It’s been three weeks since I got back from the Philippines. Getting adjusted to the time difference took longer. I felt sluggish and sleepy often, perhaps due to not getting sleep at the right times. And maybe because my 5-week travel followed a very hectic schedule.
The week and a half prior to my return to California was just as eventful as the rest of my vacation. After our Baguio stint, we opted for a relaxed hotel stay at Mella in Las Piñas, Manila. The purpose was to catch up on rest, a respite from the rigors of road travels. The hotel amenities were outstanding, particularly the heavy breakfast that offered a rich variety from arroz caldo (flavored soupy rice), samporado (chocolate flavored porridge cooked in coconut milk), tocino (marinated and grilled pork), to sinigang (garlic fried rice), daing (fried dried fish, longanisa (pork sausage), omelets, fresh fruits, and several other items that I did not have the chance to get to. If anyone asks me why I want to go back to Mella – easily, I’d say, the breakfasts.
The hearty meal before my flight back to California – at Melodee’s home (Photo by Melodee Isaguirre)
That was the first children’s party I had attended in a decade — the birthday of Tian-Tian, my nephew/niece’s (Siegfrid/Gerlyn’s) precocious little boy turned seven In February. A room full of attendees (half of them adults) at McDonald in Calamba, Laguna, reverberated with excited chatters mostly from the children. The dancing and action games elicited loud cheers that seemed to bounce off the walls. Amazing, I felt euphoric, and felt like a child again.
As I watched the contented birthday boy, I remembered that only a few years back, after seeing a Godzilla movie, he expressed his worry that Godzilla was in California where I live. In response to his concern, I blogged in my Babyboomerlola website – “No Tian-Tian, Godzilla is not in California”. I wonder if he still thinks that the scary monster is in CA.
After the party, we drove to Rabon in Rosario, La Union, my nephew’s home by the beach, one of my go-to places for spectacular scenery, refreshing relaxation, fresh and healthy sea breeze, and the calming music of repetitive ocean waves on the shore. All these, matched by the graciousness and kindness of our hosts, Chito and his wife Benita, and the lively company of my relatives.
I entertained great excitement and anticipation for Rabon, which made me antsy during the six-hour drive.
The lure of Rabon, La Union (Photos by Rorie Pandes and Melodee Isaguirre)
Chilling out at the Bonoan condo in Baguio (Photo by Rorie Pandes)
Ah, Naga City, the home of my youth. I was there three years ago, right before the pandemic. Anticipating another visit thrilled me. The 12-hour drive from Laguna to Naga was like a pilgrimage. Traveling in my nephew/niece’s (Chito/Benita’s) comfortable Grandia with great company and an efficient driver, the bumpy ride on the truck-trodden roads did not diminish the excitement of visiting a city that bears youthful memories for me. To boot, I so looked forward to seeing a dear aunt, younger sister of my Mama. Auntie Rosie Manuel Cruz was our generous host during our week and a half stay, a loving matriarch, a model of strength and benevolence, a warm source of family memories.
My Bicol trip was a journey in nostalgia. Seeing old places now changed, and new or revitalized features of the cities yielded to sentiments of gratitude for what was then, and appreciation for what has become and what is now. The Naga of my youth will always stay in my heart. Very special were the bonding moments with family members, relatives, old and new friends. While touring and sightseeing goad interest and excitement during travels, nothing is as gratifying as reconnecting with dear ones one hasn’t been with in years. For me, this is the heart of my travels to the Philippines.
An impromptu family reunion at Auntie Rosie’s home in Naga. (Photo by Melodee Isaguirre)
Watching sunset at Cymae Beach Resort at Pasacao, Camarines Sur. (Photo by Rorie Pandes)
Vista Point at Legazpi, Albay, Bicol. (Photo by Melodee Isaguirre)
The first week of my vacation in the Philippines glitters with multiple highlights deserving equal importance. But Feb 4th claims distinction for its offering of music and brilliant artistry in the performing arts. The University of the Philippines International Concert Corus staged its 60th anniversary extravaganza at the UP Theater before a fully packed auditorium. Music of various genres and dance combined for an evening of grandiose entertainment. While still in California and before my trip to the Philippines, I was asked by my niece Ritzi Villarico Ronquillo if I wanted to attend the concert. Without hesitance I said – yes, get me 20 tickets. So glad I did, because 20 members of my family thoroughly enjoyed the fabulous concert joined by some 200 voices of choir members and alumni from previous years, coming from various cities in the Philippines and countries abroad.
The concert was extraordinary– just as I remembered the group’s highly touted performance when my husband (now deceased) and I hosted the UPCC in Palo Alto and Mountain View, CA during their world tour in 1978, ’79 and ’81. Our involvement was because my niece Ritzi was one of the sopranos (she married the chorus bass member Robee Ronquillo) — and the group’s conductor Rey T. Paguio was a friend of my husband (from UP and church circles).
The Feb. 4th event recognized multiple luminaries who were alumni of the UPCC, like Prof. Edru Abraham, comedian Nanette Inventor, national artist for music Ryan Cayabyab. But special honor was given to Rey T. Paguio, under whose tutelage, musical genius and leadership the concert chorus first gained fame and awards in international music festivals nationally and abroad.
The performance at the 60th anniversary was exhilarating – profoundly uplifting – with historical sidelights of the UPCC that were quite informative.
So much to tell, yet little time to just sit and write. This has been the case since my arrival in the Philippines on January 28th for a 5-week vacation. Every day has been packed with spontaneous and scheduled activities. My children John and Joy and other family members wonder how I deal with a hectic itinerary. The key, I believe, is anticipation. Each morning, I face the day with eagerly looking forward to what lies ahead, and after all that transpires, my mind blurs the tiredness that gives in to a good night’s sleep.
Anticipation – it hasn’t failed, it hasn’t disappointed.
Yesterday celebrated a milestone. Dr./Prof. Harry Greenberg, his wife Diane and daughter Sophie hosted a heartwarming and fun get-together at their Palo Alto, CA home, as a goodbye to his research group at Stanford/Palo Alto VA. The Professor, widely distinguished for decades of pioneering work on virology, immunology and vaccines is approaching retirement from an achievement-packed and highly touted career. This has led to the closure of his extremely productive research laboratories after over 40 years in operation. Scores of trainees, postdocs and employees have benefitted from his mentorship and guidance, and themselves have become successful and known professionals in scientific research and medical practice.
From closure evolves a mix of sentiments. The very nature of goodbyes. For some, it is respite from continuous hard work that has led to innovative and ground-breaking results and statistics. For others, it is a pause to re-energize again and pursue a new career or further the same one. For some, it is retirement. At any rate, that closure is really no closure – for working relationships continue on to friendships, or at the very least, prompt the start of convivial connections spiced with occasional meetups. Such were the goodbyes yesterday. They weren’t really goodbyes, but something like – “see you sometime later”.
A young man’s ‘to-go’ from the sumptuous lunch at the goodbye party (Photo by Dr. Takahiro Kawagishi)
I sit here, soon after the strike of midnight, awed at the passing of the old year and the birth of a new one. How time segues is appalling, almost mysterious. How father time opens one door and closes another is a wonderment. Year after year, we live with this mystery. As the Auld Lang Syne song goes, we celebrate memories of the past as we look forward to creating new memories with the new year. New dreams float in, fresh hopes arise, anticipation and excitement surge for what might come. But these, without failing to look back and remember all the good, and even the challenges, that have brought us thus far to now.
