Friday, December 29, 2006

Looking back

As 2006 comes to an end, I had a chance to look back at photos from last month. It was a good year for me, considering last year was severely tight. December 2006 was a month when I stabilized my writing with The Brentwood Press and realized how much I love my job with the small community paper. My bosses are kind and they are always willing to teach me things and make decisions. I also secured a part-time job with an author who is poised to launch her book for non-profit grant writing. Exposure to many non-profits and how they work has been quite exciting. And the extra money has certainly been welcome.

The fall of 2006 was a good time. I can now afford to go to McDo, although now that we can, we don't anymore because the kids are sawa. Time to move on to more distinguished fast-food chains. Nasa Outback level or quaint Japanese restos na kami ngayon. (We miss Zen!)Well, that's just an analogy--meaning, we have time to breathe unlike last year when we were barely above water. . .

My kids are clothed better now. Their coats are new, their shoes are new. We also got a bunch of gently used clothes from my cousins in Jersey that tided us over--and even more clothes for Xmas presents. We are in the process of taking out old and small clothes in our closets to make way for new ones. Wow, a feat indeed!

We are happy that, even if we are off the radar, our friends wanted to come over for a couple of get-togethers at our home. We have acquired more furniture--one was a new buffet/console table from mother-in-law. Off to side tables next year!

I am most of all happy that several people offered to pass out the hat and buy me a nice coat. My winter coat is 10 years old, bought in 1996 and has a bit of shoulder padding--I thought I could get away with it so I wore it to some Christmas parties and I felt hindi ako ginalang. One lesson of being poor is humility. I am dying to retire it!

My friend, J, gave me a birthday gift that I won't forget--cash for a coat. The second lesson of being poor is you learn to appreciate gifts, and you are always in tears from gratitude. My cousin, M, from NJ continues to give warm clothes for the winter.My mom offered to buy me a coat by herself, and Uncle Jack actually bought me a coat. (Pinasauli ni mom!) Ricky gave me a gift certificate to buy me a coat! Heck, even Ricky got a new coat from my mom. Wow, talagang ask and you shall receive! So I think I will buy a coat--and now maybe, a purse!

We got an abundance of gifts from my two brothers in NJ. My son saved all year to buy a PS3. My eldest son is so rich, he bought himself a ticket home to Manila (again!)

Things are looking up. . .

Here are some photos I took for last month, reflective of the year we have had. I keep saying I like to shoot photos more than writing now. Shooting is easier with more impact. . .a thousand words talaga:

Christmas product shoot--beauty and glitter of the season. (Article, photos, and styling by me!)

Our Thanksgiving table setting--solemn and bounty from the garden

Todos los Santos open market, Concord--abundance

Santa for Seniors--gift bags for neglected seniors: giving back

Our office Xmas party--Ilove my job!

Pretty Christmas dresses from NJ--love and family

I have only the Lord to thank for all these wonderful things happening. But thanks to everyone who helped us out get over last year. Thank you, thank you to everyone who reads me (even if you don't comment), I feel your presence and I hold a good intention for all of you.

Happy New Year to all! May 2007 be even kinder and more abundant for all of us!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bears for Bicol

It is amazing how one person can make a difference when she really wants to. I have witnessed my friend and once a colleague, Cathy Babao-Guballa, do this so many times. A mother of 2, prolific writer, grief counselor, and budding diplomat, she has built hospital play centers for children with long-term illnesses that require them to stay in the government hospitals for long periods of time. She has filled the centers with books, toys, VHS kiddie movies, solicited from people in Manila and abroad--all very willing to help out, with a box or two of toys. She has also spearheaded the renovation the Philippine General Hospital Pediatric Ward, bagging a sponsor to back her efforts. I was awed with how she woke up the desire to give in all of us, and how easy it was to make a difference.

She is once again at it, with her 1000 Bears for Bicol project. True to form, Cathy reflects the power of ONE person making a difference, exemplifying the best each one of us can be. She rallied one and all to donate teddy bears to donate to the children displaced by the typhoon. And bears poured in, in trickles at first, and then by the boxes--from local folks and again abroad. Pledges were made by Bears Without Borders and Teddy Bear Power--organizations that believe in the healing power of teddy bears. Donations were matched by the local food outlets, plane delivery of the bear boxes were taken care of Bicol government officials and Philippine Airlines.

"Those among you who will be truly happy are the ones who have sought and found how to serve." --Albert Schweitzer

In my favorite book, Stone Soup for the World by Marianne Larned, many stories of everyday heroes taking up their causes and calls were essayed. There was a young boy who convinced his city to donate leftover cafeteria food to the hungry instead of throwing it away. He had founded the USA Harvest based in Florida. There were people who volunteered adults how to read, others taught dance or music or math. There is Sidewalk Sam, who shares his art talent with his fantastic drawings in chalk on the sidewalks for everyone to partake of. There are corporations like Target that hire mentally challenged employees. Paul Newman's Newman Own, pledges 100% of his profits back to the community.

I would like to believe that slowly, the scales of consciousness are tipping. . .

What if you taught women in your community how to crochet, or how to sew? What if you taught them how to make bread? What if you organized a garage sale and donated the proceeds to fix up a classroom that needs new light or fans? What if your really went carless one day per week, not because you are coded, but because you would like to spare the air? What if, instead of the daily Starbucks latte, you sent a child to school?

I am compelled to piggy-back on Cathy's cause--because it is worthy and because it is so easy, how can I not exert such a small effort? Many people are slow to action because they think someone else will do it anyway, or maybe they deem their contribution to be so small. I will round up a few bears from here and send it to Manila. I have spied Santa Bears on close-out. (Puwede kaya yon?) And I am still collecting old children's books and toys to be sent to bare elementary school libraries in the Philippines. I can send some of those too.

Check out Cathy's blog at Midlife Mysteries and hope you can send her a bear or two.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thanksgiving Day may be my Christmas

This is our 2nd Thanksgiving Day celebration as immigrants and I must say I'm beginning to appreciate this day of reflecting on the blessings of life, without the fatigue and confusion of gift-giving and long Christmas lists.

My list of thanks has transformed this year: We rent a wonderful and clean house, with a big backyard. The kids have settled down in school. My eldest is working part-time while putting himself through community college. With the excellent grades he is getting, he is working on transferring to UC (Berkeley, Davis?) next year. With the way things are going, my son's one foot is out of the door--ready to spread his wings. He may have to come home for future holidays. But in the meantime, I relish the thought that we are all together.

My husband has settled down in his job despite the commute. The kids have not been sick (knock on wood!) and the best, best thing is that together, we face our life's challenges in good spirits, with the help of Yaya Syrel. And that essentially, we are all safe and sound.

My brothers are on the other coast and they are happy and thriving. My mom's second lease on life has been blessed. What she chooses to do with it may still unfold. My dad and my lola take care of each other. I have to be thankful that, though that family is not together, we all think of each other fondly.

I am thankful for my job, that allows me to work from home and yet, meet so many good people who continue to show me the way towards more evolving. I am thankful that I have not sold out to the rat race of work, work and work. I have time to tend to the kids and I have time to shoot pictures of the beautiful lake in the park. I am thankful for time to breathe.

I am thankful that, though financially tight sometimes, nakakaraos rin. In fact, being financially tight make us more appreciative, more grateful, and nearer to God--because we have to depend on His Hand to carry us through. Living simply continues to teach my children not to be complacent brats and it has taught me creative ways to endure.

I look forward to the next Thanksgiving dinner--a very laid back celebration without the pressure and frenzy of Christmas. And since some scholars debate on the actual date of Christ's birth to be October or November, this may have been very well Christmas to me. And though my mom made a beautiful 23-lb turkey, and my son played some tunes on his violin, while my daughter read the story of the first Thanksgiving, I am most thankful for the space Thanskgiving offered--a personal and private reflection of Christ's birth and presence in my life.

The day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday--the biggest sale event of the year. Stores open at 5 a.m. and laptops are sold for $199, everthing else is half-off. People line up at the entrance the night before, shivering in the cold, determined to get good deals for Christmas gifts. PS3 launched the week before to people who have pitched tents days before, eager to get their hands on the limited US supply. The actual event and was short of chaos and stampedes. Some stores and customers were held-up at gunpoint.

