Rare cold allergy?

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I came across this article and wondered how rare cold urticaria is, because I also have it. Anyway, here’s the article. I’m grateful I never reached the point when my skin would flare up the way hers does–but then I’ve been careful about exposing myself to extreme cold since I was diagnosed.

https://edmonton.ctvnews.ca/edmonton-woman-suffers-rare-cold-allergy-this-is-a-real-thing-1.4705774

I was diagnosed with cold urticaria in 2000 and have been taking medication for it since then. I had just recently returned to teaching after a stint of other jobs. I had been assigned to an air-conditioned classroom, which I thoroughly enjoyed because I do not like the heat.

While teaching one day, my hands started itching. I ignored it. That went on for several days, but the itchiness became worse. I thought it might be that I was allergic to chalk, so I requested that all my classes be relocated to classrooms that had whiteboards instead of chalkboards. Still, the itching persisted. After a few more days, the itchiness intensified, climbing up my arms to my elbows. My feet also started itching and that itchiness climbed up my legs to my thighs. I was so uncomfortable and worried because it was distracting and I tried so hard to hide my scratching. I would tap my legs and arms with pens, my hands, rulers, and almost anything I could use to suppress the itching.

Eventually, I noticed that my hands and legs had started to get mottled with raised red maps. That was when I finally brought it to my doctor, who diagnosed it as cold urticaria and prescribed low-dose allergy medication. With the medication, my itching does not flare up, but if I shower with cold water, my feet start itching; if I wash dishes with cold water, my hands itch; if I walk outside in winter without gloves, my hands eventually start itching; but as long as I don’t forget to take my medication, the itching is limited and controlled. The worst part, of course, is that I love winters and cold weather.

I leave my windows open a crack in winter so that my room (and my whole apartment) stays nice and cool, and in summer, I throw open all my windows and balcony door and keep four electric fans circulating the air and cooling it down.

People ask me if would ever go back to the Philippines and my answer is always an emphatic no. I know I would not survive in the heat–I visited once in January–the coldest month of the year there, averaging 18-20 degrees Celsius (perfect summer temperature here!)–and was walking around in shorts and tank tops or light shirts while everyone around me wore jackets and sweaters while I was dripping sweat. I slept with a window open and a fan facing me directly while my friends spent the night covered with blankets. Was I ever glad to come home to PEI where it was winter!

Cold urticaria be damned, I will have my deliciously cold sheets and cool rooms!

Farewell, Sr. Lucy Togle, OSB

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Dear Sr. Lucy,

I was thinking about you last week and I told myself I would have to write you, to tell you how I was doing, to ask how you were doing. I wonder if I was thinking of you out of the blue because you were thinking of me.

You are definitely one of the most memorable people in my life. You have done so much for me, from when I was still in high school and you were the assistant principal. I think you also taught a class or two, occasionally. I don’t remember much, but I know you encouraged me to keep writing and entrusted with special projects. You listened to me and paid attention to what I was doing. I did not think you would remember me after I had graduated. Au contraire. You were the principal when I visited the faculty room one day, when I was picking up my younger sister, who was in her freshman year in high school. Out of the blue, you asked me what I was doing, if I was working.

I was not.

“Good,” you said. “How would you like to teach in the high school?” you asked.

I was a bit flabbergasted and not sure what to say. I had a degree in mathematics for teachers up my sleeve, but I had not mentioned it. Despite my degree, I had not really thought of getting into teaching. I had been thinking of taking my master’s degree, but had not acted on it because of my personal situation at the time.

“I need an English teacher,” you said.

“Okay,” I said, excited. I could not believe my luck. I did not think I would be back to teach at my alma mater. The invitation to teach was an honor and something I also needed, not having a job just then.

“By the way, what was your major?” you asked.

“Mathematics for teachers,” I said, hesitantly.

“That’s okay,” you said. “Come in next week to do some paperwork. I want you to go to Ateneo so you can enroll for your masters. Fr. Galdon will be happy to have you.”

“Okay,” I said. “Thank you!”

“You should start reporting here in May,” you said. “We have planning workshops and seminars before classes begin in June.”

“Okay.”

And just like that, I found myself enrolling at the Ateneo de Manila University, meeting Fr. Joseph Galdon, S.J., who has since passed through the pearly gates, and attending two summer courses, one of which was a methods class for teaching English. All of a sudden, from an intense focus on math and numbers, I was back in my milieu with several other students, most of whom were already teachers and taking a summer course for professional development.

When I was done for the summer, I reported right back to SSC and you introduced me to the other English teachers. I was happy to meet former teachers, who were equally happy to welcome me into their fold. Later, I would hear from co-teachers that I had been labeled the principal’s pet–again–because I had been given that label first by classmates, then by co-teachers. I tried very hard not to spend so much time in your office and, instead, spent more time with Me-an or Tita Medy when they weren’t too busy.

In that first year, you called on me time and again for help in editing and planning little projects. You made me the adviser for the drama club. You invited me to be your co-editor for the first literary chapbook of student works. Later in the school year, you invited me to interview some new teacher applicants. I had to take a maternity leave when I gave birth to Bianca Margaret in October and was back teaching in January. At the end of the year, you told me you wanted me to head the English area.

Things moved very fast after that. During the summer of my first year as subject area coordinator, you encouraged me to revise the curriculum for the English area. You also let me implement the initial survey for my master’s thesis, which would be a longitudinal study, following all the students for four years as they practiced using journals in English classes to learn creative writing. As part of revamping the curriculum, you let me design and introduce independent classes in public speaking for all levels and I became their speech teacher because you knew I had been a proficient public speaker in high school. You also let me start a Reading Circle and a Forensics Guild, for which I served as adviser for the first few years of their existence. In my second year of teaching, you also started to send me to other branches of SSC to deliver all kinds of workshops and seminars to other teachers as well as selected students. Because of you, I got to travel more around the Philippines–something Mrs. Cova continued when she became principal and you moved to Bacolod. I was happy to visit Bacolod to deliver seminars and workshops there. It was at those workshops that I gained a few new friends, including one who later raised Bian. I was happy to know she was studying where you were principal because I knew she would be watched over, nurtured, cared for, and loved.

