I woke up today with red roses on my pillow!

Can you believe it?  I woke up today with red roses on my pillow.   Of course that put a smile on my face.  Who would not want red roses?  But at my age?  I’m almost golden.  Shucks…

Roses are red, forget-me-nots are blue, it’s april fool’s day and fool are you.

It’s Turnip Time

Summer is a season of grace.  The children are on vacation from school.  The flowers are  in  bloom.  My poinsettia, a late bloomer, now shine red in my front yard. The white sampaguitas  smell fragrant amd fresh. The watery fruits adorn the byways – purplish star apples, round watermelons and cantaloupes, green and yellow mangoes, and the white lowly turnips that come cheaper by the bulk.

Whatever the nutritional value of the turnips could be (I was told it was nothing but water and simply a stomach filler) I still buy and enjoy turnips.  I peel the ecruish skin and slice the turnips french fries like, put a little iodized salt and water and cool in the refrigerator.  My daughters actually get a bite or two because somebody told us it’s good for the thyroid glands.

I bring turnips to family swim parties, especially if we’re in  a hot springs pool.  And relatives actually enjoy them before barbecue.  Some would even put turnips in their fresh lumpia or vegetable roll.

We can always play favorites when it comes to fruits.  Whoever would say turnip is my favorite fruit.  And  I also think that turnip is a root crop and not a fruit.   What the heck   –  it’s turmip time.

Hope for the Flowers

In high school, I studied at an exclusive girls school called St. Scholastica’s Academy.  When we were in our senior year, the nuns allowed us to intermingle with boys from an exclusive boys  school called Don Bosco.  It was then that I met Mel, my partner in the exposure activity.  I gave him a book entitled “Hope for the Flowers.”  I couldn’t remember anymore the exact story but it was something about the caterpillars struggling to reach the top, crawling and stepping on their fellow caterpillars just to see there was really nothing at the top but a signal for one to go down.  One day, one of the caterpillars, now a fully grown butterfly, came back to the spot of his struggle and saw many other caterpillars doing the same things he did.  But now he can fly and smell the flowers.

Mel and I would accidentally bump into each other in the years that followed.  We did not try to keep in contact with each other because we didn’t even have landlines then.  But each meeting would always be like a take off from the last.   I got to know him and his family and he got to know me and my family.  He became my male best friend although I believe that between the two of us he was the more sincere.

The collegiate years passed and we’re glad that we did not go to warring universities.  De La Salle was his choice and I had no choice but to go the royal, pontifical University of  Santo Tomas.  Then he went to work with big companies like Gilette Philippines.  And worked hard he did because at one time he dropped by our house before he begins the long travel to Tuguegarao alone.  That was some 12 to 15 hours by bus from Metro Manila.  When I opened my mouth to say Ahhh, he told me to look at it this way – at least he was traveling via a two seater sports car and has the luxury of making stops.  I looked at his vehicle and it was a dilapidated Tamaraw passenger van.  I sighed.

Eventually Mel made it to the top.  He married the lady of his love,  Frances, a charming lass from his alumni’s mortal enemy, Ateneo de Manila.  Intellectually matched, I mused.  And they had a boy, a girl, and several Labradors.  Mel related to me  that one day when he was in a conference at Cebu International Hotel, he called home to say he couldn’t make it to his son’s kindergarten graduation. That very moment he decided to let go of everything to be with his family.  That was his sign.  So he abandoned his job and became a breeder.

Mel migrated his family to New Zealand a few years back.  He said the scenario there was simpler and much more wholesome for growing kids. I sent him my first e-mail last week, since I only learned about computers a month ago.  He replied and said his son’s into taekwando and his daughter into ballet.  They have a new Lab pup that made the family complete. Then he told me to take time and smell the flowers.

Way to go, Mel, for being the hope for the flowers, and thanks for reminding me that I could be , too.