And though I am not a big fan of the Christmas frenzy, the casualness of Thanksgiving proves to be more endearing as we create new and fond family traditions that will anchor us through many years.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Attention Writers

Hello, writers of stories, fiction or non, poets, children's story-tellers and illustrators! Check out some sites I have come across:

There is a writing contest, entries are sent by email, with $750 USD worth of prizes to the winners. Not bad for the 500 words you can whip up--about anything. Click Whim's Place for details.

For my idol photographer friends, check out the photo contest at for details.

And for those of you still tweaking your manuscript somewhere out there, get ready to take your work a step up. Whenever you are ready to take the leap towards getting published and don't know what to do, explore publishing your book yourself with Author House. They promise to help you choose the best book publishing options and the most effective marketing tools towards your goal.

From simple poetry to
children's fiction
, to shamanic healing, test your mettle and compare-- you may find confidence that you have what it takes to get published.

Plant a tree, raise a child, write a book. . .

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Still another amazing way to use the internet, as it connects the world:

Kiva lets you connect with and loan money to unique small businesses in the developing world. By choosing a business on, you can "sponsor a business" and help the world's working poor make great strides towards economic independence. Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive email journal updates from the business you've sponsored. As loans are repaid, you get your loan money back. (I think with some interest). And you decide if you wish to sponsor another small business again.

Tunyany Jesca is a married woman, 28 years old with four children. She started this business in 2004 with 2 bags of charcoal, and as of now, she is going running with 4 bags.

Jesca got married early due to school fees, a poor standard of living, and eventually, the loss of her parents.

Since she resorted to an early marriage, her husband is not a working class individual and daily living is not so good. She had to open up this business of buying and selling charcoal in order to earn a living.

So now she is requesting a loan of $600 to enable her to increase her profit and achieve a better living. Jesca is a capable lady in her work and associates with her fellow business ladies well. When this loan is granted, it will help her to expand her business.

Check them out at Kiva for details. Browse through the small entrepreneurs and their lenders of the organization to get our creativity going.

How can we change our world today?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Laughter Lifeline

After a bout with gloom, my oldest friends came to the rescue via conference chat. How funny that the 3 of us had no microphones for voice chat. MLV in the office, teasing us with a probable webcam invite--that didn't work anyway. MASI was home about to run her errands. So we typed away as fast as our midlife fingers would allow us to. I laughed my heart out as we waited for MLV to get hi-tech and figure out the proper chat room, oggling at her IM pic, showing off her (infamous) cleavage and bleached hair.

"Wala pa si rufa mae," said MASI, coining our code name for MLV.
"Low-tech kasi," I said.

Amidst MLV's boss hovering, we exchanged stories--about old and "young" dudes, as MASI put it, only because MLV's dude interest's first name is actually, "Young," plus a furious exchange of recent and funny old pics. ("Noong fresh pa kami," they said). My husband and kids circled in around me, ("What's happening?")as they never saw me giggling like this in a LOOOOng time.

And I must tell you, this is the kind of laughter that can cure anything. Even my soul was laughing. I was laughing even in the bathroom as I took a shower. I went to bed with a smile on my face. . .

"Naka-depress talaga diyan sa States, kasi wala kang makausap," said MLV, zeroing on the state of my social life here. It doesn't help that the average American has only 2 friends, not counting the spouse or home partner. In Manila, we would have picked each other up and hang out for coffee for an average of 5 hours. But here, hanging out is rare and almost not possible, unless you schedule it a month before.

I am lucky to have friends like MLV and MASI. I have nothing to hide from them and I definitely don't have to pretend to be brave and strong when I am not. They are the ones I can call late at night and show up at their place unannounced. MLV knows that I "keep blogging because wala kang makausap diyan, no?"

Friends since grade school, we share a solid bond like sisters. We have had our dangerous misunderstandings that lasted for years with no speaking to each other. But when we get back together, we pick up right where we left. Nothing to explain, nothing to apologize for.

I realize that deep friendship focuses on the deep things. We can talk shallow and make fun of MLV and we talk about others sometimes--but we don't judge each other on what we think or say at the moment of gossip. I like that we remember our maiden names more than our married surnames (maybe even our class number!). I like that we were friends before we became wives and mothers.

There are some things we don't bother about with each other. I didn't even know MLV had a day job! (Neither did MASI). But I know every inch of MLV's personality. I can predict that she will piss MASI off at any second. Nevertheless, we are still friends.

The conference chat has assured me that time and distance will not fade our friendship. The laughter we shared on purely nonsense will carry me through for a while. I take solace in knowing that they know all my kids and will love them, just as I am godmother to theirs. One day, they will give my eulogy (if MLV will articulate better. . .) because I trust that they will miss me the most--just as I miss them terribly as I continue to adjust in this land of plenty--with an average of 2 friends.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Symptoms of a Blogging Addict

Are you or are you not?

Since I seem to be binge-blogging, I thought I'd share with you the 10 Mock Symptoms of Blog Addiction, according to Bloggers Anonymous:

10. You check your blog stats a LOT. You occasionally get up in the middle of the night and sneak a peak.

9. Your significant other suspects you are having an affair with your blog. Even when you’re alone with your special person, you do find yourself thinking what your blog might be doing right then…

8. You “mental blog” while driving or on the train, and sometimes even when you are alone in the shower.

7. You filter everything through your post-writing. You can’t watch a movie, see a play, read an article, or share a sweet moment with your child without thinking of whether it’s blog-worthy.

6. You suffer from “blog envy” when another blogger posts something juicy before you do. You suffer “comment envy” when said post gets 40-something comments – the jerk!

5. You “binge blog” 3 or 4 posts at once—only to feel guilty and empty afterward.

4. You ditched all your real friends for blog friends, because, well, “they understand.” You bypass Bowling Alone at the bookstore (who really cares?) while you reach for Naked Conversations.

3. You think, “I can stop at any time.”

2. Your lunch hour has become your “blog hour.” You keep a few posts tucked in your desk in case you need them during the day.

1. After 5 minutes of meeting someone really interesting you ask, “So - do you blog?”

Blogging has become sort of a connection and an outlet for me--a voice sent out in cyberspace, hoping to find its way to someone. Because my story is yours and your story is mine. And though I'd like to see comments, I know some people read this and we have somehow connected.

For those who live to blog, check the site out and soul-search. For an additional photo fancy effect, check out to see what you can do with your pics.

Happy blogging!!

Rainy Days and Mondays

Rainy days have always gotten me down--Mondays or otherwise. When some see it as a perfect opportunity to curl up with a book, or catch up with sleep, my heart sinks into the grayness of the clouds and my spirit is quietly crying along with the raindrops.

I can't explain it and I can't will myself to feel better, specially when PMS hovers like a vulture and I am anxious to ward off the threat of depression, waiting to push me over the brink. (Translation: I just want to cry and pity myself). I count my blessings and realize that life is good, but gloom abounds.

So when I took the BART yesterday, I endured a long, dark, damp, and cold ride. I was, in fact, scared and sad at the same time--which is really not my personality. I thought, "If I go to hell, it will be raining. And my ultimate nightmare will star PMS, SAD, and panic attacks. . ."

I take solace in the fact that I am not alone. Yahoo conducted research about rainy days and mood and many found a gloomy day to be, well, gloomy and that sunny days are well, sunnier and brighter. I therefore conclude that all this gray will kill me.

I envy my husband who revels in the rain like a child, almost holding out his tongue for raindrops. When it rains, his first instinct is to take a drive and splash around the puddles. (!!???!!)

I also hope that I don't have SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, or winter blues--a biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus due to the shortening of daylight hours and the lack of sunlight in winter. (Is it my hypothalamus I feel when the back and sides of my neck seem swollen?)

In my heaven, there will be an infinity of sunny days, skipping, smiling children, bright colored flowers, funny movies, and books!

Meanwhile, nothing to do but frown and pray. I must run out to rent a comedy video, and I will try the thick, Spanish hot cocoa I bought in the Pinoy store. . .

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Pinoy Store

Eto po ang aming munting sari-sari store.

