Everything Jimmy


Eight years ago, we welcomed a miracle in our lives.  He has been a source of joy with his amazing and creative energy, as well as annoyance with his mischievous and naughty ways.  In honor of his birthday which we cannot celebrate together in person, let’s have a blast grooving and dancing to Jimmy’s favorite, Monkey Dance.  He’s got all of us moving to this catchy beat.  Jimmy loves hugs and cuddles and is so malambing.  Hope he stays that way beyond this global blip.

Jimmy has been persistently wanting to be a YouTuber and here is his very own YouTube channel called Turtle.  (Please feel free to like the videos.)  Jimmy is quite attached to his turtle stuffed toy named Fluffly which he got during the release of a big batch of pawikan hatchlings last year.  We have to stop him from wasting the alcohol on Fluffy and every now and then, he’ll ask me to sew parts that are torn from too much love which you can never have too much of really.

Counting down Jimmy’s list of favorites: playing with friends, turtles, Pokemon, ice candy, ice cream, marshmallow, steak, corned beef, french fries, junk food, breakdancing, GoNoodle, Japan, Hero’s Journey, video games, Just Dance, Catbug, fencing, sword fight, Miraculous, Crab Rave, fortune teller origami . . . .



Over this quarantine period, Jimmy created the Lizard Book which he hopes to publish someday. Slide1Slide2Slide3Slide4Slide5Slide6Slide7Slide8Slide9Slide10Slide11Slide12Slide13Slide14Slide15Slide16Slide17Slide18Slide19Slide20Slide21Slide22Slide23Slide24Slide25Slide26Slide27Slide28Slide29Slide30

Hope Stronger than Fear

It was odd not to be gripped by the corona obsession and instead be gripped by another fever – campaigning for a cause, finding myself one of the leaders of a ragtag group, trying to overthrow a pair who has ruled for six years.   It’s better than watching any Netflix series because I am already in one.  It consumes my time during the weeks before and after lockdown without missing a beat since everything could be done online.   I had to reduce my workload, though after realizing the frenetic pace was not healthy for family life.

The reason I want to write this all down is I want to describe the fear that comes with the territory.  It’s a fear that was revealed to me by somebody else.  There are people who do not want to rock the boat, who want to stay safe and know as little as possible about what’s going on.  They know something is wrong but they want to stay quiet in the background.   That point of view should be respected but I was also hoping they could be swayed to join the cause.

However, there is a side of me that totally understands that fear because I, too get caught in its web.  I felt it attending the last meeting when I prepared a speech and realized it was totally the wrong time to deliver it.  I feel it thinking about the pair’s angry and scary stare.  I call up one of the people I’m closest to in our ragtag group asking if she has ever feared them.

What is there to be afraid of?   She explains and it clears away the irrational fears that I have.

It’s scary to have an opposing view and express it to a current leadership that is close-minded and messianic.  Yesterday, I found this on Wikipedia:

In terms of the attitude wherein an individual sees themselves as having to save another or a group of poor people, there is the notion that the action inflates their own sense of importance and discounts the skills and abilities of the people they are helping to improve their own lives.

Messiah Complex, Wikipedia

Because they have ruled for six years, they think nobody else could lead the community as well as they do because they have poured an inordinate amount of time and effort into this.  This beautiful residential area we call our home, would simply go to the dogs if other people ran it without the expertise and experience that they have.  Rules would not be implemented because people will just be lax, take things for granted.

However, the pair has angered a good segment of the population going to the other extreme of the spectrum.  They have imposed exorbitant penalties implemented as if they are extorting money from residents who do pay association dues.  Paper accidentally falling from the balcony was fined P10,000.  Parking violation was fined P200,000 while the accidental burning of plastic that did not cause any damage to the unit or building was penalized P100,000.  Meanwhile, cigarette butts get thrown out of windows and in some floors, garbage is not properly thrown into the chute without citation or penalty.

