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!


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)


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 . . ."


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.


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 JunĂ­pero 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)


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.


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)


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.


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.


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.


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. 


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!


Hashtag #GoldtoForever

“I am done with travelling," I promised my aging-and-no-longer-agile self when Tony and I came home from our one-month US vacation last year.

I spoke too soon.

Early this year, son #2 called up his dad, "You have to be here for Tito Peding's 50th wedding anniversary."

Tito Peding is my Manong (older brother), a retired Pastor, who lives in the US with his family.

"Okay," my husband immediately agreed for both of us.

In these turbulent and troubled times, rarely do couples celebrate their 50th anniversary anymore. They either split up or don't live long enough to reach it. A milestone it certainly is. And son#2 wanted us to be a part of it—also to represent all the other members of Manong's family in the Philippines.

Armed with our maintenance pills and liniments, we took our 12-hour-non-stop flight (more like 20 if you add the traveling to and waiting time at the airport.) 

Manong's guests flew in or drove from faraway states—a demonstration of their affection for the couple, whose long years of ministry touched their and many others' lives. The 10,000+ miles Tony and I traveled were a small price to pay to witness this:     

The look of love at 50!*

"What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder." Mark 10:9 (KJV)

The renewal of vows took place in a lush, sunny garden, with the couple's children, daughter-in-law (who saw to every detail) and two grandchildren, with several pastors from different Christian churches, participating.

At the reception (indoors), there was much music, laughter, time for connections and re-connections, and reminiscences over Filipino food like lechon.

I was asked to say a few words during the program. Instead, I showed a video of how Manong Peding came into our lives, when he was fifteen. A distant relative of my father, he sought out my dad to help him go to school—the least of his blood family's priorities. From that day forward, he became my and my four siblings' Manong.

That’s all in the past. What of the future?

I think that when a husband and wife have been together for 50 golden years, it is certain they will be together as they promised, "Till death do us part."

Then after earthly death, to those who believe in the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, forever will be the ultimate promise fulfilled.  

*Captured by G, my daughter-in-law


Aaah, Art!

It has been said that art is the most potent form of emotional communication. Well, it is.

The purpose of artistic expression is to create an intense experience (for both artist and beholder) that indulges the senses.

Centuries before modern neuro-science came into our consciousness, painters’ works had been capturing beholders’ emotion—resulting in poetry, song and dance. These ancient works of art profoundly affect us even today, just as the newer ones do. They transport us to our imagined places somewhere out there.

That’s what happens to me when I see a piece of artwork, especially an original one that was caressed and touched by the artist’s brushes and hands, at close range.

When #2 son treated Tony and me to the San Diego Museum of Art, I gasped when I saw two of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings, one of which (in magazines or the Net) has always blown me away. And now it was right in front of me.

I gawked at it for uncounted minutes; were it not for the strict museum do-not-touch rule, I would have traced her shapes and lines with my fingers.

For the classics, I have always been taken with Juan de Pareja’s paintings of Jesus. This one was unsigned but art critics attribute it to him. A host of angels serve a visibly exhausted Jesus after  fasting for 40 days/40 nights, then led to the wilderness where the devil tried, but failed, to tempt Him. Pareja's interpretation gave me goose bumps.
One of El Greco’s was there, too.

We could only spend two hours there as we still had a long drive to go. The emotions in my reservoir were far from depleted, so I reserved them for future art exhibits.

Master painters are blessed with senses keener than normal beings. But I think beholders who appreciate their works are also gifted with the same. These make the emotional communication complete: a sender, a receiver, and a feedback, such as this post.

In this emotional communication, we acknowledge the grace of mirth we all feel when beholding the depth and breadth of art, drawn from God’s creation.

“Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power,
not one is missing.”
Isaiah 40:26 (ESV)


What You See Is What You Get

This was the title of Richard Deacon’s first major museum survey in the United States. And we were able to view it!

I’ve heard of this contemporary sculptor’s works before and being an art enthusiast, I wished for a chance to gape at (not just on the internet) some of those masterpieces.

Wish fulfilled. 

My husband, son #2 and I caught this exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Art, Balboa Park. It included about 40 of Deacon’s works from more than 30 years of his oeuvre.

While I was sputtering with excitement, Tony (who prefers only classical art), quietly moved around with his signature deadpan look, probably wondering where the “real ones” are.

My thought balloon, Ggie and Caloy [excellent artists both, and two of my dearest friends] would enjoy these.
Multi-awarded Deacon, who calls himself "fabricator," uses everyday materials such as laminated wood, linoleum and limestone. His abstract forms, with their unusual structures, have made him a renowned British sculptor.

