December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

The Papa is snoring, and the little girl is curled up under her pink blanket, fast asleep. I have finally given up on nudging them awake. And so it's just me, the Christmas lights, the spread that will soon turn cold (and untouched) and the distant sound of firecrackers.

Christmases are simply not the same with most of the family not home for the Holidays. Over the years, they have taken on the semblance of tele-conferencing: of long distance calls and truncated text messages, of emails and virtual photo libraries.

Still and all, they are still happy Christmases. The physical distance notwithstanding, I have family who are all spending Christmas eve in pajamas in keeping with "tradition." I have friends old and new whose idea of friendship is one that transcends borders; one that spans continents and bridges barriers.

As I sit here, quietly sipping heaven in a cup, I thank the universe for putting me where I am right now: in the comforts of home, lulled by steady snores and warmed by the sight of a totally pinked baby.

Wherever you are, whatever your stations, I hope you all have a semblance of home this Christmas and beyond. Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2008

A Caroling We Went

It wasn't exactly singing for supper. But as we braved the high notes and the December chill, the realization was clear: we had joined the ranks of those who made money out of Jingle Bells and Silent Night.

Now singing is not really my thing. Whatever "musical" dreams I had were effectively doused when my high-school music teacher ixnayed my audition to the choral group. I have since developed a phobia for Magic Sing, and I think people ought to apply for a license before they can be allowed to do the whole videoke routine in public.

But there was the monumental task of raising funds to prop up next year's grand alumni homecoming. There was the matter of reconnecting with former classmates, of digging into the arsenal of once-upon-a-times and remember whens. There was the business of knocking on doors and appealing on generosities. And so we had to sing.

As "Pasko Na Naman" segued to "Jingle Bell Rock," as we tried hard to make out the lyrics from our kodigos, the caroling became less of an item on our to-do-before-the-25th-year list and more of a bonding moment. Suddenly, we weren't just a ragtag group of carolers anymore: we became giggly teenagers trapped in the bodies of fortysomethings with flashing Santa-Claus caps.

Having skipped carol practice three weekends in a row, I stayed close to where I was safe: with Gina, my "bestest" high school buddy. The intervening years between high school and the here and now may have taken its toll on the closeness, but on this cold, cold night we are huddled together. Reunited by memories of high school and the fact that 25 years later, we still can't sing if our life depended on it.

December 21, 2008

Wrapped Up

I virtually "disappeared" over the past few days. Actually, the "disappearance" has not been just limited to the virtual. Thanks to this wonderful HR innovation called "forced leave," I was a no-show at the office and had a valid reason for saying no to "official" projects.

But just when the hubby and I were hedging between spending our welcome break hereabouts or elsewhere, the flu that hit the little girl decided it for us. And so our vacation went pfft, I didn't make it to carol(!) practice, and plans of catching up on sleep disappeared because I had to be up three nights in a row to make sure that the baby was breathing properly.

In the days that I have been "disconnected," I have been too wrapped up in real life to even have time to pause and blog about it. I said my silent goodbyes to a beloved surrogate aunt, I had to play the role of "life coach" to a dear friend and--well--I just had to be me. To take stock of the here and now before the merry chaos of the holidays consigns it to the past and the irretrievable.

I'm done with my shopping, and the presents have been all wrapped up. I am slowly inching my way back into the virtual world, where friends and stories await. And tomorrow, I am back to the grind. I am about to get out of the cocoon that I have wrapped myself in all this time.

Initial Mania

First, there was FM. Then came FVR and GMA, and now we have the likes of BF, SB and a host of others who have the PR machines milling slogans, projects and what have yous tailored to their vaunted initials.

The initial mania may have taken its sweet time traveling this far down south, but uh-oh, it is here. And when the city marked the second Sosogon Festival these past two weeks, it was an all-out LD affair.

Some of the "initialed" affairs were quite appropriate:
Lingap Dalita
Larong Dekalidad
Liwanag sa Daan

Some hovered between the possible and the passable:
Lakad Daan
Lyre & Drum Exhibition
Family Love Day
Let's Dance
Linggo ng Diwang Kabataan

And some were just a tad too much:
Love Dog Services
PiLi Day
BaratiLyo GranDe

Gawd! I don't know, but since this is a national thing, I can imagine propagandists rocking in their executive chairs all day, mumbling initials like a mantra until they reach that light-bulb-eureka moment.

Whether the light bulb works or it fizzles and pops, well, that's a different story.

December 8, 2008

It Figures

Having hated math for most of my school life, I have suddenly developed a fascination for numbers. I just love it when the disbursements and balances even out, when the liquidation tallies. If I had known that I'd breeze through crunching numbers, I wouldn't have considered accounting--and accountants--boring. I would have taken statistics seriously, the same way I internalized mythology and African lit.

While I have no wish to revisit the confusing algebraic expressions that put an end to my graduating-with-honors aspirations, I really wish I had paid better attention. I am told that grade four students already have some semblance of algebra in their curriculum. I wonder if I'll have it in me to guide my daughter through the maze of XYZs when the time comes.

Sitting through a particularly engaging presentation at the office, I realized that, while I am averse to reducing people to mere sticks in mounting statistics, figures do matter. How can we map out emergency response, for example, if we do not have the statistics to back us up? And how can we come up with adaptation measures if we have no grasp of the real, factual situation?

It boils down figures, really. And as late as I am in the game, I am glad that I can now see clearly the connection between numbers and real life.

December 5, 2008

Field Work

Some days at the office have the feel of the soft breeze, the scent of the sea and the proximity of crowds. It is on days like these that figures take on faces, when we know for certain that life--planned or unplanned, in full color or in monochrome--just happens.

This is our office on field, where there are no walls. Where there are only people and a lot of stories. Theirs and ours.

December 3, 2008


We were about to go out on Monday when the Papa pointed to the night sky. There, in perfect alignment, were two stars, with the crescent moon right below them. From where we stood, the stars and the moon looked like one of those Smiley widgets.

Mr. Moon would accompany us as we made the quick ride downtown and back. At one point, with faint clouds streaking across, it looked like a friendly bearded face. Like some favorite uncle, or a beloved grandpa.

I have long been fascinated by night skies and starlit nights. For years, I purposely chose arduous 12-hour night trips over 45-minute plane rides so I can watch the moon reflected on the beaches of Quezon. I remember climbing through the window and onto the rooftop, scanning the pitch-black skies for falling stars. And how I loved Molave Street on full moons, when we neighborhood kids would scare each other with stories of mananaggals and tikbalangs!

As it turned out, the smiley in the sky was the picture drawn by the conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and the moon. (Geek talk: a planetary conjunction, also called an appulse, occurs when two or more planets appear very close together in the night sky as seen from the Earth.)

Conjunctions between Venus and Mercury and fairly common, and one is bound to occur three years from now. But with the moon in the picture? It won't be for another 44 years. Which makes me feel that I'm blessed to have witnessed a rare celestial spectacle.

And which had me on a frantic memory jog to my virtual bookshelf and Paul Bowles' The Sheltering Sky:

...we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well, yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. ...How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.

(Source: Xinhuanet through this)

December 1, 2008

Star Wars

The road to Legazpi—just a little past the invisible line dividing Sorsogon and Albay—is again lined with Christmas stars. There they are, parols in varying shades and sizes, lending a burst of color to the stretch of handicraft stalls in an otherwise lonely highway.

From the little that I recall of the mandatory copies of Junior Citizen, I know for a fact that the parol is, among others, a symbol of unity. The star that led the Wise Men to the manger was the same star that shone on the shepherds as they watched over their flock. The Christmas star is then seen as a guiding light, one that crosses manmade demarcation lines.

But as two of my aunts will haughtily tell anyone who care to listen: “unity, my foot!” The War in the D clan has been raging for years now, and there seems to be no letup in sight. Truth is, it gets all the more fiery when the cool winds of December start kicking in.

Four years ago, Aunt A, who is known for her major production numbers and whose department always took home the prize for “best Christmas décor,” wanted a whole crateful of red-and-green abaca lanterns shipped to her. Her pride, it seemed, rested on that shipment: she was on the wings of retirement, and more than anything she wanted that best-décor plum as her coup d’ grace.

Aunt B, sensing that a crateful was just too much of an effort, couriered one instead. She timed the delivery on December 16, so that Aunt A can plunge right into the Christmas spirit. Logistics aside, the solitary parol—Aunt B felt—packed a lot more meaning than the 50 Aunt A wanted. After all, didn’t the Wise Men and the shepherds follow just one star?

