Thursday, December 31, 2009


Driving along EDSA a few days ago, I chanced upon outgoing U.S. Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney being interviewed on an early morning talk show on DZMM on AM radio. The well-loved ambassador talked about, among other things, what she liked about the Philippines. During her stint in the country, she got to windsurf and go island-hopping, and said there are so many activities one can do around here.

Then she was asked what valuable lesson she learned from Filipinos. And she said we taught her the value of family.

Oh yes. Have you seen on TV the jampacked bus terminals at this time of the year? People are all in a hurry, with bags and boxes in tow, to go home to the provinces to celebrate Christmas and New Year with their families. And the airports--oh the airports! My sister and her family just arrived from LA last Sunday night after a grueling 35-hour travel (LA to Schenzhen to Hong Kong to Manila to Batangas City). My brother arrived from Tokyo a few days before Christmas and said it took an hour for his luggage to appear at the carousel.

We do love and value our families. We may be spread out in the world due to the OFW diaspora, but in this holiday season, we connect by air, sea, land, or if that's not possible, by Internet or phone, to our loved ones. Give your family a hug tonight, will you? Then pop the champagne bottle and celebrate the coming of a new year. Happy new year!

BOOK OF THE WEEK: 100 Ways to Live the Word features 100 people from all walks of life showing how they apply God's Word. Read my story there. :-) Published by Philippine Bible Society

: A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land. Psalm 68:5-6

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I couldn't help but shake my head in disbelief as I read the front page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer today, Wednesday, November 25, 2009. The whole page was about the massacre of innocent civilians and journalists in Maguindanao: seven news items, one editorial, and almost a half page photo showing the bodies of some of the victims sprawled like dead pigs on a grassy lot.

Even though I first heard the news two days ago on TV Patrol, I am still aghast at the barbaric way the people were killed. A hundred armed men, said to be followers of of the political Ampatuan family, blocked their convoy, which was on the way to the local Commission on Election office to file the certificate of candidacy of Buluan vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu for governor of Maguindanao. It was a political massacre, and the killers spared no one, be he/she a Mangudadatu, a journalist, a man, or a woman. To date, 46 bodies were retrieved, and some more people are reported missing.

I can understand why members of the Mangudadatu family were killed: to the perpetrators of the crime, they belonged to a rival clan, plain and simple. But I cannot understand why even journalists, who numbered more than 20, were killed. They were just doing their job.

Journalists are just plain simple people who live with a passion to hunt for stories and write them so people will be informed. They churn out two stories a day, maybe even more, and make deadlines a part of their daily lives. We journalists talk to people of all walks of life, and will go places just to get the facts for a story. Truth is our mission, but despite the nobility of that, our wages are still a pittance.

My friend Rina asked me why journalists are paid so low—call center employees earn more than editorial assistants, and bank managers earn more than feature editors, for instance—and I said it has always been that way. But we still keep at it because, well, we just want to do so.

As Aquiles Z. Zonio of Inquirer Mindanao bureau wrote in one of the front page stories in today's Philippine Daily Inquirer, “Underpaid and under threat, be that as it may, we will continue answering the call of our beloved profession.”

BOOK OF THE WEEK: Reading Comfort Food, a compilation of personal essays on what makes one's comfort food, edited by Erlinda Panlilio, has brought me warmth, happy thoughts, and yes, comfort. A perfect foil to news items that make me aghast.

VERSE OF THE WEEK: Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me. Psalm 54:4

Monday, November 16, 2009

Life after Ondoy

These days I still find myself grappling in the middle of a working day for some order in my work life. My files have not been updated, copies of my published articles have not been put in order, and I still have to get the hang of working at my desk in the home office again. I have yet to figure out how to make the desktop work again as greatly as it did before. And where is that adaptor for the printer? After the flood brought about by typhoon Ondoy came, wreaked havoc, and went, things have been out of place, or have not been found altogether.

