Friday, August 03, 2007


I’ve just finished reading Middlemarch by George Eliot – a big thick wedge of a book, and one of the most satisfying novels I’ve ever read. It feels and reads like an epic, even though it contains no heroes in the traditional sense of the word, is not set in the context of any great historical conflict, and does not span a long period of time.

Instead, it contains characters marvellous for their ordinariness – people even we moderns can recognize and identify with. Eliot was a genius in character study, and she brilliantly portrays this or that aspect of human nature in a few skillful strokes, and captures a character’s predominant fault or virtue with a simple gesture, facial expression, or a few words of dialogue. The lives of her characters in Middlemarch make up three main story lines, which mingle, separate, and twine together again like the branches of a vine. From the very start we are drawn into their joys, loves, sorrows and concerns. Perhaps Eliot realizes this, for she begins the epilogue by saying, Who can quit young lives after being long in company of them, and not desire to know what befell them in their after-years?

I would recommend this book to young men and women, especially those in a relationship and may be thinking of getting married. I would also recommend it to almost-grown-up children who are just beginning to realize that their parents are not perfect beings. The book offers many insights about friendships, relationships, marriage and family life: how very easily we can fall in love with the idea we have formed about a person, instead of seeing who the person really is; how parents, while capable of many mistakes, are still deserving of all our affection and respect; how married couples can survive any difficulty if they remain united and are able to laugh together.

I leave it to you to discover for yourself these and many other lessons from Middlemarch. But I cannot resist sharing with you two of my favourite quotes from the book:

The first was uttered by one of my favourite characters, Mary Garth: I consider my father and mother the best part of myself.

And this, the concluding sentence of the book, which I think expresses wonderfully the value and beauty of the extraordinary good we can do with ordinary lives well-lived: …the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

How we beat the heat

We're in the middle of a heat wave. Today was the hottest day hit over 35 degrees in the Valley. Even the cows are fainting (I'm not kidding).

I think the heat addled our brains a bit. Today, of all days, Mom roasted the boiled pork belly she's been air-drying for days, to make lechon with a nice, crisp, crackling, golden-brown rind. And Sashi decided to make cupcakes.

So the kitchen was boiling for most of the afternoon, but we had a great dinner. We ate outside on the patio and feasted on the roast pork, Thai noodle salad, and ice-cold Guinness. For dessert, Sashi made individual-sized trifles with crumbled white cake (made from the leftover cupcake batter), berries, and vanilla icecream, drizzled with white balsamic vinegar syrup. 


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Once, they had a secret love

Sorting through some papers after my grandmother died, my mother found her parents' marriage certificate. But there were a few strange details about it. First of all, it had been torn down the middle and then taped back together. And the date of the marriage was November 29, 1952: two years and a day before the date the family had always celebrated as my grandparents' wedding anniversary. It had always been easy to remember, because that day, November 30, was also my grandmother's birthday.

Understandably, my mother proceeded to have a small crisis. What did this certificate mean? When did her parents actually get married? If the wedding date was wrong, did that mean her birthdate was wrong, too???

Only one person knew the answer. When confronted with the certificate, my grandfather smiled. "I was wondering when you'd find that." Then he sat my mother down and told her the whole story - a story that he and my grandmother had kept secret for more than fifty years.

My grandparents had known each other since their early high school years. My grandfather's younger sister and my grandmother went to the same school, and my grandfather was the handsome older boy whose picture was sighed over by the other girls in their class. They each dated other people, but by the time they were in university, they had fallen deeply in love and knew they wanted to be married.

However, my grandmother's father was very strict, and they were afraid that if he discovered their attachment, he would never allow them to marry, and even try to keep them apart.

So, aided and abetted by a priest my grandfather knew, who performed the ceremony, and by my grandmother's best friend and my grandfather's young uncle, who acted as witnesses, they married in secret on November 29, 1952, one day shy of my grandmother's 20th birthday.

They tore their marriage certificate straight down the middle, and each kept one half. It was their insurance against the negative reaction they expected from my grandmother's father, in case he found out about their union before my grandfather was in a better position to formally ask for my grandmother's hand in marriage.

Fortunately, the next two years went according to plan. My grandparents both graduated from university, and my grandfather found a steady job. At last he was able to make his intentions known to my great-grandfather. That formidable gentleman was not pleased, but - amazingly - did nothing to stop them from being married.

Why was another church wedding necessary? Why not just reveal the original marriage certificate?

