Thursday, May 16, 2019

Creative Writing Tool: Guided Visualization - by Cecilia Brainard

This is one of the Visualization exercises I use in my Creative Writing Class. I'll be using this in a workshop this Saturday and thought some readers might be able to use it:

Guided Visualization
The Secret Cave

Begin your visualization with a deep breath, the kind you have learned that is easy and restful. Use the count of five as your rhythm as you inhale…and hold…and exhale again.
Take another deep breath –
Perhaps one more.

Let all of your concentration be on your feet and on any areas of tension in them. Breathe naturally, and as you inhale, imagine you are drawing all the tension from your feet up through your body into your lungs. Hold the mental image of that tension. And now, slowly, imagine that you are exhaling all of that tension out through your mouth. You will feel as if you are literally blowing away the tension, exhaling all the destructive tightness out of your body.

Now I’d like you to imagine that you are walking alone in the woods. The trees are lush and beautiful.

Can you see them? (Or sense their presence)
Imagine the colors…bring them clearly into focus in your mind’s eye;
Listen to the sounds…
Notice the smell of the trees…
How does the air feel against your skin?

There is a narrow stream running nearby. Enjoy the sound of rushing water for a moment. Enjoy its sounds and observes how it breaks against the rocks before you find a safe place to cross to the other side.

Now take a new path, one that leads to the mountain trail.
Follow the trial that leads you higher into the mountains…
And higher…until your legs feel the strain…until you don’t
want to climb anymore.

Stop and look around you. Find the cave that almost hidden by the rocks. Know that you will not be harmed inside the cave and that you will find something of great importance there.

As you walk into the cave, the air feels cool against your skin.
Wait a moment; let your eyes grow accustomed to the dim light.
The walls of the cave are rough and damp.
Reach out and feel the dampness.
Notice the sound of a distant waterfall somewhere deep
within the cave.

There is a soft, golden light coming from a high opening; you can see the next room-like cavern. Walk into the next room and explore the cave.

As you move into a still deeper part of the cave, a fire glows from one side of the cavern and you can see that Someone is seated beside it on a large, flat rock. You have encountered Someone with great wisdom and insight, Someone who can reveal to you the answers to important questions, and whom you have every reason to trust. This person has known you for a very long time.

Ask this very special person any question that is important to you. Remember or note down the question that you asked.

What was the answer you received?

Stay in this cave for a few more moments, relishing the presence of this special person. You may ask Him more questions if you wish. Or just rest with Him.

(Wait a few seconds)

Now it is time to explore even deeper regions of the cave. There is nothing here that will be harmful to you and the discoveries you make will enrich your understanding of yourself.

Follow this special person into the next chamber. There you find a large oval room where the walls are smooth and soft sand lies beneath your feet. A narrow channel of water runs through the room. The water is four-feet deep and, at its widest point, the water spreads to a width of twelve feet.

A boat awaits for you in the water; it is small and securely built. The loving person helps you onto the boat for a journey that will take you to a place of vivid memories. There maybe something you want to say to this person before you leave; if so, take a moment to write it in your notebook.

And what is it that you perhaps felt but did not bring yourself to say?

What does this loving person say to you before you go?

Was there anything that you wished had been said to you that was not said? If so, write or remember what you wanted to hear.

And listen while this loving person says those words to you now.

If you have great difficulty saying goodbye, you can ask this wise and loving person to go with you on your journey.
The boat is powered in a unique way: it moves forward or backward as you direct it with your thoughts. When you are comfortably settled in the boat, direct the boat forward and notice how easily it moves through the water – slowly and safely –The automatic pilot guides your boat through the water while you watch the changing scene around you.

Notice that there are frescoes on the walls of the cave. These paintings are vast mural depicting times in your life when you felt good about yourself and the decisions you were making. They show how capable and talented you really are.

Direct your thoughts to pull the boat close to the edge of the water so you can look more closely at the pictures. Notice how confident and happy you seem in the drawings. Some of the pictures show “small moments,” intimate times with a friend. Other drawings recall more public experiences.

Remember or write in your notebook what you see in the paintings on the wall.

When you are ready, direct the boat forward and drift down the narrow river, watching scenes from earlier years until you find one that particularly appeals to you. Remember or write what you see.

Direct the boat to stop and wait for you while you step onto the shore and walk to the wall of the cave to observe the scene more carefully.

Imagine yourself walking right into that scene, becoming one of the characters, the central character. As you step into the picture, it will carry you backwards into that time and that place, and your memory will recall everything that you want to remember about that time of your life.

Relive all that was good and nourishing about that time and release any disturbing feelings if they should arise. Relive the feelings of success. And now describe in writing what you feel and what you see.

Carry that feeling of success as you step back into the boat. Direct the boat to take you through the cavern, where you see scenery more beautiful than you have ever seen before. Let the river carry you all the way to the place of departure, into the sunlight, to a familiar place where you step onto the shore. If you had invited the Special Person with you on your journey through the cave, you may now say goodbye to Him and thank Him. Know that He is always there for you.

Now, by the power of your thoughts, send yourself back to the here and now.

There is no rush, but when you are ready, I’d like you to write about anything that now comes to you.

Tags: writing, creative writing, visualization, creativity, right brain

Interview of Cecilia Brainard by Students and Campus Bulletin

(I'm reposting some older posts because Google's changes make them difficult to find. This was originally posted in 2007 - Cecilia)

Interview of Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, by Students and Campus Bulletin in the Philippines, 2007


Cecilia Manguerra Brainard is the award-winning author and editor of 12 books, including the internationally- acclaimed novel, "When the Rainbow Goddess Wept," "Magdalena," Acapulco at Sunset and Other Stories," Philippine Woman in America," and "Woman With Horns and Other Stories" She edited "Growing Up Filipino: Stories for Young Adults," "Fiction by Filipinos in America," "Contemporary Fiction by Filipinos in America," and "Journey of 100 Years: Reflections on the Centennial of Philippine Independence." The book, "Cecilia's Diary 1962-1968" was released in August 2003. The anthology, "Behind the Walls: Life of Convent Girls," which she co-edited,was released in 2005.

Her work has been translated into Finnish, and many of her stories and articles have been widely anthologized. Brainard has received a California Arts Council Fellowship in Fiction, a Body Arts Fund Award, and a Special Recognition Award for her work dealing with Asian American youths, as well as a certificate of recognition from the California State Senate, 21 st District.

She has been also awarded by the Filipino and Filipino American communities she has served. In 1998, she received the Outstanding Individual Award from her birth city, Cebu, Philippines. She has lectured and performed in worldwide literary arts organizations and universities, including UCLA, USC, University of Connecticut, University of the Philippines, PEN, Beyond Baroque, Shakespeare & Company in Paris, and many others. She teaches creative writing at the Writers Program at UCLA- Extension. In this interview, Ms. Brainard shares her expertise on the one subject she's passionate about: writing.

Students and Campus Bulletin (SCB): Are there any good and bad reasons for being a writer?

Cecilia Manguerra Brainard (CMB): The bad reasons are for fame, money, immortality, and revenge. The good reasons are because you have no choice but to write; for self-expression, to keep sane, to create something beautiful out of something painful or unpleasant; to educate others and ultimately to educate yourself.

SCB: What are the common misconception about writers and writing?

CMB:The common misconceptions about writers are: They are (or will be) rich and famous; that they are good and therefore not subject to being criticized by someone who isn't a writer; that they are right/correct about what they write about.

SCB: What are the biggest writing fears and how does one get over them?

CMB: These are the biggest writing fears: that one's work is terrible, embarrassing, and awful. How does one get over them? A writer has to accept that the first (or second or even third) draft will generally not be perfect. Anne Lammott in her book, Bird by Bird, calls this the "Shitty First Draft." So what the writer should do is write this "shitty first draft" afterwards, look at it and see what is in that draft that's worth developing, and take it from there. Very rarely is a first draft ready for publication. At times, first drafts may even need to be discarded. Sometimes, there is a kernel there, a seed, a line or two, or paragraph, or maybe more, that sparkles and can be developed.

SCB: What is considered "basic etiquette" for writers?

CMB: Writers live with many unwritten rules, for instance, in terms of giving feedback to someone else's work - a writer should always start by mentioning the strengths of the piece, before mentioning the weaknesses. Another unwritten rule is to mention sources for material you quote or refer to in your own writing. In other matters, if a writer happens to be in a panel for instance, the writer should make sure he/she is not taking more time than others in answering the questions. Perhaps all of the above can be summarized by saying a basic etiquette for writers is to try always to be generous and thoughtful to other writers.

SCB: How does one live with writing rejection?

CMB: Rejection is so much a part of a writers life and a beginning writer needs to understand early on that there are many reasons why a piece is rejected, aside from the quality of the work. It's possible that the editor does not have the space in the magazine or journal. It's possible that the editor has just published a similar piece recently, etc. However, having said this, I will say that if my work is rejected over and over, I will stop sending it out and scrutinize it once again, seriously asking myself if there is indeed something wrong with the piece. If my conclusion is that the piece is publishable, I will continue sending it out.

SCB: How does one respond to comments, criticisms and reviews?

CMB: First you need to realize that critiquing or feedback of your work is necessary. A writer can only do so much, and then he/she loses objectivity. Having others read your work can help you a lot. Think of it as having someone hold up a mirror to your work, allowing you to see the flaws as well as the strengths. If you are in a workshop, and your work is being critiqued, keep quiet, take notes, don't protest or explain. Sit quietly, listen carefully, jot down what is said about your work, and after, and only after, should you ask questions to those giving feedback. Ask specific questions. Don't challenge the critics. And lastly, thank the critics because they have taken the time and effort to read your work and thought things through. Even if they said things that were not positive, thank them anyway. It is the gracious thing to do. Anything can be rewritten. Besides you the writer do not have to act on everything told you; you are the author and should make the final decisions.

YCB: How does one spot and ignore bad writing advice?

CMB: Good writing advice is usually specific, for instance, the dialogue was confusing, or there was a lot of repetition. Bad writing advice is broad, mean, and is given not to help the writer, but to make the critic sound smart. In many cases, I like to attend writing workshops so that more than one or two people read the work. If five or say nine people read it, I can better gauge my work from their comments. For instance if more than one half say the dialogue is not strong, then, I will look carefully at the dialogue. There are also some people whom I trust and whose comments I respect. Further, I can feel in my gut when someone says something about my work and it resonates inside, then I have to pay attention to what was said.

YCB: What would you advise beginning writers on the craft?

CMB: 1) Keep a journal and write, write, write;

2) Read a lot, and read the type of pieces that are similar to what you want to write (articles or stories or poems);

3) Don't compare yourself with the others. It will do you no good to fret because some of your contemporaries are getting published or getting awards. You have your own struggle, your own stories to write.

4) Take classes or join workshops so you have a structure.

Tags: Philippine Literature, #CeciliaBrainard 


(I'm reposting some earlier blog entries because Google had changes making it difficult to access these blogs. - Cecilia)

This account will come in several blog entries. As I continue to gather information, I'll be posting it here. This account is true, but I will not be using real names. I am sharing this story because it is a unique one.

Around 7 years ago, I heard from a World War II American veteran. It was December when he first sent an email to my business, expressing interest in an antique necklace. It was a gift for a Filipina who had been his fiancee back in 1947-49. They had been in love and were supposed to get married, but something happened and they broke up. They both went on to marry other people, and have families. But somehow, via internet, John (not his true name) learned that Ligaya (not her true name either) was now living in the U.S. Her family had liked him as a young man, and her family members in the U.S. reconnected with him. In fact when John learned that Ligaya's relative was hospitalized, he went to see the person - and saw once again Ligaya.

Now in their 70s, they found they still cared for each other. But since they had their own families, they did not want to hurt any one and did nothing about their feelings, beyond a few friendly phone calls. I post here his recent emails to me:

My name is John _____and in December 2000 I bought a necklace
from you for a lady that I was engaged to in 1947-1949 in
Paranaque. The information you gave me was that you
found it in Vigan, Northern Philippines. The lady's name
was Ligaya ______. It was a
beautiful necklace and she loved it. I don't know if you
asked or I just volunteered our story but to quote your
response, you said "I love your love story". I do not
know how much of our story I told you but I often think
I would like to write the story but am not a skilled writer.
I just feel sad that when we are both gone, no one will
remember our story. I guess her sister will but she is
also getting old.

She (and I) are now 79 years of age. She had a birthday
September __ and mine was December __.

She is not in the best of health (on medicines and oxygen).
but well enough that we converse by phone several
times a month.
I located Ligaya and I
began communicating again in 1999 and wrote a "poem"
(I think I later mailed them to her
but am not sure). I know they sadden me when I
read them but do not know if they are good, corny
terrible, morbid or what. As for our story being
forgotten; I do not think I care if people remember
it; I just do not think (had to stop and dry my eyes!)
something as sad and beautiful as our (or anyone
else's) story should just vanish when we "pass on"
although I imagine there are thousands that have.

You are welcome to put us on your blog and I trust
you not to put anything that would cause Ligaya
any sadness if someone that knew her figured out
who it was on your blog. I do not think you would
remember it as I told it 7 years ago so let me know
if you need me to email kind of an outline or something
of the story. Every time I think or write about it
the tears come even after all these years. Naturally
some her relatives know all about
it but Ligaya worries about her grandchildren or
my children or Grandchildren knowing that we
communicate. Also we are both married and, even
though I do not think there is anything wrong with
us keeping in touch, since the feeling involved are
so deep, I guess there is a slight feeling of guilt
even though there is actually no wrong-doing.

I had better end this email before it becomes a

Here is one of the (cannot think of a descriptive word)
that I had. I sometimes think that if I was rich and no
longer married I would, as a kind of memorial, love
to have a beautiful log home with acres or a "small"
sturdy castle with about an acre of the yard as a
formal garden with marble "statues" modeled from
the few pictures I have had since the late 1940s
of Ligaya and I in the formal garden. Not much of
a description but hope you get the picture.

Sorry I ramble on and on but there is a lot bottled
up inside.

Thanks for your thoughtfulness


Tags: #lovestory #WorldWarII #WWII #WorldWarTwo #veteran

Cooking with Cecilia: Binagoongang Baboy - Pork with Bagoong

I'll be fixing Binagoongang Baboy for some friends.

What, you may ask, is that?

It sounds terrible, but it's really good. It brings back memories of down-home meals in the homes we grew up in. It's not healthy - it has pork and is saltier than heck because of the shrimp fry. It's not anything one should eat often, but once in a while, why not? Here are the ingredients and directions, although I have noted alterations below.


Binagoongang Baboy
1 kilo pork loin, cut into 1" cubes
1/2 cup vinegar (spicy preferred but not required)
1/2 cup bagoong, or for the Ilonggos, ginamus
6 cloves of garlic, crushed and then minced
6-10 peppercorns, crushed
2 bay leaves

Marinate the pork cutes in the othe ingredients overnight in the refrigerator. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a wok or large frying pan. Saute the bay leaves to bring out the fragrance. Add the marinated pork along with the marinade. Cook over a medium heat until the pork is nice and tender (30-45 minute). Check the frying pan every so often to make sure the sauce isn't drying out. If it is, lower th eheat and add 1/3 c. of water and stir.
Serve with rice, tomatoes, and sliced cucumbers.

In fact, I've altered the above recipe. I'm using pork hocks. I found some sliced around 1 1/2 inch thick, in my Filipino market (Seafood City, on Vermont). After washing them, I placed them in a huge pot. I got a nice lemon from my little prolific lemon tree and squeezed lemon juice on the meat. I was watching the Food Channel once and saw this Caribbean woman squeezing fresh lemon on the chicken she was fixing, and she said a blessing as she did that. She talked about the lemon removing smells and cleaning the chicken well. Ever since I saw that, I squeeze lemon on any meat I fix and say a little prayer that God bless this food that my family and friends will be eating, and I actually say a thanksgiving to God for the poor animal that gave up its life for us.

I put water into the pot - I have no idea how much, around 2/3rd pot-full? It's just to simmer the pork in, to tenderize it. I added 1/2 cup vinegar. Then I sliced onions and threw that in. I threw in 3 bay leaves and some black pepper. I also crushed 3-4 cloves of garlic and threw that in. I had some loose oregano and tossed a pinch in. I have not salted this because once the pork is tender, I'll mix in the bagoong in the last minute. Using pork hock and boiling it releases a kind of gel that marries with the bagoong into a nice sauce.

What gives this taste is the bagoong, which is wickedly salty and tasty. Americans say the stuff smells and perhaps it does, but the scent makes my mouth water, from all the years of associating it with food.

I saw another recipe that uses tomatoes, and I suppose it wouldn't hurt to add tomatoes. In fact, I wish I had some tomatoes to throw in.

That, dear Readers, is Cecilia's way of cooking Binagoongang Baboy!

Tags: cooking, recipes, Filipino, food

Read also:
Fried Chicken Caribbean Style

 Chicken soup for my bad cold

Cooking with Cecilia: Pasta with Crab Roe or Aligue

Cooking with Cecilia: Lengua Estofada

Philippine Cooking: Spam, Eggs, and Rice Breakfast

Philippine Cooking: Ube Halaya

Hot Chocolate Drinks: Chocolate-Eh, Chocolate-Mexicano, Chocolate Filipino

Manila Times Book Review: Cecilia Brainard's novel, The Newspaper Widow

Book Review:
The Newspaper Widow: A cut above other whodunits
by Faye Valencia, May 12, 2019, The Manila Times

FOR the most part, crime fiction, also called the “whodunit,” is considered escapist entertainment. After all, it follows a formula. Crime — most often murder — serves as the centerpiece of the story, whose main character is usually a detective or expert of some sort who is guaranteed to catch the perpetrator. Consider: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s brilliant sleuth Sherlock Holmes closes every case, Stieg Larsson’s hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander never fails to dish out justice, and so on.

In her paper “Murder as Social Criticism,” professor Catherine Nickerson theorizes: “The world of the detective novel is a place of untimely death, cruelty, suspicion and betrayal. If detective fiction is a literature of escape, why would anyone want to be transported to such anxious locales? Perhaps, detective fiction produces its pleasurable effects by allowing us to feel that no matter how overwhelming our own situations seem, something much worse is happening to someone else.”

The Newspaper Widow (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House; 238 pages; 2017) by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard may be classified as crime fiction, but it doesn’t really follow the formula — and that, in this case, is a very good thing. The opening scene of Brainard’s murder mystery, set in the small town of Ubec in Cebu province, indicates that this isn’t your usual detective novel.

“In the summer of 1909, Ubec was overrun by rats. Rodents larger than cats scampered throughout the seaside city, fearless of man even during the daytime when the scorching sun shone down on them exposing their hideousness — their wiry brown fur, long snouts, and naked tails as long as their bodies,” it reads.

Brainard’s disturbingly vivid introduction serves as a warning that people are not always what they seem, and there are far worse things that could happen to a town than a rat infestation. In fact, the rodents were the reason for the discovery of Father Nicolas Zafra’s body. The novel’s title character, the quietly tenacious Ines Maceda, ends up covering the story for The Ubec Daily. The paper is something that Ines inherits from her late husband, the cerebral Pablo.

Ines becomes more involved in the investigation of the priest’s murder when her son Andres is identified as the main suspect. In her attempt to clear her son’s name, Ines knocks over a few cans of worms and what-not. Thankfully, Brainard does not resort to cheap tricks when it comes to the novel’s dark revelations.

“My original intention had been to write a mystery, but I rely too much on character and character development more than the plot, and so I present a novel that is more about Ines Maceda than it is about the mystery of the dead priest,” she explains.

In this sense, The Newspaper Widow follows crime fiction writer Raymond Chandler’s perspective on the genre. In his critical essay “The Simple Art of Murder,” Chandler asserts: “Murder, which is a frustration of the individual and hence a frustration of the race, may have and, in fact, has a good deal of sociological implication.”

The other quality that makes The Newspaper Widow stand out is that even the supporting characters are fully fleshed out. And they’re not just the basic personas, either. For instance, the one who becomes the title character’s unexpected best friend is a French expatriate named Melisande Moreau, who also happens to be the town’s most sought-after dress designer. Brainard gives Melisande the sauciest lines. In one scene, the Frenchwoman tells Ines: “I should go. I have to finish the mayor’s wife’s gown. She’s in the Maria Elena procession of the carnival. You know she is big-boned and it took me a while to come up with the right design, but finally I discovered that the accent has to be on her big bosom. She has beautiful breasts, so we have some cleavage, and we have to tell all eyes to look there…and not elsewhere.” Ultimately, it is Melisande who convinces Ines that she should think of The Ubec Daily as her own instead of just something that was left behind by her husband.

Then there’s a character named Juan dela Cruz, whose common name belies his extraordinary reality. Brainard writes: “People learned that Juan dela Cruz was the only son of the owner of Sandoval Rum and that father and son were like oil and water. His father had wanted Juan to go to business school, but Juan preferred fine arts and music. His father had pressured him to marry the daughter of his business partner, an unacceptable situation for Juan. Juan’s mother finally sold some of her jewelry to finance her son’s studies at the Reial Academia Catalana de Belles Arts de Sant Jordi in Barcelona.”

Juan goes on to fall in love with a Spaniard named Esteban Magri. The couple live in Ubec and are well-respected members of the community. The only real problem they encounter is when Juan also becomes a suspect in Father Zafra’s murder.

Aside from its complex characters, The Newspaper Widow also contains a lot of historical detail. These include even the most disturbing things, such as instruments of torture. Brainard writes: “The garrote, an all-time Spanish favorite, was used for capital punishment during the Spanish time, and for a few years, the American military government availed of the garrote for executions.

“The principle behind garroting was simple: Crush the larynx while applying pressure to the victim’s back. All you needed was a chair with a back rest and a neck clamp which could be tightened by crank, wheel, or hand, thereby strangling the victim.”

The Newspaper Widow may not have a flashy detective as its protagonist, but it is definitely crime fiction that’s a cut above the usual whodunits. Thanks to Brainard’s elegant prose and insights, it’s also a social commentary that attempts to shine the light on the dark corners of organized religion. It does not demonize the Church, but it recognizes the fact that there are a few demons posing as angels within it.

Brainard’s masterpiece also reminds us that in life, things are not always resolved as neatly as we would like them to be. There’s a clear demarcation between good and bad, but there are also a lot of gray areas that we have to learn to navigate.

The Newspaper Widow costs P400 and is available in leading bookstores.

“The Newspaper Widow” by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard can be purchased by visiting the UST Bookstore or by clicking this link:

Tags: #Pinoy #Philippineliterature Philippine, Literature, novel, Mystery, Cebu

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Cooking with Cecilia: Paella


I have several recipes of paella. I'm sharing one of them.  Paella is a great dish to fix if you have company. All you need is salad and wine and you have a complete meal. Enjoy!

From Cecilia Brainard's Favorite Recipes


1/2 lb sausage
Olive Oil
1 chicken, cut up
1 1/2 lbs pork, cubed
1 large red pepper, in strips
1 yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tomatoes, medium diced

1/4 tsp saffron
1 1/2 cup long grain rice
1 1/2 lbs shrimps
1 10 oz frozen peas
12 mussels or clams
salt to taste
4-6 cups chicken broth


Heat olive oil. Saute Onions, garlic, and tomatoes. Add pork and chicken and cook, stirring constantly, around 15 minutes. Add sausage, salt, pepper. Add rice, stirring until coated with oil. Mix with other ingredients. Add saffron to chicken broth. Slowly pour broth into the pan until the contents are covered. Arrange mussels, clams, shrimps, pepper on top. Simmer to cook rice. Add water if needed. When rice is almost cooked, sprinkle peas on top.

Tags: #recipe #food #Pinoy #Philippines #cooking #ceciliabrainard
Read also:

Fried Chicken Caribbean Style

 Chicken soup for my bad cold

Cooking with Cecilia: Pasta with Crab Roe or Aligue

Cooking with Cecilia: Lengua Estofado

Philippine Cooking: Spam, Eggs, and Rice Breakfast

Philippine Cooking: Ube Halaya

Hot Chocolate Drinks: Chocolate-Eh, Chocolate-Mexicano, Chocolate Filipino

Article Concepcion Cuenco Manguerra Cebu Carnival Queen

I came across this article and magazine cover (Sunstar Weekend 9/1/1996) featuring my mother, Concepcion Cuenco Manguerra. She was Cebu's 1931 Carnival Queen.

Please note I have an updated site - click below:

tags: #Cebu #Philippines #Pinay #ceciliabrainard #ConcepcionCuenco #mother

Read also

Death of a Carnival Queen

Mother's Day: Remembering My Mother Concepcion Cuenco Manguerra

Lucy Urgello Miller's Glimpses of Old Cebu

Cebu Politics Philippines: Cebu's Cuencoi Family in 1932

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Cooking with Cecilia: Lengua Estofado

Cooking Lengua Estofado
by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard

1 cup water
1 tsp whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf
3 tbsp each: apple cider vinegar or white cooking wine, soy sauce, water
2 tsp salt

3 tbsp oil
5 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 minced onion
2 potatoes, quartered
2 cups julienned carrots
1/3 cup stuffed olives
1/3 cup button mushrooms, cut in halves
3 plantains, cut in halves and fried

- Place tongue in large pot of water and bring to boil; simmer until tongue is tender; prick tongue to test. By then the tough cover of the tongue will peel off easily.
- Marinate the tongue for 40 minutes or longer. In a large pot, heat the oil and brown the tongue. Remove the tongue, but leave the oil. Saute the garlic until golden brown. Add the onion and tomatoes and saute until soft. Put the tongue back in the pot. Pour in the marinade and prick the tongue to allow the liquid to penetrate.
- Remove the tongue and slice. Return the slices to the pot, add the potatoes and carrots and simmer until vegetables are tender. Season with salt and pepper. Add the stuffed olives and mushrooms and simmer for another 5 minutes. Serve hot. Garnish with fried plantains. (Serves 10)
From Cecilia Brainard's favorite recipes, recipe courtesy of Rose Cuisia Franco.


Today I am cooking tongue. I should say "Lengua" to make it sound more dignified, but it's tongue nonetheless - a huge cow's tongue around a foot long, still with the grizzly covering that needs to be peeled off. It's in boiling salted water right now, and later on I'll peel that outer skin off. That's the ugly looking part, with little pimply bumps, the sight of which can make a person reject eating tongue for life. But since I grew up eating Lengua Estofada and Lengua Escarlata and Lengua Con Setas, and no longer have the cook Menggay around, I have to do the dirty work. The sight of the ugly uncooked tongue doesn't bother me because when I look at it, I can imagine the cooked tongue on a platter, with velvety red-brown sauce covering it, some mushrooms, plantains, and onions, maybe carrots and sweet potatoes surrounding it. Very elegant. Mouthwatering.

I've learned to appreciate the ritualistic feeling of preparing the comfort foods of my youth. It feels healing, like I'm connecting to some part of myself that sometimes I forget is still there! The part that eats tongue!

I had a difficult time finding today's tongue. My Filipino market, Seafood City on Vermont, didn't have tongue; neither did Von's; and fortunately Albertson's in Santa Monica had tongue. The wonder of it is that it was inexpensive; it was only ten dollars for one cow's tongue. Think of it, one big cow gave up it's life so I can cook that tongue. I wouldn't give up my tongue for just ten dollars! But maybe it's cheap because many Americans do not eat tongue. I think only Deli's serve tongue, in sandwiches, and we have some friends who have distant memories of tongue being served in their homes, but they no longer serve them in their homes.

My American family does not eat tongue. That is an understatement. My American family abhors tongue. They are terrified of tongue. When they see the huge cow's tongue coiled in my huge cooking pot and they see strange foamy scum floating on top, they turn away in total disgust. "It's Ok," I say, "I'm throwing away that water. It's just to remove the outer skin."

I'll admit that when the children were young I used to tease them by holding the uncooked tongue in front of my mouth, so maybe that little joke has permanently damaged their relationship with beef tongue forever. I'd tried to convince them that it tastes just like beef, but just by looking at the slices of tongue, they could tell that the texture was different. I assured them it's tender, and tasty, and melts in their mouth. They were unconvinced. Once I cooked tongue along with some beef stewing meat; that is the two kinds of meat cooked in the same liquid/marinade - and they swore they could detect the taste of tongue on the beef and refused to eat the beef stew. So really, I stopped cooking beef tongue for the family. And there's no point going through all that work just so I can have my Lengua. But this weekend, I'll be seeing some Filipino friends, and like me, they were raised to appreciate such fine food as Lengua - so I'm cooking tongue for them - for us.

I'll serve this with some full-bodied red wine, and rice, because we eat rice with most everything, and rice will sop up all that delicious sauce.

That's the plan.

Tags: #recipe #food #Pinoy #Philippines #cooking #ceciliabrainard

Read also:
Fried Chicken Caribbean Style

 Chicken soup for my bad cold

Cooking with Cecilia: Pasta with Crab Roe or Aligue

Cooking with Cecilia: Lengua Estofada

Philippine Cooking: Spam, Eggs, and Rice Breakfast

Philippine Cooking: Ube Halaya

Hot Chocolate Drinks: Chocolate-Eh, Chocolate-Mexicano, Chocolate Filipino

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Cecilia Brainard's Pen and Wash of Old House in Cebu Philippines

Here is a Pen and Wash of my “Old House in Cebu” which I did in pencil and pen and ink earlier. This is my interpretation of the Villalon Mansion in Cebu City, Philippines.

Note that I have my personal site at:  

Tags: #CeciliaBrainard #sketch #art #penandwash #penandink #cebu #house #hauntedhouse #heritagehouse #antiquehouse #mansion #Philippines

Friday, May 3, 2019

Tyberius the Cat - RIP

To continue the story of my son's and his family's visit over Easter (with their dog Ellie), when they returned home, they found one of their two cats ill, and unfortunately poor Tyberius had to be put to sleep. They were all distraught, especially the children. To make them feel better, I did a drawing of Tyberius. I had wanted to put him in Pet Heaven, a mythical place that I have envisioned, and to which all my dead pets go to. I imagined all our pets who have passed on greeting Tyberius and asking him for an update of their family here on earth. My imagination was richer than my drawing ability, and so they just have a drawing of Tyberius, which I am sharing here. May Tyberius rest in peace in Pet Heaven. BTW, Tyberius was all black, but I could not render him all black in the drawing otherwise we would just see his eyeballs.

Please visit my other posts with sketches and writings.  Also note that I have a new personal website at

tags: #ceciliabrainard #Philippines #Cebu #art #pencil #drawing #sketch #cat #pet #kitten #rescuecat

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Pencil Drawing of Ellie the Dog

My son and family and dog were here for Easter and I sketched their dog Ellie. It took Ellie 3 or 4 days to warm up to me. She is a one-family dog and was always suspicious of me, especially when I was with the kids. And she would get hysterical whenever we ran into each other. Then finally as I drove them to the airport, Ellie leaned over to the driver's seat and nozzled me. She drew back, but drew near again and licked my ear. Ah, pets are so amusing. Here is a pencil drawing of Ellie. 

Please visit my other posts with sketches and writings.  Also note that I have a new personal website at

tags: #ceciliabrainard #Philippines #Cebu #art #pencil #drawing #sketch #dog #pet

Sunday, April 28, 2019

#CeciliaBrainard Drawing: Old Haunted House in Cebu Philippines

I'm sharing a corrected version of the Old House in Cebu, my interpretation of the Villalon House. This sat on a hill in Cebu and I used to stare at this last thing at night and wonder about the ghosts and enchanted people that supposedly occupied the house. Sometimes the house would be lit up and the next day people would say the spirits had a party. This was all part of my growing up in Cebu. 
Thanks to those who follow my progress in Art, a new field to me. In this pen and ink, I widened the surrounding yard because a dear friend wisely gave me feedback that the house looked like it would slide down the hill. I also made other corrections. Then I made a mistake on the stairs (fire escape?) and turned it into a woman (ghost?).

Tags: #CeciliaBrainard #Drawing #Sketch #PenandInk #House #HeritageHouse #Cebu #Philippines #Cebuano #hauntedhouse #villalonmansion 

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Easter -- Coloring Easter Eggs

We colored these Easter eggs by drawing designs on hardboiled eggs before dying them. I used food coloring in hot water with a bit of vinegar. The results are pleasing. 

Happy Easter!

#easter #eggcoloring #crafts

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Remembering the Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris Before the Fire

Like most people I am heartbroken at the fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris yesterday. April 15, 2019. Today the experts said it may take 10-15 years to rebuild. I've had the privilege of visiting the Notre Dame and even hearing Masses there. Now I realize those were gifts and I am grateful.

Here are some pictures I took of the Notre Dame during various visits to Paris.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Guest Blogger: A Theatrical Experience by Evelyn Morales Del Rosario

My guest blogger is Evelyn Morales Del Rosario who shares her piece, "A Theatrical Experience". The writing is part of the collection of essays, Behind the Walls: Life of Convent Girls (Anvil, Ed. Cecilia Brainard and Orosa).


by Evelyn Morales Del Rosario

We were a Theresian family. All three of my father’s sisters were Theresians. We were the Morales clan, and we all studied at St. Theresa’a Manila from Kindergarten through High School. We were nine girls. My father loved the nuns, and the nuns loved him.

This was not always a benefit for my sisters and me because the nuns knew each one of us individually. Every other class had a Morales student, and every class had either one of us or one of our cousins. We were clearly identified and could never get away with anything.

I was the fourth daughter and had the misfortune of coming after my sister Bunny who was every teacher’s ideal student. She was beautiful with a very sweet and charming personality. I was the awkward one with big feet. Bunny was the president of her class and of the Student Council. I was lucky to have been voted secretary. Bunny breezed through class with high honors while I struggled to keep awake while studying the most boring of all subjects, history. I was a romantic, a dreamer.

The one thing that fascinated me in school was the theater. I volunteered to join any kind of play and ended up having to beg my father to allow me to be part of the production team. I had to sacrifice all other activities just to satisfy the call of a theatrical production. I never thought I was particularly talented, I just wanted to be part of it all. I loved practices that ran until evening. We used to scare ourselves silly with stories of a headless nun roaming the corridors. Of course we never saw anything.

We had a fascinating teacher, Tita Radaic who taught ballet and modern dance. The year I was fourteen, the school decided to interpret in dance, the Song of Songs, more commonly known as the Psalms of David. This was a very radical and modern decision, and it attracted a lot of attention in the local media. Naturally I wanted to be a part of this production. I could not dance, so did not audition. But I was asked to read the Psalms before each dance segment. I was giddy with excitement; I could not believe this was happening to me. Of course I said I would do it and decided to worry about getting my father’s permission later.

It took me about a week to build up the courage to approach my father, and when I did, he said no, I could not do it. He worried about my being in school late at night. I was an indifferent student, and he was afraid I would not be able to keep up. The family was also scheduled to go to Baguio during the performance dates. I was devastated. I had to tell Sister Hilde that my father refused. I prayed harder at Mass every morning, lighting votive candles in San Marcelino church before class and promising God everything I could think of just to make my father change his mind.

Without my knowing, Sister Hilde called phone my Father and asked him to come and talk to her about my involvement in this production. She planned her arguments well, promising Father that my homework would be done between rehearsals, and offering to let me sleep at the dormitory during the performance dates. Father finally agreed. I was ecstatic.

I loved the rehearsals. I would practice my lines and study my lessons every evening. I had never done so well in my classes. We were informed that our presentation was going to be filmed and aired on television. We were awed.

The night of the dress rehearsal came, and my father brought me to school and turned me over to Sister Hilde. I felt like an orphan. Here I was, the lector of the school main production of the year, and my own family would not even be there to see me. I started to feel very sad. But that was nothing compared to the angst I would experience that night. I had not realized that the dormitory would be literally empty except for me. It was a long weekend, and all the boarders had gone home. I was brought to this large hall lined with beds. The mosquito netting was rolled up over each bed. I was given a bed in the middle of the hall, shown how to untie the straps holding the netting up, and how to tuck the netting under the mattress. I had never slept under a mosquito net before. Father always kept our bedrooms at home freezing cold so that we shivered under woolen army blankets. I had brought my long white flannel nightgown, but the dorm was so hot. The nun in charge of the boarders told me that her bedroom was down the hall. I was to sleep in the dorm all by myself.

The dress rehearsal ended at 8:30 pm, and I made my way to the dormitory, half running and trying to keep my head down and my eyes half closed. I was so afraid of seeing the headless nun or some other ghost. I arrived at the dorm shivering from fear. I had to go to the bathroom, but did not want to risk it. I was in agony. Finally I decided to sing my prayers and tiptoed to the bathroom. Afterwards, I ran back to the dorm and slid into bed. I had a flashlight with me, but it made such eerie shadows that I felt less afraid when I turned it off. I pulled the sheet over my head and willed myself to sleep while praying the rosary. I sincerely regretted ever even wanting to take part in this presentation. I had one more night of this torture to live through.

It turned out that the show was a success. I was tickled to see myself on television. But I still shudder whenever I remember those two nights alone in the dormitory.


BIO: Evelyn Morales del Rosario studied at St. Theresa's College in Manila from kindergarten through high school. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Connecticut. She completed a year of law school at the Ateneo Univerity and obtained an MBA from De La Salle Univedrsity. She completed all coursework for DBA at De La Salle University.
She has worked in the airline industry, has been a food author and food stylist. She has extensive managerial, marketing and corporate communications experience. She has lived and worked in Germany, Geneva, and now lives in Montreal. 

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Guest Blogger: Agape by Tony Robles

My Guest Blogger is Tony Robles who shares his personal essay, "Agape." This story is part of the book Finding God: True Stories of Spiritual Encounters (Ed. Cecilia Brainard). The book won the 2019 Gintong Aklat Award in the Philippines.

Tony Robles

The race was lost before it began. There I stood next to the starting blocks waiting for the fellow in the white cap to say, “Runners, on your mark, get set. . . BANG!” How did I get into this situation—all those white faces in the stands. Who were they? I stood on the track with five or six other boys—all a bit older, all a bit pink in the oppressive Florida sun. I glanced at them and wondered what they were thinking. I looked up at the sea of white faces in the stands and became nauseated. My intestinal discomfort wasn’t primarily due to the sea of white faces surrounding me as it was the fact that I knew I was in a race I wouldn’t— no, couldn’t win. Somehow I wished the fellow in the white cap would just pull the trigger and get it over with. As I stood, I entertained the thought of the fellow in the white cap shooting me—perhaps in the leg or in the ass—then I’d have a legitimate excuse not to run. They would just cart me off and I’d be forgotten quickly.

I attended a small Christian school in Central Florida. When I say small, I mean small. There were maybe forty students in the entire student body ranging from first grade to high school senior. We had a high school graduating class of two. It wasn’t a Christian school of nuns with rulers and bad breath. No, this school had teachers who wore red, white, and blue polyester and had breath that was stench-free. We studied the usual subjects—Math, Science, and English—but with a Christian slant.

For instance, after reading a passage on Darwin, the lesson concluded that while he was a scientific genius for coming up with his celebrated theory—his soul was eternally lost because his teachings were contrary to Biblical scripture. I remember thinking that if Darwin had gotten a look at us, with our red, white, and blue polyester outfits, he’d surely change his theory and declare that we were the true monkeys, spawning discontent among the creatures of the earth. We not only studied the basics but we also recited the pledge of allegiance to the American and Christian flags, memorized Bible passages to be recited before the entire school and sang Christian songs. During those songs, I remember our principal Mr. Collins jumping up and down like some sexually aroused cheerleader. He was a good man.

Of course we all participated in sports. Our coach was Mr. Call, a burly, bald man who was also a teacher. He was always covered in polyester, a killer in the Florida sun. He wore a Cross that dangled from a gold necklace. It rested nicely on his blue polyester tie. He always had huge wet spots in the armpits of his shirt. We had a flag football team, a softball team, and a basketball team. Mr. Call coached them all. Whenever he wanted to make an important point to us, he’d take his forefinger and thrust it toward the heavens and impart, “Young men, I’ve coached many a team in my day.” He thrust his finger a lot.

I was a bit of a novelty to my teammates—to everybody actually. I was the only non-white guy in the school. I was conscious of that, perhaps sometimes more conscious of it than the others. At first the kids didn’t know what to make of me. Was I black? Was I an Indian? I would say “Filipino” and the reply would be, “Oh.” The inquiries never stopped. I remember a cute little girl of about seven or eight asking me, “Are you a nigger?” Was I? There was another kid who greeted me numerous times by saying, “Hey spic!” He always seemed to say it while riding his bike. I wanted to discuss it further but the little shit was too quick. I was receiving quite an education to say the least. I got that kind of attention quite a bit. I’d wait for the bus and passersby would stare at me from their cars. The whites didn’t know what I was; the blacks didn’t either. It was 1977 and I must have been the only Filipino in town. I remember waiting for a bus when a black brother in a car slowed down to examine my face. I looked back and gave him a black power salute. He sped off. I tried hard to fit in. All the guys in school had straight blond or dirty blond hair, which they parted down the middle and combed back, layered and feathered. My hair was different, curly and somewhat coarse. I couldn’t straighten it, especially in the 90-degree weather. It seemed to curl up even more. 

Our small school was invited to compete in a state track meet. The schools invited were Christian schools. Our school was tiny but Coach Call decided to gather a few boys and put together a relay team. We were taken to the park to practice. We practiced handing off the baton; however, we didn’t have a baton so one of the boys—Randolph Nash III—broke a piece of wood from an innocent tree and formed it into a baton of sorts. The five of us ran and handed the baton off to each other. What amazed me most of all was how the blond hair of the other boys remained so still while running in the wind. It was always in perfect place while mine resembled Koko the Clown’s. It was always in disarray, like a bird’s nest caught in a violent storm. The Randolph Nashes, the Jimmy Finches, the Steve Colvins all had the pretty hair, the perfect hair I wanted. They were tall and ran like gazelles while I ran like another kind of animal. We ran our sprints, our socks stretched to our knees and slowly dripping toward our ankles. A week prior to the track meet, three of our teammates notified us that they would not be able to compete. That was the end of our relay team. The wooden baton was tossed into the trash.

The sudden defections from the team left David Boozer and I as the sole representatives from our school. David was the opposite of his last name. He was about sixteen and during prayer sessions he would close his eyes and engage in a sort of spiritual mumbling. He was one of the guys but you could tell he listened to God’s voice inside. He was like me—not exceptionally talented but well liked. Coach Call explained to us that we should enter individual events. I would run the 100- and 440-yard dash and David would run the mile. Coach Call couldn’t go to the meet with us so David and I took a bus. We got to the hotel and it was wall-to-wall polyester. White faces were plastered everywhere. We walked to a cafeteria area where the event coordinator addressed the participants. He was chunky, resembling a carnival barker.

“Yes, this year in addition to our track-and-field events we’re gonna have a boys’ preachin’ competition.”

Dave and I grabbed our trays and made our way to the steam table. It was there that I saw something that nearly made me drop my tray. It was a Filipino! He was a short guy with a flat nose. He was behind the steam trays wearing a white uniform topped with a big white hat. He was in charge of doling out perfect cornbread squares. He lifted each piece with a pair of tongs. The rising steam covered a large part of his face. He looked at me and smiled.

Kumusta ka,” he said.

I stood there looking at the cornbread square, then at him.

Mabuti,” I replied.

I don’t know where the mabuti came from. I didn’t speak any Filipino. It came from somewhere. But the way I pronounced it sounded like, my booty. He laughed.

He spoke with an accent. I spoke like a white guy ready to run a race. He gave me the thumbs-up and gently placed a piece of warm cornbread on my tray. I looked down at my tray and looked back up at the Filipino guy. He was waiting for me to move forward so he could plop cornbread on Dave’s tray. I looked at him thinking he was going to plop an extra piece of cornbread on my tray. He didn’t—our connection, our solidarity seemed to last until he plopped the cornbread on my tray. It was like a punch press—one after the other after the other. There would be no extra cornbread for me. I felt a bit awkward so I moved onward to the meat while my Filipino brethren schmoozed with the non Filipinos. I took my tray and sat with Dave. I saw a girl; she looked Indian. She avoided eye contact with me. She too was trying to fit in. 

Morning came, breakfast, and prayers. Dave was calm but I was nervous. “I’ve been praying about the race,” he said. 

Dave seemed to have a certain peace while I was riddled with anxiety. We put on our shorts and running shoes and made our way to the track. I felt intimidated. The other schools had track uniforms with fancy emblems. I had on a pair of shorts and a blue T-shirt with our school’s logo—a warrior. It was plain as if drawn by hand. My race was first— the 440. I hadn’t trained for that event. I was to run in place of Randolph Nash III with his perfect blond hair that never moved. One time around the track didn’t seem too hard. I took my mark and waited for the gun to sound. BOOM! I took off from lane 1. I went into the turn with the sound of feet raining behind me. I pushed my legs as fast as they could go. Suddenly, something took a hold of me, first by my legs, making its way to my lungs and into my mouth. Fatigue decided to introduce itself to me at the midpoint of the race. My strides became slower, my breathing quick, heavy then shallow. It felt like a panic attack in front of the large crowd. One by one the pink bodies in the other lanes flew by. Their strides were deliberate as if rehearsed thousands of times. They looked a bit comical to me as I slowed to a muddy trot. They looked like they needed to go to the bathroom. It was as though they were all holding in their shit and were desperately racing toward some kind of golden shit pot. As the other boys flew by I slowed down and began to walk. I waved them off in defiance, panting like a dog. The others made it to the finish line but I continued walking. I thought they’d just let me walk the rest of the way but the racing announcer kept urging me onward.

“Come on now! Don’t quit! Keep going!”

I could hear the laughter of the crowd as I came down the stretch.

“Let’s hear it for our last place competitor!”

Clap clap clap.

I felt ashamed after the race. I was a fill-in and hadn’t trained for that particular race. I was the only non-white guy on the track and I unceremoniously petered-out. I began to think that I had shamed my race. I mean, all brothers are supposed to be good runners, right? And what about the Filipino cornbread guy from the cafeteria? Was he watching? Did I shame him? Did I shame all non-white people that day by quitting, by saying simply, “That’s it, I’m not running in your race”? The ramifications of the race began to weigh heavily upon me. Later that evening in the dining room, I didn’t see the Filipino guy but I had cornbread anyway. As David and I walked about the hotel, I heard cat calls in the distance.

“Hey, you sag when you run!”

The trees surrounding our hotel had much more wind than I did.

“Don’t listen to them,” David said. “Just pray.”

Those other teams had teams of 10-20. Dave and I were from the smallest school in the area. David was to run the mile and he stayed quiet until morning.

I watched as Dave warmed up on the track. He stretched on the ground literally doing the splits. The runners took their positions and waited for the gun to sound. Perhaps he had a chance to win it. I began to pray. All the other schools had gotten a medal except ours. Dave was our last hope. The gun sounded and Dave was in the middle of the pack.

“Come on, Dave!” I thought to myself.

Dave began to pick up the pace with two laps to go. Unlike my performance, he seemed to get stronger in his stride. He looked as though he was running not merely a race but running for God, as an offering of his best. As I watched, it seemed that Dave was running for all the little schools, running for all the folks not blessed with outstanding athletic ability. With one lap to go, Dave was in fourth place.

“Come on, Dave!”

He came down the stretch in a cluster of adolescent bodies, his legs burning. But it wasn’t enough—a boy from one of the big schools edged him out of third. The crowd cheered as the competitors walked and caught their breath. The following morning Dave and I took the bus home. We were a team of two from a tiny school. Dave was soft-spoken, never bragged. We didn’t discuss the race or the meet during the ride home. Dave looked out the bus window, taken by another bout of spiritual mumbling as the trees sagged in the passing wind. He seemed to know that God had another day for him, that there were more important races for him to run. And as for me, running was never really my forte. But we both represented Agapé School in Orlando, Florida—and in case you don’t know it, Agapé means God’s love. And running across these pages, this story is written with a little of it.


BIO: Tony Robles was born in San Francisco, California. He is an author and a poet. He attends a Samoan Church where the Pastor says, “It don’t [sic] matter if you’re Samoan, Filipino, or Spanish, we’re all a part of God’s family.” He can’t forget what a Filipino pastor said, fifteen years ago, about “God (being) an equal-opportunity lover.” He always remembers what his Uncle Anthony said about Jesus: “I don’t want a black Jesus, a brown one, a white one, a red, yellow, blue, or purple one. . . I want a real one.” Tony has a Web site at

Tags: #Christianity #Catholic #religion #track #boys #FindingGod

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Guest Blogger: Thank you by Raquel Villavicencio Balagtas

My Guest Blogger is Raquel Villavicencio Balagtas whose moving personal essay, "Thank You", is part of the book, Finding God: True Stories of Spiritual Encounters (Edited by Cecilia Brainard & Orosa, Anvil 2009).  The book won the Gintong Aklat Award for 2010). Thank you Raquel.



by Raquel Villavicencio Balagtas

It was February 2006, two years and five months to date, when I read a pamphlet titled, “How to Avoid Purgatory.” It was given to me by Sister Lily Natividad of the Divine Endeavors Organization (DEO) exactly one year earlier, February 2005, when I went home to Manila.

I said thank you, took it back with me to Charleston, SC, and set it aside, with no intention of reading it at all. I was, still at that time, what I would describe as a “last in, first out Sunday Mass goer,” a cradle Catholic. 

I was cleaning my book shelf, February 2006, when I saw the pamphlet again. I read it and my life has never been the same again. Like St. Augustine, in many ways, I can say to God: “Late have I loved You.”

I was fifty-nine years and two months old, still married to George, but residing separately. I found myself first in New York in 1990. Then I moved to Charleston, SC in 1993 and have been here ever since.

Flashback to February 12, 1987. I was forty-one years old then. We lost our third son, Gino, to an asthma attack at the age of seventeen.We have five sons and it was the third that we had named after George. We did not want to name the first and second sons after George because it was believed to be bad luck if you named your first son after the father. So maybe if it was the third, we were already safe. 

It was a humbling experience for us to lose a son. I realized then that there is Somebody more powerful than us. Although we were never in politics, at that time, we felt that we could do anything we wanted because of the position George had and the “connections” he had. We had a joke then that it was only the U.S. Embassy that we had no control over.

So how could a seventeen-year-old, very intelligent, very athletic, very popular and very religious boy die so suddenly and right before my very eyes? He was graduating from La Salle-Alabang high school and he was going to take up medicine.

That night of February 12, I was still at my Dad’s house working when I got a call from my son Gamby that Gino was having a hard time breathing, that he was having an asthma attack. I was at home in three minutes as we live in the same subdivision. He was in the dining room holding onto the baluster and using his inhaler. He was having labored breathing. 

I held him in my arms and he looked at me and said, “Maaaaaa.” I saw fear in his eyes. He must have felt that this was a different attack, much stronger than the previous ones. I said, pray, my son, pray. He made the Sign of the Cross. My second eldest son, Yuri, and I helped him to the car. He was already gasping for breath although I did not know that he was already dying. By the time we got to Perpetual Help Hospital, and they were wheeling the cart, he was already frothing in the mouth and his body had already stretched and had begun to stiffen due to the lack of oxygen. Still, I did not realize that he could be or that he WAS DYING! 

I was panicking. Where was everybody? Where was my family? George was in Mt. Banahaw taking a forty-day retreat. But where was my father? He was home, of course. I called him to tell him to please pray because Gino was dying. Pray, pray, I told myself. My heart and soul searched for my mother, who had passed away three years earlier. I called on Mary, all the saints in heaven, all of my dead relatives. But they were all so far away. 

Yuri and I, who were then waiting outside the ER, sat in two chairs facing each other. We held hands and with open palms, we started to pray the Our Father really loud, repeatedly, again and again and again.

Flashback to October 3, 1984, Makati Medical Center. My mother, the first death in our immediate family. Oh how I thought that our family was invulnerable! That no one would die prematurely! When we got to the hospital that night, they were already resuscitating her. No more pulse, no more breathing. I did not want my mother to die. Besides, they told us she had about six months, not three weeks! In all my naiveté, I demanded from God that He make her live again. With a firm jaw, as if I could demand it, I said, God, if You don’t make her live, I will never believe in You again. 

God, in all His goodness and kindness, made her live. My father said, “You can all go home now.” We said, “No, we’re staying.” We went outside the room, sat down on a bench and prayed the Rosary. I led the praying. In the third decade of the Rosary, as I was saying the Our Father, the Holy Spirit must have come to me because as I said, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” I realized it was up to God to make her live or die. No amount of childish threat could make her live. I resigned myself to her leaving us. In my heart I then said, if You wish to take her, it’s OK, Lord. 

My aunt then told us to come in for mother was going. We continued the Rosary inside the room, lifting up her soul to God. My father prayed, “Lord, take care of her.” 

Fast forward to Gino, February 12, 1987. It was during the Our Father that I could really feel God was with Gino at that time. The priest who came said that by my faith alone, I had saved my son. Not for one moment did George and I question the will of God for Gino. 

The hospital was immediately filled with classmates, friends, and family. It was his friends that took Gino’s sudden death hard. The mother of Carlos Regner, a teenager who died in a car accident, was also there. Her children were friends with my sons. I said to her, “You feel that Gino is still around?” I could really feel his presence. She said, “You have to let him go.” 

Yuri, Jet (my eldest), and my brother, Lito, drove that night to Mt. Banahaw to pick up George. It was a dangerous place to be driving at night but they had to get him. I told my two sons to tell Dad these exact words, “Tell him I love him very much. That I did the best I could for Gino, but he is now with the Lord.” Our prayer was now focused on getting George safely and getting him home without incident. 

George said that the moment he saw Jet and Yuri, he knew something was wrong. When he arrived, we went straight to the funeral parlor. There George prayed so hard as he had never prayed in his whole life. He knelt down and as he was wiping off the sweat from Gino’s brows (for Gino’s forehead still bore the perspiration caused by his struggle to breathe and live), he prayed, “Lord, you know how much I love you. If it is Your will, please make my son live again.” 

It was actually Gino who inspired George to love and become closer to God. Gino was the first to attend the Life in the Spirit Seminar and George, out of curiosity at what Gino was doing, began to attend the meetings as well. It gradually progressed to other religious events, like daily Mass, praying the Rosary, being a member of the DEO, and doing the 40-day fasting and retreat at Mt. Banahaw.

Although George and I looked like we were taking the death of Gino well, it took a toll on me physically in the weeks and months that followed. It felt as if my flesh were pounded with a “dos por dos” piece of wood. I had my period two weeks earlier, but the night of Gino’s death, I bled again. I could not sit, stand, or do anything without my heart pounding violently. I could hear Gino’s friends telling Gamby not to leave me alone (for Jet and Yuri were picking up George). 

My blood pressure was at 60/40. I told my father I wasn’t going to last one year. I also had made up my mind that life had ended for me, that I would just stay at home and go to the cemetery every day, that there would be no more social life for me from then on. 

The Mass the morning after was very significant for me. In that part of the Mass where the priest says, “Let us give thanks and praise to the Lord,” and we answer, “It is right to give Him thanks and praise” I gave my thanks to God for taking Gino. This is what made us accept his passing. 

I do not remember if George and I cried during the wake. His friends and classmates did all the crying for us. My heart was torn into pieces but I could not cry. An aunt told me to let it out, to cry. She said that when God banished Adam and Eve, He gave them the gift of tears. 

Gino’s death made me aware of a Powerful Being. My consolation is that now I have an angel in heaven who is watching over us and who is preparing a place for us. That was what Gino said to us a few months before he died. That he would be the one among our five sons, who would take care of us when we were old, that we didn’t have to worry about our old age, that he would build us a house right next to his house and that he would give us a driver, a maid, and whatever else we would need.

In all these twenty-one years that he had been gone, God was kind enough to send him to me in my dreams about four to five times. In one dream, I hugged him and said to him, “Ay naku, anak, ang tagal na natin hindi nagkikita (My son, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other).” The dream was so real that when I woke up, I thanked God that I had my son even if it was only in a dream. I could actually feel him in my arms and on my chest as I hugged him. 

I was surprised that I continued to live for I was sure that I, too, would die after losing Gino. Did my spiritual life change then? Did God become the center of my life then? I’m afraid, the answer is no. Although God called me three times, (through my Mom, Gino, Dad’s passing) my heart, my mind, and my body still belonged to the world. I had not learned how to really have a relationship with God. My prayers were limited to Masses on Sundays and holidays of obligation, short morning offertory and an act of contrition at night, if I remembered to recite it. No Rosary at all, and sometimes even the required once-a-year Sacrament of Reconciliation I also did not do. 

Fast forward to February 2006. After reading the pamphlet How to Avoid Purgatory, I was determined not to ever, ever commit even the slightest venial sin. I also developed a devotion to the poor souls in purgatory, constantly remembering them and praying for them. I felt such great pity for those souls who could no longer help themselves. “Kawawa naman sila,” I would say to myself. 

I guess I started with the fear of going to Purgatory and from a statement I read that St. Therese of the Little Flower said, “I guarantee you I’m not going to Purgatory.” I was very fearful of committing the littlest infraction; I could not possibly commit the big ones. Oh, how wrong I was! God had to teach me humility by giving me big, big temptations.  

I had also started to read St. Teresa of Avila who became a nun because she wanted to make sure that her soul would be saved. Salvation was her main goal. Her conversion to become one with the Lord came after nineteen years of being in the convent, when she saw the crucified Christ in a different light. “The much wounded Christ” was how she described Him. 

I also read Thomas Merton’s Ascent, then St. Francis Xavier’s Introduction to a Devout Life, St. Catherine of Siena, and the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux. These first four books fanned the “fire within” me. 

I had no other desire but to know God. I started buying books from and borrowing from the library books on God and everything that could help me to know Him more. I followed what I call my “S to the 4th”, which is: I Seek our Savior in Silence and Solitude. 

I stopped dyeing my hair because to my mind, dyeing one’s hair is vanity, to make one self look young. And I said to myself, there is no vanity in heaven, so I stopped wearing jewelry. I only wore the Benedictine crucifix hanging on a brown string. I also started to wear the Rosary Scapular handmade by the DEO Missionaries. 

More obvious were the socials and the parties I stayed away from. I noticed that if I was in a party for three hours, I wasn’t thinking of God. And I missed thinking of Him. I found the parties loud. I was happier alone at home reading books. 

One of the things I read that really struck me was the line, “God has called us to holiness.” My reaction was that if He did, then it must be doable. WE CAN BE HOLY. I had not realized then that Christ stated this in the Bible, “Be holy as my Father in heaven is holy.” St. Jose Maria Escriva’s teachings focus on how to achieve holiness at home and at the workplace. Also one of the major documents that came out after the Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, explicitly stated the same thing: the
universal call to holiness. 

I started going to the 8:30 a.m. daily Mass at Immaculate Conception Church. When I would come early, I noticed that they would do the Benediction. So I started coming earlier as this was something I was familiar with from St. Scholastica’s and St. Theresa’s College. Coming even earlier than Benediction, I noticed that they were reading a book. I had no idea what it was. 

It was the Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. It’s the required prayer for all religious. After Vatican II, lay people were encouraged to pray it, too. I fell in love with it. 

I had to sit beside Joe Reyes, who was the friendliest-looking person in church, for me to follow the flipping of the pages. George had sent me his old one and I tried to analyze the contents. The Biblical readings, the non-Biblical readings for the different seasons were like food for my soul. I was determined then that I would encourage other people to do the Liturgy of the Hours and that I would go out of my way to teach it.

Before the Benediction was the praying of the Rosary. So I came to church earlier and earlier so I could do all four: the Rosary, the Benediction, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the Holy Mass. On Sundays, when I would go to the 7:30 Mass, I would so much want to go again to the 11:30 Mass. But I was afraid that people might think I was beginning to be a fanatic. 

Eventually, I was asked to lead the Reading for the day of the Liturgy of the Hours. I then found myself serving at Mass during weekdays.When I was asked by a few people to become a Eucharistic Minister, I said I was not worthy to be one. I felt that I was only worthy to clean the bathroom in the church.

I also started to do the evening prayer in the Adoration Room with the exposed Eucharist which concluded with the Benediction. It eventually became a Holy Hour for me spending time with the Lord. The first thing I would always say is Thank You Lord for calling me. No matter what my problems and heartaches would be during the day, just saying Thank You, and by the grace of God I am here, lifts everything, making me realize that those things really don’t matter. How true are the words to the song, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you, allelu-alleluia.” 

There were nights when I would enter the church and it would be so dark inside. I had to grope for the light switches to turn on the altar lights. And when I would enter the Adoration Room and nobody would be there, oh how my heart would break. I would say, “I am here. I’m so sorry You’re all alone.” Later on I read that where the Eucharist is exposed in Adoration, the room would be filled with all the angels and saints adoring and worshipping God. So I would enter the room and say, “Excuse me, excuse me” to all the saints and angels so I could squeeze myself among them. 

Aside from the many books that my mind was devouring, I would have long telephone calls with George who was guiding my spiritual growth. Coming home again in October of 2006 was so exciting for me because George and I could have endless conversations about God. It was going to be a prayer trip for me being with George, going to Mass with him, praying the Rosary, looking at all his books, and shopping at the Pauline store for more religious books. 

My eldest sister, Linda, was very happy for me. We talked long hours on the phone. She would tell me to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation once a month. She also told me to say to myself often that GOD LOVES ME. She also told me to remind myself that God is the Creator and we are the creatures. 

Lent was starting and the Immaculate Conception Church invited several priests to hear our confessions. I cried buckets and buckets of tears recalling all my sins. Never again would I offend my Beloved, He who has loved me and cared for me all those sinful years. I would follow Him to the ends of the earth. And if I ever feel Him “going away,” I will put my arms around His waist and tell Him, I go where You go. You cannot leave me now. You have invested too much in me already. 

I turned, too, to the Virgin Mary. I used to pray that if her whole life was a life of prayer, she could help make this day be a day of prayer for me. Each morning, I would say the same line, “Please, make this day be a day of prayer for me.” 

As I continued to grow in spirituality and love for Jesus, I found myself drawn more and more to the Blessed Sacrament. How I wanted to keep Him company. Often, even at work, I would feel Him so alone in the Tabernacle, calling out for us to spend even just a little time in prayer with Him. I found myself wanting so much to serve Him through my fellow parishioners. I began to wish I could become a Special Minister of Holy Communion. In spite of initial imagined rebuffs, I persisted. Silently praying and asking Him for His grace to make me one of His servants. Then it happened. Just as I prayed for, I received my commissioning as an SMHC when George was visiting! It was during Mass and with everyone watching. I felt as though I was reliving my own wedding day. 

I was so looking forward to serving as an SMHC, when someone else walked toward the altar. I could barely hide my disappointment, but I said to myself, “In His time, in His time.” I knew someday, I would be able to serve Him and I would be ready when He called. Then it came. Quietly and gently, but nevertheless so dramatically. George and I were able to join a pilgrimage tour to Turkey with other couples from St. Therese’s and other parishes, under the guidance of Monsignor Lofton. I could hardly believe it. I had the opportunity to serve at Mass right in the Shrine of the house of the Blessed Mother in Ephesus. Throughout the trip itself, I acted as Liturgical coordinator for the group, organizing readers, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and servers at the daily Mass. I was
certain the trip was a gift from God, His way of telling me of His love for me. 

I also joined the RCIA (Rites of Christian Initiation in Adults) so I could learn my Catechism all over again. I later on became a core team member and on my second year, last year, 2007, I handled the talk on Prayer. I prepared for months. I was so nervous but my prayer was that the Holy Spirit would touch their hearts, all of their hearts. I wanted everybody to have a transformation. Not one but all. Father Liam, whom I call my sparring twin soul because we also exchanged ideas on spiritual growth and other things, was gracious enough to bring his guitar and we sang, guess what? “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God.” 

My process of detachment from the world has filtered into even my television viewing habits, which have now been channeled to watching only the news and EWTN (The Eternal Word Television Network of Mother Angelica), which I feel helps to deepen and mature my spirituality. Even my son, Rallee (the youngest), notices. “Ma, are you watching Catholic TV again?” I only smile. 

Soon, God willing, I will be enrolled as Carmelite Tertiary, the first of six years before I become professed. I used to have to travel an hour and a half just to attend meetings. I feel so blessed with the organization of a Carmelite Tertiary group right here in Charleston. I draw so much inspiration from St. Teresa of Avila’s writings. She is definitely one of my role models. 

In grade school, we had to memorize answers to questions like: “Why did God make us?” And we would answer: “God made us to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him so that we may be happy with Him in Heaven.” Faith and religion meant memorizing all the prayers and the answers to the Catechism questions. In high school, our religion textbooks were entitled Quest for Happiness 1 to 4. I don’t remember very much about them. I will assume that what they basically teach is that we, humans, will always look for happiness but that true happiness can only be found in God. I must add NOW, at my stage of spiritual growth, that we can have a taste of that true happiness in this life if we learn to follow the will of God. 

And what is the will of God? The will of God is to love Him with all our minds, all of hearts, and with all of our strength, and to love our neighbor as well. In the process of loving our neighbor, sometimes we have to die to ourselves. As Christ said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it will not bear fruit.” 

I have died many, many times, but with grace from God, and through deep prayers, I have begun to taste unexplainable joy here on earth, in the “land of the living.”


BIO: Raquel Villavicencio Balagtas attended St. Scholastica’s College and
St. Theresa’s College. She earned a degree in BS Education, major in English and minor in Library Science from the Philippine Women’s University, and a master’s degree in Education, major in English from De La Salle University.

She and George M. Balagtas have five sons: Geoffrey (Jet), Gregory (Yuri), George Jr. (Gino, deceased at age 17), Gabriel (Gamby), and Geraldo (Rallee). They currently have seven grandchildren.

Although she has deviated into the business world, she has always considered herself a teacher, born a teacher, trained as a teacher, and will most probably die as a teacher. She currently teaches theology classes to adults in her parish in Goose Creek, SC.


Read also:

Guia Lim's piece on Our Lady of Antipolo
Tessa Tan's article on Our Lady of Penafrancia

Tags: #Christianity #Catholic #religion #FindingGod