Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 in Books and Blessings

This year, I've tried something different... instead of posting all the individual titles, I merely put the covers in one picture:

What a wonderful year it has been! Close friends will know that 2014 brought unique trials to our family, but we remain confident that, as long as we stick together, and with lots of help from up above, we will be able to overcome these challenges!

I'm especially grateful that I still get to squeeze in reading despite the ever increasing work load (a fact of life: the work load doesn't get any lighter. It keeps getting heavier! haha, which does wonders for one's figure because I end up losing weight even without exercising!)

I'd like to thank Goodreads for the pictures of the 43 books I've read in 2014, not counting the eight "trashy" romance novels I guiltily snacked on, hehe. (OUTLANDER is an exception because it transcends the genre!)

And since I've read too few to come up with a "Top 10" list, here's my humble Top 5 Reads of the year:

1. NORTH AND SOUTH by Elizabeth Gaskell. Best $0.00 purchase on Kindle, ever! And it is now my favorite book OF ALL TIME. It has brought so much joy to my life, and now all I want to be in life is to be like Margaret Hale, the unforgettable and oh-so-admirable heroine in the book.

2. MAN'S SEARCH FOR MEANING by Victor E. Frankl. Who better than a Holocaust survivor to write a book about the meaning of life? It's the kind of book that's useless to highlight, because you'll just end up highlighting everything. I will be rereading this book every few years or so, it's THAT important and inspiring.

3. STRINGS ATTACHED by Joanne Lipman and Melanie Kupchynsky. This book made me cry. It is part murder mystery, part tribute to an incredible teacher, and ultimately it is about the redemptive power of music in everyone's life.

4. ABSOLUTELY AMERICAN: FOUR YEARS AT WEST POINT by David Lipsky. I loved it because of the patriotism and idealism that comes out from this wonderful description of a school like no other. It gave me ideas on how to teach patriotism in the context of a Philippine school.

5. I AM MALALA by Malala Yousafzai. She is the Anne Frank of our generation. And with the recent brutal attack of a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, this book has even more significance. Whenever I feel down and start wondering if one person can make a difference, I remember Malala and I am hopeful again. But what struck me the most from this book is the revelation that Malala became what she is because of her incredible father, a hero in his own right. Mr. Yousafzai, thank you for raising a heroine.

The biggest blessing that 2014 brought me is the gift of Friendship. A new friend made, old friendships further deepened... there is no peace like the peace of being one's crazy self amidst people who are as crazy as you!

Here's to another year full of friends, books, food and love!

Previous Years in Books posts:

2007 (a partial list)

Saturday, November 15, 2014


                                                                     (Photo credits here)

Limoncello has been one of my great discoveries this sembreak. It is Italian in origin, a beverage made of lemon and other things, but not quite as sour as lemonade and infinitely more refreshing. It is VEEEERY addictive! Apparently it is taken in between or after meals, to cleanse the palate. But in my case I have no problem downing it like a thirsty camel after trekking through the Sahara.

The sembreak is, I suppose, like limoncello. A refreshing taste in between hearty, heavy doses of Life. Come to think of it... limoncello is sweet and sour, like Life itself!

We become what we do, I think. Some might disagree, but it can't be denied that one's profession changes someone, either for the better or for the worse. Mine, I think, has altered me so greatly that sometimes I need to pause and think about who I am, without the apellation "Teacher" before my name.

I've come to that advanced stage in life when the doors that remain open are not as many as the ones that are closed, but now I think it's not necessarily a bad thing to have less options open in life. It teaches one gratitude. Who is happier: the bird with infinite directions to fly towards, or the rabbit with its single hole, surrounded by its loved ones? If happiness be pleasure (which it isn't), then you might think the bird is better off. But a multitude of options can paralyze one into inaction, and the homely rabbit with its conviction and its clear cut direction in life is to be envied.

I am turning into that rabbit. I am becoming *gasp* a mature lady of a certain age, though I certainly don't feel older! And yet I've been described as having an old soul. I suppose the nature of my profession has exposed me to several lives, to the point that I feel as if I've lived (albeit vicariously) several of them. That's why I'm grateful to be surrounded by children every day. Seeing the world through their eyes makes me realize how important it is to NEVER lose our childish sense of wonder, of delighting in the 'shallow' things like toffee nut latte and rainy school days.

And another thing: I've been granted the privilege of seeing how students I taught in the past have turned out, after a year or so in college. It's humbling and immensely gratifying… like seeing a report card in the flesh. And it just makes me grateful for the twists and turns in my life, the unplanned as well as the seemingly inconvenient ones, because they all make sense when you see that your life's thread was entwined with another's for a purpose. And it is a beautiful reminder of how the "chaos" in our life is actually all part of a Master Plan.

