All the years of my life, this day has been first, my parents’ birthday and second, St. Patrick’s Day.

My parents were born on this day in 1931, Mama in the mountains of the Philippines, where her father was a mining engineer, Daddy on the old home place in Daisy, Georgia, where his father was a country doctor. They met in the Philippines when they were 23, he an Air Force lieutenant freshly stationed overseas, she an accomplished pianist just back from college in Minnesota.

At the start of their story, their birthday was the only thing they had in common – a single thread that would lead them on their great life adventure together.

When Daddy was a boy, he loved listening to the Irish music on St. Patrick’s Day, broadcast by the Savannah radio station. He named me after his two favorite songs, “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen” and “Kathleen Mavourneen.” He’d play those songs on the harmonica. The song he loved to sing the most, though, was “Danny Boy”.

We are going to listen to Irish music tonight. It’s 9 p.m. on St. Patrick’s Day. I’m in front of the Kinsale Inn, in Mattapoisett, Mass. I’m here with my husband, Bud, and four of our six children. All of our daughters are with us tonight: Mercy, Ana-Maria, Seraphina, and Rosie. Our sons are at home playing video games.
I miss my parents. I spoke to my mother in California early today. My father died in 1993, today is their 77th birthday.

Walking up from the harbor one can hear the merriment. It’s St. Patrick’s Day among the Irish, those who claim them, and those who love them.

The Kinsale Inn is the oldest seaside inn the United States. It is now owned by transplanted Irish folks who have made a success of it with their distinct blend of fun, coziness, and lively music. Tonight, they are having an Irish seisiun, or session.

The musicians encourage people to come up and sing or play an instrument. It’s part pub, part inn, and part Irish tea room. Waiters with bow ties hustle about the room shuttling drinks and sandwiches from the grand oak bar to the many tables.

Just inside the inn door, there is a fat baby dressed like a leprechaun in the arms of his father. The room is crowded. I can’t figure out the fashion, it looks like L.L. Bean, but there’s something more. It’s coastal Yankee with a flourish. People have dressed up to go out tonight. I tuck myself into a corner near the stage. My daughters are shown to a table by a waiter who smiles at my husband’s request, to get them anything they want.

A music trio is running the session. They’ve warmed up the crowd, and a jaunty repartee goes back and forth. They sing of love and loss and yes, drinking. A woman named Mary Beth stands on the stage, hands on her hips, and calls the chorus out to the crowd. Soon we are all singing back. I am in a pub on St. Paddy’s evening, singing, while holding an Irish coffee. Bud has a bottle of Smithwick’s ale.

It’s my parent’s birthday and I’m far, far away from any of my childhood homes. I am missing most the parent I can’t talk to. I’m remembering Daddy on the harmonica, Daddy singing.

Bud puts his arm around my shoulder and I lean in. He points out the girls across the room just as a smiling waiter brings a tray. I see them clapping as the dishes are put down in front of them. The waiter nods his head and I can see him talking to them.

I’m in the midst of the room singing and swaying to a song about whiskey and love. I need, really need to hear “Danny Boy” tonight. I send a wish up, and as a backup, plan to ask Bud to write a request on a paper napkin and give it to the waiter.

There is another song about love and loss, by a young woman with tousled hair. She sings so sincerely without any accompaniment. She sings about separation, reunion, holidays without him and the desert. I wonder if her mate is in Iraq.

Bud has Irish blood and that is another story for another day. He sees his old boss, Jim Sullivan, across the room. Jim is sitting with five widows. Jim has explained carefully to Bud, “They can’t sit at home on St. Patrick’s Day”. He lifts his glass of Irish Mist across the room at me with a gallant nod.

The trio starts another foot stomping round. They greet a table of folks from Fall River who come to see them every St. Patrick’s Day. They are speaking in Portuguese. Tonight, we are all Irish.

Then, in that moment between sets that is ripe with possibility, the microphone is passed to a woman with a bonnet of steel gray hair. She introduces her granddaughter, Kaileigh Kelleher. Kaileigh lifts a flute to her lips. The light is shining on her face. The flute is poised. She looks like a Christmas card angel with her fair, young skin and auburn hair. She starts.

She’s playing “Danny Boy”, and a wave of nostalgia hits me. I’m nine years old again, Daddy’s back from Vietnam, and my baby sister has just been born. There are ten of us; we live in a large tropical bungalow under massive acacia trees on Clark Air Base in the Philippines.

