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I could have grown up into a depressed cynic, who lost the happiness lotto because of life experience and baggage. But, deep down in me always lived the soul of a happy child and an almost boring stability. I was not particularly brave or articulate as a child, but a child nonetheless, like all the multitudinous hordes of children in the world today. As a former child, I remember what it felt like, and lucky for me, my personal stars aligned in such a way as to break the bonds of generations of sadness, and here I am, about to be 53. As Oprah says, “This I know for sure…” This I know for sure, the best things we are told are true, and only love lasts.

If you are randomly stumbling upon this blog you might want to know some of the back story. I grew up in the Philippines. Far from being half this and half that, I am 200%, Filipino to my cells, and American to my cells too. Some things I love like a Filipino, my family for instance. Don’t tell me that political dynasties or benevolent dictatorship is the only solution for my troubled heart-home. Something in me that endured an Atlantic voyage to a wild, untamed land balks at that. We can change our future. It’s un-American to think otherwise.

Which brings me, dear blog readers, to touch on a shadow in my childhood. My dear Daddy, God rest his soul, was afflicted with bipolar disorder before there was a term for it, before there was medicine. Certain things could trigger an episode, like Christmas.

Naturally, my siblings are split between memories of beautiful Christmases, and memories of sad Christmases. Christmas is a loaded time. I have found that the road of acceptance and open-heartedness is my path to a beautiful Christmas.

One time a medical intuitive who has a radio show told me that I have tried to recreate my own childhood positively. That is true. I wanted the big family, all the kids around the table. I married the most stable of men, but not before marrying one who killed himself.

Awareness is all. We don’t want to repeat what we don’t have to.

That’s enough about sad things. I always want to remember how happy my parents were when Daddy was stable. Nowadays, there is medicine, therapy, and many interventions that can give a bipolar person a long and happy life. The latest brain research shows that rumination, the reliving of sad events, messes up the brains’ frontal lobes. As my positive psychology class taught me, gratitude, faith, goals, and positive experiences are the upward spiral that counteracts the down-the-drain of negativity.

When I was little, just ten, we had a magical Christmas at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. Mama decorated the house with gilded red ribbon, a parol, poinsettias, a great Christmas tree, the Belen (Nativity Scene), stockings. We all had new red flannel nightgowns sewed by our live in seamstress. We went to midnight mass at the base chapel, and home to Noche Buena (the Philippine reveillion), and opened our presents.

I remember the music, the feeling of contentment and security, how we all were together. I remember how the next morning, the hot Pampanga sun baked the flowers outside and how the arch of the acacia trees shaded our house.

That year, on Christmas Day, we piled into the car with all the kids and a yaya (nanny) and went to Manila to visit Lola at Lourdes Hospital. I won’t forget that either. Lola, with her hair down, smiling sweetly from her bed. Lolo, sitting on the bed by the window. I remember Uncle Sonny coming in with Auntie Lou. Uncle Buddy and Auntie Lynne and my sweet little cousins.

Auntie Lynne’s parents lived near the hospital on Kanlaon Street. Their house was all wood paneled and dark with rooms and corners that were a place of endless fascination for me.

A few days later, my Lola Mercy died. She had been sick for about a year, and her death was unexpected. The whole world shifted when she died. It was my first encounter with death.

Two more Christmases followed that, one raucous in Albuquerque where my cousin D. came with her parents from California. She was an only child and all her presents came with her. She shared, though, as she always did- as she shares to this day.

The second Christmas was in Hawaii, and Daddy was hospitalized at Tripler Army Hospital. That Christmas Day was bright like the Pampanga Christmas, but oh so lonely. I couldn’t wait to return to the Philippines.

In that time of waiting for my uncles to raise our airfare back, one thought gave me courage. We were going to live in the old house in Baguio, Casa Blanca. In our Hawaiian kitchen there was a box of Lipton tea, with a picture of a tea cup and a hillside. It looked to me like Baguio. I would imagine sitting in the old dining room, looking out over Mt. Santo Tomas, and conjure the safety and security of that faraway place.

