Family time is always precious.

Though Ho Chi Minh has been beset with rains, dousing water on our plans to to a Mekong Delta River cruise or visit the Cu Chi tunnels, we were blessed with a sunny afternoon yesterday and decided to head out to the Saigon Zoo.

After a quick and hearty lunch at PHO 2000 - the restaurant made famous by former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s visit — we found ourselves staring in awe at a wide array of animals. The Saigon Zoo is clean and well-maintained and populated by funky monkeys, a smart orangutan, proud lions, absolutely adorable elephants, tubby rhinos, smart giraffes and a host of other hale and happy animals that both children and adults will enjoy. The kids and I and I had a great time traipsing through the zoo in spite of the strong afternoon sun that had us gulping down bottles of water. Most memorable for us was feeding “Horton” and his buddies! I had not seen so many elephants all together in my whole life :) L was really fascinated by their disposition as he feed them specially prepared sugarcane stalks. I’m sure it is one memory that P and L will both keep and treasure ’til adulthood.

In 1864 the French built a 12-hectare botanical garden a few hundred metres from the middle of Saigon City, northeast of Thi Nghe Canal. Later a number of animals were put on display. In 1924 the park was expanded to include 12 more hectares across the canal. Saigon Zoo and the Botanical Garden are approximately 132 years old but very well-kept.

“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will act in your behalf.”
- Psalm 37:1

I’m back in my second home again, leading a much quieter and more sedate life surrounded by family.

We arrived here last week-end and it’s wonderful to have all this peace and quiet once more. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy my life in Manila — the sometimes harried pace, playing mom and dad, minding the house and the help (though that can be bloody sometimes…) and shuttling between office and home thrice a week. However, the quiet that being here affords is priceless. And since the kids are off from school we are together 24/7. Plus, I don’t have to be both parents here because dad is around in the evenings and on Sundays. So we have a normal, quiet life here, so different from Manila.

Somewhere else in Asia, my best friend of 30plus years leads a parallel life. She’s in Singapore as I write this. Keeping her mom company as she goes through chemotherapy. “C” left kids and hubz back home to be with her mom for a week or so. We chatted this morning and both agreed that we are more serene when we are away from our lives in Manila. There is so much more time to pray and meditate and rest where we are. We thank God for this opportunity to get away from our busy lives so that we can settle down and exhale :) And as we communicate from different countries we trade tips on how to text for free ( and view our loved ones from afar via YM and Skype. Technology obviously, for all the negative flack it gets, has its pluses too.

Life on this visit is much easier because we now have a full-time housekeeper - let’s call her Tiger Lily — whom we brought with us on this trip and who will take care of the house after we leave. In addition to Ms. Yim who comes and cleans every morning, Tiger Lily will be cooking good old Pinoy food for H - sinigang, nilaga, tinola, adobo etc… you can only take so much of Pho. Pinoy pa rin tayo after all.

And then there is Mr. Thin, our driver who is interpreter and tourist guide rolled into one. An essential part to making life here all the more bearable. He takes us where we need to go and tells us where to get this and that. God has blessed us with good help. And you need all the good help that you can get especially in a foreign land where English is not the predominant language.

It rains in the afternoons now, making it all the more conducive for sleep and reflection and writing… and blogging. I’m looking forward to seeing new areas like going on a Mekong Delta river cruise, visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels, watching some elephants play football (yes, you read that right…) and strolling on the beach.

Life’s not all leisure here by the way. For many hours each day, I still sit in front of my laptop as I telecommute with my super-able assistant in Manila, as we coordinate projects for the hospital where I do consultancy work now. Working from wherever I am is something that I consider such a huge blessing as well.

A year ago, I would never have imagined being in this place or living this “double life”. Vietnam had always been on my wish list for many, many years and so I am thankful for the way that God has worked in our lives by bringing us all here at this time. In life I have learned that we can only plan so much but in the end, it is really God’s will for us that is most important. Proverbs 16:1-4 says — “To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue… Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” Everything I do nowadays, I ask God first to bless. If He desires to, it happens, then if not, I just go with Hsi flow. Life has become less stressful when one turns it over to Him.

When commitment starts, does the passion end?