My grandfather explained, "We didn't want to hurt our parents. Besides, our families were well-known in the community. Imagine the scandal! How could we have explained it? Married in secret, but without being together as man and wife for two years? Who would have believed us?"

Who, indeed? Who would have believed that a young man and woman, very much in love, and with every right to be together as husband and wife, could wait for two whole years before consummating their marriage? Was it possible? Was it even necessary?

"Absolutely necessary," my grandfather said. "If she had gotten pregnant..."

Of course. An even bigger scandal would have ensued. They both wanted to "do things right" - to save their families a lot of heartache, and above all, to do nothing that might risk losing each other.

"So you mean I was really born on my birthdate?" my mother said in relief. "I'm really the age I am now? I'm not....older?"

My grandfather laughed. "Yes! You were born a year after our big church wedding." He shook his head, remembering. "All that fuss...the guests....and everything." And then he smiled. "Every year Mama and I would have a quiet little celebration...just the two of us...on November 29."

November 29, 2010

There's a little postscript to this story. For as long as I could remember, my grandmother's wedding dress was kept in a big old carved trunk. Before my grandfather moved to Montreal with my parents, we opened the trunk, and for the first time I got to examine every item in detail. The lace and beads on the dress, the yellowed lace. The tiny silk flowers on the head piece that held the veil. They were pale pink, cream, and pale blue....but there was one rosette nestled among them that was a deeper blue than the rest. It seemed out of place until we realized that it had served as her "something blue."

Sadly the dress had to be burned because most of it was stained beyond repair. But I did get to keep the silk flowers. And her gloves. Her hands weren't that much bigger than mine, but her arms were so slender, the gloves unbelievably narrow.

Oh, and I inherited her engagement ring. My grandfather had to save up for a year to buy it. I wear it every day, as a reminder of that faithful and generous love - their most important legacy to all of us.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Four Generations

I found this old photo the other day. From left to right, meet Agnes (my mom), Ana (my great-grandmother), Alicia (my grandmother) and Maria (yours truly). I think it was taken when I was around fifteen or sixteen.
It's not often a woman can literally see the generations of women who went before her. I've been keeping this photo close by these past few days, reflecting a lot on each woman in turn, and seeing all sorts of interesting parallels between us that I never saw before.
Lola Anita, as we called my great-grandmother, was an only child. My grandmother is the oldest of three daughters. So is my mother. So am I. We're a family of women, of first-born girls who had a lot of family responsibility put on their shoulders.
Another thing I've realized anew is how extremely blessed I was to be able to know my great-grandmother personally. I remember family visits to Lola Anita, with all of us crowded into her room because she couldn't easily come down the stairs. I remember sitting on her bed, touching her fluffy white hair and her papery soft skin, catching glimpses of her gold teeth when she laughed, and trying to imagine her as the young woman she had been, elegant and dressy, with a different outfit for every day of the year.
Even as a child I was never bored in the company of older people. I would sit for hours and listen to them telling stories.
Lola Anita and my grandmother had especially interesting stories about living in occupied Manila during World War II. Their house was used as a conduit for supplies being brought into the city by guerrillas. One day their house was searched by Japanese soldiers. Only that morning, their garage had been packed to the rafters with bags of rice, which had been taken away in the wee hours. Had the rice still been there, the family would likely have been killed. As it was, Lola Anita found herself stuck with a box of matches the guerrillas had given her. The box was decorated with an image of MacArthur and his famous line, "I shall return." With the Japanese soldiers on her doorstep, not knowing where to hide the matches, she ate them - down to the last stick.
My grandmother was about nine years old then. Her memories of the occupation included unravelling socks for thread ... lying on the roof with her sisters and her father at night to watch war plane dogfights overhead (with Lola Anita trying in vain to make them come down - "You'll all be killed!") ... refusing to eat the pet chicken that had been slaughtered for a special meal, even though she was sick of the cabbage, rice and salted black beans they had to eat every day ... and, in the end, dodging bullets, cannon fire, and dead bodies as the family fled across the city before the advancing American forces.
In my next post...memories of my grandmother, and the love story we never found out about until after she died. 


