Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Calm After The Storm

(picture c/o Yahoo.com and Reuters)

(I originally wrote this article back in October of 2009 as a reflection after the devastating Typhoon Ondoy hit the Philippines. Good Housekeeping magazine Philippines published it in their Jan/Feb 2010 issue under the Blessings section.)

The Calm After the Storm
by Lj T. Schroeder


Life in the Philippines will not be complete without typhoons. I lived most of my life in one of the most typhoon prone areas in the country- Bicol Region.

My family and I have experienced first-hand many traumatic typhoon days. I have witnessed and accumulated countless typhoon stories and anecdotes. Floods, deaths, missing loved ones, injuries, ruined communities, powerless, waterless and sometimes sleepless nights are typical.

We've cooked and ate local birds that have been victims themselves of the violent weather that sought refuge in our nipa (coconut leaves) roofs. I can clearly remember our usual menu after a typhoon, if not the ever reliable sardines with langka (jackfruit) in (gata) coconut milk, its young lubi-lubi (deadly nightshade) leaves in gata. One of the good things that happens after a storm is, you need not climb coconut trees to get fruits, because they are scattered everywhere. And firewood abound too!

We’ve known what it's like to line up for relief goods. We’ve experienced staying with relatives whose house were sturdier. We've taken turns fetching water from the community pump (poso). We had to time our baths and learn how to re-use water and other essentials. For weeks, sometimes months everyone would be busy drying, cleaning, fixing and re-building things.

I was in second grade when Typhoon Sisang hit Bicol. Once daylight came, the first thing I saw was the blue-painted roof of our neighbor’s house in the main road. There was water, debris, uprooted trees and garbage everywhere. The trees looked like they’ve been stripped, that is if they are still standing. Electric lines were cut off and will not work for months. We couldn't watch the sole television station in the region.

Our school which also served as an evacuation site was not spared from the strong winds and torrential rain. We held classes for almost an entire school year in our teachers’ homes or under the leafless mango tree or at the rice storage building (tambobong) that felt like hell at noon time. We all sweat from the heat! People couldn’t make ice candy, ice water, (dirty) ice cream or run electric fans because there was no power supply. During those days generators were rare.

I forget what typhoon it was, but days before Christmas our province was hit again. Most of our kabarangays (villagers) had already set-up Christmas trees and decors for the merriest season of the year. When the typhoon passed, chaos and destruction were all that was left. We spent candle lit, gloomy, silent nights during the holidays.

But in spite of the hardships and struggles, I also recall that those were the times when I appreciated togetherness, quietness and simplicity the most. The moon and stars became more visible at night without the lights, minus the trees that oftentimes block our views or the TV that steals our attention away.

Those were the moments when we spent more time together in front of a siga (bonfire), or chatting and playing with the neighbors, singing songs or praying in the altar.

Storms teach us numerous things. They bring out the best or the worst in us- the real us.A calamity in whatever form or intensity reveals what we are capable of being and doing. They allow us to appreciate blessings, family and life. They make us realize how powerful nature is, and even more, its Creator.

We’ve learned to move on, to adapt, to make the most of our situation, to rely on one another, to give up certain things, to go back to basics, to start from scratch, to be stronger, to have faith, to wait and hope for better days and most of all to be prepared for the next storm life will bring us. :)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Beautiful Day :) Lj Schroeder


Beautiful Day

Waking up to snow-covered mountains...


Driving home with double rainbows in the freeway...

I can't even capture them with justice...

And golden sunset skies amidst the rain.


What lovely sights!
What beautiful creations!
What an awesome Creator!

Reminds me of this song from Phil Wickham.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Dios Mabalos! by Lj Schroeder


(Pictures c/o Arleth G. Photography, unless otherwise stated)


Dios Mabalos!*
Lj Schroeder

In time for Thanksgiving, (although long overdue) here is my shout out and thumbs-up to the talented group of vendors/suppliers/contacts that we've had the privilege of working with when John and I tied the knot last Sept. 25.