I recently looked on the net and saw that our old house in Kailua is a luxury home now. I hope the successive owners were happy in that house, with it’s indoor fish pond and beautiful garden. It was not meant to be for us. I remember a sunny kitchen and how even in Hawaii, the streets outside were quiet like the rest of America that I experienced. I missed the street noise and lively parade of people who colored our life in the Philippines.

The next Christmas, 1969, was spent back at Cresta Ola, my grandparents’ beach resort in La Union. It was a happy place and through these years via the Internet, I have heard from many former children who spent holidays there with their families. That Christmas was our first there since Lola died. I could tell the difference, but still it was jolly.

Lolo handed out presents to the staff, and I remember their glee at the gifts. When they went forward to claim them, it looked like a scene from a story about a good king, beloved by his people. Lolo sat in his arm chair, and the staff- waiters, maids, grounds people stepped forward with a kind of a bowing posture and gave heartfelt thanks. While watching it, I was thinking of how hard my own heart was, at 12, there were many things I wanted, but could not have. I noted how these humble people were so grateful and determined to grasp that elusive quality they had in abundance.

A few days later, Lolo died of a heart attack and the lights went out in our big family again.

The next year we found ourselves in Baguio. If you don’t know where Baguio is, let me tell you. It was a beautiful city built during the American era in the Philippines. It’s in a pine forest called a cloud forest by botanists. On some of the twisting roads you might think you were in New England, because so many of the places were painted white with green shutters. In that place, the air is pine scented. You could sleep under many blankets with open windows and breathe the beautiful air all night long. At sunset, the geographic location and the closeness to the ocean blended the air and sky for a spectacular show.

In my Baguio, there was a green-gold light as it turned from dusk to evening. The twilights were lavender, violet, purple. The sky was as colorful as the Aurora Borealis, with the tropical clouds colored orange and red. I have read that other cities in cloud forests, at similar latitude and longitude and proximity to water have the same phenomenon.

Christmas in Baguio was Filipino with a touch of Frank Capra. The old timers in Baguio, the older folks who set the city up, were largely still there. Their grandchildren were my friends. We owned the city with an affectionate hold, feeling far luckier than the Manila folks who only knew it for Holy Week, the summer break and the dash between Christmas and New Year.

In Baguio, the firewood was a local pine, sappy and resinous and aromatic as incense. This was the smell you inhaled with great breaths, if you took a walk on a cold night.

There was caroling. Finally in high school, we filled cars driven by big brothers and made our caroling calls on family and friends. All girls, singing away with hoarse voices, we wouldn’t stop and we were fed at each stop. Who could say no when we were greeted with tables laden with special treats? I am sure that today, the sound of “Give Love on Christmas Day” brings mist to the eyes of my classmates who are mostly away from Baguio now. Such is life in the diaspora.

No matter how difficult it was for me when my Daddy had an episode, there was the surrounding bounty of the city, my friends, relatives, and general nurturing culture of the Philippines. To make things better, my relatives had an attitude of making things happy for children at Christmas. Auntie Mary Anne comes to mind. There was no family time spent in talking about the upheavals. There was lots of family time spent in support of my mother, and attention to the festivities of Christmas.

So, during those difficult times, I simply turned a switch, and if things were too noisy at home, I simply escaped into my richly colored outside world. Unlike in America where people can retreat into madness and silence, the show goes on unabashed in the Philippines. The phone kept ringing with friends planning outings, the doorbell kept ringing with friends passing by, the relatives kept their Christmas visitation schedule. Life went on, in spite of the cross we carried.

Looking at this practically, given that there was no awareness of this illness, there was nothing we children or my mother could do, except surf with it and not judge it in the long run.

We all grew up and moved back to the United States, for a spell there were trips to California at Christmastime. We moved to California. Then, one year, Daddy died leaving a hole in our extended family.

Today, my older sister and cousin are the junior matriarchs in their region. They have a tribe, and the season is kept with light, color and food. There is a lot of togetherness, and distant folks are welcome to fly in. They keep the feast and have given their children an unbroken stretch of years colored by stability, bounty and family.

Our Christmases here in Massachusetts are happy ones. Always, there are the six children and their pets and their friends. There is music and food. No matter what twinges of memory there may be, I remember that I loved my Daddy dearly, and all that is best in my family culture, I owe to him.