This summarizes the exhibit’s literature: “The show’s title What You See Is What You Get is a tongue-in-cheek nod to Deacon’s style—while the title can appear literal, his works are often meant to invoke a range of metaphors, and mythological and literary allusions.”

Some of the pieces are from a series dubbed Some More for the Road. It was a fitting stop-over in our road trip. Some more grace, I thought.

Behold a few of his works which awed me:        


Three for the Road

Among my three sons, #2 has been away from home the most.

He was in medical school for five years, in hospital internship and review for the medical board exam for another two years, then two more for some medical requirement I can’t remember. Shortly after that, he flew to the US thrice for job interviews and such, then got married and moved with his wife to the US, where my only grandson was born, and where they have been residing for over a dozen years.

It was therefore a rare, if not delicious, treat for Tony and me to be with him for six days on a road trip to different cities of California, going through one route and coming through another.

In San Diego, he treated us to the Old Town, where we took in museums after museums, and a trolley tour around the city and another city, Coronado.

We paused for meals in exotic restaurants, one of which was the Taco Mafia for authentic Mexican food.

We also tried a French-Basque restaurant where his dad feasted on frog legs and I pigged out on beef tongue. Both of which, we found out later from his wife, almost nauseated him as they bore strong resemblance to the specimens dissected in his Anatomy classes in medical school. To his credit, he showed no hint of disgust.

San Miguel Arcangel mission, the last of our stop-overs was in a bad state of decay and could fall apart anytime. Unlike the other missions, it has no funding and relies only on volunteers to keep it open to he public.

Tony was grateful, however, that we walked on its grounds before it could have the money for reconstruction.

Nothing compares with seeing something of the past in its original state through the eyes of a hopeless history-hound of a husband, indulged by his second son.        

Our conversations were few and far between. Having been blessed with all-boys for children (I am not complaining), I do not expect conversations; I am used to one-word replies to my mile-long questions.

As a result, I have mastered the art of conversations in my own mind, which is not a bad thing, as writing requires that of an author.
Three for the road. No adjective could accurately describe our full six days together. But there is a noun that says it all: grace.


California’s Flora

Easily, the charm of California, for me, stems from its flora.

Wherever we go—from county to city—beautiful and colorful flowers make huge, spectacular gardens. They are all over, as far as the eye can see.
They creep on roadsides and hills, climb up walls, embrace fences, look up toward the sun, dance with the wind, shoot out of bushes, hang from trees, bow to the ground, simply stand tall like sentries or sit like princesses on their thrones.

In truth, there are many things to appreciate in sunny, scenic California, but those that first get my attention (and adulation) are its flora. Maybe because when we visited last year, there was a drought and the flowers could not bloom. This time around, I turn into an inveterate photographer at every turn.

When I get back home to the Philippines, I will try, although I may not succeed, to capture their splendor on canvas. My fascination with flowers made me try out painting some 10 years ago, which is one of the things I immerse myself in—next to writing.

After tours of art museums and research on flower paintings, I can’t think of any artist, not even Georgia O’Keeffe, who has ever captured the fullness of grace in these jaw-dropping blossoms.

In all the five missions we have visited so far (San Luis Obispo, San Juan Bautista, San Luis Rey, San Miguel Gabriel, and San Diego Tolosa), I take to the flowers, while Tony contemplates the relics. There is a garden and a courtyard in every mission where one can meditate and reflect on how God created such magical magnificence.

I’ve read that the early friars from Spain who brought Christianity to California hauled in flower seeds and seedlings of every kind and planted them as directional signs to the structures they built for the natives, or American Indians. So did the early migrants, who strewed them around dwelling places, when they came for the gold rush.

Whether they were aware of it or not, they brought in joyful wonders, making people like me gush with gratitude three centuries later.


Tri-Tip Steak

One of the countless blessings of traveling is being able to eat unique or unknown-to-many dishes. In California, Tony and I were treated by our daughter-in-law, G, to tri-tip steak salad in a restaurant by the Marina called  Garlic Brothers.
 We’ve never heard of it before. What could it be?

We were told that tri-tip is a small, triangular cut from sirloin. It was popularized in Northern California but is now becoming widely marketed. It is also known as a triangle steak or bottom sirloin steak. I looked it up and I got more details:

The tri-tip is a cut of beef from the bottom sirloin subprimal cut. It is usually 1.5 to 2.5 lbs. (675 to 1,150g) per side of beef.

Its scientific name is m. tensor fasciae latae, inserted in the fascia lata, the connective tissue covering the quadriceps extensor, a group of four muscles which in turn insert in the patella, or kneecap, of the animal.