We used to exchange letters quite frequently, until I became so busy I did not have time to even write. For that, I am sorry. I wish we still wrote and many times, I would have the urge to write. In fact, I did write a couple of times after I left teaching at SSC, but never received a reply from you.

Now and then, I would hear news about you. I always prayed you would continue to find happiness and fulfillment in your work.

Today, I scrolled down my Facebook wall to see what friends had been posting throughout the day and very close to the top, I saw this notice shared by Charlie Azcuna. I’m glad she shared it, because I had been thinking of you and now, I must say farewell.

Thank you for encouraging me, trusting me, and pushing me forward and upward. Thank you for believing in what I could do and believing I could do anything you asked of me. Thank you for providing me with opportunities to grow, improve, and serve others. Thank you for understanding me and not putting me in uncomfortable situations. Thank you for watching over Bian, taking her under your wing, and giving her the same opportunities you gave me. Above all, thank you for allowing me to work closely with you on several projects that were mutually dear to us both.

Dear Sr. Lucy, I will always remember you because of the many ways you have helped me become the woman I am.

You have earned your rest. May it forever be a peaceful one.

Why I’m Not a Singer

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My dad had a record or two or a collection of Marian Anderson’s songs and I loved listening to her alto/contralto voice. It was so rich and textured I wanted to be an alto and practiced my speaking so my voice would be lower and well-modulated. Singing in choirs and with my voice teachers, I was always put in Soprano I or II; once in a while, though, I would be put in alto when a strong lead was needed. No matter what my voice coach or choir directors said, I never thought myself a singer and I never thought I had the voice to sing, mainly because of a tape reel of us singing nursery rhymes–I was only 6 then–that my mother would play for visitors; I hated it because I thought my voice sounded awful and childish and weak. I envied and idolized singers in school with naturally powerful and musical voices but was always too shy to sing solo. I tried to audition once for the glee club but was refused; I did get to perform in a handful of musicals, mainly because they were school productions, but listening to others, I have admitted to myself, time and again, that there are many amateur singers far better than me.

When I was turned down by the glee club, my brother (with a powerful singing voice and, of course, my mother’s darling) was rehearsing for a musical. I met their voice coach, who somehow convinced me to sing a few bars, which led to chords and, before I knew it, she had convinced my mother to allow me to take vocal coaching from her and to join a choir she was putting together. In her words, I had a “lovely voice”. I could not believe it because I never really heard myself sing except on that awful tape with our nursery rhymes, but it opened up a small dream I had tucked away as a little girl. I soon found myself rehearsing after school and on weekends and, before I knew it, the choir was booked for a gala performance at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. (I shall post photographs when I find them.) We were all fitted for gowns (my first gown ever!) and I was excited, singing in Soprano I or II for most of the concert.

After our gala, we started rehearsing Christmas carols because we would be caroling for our sponsors and donors, who would host us (and boy, did they feed us!) as we sang for them and their guests. We went to around 4 or 5 different homes, each grander than the last, but that kept us on the road past midnight. Somewhere past 1 a.m., I was finally dropped off at home where I faced my mother’s extreme ire. She ranted about what kind of people stayed out so late at night, got angry at our directress, and forbade me from ever going to another voice class or rehearsal. I was devastated and disappointed and embarrassed all at once, because my fellow choir members would occasionally call and ask why I wasn’t attending anymore. I told them the truth, that my mother would not let me.

A couple of years after, when I was in university, I joined a youth ministry group which worked with communities and did a lot of singing, and I could stay out as late as I wanted because I no longer lived at home–at least most of the time. I joined several extra-curricular activities, including a dance company, the school paper, the math society, the forensics society, and a reading club that I formed, so I spent a lot of time doing all sorts of activities after school and late into the nights. I also sang, danced, choreographed, and co-directed a couple of original musicals staged by the scholars in the program I was enrolled in.

I occasionally picked up a tiny solo part in choirs but I always felt my voice disappearing when I was asked to sing. The one time I braved it was when my close group of friends and co-teachers in the high school where I taught decided to perform in a benefit concert before the whole high school audience. That brought the house down–the whole concert, that is, but not so much, I think, because we were accomplished singers (we had a couple of really good singers) but because the students had never seen us perform that way before! Besides that, I did sing a lot for my kids when they were little. I haven’t really sung in a long time and am often tempted to join a choir but for the time. I have far too many other things to do, as it is, so I am saying good-bye to my singing aspirations. I was more of a natural at writing anyway, so that’s what I’m sticking with.

And that, my friends, is my singing career in a nutshell.

Resolutions after 12 years in Canada

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Thank you so much to everyone who follows me, likes my posts, shares my posts, and comments on them. I know I haven’t said it much and my lame excuse is I frequently have so many reactions to my posts that the most I can do is like them. Of course, sometimes I will respond when it is warranted, and sometimes I choose to reserve my comments in order to preserve the peace and friendships!


Thank you to all my new friends in Canada, all elsewhere around the world. Even if I have never met many of you, I feel that I know some of you well enough to call you friends rather than acquaintances. I have looked forward to your support as shown by your likes and the hundreds of greetings I get on my birthday, at Christmas, and even sympathies shared when I express grief. I can never express how much warmth, love, and acceptance I have felt through those little ways of communicating because you affirm my existence and add to the meaning of my life.