Meanwhile, one-half of the ruling pair violated the following three rules during a Security Committee meeting last year when he started a fight with one of the committee members:

1) Fighting, inflicting or attempting to inflict bodily harm or injury to other people within the residential area

2) Threatening, intimidating, coercing and usage of insulting language,

3) Provoking or instigating a fight.

The aggrieved member wrote to the Board of Trustees about this.  He wrote to the COMELEC requesting to disqualify the council head from running but his letters fell on deaf ears.  Because the council head was not given a citation for his actions, he is still in “good standing” and eligible to run.

Meanwhile, some people who wanted to run for council couldn’t because of a citation over an accident, which were automatically handed without due process.  Some people wanted to run but couldn’t because of a late payment that was already paid before the nomination deadline.

Meanwhile the head of the council gets off scot-free because he was “forgiven” by the council.   There is no forgiveness for those who make a mistake because they are only residents who are part owners of the condominium corporation.  There is forgiveness for the council leader because he has six years of service behind him even if that service has harmed residents, some of whom feel like prisoners in their own home, stripped off their rights.

Some residents have observed that it was so much better “back then.”  Some residents don’t know that any of these are happening and are happy and satisfied with the way things are.  For each segment, what proportion of the pie do they make up?  Are the ones dissatisfied just way noisier than the ones who are? Or is the seemingly rising tide of discontent a substantial matter that should be addressed?

Countries fall into the trap and mistake of electing leaders in place who want to hold onto power after they have tasted how good it is.  They deny that it is a power trip, of course.   Every year, they go through this ritual of saying they don’t want to run anymore but each year, they are convinced to do so “for the people’s good.”

What is the definition of people’s good or what does it mean — for the good of the community?  We all define it individually and there will be so many dissenting and clashing opinions, who’d want to sit and serve in a council, anyway?  Some love the challenge of being part of the solution to a problem.  However, if some are causing more problems than contributing to the solution, but are completely oblivious to the fact, where do we go from there?

This is quite a strange, strange thing to write during the Holy Week when we ought to be reflecting on Jesus’ death and resurrection.  What would Jesus do if he were alive in our midst today?  What would He say about COVID and the quarantine?  If I invited Him to sit during the council meetings, how would he act?  Well, in the first place, he wouldn’t be allowed into council meeting if he wasn’t a member.   If asked, what advice would he give the ragtag and the ruling?  What sort of peace and hope would he bring to the table?







Casting Our Nets into the Sky


The first logo I designed for Abot Tala two years ago had this latin adage: Ad Astra Per Aspera meaning “to the stars through difficulties.”  Through hardships to the stars.  That’s exactly what we are all going through. We have these lofty dreams and ours was a vision for freedom for young people to direct their education and life path with the help and guidance of mentors. We’re still reaching for those bright things in the infinite dark sky and we are still going through rough, rougher and roughest waters, the roughest of which may be this period of uncertainty and waiting.

We refuse to believe that this is the end. Instead we forge on, hoping against hope that stars can be held in the palm of our hands until we throw them back out into the night, only to catch them again and again. They may slip through the holes of our net but these are never impossibilities.

Eight years ago, it was discovered that I was pregnant and had cancer at the same time. Against all odds, despite having chemotherapy while pregnant, my baby was born healthy. He is now 7 years old, a naughty, creative, hyperactive, smart, joyful, malambing boy. This picture makes me think of the dreams we have that are seemingly impossible, that make us want to give up but I remember clearly not wanting to give up this baby. Why is it easy for us to give up other dreams especially if it is our personal dream? I think the dream we can’t give up on, the dream that keeps us going despite the hardships and difficulties are the dreams for our children.  For those who don’t have biological children, it may be something else, a legacy that we hope continues past our physical time on earth.

Abot Tala is like my child but there are times when I want to give up.  I can never do that with my real children.  I know of parents who have given up on their children and children who have given up on their parents.  The tragedy is heartbreaking and I can never imagine it happening to me but it has happened to people close to me.