I've accrued tons of lessons while preparing for our California garden wedding which I'm planning to share in another post. One of the many things I've realized is how ginormous the work, expense, time and hands (or heads) you need in order to make an average-sized traditional matrimony as less stressful yet memorable as possible. That's why these people/companies are heaven sent to me and John and we owe them a lot for helping make our day truly special.
Hooray to...
Denise and the rest of the Wingdingz company for the SUPERB job of re-creating jist of our love story through our caricatures, the highlight of our wedding invitation. Most of the people who saw our invites were amazed at how excellent Denise's team is! Funny, personal, unique, creative, cool were just some of the compliments we've heard from them. Before I left for the US, I was able to request Wingdingz to rush two copies of wedding posters and produce an on-line version of our wedding invite. That was very accommodating of them!



Ate Laila Papa Ramos and her company of hard-working sewers for the beautiful dresses I wore. She is the heart and hands behind my ivory wedding dress for the ceremony and my cream-colored evening dress for the reception. Her creations are flattering, comfortable and a work of art. She is willing to work within your budget without compromising your idea and deliver the products on time! One of the most generous and easy-to-work with woman that I know of. She not only did three of my gowns, but she had the time to make my Ma's dress, my veil and the rest of of our ceremonial stuff. Love you Ate Lai!


Puni Malolos for our give-aways and decors (sadly, I wasn't able to use the aisle decors because my Mom who was supposed to bring them to the US was denied of the US tourist visa). Anyhow, from the very start I've always wanted to incorporate parts of the Filipino culture to our wedding. Because one, I am proud of my heritage and two, I want to be a blessing to my country especially our small/medium enterprises. I decided to have a local product (butterfly ref magnet made from puni leaf) as our wedding give-away and a bird on a stick (also made from puni) as our aisle decors. Although I was satisfied with the quality, ease of transaction, price and time of delivery some of the butterflies' colors were a little off from the red/blue combination that I originally ordered. That said, I won't still have them any other way.

(pic c/o Puni Malolos)

Our wonderful photographers- wife and husband duo Arleth and Mario Guttierez (they're not Filipinos but Latinos.) I've always dreamt of having a pre-nup photo session and when John and I first met Arleth she was on my side. :) I knew then that they were meant to be our photographers! Having them was one of the best decisions we've made for our wedding vendor's list. They are a joy and a blessing to work with because they understand the stress and the process of long-distance planning and having a bi-racial wedding. Mario even volunteered to carry boxes of drinks and other stuff for us and Arleth gave us an irresistible deal. Muchas gracias chica!


Arleth's cousin Ally for my hair and make-up both for the pre-nup session and the wedding ceremony. She's a talented, hard-working, very flexible single-mom who has so much potential in this field. At first I was a bit worried that my eye-make-up for the pre-nup shoot was too heavy. But they looked amazing on the pics! How I wish I could have curly hair everyday (or maybe not). :)


Lastly, our floral supplier/arranger Carol's Secret Garden. I was contemplating on doing our flowers by myself, but my concerned in-laws and friends won't let me have more to-do things in my list. So I didn't really expect anything phenomenal from CSG for fear of being disappointed despite seeing some pictures of their previous works. The day of our wedding came, I was so relieved that they considered some of my ideas (twigs, succulents, berries, hydrangeas) in the arrangements.

The rest of our vendors either did a so-so job or a not-so-good job. :( That's another thing I've learned not just from our own wedding but from the dozens of weddings I've hosted/performed at/helped/coordinated/attended.

No wedding is free from imperfections/mishaps/drama (some planners or couples are just good at letting them slip away.) Instead of dwelling on the negative I'd rather choose to see and be grateful for the positive- the helpful people, affordable deals, the memories and the reason we're having a wedding in the first place... to spend the rest of our lives together, 'til death do us part. 

* God will repay you in Bicol dialect.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Favored and Blessed by Lj Salceda Schroeder


(1st and 2nd pic c/o Arleth Gutierrez, 3rd pic c/o of Dede Neufeld)

Favored and Blessed
Lj Salceda Schroeder
(Reflections on my last night as a single woman. I used part of this in my wedding vows and acknowledgments for the reception. )

My Ma never fails to remind me that I am a favored and blessed woman. I wish I could say that I've always believed her pronouncements but I'd be lying. Don't get me wrong, those are beautiful, heart-warming declarations that I would love to hear all the time, but those are also difficult words to digest and hold onto during tough days.

Not this time though. Today more than ever those words are alive. I've never felt or seen them as clear and as true than this moment.

I am a favored and blessed woman!