This is Pacific Oriental, my go-to store for Pinoy needs. Dito, meron rin kaming comfort food like Choc-Nut, Curly Tops, V-Cut, Chippy, Clover Chips, Boy Bawang, Cornix, garlic chips and peanuts, butong-pakwan, polvoron, Pichi-pichi, palitaw, (what's the diff na nga ba?), sapin-sapin, leche flan, bibingka, and maja blanca. If you look close, there is turon and carioca (?), halo-halo and frozen manggang hilaw today.

When I have no time to cook, there is food-to-go: sinigang, adobo, bistek (like lola's) pinakbet, pansit (all kinds),afritada with hotdog, tinola, pritong tilapia, BBQ, lumpiang shanghai, and my favorite pag suwerte, binagoongang baboy. (I also want to know why Pinoy food is better tasting here??) The manang is just about to complete her lunch menu. I think today, it's sinigang, sayote guisado, pancit, and caldereta.

In the freezer, I go crazy for the smoked tawilis, Martin Purefoods longganisa, tocino, and corned beef. Saranggani Bay bangus belly is a delicious steal, and fresh tilapia is cheap at $1.75/lb. There's lots of Rufina Patis, Silver Swan Suka and Toyo, although fresh calamansi is rare. And what would we do without Knorr cubes, Sinigang Mix, and Kamayan bottled bagoong? (Pronounced "ba-gong" by Fil-Ams). And for the Chinoys, there's hopia, tikoy, and moon cake, too.

There's also ube and manggo Magnolia Ice Cream (made stateside), and lately Selecta Ice Cream--both more expensive than Haagen Daazs or even Breyers. And the Royal and Sarsi, mahal at $2.29 per 1.5 litro. Mas mura pa ang Fanta and every other rootbeer. We also like the calamansi and dalandan juice.

Pacific Oriental also has a money remitting center, a balik-bayan box forwarding, and Pinoy movies for rent (Kutob, Dubai, Saan Ka Man Naroon) for $3.99 each. A mortal sin for those who buy in Arlegui!

Here we get to say "Salamat, manong/manang." Everyone is friendly and the store music blares Willy Revillame's songs.

Available too are Nagaraya Adobo Flavor Nuts, Nature's Way Tawas Deo, Gugo shampoo and Bench Bubble Gum Cologne, kulang nalang yung mga sabit na shampoo sachet , not applicable due to wholesale-quantity lifestyle.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A Bouquet of Good People

The best thing about being a writer is the chance to meet good and proactive people to write about. These evolved souls have surely uplifted my thinking and my spirit.

I have met moms who miss their sons in the troops. They group together to send their sons video DVD's, music CD's,food--candy and chips, socks, pillows and other comfort things. They hold garage sales to raise funds for their group.

I have met a mom who, with the help of her 2 best friends, mounted a community party fundraiser for Alissa, her 2-year old with terminal brain cancer. Since the little girl has only months to live, and their home nears foreclosure, they raised funds to give the little girl the comforts of home. Hundreds of people showed up at the party to eat and play, with donations in tow.

I have met a mom who lost her child to stillbirth. She now heads a petition that demands a Certificate of Death Resulting in Stillborn versus just a Certificate of Death--to acknowlege the viable life of that child, instead of just its death.

I have met women who walked to help out breast cancer causes, or people who walked to ease hunger. I have talked to a man who launched the local Random Acts of Kindness chapter here--looking for people who do acts of kindness without recognition or funfare (wow, I like his job, too!)

I have met a woman who collects crocheted squares from volunteers. She puts them together into blankets for the needy. There was a senior group who knits preemie caps and blankets given out to premature babies in the hospitals.

I have met a man who single-handedly mounted the first local filmfest in our area, setting up his backyard with a big projector screen for viewing under the stars--just because he felt there were many filmakers in need of more venues.

I have met Julie and Marisa, avid keepers of the soil, using worm compost and harvesting most of their vegetables, and teaching the community and their children how to plant.

Today, I met Shelly McMahon who lives in a farm that she tends with her husband and sons. On her Brentwood farm, she has lettuce, chard, tomatoes, arugula, radishes, and most of the salad greens we know of. But impressive are her herbs--basil, oregano, chamomille, mint, cinnamon-basil, lavender, scented geraniums, lemon verbena--that she dries into tea leaves. She gifted me with a bunch of these flowering herbs. (like the pic?) I am a coffee drinker but I may very well shift to tea just because of this beautiful bunch. The smell of all these fresh herbs reminded me of the bouquet of many good things I have been blessed with.

On her farm I also spied a real tree house, a pool, and all the space you need to raise 100 chickens, mules, and kids. She goes out on a tractor to till her soil and sow her seeds.

I feel like I stepped into a dreamland of peace and quiet, where she grows most of her food, eats in season, and enjoys an abundance of the earth's gifts.

I am smelling a lavender twig as I write this and I resolve to one day live among vegetables and flowers. Hey, maybe I already am!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Micro-credit bank founder wins Nobel Peace PriZe

When the beggar woman asked Muhammad Yunus for money, he lent her $27. "Charity is not the answer to poverty," Yunnus wrote. "It only helps poverty to continue."

The woman and her friends used the money to start a furniture making business, escaped the bonds of poverty, and paid back the loan in full.

Cheers to my idol, economist with the biggest heart, Muhammad Yunus--founder of the Bangladesh Grameen Bank in 1983, inventing and implementing the concept of micro-finance and micro-loans that has lifted millions of the poor towards self-sufficiency, with no-collateral loans from $20 to $200.

Grameen Foundation's mission is to empower the world's poorest people to lift themselves out of poverty with dignity through access to financial services and to information. With tiny loans, financial services and technology, they help the poor, mostly women (97%), start self-sustaining businesses to escape poverty. Yunus' model has been successfully replicated around the world--including East Asia, South Asia, Africa, Middle East, even in United States. (Check out the Philippines' Grameen Bank locations).

Only the stong culture of sense and shame in Bangladesh women (in Philippines, we call that "kahiyaan") served as collateral and on that, Grameen Bank boasts of a 98.5% loan repayment. Much lower than a regular bank's rate repayment of 57%.

Yunnus and his Grameen Bank has shown that even the poorest of the poor can bring about their own development.

Click on Grameen Foundation and of course, my favorite site The New Heroes to find out more about Yunnus and his inovative Nobel Peace Prize project--now with 2,226 branches in 71,371 villages, 18,795 employees, with $5.7 billion in total loans disbursed. In 2005, Grameen boasted a $15.2 million profit--transferred to the Rehab fund to help with disaster situations.

Definitely, huge profits from that initial $27 investment!

And to Mr. Yunus, may you live long and have many heirs that will take care of our people for generations on end.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Last Call for Summer Harvest

Summer is gone, declares the nippy cold wind that embraced our picnic.

I am almost ready to say good-bye to my summer harvest of tomatoes, melons, squash, zucchini, okra, and leeks. Look at my bell peppers!! Bata pa, productive na. I feel like a proud mama showing off my children.

It was a good harvest. We didn't have to buy vegetables in the summer. With the ripe tomatoes, we made a glorious pasta dish with anchovies, basil and garlic, that we ate thrice a week--and never tired of it. My husband was successful in creating penne with sausage and , what else? bell peppers--from our garden, no less, so it's been quite special.

If only I could get the right recipe for something with fried green tomatoes. Otherwise, I will have to wait until they ripen so we can store them as tomato sauce.

We have used okra with squash and zucchini for a jazzed up pinakbet, sometimes, we did okra tempura. And the pepper's leaves, we have tried with tinolang manok. We rose to the challenge of using all the harvest and came up with cream of squash and zucchini soup, which is ironic because we need those soups for winter. None of the produce ever went to waste. We were popular neighbors because we gave some vegetables away.

It has been a wonderful summer harvest. Vegetables were easy to grow and there was lots of sunlight.

My garden reminds me of the many cycles of life, the coming and going, the farewells and the renewals.

This fall, I look forward to carrots, beans, sugar peas, black-eyed peas, spinach, and lettuce, and more herbs, like basil(I failed twice), dill, and fennel. I don't look forward to the overcast sky, early sunsets, and the dark mornings. .