So what is this business of giving up or wanting to give up on a dream?  When circumstances force us to fold up, do we fold up or fight to keep open?  There will be people who will always be on the side of encouragement and there will be the naysayers who think it’s losing battle.  However, you don’t hear this only outside; the voices are right inside your head swinging like a pendulum or a hatchet about to cut either the rope that holds you captive or slice your body in half.

Since Abot Tala is for teens ages 12 to 18, it is where my own kids could go to should they wish to in the future.  They are only 7 and 10 now so it won’t be after a few more years till they’re eligible to join.  We don’t know if Abot Tala would still be alive by then because we don’t even know if we’ll be able to survive this crippling debacle.

In August last year, we opened Abot Tala Junior which ran for two months before closing it down since it was a threat to the sustainability of the original center for teens.  The program for younger kids ages 7 to 11 was much more complex and we did not have the space nor the staff fit for it.  It was a crushing blow to realize we had to close shop so quickly but it was a painful amputation that had to be done.

The center chugged along while never meeting our target numbers but we all believed it was only a matter of time and we’d reach the tipping point.  Most people may favor the traditional school system but there were outliers, out-of-the-box thinkers and families  who needed this option for their teens.  To counter our bloody red FS, we came up with a fundraising program that we were about to launch when, COVID reared it’s blood-thirsty head.  A crown of thorns descended on a few that soon exploded exponentially.

We were in the process of  starting a fundraiser with the country’s premiere auction house, Leon Gallery.  The country’s equivalent of Sotheby’s was generous enough to support Abot Tala but then who would think about auctioning art work or antiques now unless the funds go to our frontliners in the medical field?  Who would think of sponsoring teens who need an alternative to school, who need an option to following a rigid curriculum when all schools have closed down?

We sit with uncertainty as long and as peaceful as we can because there is little choice but to ride this out.  Abot Tala is offering summer classes but apart from that, we wait with bated breath and sinking budget.

Another thing I was looking forward to is a fragment of another dream.  My 10 year old son, Joshua and I are avid fans of Shark Tank and it’s been my dream to pitch on that popular U.S. TV Program of 11 seasons.  Tinky, one of our Abot Tala board of trustees messaged me about John Aguilar, host and producer of the Filipino version of Shark Tank.  Thanks to serendipity, I ended up attending a talk for start-ups where John and his wife, Monica talked about their experiences and stories as an entrepreneurial couple.  I was able to ambush John after and gave an instant elevator pitch about Abot Tala.

I submitted the online application form and requirements some weeks before the lockdown and a few weeks into the quarantine, got word that Abot Tala is invited to do an online pre-pitch when things go back to normal.  Nobody knows when that will be.

The biggest challenge for me to take on in Abot Tala is approaching people I know for help and support.  It’s easier for me to approach total strangers so I kept attending event after event and now, the possibility of appearing on the Final Pitch gives me that boost to go on with a potential resolution in the horizon.  Imagine if we get a big investor who believes in what Abot Tala stands for and offers full support.

It seems naive to expect a miracle.  A miraculous save.  A rescue swooping from the sky.  A superhero with cape waving in the wind.

But there is too, the preparation for when a miracle should occur.



And not to forget, the other miracle in my life: Joshua who was born when I was 38 and my family was thinking I’d never marry nor have kids.  Proof miracles do happen.  They can even happen every day, often undetected.

The Pie that Broke the Camel


Donna, my friend from China called me up last night via WeChat.   She said she had a dream about me and in that dream, I was very tired.  I was exhausted making pie all by myself to the point that I was not there for my kids.

It was exactly what is happening with me now.  Even with the COVID and community quarantine, I have a full workload that keeps me up late at night and waking up very early in the morning, I get up, open my laptop and start the engine full throttle.

I’ve been trying to stop like a drug addict who knows it’s bad for me, bad for my family but I got into the habit too deep to stop.  I’ve been telling people I work with that I have to take a break and they tell me, yes, you need to rest, you need respite but the next day, it’s the same.  I do all the work online and offline, it’s on my mind like an indelible stamp.