I am marrying the answer to my Ma's prayers. The man I've learned and still is learning to love, to know and to stand by with. I am in a country where some people could only dream of living. I am warmly welcomed in homes and by people I'm not even related to.

My loved ones and friends may not be here to witness and celebrate with us on our wedding day, but what a comfort and a joy to be surrounded by the most loving, supportive new family. I am overwhelmed by their generosity and all the names that I now have to remember. :) They are all wonderful and I can't wait to spend some time and get to know them more. I thank the Lord for their lives.

Being favored and blessed doesn't exempt one from hardships and pain.

For the two years that John and I have been together, we've faced many challenging, scary and seemingly insurmountable circumstances. The struggles of a long-distance relationship, the paperwork, the expenses, unemployment, settling in the US, wedding preparations... And the adventures did not stop since I came here. On my second week in California, John's car was burglarized, his wallet was taken, my identity was stolen, his second wallet got lost that we had to call a friend to pay for our meal, my Ma's visa application was denied- twice and I'm sure there will be plenty more to come....

It hasn't been an easy journey, but we made it this far. Being favored and blessed doesn't mean the absence of problems or the abundance in material things. It's not the presence of people you love or the comfort of a place you once called home. IT IS knowing we have God and He's got our back and everything else covered. He who made possible for John and I to meet and to be together will also be the One who will carry us through.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Love ♥ On-line

(our wedding invite cover c/o Wingdingz)

Love ♥ On-line
Lj T. Salceda

I have been meaning to write something... a lot of things actually.

My trip to Bicol...
The K1 (Fiancee) Visa Process...
Our Wedding Preparations...
My last few days in the Philippines...
My first week in the US...
And the list goes on...

Where would I begin? So much to write about, so little time. So many things have transpired since my last article. Let me start by responding to one of the most asked questions I've gotten so far.

"i wud like to ask po sana kung anu pong christian site or social network nyo nakilala c mr. john (ur fiance)? thanks po! we miss u n po sa radio" - from a listener." (I would like to ask from what Christian site or social network did you meet your fiance John?)


I'm your avid listener on i.u..just want t0 c0ngratulate u and ur husband t0 be 0n ur upcoming wedding..ur l0ve st0ry inspired me..can l ask what christian site did you meet your future husband? h0pe u can grant my request.thanks. - from an FB friend

A little history first... I was introduced to the on-line community back in 1997 after attending a seminar about the inter-net organized by our municipal library. Thereafter I've been an active netizen- exchanging letters with my on-line penpals, polishing my English vocabulary by writing articles and learning the ins and outs of the virtual universe by perusing various websites.

The inter-net, computer and technology are such wonderful tools! I consider them gifts to humankind. But they can also be abused or misused just like any other gift or tool.

In spite of the advancement in technology and our more "liberal" times, many still view on-line dating or relationships negatively. It is oftentimes synonymous to mail order brides or virtual prostitution and even pornography. Sadly, these things do abound on-line, but I'd rather focus on the benefits of technology like how it brought me and my hubby to-be together. :)

John and I met through a Christian dating site called Christian Dating For Free (CDFF) more than two years ago. Before I go on any further, let me just point out that I'm NOT endorsing this site or any particular dating site or even on-line dating. I am merely answering specific questions from listeners/friends. Each dating site has their own rules, advantages/disadvantages and purpose.

Since I've been on-line for more than a decade now, I've picked-up a number of valuable lessons/pointers that I want to share with those who are or want to try on-line dating/relationship (OLD/R):

1. Be EXTRA cautious. On-line dating definitely has its limitations, as well as benefits. Like in the real world people can lie, betray or deceive you in the virtual world. If you're not mindful, you might end up hurt and broken. Before you give any specific personal info or commit to someone on-line make sure you've met him/her in person, have taken the time to get to know each other and have developed trust with each other.

2. Set rules and boundaries. Early on in my adult life I've decided NOT to date or get involved with guys who are a.) old enough to be my dad (I'm not looking for a replacement of my absentee father), b.) separated/divorced/annulled or c.) have kids. Not to pass judgement on anyone, but those are my personal convictions. I can talk to them or be friends with them but nothing more. :)

Before becoming an official dating couple, I request John to come to the Philippines and see me. He did after months of exchanging IM's and e-mails. (This made me admire him more because it showed how dedicated and committed he was in pursuing me. With very limited resources and time, he booked a trip to Manila and gave in to my request, um more like a demand.) I was able to introduced him to my family and friends and he was able to observe me at work. We were able go out on dates like typical dating couples do. Only then did we become official boyfriend/girlfriend.

