Monday, December 02, 2013

Of fast cars and dog sleds

Movies about car races don't appeal to me, but those with canine characters and uplifting story lines do -- which is why even though most people who know Paul Walker associate the actor with the Fast and the Furious films, I remember him from Eight Below. The 40-year-old actor died in a car crash, and what makes it all the more significant to Filipinos is that was involved in raising funds to help typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) survivors in the Philippines. The crash happened on a day that a charity event organized by the actor and partners took place.

From a CNN story:

Walker and Rodus had planned Saturday as a day to help survivors of victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. The car shop website invited customers to the Charity Toy Drive & Automotive Social Gathering.
'During the holiday season, many economically disadvantaged children from around the world are faced with the same dilemma year after year; the lacking of joy and cheer," the invitation read. "Our goal here is to be able to provide aid to these less fortunate children in hopes of helping them grow up to become confident, responsible and productive young adults.'

Eight Below is a 2006 adventure film inspired by a true story. It's great to watch with the kids as well -- it's two hours long, though, so you may want to watch it with them in installments.

Friday, November 22, 2013

On slumber, smoke & "happy hormones"

Blowing your budget isn’t a prerequisite to enhancing your looks. Here are simple things you can start doing right now to boost your beauty without spending anything.

How many times have you heard someone explain the pretty looks or the radiant quality of women by saying that such women have the money to maintain their presumably pricey regimen? “Magastos magpaganda” or “May pera siya eh,” you yourself may have uttered at some point to dismiss fresh-looking ladies who seem beautifully put-together.

The good news is, while money can buy things that offer solutions (not necessarily the right ones) to your beauty woes, many of the things you need so as to bring out your natural radiance are a matter of lifestyle. And by making a few simple changes in your lifestyle, you’ll see positive results in your appearance and in your well-being, too.

If your body could talk, it will certainly tell you these three simple things:

“Give me enough sleep.”
Movies and fashion features may turn to zombies for inspiration, but aiming for a “night of the living dead” look in real life is not advisable. Is your shut-eye limited to 4 or 5 hours almost every night? If it is, it’s bound to show up on your face – and in your disposition – over time.

“Lack of sleep causes slackness in the skin, tension in the face, and frown lines, and makes the skin look lifeless,” says dermatologist Gail Dacudao, M.D. of Violets Salon & Skin Clinic in Las Pinas, adding that cells reproduce most actively between midnight and 4 a.m.  A good night’s sleep, therefore, is nature’s rejuvenating treatment for the skin.

Plus, when you lack sleep, you’re bound to be cranky the following morning. Listen to your body and give it adequate rest; this way it’ll be easier for your sparkling personality to come out (or at least more smiles than scowls will show up).

Here’s a tip: Find out what’s causing you to clock in too little time for sleeping, then make adjustments. Is Facebook keeping you up till late? Taking home work too often? Take determined steps to address the problem and you’ll feel the difference when your mind and body get the restorative benefits of enough peaceful slumber.  

“Go smoke-free!”

Let’s not go into the details of lung cancer and emphysema as potential consequences of smoking because you probably know that already. Let’s just underscore the fact that cigarettes can end up making you look ugly. Why? Because “haggard” is not among the adjectives that normally describe women who exemplify beauty. “Lovely” and “charming” will not come to mind when gazing at your parched skin, possibly hollow cheeks and overall gaunt appearance – which smoking, unfortunately, eventually leads to several years down the road. Authentic beauty goes beyond skin-deep, but in this case, your body must be pleading with you to at least think about your skin.

“Studies have estimated that people who smoke appear to be as much as 10 or 20 years older than their actual non-smoking counterparts by the time they reach mid-life,” Dacudao points out.

“Smoking causes accelerated production of an enzyme called matrix metalloproteinase-1 that breaks down collagen in the skin,” the doctor explains. Collagen, by the way, is a protein – found in the skin – which gives the skin its suppleness. “This means that you lose youthful plumpness of your skin far more quickly than you would if you don’t smoke.”

Besides, nicotine has been shown to have a diuretic effect, the dermatologist adds, thereby depleting the moisture in your skin and giving it a parched appearance. Now you wouldn’t want that for your skin, which happens to be the largest organ (not all body organs are internal like the heart or the brain), would you? So, the way to go is smoke-free!

“Make friends with endorphins!”

Simply put, your body releases hormones called endorphins whenever you exercise.  And these endorphins act somewhat as a “natural analgesic” by reducing your perception of pain. In addition, endorphins trigger a feeling of euphoria and a general state of well-being – a natural high, if you will.

Just think: if exercise is part of your routine, then you’ll be giving yourself a regular boost of “happy hormones.” But first, banish the thought that by “exercise” we automatically mean working out at the gym, 10-k runs, hours of zumba, or racket sports. Those are choices and many people do enjoy regularly engaging in such activities, but the key is to be physically active. Walking, if done on a regular basis, is considered exercise already.

So, when you get your heart rate up by brisk walking, running around campus or dancing, you stimulate blood circulation and thereby help your body maintain its health. And when your body is healthy, illness is kept at bay, you feel great, and this in turn influences your disposition and appearance. The natural high, too, from the release of endorphins is all you need to achieve that youthful glow which won’t cost you anything!

Woman Today magazine
September 2013

Sunday, November 17, 2013

After the winds and the water

It's not "business as usual" in my country -- it's been that way for nine days now. November 8 was the day typhoon Yolanda (int'l codename: Haiyan) pounded central Philippines, hitting the provinces of Leyte, Samar, parts of Cebu, Panay island, and several islets in the region.

One thing that is becoming evident as stories are told and shared on various media is the incredible resilience of the Filipino people. I'll leave it to Anderson Cooper to delve on it through a report he filed after spending a week in my country, most of it in Leyte, which has been called a "wasteland" after the devastation became clear. Rebuilding of homes has started as I write this. The residents of Leyte and Samar are also being evacuated, over a thousand of them already making it to Manila. Some are to stay with relatives while others, in Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) centers for the time being.

One thing that many have found overwhelming and remarkably moving is the demonstration of concern and solidarity by dozens of countries in the way of messages of support, prayers and material aid. Many have also brought medical teams, disaster management experts, high-tech equipment that I didn't even know existed, and other means of helping the survivors in more ways than one, directly and indirectly.

So, to all the people, countries and governments that have extended their support to my people, thank you very much!

Due to all that the survivors experienced during the typhoon and in the aftermath, not only are they in need of physical/medical treatment but what someone has dubbed "psychological first-aid" as well. The graphic below has tips that can come in handy if you should find yourself face-to-face (or side by side) with someone who lived through the ordeal. It's important to give comfort to people who have lost much, if not everything, including their families.

* A previous blog post includes information on how you may donate or volunteer.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) whips through Philippines: reports and footage

To give you a clearer idea of what the people in some parts of the Philippines have experienced in the last couple of days due to typhoon Yolanda (international codename: Haiyan), here are links to several reports, both posted on November 8 evening. The first is the day's episode of State of the Nation with Jessica Soho. Most affected areas are Leyte and Eastern Samar.

At least one church and several hospitals have been destroyed. And there is mounting concern over the dozen or so bodies so far found because even funeral homes have been destroyed. Public health could be at risk as a result.

Communications in many parts of the affected areas are still down as of this posting.

Prayers and practical help needed and will be deeply appreciated.

At least 33 dead as super typhoon Yolanda pounds central Philippines

Pinsala ng Super Typhoon Yolanda sa Palo, Leyte

In Yolanda's wake, more than 100 bodies found in Tacloban's streets; city airport 'ruined' - CAAP exec


How you can donate and volunteer  (from Tina Santiago-Rodriguez of Truly Rich Mom)

Caritas Manila (contains info even for those overseas who may want to donate money)


UPDATE / NOV. 10: I'm adding the following news report with footage, but it was posted on the network's website yesterday, Nov. 9. The report is in Filipino but the images tell the general story.

The second link contains photos from Yahoo! News.

1,200 feared dead in typhoon-devastated Philippines

Super storm 'Yolanda' (Haiyan) hits the Philippines

And adding the last one for today, a report by foreign media:

Death toll after Philippines typhoon could reach 10,000, according to local officials

Some more info on helping the victims:


Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Music, madness and Manila driving

When news of buses being banned in the city of Manila came out, how did you react? Were you the picture of unbridled fury, feeling like the female version of the Incredible Hulk in mid-transformation? Did you simply whimper, imagining the chaotic daily morning commute to the office you would now have to bear with? Were Mayor Joseph Estrada and Vice-mayor Isko Moreno the target of your verbal darts on Facebook? Or, did the news go ignored since you don’t pass Manila anyway?

Well, the news was totally unexpected for a lot of us. What was expected was the barrage of protests as a result of the move aimed at addressing the perennial traffic problem in the metropolis. Frankly, after getting over the initial incredulity over the news, my dismay turned to delight. No buses in Manila? That means... Taft Avenue without those horrible things that zoom and zigzag down the road as if each of them was designated Manic Driver of the Day? Yeheyyy! And now they’re even cracking down on colorum bus units!

If you get behind the wheel at least once in a while, you know that driving in Manila is a test of virtue. In fact, “patience is a virtue” is one helpful slogan to keep in mind when plying the city’s streets, as you are bound to encounter temptations of various kinds. Since people of different persuasions and temperaments are on the road, expect differences in driving styles and even in definitions of words – such as courtesy, right of way, one way, no parking on this side – so you can more easily adjust to those differences and overcome temptations to yell invectives or shoot dirty looks at the other driver to show your displeasure.

After having driven around these streets for over 20 years now, I’ve discovered some things that help make the driving experience more pleasant, less nerve-wracking, and most important of all, safer. One of them is the fact that music can make a lot of difference.

So you like listening to the radio or your own carefully compiled playlist while driving through traffic. That’s good. Music can do wonders to calm the senses, lead to positive feelings, facilitate focus, and keep one wide awake. God knows a drowsy driver has no place behind the steering wheel of a moving vehicle! And positive feelings are definitely vital during the daily rush hour. But have you considered that your choice of music can spell a big difference when it comes to calm, focused and safe driving? At this point, let me exalt the merits of classical music, which not everyone relishes and which can even put some to sleep (not good in this case). There is reliable data to back up my claims but first let me tell you why I opt for Mozart, Bach and some of the other classical giants when I drive through routes that include Taft, Edsa, Espana or any other major road in the city:

The resonant strains of violins, the melodious patterns played on the piano, and the cadence the instruments in an orchestra produce as a result – these soothe the soul. Minutes after this kind of music starts playing, it’s like I am enveloped in serenity. And it doesn’t matter if I’m with three other people in the car or driving on my own. But it has more of an effect, I suppose, when it’s just me and the music.

Someone said that classical music can draw people closer to God, and a friend theorized maybe that’s because it encourages contemplation. Well, this is something good because contemplating things of God is crucial when the only other thing you feel like doing is getting even with the driver that almost hit you as he swerved to your lane. I mean, a clear head and a clean heart should be constant – whatever situation you’re in – but on the road, when tempers can flare, when pride has led disgruntled drivers to resolve situations by shooting, and a corrupt system issues driver’s licenses to people who seem oblivious to traffic rules and road courtesy, those Godly qualities become even more important to keep your sanity (and to stay alive!). Can you imagine having the one with the horns and forked tongue serve as your “inspiration” whenever you encounter drivers that cut you off or motorcycle riders that zigzag down major roads as if they were stuntmen in action? You will want to contemplate God, not the one whose goal is to make you do wicked things.

As for empirical data showing the benefits of classical music on human behavior, yet another recent study has yielded findings that show how listening to Mozart enables people to concentrate more. This time it’s a research led by scientists from Kyoto University and Harvard University and which involved children aged 8-9 and adults aged 65-75. Participants demonstrated significantly quicker reaction time and committed less errors on tests when taken with a Mozart minuet playing in the background. The two other times had them taking the tests in silence and with a modified version of the minuet (with dissonant or irregular intervals). 

So is it any wonder that institutions turn to classical music as a means to alter behavior? They have found that listening to Mozart helps restless and agitated people – children and adults alike – become more relaxed. In the case of Manila’s exciting streets, unless there is a way to feed Mozart’s minuets into the headsets and speakers of every driver for some mind control, it’s only you who can benefit from the soothing sounds of the Austrian composer – or any classical composer for that matter.

Regardless of scientific findings on the effects of this musical genre on the brain, listening to Strauss waltzes as well as pieces with titles like “Canon in D Major” and “Symphony No. 9” frankly makes me unconsciously adopt the demeanor of someone like Elizabeth Bennet rather than Lady Gaga or Rihanna (Who is Elizabeth Bennet, you ask? Think “vulgar,” coarse,” “crass” – words that do not describe the protagonist in Pride & Prejudice). So, would a lady from the 1700s yell at a rude driver? No, she’s likely to inspire courtesy on the road – and any other place she graced with her presence. Would someone like the pop performers inspire courteous behavior on the road and good manners anywhere else they showed up? Well, let’s just say ladylike bearing brings out the gentlemen in men, and I certainly don’t want to bring out rough attitudes on the street (in myself and in others). If it’s the likes of The Nutcracker Suite and Fur Elise that will inspire virtue in me whenever I’m on the city’s major roads, then this type of music will dominate my playlist. Let’s leave Call Me Maybe and other pop staples for the times I’m a pedestrian or a passenger far from the steering wheel.

 Woman Today magazine
November 2013

Friday, October 25, 2013

Why I stopped and "smelled the roses"

One day, the harsh words all over Facebook prompted me to get out of the social networking site. The words didn’t have to be directed at me for the abrasiveness to make me go “enough is enough!” They were crass, they were full of contempt. It’s like You want to feel rotten? Log in to Facebook! You’ll get a megadose of anger/condescension/pronouncements on what’s wrong with the world and why everyone is doomed! 

"I'm under the impression that this notion of decency is disappearing from our society where conflicts are made worse on cinema and on television, where people are nasty and cruel on the Internet and where, in general, everybody seems to be very angry," actress Helen Mirren reportedly said. She gets what's happening.

Bad fashion sense, bad English, bad singing, bad taste in aesthetics – complaints about everything surfaced on status messages. The last straw for me at the time was the barrage of below-the-belt remarks ridiculing skin color (guess what shade – it’s definitely not the light one) as well as high-profile people who happened to be born with it.

Self-expression in public had hit an all-time low, and I wasn’t going to stick around to be a willing audience. So I left Facebook.

I didn’t delete my account – I simply deactivated it and stayed away for a month.  What joy! “Detox! Cool!” observed a friend. Yes, that was it – a mental and emotional cleansing from the filth that collective contempt can produce.

This is basically what directed me away from checking out status messages, pictures, news, videos, and endless scrolling that the site tends to make any netizen do. Instead, from the first moment of the day, I devoted my time and attention to real people, real concerns – not images, and not concerns manufactured by news or promotional materials meant to amplify some incident or celebrity, in turn to generate buzz and lead to countless page hits, likes, shares and whatever will send it skyrocketing on the popularity index.

Without the constant digital noise, the early morning minutes I used to spend reading the endless stream of updates had me instead roaming our small garden daily. What little charming flowers we have, I thought, gazing at the hedge right outside our front door as if seeing the lantana blooms for the first time.  They’re little alright, but dozens of the floral beauties spread out across the hedge resulted in an explosion of brilliant colors!

“Stop and smell the roses,” we’re often reminded, especially in these times when a really fast pace and the ability to go even faster can make us lose sight of the essentials of a life with meaning. Well, eliminating Facebook from my daily routine was a de-cluttering of sorts, a way to get back to the essentials – the proverbial roses I had come to overlook. No roses found their way into our picturesque hedge, but no matter – pretty soon I realized I was not the only one appreciating the lantana buds that blossomed. If you spend enough time around the stillness of the garden, you’ll see various winged creatures flower-hopping throughout the day. The lantana may not be as fragrant as roses (in fact, they have a peculiar smell) but they sure can draw the butterflies and bees to their lovely petals and keep them coming back throughout the day.

Of course it’s the butterflies, with their fascinating prints and colors, which easily captured my fancy. This was National Geographic up close! Gazing at images of something on a screen and looking at it in the flesh, in all its 3-dimensional wonder, are completely different experiences – even if it’s only the slow wing-flapping of a lacewing perched on a leaf or the flower-hopping of a frolicsome bumblebee.

What I found most reassuring in those sightings of foliage, flora and insects was their predictability. While news of planes crashing and ships colliding was reported, as the world waited with Kate and William for the “royal birth,” while fans and cynics got all emotional over the FIBA games, and as the “pork” situation progressed from bad to worse, the buds bloomed like they were supposed to. The butterflies arrived as scheduled each day and did their job. Through all the good and bad news, other creatures predictably followed their natural course. Even amid unfortunate incidents, life went on -- and beauty was there if one took the time to look around.
One afternoon I noticed one of the black-and-white butterflies, motionless, on a leaf. Its wings were spread open; I took a snapshot. Then I realized parts of its right wing were torn off. Oh no, it's hurt! How will
it fly now? Will it crash in flight? Is it going to die soon?
I was concerned for the little insect. When I left it, it still hadn’t moved.

The next morning it was gone. I hope it’s okay, I thought, wondering if butterflies could grow back damaged wings. Well, what do you know? Hours later, a butterfly that looked just like the injured one – broken wing and all – flitted from one end of the garden and landed on a leaf along the steel fence. Obviously it was not missing any action. Now that’s fighting spirit! I couldn’t help but think how the injured creature displayed more resilience than some people do (myself included) when faced with adversity. This butterfly has nearly half a wing torn off and it flies around as usual as if nothing happened. Talk about rolling with the punches!

In the weeks that followed, I discovered that broken wings weren’t all that unusual among the creatures that flew in and out of our yard.  There was the little tiger moth with a wee part of its left wing damaged. Then there was “Brownie,” another butterfly, whose impeccably edged wings remained awesome despite a missing rounded corner.  And who wouldn’t be astounded by the little beauty that zoomed from one end of the hedge to the other with its remarkably tattered wings? I spied it almost daily; one time it even landed on my outstretched hand.  Whatever tore apart its wings to such a frayed condition apparently did not tear down the insect’s spunk (and curiosity).

This butterfly with the jagged wings now holds my fascination the most. Never mind the asymmetrical form – a delicate creature that insists on being airborne despite its tattered state is all the reminder one needs that tempests are to be faced bravely. Facebook may be full of messages about persistence despite the odds or hardship bringing out the grit in people, but right here before me were more graphic – and prettier— examples of such determination. 

It’s amazing how stopping to “smell the roses” can end up with being shown so much unexpected beauty.  And all I needed was a reason to seek the roses in the first place.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Of mice and men

What a funny way to promote a product -- and to demonstrate grit in the process. Though I'd much rather look at the likes of Mickey and Remy (from Ratatouille) instead of real-looking rodents like the one in the commercial, it's ads like this that I enjoy and find effective.

A couple of years ago, Google also launched an ad campaign, and one of the spots debuted at the Superbowl. You can see two of the ads in a previous post.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Going beyond "nuthin' we can do about it"

When one comes across weird or scandalous news from time to time, there's the danger of getting so accustomed to such things that hardly is any repugnance or even aversion experienced with each story read and each anecdote heard. In other words, what are basically manifestations of perversion might eventually be viewed by many as normal or even commendable. But I have faith in humanity so here I am, sharing links to stories that reflect the direction society is heading. Though truth and goodness prevail most of the time, let's not lose our footing by adopting a mindset along the lines of "That's the way life is, nothin' we can do about it!" when we do hear of unfortunate incidents. No, no. Unless you throw in the towel and allow a defeatist attitude to guide your days, these stories are merely reminders of our mission. What mission, you ask? Well, only you can answer that because each is a unique individual for which the Maker has made a unique game plan. Have you figured out what yours is? After all, as someone once uttered, "What man is a man who does not make the world better?"

Never mind if that intro I just wrote has nothing to do with the stories below, which are fairly recent. I just hope you became aware that we can't simply turn a blind eye to these things happening around us and act as if life is all about living a me-first existence.

Family sues because nursing home won't starve mother to death

Lesbian couple gives adopted son hormone-blockers to make him a girl

Euthanasia out of control: Belgian transsexual euthanized after botched sex change

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Who wants to be like Dorian Gray?

It is an intriguing plot, though I have not read the novel. I was reminded of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray when I read again an article I wrote for Woman Today magazine.

Beauty products and cosmetic procedures are at an all-time high as far as marketing and advertising are concerned. Not only do women (and men, but to a lesser extent) seem unhappy with the way they look, but  the underlying message in many advertising campaigns seems to be one of self-fulfillment, wholeness, and head-turning gorgeous looks as the result of snapping up this product or availing of that procedure.

Regardless of beauty creams, makeup techniques and anatomy-enhancing procedures, here's something worth considering when it comes to the kind of beauty that outlasts the longest warranty for any promise of beauty in a jar, tube, syringe or scalpel.

When forgiveness restores your inner glow
Next time someone remarks on your eyebags or your scowl or on how you seem to have aged, don’t scoot over to the dermatologist just yet. Try a little reflection to see if guilt, anger, and holding on to grudges are wreaking havoc on your looks.


Imagine being sympathetically told “You look tired” when you’re not tired at all, or being asked “Napuyat ka?” when you’re actually starting the day after a full night’s rest (and when what you really want to hear is “pumayat ka?”). When someone chides you with “Bawal nakasimangot dito!” it’s time to face the fact that whatever is bothering you is showing on your face.

Many times such obvious signs of distress are caused by negative situations that remain unresolved. You probably don’t need anyone telling you that since you’ve experienced it many times. But are you aware that one of the most common factors in unresolved matters is the issue of forgiveness? Much has been said about the need to forgive, about how holding on to a grudge hurts the offended party more than it does the offender. “Refusing to forgive someone is like drinking poison, and waiting for the other person to die,” goes the saying.

On the other hand, have you ever stopped to consider that refusing to apologize for your mistake can have a similar effect? It could be something seemingly petty like “forgetting” to return the 100 bucks you borrowed from a friend, or something with more serious consequences as inventing grave accusations against a colleague.

Whatever the case, refusing to admit a wrongdoing -- and withholding an apology when it is due -- influences a person’s well-being. Unfortunately, this internal conflict finds its way into your appearance, and the result is not exactly a shining example of fresh, natural beauty. In contrast, dealing squarely with the issue and making amends with the person you offended not only restore your peace of mind but boost your good looks as well.

Reduced internal conflict = more relaxed, looks younger
“With reduced stress and internal conflict, a person will end up looking more relaxed, more alive, younger. And what I've seen is that.. women are more relaxed, the shoulders are less tense, and the anger is gone [after the admission of guilt]. They’re beaming, not appearing stressed anymore, parang may glow, because even only admitting the responsibility to me or to one other person, is a big deal,” says Gabby Dy-Liacco, Ph.D, a psychotherapist who specializes in cases of broken relationships and broken people.

“Otherwise, the shoulders are always hunched, it's like the person is always ready for defense, looks angry. Also, before the admission of guilt, the person is angry, experiences self-pity or sadness. This really affects the person, and it shows on the face,” he adds.

Needless to say, psychological stress has a bearing on the body’s overall health, which in turn manifests itself in the person’s looks. The emotional turmoil which may result from an unresolved argument, for example, can be a source of stress that in turn robs a woman of her peace.

“When a person has difficulty resolving an inner conflict, conflicted siya about being remorseful about something she did pero di niya maayos-ayos, that's a source of psychological stress. That has an effect on the body,” the counselor explains.

The rewards of forgiveness
There’s another saying that goes like this: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” According to Dr. Dy-Liacco, recognizing one’s mistake and asking for forgiveness have the same liberating consequence. What happens is that where the woman is aware that she has done something wrong, she “remains stuck” and always feels somewhat “held back” until she acknowledges the truth and is truly sorry for the misdeed.

“It frees a person,” the psychotherapist says, when asked what admitting a wrongdoing and apologizing to the one who was hurt, does. “A large part of the healing will be on the admission [of guilt] and the asking for forgiveness.”

Doesn’t healing in one form or another translate to being at peace? And doesn’t being at peace and experiencing real joy give a woman that inner glow and quiet confidence? Hence, the next time someone asks you “Napuyat ka?” make sure it’s really because you just didn’t get enough rest and not due to some unresolved conflict that’s nagging at you. If indeed it’s a case of the latter, how about aiming for a little reflection to see if all you need to do is offer someone an apology to put that conflict to rest and restore your beautiful glow?

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