An Easter Memory

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A litter of chocolate Easter bunnies!

A litter of chocolate Easter bunnies!

Not everyone celebrates Easter as a religious holiday and children remember it mainly for the Easter bunny and Easter egg hunts. I know I looked forward to it as a child because my mum would mount an indoor Easter egg hunt for us kids after Easter Mass. She would hide chocolate Easter eggs, and the real treasures were the special large sugar eggs that you could crack open to find more little candies inside. Our Easter tradition hardly varied for many years. We would all get up early and get into our Sunday best and go to church. After church, we would all drive down to the Magnolia ice cream plant and Papa would buy a 5-quart Easter ice cream cake. Then home for the Easter egg hunt while Mama prepared dinner. When we were older, Papa would drop us off at home and then pick up the ice cream cake, which we waited for, excited to see what design he would bring. My brothers were excited too about the dry ice that was packed around the cake, because then, they could fill a tub of water in the bathroom, living room, or carport, and drop the dry ice into it to create a cool fog that spilled over into the rest of the house. The best thing about it was that it was SOLID ice cream, with the most delicious creamy frosting (unlike our DQ cakes which have a cake layer under the ice cream). We would have a different design each year, but on most years we would have either a bouquet of ice cream Easter lilies and daisies or a solid ice cream Easter bunny and eggs. Each of the 4 of us (my sister had not yet been born, and until she was old enough to pick for herself, she’d just have whatever we served on her plate) would pick our choice but still get whatever my mum put on our plates if she was the one serving. Of course, the ice cream cake was the pièce du resistance, after a glorious Easter ham that mama had ironed with sugar and glazed pineapple. I don’t remember when the tradition stopped for us, because after High School, I left home and hardly visited. When the grandchildren came, however, the Easter egg hunts resumed and I know my children, nephews, and nieces, have as fond memories of Easter Sunday at Mama’s as I do.

~cpl 2015

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Like the sunset (poem)

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“A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart.” ~Goethe

I see magnificence and beauty
and a certain sadness with the sunset
and yet again calm as my world settles down
with the hope that I, too, will rest
with a certain sadness like the sunset
and that irreplaceable calm after a storm
when my world finally settles down.

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© Cindy Lapeña, 2014

On Writing Retreats

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Having been attached to academe for most of my professional life, and not just any academic institution but Catholic educational institutions in the Philippines, attending annual retreats was part and parcel of teaching. There was always a spiritual component to the retreat, as it would be a way of stepping back from everyday life and stresses to relax the professional brain and delve into the spiritual core our selves so that we could reflect on our personal and professional lives and return to the “normal” world recharged and rejuvenated, ready for another year of teaching.

A writing retreat is somewhat different in the sense that, while you leave the normalcies of everyday living, you nonetheless immerse yourself into a working environment, assuming that you call writing work. It gives you time to recharge your writing batteries and set everything aside except your writing, allowing you that luxury of not having to worry, for the time being, about housekeeping or bills or meetings or that dreaded four-letter word work.

On my second year of joining a group of like-minded women, I have found myself looking forward more and more to this annual writing retreat. Case in point, I accomplished a record amount of writing in a day than I had in a week. Possibly, considering the rest of year, than I would in an average month. But it’s not just the fact that I can set aside time for writing that I join. After all, being self-employed and living in solitude does give me multiple opportunities to sit at my computer or at a table with whatever writing implement I choose for the moment, to write. Writing, as well, comprises a considerable portion of my self-ordained work. What I look forward to is that shared sense of oneness of purpose, that sense of belonging, camaraderie, and friendship, that openness to hear each other out and share whatever comes to mind at the dining table– be it television shows that you would never catch me watching, or what we call our pets. It is as much a spiritual as it is an emotional experience, when you know you can read your work to others who will not judge you or what you have written, and who can only understand you a little more with each word that trips from your lips, be it like tinkling fairy bells or the resounding boom of a cruise ship– though truth be told, there was more tinkling and clinking than clanging and banging. It is a coming together of minds and spirits that will, eventually part ways; but at least for the rest of the year, hear in our collective heads the gentle echoes of chimed words and ringing laughter weaving delicate lanyards that will hold our sails up until the next writing retreat.

 

@ The Serendipity Inn, Central Bedeque, PEI

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12 Cards for 12 Occasions: A Big L.E.A.P. for Garden Home Seniors

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Festive display of greeting cards made by senior participants in the Garden Home’s 2014 L.E.A.P. (Learning Elders Art Program) under the auspices of the PEI Senior Citizens’ Federation through funding from the PEI Department of Tourism and Culture, in cooperation with the PEI Council of the Arts.

The participants (14 regular) attended 12 weekly sessions to create 12 cards for 12 occasions.