Exciting Shows for Free

My daughters and I had another exciting musical treat last night.  We watched the piano recital 1 of Mikhael Lastrilla, a junior college student of Professor Augusto Espino at the UP College of Music.  Mikha staged the perormance in partial fulfillment of the requirements of his course. He played a prelude and fugue by Bach, a sonata by Mozart, an etude  and ballade by Chopin, Ravel’s Jeux d’eau , a Filipino folk tune arranged by Prof Agot and a piano concerto by Liszt with Prof Agot himself on the second piano.  The audience gave a standing ovation.  We watched the show for free.

Come April Fool’s Day, we are going to watch the graduation recital of Jesper Mercado at the Abelardo Hall.  Again this will be for free.  But after listening to Jesper play a couple of times, one as assisting artist to a friend, and another as a competitor in a concerto tilt (he won 1st prize), I think he is thus far the best pianist we have today.

Every now and then the College of Music opens its doors for the people to watch the students perform.  We have seen quite a few upon invitation by the artist, a teacher, a friend, or by internet.  The performances are truly good and exciting.  But not many people come to watch. Sometimes we feel sorry for the artist who had practiced long and hard and he has not much audience to perform to.

La Traviata, an opera, will be staged March 30.  If your calendar is free, I’m sure this will be a good alternative to commercialized shows.  Jesper on April 1st. Tish, my daughter, a beginner, on July 4th.  See you!

Patricia Anne Leyva Palma, Pianist in the Making

On July 4th, 2009, at the Mini Hall of the College of Music at the University of the Philippines, Tish will perform the classics on her first solo piano recital. Tish is under the tutelage of Professor Augusto Espino, a pianist, a composer and a teacher.  Tish is lucky to have been accepted May of last year (2008) by this great master.

Tish first learned the fundamentals of the piano in September 2001, when cousin Adam Reyes , a child piano prodigy himself, handed down his old piano.  Immediately, Tish grasped the essence of playing the black and white keys and received a “Most Promising Student” Award in her first piano recital.

Tish continued her lessons for two more years under Teacher Minette Buenaluz-Ladines who trained her for the prestigious NAMCYA competition.  Tish made it through the eliminations in the NAMCYA of 2004 but failed to compete in the next round at the CCP because of a Math exam at the Philippine Science High School. That was the time when she decided to forego her piano lessons.  The academics and the scholarship granted by the DOST come first.

But Tish developed her own musical skills by teaching her fellow classmates the songs for their school’s  annual Christmas musical competition.  She surprised Ma’m Crisostomo, her high school music teacher, when she was able to study the accompaniment of the Phantom of the Opera in a week’s time and delivered an outstanding performance in the JS Prom.  Tish also garnered a whooping one hundred fifty thousand pesos in a five night carolling with singer-friends, Jeff Salud, Jaja Coralde, Joseph Chu et al, for the benefit of their Senior’s Prom and yearbook.  And in her Theater Arts class, Tish transposed and recorded the Disney animation Hercules musical score for a school stage play.

Tish participated in Clavier School of Music summer recitals even if she was not enrolled.  She self-taught the Flight of the Bumblebee, the March of the Dwarfs, a Rhapsody and other pieces just so she can go up the stage and perform.

Devoid of the true musical discipline, Professor Agot still accepted Tish under his wing.  He must have seen the potential in Tish.  But he also advised Tish to stick to Biology, her major at the UP College of Science.

Professor Agot had honed Tish’s little fingers into a pianist’s hands.  Come July 4th, mentor and student will show what classical music is.  Come and see.

Jean’s 18th Birthday

Jean's 18th Birthday

My daughter Jean turned 18  on December 9,2008.  But we celebrated her coming of age two days before, on December 7, a Sunday. The following day, December 8, was a Monday which was a no class day for UP, and was also the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a no class day for Catholic schools.  It was a convenient day for Jean’s friends to attend  a party without worrying about school.

The party was held at Max’s Restaurant, Marquinton, Marikina.  Our family had always  enjoyed  Max’s fried chicken.   When Jean and her sister Tish received the sacrament of Confirmation, we ate at Max’s.  When the two graduated from high school. we ate at Max’s.  When my parents came home from California ( and there were several homecomings through the years), we ate at Max’s.  Bienvenidas or despedidas, family gatherings or simply plain spur of the moment pigging-out, Max’s would be the dining place everyone would agree to dine.  So we decided quite easily to hold Jean’s 18th birthday party at Max’s. The food was good.  Aside from the fried chicken, we ordered boneless bangus, kare-kare, sinigang na hipon, and lechon kawali.  We offered buko pandan and roast nuts for dessert, and bottomless tea and cola for drinks.  The price was reasonable enough for the service de luxe that we had.  Thanks to my brother Lupo who footed the bill.