So I find myself defining my life now as post-Ondoy, in contrast to pre-Ondoy days when I could find everything and everything (generally) works. These days I work in my bedroom for the comfort, or in cafes for the steady Internet connection. Our Wi-Fi at home has become unreliable post-Ondoy—it goes into action whenever it feels like it, then sputters, then bursts in 2-minute connections just when I need to send a document over to my editor. And so I get to work in spurts, which should not be my work style given the deadlines I face.

Still, there are a lot of things to be grateful about: the fact that my family is safe and our house looks more or less the same now as it did during the pre-Ondoy days, save for the books, photos and document files lying on our bedroom floor, waiting for new bookcases to be bought. Soaked and useless mattresses and sofas have been disposed of, and new mattresses are now in place. Warped cabinets and doors have been replaced, and even the big kitchen now sports new tiles. The musty smell has been banished, thanks to overzealous scrubbing with Domex, Zonrox, and Mr. Muscle, and spraying with berry-scented Lysol. You wouldn’t think that just about two months ago, waist-deep flood entered our house, and drowned the Lite Ace van in the garage.

Yes, that’s how one should deal with it: look at the bright side. Ondoy also gave me an opportunity to appreciate even more my family and close friends. The day after Ondoy came and left, my sister sent my 80-year-old dad to the spa for a much-deserved massage after the trauma of seeing water rise and evacuating the house the day before. She also spearheaded the cleanup at home, bringing people over to scrub the floors and walls. My uncle and aunt arrived one day with adobo, and with lumpia on another day. My friend Meg braved the traffic and came over with her two kids, some adobo and rice, mattresses for the helpers, doormats, towels and a nice book for me to read. Mel and Ivy helped me dry photos and documents, something Weng did also a few days after. And dear friends from church, as well as from my Varsitarian family back in college, sent financial assistance so we could buy what we needed.

My nephew Alvin helped dry the photos and made sense of the tangled computer cables. Analyn sent over a huge bottle of fabric softener since she said, “siguro marami kang lalabhan (you might have lots of laundry to do).” Richelle, who could not have foreseen that their city would be flooded heavily by typhoon Pepeng in a few days, sent me a boxful of blankets. Cherry sent by post from Hong Kong a little box full of treasures: green tea, hand towel, gloves, fabric softener, pineapple cake, medicines, a bottle of White Flower, and so much more. Jing, through words, grieved with me and hugged me virtually. And there were so many more who helped, prayed, and made us feel better.

So post-Ondoy, I have chosen to be more positive and grateful (that wasn't really a complaint in the first paragraph; more a statement of my circumstances). I may not be able to work on my desk yet, but I am thankful that I can work. Although the neighbor across the creek played a loud blood-curling rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” at 9 a.m. this morning for all the world to hear, I thanked God I can hear perfectly. And so can my family.

Life after Ondoy: it’s rosy whatever angle you look at it. God is good.

BOOK OF THE WEEK: I had a wonderful time reading The Heart of Healing by Ardy Roberto, published by OMF Literature Inc. Here is a beautiful story of a husband who loves his wife very much and saw her through a most trying time while she battled lupus. This book has a lot of heart, and will be helpful to everyone especially the person caring for a sick family member. Truly, Jesus Christ is the Great Physician and Healer of all time.

VERSE OF THE WEEK: But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s great love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children—with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts. Psalm 103:17-18

Thursday, November 05, 2009


Ah...this is one of those vacations when I do not have to follow a schedule. No itinerary per day, no group to keep up with. I traveled alone and my only agenda is to attend the wedding of my nephew on Saturday.

So for the past four days I have been taking things slow, leaving the house around lunchtime or later, making time for latte and two hours of reading at quiet cafes in busy Tokyo. The tourist-y places have been visited on prior trips; now is the time to catch up on sleep, tackle the writing leisurely, take unhurried walks, savor new dishes, and be quiet.

My friend Jing and I had something like this earlier this year when we went to Baguio for a three-day girlfriend getaway. There was nothing on the agenda then except to catch up on sleep, see some art, and eat good food. We came back to Manila refreshed, ready to face family and work demands again.