The cards were displayed at an Open House Exhibit, where MLA Kathleen Casey handed out Certificates of Completion to the participants. Also in attendance was PEI Senior Citizens’ Federation Director Bill Oulton.

The experience was thoroughly enjoyable for the participants, as well as for myself! I would do participate in the LEAP program over and over again!

(The Garden Home is located on North River Road in Charlottetown)

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My 2013 ArtSmarts experience

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For the first time, I had the opportunity to join Culture PEI’s ArtSmarts program, and I must say it was an experience to remember!

This year, the program was organized in collaboration with the PEI Association for Newcomers and Sandy Macaulay’s Project-Based Learning class of pre-service B.Ed. students to fulfill the theme “Celebrating Diversity: Exploring Culture, Language, Identity and Global Citizenship.”

 I was lucky to be matched with pre-service teacher Robyn Christensen and Todd James, 7th grade Social Studies teacher at Birchwood Intermediate School, to work on a project that would be displayed at the Confederation Centre for the Arts on the 11th of December.
The first month, from mid-October to mid-November, was spent planning with Robyn. Todd had given her free reign over tackling the chapter on World War I. Originally, we began planning a performance that would be a combination of narratives and acting, more in the spirit of mime, but pretty much a “silent film news reel” type of performance so the students would not need memorize anything, considering how little time there was.
At our second meeting, Cecile Arsenault, who was then in charge of the ArtSmarts program, reminded us of the “diversity” aspect. Robyn and I agreed that the students would interpret the War from the points of view of the different nations involved. The prospect of creating a full production was daunting, so I suggested we use Asian shadow puppets, called Wayang Kulit, to introduce a new art form to the students. Robyn was reluctant at first, but warmed up to it when Cecile and Sandy both thought the idea was exciting. At our last planning meeting, Robyn constructed a shadow puppet from a model I had made, and from then on, she was completely hooked.
We decided that, to simplify the construction of puppets, that I would create the templates for the students to cut out and assemble, which they did in one hour. We spent another hour painting the puppets. Then, we took a whole afternoon to piece together the whole performance.
That afternoon was pure chaos. Needless to say, we did not finish blocking the performance and the students were all over the art room, where we were rehearsing. At the end of the day, Robyn decided we should just record the puppet show on video. I suggested that we might as well dub it with the sound effects and the students voices, so that I could continue directing even as we recorded each scene of the puppet show. I did a quick rewrite and blocking of the script over the weekend in preparation for our Monday afternoon recording session. We took the whole afternoon and completed 13 of 20 scenes. Then, we took the whole morning of Tuesday and finished the last 7 scenes. Robyn did the editing and dubbing and we spent all day of Wednesday at the Confederation Centre showing off the students’ work–puppets and puppet show–to all comers.
I must say that 5 meetings of putting a 15-minute puppet show all together, from making the puppets to staging the show, was a HUGE accomplishment for 7th graders! Everything they did was amazing. Understandably, the process of recording, which took 3 half days, proved taxing for everyone, considering these were 11- and 12-year-olds we were working with.
I have suggested that more time be allocated to interaction between the artist and the students, especially in junior high. Our biggest disadvantage was that we had short isolated sessions sprinkled throughout the week, only 2 of which were full hours, the rest just half hours. All told, I had 6 scheduled meets with the students, but had to take over 3 half days just to finalize the project. If we could have collaborated with more classes or, ideally, with all the teachers of the class we were working with, and a full quarter with 2 or 3 whole days a week dedicated to the art project, then it would be an amazing integration of all subject matter into a single art project!
The only sad note was that our class did not get to see their own puppet show at the Confederation Centre. Neither did they get a chance to visit the Gallery@The Guild to see the artists’ works on display. One of the reasons the Arts Council mounted the artists’ exhibit was so that the students would get a chance to see works by the artists they were working with.
All that aside, I will definitely want to participate in the ArtSmarts program, every single year, if possible!
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The Angel in My Arms

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My firstborn son, Kitt, was barely a month old and I was still recovering from a Caesarian section that, I suspect, was not really necessary had I been allowed to give birth in the same hospital where I was born, where my OB-Gyn was. Instead, I was checked into a provincial hospital where the local OB-Gyn claimed the baby was in fetal distress and the umbilical cord was looped around his neck. She did an emergency classical C-section without any consultation from me, something my doctor in Manila would never have done.  Nonetheless, Kitt was born a healthy and bouncing baby boy and we went home together after 5 days.