My rosemary and oregano have graced many a pizza and many casseroles, too. And for my friend, BN, I will send you recipe links for your rosemary bush in Tags.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Non-Profit Tools and Inspiration

Inspired by the non-profit blog of Britt Bravo, I gathered up a few resources for those who are interested with a hidden desire to invoke social change.

Once upon a time, I wanted to set up a co-op of women to do quilting and crocheting. We got started but then I wasn't equipped to take them to the next level. I remember those days as my days of clarity. Even if many people laughed at me ("Why are you doing this? Will you make money?"--non-profit nga e), the urge was so strong, it felt sacrilegious to not follow. To those who understand NGO's and the desire to help, I have no need to explain. And although I did not make money, i know the mothers did.

I have many pictures in Manila of the women who quilted and crocheted, our projects, our sessions in Welfareville, Mandaluyong, under the Unang Hakbang Foundation (UHF). But I have only a souvenir quilt with me now. UHF bought many quilts for a trade bazaar. I tried to sell the crochet trims to my friends in the children's clothing business. I am so bad in sales, but with the NGO, I wasn't shy. And for awhile, one quilting mom said, "Ang laking tulong, ma'm. Meron kaming nakukuha na pang-gastos."

Today, I cannot put together an NGO, instead I can be the beneficiary of many.

But to those who need more inspiration, check out the links. I want to prove that it takes just a little to do a lot. And really, all you need is your burning desire to give back:

Streetside Kids
Through the power of storytelling, Streetside Stories values and cultivates young people's voices, fostering educational equity and building community, literacy and arts skills. Streetside always need volunteers during the school year to help SFUSD middle school students to write autobiographical stories in their Storytelling Exchange Program and after school programs and to create digital stories in their Tech Tales program.

People's Grocery is a community-based organization working to find creative solutions to the food needs of the residents of West Oakland by building a local food system and local economy. They believe everyone deserves healthy food, regardless of income and it's about "food justice" - the human right to Healthy Food for Everyone.

Kick Start promotes sustainable economic growth and employment creation in Kenya and other countries by developing and promoting technologies that can be used by dynamic social entrepreneurs to establish and run profitable small scale enterprises, like a pump or a toilet system.

And then there are some books I came across:

My favorite book and inspiration is
Stone Soup for the World: Life-Changing Stories of Kindness and Courageous Acts of Service
-- 100 stories of compassion and volunteerism, a celebration of ordinary people, sometimes kids, doing extraordinary acts of healing and building in their community--a testament to prove how much people can accomplish if only they open their hearts and contribute what we can towards the common good.

Robin Hood Marketing: Stealing Corporate Savvy to Sell Just Causes
How do you motivate people to give money, take action, or otherwise advance your worthy cause? The right marketing, says this book.

Imagine Ourselves: Global Voices from a New Generation of Women

Managing a Non-Profit Organization in the 21st Century

In the link are other non-profit marketing strategies. I will have to add this one to my wish list.

Oh and I changed my mind, even if I am not in a financially stable position, I can still put together something--like sending used books and toys from here to poor schools over in the Philippines. Interested?

How shall we change the world today?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

2 a.m. with visitors from Manila

My bout with homesickness was calmed with a visit from some of my high school friends, Lizzie and Marga, from Manila. With their hectic tourist schedule, I was so glad fellow Bay Area resident, Iyette, took time to visit me here in faraway Antioch.

Ahh, if everyone could just have downtime like this with girlfriends every week, America would be a better place. We chatted, laughed, ate, drank until 2 am on a weekday--very rare for the USA. How refreshing that Iyette couldn't care less if she was meeting her boss early the next day or that she was driving them home tonight.

"Parang nasa Alexandra lang tayo," exclaimed Liz over and over again.
"Just like our nights-out in Manila!" said Marga.

We all concluded that our best friend is Malou. We missed Angel, Nats, and Ava.

And as I washed the dishes at 2 am, I was actually really happy and thinking: That's the thing with old friends, even across time and distance, you never skip a beat. There are things even America cannot change.

I am so glad they took this break, too!

Thanks, girls! Hope to see you again soon!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Contra Loma Regional Park

We are lucky to live near the Contra Loma Regional Park's 776 acres which include an 80-acre reservoir for year-round fishing and a lifeguarded swim lagoon for summertime swimming. Year-round hiking, biking, and nature study are available to all at this Contra Costa County oasis, home to squirrels, butterflies, birds, quails and other small animals.

Many tours are held here by naturalists, botanists, gardeners, and nature-lovers. Many celebrations are held over these benches and barbeque pits.

I hope to get my husband in for some family time--kite-flying and grill some steak. I feel so far away from him as he slugs it out in his 9 to 5 job. I miss not having friends to chat with as I discover these places and go at them alone.

It is beautiful here, but lonely.

Meanwhile, I spent some quiet time here, taking in the view, and testing out my new camera. Yipee!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Peace walks in the Labyrinth

“It is solved by walking.”
-St. Augustine of Hippo

A labyrinth is an ancient form found in many cultures and religions as far back as 5,000 years. Some labyrinths are made with rocks, some on landscape, and some on marble. There are labyrinths around the world—from Europe to New Zealand to the Philippines.

I checked out The Labyrinth Society and was so proud to find the we have several labyrinths in the country. One of which is at the Mirador Jesuit Villa (Society of Jesus' Retreat House) Phone: (632) 426-5941. They have an impressive-looking Classical Right-handed Knidos type of rock and garden labyrinth set in Baguio near the Lourdes Grotto.

Here at the St. George’s Episcopal Church in Antioch, there is a walkable nine-circuit French Cathedral Chartres-style labyrinth—a pattern developed for use in the 1200’s. Installed on asphalt by trained labyrinth facilitators, Craig and Jane Wirth in October 2004, the labyrinth continues to attract those who wish to connect with their deeper selves in the midst of our fast-paced and noisy outer world.

The labyrinth, versus a maze, has only one path that leads to the center and out again. There are no tricks, traps, or dead-ends. There are also no religious, age, status, or any requirements to walk the labyrinth.

“It’s always different for everybody,” said Jane. “You have to experience it to understand it. But once you walk the labyrinth, you will understand what it brings. For me, it was a mirror of my unrealized pain at first. It also helps me when I am stuck creatively. It is always a different walk—there is something new to learn and feel.”

Helen Curry, author of The Way of the Labyrinth: A Powerful Meditation for Everyday Life, said, “Labyrinths offer the opportunity to walk in meditation to that place within us where the rational merges with the intuitive and the spiritual is reborn. Quite simply, labyrinths are a way to discover the sacred in everyday life.”

Craig explains that, though the labyrinth “is not a magic tool,” it may be a magical avenue for self-expression. “Here is a tool to look at your own life. There is no right or wrong way to walk the labyrinth. In the many years of facilitating walks, we have sensed the joy and the suffering of the people. It has been very powerful.”

Members of the Labyrinth Guild of the Delta and The Labyrinth Society (TLS)—a non-profit world-wide organization providing educational information, project support and networking opportunities for people interested in labyrinths, past and present, Craig and Jane expound on the international efforts to share the healing labyrinth with a broader audience, specially with schools, hospitals, and prisons. TLS also created and maintains the World Wide Labyrinth Locator which will give everyone the opportunity to find labyrinths all over our planet.

The labyrinth at St. George has been used for candlelight walks for 9/11 memorials, for honoring Tsunami victims and survivors, and for the bombings in Beirut, among others—as a way to express concern and healing. Lately, Craig and Jane organized World Peace Walks. Held every third Sunday of the month, the walks are aimed towards achieving inner peace and sending peaceful thoughts to the world.

Walking for peace that Sunday was Kitty Hayes from Pittsburg. “Don’t worry much about the outcome. Just come and try it out,” she said. Also peace walking were Kathy Scopel from Antioch and John Fearn from Sherman Island. “The labyrinth is very compassionate. There is no judgement or comparison. I just offer myself the way I am,” said Fearn.

I send out prayers of peace and that all wars be resolved. I send out good wishes to my friends who are down or sick or lonely or poor. I think about my parents and my brothers and reflect on our lives together. I miss my brothers. I send happy thoughts to everyone and hope that our lives will continue to remain full in challenges and rich with wisdom and love. Let's not forget what is most important okay?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Child Sexual Predators

I have been very bothered about the the big news in the Bay Area--the confession of John Karr. After 10 years, he claims responsibility for raping, beating, and strangling to death child beauty pageant winner, 7-year old Jon Benet Ramsey--her body found in their home's basement. For a long time, there were no solid leads on the Ramsey case and her own parents, John and Patsy (who recently succumbed to cancer), lived as suspects to their own daughter's murder.

