Perhaps it’s the wine, or perhaps it’s the great meal, but when it’s time to give out the gifts under the Christmas tree, it’s so easy to remember similar times in the past, and to remember how the gifts of the past years have also given people happiness. And so it is with nostalgia – it is the gift we give to ourselves, so we may remember all the good times across the years. Even for a moment, this year’s Christmas will become Every Christmas, a time when all times leave you with a smile on your face, and an overall pleasant feeling of knowing it has all happened before – and will happen again.


Whenever the end of the year rolls by, the combined holidays, the cold weather, and the feeling of having to look back at what you’ve done in the past year has often made a person more sentimental, and, as they say, the past look like it’s seen through a pleasant haze.

We know that in many cases, our own minds are just glossing over some of the unhealthy parts of our own history, but the question is: Is nostalgia overrated, or is it an important gift that our own mind gives to ourselves?

The Past, revisited

But what is nostalgia, really? And why do we indulge in it, however reluctantly?

For some nostalgia is an emphasis on remembering the more pleasant memories. These moments are usually triggered by familiar sights, smells, and even sounds. Some people say that it is the opposite of trauma, in that rather than creating a feeling of fear of blocking of the memory, nostalgia strengthens pleasant memories even more, making them a source of strength or inspiration when a person is encountering personal difficulties. However, it’s important to remember that like many things, nostalgia can have a dark side to it, and one that most people do not think about.

The rose-tinted glasses

Traumatic memories, although they are negative experiences, also have positive uses – for one, if the memory is repressed, it allows the person to operate at some level of efficiency even while the mind is still trying to sort out what happened. For another, unpleasant memories can often drive people to either act on them to make sure that they never experience similar situations again.

But with nostalgia, our rose-tinted glasses can also be an issue. Nostalgia can keep us paralyzed when we have too much of it. In large doses, it’s like being lost in your own memories, or simply being caught in a feedback loop of trying to find ways to make the pleasurable moments in the past come back. In some cases, this can be a negative reinforcement, particularly if the memory being reinforced can be harmful to others, or causes a person to act in ways that are detrimental to his or her own development.

In some cases, it even makes people stubborn about certain ideas –and this can make people ignore their own instincts about certain situations. A person who is stubborn for nostalgic reasons can become hopelessly unable to accept logical input, even from friends.


Finally, nostalgia, like trauma, can be very selective, and can even work in conjunction with trauma, serving as a more pleasant way to remember only what you need. After all, you don’t remember the bad times with pleasure, unless there was a pivotal event that you need to remember to keep your personality intact. Nostalgia, then, is a way of erasing “useless” memories by focusing on those that give pleasure, or a sense of satisfaction.


Hope, or Hopeless

Perhaps one of the true powers of nostalgia is that it can trigger the feeling of hope. For some of us, this past year has been less than ideal. But when you look back to remember the good things that happened in the past year, chances are, you’re also thinking of events from other years that have definitely brought you much joy. And because of these pleasant memories, many people are driven to work harder.


Once you have that spark of hope that things will get better, you can proceed to set things right in your own family or circle of friends. And nostalgia of that magnitude, it rarely comes out unless a person is feeling hopeless.

We instinctively know that when tied to or triggered by a gift, nostalgia is very powerful. It can be as simple as an inexpensive gift – a trinket – whose symbolism will trigger memories. It can also be as elaborate as a gift based on good memories in the past, like an old toy, or perhaps even something as simple as a repaired watch.


The Holidays, why we celebrate

Christmas – or its equivalent celebration at this time of the year, seems tailor-made for the feeling of nostalgia. The ritualization of remembering a core belief can, in itself, trigger waves of nostalgia.

For some people, this can lead to what some have called the “Christmas Blues,” since while the memories – the nostalgia – for times past can be wonderful, it can also emphasize the current issues of the person, such as being alone on another country, thinking about the noche buena dinner that he or she won’t experience.

For others, it is also a great time for just sitting back, and having fun conversations with friends and family, on all the good things that have happened in the past year, as well as retelling each other stories of all the times when something good or funny happened.

And let’s be honest, many reconciliations between friends and family members would never have worked if people weren’t nostalgic for the “good old days.”

