Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Marbles galore

Marbles fascinate me. I think they are the coolest thing in the world. As a child, I would closely inspect marbles and marvel at each one. I wondered how they were made. I still wonder about this today. I am particularly intrigued by the classic cat’s eye. Although the information is just a click away on Google, I’m not that eager to find it out. I want to keep my childlike wonder.

Growing up at a time when children mostly played outdoors with things likes rubber bands, smoothened sticks and branches, flattened bottle caps, folded empty cigarette packs, and yes, marbles, I played a lot with these cheapie toys with children in the neighbourhood. Marbles were among our staple playthings. I was able to build up my meager stock until I had enough to fill a Milo can with my winnings. I kept that can for a long time. That was until we had a homemade pool table in our garage and, to my disgust, my marbles were snagged from my can to serve as mini-billiard balls. I lost ownership of the marbles, and then I lost them altogether. I had fun at the pool table, all right.

Eventually, I would outgrow my marble years. But my attachment to marbles would resurface every now and then in rather vague ways. Like, I would suddenly sense a warm, fuzzy feeling at the sight of certain colours or colour combinations, which could be on any object. Then I would realize it was because they looked so much like the marble colours of my childhood. One time, I bought a polo shirt on impulse for then 9-year-old Mickey. Kulay holen!

Sometimes I wish my boys had enjoyed marble games like my generation did. I feel like they missed out on this one (although I only allowed marbles back into the house when my youngest was already big enough not to put them in his mouth.)

Today, I have a jar and a bag of marbles at home. I couldn’t resist buying some really pretty ones from a tourist shop in Bowen Island and also from Toys R Us. The bag of marbles was a Christmas gift from Markus. He knows what Mom likes.

A few years ago, I tried to invent an indoor game of marbles on the carpet floor so my boys could experience flicking those little glass balls with their thumb. To them, it was a novelty. They were initially awkward at it, sometimes they still are. But I think playing with marbles gave them a different, perhaps archaic, kind of fun.

I'm not sure if I'm going to start a big collection of marbles, but I am not about to lose the ones I already have. After all, you don't like losing your marbles!!

Saturday, August 26, 2006


Life in Canada teaches—even forces—you to work. I don’t mean money-earning work, but those daily life-sustaining mundane tasks. Cooking, for example. Or doing the laundry. Or driving. Back in the Philippines, we could afford to pay labourers for most everything. Here, you learn to do things yourself. Can’t be sitting pretty.

When we were new in Canada, I used to go to the laundromat and see all kinds of people loading, unloading, folding clothes. Young, old, male, female, of various ethnicities. What often caught my attention were men doing their laundry like it was nothing. That was new to me. Where I came from, doing the laundry was the women’s turf. Men who did it on a regular basis were perceived as henpecked husbands or not macho or simply unfortunate. That was then. I’m not sure if things have changed… Here, this task is for everyone. In our home, everyone, including Markus, does his own laundry. It helps, of course, that there are washing machines and dryers.

Cooking is another thing you have to learn here. Filipinos love to eat. In every gathering, you can expect to see good food and not just salads and pastries or simple western food. We serve lots of meat and vegetable dishes that require a lot of preparation. What I find very interesting is that many of us, ladies included, learned to cook these wonderful Filipino and international dishes only in Canada. I am always delighted to see men—Pinoys, Caucasians, and other nationalities—cooking and even sharing recipes.

My boys are slowly finding their way in the kitchen. Gino once told me that he wants to learn to cook before moving to the dorm later. He sometimes experiments in the kitchen. Mick, having worked at Swiss Chalet and now at Church’s Chicken, tells me how simple it is to do this or that. Gabriel and Markus occasionally volunteer to help me in the kitchen. They can prepare simple things, those they like to eat.

One other skill that is indispensible here is driving. I only learned to drive in Canada. I took lessons back home, but did not really have the need to drive there. In the Philippines, public transport was round-the-clock, and there was the ubiquitous tricycle that took you to your doorstep. Here, buses have routes and schedules. You miss it, you wait another 15 or 30 minutes for the next one. So I had to learn to drive to gain mobility. After that, it took me perhaps another year to have the courage to fill up my own gas. I had an irrational fear of gassing up. I am over that fear now. No more imagined explosions at the gas pump.

Life in Canada has taught me other practical skills. These are the less basic ones that are often left to the male counterparts or to the professionals. Car maintenance, for instance. It was only last year when I took responsibility for my car maintenance. I am more knowledgeable and confident now than I was last year. Less intimidated too by auto shop people. I can look for replacement parts at the wrecker’s, or go aisle to aisle at the auto centre without feeling dizzy. I am also just starting to wean my car away from the Honda dealership towards cheaper service centers.