Seemingly mild-mannered John Karr was also a substitute-teacher in elementary schools in Petaluma and San Francisco. Everyone is outraged by the fact that he has been arrested for child-pornography charges, quit his teaching jobs and then fled to Thailand and conveniently disappeared from the twisted murder case. That he was even cleared to teach kids is the outrage. And that his mother has been confined in a mental institution and that Karr consulted sex change doctors in Thailand makes for a clear profile of a very disturbed person.

But the case takes on more twists and turns. Not many are convinced that Karr is the real culprit. Some doubt his real involvement in the murder, citing that he just wants notoriety. He claimed drugging Jon Benet before killing her and that he "loved her," and that "she died accidentally." No drugs were found in her body during the autopsy.His ex-wife claims Karr was with them during the Christmas night of Benet's murder.

Now that the case is so sensationalized, many photos of Jon Benet are shown. Equally bothering to me are her images that show her as fully-made up, with false perfect teeth for the uncanny smile that looks so mature, Dr. Phil kind of called it "creepy," and criticized the stage-mothers who put their children through this. Many news critics have emphasized the sexual element in those pictures and wondered what those beauty pageants were all about.

It is every parents' nightmare--to lose their children, and by this horrible circumstance is hell. It is so sad to note that there are such people as child predators and the thought of them hurting the helpless children is totally implorable. I guess if there are angels in this world, there are also demons.

Join me in praying for the many children in this world--that they may not be harmed but cherished to continue our species and to inherit our world.

Check out the CNN coverage. Make sure you know what is happening with your children's lives. Warn them about what is acceptable versus improper behaviour. Encourage them to tell you anything, everything. And please. . .listen, and pray.

Friday, August 18, 2006

when life gives you lemons

a repeat of the reason for my blogging. . .

a TV show not so long ago continues to inspire me. "the new heroes" aired in PBS last year featuring 14 people from around the world, the social enterpreneurs--that developed their businesses around solutions and resources to the very needy communities they were in.

albina ruiz found a way to address the inefficient garbage collection in peru. there was even a marketplace that had no garbage collection at all. unhealthy garbage festered. she gave the people in that community livelihood by empowering them to collect garbage more efficiently and environmentally safer than the government. now, the people prefer ruiz's services than peru's.

maria teresa leal founded a sewing coop for the very poor women in brazil to work from home and take care of their kids at the same time--recycling scraps of cloth into fashionable quilted fabric with knit and crochet accessories for designer fashion, now exported to europe.

muhammed yunus set up his grameen bank amidst the slums of bangladesh, providing micro-business with loans without collateral to the poorest women. grameen bank has been acknowledged as the single most important development in third world countries in 100 years.

i hope you can check out the site and meet the other 11 of my new heroes, not of wars or weapons, but of creative ideas and determination to change the world. maybe they will inspire you towards something greater, too! everyone has been made for some particular work and the desire for that work has been put into her heart. and aristotle said that "where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation."

my cousin, franco and his friends have founded ADVOCACY--a cause marketing agency that seeks to pursue CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiatives by linking companies with philippine NGOs. all the best to them!

so when life gives us garbage, we must segregate it. when life gives us cloth scraps, we should make a quilt.

how shall we change our world today?

click on the new heroes

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Book Club tag

I was tagged by Cathy to list my book favorites. Buti nalang, malakas siya sa akin!

One book that changed your life:

Conversations With God 1, 2, & 3 by Neale Donald Walsh

God is always with us because He is IN us. We should look for answers from HIM from within.

One book you have read more than once:

The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav

Harmony, Cooperation, Sharing, and Reverence for Life all lead to Authentic Power.

One book you would want on a desert island:

Survivorman's Journals

Did he compile all his survivor tips yet? (How to make a fire, shelter, which plants, roots, mushrooms are poisonous, how to trap rats for food, etc)

One book that made you laugh:

All my kids' books--when they read them to me!

One book that made you cry:

Bridges of Madison County
What Dreams May Come
(before they were made into movies)

One book you wish had been written:

Stone Soup for the World

A compilation of stories of kindness that proves that the power of One can make a big change.

One book you wish had never been written:

One book you are currently reading:

Dr. Phil's Self Matters and Family Matters

One book you have been meaning to read:

Dante's Inferno
The Tipping Point

Maybe you'll want to join in, too! Check out Cathy's books. Also, don't forget to check out Frugal Reading in my other blog!

See you there!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Towards a Prosperous Life

I covered the Assistance Day of the Power of Living Ministries Church. True to their mission of "educating, empowering, and equipping" the people into living lives that are prosperous and productive, they gave away resources, food, clothes and entertainment to the down-trodden.

It is hard to understand why there are poor people here in America, when every single opportunity is given to them--free public school, health care, housing/rental/food subsidy, and job-training and placement programs abound. But well, it is said that there are people here that have had bad luck or big debts,(that's the politically-correct term, versus medyo mga tamad ng konti) and need a leg-up. So they came to enjoy the Gospel Music and the sponsored goody-bags filled with potatoes, Frito Lays, See's Candy (!), school supplies, and health and dental certificates.

Here in the land of plenty, where God was effectively wiped out of their Constitution and their Pledge of Allegiance, where they cannot teach religion or morality in public schools, where people ask you cautiously whether you believe in God (Christ, even more controversial!) or not, before proceeding to have a conversation, it is refreshing to find a group devoted to sharing Christ's goodness and Word.

"Our greatest message is Love," said Pastor Christine Liddell. "That we love and support each other and reach out in love to everyone--regardless of where he came from or what he believes--because we want everyone to prosper and be in good health--as they prosper spiritually, too. It is not in God's plan that we suffer and be poor but that we should enjoy an abundant life."

The Power of Living Ministries conducts training towards employment and financial support to those in need.

"We have a parishioner that has found a job and recently purchased a home. We have had a homeless parishioner that is now a millionaire," said Liddell.

"Can you come to the Philippines?" I half-joked.

Friday, August 11, 2006

a safe flight in a time of terrorists

my son spent 2 months in manila and aug.10 was his very anticipated return to SFO. i prayed hard for his safe trip back home and that the customs would not open his baggage up as he brought in some disney movies from quiapo for his baby sister. he was to take the shuttle service to take him back home. while waiting, i picked up my other kids, waited for my husband to come from work, went to the grocery to buy my son his favorite steak, and started cooking dinner.

my son called from the shuttle service, signalling that he was out of the airport. just then, on CNN, flashed a discovered plot of liquid bombs to be assembled in flights to the USA. right away, world-wide airport security clamped down on carry-on bags--restricting all shampoos, gels, perfumes, and all other liquids (even baby's milk for awhile!). they eventually allowed prescription meds, insulin, baby milk, breastmilk (!), and nothing else--no celfones or I-pods either as they may be used as detonators. the idea being seemingly benign liquids could be mixed into a liquid bomb by conspirators. 24 arrests were made in london, many of the suspects had pakistani links.

traffic in and out of SFO airport was horrendous and flight delays were expected as everyone opened up their carry-ons and tossed expensive perfume and make-up, water and soda bottles, into garbage bins.

i could only sigh in relief and get down on my knees in prayer that my son had a safe flight back into the US and was guided out of there just in the nick of time!

