Don't sit back and relax. Come to me to get engaged, enraged, or just plainly entertained.

Romancing the Difference

At the bus depot

This is a repost of a blog I wrote last summer. It was uncategorized then. Now it has found several ‘homes.’

Romancing the Difference 

Memorial Day was last Monday. It marked the official start of summer here in the US. The outside temperatures climbed into the middle nineties. It was oppressive. But at least the humidity stayed below 50%. For relief I tried to visualize how the yard looked with two feet of snow. Yecccch! My mind rebelled and dropped the vision. That was depressing. Then the thought of our Baguio visit last February popped into my head. Baguio is the summer capital of the Philippines. It is in northern Luzon and is located some 1,500 meters above sea level so the climate is mild, ‘subtropic’.

The previous time I was there was in 1973. I had just taken the Nursing Board Exams and was feeling restless. My friends and I decided to take a trip to Baguio. We rode a bus without air conditioning. There was a mob of people that gathered by the bus door. Our male companions kicked, elbowed, and jockeyed themselves through the throng of would be passengers. One of them, my American boyfriend (yes we were going steady…bet you hadn’t heard that term in a while), climbed through an open window to claim and reserve seats. His face took on the color of puce from the barrage of insults heaped on him.

When we got to our destination, we had just enough money to stay at a dormitory with only the barest necessities. The beds had one sheet and one pillow. No blankets. We shivered ourselves to sleep. The toilets smelled. There was no hot water. I developed a strategy – one scream: one quick drenching; another scream: an even quicker soaping; a final scream to rinse. Who cares if there was some left over soap and shampoo? IT WAS COLD!

For our Philippine trip early this year Mitch and I scheduled a three day/ two night stay at the Baguio Country Club. It has been decades since he had visited Baguio as well. We were more than a bit hesitant when a young friend suggested we take a bus from Victory Liner. ‘Momma, take the deluxe bus. There should be no stops.’ I thought, should I, or shouldn’t I? But she sounded confident. And she mentioned a stewardess who would be alerted to expect us. And air-conditioning!

We arrived at the bus depot an hour early. The contrast from the melee decades ago could not have been more stark. There were orderly lines in front of the ticket counters. When we gave our names we were given tickets with seat numbers. No need to muscle our way. The waiting area had clean chairs. Baguio travel and I have come a long way.

The bus ride was indeed comfortable. We had the front seats just behind the driver so we had enough leg room. I bought 2 hard-boiled eggs and chips to tide us over until dinnertime. The stewardess gave us two bottles of water. We were set.

The trip took five hours. We were sleepy but we were excited to see the scenery so Mitch and I kept each other awake. The music and the two movies helped. We had to get used to the traffic. Overtaking slower vehicles is standard on Philippine highways but doing that on two lane roads is pure audacity.  I had to cover my eyes on several occasions because the oncoming cars were too close for comfort. Mitch and I looked on in horror and awe when we saw other buses pass us at the same time we overtook other buses. Uber-taking! One becomes inured to danger I suppose. I crossed myself too many times to count. The driver must have had ice water for blood. He looked calm and utterly confident.

We arrived just before dusk. Our young friends met us at the bus depot. It was the first time we met in person but the awkwardness lasted a mere minute. Facebook, that communication brainchild of the 21st century, took care of the initial how-are-yous. They brought us to the Baguio Country Club. I recalled the inhospitable accommodations three decades ago. This was a definite improvement. The room overlooked the golf course. Too bad we had two single beds. But they were comfortable. And there were blankets. The toilet was clean and luxurious. There was even a complimentary basket with wine, fruits, crackers, and cheeses on the table by the window.

It was definitely a time for delicious goosebumps. What a life! And it’s all good!


Pots and Pans – Lessons in Loyalty, Endurance, Life

I arrived in Newark, New Jersey in the middle of winter. It was bitterly cold that February in 1975. My first impression of that city was unflattering.  I looked out from the hospital van that met us at the airport and saw buildings that were burned and boarded up. The trees were bare of leaves and looked like grim scarecrows with outstretched arms ready to pluck me.

I was offered a position as a staff nurse at Newark Beth Israel Hospital. My eyes widened at the offered salary of $10,000 plus change per year. I was going to be rich!