I am not good at expressing my emotions and cannot easily post what I am feeling most of the time. I am good at posting what I think, however, and when the feeling is indignation, I am very capable of expressing that. But when it comes to the part of me I hide deep within my heart, my tendency is to be silent and withdraw. It could be the fear of rejection or the fear of seeming weak, no matter how I tell others that being emotional or admitting deeper feelings is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. Sadly, my strengths lie elsewhere.

But because I am celebrating 12 years in Canada today, I figured it would be a good time to open up a little. In two consecutive years, I have lost two women, both very dear to me, both of whom always had my back and always encouraged me. One was a mentor–a lovely woman I first met when I was still a high school student, who always believed in me and continuously challenged me to do better. She always gave me more responsibilities and opportunities to show me how much I could accomplish. And she told me all those things–how much she believed in me, as well as how much she loved me. She had been my role model since I first met her because she exuded confidence, determination, and accomplishment. She inspired me and I have to admit that I seriously considered taking a history major because of her. (It was the thought of memorizing dates and names that convinced me not to do it.) When I started teaching, she was Vice Principal and, later, Principal. Even when I took a hiatus from teaching, she kept in touch, kept me in the loop, and continued to build my confidence by trusting in me. She was instrumental in my return to teaching with her as my Dean. She always wanted the best for me and continued to nurture my fragile ego by inspiring me to achieve even greater accomplishments.

The second woman, I lost just two weeks ago. We met in my second year of teaching and became even closer with each passing year. She became the older sister I had always wished I had and she treated me like her sister. More than just a sister, however, she was a dear friend, a confidante, a staunch supporter, and defender. Despite my reticence and reluctance to share my feelings openly, she could read me and knew exactly how to respond. She was ready to stand up for me and she even tried to stand up to my mother for me when I was unable to. She was more expressive than I am and I would be there for her to confide in, to seek advice, to help out in many different ways whenever I could. Even when I had taken a different path, we were still there for each other stayed in touch, catching up on everything we’d missed sharing whenever we could. Losing her has been a huge blow and I miss her dearly.

There is a third lady, another former teacher who has become one of my very best and dearest friends on earth, although I look to her more as a mother than anything else. I know she isn’t old enough to be my mother, but she saw me through so many emotionally difficult spots without my needing to explain how emotional I was. With her, I learned the simple joys of letting my hair down and enjoying things I had grown up not doing because we were trained not to do those things. She never judged me and, like my history teacher, helped me learn to be kinder to myself, understand myself and the relationships in my life that had always been challenging and often painful, and helped me build up my self worth. She taught me how to love myself, something that still comes to me with difficulty, but that I am able to celebrate every now and then–and even more now than then. I cling to the knowledge that she is still around and is there whenever I need someone to listen to me, someone who knows me inside and out, someone who is proud of me and my accomplishments, and who makes me feel that I can take pride in myself and my accomplishments as well. If, God forbid, something were to happen to her, I would be utterly devastated.

These three women have done so much to help me be who I am today, and I am and will be eternally grateful for their love, support, encouragement, and friendship.

As much as I would like to continue writing about all the people who have meant so much to me, who have touched my life and seared their marks on my soul, I will reserve them for other writing.

In this 12th year of a new life in a new country, I have decided to open up more. I have decided to take definite and positive steps towards living my life on my terms and creating my own opportunities rather than following wherever opportunities took me. All my life, I grabbed opportunities that led me down different paths; I allowed myself to be led along by people I trusted; I shied away from any personal confrontation, even if it meant losing my children; I let my heart and my curiosity lead me even if I knew better; I kept my emotions to myself, always trying to be in control, trying to keep a brave front, because every time I had let go, I ended up being embarrassed, blamed, shamed, bullied, or ridiculed. I always tried to learn as much as I could and always do everything right so I would not call attention to myself and would not need to ask anyone for help; besides, it gave me a bit of satisfaction that I could do so many things well even if other people did not care or only cared when it benefited them. I put up with being bullied if I would only be noticed or accepted by girls who had what I did not have: confidence, talent, and many friends.

In this 12th year of a new life in a new country, I have decided I will follow the path I have wanted all my life. I will immerse myself in what I love doing and make a career of it. I will learn to enjoy little simple pleasures without feeling guilt. I will try to share more of my deeper feelings because I know that doing so will not make people respect me any less. I will try to remember that there is nothing wrong with admitting fears or weakness, and hope you all understand how difficult that is for me and forgive me if I do not easily or quickly admit to pain or grief. I hope you do not think I am seeking attention or approval when I share my joys and triumphs and accomplishments because I trust that you will sincerely share the same feelings with me, just as I will be happy to share your joys and triumphs and accomplishments with me. I hope you do not think me aloof if I sometimes am unable to express how I feel about some things, or if I sometimes forget a birthday or miss greeting you on anniversaries and other celebratory occasions. Sometimes, I am too busy to check in or sometimes I am too emotional and do not want to see all your joyful moments as they remind me of what I never had or might never have. I also hope you do not think me cold and indifferent because I might be afraid to admit that what you are sharing reminds me of painful events in my past, events I cannot talk about easily without opening up old scars.

I can promise that I will be honest if you ask me questions, but I cannot promise I will always be ready to volunteer information. Some people need their privacy more than others and I know I am one of those people. Although my life might be an open book, my heart might not. But I will not lie, and if I cannot tell you openly, I might send you a private message. Because I am writer and an artist, I will be expressing most of my thoughts and feelings in what I create: I wear my heart on my pages and bare my soul on my canvases.

My birth certificate says I am Cynthia Paulina Fabella Lapeña.

I say I am just me, Cindy. Hello, world.

Switching Gears: A Teaching Life (Part III)

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When we immigrated to Canada, the plan was for me to pursue my career in writing and art. I had applied as a writer/editor and did not think to have my teaching credentials validated or certified because I had decided I did not want to apply for certification as a teacher. That was because somebody had sworn he would take any job at all just so he could support us in Canada and I would have the freedom to pursue my dreams.