Check out CNN for updates on what has become of air travel in a time of terrorists.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

while crocheting

crocheting is one of my most favorite things to do. though i was no good at it at grade school home economics class, i picked it up quite late when my tita bing offered to teach me how to make glass holders she used to give us as christmas presents. another aunt, tita ceci, taught me how to read patterns. i have been hooked ever since. this is a picture of a bedspread i put together for my daughters, inspired by our local "warm up america" chapter. donating squares is one of my best things to do.

before you think i am turning into a granny on a rocker, hold on. crochet is not an old thing at all. when the hands are busy, the mind wanders off. when i crochet, i am transported into another world. in this world, my spirit awaits. as my fingers are now graceful with the hook and as i knot the thread or yarn in repeated patterns, my mind flits away into a dimension of quiet. alone with myself is where i find my wise voice, the one that drowns in the physical and busy, noisy world--but it is also the voice that is steady, loving, and always waiting for me, eloquent, ageless, and timeless when i want to listen.

so my spirit and i tell stories like old friends. we go through my life so far together, like a slideshow. there is no judgement, no guilt. we just go through a slideshow and skip it if it's too overwhelming to process at the moment. i realize my spirit is kind and she doesn't scold or scoff, and the insight she offers is always genius.

i realize i am closest to my Creator when i am one with my spirit.

while crocheting, i thought of a business. while crocheting, i thought of writing. while crocheting, i heard a message to teach a quilting class from the scraps i had from my clothing business. while crocheting, i thought of saving the earth. while crocheting, i realized that i haven't spent one-on-one time with one of my kids and that the other day, she seemed forlorn. while crocheting, i realized the kind gestures of my husband the other day but at that time, i was too busy to recognize. and so while crocheting, i realized that i was loved by my husband and my children, and how lucky i am to be with them, how beautiful life is.

paradoxically, while crocheting, i am free from body and boundaries. i am not a mother, wife, daughter, friend. i am just me. sometimes the possibilities are infinite, its profoundly overwhelming because i may be vaguely shown the answers to my life's problems and i am overwhelmed! and so my spirit gives me a chance to take it or judge it as impossible, or to leave it to settle in for another time. to be at this state is incredibly peaceful--my elementary words cannot articulate a dimension with none.

i am not only restored by crochet, i am recharged. sometimes, i can crochet way til midnight when inspired by the Holy Spirit. to make something out of balls of thread makes me feel alive. and the conversations i have when i am so near the Lord sure beats going to mass on sundays when no one is listening to the priest.

it has been said that crochet is the new yoga. now i know why. it is also a venue towards deep prayer for me.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, linked creativity and spirituality by showing that a higher power connects the human creativity with the creative energies of the universe. she said that it is when one is creative that God speaks to her.

i hope you find your venue to being with your spirit. sometimes it could be walking or running alone, music, writing, painting, beading, scrapbooking. it was albert einstein who said "imagination is greater than knowledge." try to leave enough time in your life to do something that makes you happy, satisfied, even joyous--you will find the answers you are looking for.

for all crocheters and knitters out there, check out Save the Children and find out how you can save premature babies survive by stitching a bonnet to keep them warm.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Peach-Picking in Brentwood

Fruitful on its 51st year, Moffat Ranch opened their orchard doors to eager peach lovers on July 17, featuring Freestone Peaches: Suncrest, Fay Elberta, O’Henry and Elegant Lady varieties ripe for the pickin’ from July to mid-August.

Jean Moffat runs the ranch with her husband, Walter, and son Jim, and some part-time helpers like Shannon Reid. “I came from Brentwood, Southern California. My husband is a Brentwood native. We bought this orchard in 1952. It had walnuts, peaches, cherries, and apple trees then. We still have young walnut trees but replaced the apples with peaches, as there was no market for apples,” Moffat said. “Today, we have 10 acres of peach, nectarine, and young walnut trees. The peach trees take about 3 years to start bearing fruit and then live a 12-year cycle.”

Moffat ranch started as packers and would ship their fruit to Oakland and San Francisco markets. Trucks would come and take them. This got the neighbors curious, expressing their desire for the ripes. “We were the only ones with U-pick then. Now, there are about 10 within the 1-mile radius. There have been many changes in Brentwood through the years,” observed Moffat.

She recalls last year as sort of a banner year for peaches (“Everyone had beautiful fruit!”) but this year, the rains thwarted pollination and Moffat predicts a short season for Fay Elbertas and Elegant Ladies. Nevertheless, the Suncrest variety yielded a luscious and bountiful harvest, with dense flesh and full flavor. Come and get them at $1.25 a pound. They have had customers from as far as San Francsisco, Pacifica, San Jose, Arizona, and Reno, that go peach-picking themselves or have them picked by the ranch crew.

Customer Pat Morgan from Oakley has been coming to Moffat Ranch for 30 years now. She comes in from the orchard with her bounty of suede-y golden-red skins. “It’s great to be able to drive into the orchard and pick the peaches. I prefer them fresh in season. I take some of them to the senior citizens who can’t pick them anymore,” she said. “Here’s a tip, I was told to pick the big ones because the stone inside is the same size.”

Moffat coaches beginners: “If the fruit comes off easily, it’s ready to eat. Choose based on the deep yellow, not the red part.”

Even kids can come to pick fruit as there are many trees with low branches. My sons love the peaches, specially when they’re overripe. My husband says they taste like “lamog na mangga,” (overripe mangoes).

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Adjusting to a Land of Excess

Here in America, they make it easy for you to want to buy. There are mark-downs almost every week and how can you not buy something that you don't need when the price is so low? I heard of a mother who bought 13 Easter outfits for her toddler because they were on sale --but never got to use them all next Easter. How many Easter outfits can you actually wear? Did she end up saving money on the mark-downs?

Did you see the Oprah episode on Debt Diet? There was a couple with 2 kids making $102,000/year but had a debt of $170,000, $80,000 on their student college loans. They live in a house they cannot afford, have 2 new flashy cars, their celfone bills are $394/month and they spend $100 a day on take-out food because the wife won't cook, maybe because spends $7000/year on her hair!

The average American also has $8,000 in credit card debt.

It's not that I am judging them. It's just with so much, I am hoping to catch some of the money they throw around.

Well, for a family with 5 kids starting in the States, with an income of about $55,000/year, that's a lot to think about because our standards are way lower as $100 (their daily food take-out budget), is my WEEKLY food grocery and cook-in budget for 8! I remain in a constant struggle to balance our budget by living frugally but comfortably and as debt-free as possible.

There are some standards that I won't concede, though, like a decent house (rental)in a good neighborhood where the school system is safe and competent and cars with good AC and will not conk out on me on the highway. I also will not allow my kids to look kawawa (unkempt) or go hungry. Other than that, I am willing to live beneath our means. So flat-screen TV's are way down that list--if only I can get my husband to agree!

Kaya kaya? Count the ways of frugal living with me and who knows what we will find?

I have started a new blog dedicated to my cheap adventures: Frugal Immigrants. See you there!!

our summer garden survives the heat wave

we just survived a heat wave of about 112 degrees over the week! there were power outages in many counties. never thought i would see the day of brown-outs in america! a serious situation where many seniors were hospitalized and many residents were unprepared.

i thought our garden would be scorched but our vegetables seem okay. our garden has been bountiful!

check out our first summer harvest of tomatoes, squash, zucchini, and lately, our baby melons--maybe they are cantaloupes because they just sprouted from the compost (and we thought they were squash!) next in line are red and green bell peppers.

that's syrel with our squash, maybe a pumpkin pala.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

lessons in losing and winning

i have always been competitive. and so it took a long time for me to be a gracious loser. maybe it is in our genes, as i know my dad and his siblings don't like losing, and half of my cousins are sore losers. maybe because a lot has been expected of all of us. thus, since i always try to be diligent and give it my best, LOSING IS SO PAINFUL! when i lose a game, i have to play gracious but i am very upset with myself inside. i can't let it go and i sulk for days.

lately, i realized there are so many valuable lessons in losing. for one, i learned that since losing deflates my inflated ego, i am forced to learn humility--that i am not better than anyone else. nor are they better than me. it's just a matter of consequence, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. i learned also that there are many factors to winning: practice, spirit, and surrender.

in the last badminton tournaments, i felt ready to win. badminton is a fast-paced game requiring quick reflexes and quick thinking. it's funny how a tournament changes your game. and in the first touney, i was just stunned, plainly reactive, with no strategy. i didn't use what i knew, i just blacked-out! i lost so miserably and couldn't talk for days!

i asked the Lord why i lost when i tried my best. i heard His answer to be something like this: if you play to win, you will be very sad to lose. if you play to do your best and have fun, you will not feel very bad to lose. . .

so i pondered that divine point for many weeks, loosening my grip on wanting to win period. playing a game can be enjoyable and winning may not be the ultimate goal. in a game, i learn more about myself--how far i can push, how ruthless/kind i can be, how bad i feel when i am bullied, thus how compassionate i am towards beginners. i also am beginning to learn strategy and execute the shots i want to do, when i want to, how to share the strategy with my partner, how to cheer him on, how to cooperate. i also learn not to take it out on myself (nor my partner) when we are not of the same skill level because even then, there are lessons to be learned.

in the end, it may not be about winning or competition --but of more evolved values like sharing and cooperation.

this way, defeat means learning and victory is doubled because it is shared.

i want to turn sour grapes into sweet grapes so i will quote GARY ZUKAV author of SEAT OF THE SOUL:

"You lose power whenever your fear. The road to authentic power is always through what you feel, through your heart. Therefore, it is never appropriate to disregard what you feel. . .