But there was a chasm of difference between money on paper and money on hand.  I sent most of my suweldo (paycheck) to my parents in Cebu while paying what I owed the airline company for my one way ticket through their fly-now-pay-later plan. I had just enough cash to pay for the dorm rent and groceries.

The Filipino community rallied around the new arrivals. We lacked proper clothing for the winter weather so our patrons and their families pitched in and provided coats and winter shoes for us to wear. They had hearts of gold. But there were some who took advantage of our ignorance.

One such enterprising man convinced me that I could not live without the pots and pans he was peddling. It was a 12-piece ensemble. The cost was about $300, an exorbitant amount for an almost destitute like me. He sweetened the deal with a plate setting for 4.

He was most insistent I purchase life insurance from him as well. I thought it strange that a piece of paper would guarantee immortality. What can I say? I was naïve and too timid to ask exactly what a life insurance was.

Fast forward to the present. Those pots and pans are still in use. I have added odd pieces as I needed, but for the most part they are the staples I depend on. They predate my wedding and the birth of my first child. I have been tempted by the likes of Le Creuset and Circulon and Cuisinart and the hard anodized non-stick aluminums. The market has exploded with the most beautiful and colorful new editions. I visit Crate and Barrel and Williams-Sonoma often. I run my hands through the sexy curves of those beautiful, spanking new kitchen wares. They tempt and beckon.

Yet I cannot bear to part with my 12-piece Wear-Evers. There are scratches and dings and missing parts from years of use and misuse. Their bottoms are blackened and their shine has disappeared. But they have seen me through my misadventures, experiments, disasters, as well as triumphs.

I have progressed from boiling water to one who is brave enough to tackle Kare-Kare. I prepared what a young girl swore was my to-die-for spaghetti sauce in one of those large pots. My mungo version has reached sosyal status when it was served at the Philippine Embassy. And my children and their significant others salivate and boast about the beef torta I prepare for them. My son has standing weekly dates for dinners at home. You should hear him smack his lips and rub his palms in anticipation.

Those pots and pans have remained steadfast and uncomplaining, mute even through the abuse I continue to heap on them. No, I won’t abandon them now. More than three decades have passed. I was given that lifetime guarantee. Theirs or mine? I have a feeling they will outlast me.








Ren Chen-The Year of the Water Dragon

Chinese New Year Parade

Ren Chen – The Year of the Water Dragon, Guardian of the Eastern Sky

Kung Hei Fat Choi! Happy Chinese New Year indeed. We have had a dearth of good luck around the world over the last few years. We welcome the promise of wealth, virtue, harmony, and longevity. And a surfeit of glorious food. Tradition dictates the menu: seafood and dumplings for good wishes; prawns for liveliness and happiness; fish (Yau-Yu) for prosperity; Angel Hair (Fai-chai); seaweed to bring prosperity; and dumplings (Jiaozi). There should be dried oysters (ho xi) ‘for all things good.’

traditional Chinese New Year menu

Chinese tradition reveres the Dragon as special in the Chinese zodiac, a mythical figure. The rest of the signs are earthly animals. The Dragon is used almost exclusively at festivals and celebrations. It is always the star of Chinese New Year parades.
Feng Shui pronounces that 2012 is Ren Chen – the Year of the Yang Water Dragon. It is said to bring endless possibilities and great fortune.‘Water covers 2/3 of our planet & comprises 95% of our bodies; we simply cannot live without it. In Chinese element theory, water produces wood, which signifies growth and is the natural element of the dragon. The dragon governs east/southeast, wealth accumulation & the hours of 7 a.m. – 9 a.m. Associated with thunder, lightning and arousal, the Water Dragon personifies creativity at its best.’ (

Dragon Zodiac

The Water Dragon last appeared 60 years ago in 1952. Granted, the United States introduced the notorious and destructive hydrogen bomb and the B-52 bomber then. But on a more cheerful note several memorable achievers were born in 1952: Amy Tan who wrote The Joyluck Club; Maureen Dowd, the journalist; William Frist, senator and heart surgeon; world leaders including Vladimir Putin  of Russia and H.R.H. Prince Ahmed Fuad Farouk (Fuad II), the last King of Egypt & Sudan; Jimmy Connors of tennis; and football coach Bill Belichick who helped his team win four super bowls. And who has not used or misused Craig’s List? Craig Newmark, its founder, was born in 1952 as well.
Dragons dominate the world of business. ‘CEOs born in 1952 have run Coca Cola, Exxon-Mobil, Alberto-Culver, Time Warner, Colgate-Palmolive, Viacom, UPS, Radio Shack, Clorox, Tiffany & Company, Hershey, ITT, Macy’s, Xerox and Walgreens to name a few.’ ( Of course not everyone who is born under the sign of the Dragon can succeed famously. Just the same take that chance, reach for the stars. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Believe in yourself. The Dragon may yet help you make that dream come true.