Monday, June 18, 2007

Hiking in the rain

Thanks to my intrepid buddies Kristi and Betty, our hiking trip last Saturday went through despite the rainy weather.
We drove up to Brandywine Falls (on the Sea to Sky Highway, between Squamish and Whistler), had a car picnic, then started our adventure with an inspiring view of Brandywine Falls. Then we hiked for 2 hours on a trail quite unlike anything we had ever seen before in BC. Instead of the typical towering cedars and forest floor covered with brown mulch, there were lava beds, hardened now to stone, on which Douglas fir and pine trees had managed to seed, take root and grow. The ground under the trees was covered with lichen in shades of brilliant green, and here and there were ponds dotted with lily pads.
There was no one else on the trail, although we did bump into one guy going the opposite way on the BC Rail tracks that we followed on the hike back to the car. He was looking for the suspension bridge, which unfortunately we did not have time to visit that afternoon, deciding instead to leave it for another day.
Following the railroad tracks was quite an adventure, going through canyons and over gullies. For a while I pretended I was Natty Gann (remember that Disney movie?) walking along the tracks and jumping trains all the way north to find her father.
On the way back to Vancouver we stopped at Timmy's in Squamish for hot chocolate. The Squamish Rock, usually an awesome sight, was shrouded in fog, which was too bad because we had wanted to show it to Betty. Another thing we had to leave for next time.
I guess I'm going to have to get some proper hiking shoes!

Monday, May 14, 2007

The joys of a spring garden

The lilac tree bloomed just in time for Mother's Day! These photos were taken by Angela.
Early yesterday morning I went out into the garden and surprised a black squirrel, a robin and a chickadee going about their business.

We have 2 chickadee families living in our refurbished chickadee townhomes (the two birdhouses hanging off the tool shed). Hopefully they will start patronizing the newly stocked supermarket (the birdfeeder). The pool (the birdbath) is not yet open for business, but hopefully will be cleaned and ready in time for the summer.

The pansy bed is a riot of purple and the rose bushes and the jasmine vine are bursting with shoots.

Spring is here at last!


Thursday, May 03, 2007

Till We Have Faces

I requested C.S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces from the library some time ago after a friend told me about it, and finally got to read it last weekend. I was amazed and delighted by it, in ways I'm still trying to find the words to explain. The language is elegantly simple, the plot well-paced and exciting enough to keep a child entertained, and yet the ideas are so complex, multi-faceted and multi-layered. It has much to say about beauty, love, truth, freedom, sacrifice, and faith. It definitely merits a second, third, fourth reading...several readings spread over the course of one's life. As you change, so will the book.

Favourite passage, about Psyche: “She made bright all the corners of the room in which she lay. Always laughing, making all others laugh, merry, truthful, obedient, virtuous, spirited, compassionate, selfless...what every woman…ought to have been and meant to be.” 


Monday, April 30, 2007

It's So You!

A couple of weeks ago my mom, my sister Angela and I started reading It's So You! by Mary Sheehan Warren. The result was a weekend-long purging of all three of our closets. First we spent almost an entire morning in the bathroom, where there is a lot of natural light, and helped determine each other's skin tone. I had gone for years believing that I was an "autumn" after reading Color Me Beautiful by Carole Jackson. Turns out that I actually have a "light cool" skin tone, which translates into a "summer" in the Color Me Beautiful scheme. Mom and Angela are both "cool" or "winter." Armed with this information, we hauled out all our clothes, and the fun began. We traded shirts, blouses, sweaters and scarves. Anything that was a few years old and in the wrong colour was put into a large giveway bag.

So the bad news is I can't wear orange, which I love. But the good news is that I can wear the entire spectrum of pinks, purples, and blues, which I also enjoy. And who says I can't still use my bright orange umbrella?

I would totally recommend this book to all women who want to look their best without blowing their budgets. Get a group of good friends together - you know, the kind who will tell you what you need to hear, in the nicest possible way. As in, "Honey, that shade of green makes you look like you have the flu." Also they have to be the kind of friend with whom you won't mind sharing your vital statistics - you'll see why in a second. Work together to find out what your skin tones are, and don't forget to also check out the section on Body Types. Then...happy trading!


Monday, April 23, 2007

Paleolithic Art

Just learned something interesting in my art history course.
Women were being depicted nude, often with exaggerated breasts, hips and abdomens, in painting and sculpture as early as the Paleolithic period (i.e. 30,000 years ago).
It's amazing that the fascination with and appreciation for the female form and fertility is so deeply rooted in the human psyche.
"The genius of woman," a wise person has said, "is her natural receptivity to life, which is revealed in the very structure of her body."

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