Because of his illness, he was larger than life. He loved my children intensely, and that deep attachment shows in how they have taken pieces of him for their permanent selves. At my bravest I am my father’s daughter. At my most optimistic, I am his student of positive thinking. At my most stubborn, I am the one who will not compromise on that-which-cannot-be-bent. When he was dying, I spent so much time with him and made peace with all the past.

Two nights ago I dreamed of my sister, Lizzie who died in 2000. I miss her so much, not only because she was delightful, but because she was stalwart, faithful and true.

Last night, I was going through boxes in the basement and found stash of letters she wrote to me from Oxford. She wrote me every week, and I daresay I was the only one of our siblings she wrote that often, because at the time I was widowed and she was watching over me from afar. Her letters are funny, and full of her ganas. After she died, I sought to fill her void with my other sisters. They are so different from Lizzie that it is impossible. I love them but Lizzie and I spent years together with a shared vision.

I continue this road without her, grateful for the time we had together, and secure in the faith that she watches over us all.

In my dream, she was carrying her youngest child and looked so happy. She looked as she was in real life when she carried that baby. One of the treasures of this internet era is that I am in touch with her friends who share memories of her that are in perfect synchrony with mine. She made friends wherever she went, and was beloved by people. I daresay that if someone had a problem with Lizzie, there was something wrong with that person.

So this is how it is, at this age dear blog readers. All my Christmases are rolled into a giant ball of life. It is more jewels than coal. But for as long as I can remember, Christmas is the stretch from my birthday to December 25th. It’s an ongoing feast of memory and nostalgia, and missing and relishing. It is full of my babies, who tower over me, and their memories of Bud and me, and all our pets and this old house.

I still miss Baguio come Christmastime, but pine firewood is for sale in New Bedford, and we are really lucky we’ll have some snow during the season. God’s birthday is celebrated all over the world, and from where I type, grateful for my family and friends, that is a good thing.

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Speechless and humbled and filled with joy, I am. Stumbling upon this on this great and bountiful holiday, time stopped.

Thanks-filled

by my daughter, Ana-Maria

I.

I am thankful for this sturdy table,
worked by hand, and cloaked in handworked linen
to mask the stains and gouges left
by the feasts and frolics of many generations.
Lost legacies, stowed away in cupboards,
in antique pots on piano-tops,
deathless witnesses of time, recalling
memories of those who made us.

I am thankful for the feast that fills us,
the enduring gifts of Eden — God’s plentitude
thinly veiled by the toil of mankind;
for my father’s tirelessness,
my mother’s generosity,
for these two, who have taught me, by the fierceness of their love,
Love’s gentleness.

For my brothers and sisters, my best friends,
who have kept me, all my life,
or all of theirs,
from ever being lonely,
I am thankful.

For this home that we have built together,
this cradle of idealism, nest of dreams;
For the things it has taught us, and taught us to be:
Defenders of Truth, Men of Integrity,
Ladies Chivalrous and Bountiful,
All who know the value of kindness,
and the validity of faith;

For the Church that has held me,
sustained me from birth,
saved me from my stumbling feet and blindness;
For the hope of heaven that has given me
a wellspring of joy, a lamp and unerring compass,
I am thankful.

I am thankful for this string of peaceful days and restful nights.
I am thankful for solitude unbroken
but by the contented companionate rumble of my kitty’s purr.
I am thankful for friends who, with patient hands and steady,
have held for me a mirror to my life,
shown me my heart as I couldn’t see it alone.
My friends who have tamed me, understood my thorns.

I am thankful for undying dreams
distant worlds and lifetimes,
intimately loved,
cherished and known, though yet unseen.
For the breath that fills my lungs
the melody that fills my ears,
I am grateful to God,
who has given me voice and a song to sing.

II.

For the honest work that fills my table,
for the hearty food that fills my hunger,
for the holy love that fills my heart,
and the kindred souls who fill my hearth
I am thankful every day.

But every day is filled of little things
that fill my life with wonder —
moments, fleeting, subtle,
that register in my soul with the reverence of glory
but often I neglect to register with conscious thanks.