Such is the premise of the latest Aga Muhlach-Anne Curtis starrer, “When Love Begins”, written and directed by my favorite Director Joey Reyes. If it’s a Joey Reyes movie you can be assured of great chemistry between the lead stars, and crisp, witty and memorable dialogue. Sa trailer pa nga lang, makikita mo na :)

And oh my, the theme song - “One Hello” by Randy Crawford sent me reeling down memory lane. A huge hit in 1982 when I was fresh out of high school and in love for the very first time. O diba, when love begins…

And how time flies, the year after “One Hello” became a hit, a young mestizo was creating aves of his own and zoomed to stardom by way of a hit, youth movie called “Bagets”. Guess who?

What grabbed my attention from the films stills and trailer was the VERY fit and hot Aga Muhlach who only a year and a half ago was admittedly a blob. Look at him now! Naku, super vindication! I was telling my friend Girlie Rodis when I saw a photo of Aga and Anne on her site — “Pabata ng pabata ang mga leading lady ni Aga”. But hey, the man can carry it off! Super! He doesn’t look like a day over 25. Seriously. I would love to see a Gabby Concepcion-Aga Muhlach-Edu Manzano starrer. Box office hit sigurado. Ageless men who have it all.

View the trailer below to see why “When Love Begins” is looking to be truly, the must-see Tagalog movie of the summer.

Published in my ROOTS&WINGS column in the Lifestyle section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 20, 2008

Last night I was having dinner with my mother and I realized that I was slowly becoming her.

Mom has always had wonderful skin and long, dark hair. They came to be because of years of diligent care. Mom would steep herself in virgin coconut oil on a daily basis long before it became vogue. Nowadays, I find myself obsessing over the same regimen.

Her outspokenness and sense of humor were outstanding characteristics. As I entered the 40something years, having shed the inhibitions of my younger years, I find myself embodying these very same traits.

Widowed in her late 40s, she showed me how to live a life where God becomes your partner and ally in all things and how nothing is impossible when you place your full trust in Him. When I lost my son ten years ago, it was this role-modeling that helped me keep my head above the water

Acclaimed psychologist, Dr. Stephan Poulter talks about how strongly our mothers influence us in his latest book – The Mother Factor: How Your Mother’s Emotional Legacy Impacts Your Life”. Poulter says, “Ninety-five percent of the time, it’s your emotional history spilling into the present.” And this holds true not only for daughters, but sons as well.

Poulter shows in his book how there may be more of a direct link between our successes in life and our mothers more than we might care to understand. I suppose if you had a mother who made you believe that you could achieve anything (this of course pre-supposes that she is reasonable in assessing your talents and skills) then more often than not that would happen.

In a March 2008 New York Times article on Barack Obama’s mother, he is quoted as saying, “I think sometimes that had I known she would not survive her illness, I might have written a different book — less a meditation on the absent parent, more a celebration of the one who was the single constant in my life,” he wrote in the preface to his memoir, “Dreams From My Father.” He added, “I know that she was the kindest, most generous spirit I have ever known, and that what is best in me I owe to her.”

Another presidential candidate, Sen. John Mc Cain, who in his 70s is seeking the highest office in land, constantly talks about his 96 year old mother who to this day continues to travel around the world. The same article quotes friends of Obama’s mother (“A very, very big thinker”) saying they see her influence unmistakably in Mr. Obama.

I know of a highly-successful female executive who as a young girl in high school constantly sought her mother’s approval. She would rake in all the academic awards ever possible and yet, she says that for her mother it was never enough. A few years ago, she was retrenched when her company merged with another and the incident led her into a deep depression. “My identity was always tied-up to who I was at work and what I could achieve,” she tells me. Today, she has fully recovered and is happily doing NGO work for an advocacy she has always been passionate about.
The perfectionist mother such as the one my friend had is just one of five predominant types of mothering styles that Poulter discusses in his book. The other styles are as follows —

• The “unpredictable” mother is a control freak, fearful and anxious. She focuses on appearance over substance and creates a child who is often ashamed, never good enough, focused on external issues and ultimately, self-loathing. Poulter advises that to overcome these problems, you must first “consider your opinion the most valuable because this concept stops the agony of people pleasing and worrying about other people’s opinions of you.”

• The “me first” mother is has children who come second to her, or worst, last, among her priorities. Self-serving, approval-seeking, non-empathetic, critical and arrogant, she sees the child as an extension of herself. The child can feel dismissed, emotionally deprived, self-doubting and angry. As adults, these people must learn to understand that they are “good enough,” he says.