Family and friends were invited. And they came in style.  Jean requested everyone to come in semi-formal attire, in any color except red which was her favorite and thereby the color of her Efren Ocampo’s halter-necked, knee-length debutante’s dress.  Jean was a picture to behold that night, with a simple make-up and hairstyle and a pair of snap earrings she thought she would lose before the night was over.  Jean’s ears had never been pierced.

The program started with the introduction of the debutante by Brian, the emcee Max’s provided.  It was followed by an invocation entitled “Pastoral” which Jean sang herself accompanied on  the piano by Tish.  The singing of the Happy Birthday and the blowing of the 18 candle birthday cake came next.  The guests were treated with a video presentation  of photographs from the time Jean was a toddler to the present as a college student. And then the hearty dinner was served.

Tish acted as co-emcee and called on littlest cousins Master RD Escalona, 2 years old, Misses Audrey Claire and Julia Isabelle Escalona, 5 and 2, to offer Jean the 18 Roses.  RD hesitated not knowing why the heck was he carrying a bouquet and he had to hand it to Ate Jean.  Audrey was regal in delivering the two baskets of roses. Julia was nowhere to be found, and we learned later on that she chose that very moment to pee in the bathroom.  By the way, Jean omitted the dancing for lack of good male friends, but the ones she has are  thus by far the best – Gian Talplacido, Carlo Timbol, Daryl Requiso.  Rather, in lieu of the  traditional cotillon de honor, Jean opted to present her family and friends in the 18 Treasures and 18 Talents.

In the 18 Treasures, chummiest friends Rienna Opong, Kris Garcia, Joanne Chua, Aika Shiamoto, Patricia Marcelo, Daniella Chua, Germa Ngo, Regine Matic, Hydee Carag, Gian ( the only boy), and closest family Tita Angel (Consul Angelica Escalona), Tita Malou Escalona, Tita Judy Escalona, piano teacher Minette Ladines, and adopted aunt Tita Winnie Arcilla presented their gifts and explained why they chose to give Jean the gift. There was a variety of items, ballpens for Jean being a writer, kikay kits and bags for Jean being a fashionista, a book for Jean being a reader, and a guitar for Jean being a musician.  But the heartwarming part of it  was when many of them related how Jean touched their lives especially at the time when they needed the company most, when they were alone and Jean walked with them and they felt a little less alone, and when she naturally hugged them when nobody ever hugged them before.  One even said that Jean showed the meaning of friendship and because of that she would gladly take a bullet for Jean.

Brian segued with a game.  He called on the married couples General Rolando  and Angelita Escalona. Architect Manny and Melba Ruiz, Major Rolando Jr. and Atty Judy Escalona, Mr. Nick and Winnie Arcilla, and Mr. Jorge and Amy Young to participate in the “The wife puts a masking tape on the part of the husband’s body that begins with the letter B- be it in English or the vernacular”.  Just imagine when both the participants and the audience let go of their poise.  Gosh it was fun.  And amidst the coaching and the cheering, Nick and Winnie took the prize.

In the 18 Talents, Sheana Baltazar,  Jo Fernandez, Ashley Kasala, Anjelica Lopez, Kristine Pascual,  Elizabeth Querijero,  sister Patricia Anne, cousin Tami Yvette, Daryl and Carlo presented drawings, literary compositions, songs and piano music for Jean.  They truly livened the party with their exceptional performances.  One would wonder why they are not in the limelight.  In the end, a guest quipped “If I had my debut party all over again, I would make it this way.”

Of course the party would not have been complete without a word from the debutante.  Jean , in her soft, serene voice,  sincerely thanked,  her family, relatives and friends for the graciousness and kindness, for the understanding and the loving, and the Almighty above for 18 beautiful years.