She Dragon

But regardless of your sign, good luck will be coming your way. Be ready to soar with the Dragon!

Happy Chinese New Year!

Manananggal (Detacher/Segmenter)

Manananggal (Detacher/Segmenter)

I spent the first 13 years of my life at Fernando Air Base (FAB) in Lipa, Batangas. My father maintained airplanes there. Our neighborhood was full of young families. Pregnant women seem to reside at every other house. Miscarriages were not common but they did happen.

House help is an integral part in most Philippine homes. We were far from being rich but I grew up with at least one maid. Our parents would make us take naps in the afternoons after lunch. The air hung heavy and lent itsel to stupor. In those minutes before our lids finally slam shut, the whisperings of our maid and her friends would start. We listened to their gruesome anecdotes about monsters and the undead. My reaction to stories about manananggals (detach-ers) was quite visceral. All miscarriages were attributed to them.

Aswang (Shape Shifter)

These aswangs(shape shifters) are mostly women who can detach themselves from their bottom halves at midnight, sprout batwings, and alight on the house of a pregnant woman who had not taken proper precautions. She would unfurl her tongue which is long, narrow, and hollow, and insert it through an opening on the roof. She would use the end to puncture the sleeping woman’s belly and suck out the fetus.

To protect one’s household, liberal amounts of garlic, salt, and ash are used in and around the house. Cloves of galrlic are placed by the woman’s belly.

Manananggal ready with her tongue to suck out the fetus

Playing with My Words

The way to read a poem is with an open mind not an open dictionary.~ Webster Schott, Poetry for Pleasure

All right then how open a mind did you mean Mr. Schott? When I was still at OLRA (Our Lady of the Rosary Academy), a Maryknoll run school in Lipa, Batangas in the Philippines, our high school English class tried to tackle BEOWULF. Miss Reyes was a dainty woman who was all of 4’10 if at all. But she was bullish and insisted that we would be able to paraphrase the epic poem written in old English.

I looked at the first stanza and was taken to giggles. Yeah right, try parphrasing that! Miss Reyes was not amused. She ordered me to stand up and remain standing until I translated the assigned verse of the day. Google was far into the future so I was really and truly on my own. I don’t remember what I said but I looked at the words and conjured up images of the hero Beowulf and the monster Grendel. I made up a story and was swept up by my own nonsense.

Below are few lines of the poem in old and modern versions. Have fun.


Ða wæs on burgum Beowulf Scyldinga,  leof leodcyning, longe þrage

folcum gefræge (fæder ellor hwearf,  aldor of earde), oþþæt him eft onwoc

heah Healfdene; heold þenden lifde,  gamol ond guðreouw,

glæde Scyldingas.  ðæm feower bearn forð gerimed

NOW Beowulf bode in the burg of the Scyldings,

leader beloved, and long he ruled 

in fame with all folk, since his father had gone

away from the world, till awoke an heir, haughty Healfdene,

who held through life, sage and sturdy, the Scyldings glad.


Now it’s your turn to play……….


Serendipitous Mistakes Or Just Plain Lucky




I have often wondered about those accidental inventions. Or the lucky blokes who made them. I’m sure some have even lost their heads, literally, from such misadventures. Let’s revisit some of them.




Tasty Mistakes my hips wish didn’t happen:

Chocolate Chip Cookies  Ruth Wakefield ran the Toll House Inn near Boston, Massachusetts. She was busy with the chores at the inn. While mixing a batch of cookies, she found out that she was out of baker’s chocolate. She broke some sweetened chocolate into small pieces and added them to the cookie dough hoping they would melt and get absorbed by the dough. When she took them out of the oven the chocolate had not melted. They are named Toll House Cookies after Ruth Wakefield’s Inn and are the most popular variety of cookie in America today.