• The “best friend” mother is apparently the style that has become most popular today, but also the most dangerous. Mothers, who try to dress like their teen-agers, go partying or drinking with them, fall under this category where boundaries are almost non-existent. This style creates an unbalanced emotional dependence and the child grows up feeling abandoned, neglected, angry, and yes, “motherless.” Poulter says this type of mothering is very predominant in Hollywood. Think Lindsay Lohan whose mother goes out drinking with her, or the late Anna Nicole smith who died of an accidental prescription drug overdose just five months after her own 20-year old son.

• The “complete” mother is one who is secure, insightful and nurturing; she understands her child’s needs and desires and guides them towards their own personal fulfillment and growth. Her child grows up to be someone empowered and navigates the transition from childhood to adolescence to adulthood with great ease.
Many mothers are a combination of the above but majority fit into one category than others. Poulter says that often it is by understanding how our mother’s legacy affects us today are we able fathom some of our deepest feelings, motivations and bind ourselves to the relationships that we are truly worthy of. So the next time you find yourself struggling with issues at work or in your personal life, you might want look into your childhood or evaluate the emotional legacy that the woman who brought you into this world has left on your life.

The Medical City’s Center for Patient Partnership will hold a lay forum on “Parenting 101” topics to be covered are pre-natal care, skin care during pregnancy, anesthesia options for labor and delivery, breastfeeding and practical tips for expectant parents. Call 635-6789 local 6444 to register.

I can’t believe it’s been almost a week since I last blogged…

Yes, life can get in the way of blogging. Yes, it truly does. But something inside of me just had to stop in the middle of everything that I was doing, needed to do, or planned to do, to write down this entry. Blogging, or writing down my thoughts, I keep forgetting is my sanity-saver. Next to quiet time with the Lord, that is.

Ironically, and again, God speaks to me in weird and wonderful ways, the image for this entry comes from an article entitled “Writing Down Feelings Really Does Make Us Feel Better, Study Says” awesome God huh? The article says — “This suggests people who are more mindful bring all sorts of prefrontal resources to turn down the amygdala. These findings may help explain the beneficial health effects of mindfulness meditation, and suggest, for the first time, an underlying reason why mindfulness meditation programs improve mood and health.” Writing makes me more mindful, true. It keeps me more attuned to who I am, what I feel inside. Writing has helped me heal from all sorts of problems, it has carried me through the lowest of days and given me enough space to relish the joyful ones.

The last week had me meeting up with good friends - both old and new. Friends from 30 plus years ago who have been a constant in my life, new friends made through blogging and the grief work that I do in our church. All of us fearsome, fabulous fortysomething females. Hey, I’m starting to get my bearings back already…

Then H blew into town over the week-end so that was a whirlwind affair of sorts for my family. Happy to have H back through momentarily. The flurry of activities has me reeling still.

There is the book with two days work to go that is turning out to be a lovely anthology of women’s stories. Women like myself who have walked the journey to find what makes us beautiful and confident in the mid-life years. I’ve read and re-read their stories so much it feels like I’ve lived with these women all my life. I can’t just yet tell you the book’s title but if you are 40 plus and wanting to learn about how other Filipinas like you have navigated their midlife, then this is the book for you :)

Then there is my friend J who has been strapped to hospital bed somewhere in Detroit because of complications from stomach surgery. J and I grew up together and have been friends for the longest time. His illness has me worried but it also has us re-connected. I really pray that he pulls through and I ask that you say a prayer for him so that he can be well soon.

And then there is the new consultancy I’ve gotten myself into that has me working out of a hospital for three days in a week. Interesting but amazing workload. So far so good but sooooo busy as well.

So this is my life and I miss blogging. But now that I have that off my chest, I feel so much better already I can now hit the sack peacefully and get ready for another long and blessed day.

See you all soon!

It’s past midnight but my mind is wide awake.

My adrenaline is still up. I’m in the thick of editing work for 14 more stories for a book - an anthology of essays written by Filipina women at, or past midlife. It’s been quite a fascinating read, seeing how many others like me have successfully navigated the journey, triumphed over tragedy and loss, soared through a defining moment in their lives that changed them forever.

This morning, one of the book’s main coordinators asked me in an email (she was tasked to do the About the Editor’s page) “When did you know that you wanted to become a writer?” Her question made me stop for a moment. And then I told her that I had always wanted to become a writer for as far back as I could remember. The written word and I have carried a long-standing love affair that probably began when I was nine years old and losing myself in my books and journals.