We all need quiet breathers like this to rest, recharge, and reconnect with our Maker.

BOOK OF THE WEEK: Meg gave me the book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 when she visited me after Typhoon Ondoy flooded our house. Author W. Phillip Keller was really into sheep before with a flock of his own. He gives insights on how sheep behave and lets us see how the Good Shepherd up above regards us. A must read!

VERSE OF THE WEEK: He restores my soul. -- Psalm 23:3

Monday, September 07, 2009

Kitchen victories

I'm sure you have at least one person among your friends who's a genius in the kitchen. She would look at the pantry or the ref, grab something and chop away, heat the pan or turn up the oven, then out would come something delicious in a matter of minutes. Without ever looking at a recipe.

Well I'm definitely not like that. Once in a while, I would look at the pantry or the ref, debate on whether to get this or that, dust off my collection of food magazines and cookbooks, look for a recipe that would use the ingredients I debated on getting, and before I know it, it would almost be lunch time and we don't have anything to eat. So I would just ask the helper to please fry something quick.

Sometimes, though, I would get to find a recipe early enough, and with a magazine or recipe in hand, I'd walk over to the kitchen, get this or that from the pantry or ref, chop away, heat the pan, then produce something edible and delicious. Of course, looking at the recipe every step of the way.

"You can do this, Karen," I would prep myself. "You finished college and ran a magazine; you can follow a recipe." OK. Rah rah rah.

Today was such a day. Our helper said she'll make fried chicken. Again? I groaned silently. Wait, I told her. I'll make pasta but not the usual bolognese type. I'll look for a recipe.

Alas there was no bacon in the ref for carbonara, nor was there pesto sauce or sun-dried tomatoes in the pantry. Thumbing through an old notebook containing handwritten recipes I managed to collect over the years (from friends, mostly), I saw a recipe for Garlic Chicken, Chinese Style. It says I wrote down the recipe on January 24, 1993. Did I ever cook this? Maybe not because I can't remember how to do it.

The ingredients were all available in the house: perfect! And it seemed more interesting than fried chicken.

So there, in an hour, my mom, my son and I had a delicious lunch. (See recipe below.)

Growing up, I didn't spend much time in the kitchen because my mom didn't either. We always had a helper who would do everything, although once in a while, my sisters would make Italian spaghetti, macaroni salad, brownies and polvoron. I remember my mom making chicken mami one time and it was so good. But she didn't do it again.

When my brother and sisters got married and had kids, my parents would cook something special whenever they would come over for a visit. My dad's a good cook--he knows how food should taste like and can cook without looking at a recipe. He does a mean adobo, nilagang baka with chorizo and baked fish in black bean sauce. My mom can cook, too, but my dad would always point out something wrong in her cooking. Maybe that's why my mom didn't spend much time in the kitchen when I was growing up. My nephews and nieces love her halabos na hipon and beef steak, though. My siblings love her monggo guisado. I love her simple tomato-and-onion omelet and corned beef soup.

Over the years, I'd cook once in a while. Lately I've been trying to cook more often than before for my son. My target is at least once a week. You can do it, Karen. Rah rah rah.


salt and pepper
chicken pieces
6 teaspoons soy sauce
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 heaping teaspoon cornstarch, dissolve in 3 tablespoons cold water.

Mix cornstarch, salt, and pepper. Roll chicken pieces in the mixture. Deep-fry. Set aside.

Fry garlic until golden brown. Add soy sauce, water, sugar, and sesame oil. Add cornstarch dissolved in water. Mix.

When sauce is thick, put chicken pieces back in. Toss. Turn off heat. Transfer to platter and serve.

BOOK OF THE WEEK: Nora Ephron has endeared herself to many women (including me) for her witty screenplays for You've Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, and When Harry Met Sally. So when my friend Ruth said she's selling her copy of Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck, I reserved it right away. Warning, Ruth said. Mababaw siya. OK lang, I said. It will be for those wala lang days. Just a few pages into the book, I was already wondering how Ephron was able to pull it off--to get such a book published. There's nothing much to it; just fluff. Ruth agreed. I finished the book, still. Nothing much to it. There are other better books to read.