It took a week for us to find an apartment, process our health cards, permanent resident ID cards, bank accounts, look for furniture, and buy a few things for the kitchen and house. Thank goodness the apartments had  water, a stove, and a refrigeratore already and we would not have to buy those. Even then, having to pay for an apartment in full for the next 12 months simply because we were newcomers seriously depleted my cash reserve, leaving very little to live on. The starving artist eventually found work at a popular coffee shop because that somebody who had sworn to work and support his family was not doing any job hunting. In previous talks, he had agreed to even live in the basement or over the garage and pay rent if we had a house, if only I would bring him along. I only agreed to get him a ticket because he promised to pay back everything, grab any job opportunity so he could support the family, and live over the garage. Also, my son refused to go with me if his father did not come along. That started some suspicions in me, but that is a whole other story. In fact, because he was not job hunting at all, I saw an opportunity to teach at the university and was given a 3-hour class for the fall the following year. His one-year deadline had arrived and he suddenly “found” a job but was unable to contribute anything for at least the next two months. Little did I suspect that he was making moves to disenfranchise me and build that high wall between me and my son. Long story turned short, I was forced out of my home in the dead of winter, forced to stay in hospital from the day after Christmas of 2008 to the 3rd week of January of 2009. Meanwhile, I began to make plans for my departure from the hospital and decided that the only and quickest way for me to earn a substantial living enough to support myself and my son was to get back into teaching. Thankfully, I had saved the bulk of my pay from teaching at university and survived on that and coffee shop work until my teaching credentials had been transferred and accepted and I embarked on my long career as a substitute teacher.

Teaching at a Canadian university for one semester was a bit of a culture shock. I had trained and taught college/tertiary school students who had come from all walks of life, and I had delivered many workshops, seminars, and training sessions for participants who were professionals and some even as old as my mother or older. I had rarely found students who were averse to receiving feedback–what we were calling “constructive criticism” since the 80s. Managerial experience gave me the knowledge and tools to conduct 360-degree feedback so that students could get the opinions of everyone and share their own as well. That did not sit well with the majority of students, nor did my requiring them do some readings, research, and reports as well as delivering demonstration lessons, since they were supposed to be a practical methodology class. I had already expressed my alarm to my dean that none of the students in my class had taken the theory course that should have been a requisite to the methods class I was teaching. I was told to do my best, so we had to include teaching theories to the practice. You can imagine that neither area could be fully explored. Worse yet, their evaluations of me indicated that the top 3 comments were they found that being given feedback or criticism of any sort in front of their classmates embarrassed them; they had expected me to teach them “everything she knew about teaching” the subject; they had expected me to fill every period with 3-hour lectures. I could only wonder what sort of teachers they would turn out to be if they did not learn by exploring and experimenting, by discovering things for themselves, or by learning to take criticism–they could not take it in a safe place from their peers, how were they to take any criticism from the 20-30 or so students in each class they handled?

After subbing whenever called and working late shifts at the coffee shop for 3 more years, I was called to interview at a prominent language school, where the pay was sadly low compared to substitute teaching or even public school teaching. I quickly discovered several unpleasant facts, including the fact that there was not much chance for pay increase, the work was uniform, and, once more, politics in an academic setting was present. The good thing was that the school provided teachers with TESL training and certification, which is how I acquired my certification. In fact, I was so motivated that I completed my training in 2 months and tested with a demo class in the 3rd month to earn my certificate. Sadly though, the school downsized and one of the newest hires, became one of the first let go.

That gave me the opportunity to get back to subbing, but because calls were extremely scarce and far between, I needed to avail of my Employment Insurance while writing more. That was when I finally wrote my first novel and the road to fulfilling my actual dreams was materializing before me. An unfortunate accident at the end of January 2013, however, made it very difficult to sub, or do anything else, but I still had to because I could only get so much from EI or from insurance payments, which ended after the 4th month. While all this was going on, I learned of a program supporting people on EI establish a business. I decided it would be a good time to embark on launching myself as a business. I attended some training in May, had my business plan written and completed before July, and registered Art ‘n’ Words Studio & Gallery in early August, 2013. For one year, I devoted my time to establishing my business, growing my network, and creating products.

Because my business was only slowly growing, I went back to subbing in the fall of 2014 with very few calls because I had been out for over a year, picked up a city job in winter and had it extended to spring, the next year, then struggled through summer until I could sub again in fall, at the same time taking in contracts and small jobs for my business. In the year of 2016, I picked up another full-time job that had me doing office work, which was good but also  gave me very few opportunities to sub. My contract lasted 10 months and by Christmas, I was relying again only on odd jobs. I was fortunate to be selected to manage a large event in January, which gave my finances a boost, then back again to subbing and business, as well as a few hours tutoring for the LDAPEI. I had also picked up a few students who needed private tutoring in writing, and and that sustained me until a friend informed me that the local college was hiring ESL teachers. I jumped at the opportunity and was hired in November, then recommended to teach as a sessional with a different department. I accepted the sessional position, the was recommended again for another sessional position with a different department. Because I enjoyed teaching ESL to newcomers, I accepted a night class twice a week, but gave it up after a semester because my body could not stand the pain of staying on my feet the whole day, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. with only an hour’s break for lunch and a couple of hours of tutoring between day classes and night classes. My first sessional position lasted a semester; the second position lasted three semesters, then I was let go with the advice that my teaching would be “best suited to university students or high school students–with a more academic focus than students in trades, or newcomers”.

At first, I could have taken that as an insult, because it was, in a way, since I had been able to adapt my teaching style to just about any group in any walk of life; from undergraduate students to professionals looking to improve their skills or learn something new.