The emptiness will be filled up. The momentary sorrow and pain is from the soul forge, turning the dross into gold. And if there is a twinge of sadness at the thought that the sembreak is over far too soon, there is the comforting thought that we can only appreciate the beautiful days if we experience the bad ones. And how lovely that the "worst" days of my life are spent doing meaningful work, and that toffee nut latte will be coming soon!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

On Record Keeping and Memory

"Registrar" is not one of the most glamorous words in the English language. Like its cousin word, "librarian," the word conjures up images of a cranky spinster who sits in an office all day, typing up grades and printing them upon request. To teachers and members of the academe, it refers to a rather high administrative position. Both interpretations imply a certain age brought about by lengthy record-keeping experience.

I was given the additional duties of a Registrar this school year, on top of my other teaching and coordinating duties. Apart from it being recognition of my advancing years (!!), it is both an honor and a huge responsibility, and I have to say that my surviving the first quarter of this school year is a testament to God's sufficiency in supplying much-needed grace!

There are some who think that Registrars are mere glorified clerks/secretaries engaged in mindless reproduction of numbers that sum up the entire life of a student in a piece of paper. I've met quite a few registrars in the past who seemed to believe so, and took no joy in their "mundane" job.

I beg to disagree, and not merely because I happen to be one of them, now.

In all past societies (except, perhaps, in this post-modern, money-centric materialistic one) it was the Record Keeper, the Keeper of Memories, who was held in the highest esteem. In our Filipino prehistoric society, it was the Teller of Stories who held that sacred place, as this was the time before we wrote down what our ancestors passed on from generation to generation.

I am now one of the Record Keepers. I am the Keeper of Memory in my small corner of earth, and it is no small thing. Each grade I input, each transcript I process, is basically the sum of an entire life writ small, compacted in one historic document that will someday be the basis of a person's acceptance (or rejection!) into a college, a path that will lead to a person's job and membership among the productive members of society we all strive to be.

And I suppose it is the same for ALL of our jobs. No matter how "small" or "inconsequential" we think we might be, we actually have a very important role to play in our community, in our office. We live for others, regardless of occupation, and in this light, no job is too small. "There are no small roles, only small actors," as theater people say.

I'd like to think that my typing skills (made considerably faster by further training in piano! Hehe) are being put to good use now. And that my role as Registrar is a natural step for a History teacher such as myself.

This very act of blogging, of adding words to an online record, is not only a way to pass idle time, to practice letting the creative juices flow. It is my way of attempting to control the flow of time in some small way, by marking it, by trying to create meaning from it. The flow of the river of life is very quick. Six years ago I was a novice teacher, and a blink of an eye later, I'm a Registrar inputting high school grades for students I taught in Grade One.

Here's to six more decades of history-making, and history-recording!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

On Beauty

I'm addicted to beauty.

No, I don't mean that I'm kikay. (If anything, I think I need to learn how to be more feminine, ahehe!)

I mean, I conscientiously seek beauty. I go out of my way to collect great pictures, haunting pieces of music, exquisitely phrased sentences and beautiful thoughts carefully copied down in my diary.

I suppose that's partly why I took up Music in college, and had a blast. I was surrounded by beauty, day in and day out. I immersed myself in it for half a decade, honing my instrument (my voice) and discovering the infinite shades and degrees of beauty, whether in music, visual arts or theater arts. It made me even more sensitive to beauty than usual.

There is beauty in truth, and truth in beauty. But beauty can also deceive.

We live in a world that places far too much emphasis on physical looks. Sadly, not every beautiful form contains within an equally beautiful soul.

Possessing little physical beauty myself, I've often wondered what it must be like to be drop-dead gorgeous or strikingly handsome. They say good-looking people have things easier in life. But I suppose it's also challenging for them, when people see them and focus solely on their face or body. I know quite a few pretty ladies who tried to make themselves uglier just so they could experience less harassment on their daily commute.

The flesh withers. Body parts sag. Chins double and triple with age. The challenge is to age gracefully.

Instead of focusing on physical beauty, I really need to focus more on having a beautiful soul, a beautiful mind. Easier said than done, because part of being a girl is wanting to be pretty all the time. I need to keep reminding myself that beauty is not just about the long, straight hair, the flawless complexion, the hour glass figure. Beauty is in the inner grace with which a woman performs her daily tasks, with a gentle voice, a loving hand. There is beauty in a healthy body, regardless of how many pounds it needs to lose. There is beauty in the twinkle of the eyes, in an open mind and a caring heart. There is beauty in white hair, because it represents the crowning glory of wisdom earned through years of nurturing others.

We are all beautiful, because He made us so. And several authors (C.S. Lewis included) have written extensively about how God uses Beauty to draw us to Him. It is an indicator of our soul's divinity, of our longing for the Ultimate Beauty to be found in Paradise.