Ice Cream Cones   Some food vendors had stands near each other at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. Ernist Hamwi was selling Zalabia, a wafer-thin Persian waffle. The vendor next to Hamwi soon ran out of dishes to serve his ice cream in. Hamwi rolled one of his waffles into a cone shape and went over to the other vendor and topped it with a scoop of ice cream. The “World’s Fair Cornucopia,” as it was called, became the ice cream cone. While the story of Hamwi’s cone is the romantic favorite, another man got the patent for it. An Italian named Italo Marchiony was running a pushcart business in New York City selling lemon ice in a cone. He used a paper cone then a pastry one. Italo applied for a patent in September of 1903, and got it in December, which was six months before the St. Louis World’s Fair started.


Potato Chips  The potato chip came about in 1853 in Saratoga Springs, New York, from pure pique. The Carey Moon Lake House in Saratoga Springs was a popular vacation spot for the wealthy people of the area. A Native American chef named George Crum worked in the kitchen there. A customer sent back his plate of potatoes several times. He wanted them cut thinner and fried longer. Crum had a bad temper. To get even he sliced the potatoes very thin, fried them until they were crisps, and salted them. But to everyone’s surprise the customer loved it. The news spread fast about these crispy potatoes known as Saratoga chips after the town where they were introduced. Potato chips are America’s number one snack food.



Fun Mistakes:

Silly Putty   The lowly sand has a chemical element called silicon. During World War II, The United States government needed rubber for airplane and truck tires, boots for soldiers, and many other uses. Rubber was difficult to get while silicon was readily available. Companies were asked to try to make a rubber substitute out of silicon. At General Electric, in 1944, James Wright was running a test on silicon oil where he added boric acidl. The test the result was a gooey blob that bounced. Unfortunately, this blob had no real use. Samples of it were sent to engineers all over the world, but it wasn’t of any use to anyone. In 1949 Peter Hodgson decided the goo made a great toy. He placed it in plastic eggs and called it Silly Putty.



Frisbee  The original Frisbee was spelled Frisbie and it was made of metal. It was a pie tin named Frisbie Pies because they came from the Frisbie Bakery in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Some Yale University students started playing with the tins after eating the pies. They threw them to each other while yelling, “Frisbie!” Walter F. Morrison made the first plastic model of a Frisbee. The Wham-O Manufacturing Company of San Gabriel, California, began making Frisbee discs in the mid 1950’s.


Slinky  During World War II, in 1943, Richard James, an engineer in the United States Navy. While on a ship he observed how a spring that fell on the floor flipped-flopped and bounced around. When he got home, Richard and his wife Betty took a long steel ribbon and tightly coiled it into a spiral. They started production in 1945. From that spring’s accidental fall came a toy that kids have enjoyed for over 50 years, called the Slinky. More than 2 million Slinkies have been sold since it was invented. The only change to the Slinky has been to crimp the ends for safety. Richard’s wife, Betty James is now the company President and the Slinky is still hopping, skipping, and bouncing across floors all over America.


Weird Stickies:

Post-it Notes  A sticky item that sticks better than Silly Putty is Post-it Notes. Everyone knows that Post-it notes are those little self-stick notepapers that used to only come in yellow. Just about everyone uses them. In 1970 Spencer Silver was working for 3M company trying to find a strong adhesive (glue). The new adhesive Silver invented turned out to be weaker than anything they already made. It would stick to things, but it could be easily lifted off. No one knew what to do with it. About four years later another 3M scientist, Arthur Fry, noticed that the markers he used in his hymnal kept falling out. He remembered Silver’s weak glue and put some of it on the markers. The weak glue worked and the markers stayed in place, but they could be lifted off without ripping the hymnal pages. Ten years after Spencer Silver invented his super weak adhesive, 3M started selling the Post-it Notes nationwide in 1980. Now they are one of the most popular items for the office and people use them in all sizes and colors.