The mandolin picks up the melody, and brings me back to the present moment. A hush falls over the room, and people start singing softly. The voices never rise above the flute and mandolin; they remain suspended between the two instruments like a ribbon of great affection.

She pipes the last notes and the pent up emotion in the room rushes out in applause. The musicians keep the tempo up with a round of “Tell Her That You Love Her” and finish the session with a haunting rendition of “The Water is Wide.”

Bud and I walk over to the table where our daughters are finishing up apple pie, bread pudding, cheese cake and ice cream with picture-perfect pots of Irish tea.

The fireplace in the corner glows.

It’s St. Patrick’s Day at the Kinsale Inn, and all is well.

I was going through my Facebook feed and saw this essay which I knew was being written. What a delight, what a surprise! It made me cry, because it brought our old house back to life in a way only writers can conjure.


CASA BLANCA by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo

The unseasonably cool nights we had for a couple of weeks reminded me of my favorite mountain town. So I reread this piece which I wrote about a year ago for a friend who is including it in this book he’s editing, and decided to post it here. (Details can’t be revealed yet because the project is supposed to be a kind of surprise .)

For most people, “Casablanca” is the title of the classic film from the ‘40s, set in Morocco, directed by Michael Curtiz, and starring Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart and Paul Henreid. For me, however, it is the name of a hotel, which was where our family lived whenever our father took us to Baguio City.This was in the ‘50s. And, as everyone knows, that Baguio is gone forever. However it isn’t totally gone. It lives on in memories of people like myself. As does the hotel named Casablanca.

At the top of Session Road, the road forked left and entered what used to be Camp John Hay’s main gate; and forked right into Loakan Road, where Nevada Square now stands. As I remember it, the Casablanca stood right there on the corner – a white house, two stories tall.

It was some distance from the road, so there was plenty of space for cars to park in, and for kids to play in. There were trees that provided shade, and flowers spilling from little terraces or flower beds, which were protected by low walls constructed from the multi-colored stones that Baguio was famous for.

My father liked going to Baguio in November, which may be why I have no memory of other guests staying in the hotel. (But I could be wrong about this.) We were always given the same room on the second floor: a family room, with five beds, separated by a curtain from a smaller room with a single bed. The curtain was in the same plaid as the curtains on the window, and, I think, the bedcovers. Beyond the small room was a kitchenette and a toilet and bath. Papa, Mama, and the three of us slept in the family room, and Boy’s yaya slept in the small room.

Some parts of the hotel were off limits to guests, because they were occupied by the family which owned the place – the Joaquin family – like the living room, which had a carpet, and a big fireplace with a large painting above it. I had never been in a house which had a fireplace and a carpet, and was quite in awe of this room.

I remember Mr. Joaquin as a distinguished-looking, courteous gentleman; and Mrs. Joaquin as a beautiful, elegant lady with a sweet smile and an unfailingly gracious manner. There were five children, whose names I still know today. The three older ones – Pat and Terry and Bud – were good-looking and glamorous. They seemed to have a lot of friends, who dashed up and down the stairs, laughed a lot, and held dancing parties in the basement that lasted long into the night. The youngest girl, Mary Ann, was still in school, and wore a bulky white sweater over her school uniform. And the younger boy, Sonny, used to romp about with the large family dog.

But Casablanca was just one part of the magic that was Baguio in that lost time.

I was only eight years old when I was first taken to Baguio. We went up by car, and and my kid sister, Ting, and I felt that we would never get there. The flat rice fields, which in my Geography book were called the “Central Plain,” seemed endless. My brother, Boy, who must have been only two, simply went to sleep on his yaya’s lap. But I couldn’t follow suit, because the car kept having to stop for Ting to throw up by the roadside.

The “Zig Zag Road” was an altogether different experience. Not only was it traversing terrain that was most definitely not flat, but it also appeared to be climbing a mountain – possibly several mountains – and doing so with great difficulty and at enormous risk.

Our mother was torn between gasps of admiration and exclamations of alarm. The road twisted past old trees, squeezed between enormous boulders, perched above rivers and ravines. Here and there we came upon a small waterfall tumbling down from the mountain slope into the roadside. And sometimes the road became so narrow, and bent so sharply that it was not possible for our father to see whether there was any vehicle coming toward us. Then we had to stop until the vehicle did pass us, and we were waved on by a man standing on the road, communicating with someone else through what was then called a walkie-talkie.

But all around us were wonders that we children were beholding for the first time: astonishing rock formations, trees perched at the very edge of a cliff, their branches dripping with tangled vines, enormous flowers, rainbow-winged butterflies, cascades and precipices. And, strangely, I have no memory of having to stop to allow Ting to be car sick during this part of the journey.