Doing simple carpentry and home repairs is another thing I’m learning. It helps and saves you a lot of $ to understand and do these things yourself. I don’t do a great job all the time but I believe my skills are improving with practice and repetition. Besides, I love looking at the fruit of my labour, no matter how amateurish. This summer, I painted and redecorated the washroom upstairs and I am so proud of how it turned out. I also worked on all the upstairs window sills and frames that get neglected and ugly in the winter. With a few tips from my brother-in-law, I replaced the rotten sill in Mickey’s room. I admit, I was just guessing and imagining how this was done and I’m still not sure that I did it right. But the end result looked better. Well, better than rotten.

Because our house was a definite fixer-upper when we bought it, I have learned to repair cabinet doors, fix leaking faucets and broken water closets, replace door knobs and door screens, install blinds and curtain rods, and do other little things we’d call a handyman for in the Philippines. Being a bit of a tightwad, I recycle materials too. I have re-used old wooden bed slats for a shoe rack or for another bed frame. I still salvage screws and odds and ends from broken stuff and keep them for future use. You can check our basement and tool boxes.

Life in Canada has certainly enriched me in practical ways. I have more skills now than I ever had. I’m not saying that I relish the fact that I can’t hire someone else for every odd job, or that I look forward to doing more repairs around the house. You think I don’t miss sitting pretty? On the other hand, I have learned to like studying and trying new things myself.

Here’s an unsolicited advice for those of you who are thinking of migrating and leaving the comforts of home. Acquire as many life skills as you can and practice living without a maid. It will make your transition so much easier and less depressing. I believe taking care of four small boys and being stay-at-home for years, mostly without a househelp, was my best training for Canada. You are your own servant here.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Here's another one

I don't know what's up God's sleeves, but I believe He's giving me a new song, or songs, so to speak. You know, just like what the psalmists in the Old Testament wrote about. In fact, two days ago, as I was meditating on Psalm 40, I came across verse 3: "He placed a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see this and worship. They will trust in the Lord." Maybe this is what's going on.

Yesterday, words flowed again and by the end of the day, I had adapted another favourite song of mine, Once Again by Matt Redman into Tagalog. Now, I want to be careful here and tell you this is for personal use only, because of copyright issues. But I guess, if you just sing this in an informal small group setting or in the shower, that should be fine. Or you can even change the melody, that's fine with me too.

So this is my second set of lyrics in one week. I don't know why I get them. What I know is that when God gives you something, it has to benefit others. So I'm not keeping these words to myself, just in case one or two of you need to "hear" it.


Minsan pa
aking ginugunita
Diyos Anak na si Kristo
Nagkatawan Siyang tao
Layun Niya
bayaran ang aking sala
Parusa’y inako Niya
Parusa ko ay inako Niya.

At minsan pa nadarama ang pagtubos na
hindi ko maaani kailanman sa gawa
Luha ko’y umaagos
Pasasalamat ko ay lubos.

Ngayong Siya’y
kapiling na ng Diyos Ama
Hari Siya ng langit, Hari pa rin sa lupa
Ako’y mangha
sa naranasan kong awa
Walang hanggang biyaya
Walang hanggang biyaya.

At minsan pa nadarama ang pagtubos na
hindi ko maaani kailanman sa gawa
Luha ko’y umaagos
Pasasalamat ko ay lubos.

Salamat o Hesus, salamat o Hesus
Dugo mo’y pinadaloy mo sa krus.
Salamat o Hesus, salamat o Hesus
Ako ay inilapit mo sa Diyos.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Happy campers

We were at a church camp last weekend in Hope, BC.  This was the second year that the Filipino group from our church held a family camp, and my family’s first time to join. I didn’t know what to expect.

Camp Hope is nestled in a valley where the Fraser River flows from the interior mountains into the Fraser Valley to the Lower Mainland (where we live), out into the Pacific Ocean. The campsite rests at the foot of beautiful mountains. We drove almost two hours to this place.

Entrance to the campsite. The road ends here,
then it's the wilderness.

We were the first to arrive at the camp on Friday afternoon. Some campers would be arriving later that night but most were expected Saturday morning. Originally, our plan was to pitch a tent. When I learned there were cabins still available, I immediately reserved one. Tenting is fun, but given a choice, I’d rather stay within four walls. Worth the few extra dollars.

The cabins. Better than tents.

We were fortunate to get the nicest cabin complete with a good fridge, cooking range, toaster, vacuum cleaner, lots of mattresses and other pieces of furniture. It was close to the common washrooms too. We didn’t go checking out cabins. We picked the first one to open with the master key. I instantly liked it.

Friday night was spent settling down and getting to know the first few campers. Back in our cabin, we played cards and Scrabble. Late that night, we were told there would be singing at the assembly area, but by then we were too tired and sleepy. Besides, it was cold outside and we all forgot to bring sweaters. Somebody had to lend us some.