Today, therefore, on this feast of Thanksgiving
with these greater gifts encompassing me,
enshrined in gratefulness, but set aside:
Today, in a pool of firelight,
A pool of warm remembrances:

For whispered whiskered caresses,
For watercolor vistas on an evening wall;
For swaths of melted gold that caulk the crevices of a maple trunk;
For the intoxicating antique tendrils
that waft up from between marbled bookcovers;

For the glistening dewdrop that rests
within the delicate funnel of a lily-leaf,
enshrouded by an emerald thicket,
sparkling through the darkness, though no wandering eyes may ever behold it
in the immortal flower’s lifetime;

For the delicate choreography of the butterfly,
for the touch of a ladybug on a fingertip,
for the patchwork in a glinting spiderweb;
For the modest stars that shine behind the constellations,
silver specks behind the brilliant lanterns;

For the gentle gilt that floats around the aeries
of cloverpatches,
catching the farewell light of summer dusk;
For the prismatic feathers that gleam against the silver sky–
rainbow pockets, brilliant, subtle, cool;

For the diamond shards that melt against my windowpane with every rainfall;
For the dappled screens that dance over my eyelids
when I rest beneath the sun;
For the whisper of the rosegold shadows
that welcome me to wakefulness at dawn;

For the sound of a hummingbird’s flight,
for the harmony it creates with the woodpecker,
for the cicadas’ August lullaby;
For the plumed plumpness of little sparrows,
who trust enough in their tiny hearts to take from me my crumbs;

For the salty air that tumbles over ocean waves,
which, entangled in my hair, follows me for hours;
For the sweetness that coats my tongue,
redolent, fragrant, fruitlike,
extracted by the sun over strawberry fields;

For snowflakes that hold their shape in a bank that overwhelms a city,
tinkling out their joy when recognized amongst the multitude;
For the beautiful tenacity of the withered leaf
which, exposed and thrashed about by the bold, ungoverned wind,
clings to its branch,

And for its graceful descent, after its graceful, trusting surrender
to the immutable currents of life;
For the little things that reveal to me how little I control,
and how much I have been given, in the depth of this richness;
For the moments that reveal the depth of your care,

I thank you.

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I first read Joan Wester Anderson’s work back in the early 1990’s when I found her first angel book, “Where Angels Walk”. Her writing is clear, engaging, and her stories are riveting.

Fourteen more angel books have followed through the years, and my family’s bookshelf holds them all. The books are beloved by all of us, and the stories have been the subject of late night conversations amongst the children for years.

She wrote about a miracle that happened to my family in her book,”Where Wonders Prevail”, which was just re-released as “Angels and Wonders”. Although my grandfather wrote a book about this miracle that happened in the Philippines during World War II, Anderson was the first person to tell our story to the world.

I knew that Anderson was the mother of a large family, a devoted Catholic, a seasoned writer, a sought after speaker- but I didn’t know that she was very funny. Humor in a religious context is always a happy surprise. I always expect religious people to be rather straightlaced, although every single faith-filled person I know has an active imagination and sense of humor.

What a delight then, to receive and read through Anderson’s latest book, “Moms Go Where Angels Fear to Tread”. As the mother of many children, I belong to a sisterhood of women whose anecdotes span every possible twist and turn of possible experience. We know how to make do with less, make something out of nothing, make many people feel special, listen to several people talk at once, and be delighted. Or crazed. Mostly delighted though. At least, that is how I feel.

When I became a mother in 1985, I had no support group. Most people I knew had one or two children. In the years to come, I became the mother of six children and became friends with other mothers of large families. The best times we had were sitting around  large tables  in our homes recounting our own adventures in motherhood.

Any seasoned mother would enjoy this book, because it is candid yet lighthearted. It is authentic, because Mrs. Anderson is one of us. She knows what it takes to raise a bunch of kids. She tells us about her whole glorious era as a mom, her times of looking out the window at the great world that marches while mothers tend their chicks. She tells us about the great family vacation, and gets us misty eyed as the once tiny children now venture forth on their own.

Motherhood is the hardest and most important job in the world. It is wonderful that this New York Times best selling author, has written this book, at once a guide and a souvenir of the time of our lives. The book is published by Guideposts, the great inspirational publishing house.