Except for the balut (also called feathered egg, a Filipino delicacy), which I love, I have never researched any food I eat as much as I read up on tri-tip.

That’s what traveling does—it frees your mind from your daily passions and leaves enough space for you to relish what may be perceived as banal or mundane. And there lies grace.

And there lies tri-tip steak salad with taste no less than magnifique.    

Photo credit


Soap with a Role

My love affair with bath soaps persisted as son #2, his dad, and I resumed our road trip. From Hilton Hotel in San Diego, we hopped to Bakersfield, a city nestled in the southern Central Valley of California. It was our halfway stop toward home in Stockton.

This time, our overnight resting place was Marriott Hotel. Here, as I researched on odd bar soaps, I stumbled upon (perhaps because of guilt) a soap with a role:

Me: Are you taunting me?

Soap: Writer’s Block!

Me: I refuse to have writer’s block. It’s just that I haven’t had time to write because my husband  and I are having too much fun bonding with son #2 and on a long road trip, there are just so many distractions and so little time.

Soap: Writer’s Block!

Truth to tell, I came to the US with the printed manuscript of my latest book. While packing all 12 chapters (so far tweaked and almost as good as finished) with my laptop, I told myself that it would be a cinch to write in California where the climate is cooler. 

But I still had a 13th and last chapter to polish before finally sending it to my editor. Every time I attempted to work, however, something came up—like an invitation to try out a new restaurant, visit a museum or a historical site, go to the library, etc. etc. And now, because of all the scheduled hotel hopping, I was preoccupied with bath soaps?!

And a special one to taunt me?!

The deadline given by my publisher was the month of May, and the month was about to end. Yet I refused to listen to the voice breathing inside my mind, Beg for a deadline extension. 

So I shrugged off my bar-soap-with-a-role-to-taunt-me fixation and trashed my trivial thoughts. Odd or ordinary in shape, structure, or name, a bar soap is a bar soap is a bar soap.

Next stop (two hours from Bakersfield) would be San Miguel de Tolosa mission.

Meanwhile, I curled up under the all-white comforter for a restful sleep and I woke up refreshed, grateful for the grace the new day would bring.

“I lay down and slept, yet I woke up in safety, for the LORD was watching over me." Psalm 3:5 (NLT)



In California, everything about Carlsbad is good. Extremely good.

Well, except for the weather (15°C at this time of the year, Spring). To someone used to an average of 36° in the Philippines, this is very brrr cold.

Carlsbad is a seaside resort city occupying a seven-mile stretch of Pacific coastline in northern San Diego County, California.

It is also where Legoland is.

A virtual oooh-and-ahhh paradise for an adult like me (who in childhood thought Lego was the ultimate toy and joy, in the same league as jig-saw puzzle) and children like Adrian, our only grandson whom we love to (gazillion of Lego) pieces.

There we celebrated his 10th birthday.

Imagine all the animals and flowers (big and small), buildings, people of various persuasions in the world, all interesting movie characters, and anything you could imagine shaped with Lego bricks!

I couldn’t click my camera fast enough. Even if I did in freezing weather, I had no gigabytes left to store all the photos and grace that emerged with every shot.

Here are some of them:
I am in awe of Lego artists.

They remind and make me wonder how the Lord knitted all the billions of inward and outward pieces that comprise one breathing and living human being.

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” Psalm 139:13-14 (ESV)


Soap with a Sole

I thought I had seen the oddest when I blogged about the soap with a hole. What do you know?

From Legoland Hotel in Carlsbad, we hopped to Hilton Hotel in San Diego. There I was greeted in the bathroom by a soap that bears a strong resemblance to the non-slip sole of my sneakers.

Why would a soap bar have a sole?

Just like sneakers, this bar soap’s equipped with non-slip embossed dots. They give you a good grip while washing your hands or taking a shower. If wet and placed in the soap dish, the water drains quickly, preventing the bar from being soaked and melting.

It’s some kind of soap engineering to solve a consumer problem. What will they think of next? (smile emoticon here) When you’re on a rare, month-long vacation, you are licensed to be think and act hollow and shallow—but deeply grateful.

I find myself blogging about soaps and other little thingies I ordinarily don’t pay attention to on a busy, stressful day (when sometimes I intend to pick up my phone but pick up a book or a plate instead). 

Isn’t that what busyness does? It makes you ignore the grace that comes in small packages.

“Since everything God created is good, we should not reject any of it but receive it with thanks. For we know it is made acceptable by the word of God and prayer.”  Timothy 4:4-5 (NLT)