On retrospect, I looked at the whole attempt to secure a more regular teaching position as futile. In the first place, I have become extremely light sensitive and noise sensitive after the accident, not to mention experiencing intense back pain that made it almost impossible to stand, let alone walk in different situations; I also have a recurring sharp or dull headache from my concussion. Since the accident, I have had some physiotherapy, but only when I did not have to work–which made it difficult because I had to work most of the time. I have also been on a cocktail of medications for the pain and, for a while, depression, besides other physical conditions needing maintenance meds. Teaching in a public school situation was difficult because the noise would numb all my other senses and I would go home after a day’s work and crawl into bed and still hear the shouting of children.

Another thing that was totally discouraging about teaching in college here was that the majority of students did not seem to care about learning. They did not have the passion to absorb as much as they could from every opportunity offered to them. They did not want to spend time doing research or discovering things on their own and wanted everything served to them on a silver platter. They did not have the basic skills necessary for writing, let alone research, so teaching any form of higher communication became a struggle because they were expected to acquire so much in so little time. Moreover, I discovered only in my 3rd semester that I was not expected to give them assignments to do outside class because they spent 40 hours a week in class–totally unheard of in the Philippines! So they had to learn everything in a packed curriculum within the 30 to 45 hours allotted to each course that I was handling. My learning curve was practically vertical, as I had to implement and deliver set curricula using materials I had not prepared and I had very little time to absorb. My stress levels had risen considerably and I spent all my waking hours not spent on my other jobs just planning the delivery of lessons and trying to figure out the intent of previous instructors with incomplete syllabi and incomplete knowledge of the whole situation. Thankfully, I was working with a team that was mostly very supportive, sympathetic, and helpful. Besides all that, I had to deal with students who questioned my knowledge and expertise–while I had the knowledge and expertise in some things, I was not aware of the methods of implementation, which included an online self-directed course using a textbook company’s software, which worked differently for Macs (which I use) and PCs (which the students used)–hence results would be somewhat different. Also, since I had never used that proprietary software before, going through the course was a first for me and I had to rush familiarizing myself with it even as the students were working on it. Another course used software that was somewhat different from software I was familiar with, hence teaching with the software was an ongoing discovery for me–which the students did not look upon kindly.

For the first time in my life as a teacher, as well, since everyone was on a first-name basis, I experienced an unbelievable amount of lack of respect and hostility from some students, who also tried to influence other students to ignore me and attempt to complete the requirements on their own. I dreaded certain periods so much because I was constantly wracking my brains trying to modify methods and materials to accommodate all their needs and make the learning more pleasant, but enough people had expressed dissatisfaction and even anger that I felt I was always tiptoeing on eggshells. Even if I had class or two where students behaved more maturely and were more intent on learning but neglected to complete their work on time or completely, the discomfort from the other classes overpowered any comfort I could gain from students who sincerely were trying to do their best and learn or relearn a few things.

I was so traumatized by the time it was all over, but I still considered offering my services to the first department (and even sounded off the manager), or I could return to teaching newcomers ESL. Then it struck me.

Why was I trying to chase a career in teaching, which could be so fulfilling and then again not? I knew that no matter who my students were here in this tiny province, they would lack the foundational skills that make a successful college or university student. They lacked respect for education or teachers. They lacked the skills to learn successfully in any situation. They lacked the skills to communicate successfully and effectively in any situation. They lacked the attitudes that make a good learner and rather than look for what (new) things they can do, they spend the time complaining about what they can’t do. Not to mention so much hostility from a student who had sent me over 50 email messages in less than 4 months who became abusive when that student was not getting what that student wanted.

Looking back on the educational system, I have decided that I am happy and fulfilled tutoring student for the LDAPEI because I know I am truly helping them and what they learn and achieve is sometimes phenomenal. I am happy and fulfilled from tutoring private students, teaching or coaching them in writing or art. My Saturdays are filled with private students who come to my home one after the other, and who leave with new or improved skills and knowledge. My summer is productive and busy with enough private students and tutoring to fill several hours of lessons, with enough hours left for me to write, paint, and spend time with a senior friend whom I take out of her nursing home at least once a week, more if there is a concert or other show we can watch. My business as a writing and art tutor is thriving. Best of all, I have absolutely no stress, except when I tell myself I should enforce deadlines for my writing. For the first time in years, I have become truly happy about the work I have chosen. I can breathe easily and relax. I can choose what hours to meet my students and I can choose my students! Lessons are more of mentoring and coaching than teaching a large group.

I have also been teaching as a volunteer instructor at Seniors College for 4 or 5(?) years now and for the past two years, have been teaching literature. We read classical and contemporary stories and writers, analyze them and savour the exercise of looking a characters, plots, and themes from different angles. I do not need to tell my senior students to start working nor do I need to motivate them to speak or analyze the stories or even to read ahead for the next term. They attend because they enjoy the mental exercise, the appreciation of literature, and the broadening of perspectives and horizons as we push the envelope with sometimes very difficult or complex writing, and a sizeable group returns term after term, year after year, looking forward to the next author, the next stories, the next class.

Unless the educational system changes, teachers who are passionate about teaching are climbing an uphill battle. Unless educational managers fully back and support their faculties, they will stifle professional growth, educational freedom, and a have unhappy, abnormally stressed teachers. Unless college students are given sufficient time to learn through exploration, research, and discovery, they will continue to demand spoonfeeding and free passes, the way they were socially promoted throughout their K-12 lives. Unless social promotion is removed, all students will continue to be pushed upward and ahead even if they have not fully grasped the knowledge and skills needed for the next level, or mastered the skills and knowledge taught in their current levels. Unless teachers are given the freedom to mold classes and curriculum according to their teaching styles and the students’ learning styles, they will remain ineffective and stressed from trying to fit themselves into a defective system, look for shortcuts to delivering lessons and teaching skills, and eventually lose their passion from being like round pegs forced into square holes. Unless students learn that failure is part of learning, as is hard work, communication, exploration, research, and discovery, they will never appreciate the value of education and never gain lifelong learning skills.