Post-it Mario


Velcro There is another sticky invention that doesn’t use goo or glue. It’s Velcro. In 1948, a Swiss engineer named George de Mestral returned from a walk and found some cockleburs stuck on his clothes. He took the burrs and examined them under a microscope.  The cocklebur is a maze of thin strands with hooks (or burrs) on the end that cling to cloth and animal fur. It took de Mestral another eight years of experimenting to develop and perfect his invention. The invention is called a hook-and-loop fastener in general, but de Mestral named it Velcro for his company. Like the Post-it Notes, Velcro is easily separated and now comes in many shapes, sizes, and colors. Velcro is used in everything from shoes, clothes, and watchbands to space suits and spacecraft.


I can’t imagine life without my chocolate chip cookies, especially at my friend Melissa’s annual cookie exchange. I would be banished from the friendship! Or my husband’s office without the post-it notes. Ginny, his secretary would have to read his mind in order to bill insurance companies. Accidental inventions do happen. Serendipity is alive and well.

Enter The She-Dragon

Let’s have fun with this one.

Year 2012. We’re entering the realm of the Dragon in the Chinese Zodiac. I AM entrenched as a She-Dragon. A friend sent me this rather lengthy write up about such a paragon of zodiac-ness. I hold the world in the palm of my scaly hands. And I hold all the cards. So I picked and chose what fancied me and discarded what did not.



Mitch is a RAT which makes us the most ideal partners. This one stays. 🙂

Woe to the Ox, another Dragon, and the Dog 😦

‘Irritable and stubborn, the Dragon is a real big mouth and his words often outrun his thoughts.’…..This definitely goes.

‘Dragons are dauntless, dynamic and delightful.’……Check. Thumbs up. This stays.

‘Dragons are tyrannical. They hate orders except when they are giving them.’…..OUT! There’s the door. Go! Scoot. Chop-chop!



‘The Dragon is often loved. She is never disappointed in love. In fact, she is frequently the cause of some drama of despair. The women of this sign are surrounded by admirers and often demanded in marriage.’…..Oooooh, now this definitely stays!

Have fun!

Look Ma, No Frogs (Poinsettia and Fresh Cranberry Centerpiece)

The frenzy the Christmas holiday brings will be a distant memory in two weeks. I have two days to prepare for my book club meet. The house is a disaster. I’m in the throes of kinetic insanity. But just like a play’s opening night, I will pull the bunny out of a hat, and everything will fall into place. And what of Christmas presents? Yet to be hunted, bought, and wrapped. Have fun everyone!



The flower arrangement above is my favorite Christmas centerpiece. This is how it is prepared:

  • Always clean your container well. Nothing will wilt fresh flowers more than bacteria.
  • Fill the container halfway with water then fill with fresh cranberries. This hides mechanics better than frogs (no not the Kermit kind.) You can buy ‘frogs’ from flower shops. See photo below.
  • After cutting the poinsettia stem at an angle, sear with flame to stop the sap. Poinsettia sap is highly poisonous to other plants too.
  • Then fill the container with the flowers liberally. You can also insert the stem into a vial BEFORE inserting into the jars. See sample of vials below.
  •  Use fresh vines and holly as fillers. I even use left over dried roses.
  • Poinsettias are quite fragile after they are cut, even when dipped in water. They last just a few hours. So make this the last of your chores before a party. (Roses and other flowers are hardier and can be prepared days in advance, especially when properly prepared). The arrangement below with sunflowers lasts for a week.
  • A good rule of thumb for any centerpiece height: sit down and look through the arrangement. You should be able to see your table companions’ eyes. So no higher than eye level. If higher, make sure it is sparse enough to peek through. Enjoy!



You Want Me To Eat What?

My mamang (mother) was born in Dupax, Nueva Vizcaya in northern Luzon in the Philippines. When I was a young girl our visits there circled around food. Exotic foods.

‘Go on.  Eat.  They taste like chicken. R-e-a-l-l-y.’ My aunts and uncles urged.

Chicken was a code word. I knew that. They didn’t even hide their amusement.  Why would I believe them? Frogs taste like chicken? I gagged at the thought.

‘No thank you!’ I insisted.

The adobong palaka (marinated frogs’ legs) – I called them kookak – looked obscene. They looked like naked limbs of little people. I tried to block an image of butchered frogs, headless and skinned. I squirmed with revulsion.



My aunts tried to serve us adobong salagubang (beetles).

‘See? There. Umm-umm gooood!’ They would say in unison.