Humble spirits are free to love and to be who they are. They have no artificial standards to live up to. They are not drawn to the symbols of external power (i.e: medals). This does not mean that they do not take pride in what they can do well. .

To compete means to strive for something in company or together, to seek after winning something with others. If the something you aim for for is prestige or a gold medals, it is your personality that is motivating the competition. You are striving to empower yourself, to assert your superiority, at the expense of others. You place your sense of self-worth in the hands of others. You have no power even if you win every gold medal the world can produce."

in this most recent tourney, my team lost but i must say, i played one of the best games yet. i am so aware of what i want to do because my focus is not to win but how to play well. i am so aware of my partners--some black-out, too or get angry at themselves, some put effort at working together. but i played a most spectacular game with my parnter, harry. we cheered each other on and kept positive. all we committed to each other was to try our best, and harry stayed in front. WE WON! and i will not forget that game ever.

and so i will continue to practice and keep my spirits positive--only now, i don't measure myself against someone else's standards. i will have to learn how to surrender that maybe winning is destined--depends on when you have earned it. (and only HE can say).


i am learning that there are many end goals to a game: playing your best, a chance to test your unused personality traits, teamwork, cooperation--all of which are quite enjoyable.

my self-esteem is unhooked from just winning because i refuse to be defined by the game. the old saying "win or lose, it's how you play the game," has become profound.

let's go play!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Standing Up for Respect

I came to pick up my newspaper copies in the office. And while I was sitting in the waiting room, scanning the papers for my articles, a Caucasian man, maybe in his sixies, came out from the editorial offices and introduced himself, “Hi, I’m Harry Stoll. And you are. . ?

“Hi, I’m Minotte,” I said, standing up.

“Oh, don’t stand up for me. You’re a lady!” Harry said, amused. He went on and told me stories about his Filipino-Chinese son-in-law, touching on his own European heritage. He shared with me with fond stories of his part Filipino grandson who is quite close to him.

I was awkward because I didn’t give my standing up to shake his hand any thought.

We met again at the car service shop. And when he approached me, I stood up again to say hello.

“You stand up because of my age, right?” Harry said, quite puzzled at how slow I am to unlearn my behavior.

So now I will examine my standing up to meet people and why they insist that I don't.

In the Philippines, where I come from, where families are extended, and where I grew up with my grandparents--we are taught to stand up to show respect--for elders, for superiors, for priests, or when you are in someone else's house. In the really olden days, we were taught to stand up for foreigners. Today, men still stand up for women but this is mostly superceded by the age of the man. If he is older, the younger woman may show respect by standing up to greet him. For parents and revered grandparents, it is customary for the (grand)children to take their hand to the forehead and receive a blessing from them. And no one ever talks back to older people, not even when they are wrong.

Here in America, where everyone is a "foreigner," where you can call your father/mother-in law by first names, where equality of opportunity is emphasized, man, woman, young, old, disabled, abled--everyone has the same chance and I guess, the same treatment. I mean, if the disabled woman beside you can take your job as manager, then you will assume that she has had the same educational and intellectual talents, so why give her your seat in the bus if she won't give her yours?

Also, here in this first-world, modern and equal country, everyone is on a first-name basis. I had to stop myself from calling my editor (and therefore my boss) Mr. Lemyre so many times as I couldn't bring myself to call him just Rick. But I had to, lest he think of me as trying to create a caste system in the office.

In Manila, everyone above 30 is called Ma'm/Sir at one point or another, be it at work or in fast-food joints as customers. Age supercedes even social class. It is common for wealthier people to call their elderly household staff/drivers as "Mang" or "Manang" (Mr. or Mrs.) something, versus just by their first names. Even older siblings are called "kuya" or "ate" and friends of your parents are called uncles and aunts.

My son's playmate, Jackie, calls me "Magu's mom" because he couldn't pronounce Mrs. Cuenca. When Magu also attended his classmate's birthday party at their place, his classmate's father told everyone to call him by his first name while he was handing out nametags. My poor son called him tito (uncle) so-and-so, out of habit. Later, he realized it was not the same as the Filipino custom of calling everyone uncle and auntie so-and-so even if they weren't relatives. I told him, he could call him Mr. Smith, if he is not comfortable calling him by his first name--which kind of connotes disrespect for our culture.

It may be an uphill battle, but I would like to try to keep this endearing custom alive in my children. I certainly will not accept their not standing up to greet us (their parents) with a kiss when we come in. I have taught them to do this when they were all little. I explain to them the reverence standing up and in calling the older people by Mr. so-and-so--that it is formal and respectful because age gives them a certain level that younger ones must acknowledge.

Shivers that my kids will grow up like many American teens here--as they zip by without acknowledging their parents, talking back at them, cursing infront of them, blaring loud music in their rooms or cars.

Believe it or not, "Just because I said so" still prevails for Filipino parents and their children. We use many old-fashioned parenting tactics and sometimes it is innate that we manipulate them into thinking that putting old parents into a nursing home is a sin because they have to take care of us when we get old. That is because we provide our young with love and support way after they are 18. And to instill discipline, we still spank them into place, and they cannot talk back to us, even if they know they can call 9-1-1.

This is our culture--pros and cons included. Although I will be careful about the manipulative part, I will retain the endearing part of respect and love of family and elders as my kids grow up here in America. My boys are taught to give up their seats in the BART to women and the elderly. Their tall and strong bodies are trained not to let me carry all the grocery packages. My daughters should dress appropriately at all times. They also cannot make a mess or be noisy or sit in the couch with legs wide open in other people's homes. And they certainly must stand up when the homeowner arrives.

And maybe the whole point is beyond culture. I don't want to unlearn respect and reverence for those that have come before me. Harry will tease me but I will continue to stand up when I see him. I don't want to unlearn propriety and I am not stiffened by it. I respect people not for politics, money or power. I show respect to people, not just the elderly, so that they may feel good about themselves--because they are the highest link in this chain we call life.

I guess that is what respect is--an offshoot of humility, kindness and compassion, a reverence for people and the awesome beauty of God's creations. If only we had endearing terms and customs for that, too.

And though everyone may be equal, everyone deserves a little respect--and standing up to show it can't hurt now, can it?

Friday, July 14, 2006

training your husband?

My husband forwarded an amusing article by Amy Sutherland for the New York Post called "WHAT SHAMU TAUGHT ME ABOUT A HAPPY MARRIAGE." Because it seemed like he was dropping a big hint, I read it and considered its wisdom.

Sutherland was writing about a school for exotic animal trainers, watching students do the seemingly impossible: teaching hyenas to pirouette on command, cougars to offer their paws for a nail clipping, and baboons to skateboard.

"The central lesson I learned from exotic animal trainers is that I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don't. After all, you don't get a sea lion to balance a ball on the end of its nose by nagging. The same goes for the American husband," Sutherland said.

She ignored her husbands tantrums or his litter of wet towels and gave him a kiss when he threw his dirty clothes in the hamper.

Let's all read it and learn. I think the author meant this training for small and petty behavior. Those deep-seated issues might not respond to training. Just thinking of ignoring my hubby's annoying behavior already makes me tense. If you decide to train your husband (or wife!), let me know how it went.

Meantime, I will crack my dead-ma whip. . .