VERSE OF THE WEEK: Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. Psalm 34:12-14

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tips from an editor

Note: This post is based on an e-mail sent to the Pinoywriters e-group. Writers may find the tips here useful.

I know some of you are magazine writers here. I'm a magazine editor, and I was just talking to another magazine editor recently. We got to talk about our contributing writers (yeah, just like the way writers talk about their editors, haha).

We are happy when we discover writers who can really deliver the articles we need. When we do find them, we take the time to nurture them so they will become even better.

Sometimes, though, these writers who have become better start becoming problem writers. They turn in articles late, or don't follow the guidelines given them. Or they lose their spunk--a result of taking in too much freelance work. As a result, their articles aren't that brilliant anymore.

We all have our off days, but we all need to try our best as much as we can because our readers expect that of us. So here are some tips:

1. If you are freelancing, check your work schedule first for the month before agreeing to take on an assignment.
Make sure you'll have time to do ample research and conduct interviews before agreeing to the deadline. If your schedule is really tight, don't say yes for the sake of money. Just decline politely and say your sked is full as of the moment. Editors can consider you for the next issue.

2. If the specs given seem vague, feel free to ask for further clarification.
Or if you think you have a better slant to the article, discuss with your editor. My friend lamented that one of her writers submitted an article that was way off what was asked -- she pursued a different angle, which was not what the editor wanted or expected.

3. If you're having trouble finding interviewees, holler for help. Editors may be able to help you out.

4. Before submitting your article, run a spell check please.

5. Make the dictionary your best friend. This is just a click away: http://www.merriam- dictionary. Look up even ordinary words to check if they're spelled in one word, etc. I've had to change "hard-working" to "hardworking" in a writer's copy a lot of times.

6. Be open to your editor. If you have questions, complaints, grudges, etc., the best person to talk to is your editor.

7. Observe ethics. Don't write about the same topic for a competing magazine at the same time. For example, if you're writing about the lanzones festival for Food Magazine, don't write a similar article for Yummy Magazine and submit both as "exclusive." Better yet, stick to one magazine per genre (example, for food writing, write for only one food magazine; for fashion writing, write for only one fashion magazine). Safeguard your credibility and reputation.

I hope you find these tips helpful.

BOOK OF THE WEEK: When my grade school classmate Ega asked me about Queena Lee-Chua's math books, I remembered that I bought a copy of Eureka, her book compilation of columns published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Sunday Inquirer Magazine. The lady has a gift for serving up math and science in easy-to-understand terms, although toward the end, when she talked about Fermat's last theorem and the like, I got completely lost. Still, it's an interesting read.

Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. Proverbs 3:13-14

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Bataan Death March

“Palakpakan natin si Alec! May dugo siyang bayani!” (Let’s clap our hands for Alec! He has hero’s blood in his veins!)

Such was the reaction of my son’s teacher in grade two when, during a lesson on World War II, my son told them that his great grandfather was in the Bataan Death March and survived it.

He was maybe only five years old when we went to Ayala Museum to see the dioramas. When we got to the diorama showing the Death March, he asked which soldier shown was his lolo.

I don’t have much memory of my paternal grandfather, Lolo Arturo, except for the fact that he always smiled, put me on his lap, and he would smell like an old man whenever I made mano. I remember one stormy night, he went to our house and slept over since the streets were flooded and he couldn’t go home. Shortly after, he passed away. I was 10 years old and in grade 4.

There was a Philippine flag draped on his coffin, and I asked why it was so. Someone told me that he was a sundalo (soldier). During the interment, there was a gun salute, and I was so scared and bewildered why the soldiers had to fire their guns. Everyone was already crying and the guns just rattled more nerves, I thought.