That is nostalgia in a nutshell, perhaps – to remember fondly even what really wasn’t so much fun when it was happening, perhaps to make us realize that even if the actual experience was unpleasant, that it was something important for us.
And finally, as we remember all the good times, we close the door one last time for this year, and at the same time open a new one, for the coming year. And we hope, as we come to the end next year, that we will have added another layer of good memories that we can be nostalgic about.

A toast, and perhaps another, as we prepare to live another year. And there it is, why nostalgia is so important: even if it unjustly removes the bad from our memories, it emphasizes all the good things we have experienced.


Originally posted by Richard Ramos at  Nostalgia — the best gift and, sometimes, the worst

Photo: “I remember” by , c/o Flickr. Some Rights Reserved

our christmas tree

Your home is whatever place you long to be. Transient feeling of sadness overcomes me when I recall those good old days when my family was complete. Our home is mostly an empty nest during most parts of the year. When my son died 13 years ago, Christmas was bearable because my two daughters were still living with us. This year is different. My girls live independently . How fast they have grown. I never felt this sadness even when my dear Luijoe was not with us on Christmas. I guess I always associated Christmas with family.

M decor

They are everywhere in my home now. In the Christmas stockings along the wreaths and christmas decor that adorns our tree . The felt decors were brought over by my daughter from Germany.

lauren decor

I know I will get used to this stage of my life. I know their home is where the heart is. Their true home lives within them or in the place that they love most. They live in that place where they can truly be themselves.

christmas stockings

To curb these pang of loneliness, I finally decided to have digital canvas prints of our family photos taken three years ago when we celebrated our Silver anniversary.

family photos

Truly our home is where the heart is. My home is where my family is at this very moment wherever they may be, even if they are now are scattered all over the world.

skype call

My heart will always be with my two girls and my siblings. They will forever be my home. My brother is in Missouri which is another home, and my two other sisters are in California, another home to me. Germany is now one of my homes. My home is dear to me.

family is where the home is

Here are 3 Christmas Carols (in mp3 format) sung by L when she was 12 and M at 11 years old with another girl and 2 boys from the Manila Children Choir. The choir conductor chose only 5 children for this recording but with recent technology, it sounds like they are a big group of kids.

1. Hark The Herald Angel Sing (Click here to download– 2.9 MB) – Charles Wesley/Felix Mendelssohn , adapted by Jack North , Arranged by Jack North/John Wilson
2. Christmas in Our Hearts (Click here to download– 3.0 MB)- Jose Mari Chan , arranged by Carmina R. Cuya
3. Pasko Na Sinta Ko (Click here to download– 4.8 MB)- Aurelio Estanislao/Francis Dandan , Arranged by Bernadette de Leon

Merry Christmas from our home to yours.

dawis church in bohol

How does a province rise from the ruins of natural disasters? History has shown that it is possible for natural disasters to be engines of development and economic growth. The devastating 7.2 earthquake on October 15 followed by the November 8 super typhoon Yolanda brought so much collateral damage to Bohol’s thriving tourism industry. All I saw on TV, newspapers and social networks were the rubbles of heritage churches and damaged bridges like the Moalang bridge in Loon and Abatan bridge in Maribojoc. The sight of the chocolate hill that partially collapsed saddened me. It is hard to shake off the images of churches reduced to stones. In fact, I got the impression that Bohol is no longer a safe destination and there is nothing left to see for tourists.

visit to bohol

I was in for a surprise when USAID-Compete in cooperation with the the Provincial Tourism Council (PTC), the Province of Bohol and Department of Tourism invited a small group of travel writers and bloggers for a post-earthquake tour. PTC President lawyer Doy Nunag shared how the twin disasters affected local businesses and what the stakeholders are doing to turnaround the tourism industry . He proudly says, “it is business as usual” in Bohol. I thought it would take many more months for the tourism industry to start picking up. I wanted to see Bohol for myself so I could relay the good news to the rest of you.

pathway in south palms resort

While there are still some traces of the earthquake damages in the city, the serious damages were located in the Northern side of Bohol. Let me give you a tour of places to revisit or explore in in Bohol.