Baguio itself was a wonderland – a marvelous mountain town, draped in mist, smelling of pine trees, and tasting of fresh strawberries and whipped cream. We went pony-riding under the trees and biking around a lake ringed with weeping willows. We wore thick jackets and took long walks in the woods. And every night, before I fell asleep, I prayed that when I woke up, my father would announce that he was closing down our house in Quezon City and moving us all to Baguio.

When Ting and I were in our teens, our family stopped staying at the Casablanca, because a close friend of Papa’s had built a summer cottage for himself along Naguilian Road, which he made available to us whenever we wanted to use it. So our yearly holidays in Baguio remained a family tradition, but Casablanca did not.

My husband and I were to continue this tradition with own children. Even in the middle and late 70s, when we were already living overseas, we would take our little girls up to Baguio each time we were on home leave. But by then, the Casablanca seemed to have ceased to operate as a hotel. So we either went up as guests of friends, whose fathers were judges of the Court of Appeals or justices of the Supreme Court, so that they had access to the summer cottages in the Courts’s compounds; or we stayed at the old Pines Hotel or at the Hyatt Terraces. The Pines was gutted by a fire in 1984, and the equally ill-fated Hyatt Terraces, completely collapsed during the earthquake of 1990. But we simply found other hotels – like the Safari Lodge and the Concorde and the cottages in Camp John Hay – and faithfully made the annual pilgrimage to our favorite mountain town.

By then, Casablanca had retreated to the back of my mind. But many long years later, I would discover that it had never really faded away.

In 1997, the UP Center for Creative Writing, of which I was a part, decided to hold its National Writers’ Workshop at a hotel called Salome, a curious, two-story white house with a sloping green roof. Its tree house, its sun-splashed terrace with the small, white, wrought- iron tables, under gaily striped umbrellas, and the birds singing in its pine trees, made it quite an enchanting little place. Beside it were three or four other old houses which had been converted into inns. And one afternoon, while I sat at one of those little tables, sipping my cup of lemon tea, something clicked in my mind, and I realized that our hotel was on Loakan Road.

A brisk walk brought me to the street corner. And there was the familiar fork, and there was the old gate to John Hay (though it had obviously been closed down). The Casablanca, however, was nowhere to be found. I retraced my steps, and stopped before each of the houses between the street corner and the Salome. None of them even vaguely resembled the white house I remembered. For a brief moment I thought I recognized it in a particularly decrepit structure, the one closest to the corner. But, no, that shabby, unkempt thing couldn’t have been my beautiful Casablanca. What had happened to it? Had I perhaps dreamt it up?

Nearly two decades later, I was invited by my old friend to contribute something to a book that would honor another dear, old friend – and one of Baguio’s favorite sons –who was about to retire, after a lifetime of dedication to the study of Cordillera culture. It was instantly clear to me that I would write about his city… and mine. I would write about Baguio, and about something which will always be a part of Baguio for me.

So I went sleuthing once again for my vanished Casablanca. But this time I would do my searching on the Net.

The first few tries brought up nothing but duds: hotels in Morocco named “Casablanca”, or hotels in Baguio city named anything by “Casablanca.” So much for Google’s finding the answers to everything, I thought.

But I gave it another try. And suddenly I stumbled on this blog by someone called Kathleen Burkhalter. She was writing of her old homes in the Philippines which were called “Casa Blanca” (she spelled it as two words) in Baguio and “Cresta Ola” in La Union. The blogger’s name seemed familiar. A quick search revealed her to be my Facebook friend.

I dashed off a Private Message, explaining who I was, and why I was interested in her Filipino homes. Within a few hours, I received her reply. She confirmed that her family had lived “next door to the Nevadas at #4 Loakan Road,” and she gave me a thumbnail sketch of the Casa Blanca’s story.

In the 1930s, when it was built by the patriarch (her grandfather), Engineer Francisco Joaquin, it was both a hotel and the family residence. It suffered some damage during World War II, and Kathleen’s grandmother, Mercedes Joaquin, “got the Americans to repair it because they wanted to rent it postwar.” However, it was someone called Annette Krasnianska who became its tenant, and she ran it as an “incredibly successful” place called “Annette’s Guest House.” The lady kept a guest book, which she later printed, and which is now in Kathleen’s hands. During that time, Kathleen’s grandparents had gone to Marinduque “to regroup,” which, I gathered, meant waiting for the Baguio mines to be reopened.