3. Don't just date to date. Date with a purpose (of getting to know each other to find out if it will lead to the possibility of marriage.) If it would help to involve your family or friends in your search for a lifetime partner, then let them know so makaliskisan n'yo as we say in Filipino. Ask trusted people to pray for you or for tips from couples who are in the same boat. They might see things from a different perspective, especially if you're too focused with the other person or your feelings for each other.

If after plenty (say 3-5) years of talking on-line and you still have not met his/her family & close friends or you have not seriously discussed settling down and other important topics, evaluate the direction of your relationship or friendship (if this is what you both decide on).

4. Be realistic. Some people succeed in finding love or the right partner on-line, some don't. On-line relationships involve risks, require a lot of hard work, patience, money, time, sacrifice and trust. If you think it's difficult to be with someone you can't see/touch/smell for a long time, think hard because long-distance love is TOUGH and it might not be for you. Your romance might start on-line, but it doesn't mean when you're off-line you should go out with another guy/girl or you will be "skyping" or "yming" for life. Your dynamics will change once you're physically together. Plan, save and do everything you can to make it work.

5. Pray (a lot!). Ask for the Lord's protection, wisdom and discernment. I don't look for clues or signs when I pray about something or someone. I ask God to confirm what He has already impressed in my heart. I consult the Bible or a man/woman of God if I need additional counsel.

If your on-line or long-distance relationship doesn't work, don't lose heart. People meet in various, crazy, unimaginable ways and places. God is a God of surprises. The important thing is you tried and gave it your best.

Btw, I don't recommend (on-line and even off-line) dating or bf-gf relationships to high-school or college students. I strongly suggest finishing your STUDIES first before pursuing someone or getting involved in a committed relationship. Trust me, it'll be worth the wait! :)

My friend Kuya Kevin Sanders also wrote an interesting article about On-line Relationships.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Calling all singers, composers, and music producers!


What you can do to sell/maximize/hear your songs on-air...
Lj T. Salceda


Every month I (the person in charge of music and CD’s at DZAS) receives an average of two albums from aspiring or professional Christian artist/s or producers. (Not to mention the 3-5 pieces of CD’s I purchase from music stores every other month.) After listening to the entire album, I usually pass them to other staff for further evaluation. What happens majority of the time is - 1. We file them in the music library and totally forget about the album or 2. Play a cut once and forget about it.


I’ve been in the broadcast industry for almost 11 years. Worked as producer and host of musical shows for almost 8 years. I know how to play the guitar since grade school. I’ve performed, joined singing contests and helped organized or promote concerts as long as I can remember. So I know a good song or album when I hear one.

I’m not claiming to be a music expert or a music mogul, nor do I have an album and I have not made anyone popular or rich by playing his/her songs. But I do want to HELP even in my small way. I pray these tips or challenges will motivate and educate those who want to record an album, be played on the radio and impact their audience in a BIG way.


1. Stop copying! How I wish I could tell Filipino Christian artists to stop trying to sound like Hillsong. I have nothing against the group, but there can only be one Hillsong. The rest will become imitations. There is nothing wrong in admiring great artists. But they’ve already made their mark, they’ve paid their dues. You are still building a name, a career, a ministry if you prefer. Be your self, but offer something different. Stand out or you’ll be buried in oblivion or your CD’s in files. Don’t waste time and money. If you’ve already invested, gain valuable lessons or experiences and put them into good use.


2. Excel. It is a fact that most Christian artists, musicians, churches have limited resources, air play, reach and support but it doesn’t mean we will settle for mediocre products or results. Remember, we are representing the King of kings and the Lord of lords. If you think you can’t produce an excellent CD/song, then prepare, train and save some more. Good thing about music is- it doesn’t have an expiration date. Artists on the other hand, might have. If you can't create something different, then offer something excellent!


3. Ask for an expert’s opinion. Sometimes it only takes a meal and transportation or a small LG (love gift) to avail of a music expert’s critique or guidance. We have a lot of talented, experienced and generous music icons, maestros and maestros in the biz. They’ve been there, so they KNOW.