His father–my first husband–and I, had been sufficiently warned against attempting anything that might get me pregnant again, and were told to wait at least a year to make sure my uterus was completely healed and strong enough to sustain another pregnancy. I knew how risky it would be and how I could possibly bleed to death should a pregnancy too soon rupture the weak muscles. His father thought otherwise and, completely against my wishes and ignoring the doctor’s warnings, forced himself on me. I was so angry and feeling completely betrayed and violated. Compounded by post-partum depression which got worse after that, I tried unsuccessfully to hurt myself very badly just before Christmas, and again on New Year’s Eve, when everyone was outside the house celebrating. I hated my husband, hated what he had done, and hated the fact that my period had not returned. I suspected I was pregnant and was desperate. I did not want to be pregnant so soon and hated the fact. Shortly after my birthday in February, I managed to make arrangements to return to Manila, where I really belonged. My then-husband decided to stay with his parents, because his mother insisted that she was the only one who could take care of him whenever he was not well, since, apparently, he was a sickly boy. I was happy and relieved to leave his parents’ home, where living for six months had driven me to desperation as nobody in his family could understand why I did not want to teach in a rural Philippines public school or why I spent so much time reading and writing after I already had a degree, or why I wanted to go back to school to obtain a Master’s degree. They could not understand why I did not want to sit all day in a rice mill, deal with farmers and laborers who needed to get their rice milled, or learn how to tell different kinds of rice or rice quality by sight and feel. They could not understand why I chose to read books and not local serialized comic books in the vernacular. They could not understand why I did not watch soap operas or share in local gossip.

Back in the house where I grew up, my mother became the doting grandma. My parents adored Kitt, who was their first grandchild and first grandson. When my parents found out that I was pregnant, they were outraged, even if they didn’t know the exact circumstances, although they suspected it, because they knew I had better sense than that and I had not denied that I wasn’t a willing party in this conception. Nonetheless, my mother enjoyed her new role as grandma and soon-to-be grandma again, and dressed me (I thought I had escaped that when I left home after high school) and fed me. After six months in provincial rice lands and in-law territory, It was nice and a welcome respite. I was soon offered a teaching job at the high school I had graduated from, by the principal who had known me since I was a student there in our blue jumper-skirt.

I started seeing my OB-Gyne in Arellano Clinic again, where Kitt should have been born. She determined that my second baby would be due in around the first week of November, which was just shy of Kitt’s first birthday, but because it would have to be a repeat C-section since it was way too soon to risk labour. So I picked the 25th of October, a Thursday, the last day of 2nd quarter of the school year, so I would have finished marking exam papers and I would have submitted my grades for student report cards.

Early in the morning of the 25th, around 8 a.m., I was brought to the delivery room, where Dra. Merceditas Villalobos, having to perform a second C-section in exactly the same spot that Kitt had been pulled out of to prevent additional scarring of the uterus, delivered my second child and only girl, whom I named BIANCA MARGARET. She was tiny, wrinkly, pink package at 5 lbs 8 ozs or somewhere thereabouts, actually a few ounces bigger than Kitt when he was born. I was experiencing post-partum depression in a major way and seeing this baby that shouldn’t even have been conceived gave me even more despair as I thought of how difficult it would be to raise and support two babies barely 11 months apart on a teacher’s salary.

She was just barely 10 days old and home for less than a week when I discovered, despite my mother’s reassurances, that she had not been feeding well while I was working on marking exams and writing up grades. She was losing weight instead of gaining any. I asked my mother about it and she happily admitted that Bian had been consuming about an ounce of milk a day. I was appalled that my mother, who was a doctor, thought that an ounce a day was enough and she had not even noticed that Bian had been losing weight and looked almost like a corpse.  Bian looked so pitiable, was alarmingly skinny, and had turned a bluish-gray. Her eyes were sunken and purplish circles lined their undersides. Just seeing her looking that way tore at my insides and I wanted to scream at my mother, yet, at the same time, I wanted to break down, but couldn’t. I was terrified and knew something was terribly wrong. I felt that maybe, I was being punished for not wanting her, but I did not have time to sink into self-pity. Cindy the manager and director kicked in and I rushed her back to the hospital where they discovered that she had contracted septicemia, most likely from her umbilical cord. They tried to find a place to insert an IV but her tiny veins had collapsed from being so dehydrated. Finally, the only place they could insert one was through her head. There was nowhere else they could draw blood samples either, except through her tiny heels, which looked like tiny pink pincushions with tiny purple pinpricks after a while. She was put on a course of antibiotics and we spent the next ten days together in a private room–the needles and tubes and bottles were too many to keep her in the nursery and I would not be able to be with her there 24 hours a day. It was all touch and go for a while and during the night, when no one was around, I would curl myself around her tiny body and cry in silence as I stormed the heavens with tears and murmured prayers. I would whisper to Bian and sing to her, holding her as close as I could without upsetting the tubes all around her. Her father visited twice, during weekends, and took my place on the bed next to her so I had to sleep on the couch. After a whole agonizing week, her color began to change from blue-gray to a pale pink and, on the 10th day, the doctor declared that the infection was gone and we could go home, but she would still need another week of antibiotics, which had to be administered as shots.

