Friday, October 31, 2008

Dust to dust

Here in North America, Halloween is a big deal. Children and adults come out in fancy costumes and go house to house for trick or treat.

In the Philippines, the big day is November 1st, not October 31st. We remember our dearly departed on All Saints' Day, a stat holiday. Cemeteries and memorial parks are packed with people bringing flowers and lighting candles on their loved ones' tombs.

When I was a child, we regularly visited the grave of my fourth sibling Tessie who died of polio before she turned two, maybe 3 years prior to my birth. Her little tomb was on a hillside of a public cemetery in Marikina. My father painted it white every first of November and we spent the day there chatting with other visitors of surrounding tombs. I went around and collected candle drippings that I turned into a smooth ball of wax.

I remember the story of two young siblings buried near Tessie. We saw their parents every year on All Saint's Day. The brothers, around 10 years old, drowned together in a creek and were found clinging to each other. What a sad story. I'm sure I heard other how-he/she-died stories, but that's all I could remember.

Over the years, this Marikina cemetery became more and more crowded. The traffic leading to it became increasingly horrible. People inched their way in and out of the cemetery supervised by young Boy Scouts. Because tombs were above ground unlike those in memorial parks, it became harder to find a path to walk on. Tombs which had no fresh paint or visitors often became stepping stones for those who had little respect for the dead.

I remember that on November 1, when it was not searing hot and sunny, it was terribly muddy in the cemetery. But people came in droves, thousands upon thousands of them. Some would come on October 31st to clean the grave and paint the tombs or have an overnight vigil.

Our annual visits to my sister's grave became less frequent when my maternal grandparents and other relatives died and were buried in the province. We started going to my mother's hometown of Laguna on November 1. This day became some sort of a mini-reunion in the cemetery with our extended family.

Public transportation on this holiday was a nightmare. We always took the car to Laguna. One time I took the bus with my cousin. The terminal was full and very chaotic. When an empty bus arrived to pick up passengers, people rushed to it before it fully stopped, and squeezed themselves through the door. No line-ups! Wanting to secure a seat faster, my male cousin climbed through the window like other men were doing. Then he pulled me up. I was maybe 16 or 17 then, but, hey, forget modesty. Get me on the bus!! This was not a time to be slow and persnickety.

Eventually, my November 1sts became just another free day when the traffic and crowds--both the living and the dead--became way too much of a hassle. I stayed home or went out with friends.

There was a time in my young life that the mere sight of a cemetery gave me chills. I feared it. I didn't want to imagine myself among the lifeless people trapped inside those cold, dark tombs. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

But that was a long time ago before I had Christ in my life. Now I have come to terms with the reality that my life on earth is but a vapour. A tiny speck in time. I am not staying here forever. I don't want to. I want to be with my Maker after my earthly mission is accomplished. And that's where I know I'm going, no shred of doubt about it. Jesus promised to give eternal life to all who believe in Him. He doesn't make promises He can't deliver.

I've been to several funerals of people I know who had Jesus in their lives. It was a somber occasion and yet a joyful one. Yes, there were tears, but more so, there was a celebration of the person's life on earth and the hereafter. You can sense it. On the other hand, I've been to funerals where there was nothing but grief and despair...

The day before my father was scheduled to have an angioplasty, I asked him if he was ready, come what may. He said yes, and that he had faith. Led by my husband, we prayed together at the ICU. The next day, before his angioplasty happened, my father suffered organ failure leading to his death. It was a painful event for all of us, but the last that I talked to my father, he was at peace. I take comfort in that fact and in the memory that I once overheard him telling my mother months before that salvation is truly in Jesus alone, just like the guy on the radio, or TV, was saying. I believe that if he were standing here right now, he would say it again. God's Word says it. Christ's resurrection affirms it. My father is witnessing it.

One day, I too will go. The Bible says I cannot add one day to the number I've been given. What matters is where I go next and how I live my life and who I live for in the meantime.

In my family we talk about death casually. Not with dread or the superstition that if you talk about it, it will come. This is not to say they can go ahead and do stupid things we are all going to die anyway. To be brave is one thing, to be foolish, another. Occasionally, I talk about the virtue of donating organs and the practicality of cremation. I am not concerned about this shell I will leave behind. The real me will be having the time--or eternity--of my life.

I know someone who has very specific funeral instructions in her will. It sounds like a party, balloons, happy songs, no eulogies. Talk about Jesus and his goodness instead, and what He meant to her life. That's one going away party. A home-going celebration.

"Mom, what will you leave with me?" I've been asked this question one or twice before. "My debts," I jokingly reply.

Really now, here's what I want to leave with my family, more than the little savings and investments I will manage to put aside in this uncertain economy. I want to leave them a faith legacy, one which they will enjoy forever. There's nothing like an everlasting return on investment after your body returns to dust where it came from.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Breakfast in bed

It wasn't Mother's Day. I wasn't down with the flu. But I had breakfast in bed.