It was later on that I learned from my dad that my lolo was not just a sundalo. He was a hero. He was already in the military when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and World War II started. Hastily, my father was fetched from Batangas City where he was studying to see my lolo off in the town of Tuy as his unit was being deployed. My dad said his mother, my Lola Silvina, and his siblings were crying as he left.

The last stand of the Philippine and American forces was done in Bataan in 1942, and when the Japanese pressed on, the Filipino and American soldiers led by Maj. Gen. Edward “Ned” P. King Jr. were forced to surrender. About 75,000 of them were made to walk some 100 kilometers from Mariveles, Bataan to San Fernando, Pampanga for almost a week with no food and water, and from there, they were either herded on trucks or walked again to Capas, Tarlac. The weak and dying were left for dead on the road, or bayoneted to death, or worse, beheaded on the spot.

My lolo survived the Death March. He was a prisoner of war in Capas. When he got out, he joined the guerrilla movement, and so did my dad, who was 14 then.

Last week, Japan, through its ambassador to Washington Ichiro Fujisaki , offered a personal apology to survivors of the Bataan Death March during World War II during a gathering of Bataan Death March survivors in San Antonio, Texas. Fujisaki apologized for “having caused tremendous damage and suffering to many people, including prisoners of war, those who have undergone tragic experiences,” according to a report published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer today.

My lolo is no longer around to hear that apology. I don't know if he would, but he probably would accept that apology if he were here today.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…a time to kill and a time to heal” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1, 3). Now is the time to heal.

BOOK OF THE WEEK: This week I'm reading Life Management for Busy Women by Elizabeth George. It offers practical tips for managing one's spirit, soul, home, money, mind, ministry, an social life. I'm learning a lot from this book.

VERSE OF THE WEEK: The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Psalm 24:1

Monday, April 27, 2009


I was looking at the other blogs on today and chanced upon the post "KC Concepcion: 'I Love Blogging' on the Blog Addicts blog. KC's first blog entry on her Multiply site, the article said, was about the Subservient Chicken.

Hmmm. Intriguing. And so I went to the Subservient Chicken link.

True enough, the Subservient Chicken can do whatever you want--like how its sponsor Burger King can do your order the way you want it ("Have it your way" is their tagline). To date, I have commanded the Subservient Chicken to jump, run, yodel, wave bye, do jumping jacks, scratch, and even reach his toes. And he did them all. Uto-uto.

This is a great two-minute stress buster for the harried mom who can't get her young child to brush his teeth, change into pajamas, eat vegetables, pack up toys, feed the dog, put on slippers, and so on. For two minutes, there's someone who will obey your every command. Bliss! :)

VERSE OF THE WEEK: Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." Hebrews 13:5

BOOK OF THE WEEK: Thanks to some time to kill, I picked up the little book Stressed in the City: Snippets of the Lighter Side of the Urban Jungle (written by my grad school classmate April Timbol Yap) at National Bookstore last month. By page 2 I was already chuckling at the cat crossing the flyover ("Where did it come from? Where was it going? And why for heaven's sake did it need to use the flyover?") and laughing hard by the time she told the story of the vendor selling beds on the streets ("Miss, gusto n'yong bumili ng kama?"). :)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Wishing for a techie streak

This is one of those days when I wish I were techie. I am at Figaro at The Podium sipping a cup of barako coffee tinkering with Chinky’s tiny Asus Eee PC, that little contraption which seems so heaven sent as it fits the bag of a busy journalist on the go.

Or so I thought.

Despite the wireless connection icon saying I’m connected via AccessZone for the past 22 minutes (signal strength low), I cannot access Yahoo or Gmail. To amuse myself, I opened Microsoft Word to write this little piece, but it’s the Vista version, and I cannot decipher why I cannot type past the header. All these text that you’re reading—they are in the header. How to get out of this header, I don’t know yet, as Mozilla Firefox says it still can’t connect to the server.

Oh well.