In 1961, when Kathleen was herself first introduced to the white house, she was only four years old. The Casa Blanca, wrote Kathleen, “worked hard as a hotel in the 50s” (which was when our family used to stay in it). “Its inner architecture,” she added, “made it able to morph from large home to hotel to summer rentals and back to house.”

She was immediately “enchanted.” She lived there from 1968 to 1975. Her grandparents died in 1966 and 1969. And in 1975, the house was “taken over” by the Social Security System (SSS), which “put an ugly gray façade over the front, made of wood and painted it.”

Kathleen does not know what happened between the 1975 and 1990. But she does know that during the Big Earthquake of 1990, the house “came down” or “was terribly damaged.” And when Kathleen’s mother, Pat made the trip to Baguio in 1993, “only the front steps and the chimney remained.”

So that’s why I couldn’t find it. It actually no longer existed.

My online conversation with Kathleen lead me to other entries in her blog, “Cresta Ola,” and to her photo albums. I learned a little about her grandparents. Francisco Joaquin was from Bacolor, Pampanga, and became a mining engineer after graduating from the Colorado School of Mines. There is a picture of him as a strapping young man, standing tall on some rocks, looking like he owns the world. Mercedes Verdote de Jesus was from Gasan, Marinduqe, and there is a lovely picture of her in a balintawak, when she was named Miss Marinduque in the Manila Carnival of 1927. The young couple were married at the Manila Cathedral in 1929 – and in what must have been an unprecedented move for their respective families – moved to Baguio, where he went to work at the gold mine in Itogon.

The Loakan residents that Kathleen remembers (owners of those houses turned inns that I saw in 1997, which they must have built at around the same time as the Joaquins built the Casa Blanca) were the Domondons, the Nevadas, the Pavias, and the Montinolas. (Lourdes Reyes Montinola recognized her family’s old summer residence when she and her daughter-in-law Ging Gonzalez Montinola, dropped in on the UP Workshop, which was being held at the Hotel Salome.)

The two older girls – Pat and Terry – went to school in Holy Ghost Hill, where they were boarders during the week. On Fridays, their father would pick them up to spend the weekend with their parents in the Antamok Gold Field.

When Baguio was first bombed, the Joaquin family was in Antamok. They had to abandon the mine for Daluirip. They were given refuge by a priest who ran a mission in Itogon, Father Alfonso de Cloedt. Pat was ten and Terry was eight at the time. The Joaquins had to cross the Agno River on a hanging bridge. Igorot men carried Mrs. Joaquin and the children across; the rest of the way was a narrow mountain pass, which they climbed in single file, in pouring rain, praying aloud the whole while. (This part was narrated to Kathleen by her Aunt Terry.) After the war, Kathleen’s grandfather was to be knighted by the Pope for secretly building air raid shelters that would protect Baguio residents from the bombings.

There are several pictures of the family through the years, formally posed in the Casa Blanca’s living room, which I had found so mysterious and impressive; of the Baguio Cathedral before the war, one of its stained glass windows donated by the Joaquins; of the Cathedral’s spires in the distance towering over the ruined city after the war; and of the same Cathedral taken from the space where the old Pines Hotel used to stand, now the city’s highest point: the top floor of the SM Mall.

Kathleen was baptized, and confirmed in this Cathedral. Kathleen’s parents were married in 1955, the Baguio Cathedral, on the same day that her grandparents celebrated their 25th anniversary. Patricia Joaquin wore an exquisite Ramon Valera terno, and John Burkhalter was in a tuxedo. The photograph was taken in Casa Blanca.

Among Kathleen’s photo albums is one titled “Time Is a Wheel that Goes Around and Around.” In it is the one full frontal picture of the Casa Blanca that I have ever come across. The proud owner is sitting on its front steps.

Comments from her FB friends fill in the gaps. Martha Carmel Chanco wrote: “I remember this house so well as we passed it a gazillion times on the way to John Hay, and later PMA, as we visited my brother and went to hops.” (June 20, 2009)

Edgardo Nevada: “The basement of this house became the first discotheque in Baguio, appropriately called ‘D’Basement,’ run by Red, White and Blue, namely Rudy ‘Red’ Nuñez, Tony ‘Blue’ Verzosa and Sonny ‘White’ San Pedro.” (July 11, 2009)

Martha Carmel Chanco: “I remember D’Basement. That was the hottest spot in the early ‘70s and late ‘60s, I think. Kathleen, didn’t you tell me your folks had to add additional boarding to your bedroom floor to protect you from stray bullets in case there was a brawl down there?” (On July 11, 2009)