What is this that has occupied my mind like a beerus?   I think I’ve had this beerus all my life.  I get obsessed with something and it possesses me like a demon.  Oh, I’ve learned to let go and I have struck a somewhat healthy balance every now and then because I have a variety of interests and outlets.

Maybe that’s why it’s harder this time.  This quarantine has isolated me as it has all of us, but in my case, I can still do one type of work but don’t have the other pre-occupations like meeting with friends that I could juggle it with.  The usual day for me is juggling all these balls of responsibilities and hobbies, but now we have a lot less balls to juggle because we need to restrict our movements.  However, that’s not even the sad waterloo.  My weakness as a parent is — it’s easier for me to focus on my work than my kids especially when it’s a choice between finishing something with a deadline – made-up or real.

Why am I this way?  Why can’t I just stop and release myself from this stranglehold?

I realized I desperately need a win.  I still desperately want to succeed at something because I am standing on heaps upon heaps of failures.  The endeavor I started last year is on the brink of collapse and it may not live to see the light past COVID.  If this quarantine continues indefinitely and eat up not just one or two months, we’ll be forced to close shop.  This may be true for small and medium businesses and start-ups with no buffer, no deep pocket, no strong foundation.  Like a house of cards, what we built up can fall like somebody blew it with a gust of air from his lungs.

On the other hand, the endeavor I am involved now for about a month has a deadline on May 2.  I can work myself up to a tizzy from now till then knowing there is a foreseeable goal and defined future.  I can lead and push it to the finish line.  Of course, if our group wins, that’s a whole new ballgame.  If our group loses, it’s not a total loss because we just switch to Plan B or C.

Why must I be so desperate to win and to succeed?  Staring at all the failures right in front of my face — recent and historical — makes me grasp for straws, makes me fall for illusions.  I am neither my failure nor my success.  Everyone should operate on the assumption that everything is temporary as each and every one of us is on this earth passing through, so these pre-occupations that capture us shouldn’t kill us.  Winning and success can motivate us but it should not control us.  It is not our true purpose.

Our true purpose may be and should be more apparent with this lockdown but here I am still not recognizing it, still grasping for straws.   I cannot stop when I should.  Probably, there should be a Workaholics Anonymous for us reaching for the unattainable when everything we need is right here, right now and nowhere in the past and future.

I’ve stood at the edge of the abyss many times and I have chosen many times to jump knowing that I will be safe and I will be saved because that all-knowing power in the universe got my back.  I can jump off the edge again and again and make the landing, soft or hard.  I close my eyes and it turns out that it’s the next ledge and not all that high as I feared.

Meanwhile, I do need a rest and a break. When I return, the work will still be there whatever form or shape it takes.  But my kids are only 10 and 7 once.

Why is it easier for me to ignore my kids and tell them, “Later, let me finish this,” when I know I should not, when I know what is the right thing to do?  It may be built into my genetic make-up.  I come from a long line of workaholics – family members who cannot stop to get off the hamster wheel to greet a daughter whom she has not seen for a week because she is busy with a phone call or having a staff meeting.  If others ignore us, why do we choose to ignore those we should not just because we hurt ourselves from being ignored by others?   We must be made of stronger stuff than that, because when you think about it, we are actually never ever ignored.  We are cared for by someone divine each and every second of the day, for eternity.  And so should we.  When somebody presents themselves to us who needs our full attention, we should give them our undivided attention.

It’s easy for me to operate with a divided mind.  I’ve been wanting to be more mindful with paltry results.  I have to thank my friend, Donna who called me up with such urgency all the way from China — for giving me a powerful reminder that I can use to bring myself back – that image of sacrificing family time for a silly pumpkin pie.

Everything is pie that can keep me from my true purpose.  Pie is like a low-hanging fruit, easier to pick so easier to think it’s what should be picked.  Like junk food and not exercising  and other things that keep me blind and deaf.

I’d still eat Cheetos, though.