At home, my mother redeemed herself by offering to administer the shots, which she did in Bian’s thin thighs–which were still the thickest part of her that a needle could be given. She conscientiously reported to me every ounce of milk that Bian consumed and soon, my little angel was putting on weight.

I was still deep in post-partum depression but could not bear to be in my mother’s house any longer, so she helped me find a tiny rental that was actually a small apartment that had been split so that there were two rooms for rent each upstairs and downstairs, with a shared kitchen and bathroom on each floor. We had a tiny room next to the kitchen on the ground floor, which was just enough for a twin bed and Kitt’s playpen, which was also his crib. We put up two stools and a tiny handkerchief-sized table in the hallway outside our door, and a two-burner stove on the shared kitchen counter. The kitchen itself had a bare concrete floor and a laundry area sat next to the stove and the shared bathroom door. There was just enough space for our small refrigerator, which was necessary to keep the babies’ milk and food chilled, but could hold a week’s worth of food. I had to pay for the apartment out of my meager salary, but the children’s father paid for the nanny-cum-housemaid, whom he had brought with him from the province.

Still miserable, I spent the rest of my maternity leave quietly and the only times I left the room were to bring the babies for their doctor’s checkups and shots. It was sometime around Christmas, exactly two months after Bian was born, when I started resisting my husband and, as a result, he started becoming more physically rough with me. Twice more, I tried to hurt myself very badly, on Christmas eve and again on New Year’s eve, when there was so much noise outside that I hoped no one would notice me, but that only got me more rough treatment.  On New Year’s Day, I looked at Bian and, for the first time, as she wrapped her tiny fingers around mine, she gave me the most beautiful and sweetest smile ever. I broke down crying and, looking at my babies, I decided that I would live for them from then on. My little angel had just walked into my heart and given me a second reason to live.

My little angel is now a grown woman–but she still is, and always will be my angel!

183146_10150151324225660_605310659_8747028_525591_n Bian at Tata Villavert & Claude Corpuz's wedding, May 28, 1988 ScannedImage-29 ScannedImage-37 ScannedImage-62 ScannedImage-63 ScannedImage-75 someone's getting bored too high tech for mom

Down Memory Lane

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Photographs. Photographs and memories.

Does anyone not keep photographs? Nowadays, we have digital photos and can easily carry them around in convenient thumb-size memory cards, portable drives, digital picture albums and digital frames. We can send them around by email and post them online where everyone can look through our photo albums. Gone are the days when photographs had to be kept in large unwieldy albums that displayed them in military alignment or in an open-layout flat sticky surface. Those photographs are now yellowed, many of them having acquired actual sepia tones. Apparently, the sepia coloring was not always done on purpose. I know, because I have several photographs that were black and white or colored when they were brand new, but have now begun to fade.

When the photographs fade, do the memories as well? The people who knew the faces and places in the photographs eventually die and soon, all those photographs are but faces and places in somebody’s past.

I have photographs. When I was still in elementary school, one of my most cherished possessions was my camera and I took photos of everyone. That was one way I could connect with people, being quite an introvert as a child. I was also camera shy. Not that I don’t know how to pose for a camera or won’t when I have to, but if I can avoid those candid shots, I will. I was so incredibly conscious of how I looked, especially in photographs that I didn’t want to be in them if I could help it. I couldn’t avoid my father’s camera, though, as it was one of his favorite hobbies, and we have hundreds and hundreds of photographs taken by my father.

One of the most regrettable things, though, is that several of those photographs were developed as projection slides when slide projectors became quite fashionable. My folks kept those slides in cabinets that acquired dust and moisture from the humid air and from leaks and drips during the rainy season, which consists of about half of each and every year in the Philippines. Eventually, those slides developed mold and mildew that covered them until they were irrecoverable. There must have been hundreds of those, including several of my later dance performances with the Baranggay Folk Dance Troupe, when I was already performing as a soloist.

I remember, almost all throughout high school, our “official” class photographer, Jenny Francisco, often tried to catch me in a candid pose. I don’t think she ever did. I didn’t mind so much getting photographed with friends or in groups, but I really tried to avoid those solo, candid shots. Many times, they ended up with my face turned away, as you will see in some of the photographs I will be adding to this page.

It will be part of my major organization and documentation project–photographing or scanning everything I have kept over the years so that I will have a digital record of my memories that is easier to go through than boxes and bags and scrapbooks and albums that get dusty and musty and moldy with age.

But that also means that I will be going through those boxes and bags and envelopes and albums that are dusty and musty, thankfully not moldy, before I no one remembers the faces and places in those photographs.