Kathleen Burkhalter “Yep… those were the days. Finally Mama didn’t renew their lease. Our new tenant was Sister Vincent and the Easter Weavers! From loud music to the music of the looms.” (August 30, 2009)

Patricia Joaquin Burkhalter: “That was my happy home with so many happy memories and my children will always remember.” (September 16, 2009)

Mahrz Leyco: “Nowhere Disco was the forerunner of D’Basement, right Sonny J?” (September 18, 2009)

On September 30, 2009, Kevin Engle picked up the conversation: “Drove by it many, many times, on our way to the Halfway House or the 19th Tee or the library on a Sunday afternoon to read periodicals or to play miniature golf.”

More than a year later (Nov. 2, 2010), Monch S. David wrote: “Tita Pat … so this was Casa Blanca … Ang ganda! I should have tagged along with my mom… Sayang … Lovely house!

Another year later, the comments were still coming in. From Dolly Aquino (July 4, 2011): “My sister, Bebe, and her husband Ernie Bueno had their wedding reception at Casa Blanca in 1952. Later on, my brother, Benjie, managed the pub there, which he named “Nowehere,” a hangout of my brother’s band, the Footnotes. Those were the days when Baguio boys and girls enjoyed clean, wholesome fun, and the evenings never ended in brawls and fistfights.”

And so it goes, the faded photograph of the stately Casa Blanca allowing the intersection of recollections from these old Baguio residents and their progeny.

I also found photographs of Kathleen as a schoolgirl in St. Theresa’s College in Baguio, and as a co-ed in UP Baguio and UP Diliman (where she was part of the UP Concert Chorus). And a couple of pictures of Kathleen’s grandfather (Lolo Paquito), still handsome, though much leaner, after his wife’s death. He had taken up painting and going on solitary walks, and had died himself just three years after she did. And there is a picture of Kathleen sitting by a window facing mountain slopes and pine trees, in Forest House Café and Bistro, beside Hotel Veneracion (which used to be the Salome Hotel) on Loakan Street, when she returned to the Philippines to celebrate Baguio’s centennial. It is captioned “Dreams do come true.”

Finally, I found an entry, titled “A Child’s Memory” and dated August 31, 2009, which begins thus:

“Today is the beginning of Baguio’s centennial celebration. One hundred years is a short time in history but a long time in a family. The picture taken here was from 1955, a few days before my parents were married. My Baguio story began a mere five years after this picture was taken.”

The little essay goes on to describe what life was like in the Baguio of the ‘60s and the ‘70s, from the time Kathleen was first gathered into the arms of her extended family as a 4-year-old, to the time she left it in 1975. She writes of the large stone fireplace, the scent of pine wood, the two fox terriers called “Saddle” and “Queenie;” of dinner around a long narra table, in a room whose windows overlooked the blue mountains; of a sunset that was the color of jewels; of the many dishes and platters that were carried around the table by uniformed maids; of sleeping in a room with “ivy wall paper… a carved dresser with a round mirror,” a room which had been her mother’s, when she was small, and would become hers when she returned to Baguio to live. She writes of the games she used to play, the places she used to haunt, the singing and guitar strumming and sungka marathons when her younger uncle and aunt were home from their colleges in Manila. And finally, Kathleen offers a portrait of the family.

To my surprise, I instantly recognized it, probably because I had seen it somewhere in that white house, those long-ago Novembers. The family is posed rather stiffly in the Casa Blanca living room, the parents in formal terno and tuxedo, the girls in shimmering evening dresses, the boys in sober grey suits. But the smiles seem warm and spontaneous. The picture was taken five days before Kathleen’s parents’ wedding. It was a happy time.

I’m not from Baguio myself, but through the years, I’ve come to feel a stake in it. Even now that Tony is dead, and two of our daughters have left the country to follow their own paths, I continue to make the trip to Baguio each summer. My trips are mostly work-related. When I was still VP for the UP System under President Emerlinda Roman, we would go up at least twice each year, for a meeting of the Board of Regents and for Commencement. The UP Institute of Creative Writing continues to hold its annual National Writers’ Workshops there. And now, the UST Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies, which I head, also holds its annual National Writers’ Workshops in Baguio.

But I know that even when I am truly retired, and no longer have professional reasons for visiting Baguio, I shall be unable to keep away.