Photos from our family quarantine area in Subic.  We haven’t been able to bike around anymore. The playgrounds have been closed and the area where we can walk is limited but grateful for every step out in the sunshine, grateful for the trees and sky.  We can still dig a hole in the backyard to bury food waste and I’ve never seen Jason so happy doing DIY projects at home.


This just in from my Dad in response to my blog today:

“There are no losers in life. There are only movers and those who never tried to become different and to improve mankind.”

Wanting to Defy the Odds


Maybe we shouldn’t have started this.  Maybe we should’ve given up earlier.  Maybe we should’ve sought enough funding first.  Even if odds were stacked against us, we bulldozed our way to the starting line and ran away with it until we sputtered, and chutzpah, courage and good intentions were not enough fuel to last a long marathon.

When somebody tells you to stop this madness, when somebody tells you, “You can’t be doing this for your children,” you continue to believe in your heart otherwise.  Yes, one of my reasons for starting a “school” is for my kids but my kids are not yet of age to attend high school.  Somebody close to me said, that is the wrong reason to do something where you gamble a considerable amount of capital.  Another friend told me, “You cannot mix family and business that way.”  However, I know of moms who started schools for precisely the same reason.  They wanted to create a more positive learning environment for their children.  It so happened that they went on to become successful.  One school grew from a garage at home to a school with many buildings.  One stay-at-home mom parlayed her small school into one that spanned kinder to college. Another mom started out the same time as me and was able to secure angel investment.

So please don’t tell me this is wrong.

“Maybe it’s not the time for this.  The Filipinos are not ready for something as revolutionary as this,” somebody countered in deep pity at the hardships and birthing pains we were going through.  Tell that to the families who are served by this alternative to traditional school.  Tell that to the families who have been looking for a community as open and accepting as this.  Tell that to the young people who have benefited from finding joy in learning with peers and mentors.

I still refuse to believe in my heart that this is a mistake, that we are better off not having risked so much only to stand at the edge of the abyss.  The abyss before us is the invisible enemy many worldwide are facing.  It is the unseen, microscopic ball of crown that silently invades bodies and threatens economies.

If our country was agile and rich enough to declare all businesses can be rent-free, tax-free and food would be subsidized during this period, then a small operation like ours could stand a chance at survival. Our hospitals are heaving under the weight of this pandemic and salaried employees across industries are shaking with insecurity.  People who need a ride to work find themselves stranded, luckily or unluckily depending on how much they like their job.  In the first place, except for medical personnel and skeletal crews, everyone should just simply stay at home.

How do businesses, tiny, medium and big, propose to surf this unfortunate tsunami?  How creative and resourceful you must be to contemplate solutions to address this conundrum.  I may not be there yet.  Give me time to think and brainstorm with my partners in this endeavor.  I am stumped at the moment but I shall regain my composure in a while.

My heart cannot bear to write the descriptions for these photos so I shall let the pictures from January to March 2020 speak for themselves.  Since school has been canceled, Abot Tala has been holding classes online.  I’m happy to say the students who were choosing to attend very few classes before are now joining more.  Perhaps we have to thank the community quarantine for pushing people against the boredom wall enough for them to retaliate with a vengeance and seek engagement any way it appears.

We may be looking at online operations to pass this hurdle, though we still have the responsibility to honor our lease contract, pay for utilities, internet, salaries and taxes.  In a few days, April will roll by and our good government does not recognize companies in the red and what was already red will become even bloodier.  Scarred and bloodied from war, we have to be grateful for staying alive, complete with the ability to dance as crazy as John Travolta.

Dance like nobody is watching.

Born for Snow


When Joshua tried skiing, his body couldn’t get used to the new motions he had to master.  When Jimmy tried snowboarding, he couldn’t quite get the hang of it.  But switch them up and get them into their element, there’s no stopping them.  They could go on and on.  I’d be dead tired and they’d still be at it:  Joshua on the snowboard and Jimmy on skis.  Jason and the boys can already conquer the slopes together since their levels go beyond decent.