I will not go back to teaching in a regular classroom in PEI and, possibly, anywhere in Canada because there is so much broken and wrong with the system and still the powers that be play at politics and ignore the need to change, which will only grow more each year, thereby making change more difficult.

I now have the time to write, to create art and crafts, to share my knowledge and mentor those who truly want or need to learn.

I am a writer and an artist and a mentor and I will be so to my last breath.

 

my best friend has died and this is just a nightmare

1
Will somebody please tell me I
just woke up on the wrong
side of the bed and
this
is
not
happening
that I
did not receive the
same
bad
news
over
and over
again
that this is just
a bad nightmare and it
will pass when I
really wake up.
That my dearest and best friend
of 35 years,
the older sister I had wanted
all my life,
my number 1 fan and supporter
in all I did
has died. I am in shock,
in denial,
angry,
depressed,
grieving, and
hurting
so
so
very much.
All my notices on Facebook
say I am wrong
because there will be
a wake
an interment
a mass
a funeral
I am numb as
my fingers type away at
the keyboard
and scroll through
the messages
the photographs
the flowers
the candles
the memories
that all say
you are gone
you are no longer in pain
you are with your brother
and mother
and father
but I am not with you
and I am oh so far away
and I cannot be there
by your side
I was not there
holding your hand
even if I wanted to be
and now you have left us all behind
and all I can ask is
why
and all I can say is
no
and all I can do is
cry
and I know
I will be reading your messages
over
and over
again
and looking at your photos
and posts
even the chain mail
you send me.
I will re-live our last visit together
five years ago
is too long
I will re-live our last phone call together
which was not long enough
you kept me in touch
with news from back home
with the earth
with myself
with life
you
my sister
my friend (5 times on Facebook)
my best of friends
my confidante
you
will always be alive
in my heart
in my head
in my soul
in my life.
When this nightmare
is over
I will awake
open my laptop
and see
another photo
message
sticker
joke
from you
but it will not be new.
The nightmare will never end
and I
will never wake up.

66095768_10156752858988992_1823734639634677760_n

My best friend, Evelyn Marasigan, seated (died July 11, 2019, on Blanche’s birthday); some of my closest circle of friends, L-R, Blanche Arguelles, Vicki Gwen de Leon, Gay Castañeda

Switching Gears: A Teaching Life (Part II)

0

During my seven-year high-school teaching stint, I threw myself into teaching, in my first year, as well as getting to know my former teachers-turned-colleagues, and the politics of an educational institution. I also conducted a preliminary survey of creative writing among high school students prior to introducing journal writing as a method of teaching creative writing, with the intent of conducting a survey after several years of practice.

In my second year, I was appointed the area coordinator of the English Communication Arts and spent part of my time managing the faculty, mentoring students and teachers, creating new student organizations, and overhauling the English Communication Arts curriculum. I was a weekday-single-mom with a live-in nanny-cum-housemaid courtesy of an absentee husband who “worked” for his parents in their province a 3-hour-drive away. In that year, I had also befriended a few new teachers with whom I shared many common sentiments, from politics to friendship to teaching styles.

My 3rd and 4th years of teaching saw me travelling more frequently around the country to facilitate workshops and seminars for other schools also run by the same religious order I grew up with. As my professional career was becoming more established, my marriage was floundering and towards the end of the 4th school year, it ended dramatically with a broken ankle and my mother rushing in to the rescue. I spent the last month of the school year and most of the summer in a full leg cast in my mother’s house, with the school sending paperwork to keep me busy. Summer was hectic with lawyer interviews as my mother facilitated the initiation of annulment proceedings. Later that year, Philippine courts adopted a new family law that recognized annulments through legal systems rather than merely through the church. This law gave my lawyer the opportunity to push my annulment through and after next 2 years, I could legally use my maiden name again. Even then, I had already reverted to it as soon as I returned to teaching after the cast came off.

While the annulment was in the works, I had met the man who would eventually become husband #2 several years later. In an effort to push me into another marriage because she thought I would be overcome by depression, my mother had contacted everyone she knew as my friends and solicited their help to take me out to socialize and meet someone new. Future husband #2 was introduced to me by a friend who had convinced me that we were a perfect match. But this isn’t about my marriages, it’s about my teaching career.

On my 6th year, the school was beset by a strike of teachers who were members of the employees association, which was pushing for a union. I stayed with the school because I did not believe in unions. Besides, the school was my alma mater and my loyalties were with the school. I stayed another year with the school, after the strike, then felt I could move on.

Before my 8th year of teaching began, I resigned to take a job as an indexer and abstracter, reading articles from newspapers, periodicals, magazines, and academic journals and creating index entries and abstracts. Within a year, I had been promoted to team leader, and after a couple more years, I was promoted to a division head with a director’s title. While the job was not a teaching job, I still ended up doing the occasional training seminar or workshop for new employees. The formation of a union and their displeasure at how I dealt openly and transparently with my division told me it was time to leave. I resigned and decided to devote my time to raising and home schooling my son.

During that time, I did a bit of research writing, writing for a publication distributed among students in public schools, and writing a set of pre-school workbooks for my son, but which would also have been published by a publishing group I was invited to join as part of the board. Unfortunately, only the first volume was published. Later in the year, I also accepted a temporary job managing an exhibit that consisted of 12 large exhibit rooms celebrating the Year of the Ocean. My directive was to interview, hire, train, and manage the staff. After nearly a year of freelancing, I was offered the position of Director of Publicity and Public Relations with the premier English repertory theatre company in the country, with a salary slightly higher than what I had left as Director/ division head. I accepted. I would be in theatre and writing! After a couple of seasons, I was invited to be Assistant Director to a major production.