I have friends there. And I don’t mean just Delfin Tolentino and Ben Tapang, Kidlat Tahimik (who is Tony’s fraternity brother), Bencab, Babeth Lolarga and Rolly Fernandez (another fraternity brother of Tony’s), Precy and Butch Macansantos, Frank Cimatu, Laida Lim, Baboo Mondoñedo, Padma Perez, Chit Balmaceda, Popoy Saboy…

I refer also to the ghosts of Madame Chiang of the Old Pagoda antique shop; and of the shoe shine boys of Burnham Park; of the little old ladies who sold delicate, filigreed, silver jewelry and teaspoons and little rocking chairs and harps and bahay kubo, in the silver shop run by the nuns of St. Louis University; and of the band that was first called Different Strokes, and later morphed into On Call, which my fellow-UP-writers and I followed from the old Pilgrim’s Cafe, on top of the Azotea Building on Session Road, to the corner of Leonard Drive and Brent Road, to Forest House Cafe, and finally to the Manor…”

And to the ghosts of Sunshine Grocery, where my father would buy bread after having breakfast at Star Cafe; and of Bombay Bazaar, where Mama once had to get socks for us because ours had inexplicably been left at home in Manila; and of the First Cinema; and of Star Café; and of the Nevada Hotel, another casualty of the earthquake of 1990…

Those friendly ghosts will continue to haunt to me. They will continue to call to me. I will pretend not to hear them. I will suddenly turn to the friend seated beside me, or across the table from me, and complain about the pollution and the traffic in Baguio. But eventually, I will capitulate.

And each time I find myself in Baguio again, I will think of the lovely, lost Casa Blanca. I will ask myself if something could have prevented its complete demolition by an earthquake. Maybe not. On the other hand, maybe if it had been well cared for by those who had taken possession of it, in that decade before the earthquake happened, it might have been strong enough to withstand even those violent tremors.

And then I will wonder, again, why Baguio’s City’s government cannot buy houses like the Casa Blanca — houses which are a part of the city’s history — or set up a foundation for heritage preservation, which will give them the protection they deserve, as the treasures that they are.

So that we might once again walk through their tall rooms, and pass our fingers over the frames of their old paintings; or over the edges of their softly tarnished mirrors; and stand before their windows, to gaze at the sunrise, at the circle of light ascending, turning the sky silvery gold, then powdery blue, while beneath it, the well loved city begins to take shape again … as did Paquito and Mercy, and Pat and Terry and Bud, and Mary Ann and Sonny, once upon a time, in Baguio.

(My thanks to Kathleen Burkhalter, who very kindly gave me permission to quote from her blogs and borrow the picture of her old home.)

'Oh Casa Blanca. In my dreams I walk through your rooms. Baguio City. 4 Loakan Rd. Across from the Main Gate of Camp John Hay. Now, only a chimney remains.'

It’s one in the morning and I should be asleep, but I’m not because I’m here talking to you! I just came from visiting my own blog archives (more than 1,000 posts between the published and the drafts). You might be wondering where I have been. Well, I have been healing. Healing takes a lot of time, and the thing we don’t get told it that in the great healing traditions such as Chi Gong, and different kinds of energy healing, Tong Ren, and just recuperating from surgery – the person needs to relax.

So, how does someone who grew up with maids and a cook, who  lives in a full house of family and pets, someone who runs a large household (without paid helpers), someone who loves to cook and read and write- how does someone like me relax?

I digress, I can hear many ancestors say, “Well, Kathleen, you have those children who can help out….” Yes, I do. They are pretty much grown ups and have been doing their life maintenance tasks since they were three. Laundry was the first task, followed by safe cooking and pet care.

In my house, neatness is not a priority – sanitation is. In my house I never made the kids feel bad about chores because my very hard-working husband had a newspaper delivery route- the morning paper in his little seacoast Massachusetts town. Like a little urchin he would ride his bike on winter mornings to deliver the newspaper. If he was very lucky, his grandfather drove him in a heated car. I’m not from here, but between his Yankee childhood (I actually met an old man he cleared land for as a teenager), and my Dickensian immersion in housework when I was 9 to 11 years old made me vow to never make use of my big family as worker bees.

So what is all this about? I’m trying to say I have a lot to do, my husband has a lot to do, my grown kids have a lot to do. We are busy here! Some of us are busy watching movies, but that is still something! I have some archeological digs going in the basement. Believe me, if you want to have an amazing house arrest, arrange to get locked up in my house. You’ll both enjoy is and wonder about us.

So…..back to healing and relaxing. The kind of relaxing that makes you heal is really, really slowing down. Frankly, I find it hard. I have taken up meditation, listening to meditation recordings online, sleeping late (easy when I am up late like this), and having a siesta.