Just now, I consumed nearly four hours of video chatting with family members in the Philippines. We regaled each other with cheery updates, catching up on tid-bits big and small about happenings of the past weeks or months. And then, dwelling on hopes for the good that the budding year might bring, almost like a wish list, on a grander scale than the wish list of Christmas. One door closes, another opens.
Amusingly wild and rowdy, totally a surprise, but immensely fun. That’s what my unexpected birthday greeting was the eve of my birthday at Kalesa, a brightly decorated Filipino restaurant in Milpitas, California, where customers are greeted with oversized glittering Christmas wreaths hung outside the restaurant’s glass walls, and inside, an exquisite and well-appointed display of paintings, multi-colored lights and other artistic holiday décor.
Gigi and Lani, upon hearing it was birthday dinner that we celebrated at the restaurant, rushed to the kitchen to concoct a surprise. Just as my group was readying to leave, since we were the last customers remaining that late night, a loud pop blared out of the microphone followed by rousing music. It seemed like the big bang of a starting disco. Voila, Gigi and Lani waltzed out with tambourines for a rowdy birthday song and greeting. Didn’t expect that. A sizeable mound of coconut ube ice cream topped with a slender candle was set before me. My dinner hosts: my sister Susan, brother-in-law Mario, their daughter Shirley and her husband Craig were just as surprised, and in the midst of robust laughter and merrymaking, I heard urges to blow, blow, blow!
All year through, we wait for the magic of Christmas. Something so vibrant and precious. Is it in the nippy air? Is it in the sultry smell of burning logs in fireplaces at wintry nights? Is it in the carols we hear? Is it in the gifts we give and receive? No, the magic is really in the heart.
Through my baby boomer years, I’ve carried a valuable collection of memories of Christmases recent and past. Every year, there was always something different and special. Something uniquely endearing. The common thread that ran through all glistened with zesty anticipation, tingly excitement, and distinct joy. Emotions that fill the heart with sheer gladness.
Yet, not all, related to the giving and receiving season, glittered in gold. Not all showed the bounty of commercialism or wealth. Not all came from money. But my Christmas experiences woven from simple delights were the richest, because the magic was in the heart.
I went for a leisurely walk at Stanford Shopping Center the day after Thanksgiving with my niece Veronica, her husband Willie and their son Stevie. I hadn’t done that since the start of the pandemic, and it felt so good. With the crisp air that vibrated with Christmas music along the hallways, it felt quite festive. With nostalgia, I realized then how I had missed walking the Stanford mall, an occasional pastime that I enjoyed with my husband before he passed.
After a hearty meal of vegetable spring rolls, fried calamari, wonton soup, crispy honeyed shrimps, pepper steak, braised eggplant, sweet and sour shrimps and combination fried rice at PF Chang, walking at the Stanford Shopping Center was the best healthy option, we decided. Stevie lighted up. He hoped to visit Laderach, the candy store that he thought had the best chocolate varieties. Bring me to that store, I chirped. I’m like a kid in Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory when I’m in a candy store. The caveat was, it would take many steps to the parking lot and the shopping center, and with my sciatica — would my crutch and me endure? The kid in me won.
Educating Chandra on the proper birthday ritual was an unusually fun experience. She learned quickly. But you see, Chandra isn’t a kid, but a lovely and lively lady who just turned 41. Six months in Palo Alto and having come from India for a scholarship at Stanford University, she was surprised by a birthday celebration that turned out to be tremendously instructive and enjoyable, perhaps, a bit esoteric. The lunch treat was expected – but not how the treat quickly transformed into an impromptu full-scale but casual soiree.
The party of four ended up at PF Chang at Stanford Shopping Center. The initial intent was to patronize a Japanese restaurant that we missed while driving and looking for it, and intentionally passed the Korean Tofu House which was the backup plan. Instead, after making a U-turn on El Camino to go back and search for the Japanese place, we spotted PF Chang on the right side of the street, and immediately decided to enter Stanford Shopping Center and park in front of the Chinese restaurant. Utterly spur of the moment – that was going to be the place for the birthday treat, we agreed.
We couldn’t have stumbled on a better choice.
Delectable choices for a spontaneous birthday bash at a restaurant.
Fun on a Saturday. Yesterday, I came back refreshed from sitting in front of a wide pool, invitingly clear blue water with waves stirred by little children propped with winged plastic floaters around their arms, Moms and Dads guiding their toddlers as they negotiated the water with their flailing small arms and legs, splashes from youngsters jumping into the big basin, and one father who leaped into the deeper blue and landed on his belly with a loud thud. On a gorgeous summer-like day, it was a most entertaining and satisfying respite, for a delightful party of five for the birthdays of a mother and her 18-year-old son.
I could have sat there the whole day, till the sky turned gray, and the sun’s shimmers disappeared from the waters, and the lighthearted banters and laughter from neighboring customers had silenced. It was a happy place ideal for eating and socializing outdoors.
Dinah’s not-so-secret but hidden garden, and lavishly rich brownie sundae. (Photos by Dr. Chandra Vadhana)
I had a most enjoyable impromptu get-together with two of my high school classmates last week. Three golden girls reminiscing about our youth’s golden years. It couldn’t have been more fun, or even more nostalgic. After 50+ years with Leonora (Nora) Badong Sumangil, and 9+ years with Iluminada (Luming) Gaerlan, time couldn’t have been kinder. I quickly recognized them; they seemed to look as young. I just hope they think the same of me (Nora did say on our group chat that I had the “same cute dimples and signature hairdo; and Luming had the same sweet smile”). I’m happy with that report. Silly, isn’t it?
More silliness – Luming triumphantly quipped that she still is taller than Nora, recalling that in high school, we routinely formed a line starting with the shortest in front, to the tallest at the back. Nora stood in front of her. No disagreement there. [Casual Addendum – message received from Nora all the way from Florida soon after this blog was posted – she strongly disagrees: she’s a tad taller than Luming, she insists.]
Because of this, I am so hyped up to attend our high school batch reunion at the University of Santa Isabel in Naga, Philippines come February next year. There’ll be more of this kind of banter, and more sentimental flashbacks as well.
And more endearing silliness from golden girls, maybe.
An advanced Mother’s Day treat, I’d like to think. Can’t say enough about how lovely and enjoyable my vacation was with my family. Lazing it out on the beach on a fabulous spring day is unmatched. Especially when spending the time with family.
My son John, daughter-in-law Natasha, grandson Eliott favored me with a very special treat by taking me to Hermosa Beach, Los Angeles, for a week’s visit with my daughter Joy and son-in-law Matt. Hermosa Beach is a charming home-townish community sandwiched between Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach in Los Angeles. Hermosa Beach somehow has retained the simple, more laid-back, down-to-earth ambience so much more conducive to comfortable relaxation, sans the hassle and glitter of a commercialized tourist resort (like its close neighbor, Manhattan Beach). Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t complain if someone gave me the gift of a week’s stay at Manhattan Beach. But I was perfectly happy with my grandiose vacation with my family at Joy and Matt’s Hermosa Beach home just a block and a half from the shore.
Fun, heartwarming, magnificent, perfect just about sum it all.