The dream to become a writer was put on hold, I told her, to give way to my mother’s wishes that I pursue a degree in Business Management because it was what was practical and what my late father would have wanted. So off to college I went and successfully tucked up a Management degree under my belt. But writing was always there and I would do it on the side, surreptitiously. It had always been there - through my elementary, high school and college years — re-surfacing at every opportunity.

And then marriage and children came and so the writer had to give way once more to the demands of motherhood and wife-hood. However, the seeming simplicity of life was shattered when my son died in 1998. It was then, a few months later that the writer in me came alive once more.

The written word became my lifeline. A few months after Migi died, Good Housekeeping’s then Editor in-Chief, An Mercado-Alcantara, asked me to write a piece on losing a child. That piece, published in the November 1998 issue of GH was my saving grace. The story resonated in the hearts of so many mothers like myself. To this day, people come up to me and say that they cried buckets when they read my story. After the GH assignment, many other writing assignments followed. In a couple of years, I landed my dream job as reporter for the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Lifestyle section. That was followed by posts as EIC of a pioneering women’s inspirational magazine called “Me” under Mega Magazine Publishing, Inc. and then a regional post as EIC of “Health Today”. I like to say that when I lost my son, I found myself. To this day, I believe that this was Migi’s gift to me — he gave me a voice, and gave me back my sense of self.

Ten years. I look back and reflect of how and where the writing life has taken me and I cannot help but be amazed at how good God is. It is a life that has evolved, that has ebbed and flowed with the seasons of my own life.

And so today, I find myself working in a different genre — books and a column on parenting and of course, blogging. So just as a life evolves and re-invents itself, in the same way, the writing life and the writer, change. I review the last ten years and quietly wonder to myself what the next ten will bring. I’ve stopped making plans and instead I live this writing life on a day to day basis. I’ve found that I write best when I keep in God’s flow. Just as he has guided me in the last decade, I know that He will continue to guide my pen onto the next chapters of my writing life. The many gifts I have been given over the last ten years are all because of His graciousness and love. Who am I therefore, not to follow His lead?

My friend Cheska asks - “Does blogging get in the way of life, or does life get in the way of blogging?”

That question got me thinking. Hard.

I guess it depends on the circumstances. Right now it feels as though my life is getting in the way of blogging. Much as I would like to blog more often than my current rate, my schedule won’t permit me. There’s editing work to be done, a column to write, a new consultancy I need to learn about and focus on, and there are simply the demands and responsibilities of day-to-day living. Suddenly, there’s so much on my plate!

I suppose when you enter a new phase in your life, a re-balancing is in order. Priorities. Priorities. Nowadays, since the start of the week, since I returned to Manila and got myself a part-time job, I wake up much earlier than I used to. Because it’s summer and the kids are home, there’s the myriad of to-do lists that need to be accomplished. With H in Ho Chi Minh, I fill the shoes of both parents. Not that I’m complaining but you see… life has gotten in the way, momentarily.

Then again, I’m doing way more writing now and find myself more in-synch with me. Must be age or that I have finally learned to settle down. Yes, at 43. The new situation forces you to find resources within to make it through all the things you must do by yourself. I also find that I’ve been praying and talking to HIM, way more than I ever did. HE is after all the source of strength of all my days.

I must also say that Blogging and other forms of writing and artistic pursuits keeps me in balance. So when life gets in the way, what do I do - blog!

Hope to be able to post more once I am able to get my bearings back.
Catch up with you all sooner than you think :)

Buti hindi kami nagkasabay ng pagdating.

Found out today that 80s hearthrob Gabby Concepcion is back in town. Sobrang huli ako sa balita. Still getting my bearings back after two weeks in HCMC. Controversy hounds Gabby wherever he goes. One thing is certain though, guapo pa rin siya. It’s a crime to look that way at what, 44?

Back in my senior year in high school, halos malaglag kami sa silya everytime we would get a glimpse of him while in Typing class over at Maryknoll College where he was enrolled as a Freshman. This was before his marriage to Sharon. I hope his first movie will be worth-watching. The man still looks great. I’m sure a lot of women from my generation will be making a bee-line for the box office if and when that movie is made. And whoa, his leading lady is no less than the comebacking babe, Claudine Baretto. I wonder if Vicki B will be getting Gabby to endorse. Uy, all-natural ang kaguapuhan. Maybe he shoud endorse Centrum or Havitall instead.

Hey, this is not chismis. Just some news, fresh (well, not really) from Manila.

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