4. Musicians/composers need not sing your own songs. We have our own roles to play and the proper time to play them. If other artists could give your work justice, let them shine by doing it. I have been paid to sing and asked to record songs, but I know in my heart that it’s not my “place in this world.” So I've turned them down. I can carry a tune and I ♥ music but those things don't make me a singer.

5. Know your audience. God is your number one fan/listener, but the fact that you have recorded your songs, submitted them to a radio station and asked the dj/host to play your CD on-air mean you want others to listen to your music too. Or else you would be content singing them to the Lord in the privacy of your comfort room. Make sure your songs are “singable” and radio-friendly. A catchy tune and something that the listener can relate to are what “sell” nowadays. Check the hit charts today, what songs do people listen to? Give the audience something worth their time and money. After all they are the ones that will request for your songs, download or buy your CD's and make them a hit.


Don’t be discouraged when your project are rejected. Don’t hate hosts like me when we don’t play your songs. Evaluate. Ask. Learn. Polish or as we say in print, edit your work.


Denials are not endings. They mean you have to work harder or better or you might just have to wait for the right time. :)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

No Need to Exercise by Lj T. Salceda


IF…
  1. You walk or ride a bike instead of ride/drive a car to work/school/church/grocery and back.
  2. You swim in the river or use a tabo (dipper) instead of the shower to bathe.
  3. You use the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator to climb up to the 3rd floor.
  4. You use bunot (coconut husk) and floor wax or madre de cacao instead of a floor polisher or vacuum cleaner to clean the floor.
  5. You use palo-palo (wood used for laundry) when washing your clothes and hang them on the clothes line under the scorching sun instead of using a washing machine and a dryer.
  6. You play patintero, siato, agawang-base or luksong-tinik instead of computer games or psp.
  7. If you eat right, rest enough, live in a safe, disease-free and perfect world.

Well, we don’t, so get you’re butt off and start walking, running and taking good care of your only body!

Although I am not a health buff or a super active person, I do try my very best to incorporate exercise in my weekly, if not daily routine. To the point of being laughed at and even called names like "weirdo", "trying hard", and "may sayad" since I brisk walk at night (after work) by myself or dance alone in my room or pretend that I'm strutting my catwalk.

It is a challenge, YES, but it can be done. Being active or exercising requires a LOT of dedication, commitment and discipline. It’s not an occasional activity or a fad. It is a choice. It is intentional. It is a lifestyle. I doubt if anyone NEVER falters from exercising. Welcome to the club if you struggle! I'm not here to play the guilt trip. I'm here to motivate you that the best time to start or re-start is now.

"For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." - 1 Timothy 4:8 ESV

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dreams

Dreaming Cat
Click here to getImages &
Dreaming Cat Pictures - Pictures

Dreams

by Lj Salceda

God has always used dreams (in my sleep) to either warn me or tell me something very important. I've proven this time and again.

When I was dating my ex-bf, I always had dreams about him cheating or doing something awful. One time in my dream (more like a nightmare), my ex and I were sitting beside each other on-board a bus, but when he saw an attractive woman sitting in front of us, he left me and sat beside the woman all through out the trip. Another time, I dreamed he kissed a different woman right in front of me. The nerve! There was another dream when he gave his business card and outrightly flirted with another girl while we were on a date. I either woke up fuming or sobbing. :(

I've always been open and honest to my ex, so whenever I would had these dreams I never failed to tell him. And he always reasoned out, it's because I think about him cheating that's why I have those dreams and I believed him. Little did I know my dreams were actually "red flags."

When I was younger I had all sorts of dreams. The ones that stood the most were about me having super powers- I can fly without wings or that I was fighting or running away from monsters or villains. I don't know how or why but most of the time, I can remember even the tiniest part of my dreams such as dialogues, colors, designs, scents and sounds. There are a few times when I can remember 2 or 3 of my dreams in one night/sleep!

I've also noticed that when I dream about "real people or things" they usually happen. Like when I had a dream about one of my uncles who rarely visits us, came over one day and gave me some money. And the very next day it happened! I swear!

I am NOT an expert in dreams and I have no plans of becoming a Joseph (unless it is the Lord's will.) I won't discuss elaborately or even scientifically (not in the position to) or even encourage people to take ALL dreams seriously. Sometimes they are just that- dreams. No more, no less.