The perks of our Hermosa Beach vacation [Photos by Joy Jacob Rosenburg (1); Eliott Nathaniel Jacob (2); John Stanley Jacob (3)]
Wishing all — blessings, good health, safety and joy for the New Year – however 2021 turned out be, we thank God for pulling us through in His protection, that we might be ready to meet the fresh promise of a New Year. May we always stay in the grace of God. Happy, happy New Year! – lpj
It’s Christmas again! Christmas always comes fresh, always like a new dawn, always like the new day that we look forward to, always the joy.
The songs over my TV music channel jubilantly celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Son of God. Like Bing Crosby’s song says, it’s Christmas again and the bells are ringing — they’re ringing because of the carol we sing in our hearts.
It is our hearts that God sees and listens to. It is our hearts that Jesus came for — to claim back our hearts for God’s eternal love and joy.
This Christmas eve, as I sit in my living room, staring in awe at the brilliance and beauty of my Christmas tree, the luxury of beaded lights and the ostentatious array of shiny ornaments, I think about the baby Jesus born in a humble stable with the horses’ trough covered with hay for His bed. The king of kings born as a human in a lowly setting.
Oh wondrous night. Oh holy night!
Then I stare back at my tree. I catch sparkles from the tree lights. Magnificent illusion created by the slight movements of my head. Then I think of that night in Bethlehem, when the stars shimmered brightly and one big star guided the shepherds and the Magi to where baby Jesus lay. A cold crisp piercing the balmy night, but a sacred hush permeating the air – the son of God has been born.
Oh joy to the world!
Merry, merry Christmas one and all! Let’s celebrate with hearts devoted to the Almighty, the King of Kings.
Sometimes, what you plan is not what you get. For me recently, I got something else so much better. I planned to pick up a quirky custom, carried from my youth, of treating for my birthday. Instead, wonderful friends gave me the party. Though not the plan I had in mind, I am so thankful for a gorgeous pre-birthday treat which Cai and her husband Genhai very graciously hosted in their lovely San Jose home yesterday. This really resulted from my inviting them to lunch with me and some other friends, to try authentic Filipino cuisine at a restaurant in Milpitas, CA. I might have unintentionally uttered that I wanted to treat because of my birthday. Immediately, Cai grabbed the opportunity to say, she’d rather do a lunch for me instead. I recall quickly explaining that where I grew up and in my youth, the celebrant was often teased for a “blow out”, meaning, the celebrant does the treating. Cai would not hear of it despite my flamboyant insistence. She was relentless, and she won. I’m glad she did, though, because her lunch was superb, and the social, a bouquet of liveliness and fun. A real gift.
A very heartwarming birthday treat (Photo by Genhai Zhang)
Thanksgiving celebration isn’t just on Thursday. This popular holiday draws family members and friends from afar, for a merry observance of this joyous occasion that extends over the “black Friday” and on to the weekend. My Thanksgiving started with a hefty Thursday lunch at my sister Susan’s home in Palo Alto, California that lasted the whole day. It was a welcomed opportunity to be with friends we hadn’t seen a long while due to pandemic restrictions. The animated, incessant chats were interrupted repeatedly by urgings to come to the buffet table for more eats. We succumbed. There was a priest there, invited by my brother-in-law Mario for a second house blessing. But for some minutes of subdued, respectful prayers, the party conversations were exuberant and loud, punctuated by intermittent outbursts of cries from a super cute seven-month-old baby Julie, my sweet playmate that day. As customary, we happily took home food still left on the buffet table.
I enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with my son John, daughter-in-law Natasha and grandson Eliott Friday night at Sundance restaurant in Palo Alto. After eight years, I got my heart’s craving – a 10-ounz prime rib medium-cooked with a zesty, lightly sweetened and spiced sauce poured over the robust and moist meat glowing in its own juice. Deliciously soft, creamy spinach and pieces of sliced carrots and broccoli more than just adorned the presentation on the side of the plate. My son made the perfect choice of restaurant. An old, popular dining establishment in Palo Alto, the place was full and quite lively that night — brought back fond and nostalgic memories of when my husband (now deceased) and I frequented that restaurant when our children John and Joy were very young.
With all the scrumptious leftovers from those feasts, I continue to celebrate Thanksgiving with an abundance of delicacies that fill my refrigerator at home.
As a matter of fact, Thanksgiving is also today, as we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent.
Thursday Thanksgiving lunch (Photo by Susan P. Veloro)
Prime rib from Friday Thanksgiving dinner (Photo by John S. Jacob)
Today, I pulled out some packed food from my freezer, leftovers from last Sunday’s party at home. Contentedly I thought, ah, the party’s not over – for me at least. After a quick nuke in the microwave, the food looked as enticing and fresh as it did last Sunday. Then straight to my salivating mouth. I love good leftovers! Don’t you?
Sunday’s birthday celebration for Lili, Linda and Cai (current and retired work mates) was a potluck extravaganza. The long table was fully laden with a festive variety of dishes representing different ethnic backgrounds: American continental, Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, Filipino, and several in between (with traces of cultural influences but not distinctly identifiable). My regret was not having a picture of the attractive culinary array. We were all so eager to dive into the main activity of the gathering after a robust happy birthday song. At 1 p.m., perhaps, we all were starving and raring to partake of one another’s delicacy.
Outdoor dining, result of pandemic restrictions, actually carries a casual charm. Strange, or maybe not, I take preference for outdoor seating whenever I go to a restaurant. Last weekend, I yielded to a craving for fish and chips that I enticed my sister and her husband to lunch with me at Dinah’s Garden Hotel in Palo Alto. I was not disappointed. The setting was perfect. Tables and chairs were arranged under large umbrellas by the poolside, with adequate distancing between tables. Servers were masked. Customers took off their masks when eating We couldn’t have asked for better weather.
The wide pool was teasing and inviting. The clear turquoise water that shimmered in the sunlight matched the blue of the sky. Families swam and played to unwind in the pool, or just waded while carrying on conversations with friends and family members. Respectful of dining customers, people in the pool did not engage in rowdy activity or loud conversation. All in all, the atmosphere was of delightful conviviality. But the special touch to the dining experience was the friendliness of the lady owner, who not only busied herself in helping to serve, but took the time to stop at tables and chat with customers. She lighted the place with her genuine interest in her customers and the service they get.
Cod fish on garlic fries at Dinah’s restaurant (Photo by Susan P. Veloro)
Music and fine dining – a fabulous mix. That was a marvelous treat from a lovely couple, Linda and Dan, who invited me for outdoor dining at La Boheme in Palo Alto, California this week. I hadn’t gone out much in the evenings during the pandemic times, except for the August weekend in Monterey with my son and his family, and dinner with my sister and her family at a Filipino restaurant in Milpitas. So, that night was an exhilarating break for me. To boot were professional performers who sang opera, Neapolitan and Broadway numbers with vibrant accordion accompaniment. Strong tenor and soprano voices pierced the mildly cool night air – and jubilantly rang out for the benefit of neighboring outdoor diners for sure. I couldn’t resist mouthing some of the lyrics I knew, short of volunteering to go up front. Much to my delight, the lady at the table to my right was softly crooning as well.
Seated under a canopy with subdued lights beamed from nearby street lamps was like basking in the moonlight. The atmosphere and surroundings were exquisite.