It was Pro-D day Friday, or Professional Development Day at my boys' high school, so they had no classes. Gabriel woke up very early. (How come kids wake up early when there is no school?) He sneaked into my bedroom and asked something about food that I didn't cook or cooked the previous night. I can't remember. I was still groggy at 6am.

"There's pork chop in the fridge," I mumbled.

He went to the kitchen and some time later went back to my bedroom with a platter. By this time I was ready to get up.

"Wow!" I was pleasantly surprised to see a piece of pork chop with romaine lettuce on the side drizzled with a little balsamic vinegar.

"Mom, taste," he said. Gabriel had made his own sauce.

I sat up and placed the plate carefully on my lap so that nothing spilled on the white linen.

"Nice!" I commented. I don't know what he mixed but it was good. "Can I please have rice?" I'm not used to eating pork chop without rice.

"No rice for you," he said.

"Just a little," I replied while giving him back the plate. Gabriel went back to the kitchen and returned with leftover brown rice on my plate. I enjoyed my surprise breakfast in bed, courtesy of my 14-year-old chef-in-the-making. Thanks, Gabriel! That was really wonderful!

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Last weekend, my mother was here with two of her friends from Seattle, both seniors like herself, to attend my grandniece's christening. They stayed at my house for two nights and two days. It was a nice change from having all boys-to-men around the house. Let's have more estrogen! (or whatever is left of it anyway).

One of my mother's friends is Manang Flor, a puny 78-year-old widow about 4'8" tall. You'll never guess she has 10 children. When she first saw me in Seattle, she said I needed a haircut because my hair made me look old. My mother agreed. I obliged. How can I say no to two elderly women? And how can I refuse a cheap haircut, the by-donation-only kind?

Manang Flor loves to cut hair and sees it as a service to other people. It's almost like a passion for her. It makes her happy to make people look better.

I had little time to think about, or rather, little resistance to refuse the order, I mean, offer. Whats' the worst that could happen? I'd look awful or funny for a few days and then my hair would grow back. I could take a chance at looking better.

Then Manang Flor gave me a facial and a back massage and taught me some exercises and reflexology techniques. (She worked for years at a hospital back in the Philippines.) It was like having a mini-spa treatment. I was grateful.

Fortunately, my haircut turned out well. When I went back to BC, a friend of mine noticed it immediately. She said whoever did it knew how to shape the back. Very good then. My previous hairstylists have all disappointed me because they couldn't get it right. My hair is too thick and a little stubborn. It's hard to cut short.

Last Saturday, Manang Flor said she'd cut my hair again. She and my mother had decided back in Seattle that it was time to cut my hair even without seeing how it looked. I obliged again. No big deal. Manang Flor cut my hair meticulously while telling stories about her life, her husband, her 10 children... It was a long haircutting session.

When she was done, she asked my opinion and made a few changes according to my preference. Some bangs, hair slightly covering the ears... Then she taught me how to comb my hair this way and that, dry it a certain way, use anti-flat... My mother and her other friend, Manang Letty, chimed in every now and then.

Next, my eyebrows. They should be tweezed, they said, and then nicely shaped with an eyebrow pencil. I avoid plucking my eyebrows. I've tried it and it hurt! So I let them be, stray hairs and all. And the eyebrow pencil? I think the only time I used one was when I acted in a play during my high school years. I can't remember using it any other time. Not even on prom night or my wedding day.

But there's always a first time.

Manang Flor made me recline comfortably then she dabbed cream on both brows and eyelids and began plucking the hairs there one by one. She said my tweezer wasn't good so I might feel a little sting sometimes. Surprisingly, the plucking wasn't as bad as I thought. She did this for several minutes while telling me stories from years gone by. When she was done, I looked at the mirror and went into shock, haha. I was somewhat shocked, to be honest. I had never seen my brows this thin. Ooh, I will really need a pencil.

The next day, I was standing beside my mother in front of the mirror as we were preparing to go to the mall. She was putting on make-up. I was fixing my hair and wondering what to do with my thin eyebrows. I had no pencil. She let me borrow hers. She said I should never use black, only a shade of brown. Manang Letty was fixing up too and giving me additional tips.

"Dapat maging makabago ka na," my mother told me while styling her hair. Yes, that's my 83-year-old mother telling me, her middle-aged youngest daughter, to become modern. I found that rather amusing. Me, getting beauty tips from 3 senior citizens!

At the mall, we went to Shoppers Drug Mart where we got some beauty stuff including my own medium brown eyebrow pencil with a tiny little brush attached to its cover. How cuuute! From now on I will brush my eyebrows too!

Next, we went to Ardene. My mother and I like this store and enjoy looking through its trinkets and accessories. We got earrings on sale, 3 packs for $10! One pack could have more than 3 sets of earrings. What a deal! I prefer these cheapie ones to real jewelry that I'd be afraid to lose. I got some dangling ones to go with my new short hair. I have started wearing large dangling earrings. Wow, isn't that modern! Hahahaha.