Firesale at the Robinson’s Mall

Jean and I did our mandatory grocery routine at the Robinson’s Metroeast this afternoon.  We were almost at the end of our list of things to buy when the lights suddenly went out.  For one who was used to blackouts in the 60’s, and the daylong brownouts (why they changed it to brown I do not know) in the early 90’s but had not experienced power failure longer than a few seconds in a mall which automatically turns to back-ups, the generators, in the past few years, Robinson’s failure to supply emergency electricity  at once was something to worry about.  In the first place, I am diabetic and needs air to breathe comfortably.  I told my daughter after 5 minutes of waiting that if the power does not come in a minute, we have to go.  She asked why we waited and said we should have gone the moment they were not able to restore power.  I answered we have a trolley-full of frozen goods.  She gave me something like collateral damage.  I told her to call her sister and ask if there was also a blackout at home.  She did and there wasn’t.  Then she said that her call was a spoiler because had she not known that the power failure is confined to the mall area, she would have thought there was a firesale.  Gosh, I sighed, that was the Diehard 4 theme.  If it was true to us, I would have been the first casualty.  Then the cashier ushered us to the payline for manual entry of purchases.  The lights flickered several times and it was probably some half-an-hour before we were done.  I was glad to go.

The PSHS Experience

My daughter Patricia Anne Leyva Palma belonged to The Philippine Science High School Class 2008. And because the standard set by the Department of Science and Technology was very high, it was with pride and joy that when she graduated last year our small family finally bade good-bye to the public school grounds that had been her learning place for four years.

The PSHS, or PISAY,  was the campus to beat. Only the cream of the crop from all over the land get to study there.  When Patricia enrolled in 2004, I said a little prayer that she’d be able to hurdle every obstacle that come her way, that she’d come  out of this school unscathed.  I knew how tough and trying  Pisay could be because my own sister Portia went though the same training.  She belonged to Batch ’88.

True enough, just in the very first year, I stopped buying clearbooks  where I file the certificates of recognition  for academic excellence or otherwise.  The only sheet Patricia excitedly brought home was a citation for best in kite flying.  I tried my best to recollect who amongst my brothers and male cousins did kite flying. Nada! At least Patricia was the first one. And at least we have one paper  memento that came from Pisay.

The four years was rigorous.  There were countless nights when Patricia stayed up till the wee hours of the morning, either reading history, doing her art projects, or cramming for an exam in Bio, Chem, Physics or Math.  I let out a sigh of relief each quarter after the class advisers had given out the report cards.  At least I was not one of the parents who have to queue for discussions with the teachers just so they could help their children perform better.  Patricia was not in contention for highest honors nor was she in desperation to survive.  My daughter was just right. Normal!  I was already happy with that.  Actually, Patricia accused me one time of not being interested in her grades because we were already home from school after the card giving and I still had not looked at her card.  Other mothers had seen not only their children’s cards but others as well.  I asked her if the grades were bad and she said no.  She’s even in the Director’s List. I told her that I don ‘t have to look at the card because I already know that she was better than those numbers.

About the only time I went to complain in the faculty room was when Patricia received a 1.5 in Theater Arts during the first quarter of her senior year.  That I could not accept because Patricia, being the musical director of their play Hercules, not only taught her theater mates how to sing the songs but also transposed the entire musical score of the Disney film Hercules to fit the voices of her theater mates.  The teacher asked me what grade would I like for her to give my daughter.  I asked her what grade  is higher than a 1.

Patricia felt depressed many times because the grades she received did not match the quality of her work.  And many times the decision of the judges in the many competitions she participated in and worked hard for favored the ones which spelled money all over the performances or projects.  Early on Patricia learned that life will never be fair.  But she also learned that she still has to give her best.

God indeed has many ways of showing one how beautiful life could be.  With the company of good friends Vergelle Parrocha, Sylvia Nachura, Kristine Mortega, Eda Manatad, and cousin Tami Reyes, Pisay became a haven of youth.

Tish's friends

Tami, Kristine, Vergelle, Tish, Bang, Eda - All dressed up for their Graduation Ball

Bring the house down!