Superb climax of the dinner – rich chocolate fondant and mousse (Photo by Linda L. Yasukawa)
My 15th visit in Monterey, California since the ’70s, and it seemed like it was the first. A fun and relaxing August weekend in Monterey with my son John, daughter-in-law Natasha and grandson Eliott flashed back fond memories of early visits when my children were younger, and my husband was the tour guide and driver to numerous relatives and friends visiting California. Monterey was our favorite go-to place for sightseeing, beach strolling, seafood dining, or just breathing in fresh ocean air. Last weekend was not lacking in any of these pleasurable amenities and advantages. It felt good to play tourist again.
Very common question – have you been vaccinated? Likely for some, the curiosity is audacious. But the audacity has its purpose. Since the trend leans toward striving to move toward a semblance of normalcy, it remains of importance that the pseudo-normalcy infers health precautions and pursuance of safety measures. Just plain sensible and sensitive.
Admittedly, I find myself audacious – yes, because I tend to inquire of those I’d like to invite to a small gathering for a birthday celebration at home – have you been vaccinated? Much as I desire more friends to attend, I bear in mind the wellbeing of my guests (and myself included). But also imperative is the safety of those not yet vaccinated. Those of us who have been administered two doses of the vaccine wisely choose to be considerate of those who haven’t, specifically, not incur the possibility of carrying the virus strain to those not vaccinated (or vice versa as well).
Be it for a gathering indoors or outdoors, the audacious question pops up.
Fresh vegetables from an LA market remind me of what I need to get for the birthday celebration at home (Photo by Matt Rosenburg)
My cousin Monette’s family outing on the mountain slopes of Baao, Camarines Sur, Philippines – don’t we wish for something or more like this? (Photo by Monette Cruz Valencia)
After our first Pfizer vaccine shot, a Mexican friend, a Japanese friend and I enjoyed a dine-out last month. Exuberant with that experience having gone through a year of pandemic restrictions and intermittent lockdowns, we decided to schedule meals together once a month, be it at a restaurant or here at home. Today was our follow-up eating social. Having received both doses of the vaccine, we happily take the privilege of getting together, mindful, however, of continuing to follow safety guidelines when we go out.
Today was a most relaxing respite from my friends’ lab work and my remote work, a Saturday afternoon well spent in just leisurely enjoying spaghetti, salad, garlic bread, ice cream, cookies and a mound of sweet strawberries and grapes. The conversation was most delightful. Some catching up after minimal social meet-ups, and a little chat about work And of course, food as usual emerged as the favored topic while eating.
Enticing fruits leftover from a simple lunch social (Photo by lpj)
Sharing with you one of my many blessings of 2020, a strange year not without its positives. Pollyannaish, you might think. I always like to say, blessings abound. Maybe, some in the nooks, crannies and crevices. You may just have to search hard to find them, And when you do, celebrate and be thankful.
Mine, I found while staying home during this pandemic guidelines-dominated era. Beyond some remote work hours, I found time to squeeze considerable bits of creative writing. With encouraging suggestions and feedback from my 11-year-old grandson Eliott, a fairy tale was born, “Something Curious, Book 3: Stratucopia, a starry tale”. This book, third in the “Something Curious” series, just came off the press, literally speaking. The story aims to interest both the youthful and adult readers. Ninety-page “Stratucopia” features vibrant illustrations, including one drawn by my grandson just before he turned 11 in July 2020. He also is the creator of the abstract artwork used as cover for all of the books in the series.
As a teaser, I include in this blog the Prologue of the book.
A land not so far away, floating atop a heavy mass of white billowy clouds, enjoying the same blue ceiling of a sky as the earth below, is Stratucopia. Stratucopia is as real and vibrant as the cosmic earth, as lovely as the forest and rivers of the Amazon. It can be as peaceful as the pastures of Montana, or as turbulent as the erupting volcanic craters of Hawaii. Stratucopia sits solidly on thick billows of clouds. It is just there, gliding above and holding lives of inhabitants unperturbed by earth’s current events, because it, too, has its own current events. It has no connection to the earth below. But its residents are like earth’s people, with the same looks, same needs, embroiled in life’s daily demands, drawn by the same magnetism for relationships and lo, strapped by the same rules for survival.
“Happy Birthday!” is like the “sound of music” ringing joyfully in the celebrant’s ear. The greeting is a powerful reminder that the birthday itself comes from life, a gift from the Almighty God. The deeper message of birthdays is that life is precious. We live wisely according to the purpose that God has given us on this earth. Especially in these times and age, we momentarily forget that despite being mired in uncertainty, and striving through the risks of pandemic threat and consequential changes to lifestyle and livelihood, life continues, and we commemorate birthdays with much gratitude.
On the lighthearted side, birthdays give ample reason and avenues to celebrate. Mine was special. I started to receive scores and scores of greetings the day before, on the 17th in the Philippines. I was a day older in that part of the world, but didn’t mind at all. The fact is, I thoroughly enjoyed my baby boomer milestone celebrated with myriad wishes for more and abundant blessings for me. I love blessings, and I will take every bit of blessing I can get – of course, from the will of a super generous giver, God.
An interesting pattern I’ve observed – my birthdays are sprinkled with elements of surprise. This year, while my daughter Joy sent her early greeting on facetime, I didn’t expect to receive a lovely and extraordinary vase of mixed flowers with a colorful balloon floating on top. What I was waiting for that evening was my Amazon delivery of chicken chicharron (crispy fried skin) which my mouth was salivating for. When I opened the door after two rings, I discovered an even better surprise! Flowers and balloon for my birthday, from my daughter Joy and her husband Matt. Forget the chicharron. I’ll take this beautiful surprise anytime.
Another surprise that day. From my son John, my daughter-in-law Natasha and my grandson Eliott – in the mail came a most impressive 2021 calendar that John designed with interesting family pictures and several photos of Eliott with his long, thick hair moussed for a comical and delightfully raised tousle – absolutely lovable. Usually the calendar arrives before the end of the year, but this time, the timing was perfect for a surprise birthday gift. I have a collection of the yearly calendars, precious memorabilia.
A semi-surprise was my sister Susan’s gourmet renditions of various food offerings dropped off before lunch by her husband Mario.
Flowers from my daughter and her husband for my birthday (photo by Linda PJ)
Calendar 2021 from my son and his family (photo by Linda PJ)
Superfluous birthday lunch from my sister (photo by Susan P. Veloro)
It’s Christmas in my home. This started when I put out my tree, trimmed it with colorful and shimmering balls, then lights, and voila! Next, I hung the evergreen wreath on the door (really ever, ever green because the large ornament is a lovely replica of pine leaves and branches glued to a ring). Replaced the batteries, and voila, twinkling lights! The Christmas spirit is rife in the air. And I love it.
A Christmas tree mirrored on the glass wall, and a sparkly wreath on the door (photos by Linda PJ)
With the Christmas spirit comes my Christmas wish ,list. Do you have one? For the fun of it, I’m going to whip out mine and share it with you.
Within a week of each other, I attended interesting and fun (but supposedly goodbye) parties. One was for a retiree; the other, for someone moving to another state. The gatherings were graced with delicious food, lively conversation, incessant chatter and spiced with lighthearted jokes and teasing. All the necessary ingredients for a great party, the kind that after all the consumption and laughter, you come away declaring – hmmm, that was so much fun.
Ironical, isn’t it, that supposedly the gathering is for “mourning” the loss of one whose company you had learned to appreciate – as one retiring or moving away. Yet, the goodbyes turn out to be moments of merrymaking. Amazing that during the party for the honoree, no tears are shed, just joyous reminiscing. The gathering morphs into a delectable journey through memory lane. And believe me, the memories tend to be all so funny. Read More »
Taal Volcano in Tagaytay, Philippines erupted during my vacation. Grave concern is for communities lying on the volcano’s rim. Total evacuation of those areas has happened, and there is outpouring of help for affected families.
I was traveling with relatives from La Union back to Manila and Los Banos a few hours after the eruption. The roads were fogged up with ashfall, especially around Santa Rosa where drivers struggled with 0 visibility. Los Banos roads were clearer, much to our relief.
I’m on the tail end of my vacation in the Philippines. It felt like a tail spin. So fast.
The ocean and the sky at Rabon in Rosario, La Union, Philippines (photos by Rorie Pandes)
It is Noche Buena in my sister’s household. A small evenly brown roasted pig (from Sir Dodong’s Lechon in Los Banos) sits in the middle of the large round dining table designed along a carriage wheel motif. A beautifully cooked lechon that I had ever seen – a rich gloss of brown skin (balat) tightly chiseled all over the small pig’s body; a thin tail stiffly perked upwards; an elongated head featuring a tranquil face that seems to denote contentment in the outcome of its process. A most delectable object.
The urge to pick on the crispy skin is hard to resist. My fingers feel the itch, and my brother-in-law notices my eyes furtively focused hungrily on the lechon skin. He cuts a piece and the crunch pierces the quiet in the room. It is a sound that waters the mouth and tempts. So my sister asks for a piece, and her husband carefully shoves it in her mouth. Heavenly crunch, crunch. Merry Christmas!
Sir Dodong’s Lechon — Wonder about the patches? Someone or two couldn’t resist picking on the crunchy skin. And what happened to the tail? Hmmm …
It is the 23rd of December as I write this piece. Almost Christmas! It’s been a while since my last blog. The weeks since zoomed by so quickly. Necessities of work grabbed time with preparations for my vacation trip before the holidays. Like a whirlwind. Now I’m in the Philippines enjoying a rather hectic schedule of get-togethers with family, relatives and friends. A happy whirlwind. Fortunately, no jet lag … yet.
Mahjong. Learning it was an adventure. More than that, it was humbling. Totally ignorant of the game, I was, however, very curious. Mustering patience and genuine interest, I listened to instructions from a Chinese friend who quite obviously struggled to find words to explain the game’s basic steps, nuances and intricacies. While I kept in rein the nasty urge to fill in the gaps in his pauses as he searched for right words, I admit, I was more engrossed in my fascination with the sparkly heavy cubes teal-colored on the top, creamy white on two narrow sides, and with images and characters distinctly embossed on the main surface.
Others in the group attempted to translate my teacher’s instructions, but I wasn’t lost in the translation. Guess what, I quickly learned the play!Read More »
Do you ever wonder back to the games you loved to play during your childhood, your youth and on to your adult years? I do, and then I realize … wow! Times have changed. Either those games are no longer popular, or have changed in mechanics and structure, or they no longer exist. Take for example jackstone.
Jackstone was my favorite game in the primary grades. A small group of friends would sit in circular formation on the cement floor in front of our classroom during recess in the all-girls’ school. We played with crisscrossed light metal bars, each about an inch long, painted with bright colors. Two bars glued together looked like a star. Each glued pair was called a jackstone. There were ten jackstones, scattered randomly on the floor and individually picked up each time the small rubber ball about an inch in diameter was tossed in the air and bounced off the floor. Precision and speed were key to the game. The goal was to pick up all ten. I remember the nuns and teachers striving to make clear the path on the corridor amidst groups of players on the floor. My secret fear was that a teacher in high-heels would inadvertently slip over a jackstone gone astray from the huddles. Or that a nun’s hurried steps would unknowingly kick a renegade jackstone to the far end of the corridor.Read More »
Animated conversation stirs up energy in any gathering. The party in my home last Sunday was full of zest, not to mention two 4-year-old girls and one 2-year-old boy romping up and down the stairs and dodging between chairs. It was a lovely chaos, the kind that makes you feel you’re in a fiesta or a rigorous birthday celebration without a singular celebrant. We were all celebrants, loudly exchanging notes on how we cooked our potluck dish, and urging everyone to pick a portion of our delicacy on to their plate. The buffet spread was enormous and impressive, and before anyone could touch any of the items on the food line, cameras busily clicked. I still am waiting for copies to be sent to me.
Four languages were represented in this gathering: Chinese, Japanese, Tagalog and English. I didn’t mind at all that Chinese was predominant in conversations. After all, majority were Chinese. And being usually active in the exchange and interaction, this Lola often steered the conversation to English which to a few, was a bit of a struggle. For those few, cell phones clicked open for English words to complete the sentences. Funny, the English speakers were saintly patient. We wanted to hear those full sentences. And ah — such victory when they were completed. Somehow, we all understood one another – but importantly, it was enough that everyone was clearly having a great time. Even the children were having a blast in their spontaneous squabbles.
Another sentimental journey last weekend, the 45th anniversary of the Santiagenians of the USA (SUSA) held in Stockton, California. SUSA is my late husband’s hometown organization made up of members who either originated from Santiago, Ilocos Sur, Philippines, or are children or relatives of those who did. As to be expected, the common medium for communication or conversation was Ilocano, a language so different from Pilipino or Tagalog, and seasoned with rich guttural sounds that create a consistently accented pattern of speech. I can pick up some words, a few that I learned from my husband who claimed he wasn’t really adept in Ilocano since he and his family moved to Manila when he was a little boy. Nonetheless, he could speak good conversational Ilocano. So, all throughout this two-day event, there was this rich language floating around me. Totally fascinated by it and teasing myself, I reflected this was one of the times when I listened so much more than I spoke. A great feat, I dare say. But of course, English was the common fallback for a universal and inclusive form of communication.
At that anniversary weekend, there was a myriad to celebrate and enjoy. An event much looked forward to now has become a gold medal on the club’s wall of memories and fame.Read More »
Food is the magnet for gatherings. Don’t you agree? An amusing phenomenon hard to deny and easy to accept, I dare say. Often, a common remark to someone you hadn’t seen in a while – let’s get together for coffee or lunch. I said just that to relatives from Daly City whom I had not seen in over three years. A mini-reunion, one might consider. It was so delightful to see my 92-year-old auntie, and her children. A cousin from Union City and her family and I met them at one of the best buffet seafood restaurants I’d been to. At past 1 p.m., my group was starved, so we started to eat before the Daly City folks arrived. That was quite all right, since we ended up indulging in that restaurant for nearly two hours, just leisurely savoring every dish our eyes could take fancy on. Eyes are usually “greedier” than the stomach, and for some reason, we give in to our eyes. Did that happen to me? Kind of, I admit. I particularly fancied the boiled clams, baked salmon and spiced crab dish. I ravished them all; none wasted. Though my gut hesitated with the steak flanks.
Not to forget, the company was outstanding. Spending time with kins is truly heartwarming, especially when memories of old times resurge, stories of past funny incidents bring joyous laughter, and kind banter ricochets around the table for comical moments – and as the teasing and story-telling grow, so does the eating.
Atlanta, Georgia has always fascinated me. It was the setting for Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind”, an epic story set around America’s Civil War. Atlanta today is far from the Atlanta of Mitchell’s 1936 novel, but somehow, the city exudes that esoteric charm and classic sophistication mingled with the cutting edge and contemporary … and a cryptic tinge of the southern ways.
I visited Atlanta, the second in two years, spent a week’s vacation with my daughter, her husband and their three big German Shepherd dogs. This time, Atlanta held a new fascination for me. It’s called the BeltLine.
Have you ever walked to a glass wall thinking it’s the exit, and bumped your head to full alertness and chagrin? I have, just yesterday. Luckily, the glass didn’t break – and I was not hurt.
That happened after a hearty breakfast at the bakery in a market across from my daughter’s Atlanta home. Slowly walking the vicinity and checking out adjacent stores and food take-outs, I recounted the little incidents that happened as I leisurely munched on egg and ham sandwich and sipped mocha latte richly topped with cream. What seemed like an uneventful morning turned out to be a very interesting hodgepodge of amusing occurrences. Proof that nothing is uninteresting or dull. Trivial, maybe, but with quirky significance.
The itch to cook good Filipino food led me and three friends to drive to Union City (California) last weekend. The goal was to grocery shop for ingredients at Island Pacific, an Asian market. But first, we had to satisfy our craving for a Filipino lunch, so we stopped at Lechon Manila.
The dishes were not spectacular or elaborate, but simple and authentic – the criteria for food craved by four very hungry people. Explaining to our Japanese friend that we were going the “turo-turo” cafeteria style, we demonstrated the pointing system of indicating to the servers choices from an array of food offerings laid behind the counter. The challenge was describing to the non-Filipino what the dishes were or what they contained. How could we possibly soft pedal describing “dinuguan” (meat cooked in pork blood), to entice the Japanese friend who had never seen nor eaten it before?
(Photo below: from top to bottom – pancit, dinuguan, binagoongan pork and rice)
I prided myself for getting Christmas decorations early on, before Thanksgiving. Following my daughter’s suggestion, I chose the pre-lit Christmas wreath and tree. The boxes arrived a few days ago, before my daughter flew back to Georgia. Figglesticks! I wanted her to set them up for me. Now, I have to figure it all out: assembly, electrical connections and all. Knowing that I hide behind my baby boomer age and tend to shy from mechanical or technical stuff, I won’t be surprised if she thought, this would be a test for me. Hmmm …. I must pass this test.
So, I opened the boxes this afternoon, resolutely bent on assembling the parts and working out the battery and electrical connections. Gave myself a huge pat on the back – I figured out putting together the wreathe and installing the batteries for the colored lights to turn on. Voila! All lit in the right places, lovely and enchanting. But wait a minute – it’s supposed to be hung on the front door. The truth is, I’m stuck – trying to solve this hanger stick-on to work. I decided to work on the tree package instead. The hanging of the wreathe can wait.
Uh-oh! I can’t even pull the tree out of the slender box. So tightly packed. I ‘m afraid to break the branches. Should that wait for later too? No, that didn’t wait — I was on a roll!
Just got back from watching The Nutcracker movie with my daughter. I didn’t read the reviews or film version before watching, so I expected the story to be similar to the stage version. Well, I was surprised – it’s far from the stage version. Yet, I liked it. I really enjoyed the spectacular fairyland production; was enthralled by the music and pompous palace sceneries, and thoroughly entertained by the animation of little animals and transformation of inanimate to living beings, all like magic unfolding on the screen.
When the children are grown and on their own, or married and living with their spouse or family, it is a huge treat when they visit. Every visit is like fireworks, and when the hoopla is gone, you want some more. It’s like Christmas in the fall or summer or spring. It’s like a celebratory feast each day of the visit, and you want to max your fill. Because this isn’t a perfect world, if or when any disagreement pops up in the interaction, the undercurrent is always love. The visit is still a gift. Many fellow baby boomers or parents would agree, I’m sure.
My daughter visited this week. Not to sound selfish or seem like I just wanted her home for pragmatic reasons, I am grateful that she was most helpful in driving me to far places that I normally would not drive to, for very important errands. Quite a “handy woman”, she even fixed the broken latch of the shower door. Since I shy away from freeway driving, she also took me, as on other visits, to my son and his family’s place to engage in family times with them, and attend church with them on the Cal Berkeley campus.
When all the errands were accomplished, my son treated my daughter and me to an afternoon at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. My first visit at that highly rated and popular museum that contains a rain forest, aquarium and planetarium. My surprise was that the Philippines figured prominently – on exhibit were rare forest trees, plants, butterflies, fish from that tropical country. It was breathtaking to watch fish of various sizes and colors swim over and around the spectacular Philippine coral reefs in the grand aquarium. The umbrella-structured jellyfish fascinated me. In the magical rain forest, Philippine yellow winged butterflies fluttered beside striped and big blue butterflies the size of my palm, often, whizzing by just above our heads or before our faces. A sign posted on the wall says, do not try to catch the butterflies; shake them off your hair or clothing, in case any alights on you. They’re so fetching that the urge to touch them is so tempting. Funny, I didn’t care to look at the slithering mammals. My son took the pictures shown here.
Mountain View city, adjacent to Palo Alto, California holds one of the best lake parks I’ve seen, just around a 15-minute drive from my place. The park is located on a landfill beside the bay, a wide expanse that contains a man-made lake of around 2.4 acres, a golf course, a lakeside bistro fronting a line of sailboats, canoes, paddleboats and kayaks available for rent, and a path leading to the reclaimed bay lands for bikers, runners, joggers and walkers.
That Saturday, the hilly picnic area was fenced off for re-grassing. When the project’s all done, I’d like to go back there just to sit or lie down on the lush grass and feel the cool blades against my skin, or watch gleeful children recklessly roll on the low hills, or listen to picnickers’ laughter as they carouse over their food and games, or just look out to the lake where white sails and colorful windsurfs speckle the surface of the water over shimmers of sunbeams.
Totally unplanned. A surprise, you might say. Last Wednesday was the birthday of my Japanese friend that I shall call M. We intended to celebrate with lunch by the lakeside two weekends from now, when our Chinese friend, whom I shall call Y, returns from her Seattle trip. However that day, unknown to me, Y decided to pick up a lemon cake from the bakery and set it on my dining room table for M who was coming later that night. And unknown to Y, from the farmer’s market, I picked up some big red strawberries and plump figs which I arranged on an orange plate set beside Y’s lemon cake. A simple, surprise celebration was quickly concocted that night. Though that was far from our intent, we just went with the flow.
Y decided to whip up some soup recipe of rice noodles and large bok choy (leafy cabbage). After setting the delectables on the table, ready for M, I thought of practicing my newly learned skill of taking pictures with my smart phone (Y taught me how). Then I emailed the pictures to my laptop for me to post on my website.
Voila! The email attachment was sent, and the photo was stored on my laptop — a great feat for this Lola who’s always happy to learn new technology (my nine-year-old grandson may find this funny; he creates short films on his iPod). There’s beauty in simplicity, I always maintain. Just look at this picture – isn’t there beauty in this simple surprise birthday dinner?
Big fiesta right now in Naga City, the heart of the Bicol Region (south eastern part of Luzon Island), Philippines, old home of my youth. It’s the week-long feast of Mary, mother of Jesus, the revered Lady of Penafrancia, object of much adulation and fervor among the Catholics. I can imagine the flurry of activities. I can imagine the vibrant multitudes. I can imagine the cathedral and shrine tightly packed with devotees from far and near. I can imagine the abundance of food prepared in every home. I can imagine the joy in every home where college-age children and relatives come back to celebrate.
While the festivities ride on deep religious devotion that evokes prayer and attendance at masses, the atmosphere is electrified with robust events such as the “Traslacion”, the transfer of the image from the Penafrancia shrine to the Naga Cathedral the week before, and the fluvial procession the Saturday after, for the return of the Lady back to its permanent shrine. Those two major events book end all the celebrations and activities. The Penafrancia fiesta is embedded in the culture and hearts of Catholics in the Bicol Region.
[“Naga Smiles to the World” Traslacion and Fluvial Procession photos]
Decisions – decisions! Where to go for dinner when you’re international with friends of different ethnic backgrounds: Japanese, Chinese and Filipino. I decided, since I played host and offered to treat. Thai it is. Everyone heartily agreed. I just wondered: if the choice was cuisine from any of our backgrounds, likely, a friendly argument would ensue. That would be utter waste of time, especially when we all were pitifully starving; some of us, having missed lunch in expectation of a huge dinner. Thus, we headed to Amarin, a pleasant Thai restaurant in Mountain View, CA.
Now, here’s the caveat, I warned my curious group. Read More »
Today, I’m in my brother and his wife’s home in a suburb in Las Pinas, Philippines, for a week’s staycation. I’m sitting in the patio converted receiving room. To my left is a tall and wide grilled window bordered with pots of bougainvillea bearing newly opened fuchsia, white, yellow and pink blooms. True to its reputation, the orange one is slow in flowering. Sitting on my favorite polished molave wooden chair, I savor the aura of a Philippine setting. An observation suddenly loomed. I’ve always assumed that roosters crow at the crack of dawn. Now, I realize that cock-a-doodle-doos sporadically toll all times of the day. Chicken calls echo from various distances like a continuous repartee, and at times, like choral refrains. The resonance doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, it delights me. After all, I don’t hear symphonies of cock-a-doodle-doos back home in Palo Alto. Perhaps, I should record them for nostalgia’s sake.
Do you wonder sometimes how you can honor someone so special in your life and who’s now gone? I do, and I found one of many ways – I honored my late husband by attending his hometown organization’s annual anniversary event at Stockton, CA this past weekend.
The Santiagenians of the USA is a club founded in the Bay Area in 1974 by Filipinos from Santiago, Ilocos Sur, a province in the northern part of Luzon, Philippines. Since its inception, the association has grown to include members from various states and localities in the US. Those not from Santiago can join by affiliation. Spouses and children are included. Each year, communities represented in the organization take turns in hosting the annual two-day event: the dinner-dance on Saturday, and a picnic in the park on Sunday. The vibrant 44th anniversary was celebrated in Stockton, California — with a novelty, and I’ll tell you what that is later.
Chili on a warm summer day. Perfect for July 4th. Hadn’t done this in years – attending the chili cook-off on July 4th at Mitchell Park in Palo Alto. So, it felt like a novelty again: braving long lines of chili enthusiasts, savoring fresh made, delectable chili in small paper cups, basking in the sun and the music, watching impromptu dancers in the circle — a delightful and fun way of celebrating the 4th. Read More »
It was a wonderful time of bonding with my daughter, my son, his wife and my grandson. No thought of work or household chores, no rushing on tight schedules, from me, not even a gentle nag about blogging. Just leisurely enjoying the time with family. Just letting the hours chug by with interesting conversation, a good deal of catching up, and lots and lots of eating.
We decided to pamper ourselves with staying at the hotel for the long weekend. My son and his family joined us at the Claremont at Berkeley, mainly for its swimming facilities and dining on the balcony-patio that overlooks a picturesque scene of the lower valley bordered on the horizon by the bay. The evening was most spectacular. The panoramic view from the restaurant’s patio or from windows of our sixth-floor room showed shimmers of lights from the Bay Bridge, homes and industrial buildings in the distance. The night sky was clear that time, with Venus reigning bright amongst all other tiny sparkles above. Extraordinary location, weather and food – spokes in the wheel for mammoth fun that long weekend. But the driving force of that special moment was family bonding. Read More »
Now and then, we crave for comedy. We want to laugh, to feel lighthearted, to find amusement in the silly and even accept the foolish in hopes that there’s a lesson to be learned. Last weekend, on a whim, two seniors and I decided to watch a romance comedy. A bold decision. Spontaneity is not these seniors’ regular fare.
Excited to embark on this impulsive adventure, we three seniors abandoned our chores at home, dressed quickly and rushed to the movie house to catch a showing of Book Club. The film preview captured our interest, because the story runs a narrative about four elderly women’s escapades and eclectic experiences. Our bubble of expectation for a good watch burst when the ticket seller announced that tickets were sold out. Also for the next three days. Why … aha! It’s a holiday long weekend – we forgot about that, we remarked boisterously and simultaneously, as though we each had a light bulb switch on in our heads at the same time. Or, we surmised, maybe Book Club is a smash, not only with the young once but also with young ones, and that’s why all tickets had been taken. Read More »
Pa and Ma, if alive, would probably frown at this. I am joining a fundraising trip to Thunder Valley in early June. Thunder Valley is a casino close to Sacramento in California. To some, the word casino pipes a jaundiced, unsavory ring – that means gambling. I’m not a gambler, though I have experienced working the coin machine a few times, using just nickels and dimes — and many years ago when the casinos were a cacophony of tinkling coins, victory bells, screaming jackpot sirens, and the thud of sliding levers that pained the players’ stiffened arms. Well, this coming trip is worth $31, a fundraiser for my brother-in-law’s architects’ group in North CA. Not bad at all.
The cost includes a simple breakfast on the bus, a $12 coupon for an all-you-can-eat lunch, $20 worth of tokens for playing if desired, and of course, the round-trip bus transportation. Who can resist this offer? I didn’t, so I’m going with my sister and her husband and friends on this trip. Mind you, I’m not going to “gamble”. I’ll just “play my luck” with the $20 tokens. Is that OK? Read More »
I came out of a glorious Easter celebration last Sunday, feeling exhilarated. Remarkably, I felt blessed, and I like to think that I was not the only one. Never before did I hear so much applause during a church service, as I did that Sunday. A liveliness immersed in a sacred aura prevailed. Aggregate spontaneous appreciation was generously bestowed, and it was quite infectious, like a forceful wave that flowed – from the clapping hands to the smiling faces and to the hearts, and to the spirit. I couldn’t resist it. I clapped, and smiled, and teared up, and rejoiced.
I’m a sucker for birthday parties – other people’s birthday parties. The livelier, the better, rigged with balloons, glittering confetti, robust birthday greetings and singing, food in abundance, sweet cake with candles to blow, and all that jazz. For me, especially now that I’m a baby boomer, I’d rather have my birthday celebrated at a quiet dinner at home or a restaurant with family and/or close kins or friends. None of all that jazz – or, maybe, just a little bit of it. But that doesn’t mean I’m not grateful for full blown parties given for my birthday. Nor that I don’t enjoy the party. I really am not a party pooper. I just would prefer the other way … but that’s just for me. For other people’s celebration, I want all that jazz.