However, in my life God has used and still uses dreams to assure me or caution me or convey something urgent or valuable.

Like what happened last Friday. I had another one of those very vivid dreams. In my sleep I remember that we (my fiance and I) got our Notice of Action2 (the approval for our Fiancee Visa Application) on May 13. I even told my fiance- John about it during our chat. Out of excitement, I logged-on to the USCIS website and checked our case status. But to my disappointment, it appeared we were still under Initial Review. No updates or approval yet.

Lo and behold, when I opened my e-mail today I got a message from USCIS saying:

Application Type: I129F , PETITION FOR FIANCE(E) Your Case Status: Post Decision Activity On May 13, 2011, we mailed you a notice that we have approved this I129F PETITION FOR FIANCE(E). Please follow any instructions on the notice.

Friday the 13th in the US, we got our approval! I forgot about the time difference. Lol!

I am aware that there are people who don't believe or put much weight in dreams and I respect them for that. Like what I've said, I'm no expert in dreams and I have no plans of becoming one. Nonetheless, from my experiences, I believe God can use anything even dreams to communicate with us. So don't always discount or shrug off ALL your dreams. They might save your life or the very least avoid some problem/pain in the future.

Thank you Lord and thank you my dear friends for your prayers and greetings. We're now preparing for the next stages, 2-day Medical Exam and Interview for the actual FIANCEE VISA. Mabalos!

Trivia: Some experts say animals like cats and dogs dream in their sleep too.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Destination: Mt. Pinatubo by Lj Salceda



In my late 20's I made a list of 30 things I want to accomplish before I reached 30 years old. Although I've tried my very best to fulfill everything in my list, majority of them still remain undone, or unfinished and some are on hold for now.

I am a firm believer of planning and preparing for the future and working hard for my dreams. However, I also submit to God's perfect time and his wonderful will. So it may be a few years late in my timetable, but I'm proud to say...

I CLIMBED ANOTHER MOUNTAIN!!!


I never thought I'd climb Mt. Pinatubo since I grew up near Mt. Mayon and I've witnessed how destructive and powerful these creations can be. Not that I'm scared of volcanoes. As a matter of fact I've already climbed or visited at least four in the past (Mt. Mayon, Mt. Makiling, Mt. Banahaw and Taal). It's just that I was aiming for a "higher" peak, Mt. Pulag or Mt. Apo perhaps. Ambitious, I know, but I always dream BIG or HIGH in this case. :)


So when my friend, Doc Mavic asked me a few weeks ago if I want to join them for an adventure, who am I reject such an offer? I started doing my exercise (brisk walking and jogging) frequently and bought a new pair of hiking shoes. I took a half day off from work in preparation for our early morning trip to Tarlac (our convergence point) and to meet with the rest of our climbing mates.

First off, I'm glad I "trained" and prepared for our trek. It might have been doubly hard and painful if I did nothing to condition my self. I am still sore from the all the walking, jumping, climbing and traveling.

But it was TRULY worth it in the end! The rugged, varying terrain to Mt. Pinatubo is almost comparable if not at par with the scenes/location in the movie Lord of the Rings. Nevertheless, unless there is a need (or someone will pay me) to climb Mt. Painatubo (Just kidding!) I won't do it again. :) Siguro nga tumatanda na ako. (I guess, I'm getting old.)


Kidding aside, I'm grateful I was able to glimpse and admire another side of the Philippines. Very beautiful and blessed talaga ang bansa natin! (Our country is indeed beautifully blessed!) So if you're interested to conquer Mt. Pinatubo, here are a few pointers.

1. PLAN AHEAD. (In most trips, planning is really an important aspect.) Get in-touch with a local or surf the net or the tourism website so you can secure a 4x4, a driver, a tour guide and most of all a permit to enter the Mt. Pinatubo zone. It is a bit expensive to climb this mountain and on-the-spot decisions won't work for this trip. There is a check-point where an army personnel will sign your required paper to travel/climb and you need the proper vehicle and authorized person to accompany you or your group.


After we descended Mt. Pinatubo, I heard on the 2-way radio inside our 4x4 a conversation between tourism officials about the "hunt" for a foreigner who apparently "escaped" the checkpoint, he was riding a motorcycle and did not have a tour guide. They were informing drivers/tour guides on the way to report and stop the said tourist and his Filipina companion.