Early Saturday morning, we walked around the campgrounds and ventured into the woods. We wanted to see the waterfalls. “You should follow the narrow trail. It’s the one that leads to the waterfalls,” someone told us. We saw a marker that said Waterfalls Trail but took the wrong trail that only led us to a dumping ground for fallen trees and branches. We missed the narrow trail. I saw some signs nailed to a couple of trees. I thought they were trail markers. Instead, they turned out to be warning signs: BEAR ALERT. We quickly turned around and headed back to our campground.

When the campers had assembled for breakfast and orientation, the camp director gave some guidelines. “Just behind the campgrounds is the wilderness. Don’t go into the forest alone. Every tree looks like every other tree. The greatest danger is getting lost,” he said.

You can get disoriented in these woods.

One lady gave tips on what to do in case we encountered a black bear. “Look down. Avoid eye contact as the bear will take that as a sign of aggression. Quietly walk away. And if the bear becomes aggressive, make a lot of noise.” I don’t think I would have the presence of mind to quietly walk away from a bear. I imagine myself screaming and running like crazy. I heard there might be cougars in those mountains too. I remembered my officemate saying that if ever you saw a cougar, it was too late. You will never outrun it.

I love the mountains and I enjoy hiking, but not as much as I fear wild animals. Although the camp director seemed to downplay the possibility, the slightest chance of bumping into black bears and cougars doused my enthusiasm for a mountain adventure especially with my kids. Nah, not worth the risk.

Typical of Filipino gatherings here, every meal was potluck with lots and lots of food. Not your regular camp food of canned goods and instant food. We had home-cooked buffet food, mostly Filipino dishes. I shared my sinigang, longganisa, itlog na maalat with chopped tomatoes, pork adobo and rice. Food went fast--all the time.

Our assembly place.

Camp Hope being owned by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, we had no organized activities from Friday dusk to Saturday dusk in compliance with camp rules. We were okay with that. In fact, I felt it made the camp more relaxing unlike previous church camps I had attended that were packed with activities. Having no campsite activities, we spent Saturday sightseeing around Hope. Most went to the Othello tunnels, site of some scenes from the movie Rambo. My family went to Harrison Hot Springs.

At Harrison Hot Springs. Behind Gabriel
is a lagoon. Beyond it is Harrison Lake.

Gabriel and Markus playing at the lagoon.
Hotels and bistros line the beachfront.

Sand sculptures on the beach of Harrison Lake

On Sunday morning, I went early to our assembly place with my guitar to practice with Jay, the keyboardist, the song I was going to sing at the service. I tuned my guitar and we had a run through of my song. When my time to sing came up, my guitar was surprisingly off key with the keyboard. I don’t know how that happened within a short time. I decided to put down the guitar and just sing along with the keyboard. This was actually better for my voice because I was able to concentrate on singing. It was actually harder for me to do both at the same time.

We had a wonderful morning service with Pastor Ken as our guest speaker. Great message about the Living Water. After the service, we had a huge lunch and then some games. We ended with halo-halo and group picture taking.

Pabitin for the children

I got to know a lot of Filipinos from church over the weekend. At church, I hardly have the chance to get to know them because we go to different services. I enjoyed talking with newer immigrants and sharing our experiences and challenges in starting a new life here in Canada. We all know how it feels.

There are plans to book Camp Hope again for next year. Hopefully, we’d be there again. We all enjoyed the camp and felt better connected with our fellow kababayans. We were all happy campers. I know I was.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Finally, a song!

Two Sundays ago, when I signed up to join an upcoming church camp with my family, the organizer asked me to sing a special number during the Sunday service at the camp. I didn’t have a problem saying yes immediately. It would only be days later when I would feel the jitters.

I chose one of my favourite Christian songs entitled Complete by Parachute Band from New Zealand. I love that song. It could well be my life anthem and prayer. When I visited the Philippines in 2004, I heard a Tagalog version at my former church and loved it too. I asked my niece Nikki for a copy and brought it home with me to Canada.

I was looking for this copy for two days and even asked Nik in the Philippines if she could email me the lyrics. I wanted to sing it at the camp. I thought it would be nice to sing something in Tagalog because the campers would be the Filipino group from our very multi-cultural church here in BC. But I would sing the English version too.

When it became clear that I wasn’t going to find the Tagalog lyrics in time, I started making my own. I kept writing and re-writing until finally, I was pleased with what I had written. Before we left for camp on Friday, I had my lyrics ready. I had written down the chords too. My voice was comfortable in the key of G.

I felt God-inspired throughout the writing process so I won’t take sole credit for the song. As you might have read in a previous blog, I'm not a songwriter though I wish I were. This song was a soul-and-Spirit partnership. The words flowed from my treasure chest of experience. Here goes, with feelings:


Sa Iyo O Dios, aking inaalay

Bawat saglit nitong aking buhay.