I would have continued to work with the company had I not been offered a position as School Director for a progressive new school in the same mall within the year. It was exciting to be pirated by another company because they recognized by skills, knowledge, and the contributions I could bring to the company. Within a year, the school moved towards expansion and I was promoted to Director of Operations, then Director of Program Development. After a year with the company, I realized it would not get anywhere because of the overall handling by top management, so I resigned.

Shortly thereafter, I learned some of the directors were giving up their pay so teachers could get paid; eventually, there was not enough to pay teachers and the company downsized, disposed of property, furniture, and equipment. For a few months, I freelanced again from home, then a friend informed me that my former principal and high school teacher who had become Dean of Liberal Arts in the college department of my school was asking after me. Before I knew it, she had invited me to join the English faculty, so I went in for an interview and demonstration. I was assigned a part-time load and immersed myself in teaching once more, except that it was in college.

Around that time, my mother offered me a huge sum of money to apply for immigration to Canada, in the hope that it would transform Number 2 into a productive, useful contributor to society. She had it on a friend’s word that life in Canada had transformed her lazy, non-productive son into a hard worker to survive. Considering the deal, I decided it would be the best thing for me and my little boy. After 10 years, my marriage had deteriorated into a sham. With each year that passed waiting for an interview and approval, my resolve to leave Number 2 behind strengthened.

Two years later, I was invited to interview and give a demo at another college across the street and accepted a part-time position as well. On my fourth year into college teaching, I was offered a full-time position in the second college, so I completed my semester with the first college and moved to the second college, where I also accepted a position as a department chairperson. Shortly thereafter, I was recommended to take over the position of Executive Director for a dance scholarship program. In my year and a half as E.D., I managed the dancers and produced six major original performances, choreographing segments for two shows and designing costumes, stage, and lights for some others. I often brought along my son to classes, where he impressed everyone with his knowledge, speaking, and confidence. Little did I know that whenever he was left home with his father, the foundations of a psychological barrier were being established.

On my 7th teaching year in college, in September, papa died. We were in the middle of preparations for a new show and it was just after lunch when I received the call from my older sister-in-law. I took a short break to attend the wake and funeral, then had to return to work to mount the show.

Towards the end of October, I received an unexpected phone call from the Canadian Embassy inviting us to an interview the next month, during which our permanent resident visas to Canada were given to us. We were informed we had exactly a year from that date to migrate to Canada or the visas would expire and we would have to re-apply. Although I already knew my stay in the college would end at the end of my 3rd year as a full-time faculty member, receiving the end-of-contract notice from a dean who had opposed my appointment to department head then Executive Director (reporting only and directly to the President and Vice-President) was bittersweet.

I was beset with the stress of packing, disposing of a house and its contents, and other details of immigration plus preparations for a dance performance tour of a new show, and dealing with college politics were too much for me and I spent my last month of teaching in hospital for over a week. I missed the trip and returned to school in time to clear my office and file my final reports. Then the stress of packing and booking tickets before disposable funds started eating into immigration funds were not helped by the fact that number 2 was of no help at all. Still, I managed to get everything together, booking a flight and ending up with overweight luggage because of last minute packing that did not making the shipment we were sending by boat to follow us after we had found a place to live.

Thus ended stage 2–the next 8 years of my teaching career, with a 7-year hiatus from full classroom teaching in between, broken only by one year with the progressive mall-school that never made it.

Switching Gears: A Teaching Life (Part I)

2

I’ve been a teacher for more than half of my life and while it was, admittedly, one of my career choices, it was not my first. Every since I became aware of the concept of a career, I have wanted to be a writer first, second, a director, and third, an artist. There were several other potential choices along the way, including an actor, a doctor, a nun, and an Olympic athlete. At different times, I also considered being a historian (thanks to my senior high school history teacher who was a mentor and a dear friend to me until she died), an architect (because I loved the idea of seeing my wildest building concepts become concrete and I loved the works of Frank Lloyd Wright), an archaeologist (because I loved history and I dreamt of visiting ancient ruins), a choreographer (because I loved to watch dance performances and for a while found creative expression in dancing and had the opportunity to work with a dance company and do a bit of choreography), and a computer programmer (because I was intrigued by how I might create software that would do what I wanted it to).

I never shared my deepest desires with anyone. When I was 10, a conversation with my parents changed my mind about several potential career choices. Doctor? Mama said it would be too difficult for me because I would have to do a lot of memorization, work in a lab with corpses, and be the minority in a world of men. Actor? Mama said it was an immoral world and not for me because all girls in theatre were invariably loose and had no morals. Olympic athlete? Mama said why should I choose archery, of all sports, with such expensive equipment. Archaeologist? I would have to travel far and always be on the move, getting myself all filthy from digging dirt. Architect? That was a man’s field. Nun? I would break my father’s heart. Teacher? That wouldn’t earn me enough to sustain me. Computer programmer? I lost interest when they switched programming languages just when I was planning to try to see how much more serious I could get with it. I recently took some lessons in web design, graphic design, social media marketing, and Photoshop, thinking I could upgrade my skills and maybe monetize them. However, I became preoccupied with a brief teaching stint that demanded so much of my time and energy that I did not have time to continue those courses beyond the first levels. (Not that any of those skills are going to waste because they are applicable to my business. Besides, I can still continue them anytime I want since I have a lifetime membership with the institution that teaches them.) I already knew that if I brought up my desire to be an artist or writer, I would be told that I would end up being a starving artist or starving writer–because in previous family conversations mama had already emphasized how those careers would not put food on the table.

By the time I was ready for university, I was pretty much willing to take anything that would get me out of the house, which I had already sort of left by practically moving in with my aunt who was in theatre because she lived on campus where I had signed up for fellowship programs in theatre and creative writing. (Of course, my mother was strongly against it.) I had enrolled in a communications research course at the state university and was hoping to get into broadcasting. On the first day of class, even before my first class had begun, I was surprised to see mama at the door of the classroom, looking for me. She was much more excited than I was, as I had received a telegram (which she had read and already followed up on before telling me about it) inviting me to a full scholarship program.