I wanted to get my ears pierced again so I can wear two sets of earrings on each ear. My mother agreed. Maybe if I said I'd get a nose stud too, she'd say "Siya nga!" (Right on!) When the saleslady showed me the studs and the price - $15 for one ear, $20 for both - I said I'll do it next time. Beyond my budget. Cheap, cheap, cheap.

Nowadays, you'll see me walking with my new hair, penciled brows, and a different scarf everyday, thanks to my sis-in-law Noemi who sent me a bunch from the Philippines. TWC, how about some fashion tips for me?

I'm not sure how long this "beautification season" will last. Call it the "modernification" of Lerryblossoms.

I must go back to Seattle when my hair and brows grow back and have Manang Flor redo them. I need to keep up with the modern times!!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is Canada's Thanksgiving Day. Am I ever so thankful for living in this big beautiful country and for the many blessings I have had the past year.

Last night, we had a potluck dinner at my sister's house with our two families and the latest addition to the clan, her 6-month old granddaughter. It was a happy occasion!

Thanksgiving is one tradition that my family has learned to adopt as immigrants even before we understood the history behind it. We have been celebrating Thanksgiving Day in some way every year, with no reference at all to its original meaning. We are simply thankful.

In case you, like me, didn't know, Canadian Thanksgiving has nothing to do with the pilgrims and the Mayflower that are behind the American Thanksgiving. That's what I thought when we were new here. We were more familiar with the US holiday in November. Now I know that Canada's Thanksgiving Day has to do with being thankful for a bountiful harvest. In Canada, harvest comes earlier than south of the border because of the colder weather. This much I know.

Although my family does not particularly like to eat turkey, we normally eat it on this day because it's the traditional food in every Thanksgiving party. My sister roasted one yesterday. I have not done so myself and I'm okay with serving roast chicken instead, but I will eat turkey, no problem. Just don't make me roast it. Maybe in the distant future.

I made Sticky Ribs with Sweet Potatoes, a recipe I found on the Internet. I don't usually make and bring an untried recipe to a party. Yesterday was a good attempt. I was pleased with the result.

I also made creamy pumpkin soup. Pumpkin is abundant this time of year. I had never thought about cooking pumpkin because I always saw it more as Halloween decor rather than a vegetable. I only know kalabasa. But when my friends Ric and Loida were here, they mentioned pumpkin was good to make into soup especially if you use a food processor. So for the first time, I made a dish out of pumpkin yesterday and it actually turned out well. Now I want to try other things with it.

The other day, we went to a cranberry festival in Fort Langley where I bought fresh cranberries for the first time. Gino made cranberry sauce with them. So easy! I think I will make my own cranberry sause from now on instead of getting the processed one.

So this was how our Thanksgiving Day went. On Friday we are going to have another celebration with our friends this time. I have endless reasons to be thankful. And another thankful celebration isn't a bad idea.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Butchart Gardens, Vancouver Island

Here's a slide show of our recent trip to the Butchart Gardens. If you want bigger images, click on View All Images. To mute the music, click on the speaker icon. Loids and Ric, glad to have you. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Together again

Loida and I worked together at the University of the Philippines for 10 years. She became my closest friend and associate at UP-ISSI. I remember my first field work assignment. The two of us traveled together to Nueva Ecija, an unforgettable experience I will probably blog someday.

By association, our hubbies naturally became part of our circle. When we became neighbours at a newly opened subdivision in Quezon City, our lives became more intertwined. Our children took the same school bus to the same Montessori school. They became like a family to us, sharing, helping out, looking after each other's kids.

In 1995, they migrated to New Zealand. Three years later, we migrated to BC.

Oceans apart and leading separate lives, we were not completely out of touch. Though our phone conversations and emails were few and far between, we simply picked up from where we left off.

The topic of visiting each other sometimes came up. They always sounded serious about coming here to visit or work. I wanted to visit New Zealand, but it was more like wishful thinking. O me of little faith...

I was totally and pleasantly surprised when Loida emailed me a few weeks ago that their whole family was coming to Vancouver for a holiday. The details of their trip--the plane flights, vacation days of the whole family from work or school, etc--came together in a way that can only be described as providential. We were thrilled! I immediately filed my own vacation leave.

After 13 years, we saw each other again two Fridays ago. Their kids have grown; I tried to fast forward, or rather age forward the images I had of them in my mind. Loida and Ric, however, looked more youthful than in the olden days when we were back home bearing the heat and dust and traffic and lack of water in the area where we lived. They said we seemed younger too. What great friends we are!

Reunited after 13 years and looking less stressed

They were here for only nine days, three of which were spent in Seattle. For the rest of their visit, we had a great time of catching up and enjoying each other's company, cooking together, seeing places, driving around, chatting, and planning our next get-together.

Searching online for a cruise. Whooppeee!

But we are thinking beyond a mere vacation together. I wish they can just move here, God-willing. Then we can be neighbours again!! Yay!!