1. Relaxing at the beautiful white beaches

south palms resort in panglao island 3

The beaches are still there, of course! I got to stay at the South Palms , the newest resort in Panglao island which opened only on December 1, just one and a half-months after the 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Bohol. The beach resort is beautiful and such a serene place to relax and let go of stress.

south palms resort beach

With 750 meters of fine, natural white sand , this resort has the widest beachfront on Panglao Island.

sunset in south palms resort 4

This part of Panglao Island is probably the only place where you can watch the sunrise (on the left side) and the spectacular sunset to the right of the beach.

2. Visiting churches

hard hat at baclayon church1

Out of Bohol’s 47 Spanish colonial churches, four were damaged and two were totally destroyed. The Baclayon church may be in ruins but it has not stopped from being a major tourist destination. I was able to go inside the church wearing a hard hat. Inside, you will find the gigantic church still intact although there is a large crack by the choir part.

baclayon church1

Fortunately , the altar is still intact including stained glass windows.


An alternative to the popular Baclayon or Loboc churches is the Romanesque-designed Alburquerque church. The Parish Church of Sta. Monica was built in the midst to late 1800s and has one of the most beautiful painted ceilings.

albuquerque church in bohol 2

3. Spot the Tarsiers (Tarsius syrichta) in their natural habitat.

tarsier in the sanctuary

Deep in the forest foothill of Corella town lies the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary of Canapnapan, Corella Bohol. Interestingly, there are three foreign volunteers here – one Italian and two Spanish – who trained in tour guiding and environmental protection. They have an enclosed forest area for visitors where you can spot endangered Philippine tarsiers.

tasier sanctuary in bohol

No one is allowed to hold the Tarsiers as they are easily stressed out . When the Tarsiers are stressed , they commit suicide by banging their head (which has a thin skull) to the branches. The primary mission of this sanctuary is to save the Philippine Tarsier, its habitat and other wildlife. There are only 100 Tarsiers in this sanctuary.

4. Taking the Loboc river cruise

loboc river cruise 2

Loboc river cruise operators were among the first businesses which reopened only a few days after the earthquake. Despite “business as usual,” Loboc operators admitted they were hardly hit by the twin disasters. Before the earthquake, a good day would bring in over 2,500 guests and on a bad day, about 500. After Yolanda, a good day would not even bring in 500 guests.

loboc river cruises

Massive damage is evident to half of the docking area but the rest are pretty much functional. There is so much to see along the scenic and winding Loboc River as I ate my buffet lunch. One can catch floating stopover stations along the way where locals perform cultural music and dances.

loboc cruise in bohol 5

Loboc River is beautiful and serene! I keep repeating the word “beautiful” because there are just no other word to describe the place.

5. Viewing the Chocolate Hills

chocolate hills in carmen bohol

The crown jewel of Bohol, Chocolate Hills remain intact except for one hill which cracked during the earthquake. The image of a cracked Chocolate Hill seemed tragic but this is just one hill out of 1,776 Chocolate Hills. A lot of people ask “what’s inside the Chocolate Hills?” Bohol Governor Edgar Chatto says that it is now an attraction because inside contains “limestone na parang nag-melt na white chocolate”. These fossilized seashells below were discovered inside a Chocolate Hill. It is possible Bohol was once a seabed.

fossilized shells 1

The deck that provided visitors a panoramic view of the hills was destroyed by the earthquake. The good news is the Chocolate Hills Adventure Complex recently opened and also serves as an alternate viewing deck. “A stairway of 228 steps leads to a new viewing deck that offers a view of unspoiled slopes of the Chocolate Hills.”

chocolate hills 1

Too bad , it was raining so hard so I was not able to climb those 228 steps to get a panoramic view of the hills. I settled for the ground level view of these hills in Carmen.

blood compact commemorative site

While these are the usual tourist spots in Bohol, there is something new that awaits you. There is the “geoscience tour” for travelers “who want to see the changes in the landscape, such as Maribojoc’s Punta Cruz where hectares of dry land rose from the shoreline, and what’s been dubbed the “Great Wall of Bohol” in the northern town of Inabanga, where a reverse fault rose from the earth after the quake.”