As it turned out, Aunt A didn’t see the wisdom in Aunt B’s decision. To her, it was all or nothing. And one was definitely an insult. Reunions--usually capped by a teary rendition of "If We Hold on Together"--have since been put off. The more important and unavoidable of life's ceremonies--baptisms, weddings and funerals--have also been occasions for toeing lines, biting tongues and walking on tightrope. More than half a century’s worth of emotional baggage has been set off. And all because of a blasted parol!

BUT just when I thought the parol episode was the pits, the D clan is threatened by yet another war of (possibly) epic proportions. And the bone of contention? A glassful of protein-rich, osteoporosis-inhibiting taho.

From Star Wars to Taho Wars? Some families sure are strange. Make that strangely funny.

November 28, 2008


Unlike my mom and my sisters, I didn't inherit the clotheshorse gene. I don't have a closetful of trendy clothes. I am, in fact. perfectly happy with a few slacks, a handful of blouses, jeans and some shirts. Skirts and dresses I have long given up on, especially after gaining these unflattering bulges.

Ah, but such is not the case with Gianna. Call it a cosmic joke, but I find it really funny that the universe gave me a fashionista for a daughter. The girl loves dressing up, and the frilly clothes are sometimes a tad too much for me. She loves pink, shiny-shimmery stuff and has actually taken to mounting "modeling" shows for the lolo and the lola. She is not wont to throw tantrums at the toy section or at the candy store, but if she doesn't get this fancy pair of shoes or that flashy belt, you might as well brace yourself for a whining, whimpering spell.

Recently, Gianna has been training a critical eye on my stuff. And she has come up with her fashionista "recommendations." Ixnay on those bureaucratic "uniforms." Try on (pink) stilettos. Wear (pink) strappy shirts to the office. And use (pink) ribbons on your hair.

I get it. She wants me to be her clone.

Note: The "ensemble" on the picture is a gift. And yes, I have since chucked the belt.

November 21, 2008

Going to the Dogs

There's this makeshift sign on my neighbor's gate that warns of his German Shepherd. "Beware of TF Dog," it reads. I don't know about the F word, but where I work, there are days when I feel like spewing unprintables.

Every week, there are at least three dog-bite cases. They range from the usual accidental nip after roughhousing with the pet to the really serious (and possibly rabid). All of them are "accidental," although most could have been easily prevented if somebody exercised a little more responsibility.

Last week, a youngish mother came to the office asking for an anti-rabies shot for her two-year old, who looked as though he needed a really long bath and a really good scrubbing. The boy, it turned out, was bitten twice. On different occasions and by two different dogs.

The first bite the mother dismissed as "minor" and thus did not merit a visit to the doctor. The kid, after all, was "attacked" by the pet after the kid (intentionally) stepped on the tail of the then-sleeping dog. The second bite, which occurred two days later, was a lot more serious: a gash on the right cheek, just a little below the eye. This time, the boy who was supposed to be sleeping, tried to "steal" a new-born puppy from beneath the neighbor's nasty dog.

And where was the mother in the middle of all this? Why, she was happily exchanging juicy news with the neighbor over the gumamela hedge, oblivious to the wrestling match ging on between boy and bitch.

Twice or thrice, we have come across dog-bite cases involving babies. There's this case where the mother left the 10-month-old baby in the "care" of the family dog. And then there's the 20-day-old baby who was nipped in the mouth. The dad, it turned out, placed the baby--mattress and all--on the floor so that he could sleep without worrying that the baby might fall.

Hay naku! If our congressmen will continue to hedge on the RH issue this country might just as well go to the dogs.

November 13, 2008

Lord Hygiene

Just a quick post because I am at work and I'm supposed to be working (ha!). In any case, I came across this name which had me thinking of feminine wash and visits to the dentist: LORD HYGIENE ______.

I wonder, what could have been in the minds of the parents when they picked this most sanitary of names? Were they thinking, perhaps, of immaculate conception? Could it be that the parents are neat freaks and couldn't stand the idea of germs? Do they believe that cleanliness is next to godliness and decided to combine two concepts in naming their beloved son? And is Lord Hygiene living up to his vaunted name?

Argh! How can I possibly get past my computations when seemingly germ-infested questions are swimming in my head?

November 10, 2008

A Love Story (Not!)

Thirty years ago, this girl fell for this boy. Everyone thought--as they did then--that this was the stuff of Mills and Boon. That the girl and the boy would gallop off into the sunset to the tune of "We've Only Just Begun..."

Alas, things weren't meant to be. A few days after the girl asked the boy to have her cassette repaired, some other girl, in a classic case of "pikot," seduced the boy. To cut a convoluted story short, the boy married the other girl, leaving the girlfriend in tears and without her precious cassette.

But as young loves go, this one was soon forgotten. The girl upped and married, and happily, too. For a time, it looked as though the love story of 30 years ago never happened.

And then, their paths crossed again. For the boy, it was a case of moonlights and moon-glazed looks all over again. Not so for the girl. Having spent the past thirty years plodding through life in commas and semi-colons, she wasn't ready to forgive just yet. And the very first thing that came out of her mouth when they saw each other again?

"@#$%@*&()_^%! Give me back my cassette."

Closure, it seems, is the handsome new component that now sits proudly in the girl's living room.

November 7, 2008

Life and Death

It was the onset of the '90s, and in our aquarium of a workplace, I was the youngest. I was slowly building up a library of sorts, and the guys at the office had their recommendations. From Nini, it was Kurt Vonnegut; from Achilles, Joyce Carol Oates. Mr. Moss introduced me to the works of Saul Bellow and Nadine Gordimer; Tata to Michael Chrichton.

But it wasn't an introduction to the Michael Chrichton of dinosaurs, deadly strains and scientist-as-God plots. That would come later, when I needed page-turners to stay awake on days (and nights) that I needed to be awake. Instead, it was to a metaphysical, and equally engaging Chrichton. In Travels, he wrote of journeys made and taken: journeys that went beyond the physical.

Michael Chrichton is dead, and this isn't meant to be a tribute. I am hardly a sci-fi fan, after all. It's just that with his passing, I remember Tata, she who gave me Travels. I worked with her again in two other publications, during which she progressed from colleague to commuting buddy to confidante. We took journeys physical and spiritual, journeys that took us from Edsa to Banahaw, from the conference room to past lives and lost loves.

Alas, the road would soon end. Tata lost out to breast cancer almost ten years ago, just as Christmas was setting in. As I blew the dust off the book that could very well have been the story of our friendship, a yellowing piece of paper fell. On it is a verse the source of which I had already forgotten:

Death is the passing of life
And life
Is the stringing together
of so many little passings

November 5, 2008

In the Dark

At around 11 am, Weird Sister --she who, in her younger days, professed a loathing for law students, married a lawyer, and eventually went to law school--called to give a semi blow-by-blow account of the Presidential Elections.

While I have no interest in politics or foreign affairs, I wouldn't have missed the speeches. I don't know, but since Peggy Noonan did her bit with "a kinder, gentler nation" for Bush Sr. I have always found an element of redemption in White House-bound (and unbound) speeches, rhetorical though they may be.

The thing is, the electric company chose this very day to do its "periodic" eight-hour "maintenance check" (read: blackout), rendering us CNN-less and Yahoo-less.

And so it came to pass that for the better part of the day, I was as in the dark about the elections as the guy who was interviewed on TV a week ago. When asked who he thinks would have a better chance, he gave the TV camera a quizzical look and acknowledged that he didn't know Obama or McCain.

All he knew, he said, was the "father and son": "ang alam kong tumatakbo yung mag-ama. Yung sina Butch."

Busy Nothings

"Life seems to be nothing more but a quick succession of busy nothings."

I can't remember from which movie this was, but this line has become pretty useful. It has actually become some sort of mantra, especially when I am busy beyond busy. When I feel like I am, among others, general manager of the universe. I only have to recite "busy nothings, busy nothings" over and over again, and suddenly there is a perspective to things.

Like today. As soon as I woke up, I was already on the mobile, sending out frantic messages. A project had to be documented, a meeting had to be scheduled, and a venue had to be reserved. Three hours later, as I took a call for the nth time, epiphany struck: I realized I am on sick leave and there is nothing in the commandments that says you have to torture yourself with busy nothings when you are down with the flu.

The world will not end if I don't document this workshop, or if I miss this meeting. It won't disintegrate just because there is one folder that can't be found, or one letter that has yet to be written.

This flu is my body is telling me that I need to rest. And I will.