You can reach Anderson at her website http://joanwanderson.com or on her Facebook fan page. Look for: Joan Wester Anderson.

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I first read Joan Wester Anderson’s work back in the early 1990’s when I found her first angel book, “Where Angels Walk”. Her writing is clear, engaging, and her stories are riveting.

Fourteen more angel books have followed through the years, and my family’s bookshelf holds them all. The books are beloved by all of us, and the stories have been the subject of late night conversations amongst the children for years.

She wrote about a miracle that happened to my family in her book,”Where Wonders Prevail”, which was just re-released as “Angels and Wonders”. Although my grandfather wrote a book about this miracle that happened in the Philippines during World War II, Anderson was the first person to tell our story to the world.

I knew that Anderson was the mother of a large family, a devoted Catholic, a seasoned writer, a sought after speaker- but I didn’t know that she was very funny. Humor in a religious context is always a happy surprise. I always expect religious people to be rather straightlaced, although every single faith-filled person I know has an active imagination and sense of humor.

What a delight then, to receive and read through Anderson’s latest book, “Moms Go Where Angels Fear to Tread”. As the mother of many children, I belong to a sisterhood of women whose anecdotes span every possible twist and turn of possible experience. We know how to make do with less, make something out of nothing, make many people feel special, listen to several people talk at once, and be delighted. Or crazed. Mostly delighted though. At least, that is how I feel.

When I became a mother in 1985, I had no support group. Most people I knew had one or two children. In the years to come, I became the mother of six children and became friends with other mothers of large families. The best times we had were sitting around  large tables  in our homes recounting our own adventures in motherhood.

Any seasoned mother would enjoy this book, because it is candid yet lighthearted. It is authentic, because Mrs. Anderson is one of us. She knows what it takes to raise a bunch of kids. She tells us about her whole glorious era as a mom, her times of looking out the window at the great world that marches while mothers tend their chicks. She tells us about the great family vacation, and gets us misty eyed as the once tiny children now venture forth on their own.

Motherhood is the hardest and most important job in the world. It is wonderful that this New York Times best selling author, has written this book, at once a guide and a souvenir of the time of our lives. The book is published by Guideposts, the great inspirational publishing house.

You can reach Anderson at her website http://joanwanderson.com or on her Facebook fan page. Look for: Joan Wester Anderson.

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n579533923_1427275_5537-1Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a faraway land, there were summers to remember. Not that I don’t remember my summers now. But now, I am the activities director. In my childhood, I was beneficiary of the grownups’ ideas.

Lucky for me, they had great ideas, like sending our cousins up from Manila for long, long visits. They also thought it necessary to pack us off to the beach for long visits where we lost track of time, but not of mealtimes.

This is what would happen. My mother didn’t believe in giving us lead time to expect our cousins, as oftentimes plans would change. We would just know that, “The Panchitos are coming!” or “Desa is coming!”.

Then, the Panchitos would arrive with their yaya, Irene, or Desa would appear with her parents who would wave goodbye after merienda.

There we would be, the grandchildren of Paquito and Mercy, or Frank and Mercy Joaquin. I gathered memories in Casa Blanca, the house they built and raised their children in. The house had somehow managed to survive World War II and the carpet bombing of Baguio. But the story goes that it was just a shell at war’s end. In a classic story about Lola, she was approached by the top brass at Camp John Hay with a request to use the house, as it was right across Loakan Road from the Main Gate of Camp John Hay. She agreed, on the condition that they repair it.

At Cresta Ola, the beach resort they built, we lived a childrens’ dream. What a thrill to wake up at Cresta and have the run of the place, and people to watch, and cousins to talk to. We could play in the miniature golf, that had a little castle and a little bridge, or run around the flagpole circle, or run down the long driveway, under the acacia trees. I could read in a narra wood reclining chair in the hotel lobby and watch the guests check out. There was a lovely crunch of gravel as their cars would leave. It  made me feel good to know that their children had fun.

We could be as noisy as we wanted if there were no guests for lunch or dinner, but had to behave when there were guests. We could go up the stairs to the penthouse, that was at one time Lolo and Lola’s special flat, or go even higher into the Crow’s Nest and behold the world.