So at the end of the day... at the end of our lives... let us pray for the grace to leave our home, our office, our world a more beautiful place than when we first found it.

Have a beauty-full weekend!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Year Seven

It's going to be my seventh year of teaching. Oh golly, how quickly time passes! And it's been a wonderful summer. Although I didn't have the luxury of going to the beach or leaving Manila, I realize now that I didn't have to. My life right now is so peaceful and orderly that I don't need to get away from it. I don't need to escape from life.

I'm not saying my life is perfect. Of course, no one's life is. Mine is far from it. But in terms of wants and needs, all of mine are met, and so I have no right to complain. In fact, I think I need to look for more opportunities to share my blessings.

A busy, peaceful and productive life. I think this is the ideal, and I'm blessed to be able to say that mine is all of the above. It is far from glamorous, and I am far from attaining the kind of wealth or power that the media would have us believe is the ideal life. But then again, the day we believe in what the media tells us is the day we became mindless automatons. Instead of a high salary, I get paid in hugs. And power? Oh yes… a teacher has a LOT of power. I get to touch lives EVERY DAY, I make a difference EVERY DAY. In my mind, THAT'S power.

This past summer was wonderful. Our book club had two highly successful events, and I was able to play piano for around half an hour every morning. Starting the day right with Bach or Handel, then capping it off with Beethoven and Chopin in the evening.

Strangely enough, I wasn't able to read a lot of non-work related books. I tried finishing one of my several Thomas Mann books (highly recommended by a friend) but the pace of his writing is at stark contrast with my own fast-paced life. Some other summer, Mann my man.

And so here's to Year Seven! Although now I have to add yet another description to my ever-growing list of responsibilities: that of School Registrar. It allows me to tap into my secretarial and clerical skills. Who knew that encoding and typing certifications could be so much fun? And yes, I'm not being sarcastic. Sure, most people would find that work boring or tedious. And I suppose it is… IF your attitude towards it is such. As I grow older, I find that a lot of things can seem so different simply by changing one's attitude!

I enjoy the simple challenge of typing the neatest, most professional-looking document I and our printer can produce. I consider organizing files very important. If I can organize a small pile of files a day, and I do it every day, that good work adds up. And it has a ripple effect to the other kinds of work you do!

All work is precious and ennobling in the eyes of the Lord. And in these difficult times, it is no use to complain about how heavy one's workload is. I am just thankful to be employed, when so many others are jobless. I am grateful to have more than enough to eat, when so many others go hungry. I am grateful and welcome the challenge of raising funds for others, because I earn enough to keep me clothed, to buy the occasional book or pretty shirt, and to have coffee in a café from time to time.

Year 7, you're going to the most epic one yet. Here's to another year full of laughter, heart ache, triumph, defeat, and ultimately, another year of FUN. :) Oh, the non-stop action and drama of a teacher's life! There's no better job in the world.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Singing in Mass

There used to be a time when people dressed UP to go to mass... now, what with the proliferation of mall chapels in Manila, people go to hear mass in mall attire. At best, it's too casual for mass (e.g. branded wife beaters, shorts and slippers). At worst, it shows too much skin for mass (there's a joke about a priest who, instead of saying "The body of Christ" as he held out the host towards a lady showing her generous decolletage, said: "Christ! What a body!").

There used to be a time when the mass was the highlight of Sunday, the main event upon which all other activities are scheduled around. Now we tend to look at the mall's movie schedules first, before selecting the most convenient mass schedule.

There used to be a time when people sang joyfully, out loud, during the mass. Now, most people are content to let the choir do all the singing. But they're missing out on one of the best parts of the mass!

I can no longer count the number of times I've gotten glances and looks from other members of the congregation, presumably on account of my singing with gusto along with the choir.

They say St. Augustine once said, "To sing is to pray twice." As for me, I sing because I can't help it. I sing because it is a way of aligning my mutated, misshapen soul back towards God. I sing because it is a way to get my soul "in tune" with His Will, with the communion of saints both on heaven and on earth.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

On Coincidence

I’ve never been on a silent retreat. I’ve always wanted to, but never got the chance. And so it was really wonderful that I got chicken pox this past Christmas break, because it afforded me a great deal of free time, something I’d been longing for immensely. (Note: Don’t get me wrong… I’m not anti-social or anything like that. I just happen to be an introvert, and what it means is, I need to be alone once in a while to recharge. Being with children and students all day is an enjoyable part of my job, but introverts tend to find it draining at times. Hence the need for “alone” time.)

And of course, it was similar to a silent retreat because I was in quarantine and couldn’t talk to anyone as I was “imprisoned” in my room. So basically, I got sick and tired of myself, haha!