Let me give a little backgrounder. In my senior year, I had learned that exams were open to students interested in the national science scholarship program. The only reason I knew about the program was because my youngest brother had studied high school in the national science high school and had already taken that exam. He was quite smug about being a science scholar and our mother made it very clear to everyone that he was the brilliant one who excelled in math and science. I decided to take the test just for the heck of seeing if I would pass it. Little did I know I would.

Upon receiving the telegram, mama had quickly called up the number provided, inquired about the program and, apparently, visited the university where I would be studying, if I decided to take the offer. She had met the program head and spoken with several of my professors-to-be. So when she appeared at my classroom door, she already knew what was in store for me.

At the “interview”, I found out that only the top 100 students from the thousands of examinees nationwide had been offered scholarships. The top 50 could choose any science-related degree they wanted in any college or university in the country. My brother had passed in the top 50. He would receive full tuition and a socialized stipend, which meant that, because my parents were in a higher income bracket, he would receive the smallest monthly allowance. The next 50 were offered a full scholarship with a full stipend (regardless of parents’ income), a full book and clothing allowance, and practically guaranteed employment for the first two years after graduation, because we were obliged to teach in a public school for two years, as part of the scholarship contract. The catch? We could pick either math or physics as our major degrees, doubled with an education degree. The objective of that program was to improve the quality of teaching math and physics in the country. I quickly figured that, since teaching had been a potential career on my list, and I could pick math because I guessed I could manage that better than having to produce lab reports for physics experiments–something that totally turned me off in high school (I could never get my experiments to perform the way they were supposed to and I hated doing the science projects). What was more important was the full stipend and additional allowances, which would give me complete independence and, thereby, emancipate my from mama’s control. Of course, I took the scholarship.

So my teaching degree sort of fell into my lap. It wasn’t anything I had to work very hard for and, as a result, I put in the least effort into it, focusing my energies instead on the school paper, then I was recruited into the resident folk dance company, then I was attracted by archery and became a varsity athlete, representing the university in several regional and national competitions. The best part was that all my extracurricular activities also earned me additional stipends. As a student, I was rich.

After graduation, I was no longer obliged to teach in a public school because I had neglected a couple of courses and had to repeat them. (I had actually deliberately neglected them for reasons I might put into writing some other time.) As a result, the scholarship was withdrawn, but because I was in my final year and my other grades were fairly outstanding, I was allowed to complete the degree but had to cover my own tuition and lost the stipends in my final additional semester. That did not bother me, because I was, as I mentioned, financially set as a student and had enough (including extra income from teaching a Polynesian dance class and some modeling) to cover my expenses. I had also started part-time work as a secretary / administrative assistant in my final semester, so I just had to pass those three courses I had neglected. The good thing was that I earned pretty high marks for them, so my GPA was pretty decent in the end.

I had continued my work, this time as a full-time secretary, and accepted a second job as a part-time comptroller. Shortly after, I decided to join one of the national theatre companies, to get closer to my dream of working with theatre and the performing arts, even if it was just doing marketing at first. That led to a whirlwind courtship and all my dreams of a professional career were put on hold. Sometime during that period when I was dealing with being a new wife and mother-to-be, I had decided I would pursue a master’s degree, but I needed to move back to the capital to do that.

My whirlwind courtship ended up as a whirlwind marriage and I found myself back in mama’s house, making myself useful and away from her as much as I could by taking my sister to school and picking her up after school. On one such trip, I ran into a former principal whom I had been quite close to, and she quickly invited me to teach, not math for which I had earned a degree, but English, which she knew I excelled at. To ensure I had the proper credentials to teach English, she directed my to the top private university, known for its courses in the liberal arts and humanities, in the National Capital Region where I was to enroll for a master’s degree with the English department. I never look a gift horse in the mouth and, by then, I was following whatever opportunities fell into my lap. So off I went to start my master’s and, in three months, I was officially employed as a teacher in the same school where I had studied from kindergarten to high school.

Success ≠ Material Wealth

0

A post by Joshua Becker, “Stop chasing success, seek significance” (https://www.becomingminimalist.com/stop-chasing-success-seek-significance/), is circulating on Facebook and while many people will be quick to nod their heads and agree, I would like to somewhat disagree.

The first thing his post reminded me of was Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I read this book over and over again after my second year (grade 10) high school teacher recommended it as a reading for a Religion class.

This is so existentialist. We find meaning through the things we choose to do of our own free will–not because others say so, not because we choose to do what is right or wrong or good or bad, but because it gives us meaning. What is meaningful is what is significant. Can we say that seeking success and happiness are insignificant? That would be judging others who find the most meaning in success the way Joshua Becker defines it. Yet, success is not always defined by financial standards. This is the sad legacy of a materialistic culture. What we need to do is to redefine success, to change the connotation of success so it does not equate to material wealth.

I achieve success, for instance, as a writing coach, when I am able to nurture a mentee and guide him or her towards writing, when I am able to help writers overcome writing blocks, when I am able to help writers improve their craft, when I am able to help them become confident in their craft, when I am able to help them achieve their goals. To see those results is an affirmation that what I am doing is right and good because it empowers and enables others. That is only one of my successes.

Perhaps people have to go back to the actual meaning of success: the achievement of a goal or purpose. We should also think in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We shouldn’t denigrate anyone whose level of success is not at the pinnacle of human needs. After all, it is not everyone who can think of higher-level needs before they overcome even the most basic physiological needs and the need for safety and belonging. For many people, that is the extent of their needs and, therefore, the extent of their success. Self-realization and self-actualization usually happens after all the other needs have been satisfied, simply because we are freed from those cares and therefore free to actualize ourselves. I am wary and leery of anyone who is quick to define things in black and white because there are easily 8 billion shades of gray in this world.