It makes for a cool thing to do, though, writing on this tiny equipment at a coffee shop. Makes me feel Hemingway-like as the iconic writer wrote in coffee shops using pen and paper, and I’m here trying (operative word: trying) to make use of my time well.

I’m still inside the header by the way.

Oh well. Ok I’ll turn this thing off now and brave the monsoon rains outside. I might be able to connect to the Internet better back home.

Note: This was written September 10, 2008.

BOOK OF THE WEEK: On an overnight trip to Dagupan last December, I bought the book God's Smuggler by Brother Andrew at Book Sale for the fantastic price of P15. (Fifteen pesos!!!) I've heard about this book many many years ago and was intrigued at this Dutch missionary who smuggled Bibles to communist countries in Europe during the Cold War days. Brother Andrew's willingness to undertake dangerous trips to spread the Gospel sounds like Paul's mission to bring Christianity to Asia and Europe. May we burn with passion for God like they did.

VERSE OF THE WEEK: I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. Job 19:25-26

Friday, January 09, 2009


Talk about delayed reaction. It's been five days since my birthday and it just dawned on me today that I'm now 42. Forty-two????!!!!

But other than seeing signs of little wrinkles on my face and the appearance of unwanted fats elsewhere, I find no reason to feel bad about being 42. In fact, I can think of at least 42 reasons to be thankful for right now:

1. hot lunch of breaded chicken and buttered veggies
2. yummy breakfast of garlic fried rice, eggs sunny side up and dilis
3. Chippy and Coke while working on the computer (my once a week junk fix)
4. the privilege to work from home and write
5. regular writing and editing gigs
6. five dogs that keep us company
7. the desire and time to cook (I cooked stir fried beef with ginger yesterday! Wagi!)
8. the Internet--how it makes my work life better
9. Facebook and Multiply which have connected me with friends and loved ones here and abroad
10. the song "When I Think About the Lord" which pretty much sums up what I feel when I think of all He has done in my life
11. Marley & Me by John Grogan, the book I'm reading now, which amazes me for being so well written in spite of the simple topic
12. my foodie friend Erli who I eat out with about once a week or so
13. Ugly Betty, and how it makes me laugh
14. ER rerun on the Hallmark Channel
15. the free chocolate cake I got from Figaro a few days ago just because it was the week of my birthday
16. having LTO outlets at the malls, which is a relief for all of us who used to line up with the crowds at LTO offices
17. my high school batchmates at School of the Holy Spirit--still gorgeous after 25 years
18. my wacky friends from The Varsitarian -- still there even if they're all famous and successful
19. earning from blogging! Thanks, Google Adsense
20. the gardener who makes sure our flowering plants blossom. We have yellow bells, pink bougainvillea, and many others I cannot identify
21. my orthopedic bed
22. my wonderful church
23. my small group at church (also called d-group)--such big-hearted ladies
24. body massages. Every time a masseuse works on the tense knots on my back, I can't help but thank God for teaching people how to do a massage.
25. peppermint foot lotion and foot massages
26. handmade organic soaps (oatmeal, guava, watermelon...)
27. my pink little Monologue planner which can fit in my bag
28. cellphones and how they make keeping in touch a breeze
29. sisig
30. manggang hilaw at bagoong
31. Jill Sandique's pistachio sans rival
32. barako coffee
33. Japanese green tea
34. the car I drive
35. The Prayer sung by Josh Groban
36. my only kuya, Boy, who calls from Tokyo once a week at least, and his family
37. my sister Babes, who doesn't look her age, and her family
38. my sister Cecille, who can whip up a huge bowl of yummy macaroni salad, and her family
39. my dad, who is also a father figure to my son
40. my mom--it takes only a little to make her happy: a trip to the mall, lunch or dinner out, and Wowowee
41. my son who's like an old soul
42. my God, who sustains me each day and shows me how great His love is for me

Photo by Marivic Henson-Ferma, New Zealand

BOOK OF THE WEEK: Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg shows what good writing is all about--writing from the heart, plain and simple.

VERSE OF THE WEEK: Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. Hebrews 13:5