I make it a point to keep things nice and calm, to listen to beautiful music and look at beautiful things, whether on TV, online, or out my window. I pray a lot, I fall asleep a lot when I pray. I imagine that I am leaning my head on Jesus’ knee and He understands me.

This long winter freeze was hard, I will admit it now that it is over. I had to use all my mindfulness skills to stay in the present moment and take each day as it came.

Stress is the opposite of relaxation, so I make it a point not to stress. In the long run do these stressful things matter? Not at all. What matters are the antics of the pets, the stories every day that I hear, the connections with all the people I love.

Today I saw a list of ten or fifteen amazing Philippine resorts. I thought of my childhood at Cresta Ola, and relished once again the memory of arriving, of racing to the sea wall to look and breathe in the ocean. I remembered running up to the kitchen to greet our beloved cook, Julie, who worked for us when I was a very little girl.

Cresta Ola had a photo in the New York Times during its heyday. During the two years we were gone, the King of Thailand came for lunch. It was a happy place for kids with its pool and large grounds. I often thing of the mini golf course with its small castle. One of my favorite things is being in contact with a lot of the former kids who vacationed at Cresta Ola regularly.

This is a digression to point out, that luxury resorts, while they are very nice, will never exceed the magic of my childhood days by the sea in my grandparent’s resort. The memories of that time feed me still. When I have a scary medical procedure, I walk down the steps at the sea wall and stroll along the beach with the waves lapping at my ankles.

Here I am, at 786 words. I’ve just sort of emptied my brain here. It feels good to just write and not worry. Everyone wants to know how I am doing. I am doing splendidly. I wake up as though every day is a sunny day. I am grateful for so many things. I live a happy life surrounded by the people I love best. I’m in touch with friends and family around the world every day.

I’m eating well (vegan) although I cook great carnivorous dishes, and sleeping so well. I’m enjoying my thick wavy hair. (You may not have known that I lost 60% of it during chemo). I take this hair vitamin called Viviscal and it has given me thick hair and hard fingernails. (Google it).

Before I leave for Slumberland, I want to share a post I had totally forgotten about. Here it is:


This was written a few years ago before I was done with my journalism masters and my first book. I started a novel which has been lying in wait. Then I reread this, and the story came to life in my head and I saw the way to weave the current story I am working on (about a child who was kidnapped-adopted). It is remarkable to see all the stories suddenly pop out. So exhilarating!

One more thing, if you have lasted this long. Facebook posts are short and hundreds of them go by every day. I’m inviting you to follow my blog. Think of this, I have over 1,000 Facebook friends and I know 95% of them. On WordPress, I have 1,000 posts and 13 followers. Clearly I’m a writer who needs more readers. Won’t you follow me? You won’t be bored!

And last of all, as I go to sleep, I’m sending out a wish and a prayer that all your wishes come true and that all your prayers are answered. Pray for me. God Bless us all.

Good night.

My dear friend and classmate Anna Marie sent me a scanned page of a book about Baguio that had a profile of my grandmother. Anna Marie lives in California, I live in Massachusetts, we’ve been apart since 1978 – but we know that does not matter, right? With the age of instant communication and the magic of scanning and the internet, something so precious lights up my day.

For years I have wondered about the minutiae of my grandmother’s life. Where did she live in Manila? What school did she go to? When I piece it together I understand why so much was lost. The war took up a lot of my mother’s childhood, then it was time for her to prepare to study abroad. After college, she got married and moved away. Mama had her own busy life – there were eight of us children. Then, in 1966, my grandmother died.

This entry may well be the only general biography of my grandmother in existence.baguiobookcover


Mercedes J. Joaquin, one of the most active and widely known society matrons of Baguio was born in Gasan, Marinduque on September 24, 1911 to Mariano de Jesus and Gavina Verdotte. Following the custom of the country where girls used to be send to the prominent Catholic boarding schools in Manila mainly for social and cultural purposes, she was educated at St. Theresa’s College, Assumption Convent, Centro Escolar de Senoritas, Colegio de Sta. Rosa, and Philippine Women’s College. Shortly after she represented her province as Miss Marinduque in the 1927 Carnival Beauty Contest, she met and became engaged to Francisco G. Joaquin, a prominent mining engineer and the two were married in Manila on January 19, 1930. However, Mrs. Joaquin’s native ability rose to the surface in spite of her piano and voice education, her culinary abilities and her time-filling duties as wife to a prominent clubman and mother to five children.