You are getting the same experience as before the earthquake and gaining some more. These twin disasters, like all disasters, pose a question. What is the opportunity for Bohol? What is the lesson here? There is opportunity for growth in the tourism industry. There is opportunity for development in building a stronger infrastructure system. While all that is being taken cared off by the stakeholders, we can all start rebuilding Bohol. How? Visit Bohol in 2014.

colorful in South palms resort

christmas feast

The year is 2006. My daughter pinched my flabby arms “mom your arms are soft and flabby” then nestled her head on my arms. That statement didn’t sound too complimentary to me but to my daughter, my flabby arms serves as a comfort pillow to lie upon when cuddling by the couch. I looked at the mirror and felt bad that I gained weight around my waistline. I lost 30 pounds in 2005 but I gained 10 pounds back because I have not been monitoring my weight for a year. Ugh. That’s what I discovered when I enrolled at Fitness First Weight Management Program in November 2006. I spent 7,700 pesos for a 11 week program of diet and exercise. It was an early Christmas present to myself. The best gift I can give myself is to take care of ME. Health is wealth after all. I neglected myself for a long time now and the ravages took a toll on my heart, blood pressure and diabetes. Life has been so blessed the past years that I look forward to a bright and healthy future.

Armand, my weight management consultant gave me a two page handout on “Holiday Guide to Eating” based on the American Council on Exercise, 2006. He’s a really nice , conscientious guy who worried I will over-eat during the holidays. Through the years, I have kept this holiday guide so I thought I’d share it with you . The italics are mine.

Guideline no. 1: Portion control is everything
Many people lose weight and keep it off with the simple strategy of portion control. Eliminating or even limiting certain foods is brutally hard during the holidays. So do the next best thing. Eat reasonably small portions, limit the foods you know you should limit, and don’t stuff yourself.

This really works. In parties, I just take a spoonful of everything. With desserts, I get a taste off from my husband’s plate.

Guideline no. 2: The next best thing to behaving perfectly is behaving well.
Most of us know by now what our “trigger foods are and the effects certain foods have on our mood, appetite and energy. If you can’t abstain from problem foods all of the time during the holidays, abstain from them most of the time. “Most of the time” is a lot better than “none of the time”.

Guideline no. 3: Get off the diet mentality
This is the corollary of Guideline No. 2. If you think of yourself as being “on” or “off” a diet, you’re going to get into trouble. Why? Because as soon as you go off, you go off, as in “deep end”. Don’t set yourself up for this disaster. A taste of cake doesn’t mean you’ve “sinned” and definitely doesn’t mean “what the heck, I might as well eat the whole thing”

Guideline no. 4: Don’t skip meals
A common strategy during the holidays is to skip breakfast- and lunchp because you know a big meal is comig , so you “save up” the calories for the celebration. This strategy backfires, because you come to the meal starving and wind up eating more than ever intended. Which leads to….

Guideline no. 5: Never arrive hungry
You know what foods you need to stay away from. Wll, those foods are a lot harder to resist when you’re starving and your blood sugar is in the pits. An ounce of prevention goes a long way here. A glass of juice, some crackers, a slice or two of cheese or bread with some peanut butter will keep your appetite at bay. Try any of them an hour or so before the big holiday dinner and watch your willpower soar while your waistline stays in place.

Guideline no. 6: Go to the buffet line with a small plate
A full salad plate looks like a lot of food and psychologically “feels” the same way. You can always go back for seconds, or even thirds; but all of this slows down the eating process, giving you more time to feel full. And more often than not, the larger portions of food you have eaten if they had been on your plate will wind up staying on the buffet table.

Guideline No. 7: Bring snacks while shopping
Prowling the mall for hours leaves everyone starving and vulnerable to the usually bad fastfood choices.

Guideline No. 8: Replace sweet with spicy
Craving for sweets sometimes evaporate when you put something pickled or spicy in your mouth. It’s okay to indulge the occasional sweet craving , but eat something spicy or pickled first and you may find you no longer want to.

Guideline No. 9 : Be sure it’s not thirst.
Many times when we crave food, it’s not really hunger that’s driving the urge, it’s mild dehydration. So drink tons of water. A slice of orange, lemon or lime will flavor the water and cut your cravings; flavored non-caloric seltzers accomplish the same thing.

Guideline No. 10: Finish your big holiday meaks within an hour of starting
The body produces a second insulin hit if it senses a lot of food coming in continuously . You can avoid that second hit (and the subsequent fat storage that it triggers) by finishing within an hour of starting. If you see something you like that you forgot to eat within the hour, that’s fine; just save it for tomorrow. It’ll still be there and you won’t be wearing it on your hips.

Guideline No. 11: Begin each meal with a salad
It fills you up, provides fiber and is a wonderful alternative to bread.

Guideline No. 12: Divide your plate into thirds
Think protein, vegetables and the carbohydrates you probably crave. Imagine that your plate is divided into thirds, one section for each food group. The carb section has to include not only the starchy carbs that are staples of holiday dinners but the desserts too. So if you’re going to eat dessert, adjust your portion of the other carbs accordingly. Together the “meal” carbs and dessert carbs should make up about one-third of the holiday meal.

Guideline No. 13: Fiber is your secret weapon
Not only is finer supremely healthy and directly related to the reduction of risks for a whole host of diseases, it is a huge player in the weight-loss field. It also contributes to a feeling of fullness.

Guideline No. 14: Plan ahead
During the holidays, try to plan around where you’re going, what temptations are likely to arise and how you’re going to deal with them. Decide in advance what you’re going to allow yourself, but prepare for it so you don’t go overboard. Don’t be afraid to taste things without finishing them.

Guideline No. 15 : Eat Slowly
Hormones signal the brain when you’re full but it takes about 20 minutes from start time before you feel it. Slow eating not only aids digestion but also gives your brain a chance to know what the stomach is doing. If you make the meal last, by talking, putting down your fork between bites or just plain waiting, you’re less likely to eat on “automatic pilot” and more likely to realize you’re full.

So it says plan ahead. It’s been a Christmas tradition to order “Lechon Paella” from Luijoe’s godfather (Lydia’s Lechon ) in our family gatherings . I’ve warned my husband that it’s really unhealthy to have all that greasy food. But he says , it’s only once a year.

Now what do you usually eat for Christmas lunch, dinner or noche buena?

christmas ham

Congrats my dear sister! Myrna Lardizabal de Vera is the 2014 mayor of the City of Hercules, CA. It’s her second time around. She is also the SIXTH Filipino American to become the mayor of this dynamic city. Congratulations!

mayor of hercules

I remember when I helped her campaign in November 2010. Did it even occur to our family that she’d dabble with politics? I must give credit to the citizens of Hercules for helping her with the campaign, even raising funds. They say politics is a dirty game. I think it is a good game played by dirty people. The nature of politics scares honest people away. It did scare my sister many many times. First, it took time away from her family and business and secondly, the criticisms hurled her way the past 3 years.

Having this second term just shows her dedication and hard work so she deserves this.

Visiting her , rallying during chilly mornings, helping out was so much fun. I didn’t realize she would be a vice-mayor in 2011 then Mayor in the same year . And now Mayor for 2014. I am so proud of my dear sister.

congrats Myrna de vera

Hercules City is blessed to have such a devoted, hard-working, and beautiful Mayor! I pray God will keep her healthy and safe–and sane.

Let me share her 2014 Incoming Mayor’s Speech

Our dynamic city, Hercules, was named after dynamite manufactured by the California Powder Works, a plant located in what is today the city of Hercules. The plant’s leading product was called Hercules, which in turn was named after the greek demigod, Hercules.

Our city’s namesake, Hercules, was the illegitimate son of the greek god, Zeus, and a mortal mother. Zeus’ wife, Hera, hated Hercules so much that she tried to kill him, and when that didn’t work, she made Hercules go crazy to the point of killing his wife and children. To make amends for his terrible crime, Hercules had to complete a series of heroic tasks, or 12 Labors. He completed the 12 Labors by using his strength and courage, then he died an excruciatingly painful death. After he died, Hercules became a god, rising up from earth to join the other gods in Mount Olympus.

I share this story tonight because greek myths do not just tell an entertaining story. They also teach us lessons. We can aspire to be like our city’s namesake Hercules by facing our trials head-on, using our strength, resilience, and courage as a community. It is through how we handle our adversities that we grow stronger and evolve into the special community we have envisioned Hercules to become. Trials should be embraced as opportunities for growth. The other alternative is to give up, settle for mediocrity and mere survival. What will be our story be, community of Hercules? It is up to us for we are the authors of our story.

During the past three years, the city of Hercules has endured several trials. We were all stunned to learn many brutal truths. First, that the city wasn’t flush with money, as our former city leaders had assured us. We discovered the magnitude of our financial crisis, the mismanagement of funds, the conflicts of interest and rampant nepotism and cronyism practiced in city hall, the rubber stamping of decisions. Then, on top of our local challenges, the State abolished Redevelopment. The city was slapped with lawsuits. Properties sold at fire-sale prices. City staff cut in half. Friday furloughs implemented. Community events cancelled. Turmoil and anger filled our council chambers as we scrambled to put bonfires out with band-aids.

Out from the fires of adversity, citizens stepped forward to volunteer, in finance and legal advisory committees and the Bayfront Task Force, organizing community events that staff once used to handle, raising funds to continue library hours. City staff members, who remained, continued working harder with less help and less pay. Residents voted to pay higher taxes to help fill our general fund deficit in the short term while the council and staff struggled to find long-term solutions. The smaller police force fiercely patrolled our streets and their efforts to keep us safe are proven with Hercules being named by Safewise as the 24th safest city in California. Council members, both past and current, sacrificed their time and energies and our families suffered along with us, too

To all of you — staff, community members, family — the Council and I thank you for your sacrifices.

But I’m sorry to say that our sacrifices are not ending anytime soon because in the coming year, we have many unfinished tasks to tackle.

The most visible unfinished task is Sycamore North. This is the third winter that it stands wrapped in Tyvek.

The $5.1 M Ambac lawsuit must be settled, and its resolution lies in the sale of three parcels of land.

The 3 properties, Sycamore Crossings, Parcel C, and Victoria Crescent, are currently tied up in purchase sale agreements and are in the early stages of planning. The development plans on these parcels will forever determine our city’s character and future sales and property tax revenues.

The city’s highest priority development project is our Intermodal Transit Center, planned for alternative modes of transportation: train, bus, and ferry, and a surrounding mixed-use waterfront development. We are fortunate the first phase is successfully moving forward with the help of William Silva and CCTA, but this important regional project still needs millions of dollars more to complete the next phases.

The Hercules Municipal Utility or HMU pending sale with PG&E must be completed so the HMU’s deficits will stop leaking onto our general fund.

Our Pinole/Hercules Wastewater treatment plant requires that the city raise $22 Million for its upgrade.

And, you may all have heard, our current city manager and our planning director have decided to leave the City of Hercules. We thank both of them for their service and wish them well in their new endeavors. I cannot understate the importance of finding the right people to fill the critical roles of running the city and planning our community.

The good news is that all these challenges come at a great time. You have a city council with five highly opinionated members who care deeply for our city. In the nineties, our city council was so divisive that the TV camera had to be shut off at times. The city council members who replaced them vowed to keep a united front, but that resulted in a rubber stamp culture of decision making, leading to the city’s fiscal crisis. I believe, this current council is finding the balance of arguing and debating in pursuit of the best answers yet unifying fully once a decision has been made by the majority. We are all pursuing the vision of our city’s greatness while continually refining that path with valid facts of reality.

On a personal note, I am overwhelmed with mixed feelings for this appointment of Mayor. Only a year ago, there was a movement to strip me of my Vice-Mayor appointment, censure me, even get me to resign, and complaints were filed to civil and criminal authorities. That was one of the darkest moments in my life. I survived my trials through prayer and the stalwart support of loving friends and family. Instead of defeating me, I used last year’s trials as an opportunity to grow and change. I had some sessions with a life coach, then every day I read books on leadership and self-improvement. I practiced whatever I learned during council meetings. I’ve made peace with myself and others for the sake of the greater good.

I’d like to thank my husband, Manny, who stood by my side like a rock. My son, Mark, who suffered along with me during those terrible months. My twin sons, Christian and Emmanuel, for their unwavering belief. My sister, Lorna, my cheerleader. To my friends, family, and supporters who expressed their unconditional love and trust, I love all of you. Most of all, I thank God, for his light and guidance. God Bless the City of Hercules!


Are you done with your Christmas shopping? I am not done yet. A lot of my friends dread the rush to the high street to buy a bunch of last-minute Christmas gifts. It has now been scientifically proven that Christmas shopping really is one of the most stressful activities Guess what? I don’t feel stressed out with the Christmas shopping per se although I admit that the traffic is always a challenge to one’s patience.

Somehow I love to be in the hustle and bustle of shopping and listening to Christmas carols as I browse through the items. That photo above was taken in Glorietta 2 a few years back. I can recall vividly the crowd of Christmas shoppers moving to and from the mall. My hubby stresses over the crowds so he starts his Christmas shopping before December. They say the earlier you start your Christmas shopping , the less stress you will feel. I don’t like to shop early because there are no Christmas carols. Where is the fun in that.

I guess the reason for the stress varies but I just want it to be an enjoyable experience. Another reason is I already reduced the stress levels by following certain guidelines:

1. Be efficient

The great bargains are at the bazaars but it is crowded at this time. I limit myself to two department stores. It is less crowded , less hassle and one can really focus on the shopping.

2. Know your budget

With my list, I already set a budget for each person. . Much of the stress comes from you feeling pressured to purchase fancy gifts for loved ones, even if it results in overspending and debt.

3. Shopping Online

Online shopping is not only extremely convenient, but it is also fast, simple, and efficient and allows you to get the bulk of your holiday shopping done at once. My daughter is such an expert in online shopping at ebay that I got hooked at it as well. It spares me from the traffic congestion and fighting for parking spaces , and waiting in long checkout lines.

4. Shop alone

It is normally fun to shop with friends or family but sometimes it can add extra stress to the situation. It is definitely easier and quicker to shop without young children or others who have no idea what they want to purchase. The quicker you are able to get your Christmas shopping done, the easier the experience will likely be on you.

And lastly, enjoy the season. Feel the Christmas spirit.

I often take a moment to relax and enjoy the season by indulging in a pampering session at the salon or spa. Managing my schedule is also a priority. I limit the events that I attend to, the parties and even drop writing assignments. While caught in traffic, I gaze at the beautiful twinkling lights of the christmas parol as the Christmas songs are played in the car. If the traffic is really bad, I play Andrea Bocelli’s “Our Father” song on repeat.

I feel it is a waste of time to stress out when stress can be minimized. Stress will also add wrinkles to my face which I want to avoid.

Taking steps to reduce stress as much as possible can make the holiday season much more fun and helps relieve the anxiety of shopping . Hope you enjoy your Christmas by managing your time and budget and being efficient.

Sparkling and dazzling lights dance around our Christmas tree. Hundreds of tiny lights run along the garlands like waves stretching all the way to the second floor. The girls’ bright red and green Christmas stockings hang on the garlands, just waiting to be filled up with yummy candies and goodies on Christmas day. These pretty colored things make me happy as I recall fond childhood memories.

It is not the pretty lights and brightly colored tinsels that excite my kids during the holidays. The spicy aroma of cinnamon, nutmeg, mace and molasses that wafts all the way from the kitchen to their bedrooms bring warm childhood memories. For the past 23 years, I have been baking Gingerbread Man Cookies during the first week of December. They associate Gingerbread cookies with Christmas along with the magical memories tied with it.

Baking Gingerbread cookies was not a childhood tradition though. It must have been mom’s last Christmas season when I first met the Gingerbread man cookies lying on our dinner table. Mom’s Sally’s Bake Shop In Cebu often experimented with new products, and as a default taste tester, I took a bite and loved it. Mom died a few months later from breast cancer. Perhaps I wanted to bring back my mom’s memories during the Christmas season by sharing something about her with my kids who never knew her. I decided to experiment with the Gingerbread Man Cookies. The recipe was a challenge because she did not leave any behind. Knowing my mom, she probably got it from Betty Crocker or in one of her baking books. After a lot of trial and error, I modified the original recipe and called it my very own Gingerbread Man cookies. Most gingerbread recipes contained too much ginger which children did not like. To add a magical touch to the Gingerbread cookies, I concocted a tale of the running Gingerbread Man.

As soon as the first batch of gingerbread men cookies are baked, my kids’ eyes lit up, so eager to eat them. I beg for patience because I want to read a story first. What I do is place a cookie on a plate and then gather my three kids around my arms. I bring out the picture book of the “The Gingerbread Man” and read it aloud to them. The story revolves around a baker who bakes a gingerbread man for his wife and himself. The gingerbread man comes to life, realizes his creator’s plans for him, and runs away. Everyone in town tries to eat him but he just keeps evading them until finally, a sly wolf tricks him into walking right into his jaws.

As soon as the story ends, my children runs towards the plate, now even more excited to eat the first gingerbread man of the year. To their surprise, the plate is empty. “The gingerbread man has escaped, find him!” The kids scramble all over the room searching for the missing gingerbread man until they find it hiding among the books or by the computer keyboard.

The kids are adults now and much too old for gingerbread games. I forgot how they found out that the gingerbread man never really ran away. I confessed many years later that I asked one of our helpers to hide the gingerbread man while they were distracted by the story. Were they bothered by the tale? One daughter says “that doesn’t keep me from feeling a little warm and fuzzy inside as gingerbread men bake in the oven and the house gets filled with the aroma of molasses and spice. I really should get around to learning how to make these cookies. This is a tradition I’d like to pass on to my children.

Though I don’t read the Gingerbread Man story anymore, I hang the cookies up as decorative edible items on the garlands of our kitchen and dining room. The kids share the cookies to their close friends or give it away as gifts.

This is just one of our special Christmas tradition in our family. Each family develops its own traditions. Sometimes we start new traditions, keep treasured traditions or discard a few that no longer apply. The thing that makes each holiday memorable is the unique spin your own family puts on tradition. Tradition is more than a right way to do something. The small rituals and customs that are repeated from year in and year out give our family something to anticipate While some traditions are passed on from generation to generation, I brought some of the old, added a few pieces of new and tweaked yesterday with today in hopes of creating another memory for tomorrow. These memories last forever.

Here is my Gingerbread Man Cookie recipe

I live by ‘Go big or go home.’ That’s with everything. It’s like either commit and go for it or don’t do it at all. I apply that to everything. I apply that to relationships, I apply that to like sports, I apply that to everything. That’s what I live by. That’s how I like it. Paul Walker

I first saw the news about Paul Walker’s death shortly before noon from TMZ but it was a developing story, hoping against hope that it was not true. I thought nothing about it and now as I read my twitter feed, it is confirmed that he really died when a Porsche sports car crashed and burst into flames in Valencia together with another passenger.

Here is probably the last photo of Paul Walker as he got inside the Porsche.

paul walker

Someone was able to take a photo of the fiery scene.

It is really sad to see such a fine young man die especially knowing he was in Santa Clarita for a car show to support the Philippines typhoon relief efforts. “Several of his friends were at the event … and the accident happened very near to the event.”. Paul even had a video appealing for help in his relief efforts for Typhoon Yolanda victims .Paul Walker was joined by the cast of Fast & Furious 7 on the set and made a appeal to join “Reach Out WorldWide” efforts with a donation

Paul Walker will surely be remembered by the Filipinos not because he is a movie actor but as a beautiful person reaching out to help countries in post-disaster situations. While part of a relief team responding to the massive earthquakes that devastated Haiti on January 12, 2010, he saw a gap between the availability of skilled resources and the requirement for such personnel in post-disaster situations. Following the trip he contacted a group of his friends to assist him in forming Reach Out WorldWide (ROWW) with the purpose of filling this unmet need. ROWW is a non-profit rapid response team that focuses our efforts on victims of natural disasters.

reach out worldwide

The “Reach Out WorldWide” mission is simple. ROWW use their network of professionals with first responder skill-sets to fulfill the unmet need in times of chaos, tragedy, and destruction.

“Paving the way for long term disaster relief, leaving it better than when we got there” is a mission ROWW is all about.

In fact, ROWW was one of the first organizations in the 2011 Sendong disaster after the storm had cleared. “We had no idea what to expect. Reports coming in had been pretty vague and we just wanted to make sure we could get out to the people in need as quick as we could and get to work. As soon as we landed we never stopped moving. Whatever we could do to help we did” ,recalled one team member.

paul walker ROWW

It is inspiring to see the selflessness that Reach Out WorldWide believes in so strongly and Paul Walker envisioned the same relief efforts for Yolanda. What man is a man who does not make the world better?

Paul Walker will live forever in the hearts of all the people he has helped through “Reach Out WorldWide”.

My condolences to the loved ones left behind by Paul Walker and Roger Rodus, was also killed in the tragic accident,