*Wagas Mong pag-ibig, kay Kristo ko nakamit

Walang sing-tamis

Sa bagyo’t unos ng buhay

Ikaw ay aking karamay

O Hesus, tangan mo ang aking kamay

Di nais na ako ay mawalay.

Sa dilim, Ika’y liwanag

Sa dusa, Ika’y pag-asa

O Hesus, nasa Iyo hanap-hanap

Kay Kristo buhay ko’y ganap.

(Repeat from *Wagas… all the way to the end.)

If you know the English version, you’ll see that the Tagalog one is not really its exact translation, except perhaps for the title. But the two versions basically speak of the same truth – I find fulfillment in Jesus Christ alone.

The song made its public debut yesterday. Some campers already asked for the Tagalog lyrics. The lines are very simple, but because the song was in our heart language, it probably had a different ring to it that touched fellow immigrants. It had more impact than the English.

So there, try singing it to the tune of Complete. If you can set it to an original melody then we can have a collaboration of sorts. Don't forget to send me a demo or a music sheet, ok?

Thanks to Bud Wiser for throwing in the word ganap which eventually became the title. I had to re-write a couple of lines when I heard the suggestion.

More camp stories and pictures in the next blog entry…

Once more with feelings...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Amazing race

Whistler is such a beautiful place. In case you didn’t know, it is the first resort municipality in Canada. It has been rated the #1 ski resort for the seventh consecutive year by I don’t know which body, but it’s not hard to agree. It is a premier world-famous tourist destination that will host the alpine events in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

In the summer, people flock to Whistler for sightseeing, golf, mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, canoeing, and what-have-you. All the times I visited Whistler was in the summer, but my trips were confined to the cosmopolitan Whistler Village at the base of Blackcomb Mountains.

Inside Whistler Village

Our organization is having a 5-day staff conference up in Whistler this week. I, like all non-commissioned or salaried staff, am not required to attend our annual staff conference. But yesterday, we were all bussed up to the conference for a day of vision casting and teambuilding. Our company contracted the Canadian Outback’s Amazing Race Whistler to run the teambuilding event for us. More than 100 of the 200+ conference attendees signed up for the race. I was one of them.

The Amazing Race website said “anyone can participate as no special skills, athletic ability or experience is required.” I also heard the race was adjusted to suit our company. I had no misgivings about joining it at all. I saw it as a way to see more of the resort town beyond Whistler Village. I thought it was all fun, easy for everyone including those who didn't like running.


As soon as we had the orientation and my team of five left the base, I immediately doubted my fitness to join such race. I was teamed up with 4 other staff – two young, athletic-looking guys; one young, petite girl; and Minnie, also Filipina who was about my age. My younger teammates seemed eager to race, while I was there for some sightseeing and picture-taking. When I saw my teammates excitedly take off in a hurry, I thought, This is not how it's supposed to be! We didn't even have any warm-up and just had a big lunch.

My teammates. On the way to Alta Lake park.

I was trailing my team early on. Minnie started fast but eventually her small strides were no match to the Canadians. My teammates soon realized they had to go slower. They couldn’t proceed to the next route marker anyway without all five of us. They had to wait for Minnie and me at intersections just to make sure we did not lose our way.

While my teammate was busy with a challenge,
I was busy with a photo-op.

“How are you doing, ladies?” the guys would ask to make sure Minnie and I were all right. “You’re doing great,” they would give us regular encouragement.

My biggest contribution to the race was taking on the challenge at one station. The choice was for a team member to scale the Climbing Wall, which sounded difficult, or to eat a bag of dried sardines the size of dilis or dried anchovies. I took the bag and started eating. That shouldn’t be difficult for Minnie and me who were quite familiar with dried fish. We started munching the fish, and the 2 guys were emboldened to eat a few. Ugh! Yuck! Eww! they said while eating. The other girl just watched us. The fish was tough, not crunchy. It wasn't fried. I finished the pack and then we were free to go to the next station. All in all, there were 7 stations. I thought I would collapse at 4. No wonder we had to sign a waiver.

I passed by scenic spots, but I could not
stop long enough to enjoy them.

We finished the race earlier than the allotted time of 2.5 hours. We received some kind of recognition at the awards ceremony. The race was very exhausting and fun, in that order. A good way of getting to know other staff, but I will not sign up for this kind of race again. I estimated that it covered about 5 kms. I heard someone say more.

I woke up this morning with my body all sore. I called in sick. I still can hardly walk or move about. My legs and hips hurt like crazy.

Lesson -- If I want to go sightseeing, joining a race, be it so amazing, is not how I'll do it.

After the race. That's me in Whistler Village.