She plays a dynamic role in business trends in Baguio. As the only lady sales office manager of the Cebu Portland Cement Co., for seven years and at present the authorized agent representative of the same concern, she has shared actively in the rehabilitaiton of the city and Mountain Province in the equitable distribution of this important commodity. It was mainly due to her able and zealous management that the cement black market has never flourished in Baguio. But her best share in boosting tourism in Baguio is Casa Blanca, a hotel widely known and patronized by residents and summer vacationists for its quality service, efficiency and swanky restaurant, El Patio. Familiarly known as Mercy to her intimates and friends, she takes active part in several women’s organizations. She is moreover a member of the Baguio Chamber of Commerce, a distinction enjoyed by very few women.

She is the mother of two married daughters who graduated from a well known college in the United States and who are happily married to American professionals and are residing in the States, two young sons and a teenage daughter. A devout Catholic, Mrs. Joaquin begins every morning with holy mass and figures prominently in religious and charitable activities.

This year, I’ve had the chance to look back on my life. Barring a few bumps along the road suffered before I became wise, my life has been very blessed. I have a wonderful marriage, six great children who are making their way in the world. I live in a warm old house, and have the leisure to read, write and do whatever I want.

My cancer adventure has been blessed with reunions, cards, well wishes, heartfelt prayers and healing. While I am not done with treatment yet, I feel confident that I can handle what comes at me thanks to my faith and NeuroPositive training, which I put to use every day.

I’ve given up fear and replaced it with a common sense faith that has its roots deep in my childhood. While my childhood was not perfect, I’ve always known that my parents loved me, and that they would do anything to help me if they could. We were lucky to have not had a materialistic childhood. There were books, siblings, cousins, and food. There was an old rambling bungalow on an Air Force base, my grandparents’ house in the mountains, and a beach resort called Cresta Ola.

Early after my diagnosis, when I was scared, I prayed for healing. I asked Jesus, who is the same today as 2,000 years ago, to reach out and heal me. I reckoned that since He loved me more than my parents did, and that He never said no to the sick multitudes in Galilee, that my prayer was in His care.

A few months later, after chemo, I prayed for a healer, because doctors today are more specialists than healers. Hypothetically, a primary care physician is supposed to be the conductor of the wellness symphony, keeping as eye on my many situations (diabetes, hypertension, lupus anticoagulant positive, thyroid and now cancer). In real life, they don’t communicate with me, nor do they offer any guidance regarding the interactions between diseases.

I have had significant graces during this season of illness. One is Dr. Kelly Turner’s book, ” Radical Remission”. The other is Tong Ren.

From the beginning of this adventure I’ve had a deep intuition that I had become out of balance. I felt, while walking in the lush springtime of New England, that whatever made the plants grow and flowers bloom was what I needed to be healed.

As it turned out, my diagnosis also included a severe Vitamin D deficiency. A healthy level is between 50-70, mine was 6.

I was not surprised because I’ve hidden from the sun these seventeen years since leaving San Diego. During the summers I’ve stayed out of the sun during the peak hours, otherwise under hats and sun screen. During the cold months I go out rarely.

I turned myself into a pale Dickensian book worm. Look if you wish for correlations between Vitamin D deficiency cancer, thyroid, diabetes and many other modern plagues.

We need sunshine. Artificial sunshine (tanning beds) in short doses works better than supplementation. (Of course read beyond the skin cancer caveats). For me, a child of the tropics, staying out of the sun was probably the worst thing I did for my health. But that is in the rear view mirror too.

Dear readers, forgive this ramble. I’ve gone on and on.

What I really want to say is that health is wealth. We all start off with stunningly wonderful health. Or at least most of us do. Then through choices and lack of information, we get off track.

As long as there is life there is hope. With the next meal we can move our cells toward health. With the next walk we can move our muscles.

The next time we lie down we can quiet our minds and meditate, resting our minds.

We can feel love and send it out wherever we are, across the world, across time. We can create something that didn’t previously exist, and thus share in the contentment or being little creators.

We can say thank you, and ask for help. When we ask for help, we can write it down and date it, so we will know how long it takes for an answer to come.

And answers will come. We may be surprised how they show up, but that is that amazingly fun part of this adventure called life.

I wish you and yours a very Happy New Year. As much as you can, surround yourselves with goodness. Look for the sparkles, look for the fairy dust, look for the road as it emerges.

Good Luck!

Some incredibly valuable resources right now.

Dr. Kelly Turner & her book, Radical Remission


Tom Tam and Tong Ren



Viviscal hair vitamins. My hair is growing back better than ever!


%d bloggers like this: