Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wounded Warriors in Transition

In 2004, the US Army reformed the way it took care of its wounded soldiers. In the past, while medical treatments and resources were available, it was often left up to the soldier and his family to find and utilize them, not an easy task when the soldier is not well and is in unfamiliar duty station. The Warriors in Transition Program sought to change this by forming a team around the wounded soldier so that there is coordinated care from start to finish. This is known as the Army Wounded Warriors in Transition Program. (AW2)

AW2 is set up to "care for all wounded, ill, injured military members and veterans wherever they are located, regardless of military status, and for as long as it takes.” Wounded and ill soldiers are assigned to a Warrior in Transition Battalion (WTB) also called Warriors in Transition Unit (WTU) where they receive a triad of care consisting of a squad leader or platoon sergeant to lead the wounded soldiers, a case manager who coordinates the soldier’s care through its various phases and the primary care physician who coordinates complex multiple treatment modalities. There are over 100 Warriors in Transition Units all over the country. Each branch of the military sets up their own way of caring for the wounded warrior. The AW2 program takes care of members of the regular Army, the Army reserves and the Army National Guard. 

  For As Long As It Takes
        Link to video

AW2 is headed by Col Gregory D. Gadson, a highly decorated hero of several wars who in his 2007 deployment lost both legs and injured his right arm to an IED. In 2009, there were some 6,000 severely injured, wounded and ill soldiers in the AW2 program.
WASHINGTON - APRIL 29:  United State Air Force Major Gen. Keith Meurlin (L), director of the Office of Transition Policy and Care Coordination at the Defense Department, talks with USMC First Lieutenant Andrew Kinard (C) before testifying to the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel April 29, 2009 in Washington, DC. Kinard lost his legs while serving in Iraq in 2006 and spent four months undergoing 60 surgical procedures to restore his normal body functions and the following year recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Key to success of the program is the case management provided by an advocate to the soldier and his family through the different phases of recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration. During his time in the WTB, the soldier’s main job is to heal himself so that he can decide the best future for him between successful continued service in the active Army, Army reserves or successful transition to veteran service in the community. During this process the soldier also may undergo medical evaluation board (MEB) and/or physical evaluation board (PEB) to determine the percentage of disability. About 70 per cent of WTB soldiers are medically retired. Some soldiers return to their unit in deployment. Some remain as active duty soldiers in a different capacity. The advocate is there to assist in whatever decision the soldier makes.

Another important commitment of the Department of Defense is providing care for as long as it takes. Before a soldier is medically retired, the team ensures that he has improved as far as he can before he is transitioned to the veterans affairs system. Members of the AW2 triad of care are highly dedicated and committed to the soldiers they serve.The Wounded Warriors in Transition Program is one way America pays its debt to the American soldier.

I am a Warrior in Transition.
My job is to heal as I transition back to duty
or to continue serving my nation
as a veteran in the community.
This is not a status but a mission.
I will succeed in this mission
Because I am a Warrior
And I am Army Warrior strong.

Wounded Soldier and Family Hotline: 1-800-984-8523 or visit

First published in Qondio 

Contributor's Note A Veteran's Day tribute to those who keep the peace and guard our freedom.

External Links
Army Wounded Warrior Program |

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Audie Murphy: America’s Most Decorated World War II Hero

Before James Dean and Elvis Presley and my late husband, Felix, I loved Audie Murphy.  I saw some of his movies more than once. I even watched his autobiographical movie, To Hell and Back. (I know now he was not a very good actor but at the time, I was an enduring fan.)  I was sad and morose for a week when he died in a plane crash in 1971. So, imagine my pleasant surprise when I saw part of a wall in the d-fac (dining facility) of the army hospital I work in, dedicated to the memory of Audie Murphy.
Audie Leon Murphy was born into a poor sharecropper family in Texas.  One of nine children, he worked to help his parents feed his siblings.  He was said to have learned to be a sharp shooter with the rifle from hunting game for his family.  When World War II broke, 18 year old Murphy tried to enlist in the Marines and the Paratroopers, both of which turned him down for being too small.  At enlistment, he was 5’4” tall and weighed 110 pounds.  He persisted, was eventually signed into the US Army and was almost relegated to a clerk job when he fainted in his first week of basic training.
Murphy saw action in Europe where he earned his numerous medals in between hospitalizations for malaria and war injury.  He earned most of his rank promotions on the field from enlisted man to Major.  He led his troops to battle in North Africa, Italy, Germany and participated in the liberation of the south of France.  Murphy received every possible medal of valor awarded by the United States, among others, the highest US award, the Medal of Honor, 3 Purple Hearts, the French Legion of Honor, one of five awards bestowed by France and one from Belgium.  His autobiography, To Hell and Back, chronicled the war effort and his experiences, careful to emphasize the contributions of his soldiers and fallen comrades rather than placing the spot light on himself.
Murphy’s war hero status led him to Hollywood at the invitation of James Cagney.  He starred in several Western B movies and was a mediocre actor until he starred in John Houston’s Red Badge of Courage and when in 1955 he played himself in To Hell and Back.  This movie grossed ten million dollars in its first release, the highest box office grossing movie eventually topped only  by the movie, Jaws by Steven Spielberg in 1975.  Murphy was also a song writer and poet.
This war hero was plagued by the emotional ravages of war.  Like many soldiers returning from combat, adjusting to life in the civilian world was not easy.  Murphy was insomniac and beset by nightmares of scenes of war. He was hypervigilant and was said to sleep with a pistol under his pillow.  He became addicted to the sleeping pill, Placidyl.  When he realized this, he locked himself in a hotel room for days until he kicked the habit. At the time, little was known about post-traumatic stress disorder which was then called “battle fatigue.” Understanding his own experience, Murphy lobbied tirelessly for the better treatment of Vietnam veterans who came home to insensitive often disrespectful countrymen.
It is sad that Audie Murphy is no longer in our collective memory.  He fought for the freedom of Europe and the mandate of his country, doing his duty without question.  He is the American soldier.  He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, as he wished, in a no frills grave indistinguishable from other fallen soldiers. 
Arlington National Cemetery
 As a young girl, I was infatuated with his good looks and movie star status. As an old woman, I understand now why I loved him and I am grateful.
First published in Qondio
The Warrior Ethos/ The Warrior Creed

I am an American soldier.
I am a warrior and a member of a team.
I serve the people of the United States and live the Army values.
       I will always place the mission first.
       I will never accept defeat.
       I will never quit.
       I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.
I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and a professional.
I am an American soldier.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Kidney Walk: Walking for Felix

The National Kidney Foundation- Kansas City holds its annual kidney walk in October every year.  My husband, Felix, died of kidney failure last year and my family and I joined the kidney walk last year and again this year.  This event is a fundraiser meant to bring awareness to the early detection and prevention of kidney disease and to promote organ donation. There are some 100 centers across the United States holding kidney walks.

This year’s walk was held at the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus.  It started out as a cool day which gradually got too warm.  The UMKC campus with its hilly terrain was perfect for the walk ,giving everyone a good work-out.  Teams of walkers fall into different groups, those who walk in memory of a loved one, those who are kidney disease sufferers and transplant recipients, and those who care for these patients. There were more walkers this year and there was entertainment for all from music and dancing to hot dogs and chips to face painting for the children.  The kidney walk is a celebration of life.

Felix developed end stage renal disease, (known as ESRD, a condition where kidney function falls to 10% or less) due to diabetes complications, one of the most common causes of kidney disease.  Other causes include high blood pressure, birth defects such as polycystic kidney, auto-immune disease such as lupus erythematosus, kidney infections, glomerulonephritis, injury or trauma, drugs and toxic substances, and other kidney disease.  Stubborn man that Felix was, he ignored symptoms, doctor’s advice and family’s (of which there are six physicians and four nurses)pleas to get his diabetes under control until it was too late.  Twenty six million Americans suffer from chronic kidney disease. More are at risk.

Once ESRD sets in, the patient must undergo kidney dialysis three times a week in a dialysis center or daily in their home otherwise, he dies because the body cannot get rid of toxins and excess fluids.  One of 355.000 Americans  who rely on dialysis for their life, Felix underwent dialysis for seven years.  When I was a medical student in the Philippines in the 60’s, all we had available was peritoneal dialysis (dialysis done through the lining of the abdomen) with its constant risk of infection called peritonitis.  Technology has so improved that this risk is much lower for those who opt for peritoneal dialysis and those who have hemodialysis (exchange of fluids through a fistula on the arm where a vein and an artery are connected and rerouted) can even do it themselves.  The whole process still takes about 4 hours each time.  Felix used to call it his second job because he went to dialysis after work.  Dialysis allows the person with ESRD to live as normal a life as possible such as having a full time job or homemaking.  There are reciprocal dialysis centers in the US and all around the globe allowing the individual to travel for work or pleasure.  When our extended family went on an Alaskan cruise one year, we chose a sailing that had dialysis on board.  The staff of these dialysis centers is exceptionally committed and treats their patients like family.  I am very grateful for how they prolonged my husband’s life.
Felix got a kidney transplant towards the end of his life.  Some 104,000 Americans are still waiting for a kidney transplant.  One day, while recuperating from his transplant surgery, we watched a documentary about people waiting on a kidney transplant. I recall seeing my husband, a grown stoic man, weep for the staggering numbers of people waiting and the realization of the enormity of the gift he had been given.

And so our family will walk next year again.  We will walk for Felix and for the many people with ESRD waiting for a second chance.

Seen on the back of a Tee shirt of one of the team walkers:

What Kidney Disease Cannot Do
It cannot cripple love.
It cannot shatter hope.
It cannot corrode faith.
It cannot destroy peace.
It cannot kill friendship.
It cannot suppress memories.
It cannot invade the soul.
It cannot steal eternal life.
It cannot conquer the spirit.
Team Quiason

Sign the organ donation line on your driver's license. "Heaven knows your organs are better needed on earth."

This article first posted on Qondio:

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Weekend in St. Louis, Dinner at Nora's

In our family, September is a month of many  birthday celebrations.  Nephews Brian, Michael and Jacob turned 21 this year.  Niece Rachel turned 18, daughter Emilie is 40 something, Vic is getting older, and Jonas is a senior citizen.  This year, instead of the usual potluck, I had the bright idea of the family driving to St. Louis, Missouri  and celebrating September birthdays with dinner at Nora’s. Everyone took me up on it. Daughter, Melissa and family even flew in from Seattle. It turned out to be a fun weekend.
Stock photo from Up in the Air, Cheshire Lodge in background
I reserved rooms at the Cheshire Lodge, an old world themed hotel. (It is featured in the George Clooney movie Up in the Air.) It is old but charming with authentic hundred year old furnishings from olde England. The rooms need updating but the rent was right and the staff friendly.  It is a couple of blocks away from Forest Park so the exercise aficionados in the family had a scenic place to jog early in the morning.  The hotel had a sumptuous continental breakfast spread.  Embarrassing to say but the family just about occupied the whole lobby each morning. (In our defense, it was not a very big lobby.) The young and not so young occupied a good portion of the hotel's Fox and Hound Bar at night as well. The older of the group stayed up till closing, striking up conversations with the bar maid, also named Nora, and other hotel guests while the young adults decided they needed sleep more than conversation and drinks  and gave up early, party poopers that they were.

Saturday was spent at the St. Louis Zoo.  We all went, young kids, teens, young and old adults and senior citizens.  It was the weekend of the hot air balloon race and I picked the weekend for that purpose.  Alas, there were not very many balloons to be seen.  I did not see any but Vic had pictures to show it was, indeed, the right weekend.

Dinner at Nora’s was on Saturday night.  Nora’s is my son, Robert’s brainchild.  It is a deli at 1136 Tamm Ave in the Dogtown district of  St. Louis, Missouri.  It is two doors down from a restaurant named Felix’s.  Rob closed shop early to make room for Quiason family and friends birthday party.  For appetizer, Lola Pulido from Seattle brought her special, you can’t eat just one, chicharones (pork rinds.) You could feel the cholesterol settling in your arteries. It was that good. The entrees were smoked ribs and beef tenderloin.  The smoked ribs was meat falling off the bone tender, tasty, not too salty and seasoned so well  that adding barbecue sauce would have been a crime.  The beef tenderloin was cooked just right for every family member’s preference from rare, medium rare and well done.  The best part of the evening, of course, was again, just conversation.  Our family never seems to tire of this no matter how often we see each other.  There are so many of us that there is always something new  to talk about.  Most of the time, however, we reminisce about the same old things over and over and smile and laugh like we were hearing it for the first time. 

Rob, owner, proprietor and cook of Nora’s, is my youngest son.  He has successfully defied the family stereotype (and expectation ) of being some kind of professional with a home in the suburbs, one or two cars, a wonderful spouse, and one to three children. He beats to the drummer within and insists on being his own person.  Until he had Nora’s, he owned nothing and owed no one.  He did not own a car unless it was a hand me down from parent or uncles.  He walked, took the bus or begged rides from friends.  He does not own a house.  Like me, he shops at thrift stores.  It takes very little to make him happy.  He loves good food and good wine.  He loves us.  He knows no stranger and his friends love him. His friends brag about him, and when I hear how good a person he is, my heart swells. After all, my one wish for my children is that they become good kind people and they are.  Anything beyond is just gravy.  Our family does not really know Rob. We heard that he is an Elvis impersonator and he sometimes plays with a band, but no one in our family has heard him sing.  At family gatherings, he shares very little of himself and stays mysterious. He gives glimpses of himself like bringing gourmet appetizers and introducing us to good inexpensive wine. Aunts and uncles still give him money for Christmas forgetting that he is no longer one of the unemployed college kids.

I am glad we had September birthdays in St. Louis, had the family see Rob in his own element and know how good he is at what he does.  The food business is most difficult and unforgiving.  Rob is still very poor.  He works long tiring hours,  but he is doing what he loves. Nora’s is getting good reviews and I have no doubt that in time, it will be a thriving business. Who knows, one of these days, there could be a Nora's near you.  I envy Rob the simplicity of his take on life.  I am trying to be more and more like him.

1136 Tamm Ave
St. Louis, MO 63139
Neighborhood: Dogtown
(314) 645-2706

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Year of Living Alone

My husband, Felix, died a year ago today.  Losing someone I had awakened with day after day for 43 years was a life changing event.  But for the love and support of my family, immediate, extended, adopted, in my work places and around the globe, the loss  would have been too much to bear.  You all know who you are and I thank you profoundly. I am truly blessed.

                                                        Immediate family a year ago

Time flies, indeed.  Felix used to say I should travel when he was no longer around.  He, of course, loved travel. In our younger days, we took the kids across America and Canada in our apple green Volkswagen camp mobile.  After years of faithful service and neglect, an eye sore on our driveway, I sold it for $300.00 and he never forgave me for it.  Never mind that the muffler could be heard miles away or that it stalled on the railroad tracks with my brother-in-law, Vic and my son, Robert in it. But that was Felix.  He could never part with anything. 

So, my first mission was to declutter my house, filled with coolers (He loved coolers and had maybe fifty of them.) extension cords, refrigerators, electronic components, laser disc player, betamax (remember those?)  I have filled and sent  Balikbayan boxes (cargo boxes that go to the Philippines) and have more to fill. It has not made a dent in my garage and basement.  It may take the rest of my life.

Next, I fixed the house.  It started with badly needed roof repairs, then new windows to replace rotted old ones, and hey, since I was on a spending roll now, why not the kitchen and the floors and so on.  I have transformed our house into my house.  It is all right. “ Do anything you want when I’m gone.” He said. And I have.  I had the kitchen cabinets painted chocolate brown and put funky glass tiles on the back splash.  My brother-in-law, Vic , (a dentist) and his electrician friend spent two 10 hour days setting up a classy TV and audio system, on top of the fireplace and in my bathroom that even Best Buy would envy.  Interesting, since I watch TV once or twice a week if at all. ( It must have been a Felix kind of thing.)

I have changed jobs, a not so easy move since my work family had been a steady rock of support through the years of Felix’ illness.  I miss them.  The new me decided to serve soldiers.  It turned out to be no sacrifice whatsoever because the pay is good (the work- tiring 10 hour days) and the soldiers are just wonderful to work with.  I will not stay in one place for long.  There are US military bases all over the world and I plan to work in as many of them as life permits.  That is how I hope to travel.  Of course, there are the weekend trips here and there.  My children, Emilie, Melissa and Rob are getting used to getting an email telling them where I will be, for how long, so they know when to get worried.

I am taking classes,too.  I took an HTML class to try to become worldwide web literate.  I am pursuing a dream of becoming a yogi so I am enrolled in that, too.  If I am deserving, I will eventually become a swami and you can call me by my swami  name.  I might even grow my hair long and wear flowing robes, you never know. “Warning: When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple…” Google it.

Couples who have lived together long eventually have an intuitive relationship with each other, like having the bad habit of finishing each other’s sentences or the bane of therapist’s existence, speaking for each other.  I have continued to do that with Felix.  I intuit and give him jobs like looking for lost objects and checking out decisions I am about to make.  He has not failed me yet.  We never really lose anyone.  We simply relate on a different plane.

Last year, my sons in law threatened to have a custody fight over me.  I saved them from themselves by choosing to live alone.  Dan, Alex, having the mother-in –law for a week is way different from living with her every day, getting underfoot and embarrassing you in front of your friends.  I love you but trust me on this and thank me later.

So it seems that I have moved on and in many ways, I have.  But I do still have those days of overwhelming sadness for not being around the physical person that Felix was.  I know now that those days  will never go away.   I am glad I live alone because I can weep like a mad woman and not worry about inflicting my pain on those I love.
More grandchildren

This year, I have learned a most important lesson.  It is about loving.  For as long as I am a lover who loves for the joy of loving someone and not because I need to be loved back, love can endure forever, transcending time and space.  Love multiples.   I can keep loving everyone I have ever loved and still have room for those I have yet to meet, because there is an endless supply where it comes from.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Duty First

The soldier at the gate of the army base I work in, hands me back my driver's license and says, "Have a good day, Ma'am, Duty First." It is the same every morning and it makes me smile.
A soldier with an injured ankle from the US Army's 1-320 Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division is assisted past his burning M-ATV armored vehicle after it struck an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) on a road near Combat Outpost Nolen in the Arghandab Valley in this picture taken July 23, 2010. None of the four soldiers in the vehicle were seriously injured in the explosion. Picture taken July 23, 2010. REUTERS/Bob Strong (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: CONFLICT MILITARY IMAGES OF THE DAY)394810 03: 1st Lt. Heather Hjelm checks her gear after a 12-mile road march with a 45-pound pack and weapon September 21, 2001 at the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division Air Assault School at Ft. Campbell, KY. (Photo by Rusty Russell/Getty Images)

When my husband, Felix, passed away last year, he left me the gift of time to pursue whatever I wanted. "Go to Europe, he said, or wherever your heart takes you." I thought of going with Doctors without Borders but I didn't think there was much demand for a psychiatrist there. Instead, I took a contract job in an army hospital out-patient service as a way of giving back. It has been a most enriching experience.

Unlike the 60's when military service was a mandated luck of the draw, today's US army (and armed forces) are served by young men and women who voluntarily raised their hand in oath to protect the country and the US Constitution. They go through rigorous training. They go where they are told to go. It is duty first.

Soldiers are held to a higher standard embodied in the seven core values ingrained in soldier training.
• Loyalty: Bear true faith and allegiance to the US Constitution, the Army, your unit and other soldiers.
• Duty: Fulfill your obligations.
• Respect: Treat people as they should be treated.
• Selfless service: Put the welfare of the Nation, the Army, and your subordinates before your own.
• Honor: Live up to Army values.
• Integrity: Do what's right legally and morally.
• Personal courage: Face fear, danger or adversity (physical or moral.)

This I see every day.

Soldiers come from all walks of life, from all 50 states, its territories and from different nations. They are young people, some are emancipated 17 year olds. They have differing reasons for enlisting most common of all is to serve the nation. The majority enlist because being a soldier has always been their dream. Some enlist because they have seen 911 and watched the war on TV and felt that it was their duty. Many come from generations of soldiers who have sacrificed family members to death and disability. Some left successful careers or businesses to be of service to the country. Some enlist because they lost their jobs. A single mother of three children enlisted because it was the only way she could get insurance for her sick child. Some come with express hopes of building character. A few come because they have nowhere else to go.

Regardless of the reason for joining, all are expected to live by the core army values. The day starts at six for physical training formation before they go to their job assignments. Soldiers must be physically and mentally fit, ready and able to adapt to diverse and changing conditions. They train in adverse conditions, in the Mojave desert of California, the swamps of Louisiana, the mountains of Colorado and the winters of Alaska. Soldiers can be discharged for not maintaining ideal weight. They are expected to be financially responsible, take care of their families, and obey the law. Everyone obeys the speed limit in the fort. A DUI will cost a soldier his rank and a second one a discharge.

All occupations are represented in the armed forces, doctors, lawyers, mechanics, cooks, aviators, engineers, custodians, computer techs, infantrymen and some duties no one should ever have to do like cleaning blown up vehicles where a soldier lost life or limb.

Unlike previous times, today's soldier expects to spend 12 to 15 months in deployment to the war zone, come home for a year and go back again for another year. Many are training for their third and fourth deployment. They expect this. It is duty first. Many lament not seeing a child born, not being able to attend a family member's funeral, or be present for a spouse's surgery. It is duty first. Couples assigned to different brigades could deploy at different times and live together maybe three months in two years. Single parents face the heartache of leaving their children to grandparents and relatives during these times.
FT. STEWART, GA - JULY 3:  Carrying his daughters Molly (L) and Emily (R) Sgt. Kenneth Messer (C) walks to her car after a homecoming ceremony for 270 soldiers with the U.S. Army's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division July 3, 2008 in Fort Stewart, Georgia. The brigade is coming home after a 13-month deployment to Arab Jabour area of southeastern Baghdad. Second brigade soldiers blocked weapons from entering the Iraqi capital, protected the local population, and trained Iraqi security forces. (Photo by Stephen Morton/Getty Images)
I am awed by the service of these young men and women, professionals in their duty embodied in the words of a soldier who said, "Ma'am, I've been bombed, I've been ambushed, and I've been hurt, but I have never ever fired my weapon in anger." This, of course, is the true warrior, the samurai.

We take them for granted, these protectors and first responders. They fight the war, patrol our coastlines and national borders, protect our skies and our seas, patrol our streets, and go into burning buildings. They go to their jobs everyday because it is duty first. They put themselves in harm's way so we can sleep well at night while they remain in the periphery of our consciousness, if at all.

I came with the intention of serving. The people I came to serve, instead, teach me about our world, life, responsibility and duty first. I am the better for it and I am humbled and grateful. How is it, I ask, that I can give so little and still receive so much?



Saturday, April 17, 2010

Go for a Relaxing Day in Langley, WA

                                           Langley's Small Boat Harbor by Ron Roesler

If you have never been to Langley, Washington, do make it one of your Pacific Northwest destinations. Last week I went to Seattle, Washington to visit my daughter, Melissa, her husband, Alex and grand daughter, Maya. They agreed to take me to Langley in Whidbey Island in search of Dave Gregor of Gregor Rare Books so I could learn more about book selling.  Alex packed us and the family dog, Kobe, a handsome Akita into the family van and treated us to a most relaxing and renewing day trip.

My late husband, Felix, and I have had a love affair with the the islands of western Washington State for many years and when he was still able to travel, we came to the Seattle area three to four times a year to escape work.  We liked to pack an overnight bag, buy cheese, bread and drink and go on day or overnight trips to different places close by.  Langley, the village by the sea, is one place we frequented and so I was happy to combine a day with family, learn about books, and reminisce of times gone by.

Langley is a small town on Whidbey Island, (0.8 square miles and population 1072  in 2008) packed with scenic views, shops, tourist accommodations, arts and activities.  It is on the southeast end of Whidbey Island, the second largest salt water island in mainland USA.  Even the local grocery store has a picture window with a view of the bay and the Cascade Mountains across the water. It is also calls itself a book town by the sea. It is a friendly town. People stop to chat, give directions, make suggestions or just get to know you.They are proud of their town.

                                                   Kobe and Maya in Langley
First order of the trip was to see Dave Gregor at Gregor Rare Books.  He is treasure trove of pearls on how to run a book selling business.  His store is a book collector's paradise.  My daughter, Melissa and I envied his collection of first edition Hemingways, Steinbecks and many of our favorite authors.  I got free advice and the hour passed by quickly.  Melissa, a journalist and book lover  later told me how the store clearly reflected Dave's great love and respect for books.  I agreed. I want to be like him when I grow up in the book business.

                                                             Dave Gregor

                                            Maya, Alex and I in front of Gregor Rare Books
We walked the town.  I set out to browse through all the book shops in book town. I took in book store lay-out, customer service, book choices and learned so much on this trip. Alex and Kobe romped around the park. Kobe was a hit with just about everybody.  Melissa and Maya did mom and daughter things.

There is a lot to do here throughout the year. Actors, playwrights, artists from other places come to live here and this town of 1072 people is cosmopolitan in its own way. There are many published authors here.  I got Maya a delightful children's book by a local author. The Fire House is home to talented glass artists who give classes and demonstrations. There is a 250 seat theater where playwrights and actors put on different shows. If you can, do sign up for the annual Mystery weekend (next is February 26-27, 2011.  Townspeople play a part in the plot. Shop keepers spread false news about the crime.

The outdoor buff will find hiking, kayaking and fishing activities.  Children can comb the beach and dig clams. (Langley is home to the Penn Cove mussel.)  Gardeners can enjoy the flowers.  Meerkerk Gardens, a nature preserve, just a few miles inland has acres of rhododendron trees which is just magnificent in April.  And then, there is whale watching. 

Langley is included in the 100 best destinations by Life Magazine, in the best 3 scenic driving destinations by Coastal Living and the 50 romantic getaways by Travel and Leisure.

Whidbey Island is accessible through Washington State Ferry service from Mukilteo, 25 miles north of Seattle through the Clinton-Mukilteo ferry service available every half hour.  It is connected to the Olympic peninsula by the Keystone- Port Townsend ferry service.  You can  drive through Deception Pass Bridge from the Anacortes exit off I-5. There is also ferry service connecting it to the San Juan Islands.

There is plenty of lodging from resorts to bed and breakfast inns.  Felix and I loved to stay at The Inn at Langley.  All the rooms are spacious, furnished in a minimalist style and  have a panoramic view of the water and the Cascades. Resident chef Matt Costello serves gourmet dining  from Thursday to Sunday in the summer and Friday to Sunday year round.
The Inn at Langley

And now to reminiscing.  A few years back, I was caught in the busyness of work and burning the candle on both ends, I wanted so badly to get off the hectic train but found all kinds of rationalizations for why I couldn't.  Felix is not ever subtle with advice but sensing my near burn-out state, he took me to a week of  island hopping around Puget Sound. I think now it was his attempt at a subtle way of showing me life is whatever I wished it to be.  There is something so liberating about being in these islands.  No one is in a rush.  It is futile to rush to the ferry when you could be the first cut when the ferry gets full.  There is no road rage here. When you are in the islands, you take things in stride.  When you drive to the ferry, you bring a book, a craft project, or your laptop, sandwiches and drinks, and patiently wait for the next one. In Langley, Oak Harbor, Friday Harbor or any similar coastal town, you can just sit by the water, drink, eat and chat with people you just met like there was nothing else to do.  You notice things like kayaks and sailboats in the distance which seem suspended in time. You notice flowers, trees, clouds, birds, people, sunsets.  You value stillness and stopping and now and who you are and who and what you have. You realize you do not have to chase whatever it is you're chasing because in the end you are really simply looking for you.

Here, you live on island time. Someone stole the clock and nobody cares.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Revisiting My Heart and San Francisco

San Francisco is my favorite city so when Alibris sponsored a booksellers conference in this city, I was among the first to enroll. I had not been back in ten years so it was time to return plus I wanted to hang out with my niece, Janette and her husband Peter. Janette came to San Francisco after she graduated from Georgetown University a few years ago and we could not persuade her to return to the Midwest. I can see why.

I booked my hotel via Hotwire. (I'm cheap.) With Hotwire, you don't get the name of the hotel until after you pay. I was pleasantly surprised with Club Quarters (on 424 Clay St at the Embarcadero) which was strategically located, a block away from the conference venue, five blocks to China town and five blocks to the Embarcadero waterfront in the opposite direction.  Club Quarters is a business hotel with few frills. The elevator can only be operated with a card key, lending a sense of safety. Senior travelers and single women would feel safe here. The room was comfortable, clean and equipped with free wi-fi connection. The bed was comfortable.  Hotel price included the use of computers with printers in the club room (convenient for printing boarding passes) and free exercise room (or you could get exercise equipment sent to your room.) Coffee and tea was available all day and a guest closet in the hallway provided extra linen, bottled water and irons and ironing boards.

My late husband, Felix and I always visited China town in any city that had one. Friday was a free day so I woke up early to explore.  Up and down the hills I went in search for breakfast other than bacon and eggs. Felix chose Chinese restaurants by watching which one Chinese denizens patronized because he believed he would get the real thing.  Unfortunately, the first one I found filled with Asian customers did not have English speaking servers nor a menu in English.  I settled for a dim sum bakery where I instinctively ordered won ton and noodle soup (for breakfast?) and steamed pork bun.  It wasn't until midway through the meal that I realized why.  In my starving medical student days in 1960's Manila, this was all I could afford and I remembered days upon days when this was my lunch fare. In a way, it was like being home again.

For a small city, parks are every place in San Francisco.  Within the same street four block from each other was Trans America Redwood Park where redwood trees are beginning to tower and a China town park populated by young and older Asians chatting, playing, exercising and playing chess. I hoped to find a tai chi group in full swing and found none. After taking pictures of colorful Chinese lanterns and pagodas and losing haggling battles with jewelry and clothing vendors, I cut my losses and walked the opposite way to the Embarcadero waterfront.  By now, it was lunch time and the park was full of people on their lunch hour listening to street musicians while they ate and tourists shopping the various craft stands around.  Some, as I did, just sat on  benches watching the water, boats and people.

San Francisco holds tender memories for me.  It is the first US city Felix and I lived in when we arrived from the Philippines in 1967, $200.00 in his wallet, a suitcase a piece, and no employment. We got our social security cards with consecutive numbers here.  We spent hours upon hours in the library looking at job ads and walking the streets looking for work. Coming from a conservative upbringing, we were in culture shock with the hippie generation, flower children, people protesting the Vietnam war and making love in the parks.  Revisiting these places forty three years later, San Francisco is still quite enchanting.  Haight Ashbury which had been a rundown drug haven in the 60's is now home to the affluent.  The flower children are now senior citizens, perhaps more conservative but still fun loving.  They are still in the parks watching their grandchildren play, sitting on the dock by the bay, or rocking to music in the night life of the city.

It is hard not to live a bohemian life style here. The city is only 46.7 sq miles so people live, work and play close to each other. In 2008, it ousted Seattle from the top rank of the most fit city in the US, rated by the American College of Sports Medicine based on personal health indicators, environmental health indicators and health care providers.  There is walking, biking, jogging, surfing, tennis, golf and any number of sports activities.  In the beaches, attired parents play ball with their children in close proximity to naked men and women without embarrassment or judgment, no big deal. It has the bay, wonderful weather, great sports teams, restaurants, and diverse culture.  

I remember loving San Francisco for its great tolerance and even embracing of differences and uniqueness.  Many cultures meet here, people from different countries, (Filipinos comprise a good chunk of the population.) people of different religions, sexual persuasions, professions, and beliefs.  Artists perform in street corners. There are restaurants to fulfill craving for different ethnic cuisine.  My niece and I pigged out on adobo and kari-kari at Goldilocks one of the ethnic restaurants where Filipinos go for the taste of home. ( We had been craving for daing-and tuyo- fried dried fish. They ran out just as we got there, big disapointment.)

I met my brother-in-law Mario for the first time in San Francisco.  Barely out of his teens and the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy, Mario spent months on end at sea as first mate on a merchant marine vessel.  Our paths did not cross until one day in China town, by happenstance, Felix turned around and saw him. Neither one knew that they were in the same city.  Mario had a one day furlough while his ship unloaded cargo and we had a very moving reunion.  Mario is now a mild mannered, accountant, devoted husband and father, land-locked in the Midwest.  Few know of his youthful escapades and wild adventurous past.

It was a great weekend of reminiscing.  The weather was great, the flowers colorful, the city as I remembered, only better. The conference was good, too.  I learned so much about selling books I am confident I can make a profit this year.  As I revisited familiar places, I felt that Felix was there,too, with his opinionated comments about people, food, shopping and what have you, while at the same time thoroughly enjoying himself.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Weekend in Sedona

Ten years ago, I trained in Reiki, an energy healing technique but never really got into it so I decided to hone my skills and become more proficient. Where else should one go to study healing techniques but to Sedona, Arizona, the place of red rocks and vortices and healers.  It was also a test to see how well I would enjoy traveling alone

The training was on a Saturday and Sunday so I gave myself time to get there a day early and leave a day later. From Kansas City, it is a 2 1/2 hour flight to Phoenix and a two hour drive to Sedona.  I decided to enjoy the convenience of a shuttle van and leave the driving to a courteous knowledgeable shuttle driver doubling as a tour guide. (Reservations have to be made ahead of time, cost $99.00 round trip plus tip.)  Red rock mountains and tall saguaro cacti populate the landscape along the Sonoran desert.

I stayed at Iris Garden Rodeway Inn, a bare bones but comfortable inn with free continental breakfast and helpful staff. I chose it for the reasonable rate, ($100.00/night for senior citizens) and the proximity to the training center. (Be prepared to spend upwards of $1,000/night if you check into one of the resort hotels which offer different cuisine and resort amenities.) 

The towns of Sedona and Oak Creek rest in the foothills of the southwestern rim of the Colorado Plateau.  Being on the high desert, it boasts of mild year round temperature (47F-75F) and clean air.  From anywhere in town you can see red rock formations. Golf, art galleries and resorts abound here. The main drag is filled with tourist trappings of expensive clothing, crystal stores, healing practices and food establishments.  There are psychic readers on every block, aura scanners, yoga, massage practitioners and what have you.  For an alternative medicine practitioner such as myself, this was a candy store though I was not buying. Go further out and Cococino National Park and other nature preserves offer unlimited possibilities for the nature lover and outdoors man. 

The story goes that Theodore Carl Schnebly who settled in from Gorin, Missouri had petitioned the US Postal Service for a post office in the area. Oak Creek Canyon and other names submitted to the post office were rejected for being too long to fit on a cancellation stamp. Schnebly's brother suggested Sedona, the name of Theodore Schnebly's wife, to be the postal town address.  It has been Sedona ever since.

There are many activities in Sedona. Different tours are available almost on the hour every hour.  There are red rocks tours, vortex tours, hiking tours and native American spiritual guided tours.   I embarked on a Pink Jeep tour of the red rock mountains. The pink jeep is a pink all terrain vehicle.  It is a bumpy but enjoyable ride that takes you to the top of the mountain and back down along rocky terrain sometimes with an almost 100 degree angle drop.  My children would certainly have been upset had I met my demise there. "Elderly woman crushed under jeep in bottom of Red Rocks Canyon."      

The mountains are given names befitting their shape.  Submarine mountain which looks like a submarine is a great photo op location. Snoopy is a natural formation which looks like Snoopy laying on his back.  This rim of the Colorado plateau is amazing and awe inspiring.  Millions of years ago, the sea went inland into this place and when it dried out, the formations appeared.  Copper gives the red rock sandstone its color. Mountain bikers, hikers and rock climbers enjoy the challenges here.

Standing in the midst of this grandeur, I learned a couple of things about myself. I learned that that I could enjoy traveling alone, exploring the world alone, going places I might not have gone before and meeting people of different ages, nationalities and cultures.  I found out that I was still in good shape and could hike as well as the 30 something kids I was with. (Hike, not climb. The jeep did all the climbing.) 

Just like my earlier life experiences standing on top of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls, I felt humbled by the majesty of the universe and how a lifetime is nothing more than a blink of an eye in the face of the eternity that these places signify. The most important lesson came in one brief moment on the canyon when I was one with the universe.  In a precise same moment, I felt as vast and timeless as the red rocks and the blue sky beyond and as tiny and rooted in time as the tiny grain of red rock sand I stood on. 

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Famous Filipinos: of the Back Eyed Peas

The quartet The Black Eyed Peas is certain to gather Grammy awards and even more following this year. Band member,, who has long been a hit in the Philippines and a voice for Philippine tourism, is sure to bring more attention to his country of origin.

The Black Eyed Peas quartet has taken the music world by storm since their inception in 1995.  Formed by best friends, and who met at John Marshall High School in Los Angeles, the group recorded hit after hit starting with the album, Behind the Front. "Where Is the Love" from the album Elephunk was on top of the billboards in the US, UK and Australia for weeks on end. Their music video, Yes, We Can, shot in black and white, taken entirely from a Barack Obama speech and performed with different celebrities illustrates the group's keen appreciation for American culture in their music.

The quartet is a crew of unlikely musicians who are also very good friends and each other's best support.  African American, (William James Adams, Jr.,)official spokesperson, plays instruments and sings. Filipino American (Allan Pineda Lindo) also plays clavinet and strings.  Taboo, (Jaime Luis Gonzales) Mexican and Native American vocalist worked in the Disneyland clean up staff before joining the group, and Fergie (Stacy Ferguson,) child actor and singer overcame a battle with addiction to resume her singing career. was born in Sapang Bato, Pampanga, Philippines.  His father, an African American service man, abandoned the family and young Lindo had to work to help his mother support the family.  An American, Joe Ben Hudgens, provided financial sponsorship through the Pearl S. Buck Foundation, a foundation which helps disadvantaged Amerasian children.  Hudgens later sponsored Apl to immigrate to the US. Apl was 14.  This tale of his life and the Filipino plight is featured in The Apl Song video (Elephunk album 2003,) recorded in rap in Tagalog and English, incorporating Filipino instruments. Bebot (Tagalog colloquial for hot chick) video recorded in the 2005 album Monkey Business, is a rap in Tagalog and has generation one and two versions. Filmed in LA with Filipino Americans and Black Eyed Peas, the song video provides a slice of Filipino life which will resonate with Filipino youth. Some criticize the video for oversexualizing the Filipino woman. It has, nonetheless, been a hit in the Philippines.

Apl's pride in his Filipino heritage is obvious in the Filipino rap included in  Black Eyed Peas albums where he has introduced the Filipino sound.  Like the other members of the group who are equally successful in their own right with their individual albums, Apl has projects with Filipino artists in the works. His website features his sound which he calls Jeepney Music, (perhaps taken from his childhood days of taking hour jeepney rides to get to school.)  The Black Eyed Peas have made a video "Take Me to the Philippines" with the Philippine tourism board. Despite his tremendous success, Apl seems grounded in his Filipino roots and works hard to bring the Philippines with him into the spotlight.  Watch Apl perform with the Black Eyed Peas at the Grammys.

(Note: I suggest Filipinos watch the entire video.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Dancing Inmates of Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center Hit the Big Time

My sisters in the Philippines turned me on to the dancing inmates of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center and I have been following them on You Tube for sometime. They have now hit the big time with a Sony DVD of Michael Jackson's This Is It.

Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) is a maximum security prison in the province of Cebu in the Philippines. The inmates include criminals convicted of violent crimes like murder, rape and drug trafficking. Some are serving multiple life terms.Yes, they, too, dance among the 1500 strong cast. Some are lead dancers.

The inmate dance troupe is the brain child of Byron F. Garcia, security consultant and prison official, who was inspired by Mozart music streaming in the prison yard in the movie Shawshank Redemption. Starting with yard exercises set to pop music, the activity progressed to full dance routines. The dance group came to international attention when their You Tube production of The Thriller by Michael Jackson uploaded in July 2007 immediately moved to the 5th spot in Time Magazines Most Popular Viral Video by December 2007. CPRDC dancers in their orange jumpsuits have performed before many Philippine dignitaries including the Catholic Archbishop and the Cebu provincial Governor. They perform for visitors on certain weekends and have participated in local festivals including the 438th Founding Day of Cebu. Within hours of Michael Jackson's passing, the inmates put together a tribute dance video of his songs, rehearsing for hours, pausing only for meals.

CPDRC dancing inmates have been the subject of the British documentary, Murderers on the Dance Floor aired in 2008 and CNN news. Japanese and Korean singers have performed with the inmates and made videos to air in their countries.

The dance project has been widely received by both inmates and staff. In 2007, the inmates were in included in the provincial employee capital bonus each inmate receiving 1000.00 pesos ($20-22.00) as incentive for their hard work.

The program is not without its detractors. Some criticize the program as cruel and cite torture of prisoners who refuse to participate. Program founder Byron Garcia responded to critics in one of the videos "There are sick people who think that dancing is a form of cruel punishment! Since when was dancing categorized as punishment? My fellow citizens of the world, cruel and violent forms of punishment are a thing of the past. If we make jails a living hell for these inmates , then, we might just be sending out devils once they are released and re-integrated to society. To all "non-believers" of humane treatment of prisoners, and to all haters of our non-violent approach to rehabilitation, all I can say is ...get a life!"

Byron Garcia may be on to something very significant here. The logistics of having 1500 hardened inmates, many with nothing to look forward to, to set aside gang affiliations and personal differences,work towards a common goal and step as one to the beat of a common rhythm; that boggles the mind. Members of the US Legislature, Executive and Judicial branch, pay attention. There may be a lesson for all here. I have great hope for you.

Wherever you stand in the controversy, watch these men and women. They are awesome dancers and in some ironic way, by their example they may also teach us how to work for a common goal.

Watch by clicking on highlighted phrases like this  You Tube external link.

Published on 1/26/2010 at:

Saturday, January 2, 2010

I Wish All a Blessed New year

As I watched the Times Square ball come down to mark the New Year, events of the past year and the past decade came to mind. With it came my hope and prayers for a blessed year for all.

The decade was both a time of tragedy and a time of new beginnings.  We suffered tragedies both nature and man made as we witnessed the devastation of tsunami, earthquakes, typhoons and flooding and the ravages of man in 911 and the economic meltdown.  US soldiers have been fighting on two fronts. The auto industry, once an American symbol of promise and affluence came tumbling down along with industries and businesses that heavily depended on them.  Families lost their homes first in a wave of the subprime mortgage fiasco and a subsequent wave of employment lost. Men, women and children continue to die of hunger somewhere in the world. Michael Jackson's music genius is no more.

In the same decade, man achieved great things.  The US elected its first Black President. It saw acts of unprecedented heroism in 911 and events such as seasoned pilots saving passengers from going into the Hudson River.  Outpouring of gift giving followed the tsunami while billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet pledged to spend their billions in philanthropy to improve the human condition.  Web technology grew by leaps and bounds allowing families to connect with each other continents away on social media like Facebook, Twitter and Skype. Mobile technology, portable readers, and Iphones promise more applications to come. Man is developing awareness of the earth as a living being requiring nurture, respect and respite. Athletes achieved unprecedented personal bests even as some fell from grace. Filipino boxer, Manny Pacquiao, won unprecedented titles in different weight classes while Michael Phelps broke 37 swimming records and won eight Olympic medals. Michael Vick and Tiger Woods fell from grace with their fans. US legislators passed a health care bill.

It was the worst of times.  It was the best of times. The decade saw the worst and the best of man.

Just as each day is a new day, each year is a new beginning.  For my part, I hope to live a gentler, kinder, loving life with gratitude for all that is given.  For everyone, I wish each new day to be a blessed day filled with grace.


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