November 3, 2008

November 1

The last time I spent an hour or so at the cemetery must have been five or six years ago. Two of my aunts were then in the thick of a raging battle, and the tug-o-war for the "loyalties" of those who remained in neutral was just too much. Since then, my November 1 "tradition" included everything but a visit to what passed for an extended family mausoleum.

This year, I broke my self-imposed moratorium and trudged the almost forgotten path. Ma needed company, and since the two aunts weren't home, there was little chance of my ears being bombarded with the "hush-hush latest." After a few tricky turns--during which I realized that it wasn't such a maze after all--I finally found the almost-empty mausoleum.

For something like ten minutes it was peace and quiet and all things in between. And then, cousins and aunts (wives of uncles, actually), started trickling in, and so did the litany of who-did-whats, who-paid-for-this', and to-whom-it-may-concerns.

By the time I left an hour later, my head was throbbing. And it wasn't from jostling my way past the then already surging crowd. Lesson learned? Pay your respects, but not on November 1.

October 26, 2008

Word Factory

Yesterday was one of those decidedly OC days. I wanted to deposit some more stuff in the bodega, but first some clearing out was in order. It was, after all, groaning from an assortment of bags and boxes, furniture and forgotten photographs.

As I sorted and piled, I found a box that held stuff from the '80s and '90s. There were yellowing copies of Tiger Beat and Seventeen and Spandau Ballet posters. There were bookmarks, scrapbooks and letters from high school and college. And there, buried along with Menudo memorabilia and jigsaw puzzles, was the forgotten Word Factory.

Looking at the obviously time-worn tiles, I thought of countless bonding moments spent and made amid the racket made by the shaking of the grid. My sisters and I spent lazy summer afternoons stringing together words. In college, "vacant" periods were spent in the V office, playing Word Factory when we should be cramming for an exam or beating deadlines. Why, we even turned the thing into a full-blown competition that stretched far beyond summer writing workshops in Balayan and in Baguio! I also thought of the bouts with insomnia made more tolerable by forming words and lining the inside of the grid with a towelette to muffle the crack of the tiles.

Now, there are online games, rendering the Word Factory almost obsolete. As I hedged between keeping the game and donating it to the neighborhood daycare (along with toys outgrown and forgotten), my niece got hold of the grid and decided that it's the perfect "cake."

Looks like the Word Factory will be here a little while longer. :p

October 24, 2008


I woke up this morning to the sound of rain gently tapping on the roof. Coming from one of the "rainiest" places in the country, I should be used to this by now. But I am not. Barring the (few) times when there is the threat of cosmetics running ugly blotches down my face, I love the rain. I love walking when its drizzling, I love sudden showers, I love the sound of driving rain. I especially love soft rains when the sun is out shining. Makes me feel like I'm in some magical Kurosawa movie.

The kids in the neighborhood love the rain, too. At the first hint of a steady shower they are on their toes, marshalling the troop to an hour or so of rain games.

Come to think of it, this is one of the reasons I love this neighborhood. The kids still go out to play, they climb aratiles trees together, they organize elaborate games that only they can pull off. And they have a feel for rain.

October 19, 2008

Streamer Republic

When I joined government eight years ago, the first thing that struck me was this preoccupation with streamers. That and t-shirts. Any event--and there are many--merited yards and yards of coco cloth and the requisite t-shirts. The streamers, I soon learned, served the information-dissemination part of the activity. The T-shirt, on the other hand, served the documentation part. Uniform shirts, after all, looked good in photographs.

The penchant for streamers, however, has recently spilled over to the domestic arena. The fence surrounding my old high school is now covered with streamers in varying degrees of wear and tear, all of them congratulating this and that for passing the boards, for earning a scholarship, for being voted muse in some convention. In most cases, the "congratulations" bear the usual "from family and friends." Very much like those from-papa-and-mama birthday party balloons.

I understand the pride of family and friends, of course. Any achievement, whether big or small, deserves a pat on the back, after all. But the idea of hanging a streamer in a public place, especially when the object of the "congratulations" is not around to even read the fine print, is totally lost on me.

It may be because I consider myself part of a low-key, almost invisible generation. My contemporaries and I thrive in the background, behind the scenes. This doesn't make us less driven, less achievement-oriented. It's just that we don't make it a habit to crow about medals and awards and diplomas.

The streamers haven't escaped the attention of a friend, who is now "pressuring" his kindergartner to excel so that he'll do one better: he'll have a tarpaulin printed. Even if the kid is Best in Conduct, or A-One Child or Mission Month Boy.

October 13, 2008

Faith and Religion

I am not a regular church-goer. I did go to mass regularly up until college, but all those years barely staying awake during Salvation History has taken its toll on my attention span.

I am, of course, a believer. I believe in a higher being, I believe in angels, I believe in the goodness of the universe. My faith, though, has nothing to do with structures and rituals. It has nothing to do with preachy sermons and walking on one's knees. And it certainly has nothing to do with the Yano song that is currently playing--the kind that speaks of holy dogs and horses.

Years ago, I lived next to a crusty old woman who was known for her penny-pinching ways and her sharp tongue. She was notorious in the neighborhood for her colorful language. Because the church was within walking distance, she heard mass every day and she hosted prayer meetings in her compound.

One Sunday, she was her usual screaming, expletive-spewing self. And the subject of her tirade? Her ward, who in her words was a slow poke.

And so it goes that to this day, whenever I see the old woman my mind freezes on that particular Sunday, when she shouted for all the neighborhood to hear: "Arlene! @#$^!@&*! Demonyo ka, Arlene. Bilis-bilisan mo na at magsisimula na ang prayer meeting!

And in true Yano fashion, natatawa ako, hi hi hi hi.

October 10, 2008

Wet and Icky

I used to think that fingertip moisteners were one of those semi-useless office thingamajigs. They could find use in banks, perhaps, if one has to really count bills by hand. Or, in our case, the treasury department which keeps our--err--treasures.

I now take back the "semi-useless" tag.

I was at this department waiting for the clerk to check if my papers are in order. We were making small talk when suddenly he stuck out his tongue, licked his fingertip and started leafing through my documents with the finger. I was almost tempted to gag at the "unsanitariness" of it all!

As it turned out, the clerk isn't the only one with the habit. There's this woman at the office who does the same every time she thumbs through notes, books, anything. And then there's this client who, after wetting his fingertip and riffling through his papers proceeded to tap me on the shoulders.

I swear, I almost jumped! And I swear, I'm going to include fingertip moisteners in this quarter's request for supplies!


Speaking of laway ("saliva" sounds so scientific, :P), here's an upside:

For three days last week, I had an inexplicably bum stomach. The kind that goes with sweaty palms, beads of perspiration on the forehead and the very real threat of dehydration. Loperamide didn't help, and neither did a doctor's prescription. Somebody suggested that perhaps I was the unknowing victim of someone who had "sibang" (usog in Tagalog, which doesn't really have a western translation.) And the antidote? The laway of one who has sibang!

And so it came to pass that after three days of being all-too-familiar with the toilet bowl and just about every brand of loperamide, all it took was a thin film of a friend's laway rubbed on my belly. It may be grossly unsanitary, but what do you know? It worked!

I guess it's true: there are some things that science just can't explain. :p

October 9, 2008

So Much for White Rabbit

The news recently had me walking down White Rabbit- and Haw Flakes-lined memory lane. These--along with Kendi Mint, Fat and Thin watermelon seeds and plastic balloon--were my sari-sari store staples. Semi-forbidden stuff that I hoarded on the sly. I especially loved the filmy, plastic-like coating of White Rabbit and the way it melted in the mouth.

Now, with melamine casting dark clouds over just about anything and everything China-made, I feel a certain sense of loss. Goodbye, White Rabbit and Haw Flakes. No more making the side trip to the "Chinese" corner of the grocery for kiamoy and dikiam. I look at the colorful array of preserves and my inner monitor says "don't even think about it." I crave for tocinong Intsik, and an internal alarm buzzes.

Sad, but my nephews can't expect their usual from-the-Philippines hoard of Peanut Nougat and Peanut Cake anymore. "Pretend" Communion won't be the same without Haw Flakes. And White Rabbit? I now wonder what chemicals go into the melts-in-the-mouth coating. (The fine print doesn't help any. I once looked up the ingredients for Haw Flakes and guess what I found? Haw and water! As if I know what haw is :p)

There are other oriental brands that I am oh so familiar with; ointments and liniments often encountered in terminals and in airports and in piers. White Flower, Tiger Balm, Katinko and Essential Embrocation may be melamine-free, but their point of origin now makes them suspect.

Really, this melamine thing is giving most of us a bad case of paranoia.

October 7, 2008

At last...