Our family home was a two-storey concrete house located at #7 Ivory St., SSS Village, Marikina.  It has 5 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 2 garages, 2 verandas, 1 computer room, a library, a large living room that extends to the dining room and kitchen, a dirty kitchen at the back and a little laundry room that leads to the water tank house.  The front lawn has a grotto of the Blessed Mother and a wooden swing where we whiled away the time.

The house was built in the  late 1970’s by my grandmother Natividad Manalac Caraos (or Lola Naty as we lovingly remember her) for her son Antonio ( or Uncle Tony) who got afflicted with schizophrenia while in service for the US Navy.  The house became the venue for all family gatherings, birthdays, Christmases, reunions, homecomings, and whatever occasion the family wishes to celebrate.  Lola Naty had 7 children and Uncle Tony was the only son.  The celebrations were innumerable and those continued  long after Lola Naty passed away on February 27, 1981.

But as in many Filipino families, ours was not spared by the Filipino diaspora.  Aunties and cousins sought better lives in the United States and Canada, including my mother and father, my two brothers Noel and Lupo, and sister Portia.  For those of us who were left behind, the Philippines had been and  will always be “home, sweet home.”

So life moved on and my sister Grace, with her son Adam and daughter Tami, had taken good care of the house and all the loving that it stood for.  In 1995 we had a grand Christmas party.  We prepared so much food and brought gifts for each and everyone.  We also came prepared for our performances in the Christmas program.  As always, yours truly had been the emcee.  Gladly I introduced my niece Tami, just her teeny-weeny 4 years old then.  I knew she studied a hyper dance that everybody  would enjoy.  So I said, when Tami positioned herself before the audience, chin up and hands akimbo, all ready to hip-hop, “Everybody, please prepare to be amazed because Tami is here to bring the house down.”  Soon as those words left my lips did Tami’s eyes gaze in my direction.  She immediately ran across the sala  towards me and whispered in a rather loud but excited voice “Nangnang, how can I bring the house down? It is so big!”  Everybody laughed heartily. She just did.

A Little Less Selfish, A Little More Selfless

What if  we give our plastic containers  to the mendicant children who ply our subdivision streets every garbage collection day?  A neighbor once or twice called my attention with regard to donating our non-biodegradable garbage to the deprived as tantamount to tolerating crime.  My neighbor contends that these paupers are actually robbers in disguise.  They scout your perimeter when you are not looking.  A case in point.  Plus, my neighbor adds, we didn’t pay as much for a private place as to allow such eyesore roam  our daintily manicured front lawns and touch our expensive , indestructible steel fences.  I rest my case, even if I have not yet began.

Buloy and Ja, 11 and 9, brothers, the two streetboys who come to collect my plastic – H2O bottles, shampoo and conditioner containers, and even the cardboards and newspapers, discarded shoes and bags, hangers, airpot, worn but still usable microwavables, and whatever things I deem disposable, tell me that their precious collectibles accumulate to only two or three sacks per village round.  The other children, older and more aggressive, get to have the best of the loot.  They will get into trouble if they put up a fight.  That will mean an end to the privilege of coursing the village roads.   And so each loaded  sack that they carry on their  hardened backs  means ten pesos at the junk shop.  From the  twenty or thirty pesos they’ve earned, they will subtract eight pesos for new sacks.  The junk purchaser does not return the sacks.  At the end of the day, Buloy and Ja has only enough to buy half a kilo of rice.  They bring this home to their mother who takes care of their two younger siblings and a father who prefers to drink and gamble and who would scold them to look for money should there not be enough food to satisfy his hunger.

Buloy and Ja are just but two, there are a billion more.   Yet we seem not to see them.  If we do, it is because something undesirable happened to our picture perfect world –  a scratch on our  4 by 4 perhaps, and believe me this is a cause for extreme outrage already.

If we could be a little less selfish and a little more selfless, if we could cease looking too much of  ourselves, if we could focus our eyes  to just one unfortunate being, just one and only one, then perhaps our already  picture perfect world would have been more  desirable to look at.

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