Or we could sleep the afternoon away after a big lunch. My favorite was when we were occasionally billeted in the hotel, and we could take naps with the double lullaby of overhead fan and ocean waves.

One day, one year, I woke up early and went onto the beach. I saw a vinta, a boat in the Moro style, with colored sail up on the beach. It took my breath away. Were they fishing so far north? Why not?

In Baguio, we would eat long meals at the long table, awash with giggles, while the sunset blazed across the blue mountains outside the dining room window.

Late in the evening they would embark on Monopoly marathons and drink coffee to copy the grownups. Did we even know we were drinking Benguet coffee the stuff of future memories? In the morning there would be pan de sal, and longaniza, eggs, and pancakes, waffles and sinangag (garlic fried rice).

Then there would be walks, no romps all over Camp John Hay across the street. There would be bowling and vending machines that dispensed Snickers and Three Musketeers (not readily available off base). Eventually there would be pony rides from the eternal little stable on the bend to South Drive.

When Desa was there, we would be up all night talking and painting our nails. Then the nail polish would bubble and be perfect for peeling. Then we would start again. Desa was like a sister, being the only child of my mother’s closest sibling. Uncle Sonny and Auntie Lou and their sweet children lived in the compound and added intense cuteness.

In those days, I noticed the difference of siblings and cousins. We were all from the same source, yet individuals in our own families. I could feel the power of the clan.

One night, but according to Desa this was at New Year’s, we were all sleeping and a tremendous racket broke out upstairs. Ghosts, she said, from the war and the time of atrocities.

As we grew older, we got to know Desa’s friends, who were added to the table and the fun.

The second act of the summer was the migration to Cresta Ola. We’d settle into the large cottage, and divide ourselves according to age, to squeeze into the rooms. Oh, the fun we had! We swam all we wanted, we ate unabashedly. I would look at my cousins’ required doses of Scott’s Emulsion Cod Liver Oil, and feel lucky. Never did anything that looked so creamy and sweet taste so strange and fishy! They submitted to it every night without a squabble, for Irene was not to be disobeyed!

We watched the romances bloom between the yayas and the waiters. We watched the Brent kids and the Wagner High kids come in for a day trip and dance with abandon to the tunes of the band (we called it a combo, then). No one could belt an exhuberant “La Bamba” like Tony with his slick pompadour and pointed boots. Elvis could not have ruled a stage better than the combo on that cement half moon.

In the hot still midweek days, with guests gone and none arriving until the weekend, Auntie Mary Anne, who seemed to me to have the most interesting life, would take me to the library at St. Louis College in San Fernando, La Union. In that small room, a shelf of donated books called and I read them because there was nothing else to read at the beach, because I had read it all. I immersed myself in a genre I have not found again. In the early 1900’s there arose a genre of girl’s adventures that revolved around young romance and everyday adventure, amidst high school and college themes. I would sit in the heat of the cottage, with rivers of perspiration coursing down my face, and watch a snow fight in far off New England.

I don’t remember having television or radio. The music was live, and the storytelling was vivid. We would often go onto the beach and sit around a bonfire while kamotes (sweet potatoes) roasted. Sometimes, if Uncle Sonny were there, he would play and we would sing. Oh, the hilarity of one of his favorites, “I Don’t Know Why Nobody Don’t Like Me.” He would insert our names into the song and we would double up laughing.

Then sometimes there would be ghost stories, but I would not look into the distance for fear of seeing ghosts.

Then we would go to sleep and reconvene for breakfast in the restaurant, which we called the dining room. Julie, our dear cook who was with us at Clark Field, would make pancakes and tell us about life as we looked across the pool at the ocean. I was listening, if no one else was, I listened.

It was, after all, about being together and delighting in each other’s companionship. Life is short but childhood lasts a long time.

In New Bedford of 2009, my rules are simple. Sleep late, eat well, daydream and be together. Look out those windows, sit on the porch, watch those cumulus clouds blow in. Walk on the beach, eat summer corn. Build up the memories of being together, for tomorrow comes too quickly.

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