This is where my weekend went--and I planned it to be a blogging weekend, too!

Years ago, a friend, who was going through a semi-monastic, "enlightenment" phase, gave me this advice: "torture yourself with the things you love." For the better part of three days, I did just that. I sorted and matched, fitted and tried. I revisited the Monk in me and was completely, happily OC. It took some doing, but I finally built my castle.

How wonderful when the pieces fit and things fall into place!

October 1, 2008


There is a black-and-white picture that really spooked me when I was a kid: Lola Miling on her deathbed, hands clutching a crucifix, a white ribbon tied around her face. Surrounding her on the bed are a grieving husband and the somber faces of nine children.

The picture was taken in 1948, and my mother had just turned eight five days before.

Because Lola died when Mommy was still young, the little that Mommy remembers of her sweet-smelling Mama are memories of fleeting, postwar years. Of a basketful of apples every time Mama went to the market. Of the scent of homemade tsokolate and freshly starched bedsheets.

What I know of the beloved Mama I knew through snippets of conversations. I grew up as an audience to Mommy's stories. This was also how I got to know the colorful characters that peopled her past.

There was Lola Mimay, Ma's fiery grandmother who took on mothering duties after Lola Miling died. They could do be really naughty from sunup to sundown, Ma said, and Lola Mimay would never give a hoot. But after six, after Lola Mimay has had her bottle of anisado, the "recitation" of even the day's most minor infractions would begin and all nine children would have an earful. Lola Mimay went by a rather fierce name: Maxima Laban. Laban to the max, he he he.

There was also Madrasta, whom I knew when she was already much mellower. By all accounts, Madrasta was the typical telenovela kontrabida: she had eyebrows that were perennially arched and she had a son from a previous marriage who mysteriously became the proprietor of Lolo's estate. Madrasta bet on jueteng and played entre cuatro. And in true telenovela fashion, she made life miserable for Lola Miling's children.

When I was a kid and Ma and her sisters would talk about things that kids aren't supposed to know, they would talk in conspiratorial whispers, which would send the naturally curious me angling for the perfect within-earshot spot. Now, I am in on the secrets, and am weaving my own stories into the stories of those who have gone before me.

September 30, 2008


Fifteen plus years ago, (okay, make that almost twenty years ago) a colleague wrote about the contents of other people's bags in her column. She riffled through my post-college bag and found these:

Book (Empire of the Sun)
unused tickets to the CCP
I Ching coins
diskettes [the super floppy kind]
a key chain without a key
a hairbrush; and
a toothbrush

Fast forward to 2008. I have since found out that, when it comes to bags, bigger is definitely better. And more prone to clutter.

The contents of my humongous tote:

Book (Everything I've Ever Done that Worked)
Two notebooks: one for official mindless jottings; the other for unofficial and equally mindless ones
a purseful of IDs
unused tickets to a charity bingo
a vanity kit (with face powder, lotion, facial wash, atomizer. concealer, comb and anti-frizz serum)
a brag book of Gianna's pictures
an "official" kit (with three gel pens, three Stabilo pens, a correction pen and four USBs)
three sachets Maxwell House 3 in 1 coffee
a mini bag of Hershey's Dark Kisses
a wallet and coin purse;
and a Ziploc with a pebble, a shell and a solitary, freshly picked siling labuyo (my baon from my daughter).

Whew! And that's just my tote bag! There's still this other bag I carry around...

September 25, 2008


I did a double take when I saw this sign. I thought: who would be stupid enough to penalize victims of the dreaded mandurukot? Would there even be enough cash left to pay the fine? Unless, of couse, this was some creative ploy to warn the unwary about presence of pickpockets in these parts...

Then I realized: I have been so used to thinking in Tagalog that it took awhile for me to recognize that the sign was in Bicol. "Dukot" (pronounced the way you say "sagot") is literally "dikit." The warning on the wall is the Bicol translation of the classic "Post No Bill."

Oh well. Posting bills may be up for penalty, but there's nothing on the wall that says graffiti is not allowed.

September 21, 2008

Fiesta Fever

The day started with the pitiful sound of a pig being readied for slaughter and ended with "Alone Again, Naturally" from the Video Singko from across the street. In between were the seemingly endless stream of people weaving in and out of houses, the beer-and-brandy-induced laughter, the neighborly exchange of fiesta fare and, much later, the wobble and shake of those who have had one drink too many.

Today is our tiny village's fiesta, and not even austerity nor the threat of Typhoon Hagupit could get in the way of tradition. Yesterday, there was a parade along our otherwise quiet streets, and the reigning village beauties waved and smiled their way under the scorching midday sun. For nine days, we trooped to the neighborhood chapel for the novena to the Virgin of Penafrancia, in the same way that the more worldly among us trooped to the improvised cockpit right on our block.

I must admit that I am new to this fiesta thing. We did have our share of fiesta fever in the old house, but between moving to Manila and beyond and coming home for good,what the fiesta was for was lost on me. It was only when I moved to this tight-knit, neighborly community four years ago that I realized that the fiesta was for thanksgiving, for celebrating life and all its gifts.

"Alone Again, Naturally" is not really the appropriate finale to this happy, happy day.

September 19, 2008


Gianna wanted it in her favorite color. Naturally, the papa--who couldn't resist toying with a can of paint--mixed and matched until he arrived at the perfect shade of girly-girl pink. Thus began yet another chapter in the so-called life of the garden chair.

For as long as I can remember, the garden set has been with us. It was here where many black and whites, Polaroids and circa '70s color prints were taken. It witnessed birthday parties and drinking sprees, courtships and LQs, full moons and early morning cups of coffee. Politicians and dogs (hmm, sometimes I just couldn't tell the difference, he he) sat here. Here was where a younger (and less cheesy) Chiz and his rah-rah team talked my dad into (returning to) politics. Where my dog Pusa sniffed at a bewildered Papa before deciding that she likes him.

Through many comings and goings away and moving ins and outs, the garden set has been a constant. And like the old GE ref (which my mom kept and used for sentimental reasons until she realized that it was such a power guzzler), it has changed color so many times. It has gone from white to green to white to yellow to white. And now, one fifth of it is pink. Waiting in the wings for Gianna's pink-filled, rosy memories.

Things are treasured not so much for what they are but for the value we attach to them. The spiffed-up set has cradled 40 plus years of life's ups and downs and in-betweens. And from the looks of it, it's going to cradle a lot, lot more.

September 16, 2008

Games We Played

Since my daughter and her cousin discovered the wonders of Playhouse Disney online, I haven't been blogging and blog-hopping as often as I used to. The two girls have developed mouse-happy fingers. and can find their way through the maze of (sometimes complicated) games. Heck, they can even mouse over to YouTube!

I don't know, but technology seems to have taken the fun out of outdoor games. There are a lot of school-age kids in our neighborhood, but they are hardly out playing on the streets on breezy weekend afternoons. Instead, they are hunched over computers at the internet shop. I wonder: whatever happened to...

Siato (and I can't even begin to describe how the game is played) on afternoons when we should be taking naps?
Tumbang preso and taguan on moonlit nights?
Bahay-bahayan and luto-lutuan under the shade of the aratiles tree?
Jolens by the shade of the High School Main Building?
Patintero and street football and all the games we used to play?

When I started fiddling with GameBoy and PacMan and Super Mario on the PC (in the era of floppy disks and Wordstar) I remember swaying along to every press of the keys. Now, kids sit zombie-like while killing, bombing, sniping and engaging in the complicated virtual violence of Counter Strike. They don't even blink!

This technology thing sure has its perks, but few things can top the thrill of playing outside, sweating it out and enjoying a very, very real goal, a homerun, a score and a save.

September 13, 2008

Water Therapy

I grew up by the sea. Technically, that is. While the house I grew up in was right in the heart of what was then a small town, there was always a body of water nearby. A few steps away, and there was a creek we would wade into. The beach was just a 15-minute ride away. The school I went to had windows that framed a pretty view of the bay. I only had to look out, and suddenly I'd be sailing past those boring lessons.

My mother believed in the therapeutic power of fresh air blowing in from the sea. There were the early morning drives to the beach so that we'd have "strong" lungs. A few sniffles and the onset of colds merited a trip to the pier. (It was here, I recently learned, that our younger selves slugged it out to settle some "guy" issues back in high school.)

I have since discovered the wonders of "water" therapy of the not-so-physical kind. There's nothing like the sight of calm waters to soothe frazzled nerves. Or to wash away the stresses of the day.

When I need a quick getaway from the depressing dose of dog bites and death certificates, I head out to my favorite lunch spot: by the baywalk, in one of those faux bamboo sheds. And when I feel like winding down, it's back to the bay for one of those colorful, calming sunsets.

Truly, there is nothing that water can't heal.

My favorite lunch spot

(Yet another) Sorsogon sunset

September 6, 2008

Me Time

I can't remember the last time I had lunch by myself. Where I am, there is always someone to take lunch with: family, friends, people from the office, people from the not-so-distant past dropping in to say that they're still around. I relish long lunches not so much for the food as for the conversation, the connection.

Yesterday, I found myself without a lunch partner. There was no one I could badger at the last minute. Besides, I don’t like eating in at the office. Not on someone’s desk, anyway, with pictures and perpetual smiles beaming beneath glass pads.

And so it was that I ended up in a corner table in a not-so-crowded restaurant, with a plate full of pasta, a thick slice of pizza and a bubbly glass of Coke. There were no familiar faces, no one to share the table with, and for an hour, it was just me.

As I leafed through Lesley Garner’s Everything I’ve Ever Done That Worked, I remembered countless by-myself lunches in the past: table-for-one affairs when I had all the time to read, to dawdle, to think up stories of and about people at the other tables. I remembered notes hastily scribbled on paper napkins.

That one hour was like revisiting a familiar almost forgotten place and discovering that I can always come back.

September 3, 2008


Between getting out of bed and going out to work, there are about a thousand things I cram in. "Mindless" things, really: things that don't require that much brain power. Like folding the sheets, plugging in the airpot, downing a mugful or two of Maxwell House 3 in 1, taking a shower.

Because I am so used to doing these things day in and day out, doing them seems so automatic, so effortless. Like cruising on autopilot mode.

In the shower today, I mindlessly slathered on the seven or so preparations--from body wash to shampoo to conditioner and other things in between. After 20 minutes or so, I got dressed, had breakfast and started getting ready for work.

Just when I was about to leave, I noticed that my hair smelled "different." It was nice alright. But different. Not the usual subtle green tea but a stronger scent. Could it be that I forgot to rinse out the conditioner, I wondered. But no, it wasn't that. Not the shampoo, either. Nor the leave-on.

As it turned out, I botched up the bottles. I had to go back to the shower to rinse the scent of feminine wash off my hair!


If it's any consolation, it wasn't just me who had a case of autopilot gone awry. On the way to the office, we picked up a colleague whose husband had to rush back home. And why the rush?

Because he forgot to put on his pants!

September 1, 2008

Holiday Mode

I woke up this morning to the tune of “Jingle Bells.” With a start, I realized that (1) it’s been almost two weeks of intermittent, not-so Smart connection (2) the dreaded Month of the Hungry Ghosts is but another page torn off the calendar and (3) Christmas is almost here.

The first two, I easily shrugged off. There's no use fretting over things that are beyond my control. Or things that are over and done with.

But the thought of Christmas had me scurrying for my to-do list. Must start shopping. Must resurrect the Christmas tree. Must send out cards. Must update the Christmas list. Must include Bruno. Must, must, must...

The onset of the "Ber" months always makes me feel that there are so many things to do, and so little time to do them in. But its a pleasant kind of rush, a kind of semi harassment that I welcome. If anything, the first of September always puts me in holiday mode.

Today, as I flipped the pages of the already thinning calendar, I thought of the things labeled "for filing," "for action," "pending" and all the 8 to 5 stuff waiting for me at the office. There are so many, many things to do. But with Christmas just around the corner, I know that I'm in for a pleasant ride.


Blue skies, blue waters, blue mountains. This is Sorsogon Bay, on a lazy, hazy Saturday morning.

August 26, 2008

Real Stories

For all my moaning and groaning about the bureaucracy, I do love my job. I love most of the people I work with, and barring the times when I come across people who could use a refresher course in GMRC, I love working this close to people. Real people with real stories; not just mere statistics.

I have always had a fascination for stories. In my past life, I have come across people who spewed and lived and breathed brands. Their stories are the stuff of precious column inches.

Working in government is my reality check. Suddenly, Prada is inconsequential. The people who go to my office do not know the difference between Vitra and Monobloc. They do not live by brands; they hardly check the labels. And yet, their stories are just as interesting. More heroic, even, considering the struggles they have to put up with every single day.

Every working day reinforces the notion that life is not easy. But it is beautiful, and its beauty lies in the fact that it goes on. No matter what.

August 20, 2008

Fear of Shaking

Over the extended weekend a latent fear resurfaced: the fear of earthquakes. You see, last Friday, while I was lazing on the bed and dreaming up plans for the three-day break, there was this sudden jolt. And then the earth started shaking.

It wasn't like one of those little tremors that we attribute to Mount Mayon or to Bulusan. Minor quakes we have learned to live with. Instead, it was quite strong, the way the quake in Baguio was strong. (A dear friend lost an uncle in that quake, an uncle who, a week before, gave me a Midnight Oil album. For five or so years, I'd always get sick every time I'd go up north.)

Anyway, last Friday's quake had me immediately eyeing the beams for cracks. Finding none, I fed on my neurosis and thought of a thousand what ifs. What if there are hidden cracks? What if the roof caved in on us? What if this happened when the little girl is all alone in the room? What if...

We cancelled the weekend trip to the beach and to the mall in Legazpi amid fears of tidal waves and volcanic eruptions. You can never really tell in these parts: the earthquake on Friday registered 5 on the Richter scale in Sorsogon; 6 in Legazpi. Besides, motherhood has made me more cautious. More paranoid.

Similar quakes--albeit less shaky--were felt on Monday and, again, just minutes ago. Scary, really, the way they strike in seeming regularity. I don't know, but this growing fear of quakes has me shaking.

August 18, 2008

Coffee Talk

I am on to my third cup of coffee within the past two hours. I really should be doing some serious technical stuff. Instead, I have this blog window open, and I can't resist the temptation to blog.

There is something about coffee that sets off a certain rush. Suddenly, writing seems a lot more pleasant. The thought process may not be clear, and may even be prone to rambling, but the translation from thought bubbles to keyboard seems a lot easier.

Ironically, it wasn't in the newsroom that I developed this addiction for coffee. I was perfectly fine with watching beat reporters alternately churning out their daily requisite column inches and downing steaming mugfuls. Besides, since I worked in the Sunday section, I wasn't always in a rush anyway.

But when I moved from writing for a weekly to a monthly, my latent craving for caffeine surfaced. My "seatmate" Arni made the perfect brew, and--with the heady aroma wafting through those modular cubicles--I was hooked. Coffee actually took on a more social aspect and it figured pretty much in every swinging single thing: last-full shows, dinners, quiet conversations, rowdy after-office bonding, Saturday-night hangovers.

Although I have since traded the publication for the bureaucracy, I still get my kick from coffee. Attacking the paperwork is a breeze, and there's nothing like the smell of a fresh cup to get me on track.

And so, enough of this rambling and on to the task at hand...

August 16, 2008

Catching Up

Our friend Marissa was in town, and Nena cooked up a mini meet-up. We had a good laugh over our nineteen kopong-kopong graduation pictures, over Ali's usual crazy quips and over just about every thing.

Beyond the gas-pain inducing laughter, we bridged the gap between the then and now, between high school and our preoccupations of the moment. Because we grew up in an age when every one knew one anothers' families, talk got around to parents and siblings and how we are as parents of teenagers and toddlers.

At some point, Marissa marveled at how some of us have taken on our mothers' faces. Between 1984 and 2008, most of us have changed, some in stature, most in appearances. The changes notwithstanding, we were back to our former selves as we talked about the once upon a times, about high school and the craziness of it all.

At past nine, the mothers among us started to get restless. We could have talked on and on, but husbands and children are waiting, and life couldn't be put on hold. With the promise of catching up soon enough, we traded high school for the here and now.

Truly, we have become our mothers.

August 12, 2008


Our office at the city hall is relatively small. There is just enough room for five middle management people, five associates, and the usual come-and-go clients. All things considered, and barring the times when it got really cramped, the set-up worked quite well.

Until the two middle managers started getting on each others' nerves. At first, we didn't give it much thought and dismissed their catfights as a case of familiarity breeding contempt. It was even a source of minor amusement.

But then the spat between the two warring women has become increasingly irritating, and it just isn't funny anymore. A has taken to name calling and "invoking" the saints for ill to befall B. B has taken to thumping A's bag and declaring "fake, fake, fake." Both have taken to regaling those who cared to listen--and those who didn't--with versions of their "episodes," in what can only be a glorified version of agawan base.

The thing is the corporate gladiators are not exactly that young. Leaving all of us to conclude that really, immaturity knows no age.

August 8, 2008

Messy, Messy Me

Was that July that just flew out the window? Is it August already? As I cleaned out my drawer and found projects enthusiastically begun and unceremoniously abandoned, I realized that it's way past the middle of the year. Way past my self-imposed deadline for a well-organized 2008.

At home, my desk is groaning with paper and what have yous that I might find some use for in my scrapbooking projects. There are photos that are supposed to be put in albums or given to those whose smiling faces are forever captured in full color. There are receipts and clippings. Things that I might as well throw away but just can't bring myself to.

At the office, my files are semi-organized. Papers from the first quarter have since been segregated and are neatly filed in properly-labeled folders. The rest is dumped into folders generically dismissed as "for filing," waiting for that inspired moment when I suddenly discover that I am anal after all. Meanwhile, documents are back to their naturally unsystematic mess.

The funny thing is I am perfectly able to retrieve stuff without having to risk a major anxiety attack. Funnier still, if it were up to me, I'd leave things as they are. The great thing about the randomness of it all is the fact that I am always rediscovering things. It may be a forgotten book or a faded photograph, or the very document that has eluded countless searches. Heck, it can even be a (thankfully unopened and still edible) pack of crackers.

So much for organization, huh?

August 3, 2008


There is something about 5:30 p.m. on a Sunday that makes me want to cram so many things into what's left of the weekend. Suddenly, I want to clean, to organize, to scrapbook. Anything to make me think that I did have a productive weekend after all.

As it is, my weekends are broken down into slow, leisurely hours that have me lounging in house clothes. There is nothing about my Saturdays and Sundays that says "rush." Instead I have cultivated the art of idling: of two-day movie marathons, of doing everything and nothing.

On weekends, I am so many things. I am, among others, a storyteller, a magician, a pupil, a doctor, a playmate, a singer. I am a fan, an audience, an awestruck mom to a three-year-old who sees wonder in all things. Yes, even in a dead lizard.

Alas, weekends, too, have to end. Tomorrow, it will be back to my other world, where is no time to dawdle, where there are deadlines and dress codes. It is a world that I also love, although not with as much passion as my weekend world. And at 5:30 p.m., on a Sunday, I am slowly psyching myself for the transition.

July 30, 2008

Death Penalty

There are times when I wish capital punishment is back in the Philippine legal system. And not a moment too soon.

Today, our office handled a case that had all of us swearing and cursing: a three-year-old raped by her 18-year-old neighbor. Why, the girl is as old as my daughter!

I hear about stories like this every time: on TV, in print, over the radio, on the web. Hearing about these things makes me cringe, tugging at the heart of the mother in me. But they all seem too far-fetched, too unreal. I never imagined that this would happen right here, in the confines of "home."

But it did happen, and reality came with the desire to kill, to violate, to wish someone ill. Legal minds and human-rights advocates and moralists may debate all they want. I say, death, death, death!

July 28, 2008

Changing, Changing, Changed

I took the longer, more semi-urban route to the office today, and I noticed something I hadn't seen in years: the bahay na bato on the fringes of town. I went to grade school with the daughter of the house. I can picture her still: a haughty mestiza who had way too much of everything, from yayas to Sanrio to excess poundage.

Alas, the house is now dilapidated beyond repair: a crumbling heap of memories of days long gone. There is nothing about the structure that hints of grand parties, or of Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. The vast acreage beyond has been sold and resold, divided and subdivided. The daughter of the house has since left for cooler climes. And from the looks of it, she will not return.

I have always had affinity for old houses. My grandpa's house was right beside the municipio, where he served as judge. On the days when we visited, my cousins and I would race through the house and up and down the town hall's twin flights of stairs. Often, we would steal away to the cathedral, which was but a quick dash away.

But for the cathedral, the structures of my childhood are but shadows of their former glories. The old municipal building has long served its purpose: it is now much too small for a growing city. Lolo's house has already traded ownerships so many times I've already lost count. What was once a respectable lawyer's house-cum-office is now a bar of the seedy kind. (How it got from prime property to red-light establishment is the stuff of telenovelas--you know, the kind peopled by stepmothers, stepsons and half siblings.)

Every time I see an old building giving in to the ravages of time--or to modernization--I always feel a certain loss. Change is always good, a friend likes to say. But there is something about old houses that makes me wish change didn't have to creep in into places of memories.

July 25, 2008

Forty and Beyond

If life begins at 40, I will be a year old in a matter of minutes. I will be crossing over from borderline, not-quite-there-yet forty to the very real 'ty-one. Greetings will come pouring in, my inbox will be swamped, and I will be well on my way to nearing the "middle ages." My middle ages.

When I was a lot younger and a lot more clueless, I thought forty and beyond was old. Ancient, in fact. I thought forty is when one stops growing pimples and starts growing fangs, when one is bogged down by children, by worries, by life to have time for anything else, when one is on the verge of retirement. I thought forty forbids comebacks: that at forty one can never bounce back, or start all over again.

Well, Gabby Concepcion is back, and to some degree I am swooning. "Forty and beyond" is not quite the sorry state that I thought it to be. There is still magic in full moons and sunsets. There is still wonder in stories and in a child's gaze. There is still true joy in friendships and in getting things done. There is eternal gratitude for love, for life, for renewal.

The clock is ticking, and soon I will be forty one. I have dietary (flab, oh flab!) and dermatological (laugh lines, not wrinkles) issues. But hey, this business of growing older and (I hope) wiser, is not so bad at all.

July 23, 2008

My Other Baby

There's this little girl who always makes me laugh: my niece Samantha. My other baby, I call her, and she is one spunky, highly opinionated kid who has mastered the fine art of wheedling. She insists she loves everybody in the universe except for one: me. But when I make a show of reaching for that bag of forbidden chocolates, she turns on the charm and swears she super loves me.

If there is such a thing as a pop baby, Sam is probably it. She knows all the songs in the HSM and Hairspray soundtracks. She thinks Chad--the guy with the curly hair--is the coolest person ever. She can sit in front of the TV for hours and can easily pick up dance steps, lyrics and tunes. And in her squeaky, elfish voice, she sings "suicidal, suicidal" and "Fabulous" over and over and over again.

Because they are so so different, Sam and Gianna are best friends slash worst enemies. You can never really tell with them. One moment they are all sweetness and light: as in sticky-glue sweet. Minutes later, they are at each others' throats, glued to each other Sumo-style.

Sam is three years old today. She is all red after yet another shouting bout with Ate Gianna. She just had a High School Musical theme party and is all wound up. No, she did not wear a skirt like her girly-girl cousin. Instead, she strutted around in skinny jeans and sporty tees. And when someone sang "Happy Birthday, Sam," she blurted: "I am not Sammy. I am Chad."

Happy Birthday, funny little girl! May you always find wonder in every thing!

July 20, 2008

The Nose Knows

Somebody put a vaseful of rosal in the washroom, and before I knew it, I was brought back to those breezy, carefree flores de mayo days. Scents do that to me. I get a whiff of Coppertone, and I am transported to Boracay and lazing under the SPF 30 sun. A hint of musk, and suddenly, I am in high school all over again. The sea, when the tide is out, reminds me of elementary years in a school by the bay.

Sometimes, the memories are good:

Firewood and fiestas. Old Spice and family reunions. Cinnamon and Christmas. State of Mind and my "bestest" friends, Berna and Maricar. Noxzema and college at UST. Aceite de Manzanilla and Gianna's baby days. Brewed coffee and last full shows.

And sometimes they are not so good:

Betadine and the operating room. Herbs and Quiapo and the one time a vendor harangued me for refusing her medallion. Mud and the floodwaters of Espana. White Flower/Tiger Balm and the pre-Bonamine days, when the journey home took 14 hours, a sore butt and a losing fight with motion sickness. Sardines and EDSA. (Who would have thought that Edsa would be trivialized by subsequent "Revolutions," and that Philippine politics would forever smell fishy?)

A few years from now, my nose would probably pick out a scent and bring me back to where and what I am now. Would it be Victoria's Secret, or baby powder, or Promil Kid, perhaps? Whatever it is, I'm sure, the nose would know...

July 15, 2008

4 a.m. Thoughts

It is four in the morning. I have been drifting in and out of hazy dreams for the past two hours, and have finally given up on sleeping. But for the gentle swish of the leaves and the distant baying of a dog, everything is quiet.

I look at my daughter. At three, she still latches on to her pacifiers. Getting her to sleep without them is one constant tug-o-war, which—unfortunately for me—always goes in her favor. But in this peaceful hour, all thoughts of weaning her from her binkies, all thoughts of future appointments with the orthodontist, are immediately banished.

Two songs come to mind instead. My parental anthems, I call them: Natalie Merchant’s “How You’ve Grown” and Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance.” The first tells of those fleeting years, and the lyrics gets me all teary. Especially now that my daughter is discovering a world outside of mine.

The second sings of what I want her to have--and to be. She is not me, this much I know. She is, among others, a drama princess, a fiery performer, a dancer. Things that I am not. But I want her to have that eternal "sense of wonder," that passion for sunrises and sunsets, for fairy tales and magical stories. I want her to believe and behold. I want her to be what she really wants to be.

Of course that's still a long, long way off. But at 4 a.m., just as the world is struggling between sleep and wakefulness, anything goes...

July 10, 2008

Not So High-Tech

You would think, from the millions and millions the government spends on computers, that we would be one tech-savvy bureaucracy, right?

Wrong. Not in our case, at least. There are computers, alright. Internet-capable PCs, sleek laptops, high-end thingamajigs. The thing is, they are rarely ever used to make things a lot less complicated for you and me.

Following the paper trail is still an exercise in patience as one is shunted from one office to another. Almost everything is manual: you look for something and the clerk riffles through logbooks that have obviously seen better days. You follow up action on a request, and your paper is retrieved--after much finger pointing--from a pile of virtually untouched documents. You need something, and you are made to wait, wait and wait. Sometimes for nothing.

Where are the computers in the middle of all these? Busy, of course. With Text Twist and Solitaire and Friendster. The older, on-the-wings-of-retirement set are too jaded to learn something new. The younger ones are clueless on the ways of government. Those in between? As usual, we are caught in the middle.

And so, in this day and age of high-speed connectivity, the wheels of the bureaucracy turn on their own slow, agonizing pace.

July 6, 2008


I graduated from high school in 1984. This was the era of Mother Lily and her Regal Babies, Bagets and the layered look. Computers were unheard of in our little pocket of the universe. Much of our school projects, in fact, moved to the rhythm of the bulky Olympia or the more portable Underwood.

On my third and fourth years, there was one room that drew me in. Here was where my love affair with the scent of newsprint began, where I spent many, many hours trying to be a writer. The Luzon Tip Press Room drew in kindred souls as well: Eden, Mel, Marissa, Cherie. We had our own cliques, but we were drawn to each other by our love of the written word--ours and others'.

After high school, we managed to see a bit of each other every now and then. But these became farther and farther apart as careers, marriages and children came and life happened. Keeping ties was never my forte, and except for third-person updates, I lost touch with my school-paper buddies.

And then I found them. Found their blogs, actually, and I feel that I am on a journey of rediscovery. And discovery. Eden gardens--and cooks. Mel is taking the road less travelled. Cherie is learning to drive. Marissa is very much Marissa: artist, intellectual, a woman of strength. All of us are players in the game of life.

We may live in different worlds now, but I feel more connected to them than ever. This blog thing has bridged the silent, in-between years. It has reconnected me with old friends, connected me with new (online) friends and given me back the joy of writing.

July 4, 2008

Welcome to the Club

For three days this week, I brought my daughter to work. Not really a good thing, if you're cramped in a small space as I am. And definitely not a good thing if you have a snooty kid as I do.

But because papers were piling up and the to-do list just had to be dealt with, I had no choice. And so, armed with a humongous bag crammed with crayons, books and stuff supposedly meant to keep boredom at bay--and with "this, too, shall pass" as my mantra of the week--off we went to city hall.

The moment I set foot in the office, I knew that I had made the transition. Back in Eastgate and in my early days in city hall, I was the playmate: entertainer to kids whose moms had no choice but to bring them along. A marriage contract and a birth certificate later, I had joined the sisterhood of child-toting working moms whose concerns are more along the lines of caregivers, preschools and child-friendly TV.

The walk up to my corner--which, on "normal" days--takes a minute or so, stretched on and on. The moms gave me knowing, welcome-to-the-club smiles, the singles volunteered to do playmate duty. And when the referrals took a little longer to finish, there were the reassuring been-there-done-that taps on the shoulder.

And what of the little girl? She was surprisingly well behaved, with no hint of that fiery temper. She just settled into a quiet corner and finished an entire drawing book. She gave a start when a midget came in and I had to tell her to stop staring. Otherwise, things went pretty well.

Ahh, if I had known that motherhood would be a ready excuse for not clocking in on time, for not getting the job done fast and for playing on the job, I would have done it a long time ago.

June 30, 2008

Fun Day

Oh, to be much, much younger!

My thought, exactly, as I huffed and puffed all the way down to the beach. Time was when I could easily climb mountains, play badminton and clamber in and out from the windows of those ingenious Puerto Princesa jeepneys. But the years seem to have caught up with my limbs, and I am not quite as limber.

Earlier, I had mixed feelings about going. On the one hand, I didn't quite like the feeling that I had no choice but to go. The activity, after all, was covered by a memo that had a "for compliance" ring to it. On the other hand, the idea of Monday on the beach seemed too inviting. "Beachy" as I am, the beach won over the bureaucratic jargon.

The view from the top was incredible, as I am sure the view from below would be. There's the seemingly endless sea set against blue mountains. But between up and down, there is a steep, rocky incline. With each downward step, I could hear groans around--and eventually from--me. "This was supposed to be the City Fun Day (Fan Day, a streamer proudly proclaimed)", somebody panted, "but I don't see any fun in sliding." "Me, too," another retorted. "But I am sure that those down below are already having a good laugh at us."

After what seemed like a lifetime of picking our way through boulders we finally reached the beach. The sand was powdery, much like that of Boracay except that it's black. The sun was just right. All thoughts of popping painkillers were immediately banished as the day wore on. There were "compliance" activities: building sandcastles, doing the Hawaiian and the requisite karaoke. But the compliance took on a fun turn when sandcastles didn't quite measure up, when the literal heavyweights did the Hawaiian, and when somebody proudly belted "Carless Whespers."

It was a fun day, alright. Ahh, but the climb back up is another straining story.

June 22, 2008

Work of Art

Among my few absolutes, this I know to be true: I can never be an artist. I can't, for the life of me, draw. While I love to doodle, I can't go beyond stick figures, stylized suns and flowers. And my "drawings" do not go beyond the logbook where minutes of (seemingly endless) meetings are jotted down.

Years ago, while sifting through papers that my mom religiously kept, I realized that I didn't have a single drawing. Ma said it was probably because I never drew; I wrote. To her eternal dismay, I wrote on walls, on chairs and tabletops, on books.

What about my art projects?, I asked. She rolled her eyes, and then I remembered: technically they were not really my projects. In short, I was not, I am not and I will never be an artist.

I resolved that this will not be the case with my daughter. As soon as she learned that they weren't food, I gave her crayons and all those artsy stuff. She seems to have taken well to scribbling and doodling. It's quite too early to tell, but this much I know: she'll make her own art projects.

June 21, 2008


Storm signal number 3 is up over Sorsogon as I write this. School’s out, meetings have been called off and the work day (yehey!) has been cut short. I am not sure if the electricity will be out as well, and for how long. With the shadow of Milenyo still hanging over the city, we are doing the best we could to cushion perceived blows.

I am no stranger to storms. I have, in fact, learned to live with them, as I am sure the rest of Sorsogon has. At the first signs, we shift to autopilot mode: roofs are checked for leaks, leaks are plugged, windows are boarded up. Pets, possessions and papers are secured. In backyards and in front yards, the precious sili is propped up on sticks and carefully sheathed in plastic.

We continuously look at the skies for signs and turn to the weather report for affirmation. We stock up on the staples: candles, canned goods, water. And when the storm lands, we sit it out, praying, hoping that it won’t be that bad.

The day after is for sizing up the damage and for picking up the pieces. The day after is usually clear, and as the sun shines on and through the spoils, we dry out, keep what can be kept and discard those that must be discarded.

Storms, as I'm sure the wizened and the weather-worn among us have found out, are indeed the perfect metaphors for life.

Note: I was just about ready to click on the publish post button last night when the lights came out. Power was restored just now, and typhoon Frank is headed somewhere else. The siling labuyo survived.

June 19, 2008

A Day in the Life

Last night, when I checked my receipts from the supermarket, I realized that the cashier must have scanned the wrong code. Either that, or one of the items I bought might have been on sale without me knowing it.

It wasn't really a major purchase, but I wanted to make sure just the same. When I went to the same cashier today, she gave me this look, shook her head and started entering and re-entering numbers. After a lifetime of punching, re-punching and coming up with the same numbers, she mumbled something about an error. Finally, she reached for the phone.

Because the hubby is waiting, and because I knew the one thing he has no patience for is, well, waiting, I asked if it was going to take long. Yes, she said, because the supervisor is still in some other station.

Can't I just pay the balance and get it over with? I asked. It was, after all, the logical thing to do. Again, the look and a snooty reply:
"Sana kasi maam hindi nyo na lang binalik, tutal hindi naman kayo ang lugi."

What???? I was almost tempted to deliver a performance worthy of a best-actress nomination. Or launch into a monologue about character and virtue and stuff that usually creep into sermons and preachings and political speeches. The thing is, why bother? And why waste (precious) energy?

So I gave her an imitation Bella Flores arching of the eyebrows, irritated her some more by drumming my fingers on the counter, clucking my tongue and tapping my foot; and recited "thou shalt not kill" over and over until the supervisor arrived.

June 17, 2008

Love, According to a Three-Year-Old

Here's Gianna rattling off her many "loves":

1. I love chocolate
2. I love pink
3. I love "swimming" water
4. I love clouds
5. I love Gabriella [What can I say, the kid loves High School Musical]
6. I love Noddy
7. I love Sordoc [Hospital, where she wants to "study" so she can be a "people" doctor]
8. I love Father Jasper
9. I love the Playroom
10. I love Sandy (Her dog)
11. I love Elmo
12. I love the Capitol
13. I love I Spy

And, best of all:

14. I love you, Mama.

Sweetness and light, huh?


I am holding on to this weekend conversation because it has been one bad news after another at the office. Dog bites (and no available vaccine), a fatal accident, an abused five-year-old ... and with a bad case of PMS, I need a strong dose of, you got it, sweetness and light. And coffee, too. With rum.

June 16, 2008

The Fool in Me

Something to kick-start this lazy Monday morning:

"I must learn to love the fool in me--the one who feels too much, talks too much, takes too many chances, wins sometimes and loses often, lacks self-control, loves and hates, hurts and gets hurt, promises and breaks promises, laughs and cries. It alone protects me against that utterly self-controlled masterful tyrant whom I also harbor and who would rob me of human aliveness, humility and dignity but for my fool." Theodore L. Rubin, MD (lifted from Oprah)

P.S. Busy, busy, busy, but will be back to semi-regular blogging and blog-hopping (hopefully) soon.

June 7, 2008

Skipping Christmas

I've been trying to put off John Grisham's Skipping Christmas for when it's a lot "colder," in keeping with my quirk of conjuring the perfect atmosphere for my readings. The sweltering heat--the kind that turns my face into a giant oil field--made me want to have that Christmas feeling in June, though. And so...

With their daughter flying off to a Peace Corps stint in Peru, the Kranks are facing an empty Christmas. When Luther, a tax accountant, does a Scrooge and cranks out numbers from the Christmas just past, he is appalled to find that they spent $6,100 on, among others, an ugly ostrich skin wallet, unwanted presents and calendars and Christmas cards and Christmas cookies "that no one ate."

And on such materialistic premise, Luther convinces his wife to skip the holidays altogether. Which means no giant snowman on the roof and no fruitcake that gets passed around and ends up in the trash anyway. Instead they will go on a ten-day cruise starting on Christmas Day.

But the (obviously snooty) neighbors get wind of the plan, and skipping Christmas soon becomes a contrived plot that involves anonymous "Free Frosty" cards, the whole neighborhood singing Christmas carols and the press clicking away at the only undecorated house on Hemlock Street. The Kranks are also reduced to talking in whispers in their own home, which is downright crazy.

In feel-good fashion, the Christmas spirit eventually creeps in. Although to compare it with Dickens' A Christmas Carol is, well, humbug. After all, there is something off-putting about the way Christmas is sort of forced into the Kranks. And who crunches numbers when it comes to Christmas, anyway?

In all, it's a pleasant enough read, one you would normally read in transit or in terminals. Or to pass off the time on hot, humid days. Not really classic material, though, and in the long run, its claim to fame is the fact that it was written by John Grisham.

June 3, 2008

Doing the Dance

I am yaya-less. Yet again. The latest—the fourth in a span of three years—left as most youngish ones do this time of year: to “exercise” those twinkle toes on some dusty basketball court. I can picture her now: all spiffed up for the hunt. Feet tapping to the beat of—God forbid!—Brother Louie, eyes surveying the scene for the “perfect” catch. Ah, our delusions when we are eighteen!

And so I find myself in a refrain that is now becoming all-too familiar. It’s as if I’m living a page from The Nanny Diaries. Minus the Manhattan skyline, the designer cardigans, and everything chi-chi, of course. I am scouting. Which is actually something short of "pirating," as I am keenly eyeing the yaya next door.

When I was young and single (and right, restless, too), I thought mothers who obsessed about yayas were too much. OA, in fact. But now I know better. My sanity now rests on the eight hours that the nanny puts in when I'm away at work. I have joined the ranks of the helpless and the hapless. I have turned into someone's "ate."

I guess I'm lucky, because home is a place where I can afford to have maids. Where I don't have to work myself to the bone so I can pay for the sitter. Sisters and friends who have moved elsewhere all tell me that this is what they miss most about home: the comfort of knowing that help is just around the corner. Or in the next town. Or from those who have made a career out of "scouting."

But not on days like this, when there are fiestas left and right. Not when progesterones and testosterones are on level highs. Not when there are "dances" lasting until the wee hours.

And so, while Yaya #4 is getting her dancing feet all dusty, I am doing my own dance. Interviewing, searching, hoping that Yaya #5 won't be as twinkle-toed as the rest of them. Wishful thinking, really.

May 28, 2008

"Untimely" Deaths

From my best friend Maricar, I got the news that our college classmate, Dolly, died of cervical cancer. She was at the peak of her career as business correspondent for an international agency. She was 41.

A few years ago, another classmate, Cherie, died of leukemia. She was in her late twenties.

I have seen other "untimely" deaths as well. (Or are deaths ever "timely?") Tata, our art director; Yo, our account manager; Ronald, a dear, dear friend of the hubby; Charisse, a friend's ten-year-old daughter.

I should be used to this. But I am not. And I don't think I'll ever be. Each new loss is just as jarring, triggering a lot of whys, what ifs and how comes. Each new loss is a sobering reminder of our own mortality.

But this I also know: there is a reason and a season for everything. The pain of losing dear friends and family is cushioned somewhat by the knowledge that their mission here is done. They lived happy, meaningful lives. They touched others. They made a difference. And now, they're free to take on other roads, other journeys.

In the end, it is not the years etched on the tombstone that matters. It is the hyphen in between. The tiny mark that ultimately defines how well life was lived.

May 26, 2008

When Frugal Is Unsafe

Frugal is something I associate with the Chinese. My dad had a Chinese national for a stepfather, and he certainly was the waste-not-want-not kind of person. Year in and year out, he would give, as "bonus" to his hardware store employees, a t-shirt and a calendar. The kind where tides and the phases of the moon are plotted.

From a Fil-Chi friend, I learned that a five-centavo markup on highly sellable items is better that a five-peso markup on things that take a little longer to sell.

Such frugality is a cultural thing. The Chinese have seen the worst of times. They have been through wars and pestilence, fires, quakes, rebellions, displacements, migrations and all sorts of trials and tribulations imaginable. Naturally, they learned to make do with what little they had.

But there are times when frugal becomes unsafe. When recycling is taken too far. Like those cheap, toxic plastic toys. Or when this manufacturer used minced cardboard to stuff his dumplings.

And then there are the hair bands made of used condom (see this and this. I don't know, but isn't it kind of like having HIV and STD hanging over your head? And where do they get those used condoms in the first place?

May 25, 2008


I woke up this morning to the perfect beach weather. You know, the kind that smells of inihaw na bangus and ice-cold San Mig Lite.

Alas, I also woke up with a throbbing headache. The kind that turns into sniffles and flu.

And so goes another of life’s never-ending lessons: that there is no such thing as an absolute plan. But if it’s any consolation, I know that the beach will always be there. That it will wait. And that it’s only ten minutes away.

Meanwhile, off to bed…

May 18, 2008

My Kind of Green

The road leading to the office is flanked by fields in varying shades of green. This is my favorite shade thus far: the refreshing green-ness of rice waiting to be transplanted.

Suddenly, the rice crisis, the NFA queues, the family access cards seem so alien, so far-fetched.

Always, I feel so blessed to be traveling this road.