tony had a bad right knee—picking a small piece of paper from the canister marked “Strength” and gave it to Tony. 

If only life were as simple. You need something right here, right now? Then pick from a canister and you’re good to go!

That restaurant nook reminded me of a small box called “Biblicard” that someone gave me years ago. I looked for it as soon as we got back home to the Philippines. Each card has a bible verse preceded with, “If you need . . .” I had forgotten about it, so finding it seemed like serendipity.
Let me highlight the verses on patience.   

Why, it is as easy as picking from a canister! With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, one can take from a verse the perfect grace she needs for the hour.


Gathering of Women

My mother was an active member of the women’s group in our church. I grew up often seeing her excitedly packing her bag for conferences here and there, and coming home a day or two later, overflowing with happy narratives of new knowledge and experiences. 

It was no surprise then that she was elected an officer of the national women's organization ad perpetuum.  If they had a prize for perfect attendance, she’d have won it hands down, too. 

I am less of a social being; unlike her, I am no conference goer. From my recollection, I had attended one or two sporadically, but only for half a day.

It was therefore a novel adventure for me when I was prevailed upon by nine other women in our church to attend one recently—all of three days in Bacolod City, an hour flight away.  

I had never seen so many women in my life, packed in one ballroom—1750 plus!  

We were seated so close to each other you could hear someone sigh, burp, or clear her throat. The better to feel the shared excitement of worshiping together while listening to inspired speakers! These women came from all parts of the Philippines, speaking different dialects—but one in faith. 

Being with them, praising the same God and uplifting one another, made the whole conference wonderfully undefinable, but can be concretely summarized as: grace of encouragement.  

An added bonus was a chance to meet some of my book readers at the OMF Lit book table.

After the conference, as I bonded with my church mates (more like faith sisters and bosom buddies) in visiting tourist spots and eating local food, I remembered my mom. No wonder she attended all the gathering of church women in her time!

“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11


Exceptional Kids

Teachers today mourn the fact that students do not read anymore. These digital netizens simply skim over internet soundbites, FB messages, watch vlogs, MTVs, and videos of their choice.  Therefore, they struggle writing a decent sentence with a coherent idea.

Well, yes, but there are exceptions to that observation. And those exceptions are exceptional!

I had 19 of them in one room one day this month—children aged 8 to 12, who voraciously read and love to write. They were gathered by HIYAS, OMF Literature’s imprint for children’s books, for a creative writing workshop, which I was privileged to facilitate.

From 9 AM to 12 noon, they were attentive and enthusiastic, doing all the exercises with gusto. They were quick thinkers, too, writing ideas within the short minutes given them. Asked to each read a storybook, they tackled the pages immediately.

You can easily tell a reader from a non-reader. Upon seeing a book, the reader’s eyes twinkle before he  grabs and reads the first page—not stopping till he gets to the back cover, lapping up even the blurb. In contrast, the non-reader's eyes meander; he sets the book aside and manages to do everything but read it.

(I took my grandson, Adrian, to a book store when he was here for vacation. He ran past the toys and went straight to the book section. After about half an hour scanning through many books, he started to cajole me into buying him one. He didn't have to utter one word, I bought him two.)

At the OMF Lit creative writing workshop, I was reminded of Adrian 19 times. Here were children who behaved for three straight hours, pausing only to eat a sandwich and drink some juice. But even while having snacks, they were either reading the books strewn on the table or writing.

One day, some of these reading children will be authors. Those who will choose other careers will remain readers.

For a teacher, meeting exceptional kids is exceptional grace.