Monday, July 10, 2006

counting our blessings

when you come from the philippines, the grocery in USA is like disneyland. the chicken and eggs are super big, the meats are clean and lean, there are butter subtitutes that taste like butter and double-churned fat-free, sugar-free ice cream that tastes like regular. even filipino food here tastes better. plus, food is cheap, specially chicken. thus, i have about 40 chicken recipes to counter, "chicken again?"

i count chicken as a blessing because in the philippines, it could be noodles for many.

in counting my blessings, i realized perspective, not actuality, is the key. for in manila, native chicken can be "free range," after eating good filipino food, someone washes the dishes, and we miss ube and mango ice cream flavors.

my friend challenged me to be grateful for 10 things a day. easy at first, but i had to come up with new ones (without repeating) every day. i find that this attitude is exciting because there are actually new blessings everytime.

my biggest blessings may very well be my biggest challenge--my kids, all 5 of them. i am thankful that i get the chance not just to parent them, but to parent them the best way i can. i am blessed that we are all together, starting a new chapter in our lives. i marvel at how they trusted our decision as a family and how they rise to the occasion of migrating, adjusting and feeling their way around here.

to see them grow into fine young men is exhilirating to me as i slowly learn that they have their own personalities that they are trying to exert. that i helped them carve themselves is more satifying than looking at my printed by-line in the paper. i have to hurry up and work on accepting that one of them has a foot out the door--and i must not weigh him down as he spreads his wings.

to know them by the smell of their hair--one smells milky, the other one like flowers, the other one a bit earthy; the older ones almost manly with the faint smell of handsome deodorant only discernable when i ask for a hug.

to watch my youngest one as she naps, i memorized the color of her milky skin and spy
that she has baby hair on her back, so i will remember her exactly this way when i am looking out the window from my rocking chair. . .

that my husband is a good soul, and that he is healthy is the B in my blessings. that we both get to play badminton is a privilege. i look forward to many adventures with him when we are 50. meantime, i am glad that i made this move with him.

that we are closer as a family because we have to depend on each other is precious. we like staying home and hanging out. the boys clean the cars and mow the grass in the week-ends. the little girls play house with the balikbayan box. we started a small tradition of brunch day on saturdays--french toast, bacon, and rice. i am sure we will look back at this experience fondly one day.

that i can work from home and watch all of this happen--what a gift!i have taken care not be sucked into the american rat race, and cared more about just being than being something. that our garden blesses us with organic vegetables and lends me peace of mind is amazing. that we have TFC (the filipino channel) so we can watch wowowee and the pinoy soaps, for phone cards (14 cents/min) to call my dad and my lola, and the internet that makes keeping in touch way easier, and this blog. . . how did we live without these in the 80's?

that we are nursing new friendships with generous souls who like to help us out. it's wonderful that when you ask for assistance, the Lord leads you towards what you need, and the exact people/signs/books that can help you. bookstores have been a lifeline for me here because they are so huge and varied, they have comforted me in many ways.

that i get to know my mom more and that she is doing so well after her kidney transplant. that my brothers and i are in touch and actually miss each other.

to yaya syrel--because without her, this would not have been possible. it's a running joke when i told ricky, umuwi na siya huwag lang si yaya syrel. but it's not a joke that without yaya syrel, my perspective would shift widly!

how funny that inspite of a tight budget in the USA, i am surprised that my perspective of our blessings have nothing to do with material stuff, nor location. so maybe we are on the right track. . .

watch out for midlife, she can be a temptress, prompting one to ask, "is there all there is?"

what is your biggest blessing?

Friday, July 07, 2006

the reluctant immigrant--starting poor in USA?

starting off bare in the USA has been quite challenging, with many adjustments. i remember thinking, we were better off when we came here as tourists. but last year as permanent residents, we couldn't buy anything or go anywhere without a financial plan. (i.e how are we going to pay for that?) i bought only in walmart and costco and everywhere else where the prices were lower,(like salvation army and goodwill--but don't tell my mom!) considering there were 5 kids to feed and clothe. i did not enter macy's or any mall. we did not eat out. and i found myself nervously holding my kids back to "one treat each!" at the dollar store. one dollar na nga nalang, nervous pa ako!

but the real test of how poor you are in the states is what my brother, miguel, calls the mcdonald's price index. i had gone without breakfast, in the field at 2 p.m. and i was hesitating to buy a dollar double-cheeseburger. one dollar na nga nalang, pinag-isipan ko pa!

i guess, if you have no money to buy mcdo, the index says you are poor. . .

i burst into tears to my husband when i my kids asked to go to mcdo and i said maybe next week--not because there was no time, but because the budget was too tight. and i whined about the fact that at least, in manila, we were not that poor to not be able to buy mcdo for lunch.

with our family's income just above poverty,there were times the monthly budget just would not fit (and none of my articles were published) and we had to dig into our savings which was difficult for me as those dollars were converted 54 times from pesos. that's one big stage of migrating--converting. it was always times 54 to the dollar. thus, everything was expensive because if you can get a kiddie shirt for P75 pesos in megamall, you will have to think about $5dollars for a tshirt in Kmart, because of course, i would have to buy 5 tshirts at a time for my 5 kids.

we watched movies rarely and only during matinee ($6.50 vs regular after 6 p.m. $9, versus P120 in the philippines--stop converting!) and none of the kids could buy the enticing butter popcorn/nachos combo for $5 dollars that make watching complete because we packed a backpack-full of snacks, sandwiches, and drinks even if it was discouraged and wa-poise, and saved maybe $20 dollars at a time.

i had to get up and dust myself when i couldn't buy the kids shoes at the same time. although no one else noticed, i saw them in the school playground with worn out shoes, compared to their classmates. one pair for one child every month was allowed by the all-ruling budget. and i cried when my husband was late to pay his credit card because they put on a finance charge of $15. when you pinch a dollar for lunch, you will cry for $15 down the drain. (which also equalled 1 pair of shoes for some one).

my generous husband, ricky, pegged food expense at $150/week and i thought, "wow, that's a lot of food!" but the budget couldn't support it so i reduced it to $100/week, and then to $80/week (for 8 people!)--when $40/day for 1 person is considered frugal--there's even a show for it in HGTV. so let me tell you, $80/week for 8 people to budget our food is phenomenal. and if it's kulang, i ask my husband to stop eating and remind him he's on a diet.

this is the first time, kabado ako sa pagbili ng school supplies, ng pambaon, books, christmas and birthday presents. and my heart breaks when my kids want a new toy and i have to keep stalling month after month. birthdays are special--because you get the ONE toy you like, and i get to bake a flat chocolate cake with sprinkles on top.

i thought, "is this the better life we left manila for? i can't seem to see the land of opportunity as just that--yet.

i have been poor before, worked from paycheck to paycheck--but it's so hard with the kids. and so hard at this age.

lest i look like a whiny brat, i count my blessings and realize how lucky we are. i pay tribute to all who have gone before us. i remember my cousin who started out with no status, scrubbing mcdo's toilets. or my cousin who kept 2 jobs--counting candy as inventory at midnight, and then running off to his second job on a bicycle. starting out poor in the USA can really make you sob. my friend ate once a day because he would not buy lunch at work and his wife had to tend to a newborn. my cousins had to sleep in used mattresses. and many friends had to live with a relative to get by. my aunt worked as candy-striper (nurse's aide) at the hospital, on the graveyard shift, and my uncle sold life insurance, while folding the laundry. (he later became consul-general of new york--yey!)

i also think of the ones who buy $400 for a purse (because it had to be green and on sale), and the many who throw away untouched, perfectly good food--should i pick it up and bring it home, like the give-away furniture at the curb, or crayons, supplies, books? i am amazed at how almost everything at home we bought from a garage sale--but how beautiful they become after some paint and stencil.

many have said, "maawa ka muna sa sarili mo." and i think we have just passed that stage of migrating. it's true, and it's not so bad--because lately, things have started to look better already. i feel so blessed for hurdling the first stage. we may be poor but we are remarkably blessed and actually quite happy.

ricky's birthday marks our first year in the states. i got to make him a semi-homemade strawberry shortcake. nico gave him a car magazine, magu gave him a back-scratcher, selena gave him a night-light with jesus and mary on it, syrel gave him a rosary, and monica gave him a box of junior mints. (all from the dollar store!)

i have never seen him more touched.

(next: counting our blessings in the USA)