They bit one bug and then another. My mother was the worst of the lot. I heard the crunch and flinched. I saw a huge jar of unmoving, squished beetles without wings. At first glance I mistook them for cockroaches. The nausea almost undid me. I also felt remorseful because I helped catch them earlier. The hum of chirping insects I heard each evening grated on my nerves. It accused me of my guilt. I imagined thousands of baby beetles scurrying every which way, orphaned and inconsolable.



And kilawen – a dish of partially grilled, almost raw meat and intestines of goat, sometimes of thekalabaw (the Filipino beast of burden, the water buffalo), chopped and marinated in vinegar and lemon, often drizzled with pig’s bile. That was a favorite pulutan (snack) of the binge drinkers among the Ilocanos.




The frogs’ legs looked harmless when fleshed out from the bones. They did taste like chicken. Sort of. But no disguise was possible for the rest. The beetles still looked like cockroaches; and the vinegar/bile kilawen looked uncooked and exotic.

My cousins have all weighed in and I seem to be the only one who is the squeamish miss. But to a male/man (females too), they nodded their heads vigorously for this……



Bon appetit! Happy eating! Masaganang pagkain!

The Legend of the Gift with Cat Lives (or when MISfortunes turn to Mirth)

Several years ago I had the misfortune of winning a gag gift at a friend’s annual cookie exchange. When the giver fished it out of its box, everyone was speechless. I was in a quandary. What to say? It was one of the most hideous thingamajig made of the cheapest plastic. A pair of amorous lovers on a stroll….Well why don’t you see for yourself..

I had this bright idea to ‘gift’ it to my balae (Pilipino for co-mother, my daughter’s mother-in-law) that Christmas. My son-in-law said she blustered and stammered for nice things to say but had to admit defeat. Myrna has great taste. So I guess it must be a great and tasteful present.

Not to be outdone, Mary lobbed the thing back to me the next year. She added a piece of ornament to disguise the thingy. Aha! An epiphany moment. Not to be out-outdone, I gave it back to her the following Christmas. With even more ornaments plastered on it. Shucks, I’m looking at it now, looking so expectant on the side table. What to do? Maybe I’ll keep it this year. Hmmm, I think the pair smiled at me. And why should they not? They have given our families mirth and laughter through the years.

It is now the poster boy for foster gifts without a home. I am reminded of Richard Harris’ song, Lovers Such as I. Bless the song that no one sings….the rose that never grows….trees without limbs…..Yes, bless this gift without a home…the gift that never quits.

No ssSH Spoken Here

She spoke mildly, conversationally, yet the sting of her words remained. She repeated the question. Slowly this time. Do-you-speak-and-write-English? Did I hear her correctly? The smile disappeared from my face. My skin suddenly felt unnaturally brittle, over-stretched.  Yes of course! I heard myself croak out the reply. How well? She persisted. Quite well. I insisted. My voice sounded shrill. Her eyes expressed doubt. I felt myself laid bare, diminished. I saw her mouth move but I blocked out the rest of her questions. I felt chilled and saw spots pop within my line of vision. A long forgotten fear hit me. I dug my nails into the soft flesh of my palms. I felt my blood retreat to a place unreachable to me. Please no, don’t let me faint now! I hugged me to myself and concentrated on the uneven slabs of stones that lined the floor of the quaint restaurant, the Heart In Hand inClifton, Virginia, and made a mental note.

Yes, I can speak and write English. I am not a native born American and my journey from a prickly insecure girl who was mired in academic sinkhole to a woman willing to take on the book world took decades, but I detested this woman’s assumption. Her role was not to question my competence anyway. She was there to swear in the incoming officers for Dominion Valley Garden Club, my ersatz sorority as my second daughter calls it. I was to be the new Secretary. I was properly vetted.

I lost face but I stifled the urge to leave. My early exit would have given me immediate satisfaction. In my native Philippines, loss of face (nawalan ng hiya) is a sacrilege.  Amor propio or self esteem is protected, sometimes irrationally, and its loss can result in violence. I was tempted. I felt she deserved a cat fight. My palms started to sweat. My face felt on fire. I wiped awkwardly at the wetness that appeared on my forehead. Concerned faces glanced at us.

A better plan was starting to form in my head. The dare was on. You and I will revisit this moment. I promised silently.

Post Navigation