I say getting chicken pox was great, because for me, it is evidence that He grants us the innermost desires of our heart. I was yearning for alone time, and I got it! And it was sooo nice to wake up to the singing of the birds outside my window, with the sun gently shining on my face… instead of at 5 a.m., when it’s still dark outside, with the incessant beeping of my phone alarm. It was soooo nice to eat my meals in peace and quiet, with a good book in hand, and take as long as I wanted instead of wolfing down my food to get to my next class on time. I was even able to make a considerable dent in my To-Be-Read book pile! And realized that, even if I didn’t buy books for the next ten years, I still would have plenty of books to read.

Of course, the down side was getting quarantined in my tiny isolation room, and missing out on the season’s get-togethers and naturally, missing the highlight of the holidays (for me): Christmas eve mass!! Where you sing the most beautiful music on earth, together with the congregation. And your voice becomes one with theirs, and it blends and lifts up to Heaven… one big communal, musical offering.

So today being the Feast Day of the Epiphany a.k.a. the last day of the Christmas season, I went to mass and was hardly expecting any Christmas songs to be sung (seeing that none were sung during the New Year’s eve mass).

Lo and behold! Not only did the choir sing Christmas songs all throughout the mass (even during the homily!), they even sang my top three favorites! Lo How A Rose E’er Blooming, What Child Is This and O Holy Night. Lo How A Rose is not a very popular song in the Philippines, so it was really a huge surprise and an unexpected pleasure to sing along to it!

Some might call it coincidence… but I think it’s a sign of Our Father’s love, how He grants even the ‘trivial’ things that bring us so much joy.

And so, the holiday season comes to an end, the carols will no longer be heard, the Starbucks Toffeenut latte will be discontinued… but in the words of a certain poet, NOW is the time that the real work of Christmas begins: with the start of a new year, a challenge to be the answer to somebody’s prayer… everyday. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 in Books

My Life in Books (2013)

Titles in bold are HIGHLY recommended, while italicized titles were ones I found rather disappointing and hardly worth the effort/time/money.

1.      Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
2.      Love and Other Dangerous Chemicals by Anthony Capella
3.     The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry
4.       Immanuel’s Veins by Ted Dekker
5.     Ireland by Frank Delaney
6.      The Journal by Henry David Thoreau
7.      The Third Gate by Lincoln Child
8.     Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
9.      The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
10.  The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay
11.  The Voice That Challenged A Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Russell Freedman
12.  Breaking Faith: Can the Catholic Church Save Itself? by John Cornwell
13.  The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
14.Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
15.  Suffer the Little Children by Frances Reilly
16.The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper
17.  Paris: The Collected Traveler by Barrie Kerper
18.  Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford
19.  I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella
20.  The Art of Practicing: A Guide to Making Music from the Heart by Madeline Bruser
21.  Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris by Sarah Turnbull
22.  Letters of a Portuguese Nun: Uncovering the Mystery Behind a 17th Century Forbidden Love by Myriam Cyr
23.The Thread That Runs So True by Jesse Stuart
24.  Teaching Stories: An Anthology on the Power of Learning and Literature by Robert Coles
25.  A Good Man Is Hard To Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor
26.  Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon
27.If I Live to Be 100: Lessons from the Centenarians by Neenah Ellis
28.  The Faith Club by Ranya Idliby
29. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
30. Empress by Karen Miller
31. The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris
32.  The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions by Karen Armstrong
33.   The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
34.  Manila Noir by Jessica Hagedorn
35.  Longfellow: A Rediscovered Life by Charles C. Calhoun
36.  Two Graves by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
37.  The Story of A Soul by Saint Therese of Liseux
38.   The Ingredients of Love by Nicolas Barreau
39.  Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore
40. The Various Flavors of Coffee by Anthony Capella
41. The Mauritius Command by Patrick O’Brian
42.  The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism by Karen Armstrong
43.   Twitterature: The World’s Greatest Books Retold Through Twitter by Alexander Aciman
44. The Modern Inquisition: Seven Prominent Catholics and Their Struggle With The Vatican by Paul Collins
45. The Most Beautiful Book In The World: Eight Novellas by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt
46. Venice Is A Fish: A Sensual Guide by Tiziano Scarpa
47. Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine (An Autobiography) by Huston Smith
48. Augustus by John Edward Williams
49. Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage by Edith B. Gelles
50. Panic in Level 4 by Robert Preston
51. The Traitor’s Wife by Kathleen Kent
52. Bella Tuscany by Frances Mayes
53. Sister Genevieve: A Courageous Woman's Triumph in Northern Ireland by John Rae
54. The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay
55. Directing for Theater: A Personal Approach by Edgardo Bengson de la Cruz
56. The Small Rain by Madeleine L'Engle

57. Sake and Satori: Japan (Asian) Journals by Joseph Campbell

Previous Years:

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