What is it about “all you can eat” that just draws folks to restaurants that pitch that on the menu. I admit, I’m a sucker for it, aren’t you? When I’m with a group and we struggle with the very important decision of where to have lunch or dinner, and someone interjects, there’s an “all you can eat” seafood place – no need to push me. I’ll push everyone else. It’s a mindset that can be deceiving. Can make you think you can eat as much as you want, with no consideration at all for the capacity of the stomach, nor its ability to digest large and mixed portions. Darn the advertising draw that’s so powerful. I go anyway.
So, last weekend, I attended a church fundraiser in Palo Alto, an event I always look forward to every year – an “all you can eat” crab dinner. It was no surprise that 90% of attendees were baby boomers or older. Is it this generation that falls easy prey to “all you can eat” offers? Or, is it this generation that worries less about calories? Or, is it this generation that scrimps on meals every day for health or other reasons, that a big break is so welcome. I’m glad I went. The crabs were meaty, plentiful and free flowing. The heads and legs kept coming. I wondered if the sponsor cornered the entire supply of the Bay Area. I was afraid to ask – didn’t want to jinx the table service.
My sister in Palo Alto did it again. She arranged a surprise birthday party almost a month after my birthday. She‘s very good at it – always manages to pick a day when I don’t suspect there’ll be anything special happening. It happened last Sunday, when I scheduled a regular visit with my pasalubongs (gifts/treats upon arrival from a trip) from the Philippines. I looked forward to a chat over merienda (snacks) or perhaps soup, and regale her and my brother-in-law with stories about my vacation and updates on family and relatives there.
It was late in the afternoon when darkness was starting to creep in. I knocked. She promptly opened the door. We hugged and lavishly exchanged new year greetings. The house was dark. She said she needed to open the lights. I walked to the receiving room. Total quiet. I looked to my left and considered imagining statues on the floor. I blinked. My jet lag and adjusting body clock must be playing tricks, I surmised. I turned to my left again and realized the bodies were frozen as they crouched on the floor. Then it hit me – they’re springing a surprise. But no one dared move for many seconds – just eyes staring at me. Very strange – shouldn’t they jump up and yell “surprise”? Then I heard my sister’s voice loudly greeting, “happy birthday!” Was that the cue? The bodies moved in a wave that began with the younger ones. The seniors slowly stretched and carefully got up. A very interesting and lovely mixed group, I should say. – late teens, middle-aged and seniors.
I’m back in California, my home away from home as my youngest sister puts it. Seven weeks of vacationing in the Philippines around the holidays are enough to get pampered all over again – with “angels” (appreciative name for household help) in the house, who would refuse being served like a queen? I didn’t. I luxuriated and loved every minute of it. Having taken residence in the US for over 40 years, I realized I missed this kind of lifestyle – well, somewhat. And every time I went to visit, this was what I looked forward to … well, for a period and to a degree.
I most enjoyed my vacation in the Philippines especially due to frequent and close bonding with family members; visits of far places to see relatives I hadn’t seen or spoken to in years; touring new attractions that were undeveloped areas years before; seeing tall commercial establishments where there were barren fields and small sari-sari (mix or hodgepodge) stores before; and indulging in exquisite authentic Filipino cuisine. All these were what made my vacation remarkable – and will make me go back to visit again.
After five weeks of being away, of being pandered in comfortable ways by house “angels”, for some strange reasons, I started to be antsy. I longed for the “eat whatever I want days”, or “not eat until I’m hungry days”, or “wake up and get up late for breakfast days”, or “do my own thing” days.
I have procrastinated too long. My suitcases are waiting to be packed, a task I need to do in preparation for my return trip to the US a week from now. The urgency of the chore is to make sure my heavy items purchased for pasalubongs (gifts to family members, friends upon arrival) can be accommodated within the weight restriction: 50 lbs. (or 30 kilos) for each of two check-in luggage. By the looks of it, I may have some excess weight. Now the question is – which do I leave behind? Perhaps, some clothes? Perhaps, some candies? Perhaps, some gifts from relatives here?
Now, see my dilemma? It’s best to procrastinate. I don’t need to make the decision now. But every “now” turns to a yesterday. I’m bushed, just thinking about this. Too much pressure … I’d rather nap over this.
Naga City in Camarines Sur, Philippines held a population of ~67,000 during my youth. Now, the booming metropolis is populated by some 196,000, according to the 2015 census. Around 167.3 miles south of Manila, Naga sits as the reigning queen in lush Bicol region touted for its perfect cone Mayon volcano in the province of Albay; Cagsawa Ruins, a bell tower and belfry emerging above ground while the rest of the church was buried underground during a massive earthquake in Daraga in the 16th century; the pink sand beach of Irosin, Sorsogon; the hot springs pools of Panicuason at the foot of Mt. Isarog in Naga, among many other wonders.
Besides being the center of the colorful, age-old tradition of the week-long and widely attended Penafrancia fiesta, Naga also is home to the old and charming Penafrancia shrine of the Lady of Penafrancia, and the handsomely renovated cathedral. The city grew and expanded the past decades. The presence of several prominent universities underscores the high quality of education in the community. What were small streets of modest residential areas are now commercial hot spots. The increase in restaurants, hotels, stores and shopping malls speaks to the buzzing business life of the city.
Today, I’m in my brother and his wife’s home in a suburb of Las Pinas, Philippines, for a week’s staycation. I’m sitting in the patio converted receiving room. To my left is a tall and wide grilled window bordered with pots of bougainvillae bearing newly opened fuchsia, white, yellow and pink blooms. True to its reputation, the orange one is slow in flowering. It is through this window that I peek through the curtain of vines and flowers to watch the spectacle outside.
Sitting on my favorite polished molave wooden chair, I savor the aura of a Philippine setting. An observation suddenly loomed. I’ve always assumed that roosters crow at the crack of dawn. Now, I realize that cock-a-doodle-doos sporadically toll all times of the day. Chicken calls echo from various distances like a continuous repartee, and at times, like choral refrains. The resonance doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, it delights me. After all, I don’t hear symphonies of cock-a-doodle-doos back home in Palo Alto. Perhaps, I should record them for nostalgia’s sake.
Papa gave me permission to attend a dance party! I didn’t have to ask. It was friends who asked him. I was 18 then, a very diligent student of an all-girls college, who chose poring over textbooks and novels than partying. But this particular one, I really wanted to attend. My secret crush (SC) was going to be there. Besides, I practiced the twist so many times before the mirror to ready for this shindig. Perhaps, Papa and Mama thought I was getting to be too much of an academic recluse, so they said yes. The boys were surprised. They expected a no.
It wasn’t all books for me. My extracurricular activities at school dominated my scholastic schedule as well. Theater/drama was my first love. Next was folk dancing. I was often on stage for one or the other. I even fantasized becoming a stage singer. That became reality when I was picked for the role of Laurie in Oklahoma, after a score of challenging singing lessons, of course. I was ecstatic. If my voice didn’t ring so awesomely broadwayish, my passion for drama kicked in the spice in my performance.
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