Me?  I’m forever a beginner on the slopes but I’m in it for the views.  I can’t get out of the paranoid V stance and transition into consistent parallels although I’ve had moments when I nearly got it only to be foiled by the fear of the steep, steep slope — the kind where you arrive and not see anything but a line between you and the sky.  It’s a drop that stops me in my tracks.  After getting stuck several times, after botched attempts at skiing through a clump of trees, after whimpering for help, after wishing life was a Matrix movie CGI and I could lift myself up with magic ease, after countless attempts to put on my skis at wrong angles, after feeling sorry for myself watching everyone including small kids whiz by, I realized next time, I should take lessons from a professional.

It’s like a metaphor for a start-up enterprise when you feel you’ve lost confidence and doubts paralyze you, when the challenge feels too overwhelming at times, when chutzpah dissipates due to historical and current insecurities.  You can’t get up and people pass you by oblivious you need their help.  At this point or before you reach that point, you have to seek out other people’s support and expertise to guide you out of muddled thinking and ineffective action.

My kids: they’re another story.  Every parent’s dream is for their children to surpass them, to soar through greater heights.  They’ve done that on the snow and hopefully carry it on wherever they choose to go.

We went to two different places to ski because Niseko was too expensive so we cut up the Hokkaido trip into two parts and hit Sapporo first.  Niseko is too painful on the pocket that we could only afford 7-Eleven meals but by that time, we had become more adept at saving money in Japan.  For instance, layering t-shirts works as well as a rented ski jacket.  This doesn’t take away from the magic of the adventure, the beauty of snow on trees and marshmallow delicious on the ground and rooftops.   We extend and stretch ourselves to find versions of ourselves that we befriend again.

I would probably never ski like these guys below but these photos from free magazines in Niseko motivate me to improve enough to conquer my fear of the near-vertical.

Ah!  To be fearless in that sport and in life!  How does one get there?

How Can We Go to a 7-Eleven Now?


The way Jimmy looks at this “Hachiko” dog with love and longing is how we feel for Japan.  How will we ever go into a 7-Eleven or Lawson or Family Mart in Manila without hankering for the numerous food options of this developed nation known for its cleanliness, well-designed solutions to everyday hassles and high-tech toilet seats?

Soon after arriving at the Tokyo airport, we were greeted by rows upon rows of Gacha vending machines that spit out plastic eggs with surprise toys spanning themes that show how crazily creative, how infinitely imaginative these people are.  We save money by taking a slower train to our Airbnb and find the place exactly how it’s depicted in the pictures down to the blue car parked beside the modern concrete building.  Our Airbnb bathrooms make us feel like riding a first class airplane cabin while Jimmy simply savors his bathtub time.  We get lost several times in the train and subway system because it truly is as complex as how it looks, even if we have the advantage of Jason recognizing some Japanese characters since they are the same as Chinese.

We walk through a park to get to the Science Museum where the numerous interactive exhibits make us conclude it’s no wonder this country is so technologically advanced.  Although we do wish we had enough time to visit the Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Odaiba where we had too much fun and spent too much time with no regret enjoying each moment at the Teamlab Borderless exuberant exhibit of digital art.  The first floor was mesmerizing but the second floor was engaging with art you make and instantly see crawl across the floor, with a trampoline that feels like jumping in a black hole, with a climbing gym playing with lights and senses.

Jimmy’s two dreams come true: visiting the Pokemon Center and the dog cafe filled with Akitas, a Japanese breed known for their loyalty as exemplified by the film-immortalized Hachiko.  At Harajuku, Joshua finally bought the soccer shoes of his dreams in a five story building dedicated to his favorite sport.  My dream was already realized with the four of us together in Japan, a trip we had been planning since last October.  The corona virus almost threatened its fruition because Jason thought he wouldn’t be able to enter the Philippines if he left since he was Chinese.  Thanks to Vince, our friend who works in the airport, we were convinced that worry was for nothing.