2. BUDGET. As I've said, this is sort of an expensive climb. I'm glad someone took care of my expenses. The 4x4 car that will transport you from the assembly area to the drop-off point has a maximum capacity of 5 passengers. It costs between P4,000 to 4,500 (roundtrip) and includes the payment for the driver, tour guide and permit to climb. According to our tourguide, Kuya Wilson, from the total payment: P280 goes to them, 20 goes to the handler, 500 goes to the skyway (the short cut route), the rest goes to the driver/owner of the car and to the local gov't/tourism office. If you decide to stay over-night, you also have to pay for security. At least 2 soldiers or airforce staff will accompany and protect you, plus the assigned tour guide and driver.

3. RESERVE. Tour groups offer packages including transpo, food and other fees. We didn't avail of the packages, so our friends brought our food and drinks. Try to bring as much water as you can, although there is a spring where you can get clean water for your use but if you have a sensitive tummy it's better to be safe than sorry. There is a small store up the volcano that sells overpriced drinks like sodas and energy drinks (P70 per can). There is NO available food at the mountain top, either you will bring your own food or wait until you come down from the mountain to the assembly area and eat at the nearby Korean/Filipino resto. They also offer spa services there.

4. ZZZZZZZ. Have enough rest and sleep prior to the climb. It will exhaust and push you to the max physically and mentally. I won't recommend this trip to people with health problems esp those that have severe asthma attacks, rheumatism, hypertension etc.



5. TEAM. As much as possible go in big groups. This way you can encourage and help each other. You can have someone to take your pics or swap stories with. As we say, the more the merrier and it might save you some money too.


6. PROTECT. Use your most durable footwear and bring extra flip flops especially if you want to experience the cool water from the streams along the way. Bring sun glasses, face mask, cap, face towel, sun screen, extra shirt, medicine (if you got allergies/asthma/tummy aches), tissue paper or wet wipes, extra batteries and memory card. Eat enough before the climb but not too much that might upset your tummy (like what happened to me). Some hikers bring umbrellas, sarong or malong and jacket to protect them from the sun. There are rest stops and CR's along the way if you need breaks.


7. HELP. Preserve nature and tourist destinations. Bring extra gifts/food for the Aeta communities on the way to the volcano. Bless your tourguide/driver and give them a bigger tip especially if they've carried your bags and have been of great help to you.


8. HAVE FUN! No travel is perfect. Don't let bumpy roads, dust, super hot weather or complainers ruin your adventure. Make the most of every trip. Do everything you can to have a safe and memorable tour.


Climb another mountain. Checked! :)

Some photos are c/o of my friend Doc Mavic.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Life is Bananas by Lj T. Salceda


As if the cool breeze was telling me, "Look, take a closer look behind you."

At the back of our dorm a few feet from where I was tackling two weeks worth of laundry,
stood a group of *banana plants. Rows and rows of tiered (buwig) young banana fruit protruding from one the main trunks as they gently dance with the summer wind. Although it is a pleasant sight, it is nothing new much more extra ordinary to me.

“Can you see it?” as if the Wind is asking me.

“They look like the same bananas I’ve seen the past seven years that I’ve lived here.” I silently answered.

“Look again,” commanded the cool breeze.

Feeling a bit irritated I hesitantly gave in and replied, “Ok, am I missing something here? They’re the same bana.. nas…”

My thoughts trailed back to my childhood in the province. We’ve always had bananas in our yard when we were younger and it amazed me then how they never last longer than the rest of the trees in my grandmother’s yard. There’s the towering mango tree at the corner of our lot or my favorite place to hang out- the caimito tree still alive to this day or the aratiles tree a favorite of caterpillars (higad)!

I remember some of my grandparents’ lessons in the life of bananas: they sprout from nowhere, grow really fast and die young (2–3yrs max) after they bear fruit just once in their short life span. Amazingly though, offshoots spring from their base after their death. Pretty much like the coconut trees, they offer unending use from their leaves to their trunk to their fruit up to their flower (heart).

Hmmmm… Now, I think I know what the Wind was trying to tell me. They weren't exactly the same bananas I saw when I first transferred to our dorm. However, isn’t life pretty much like banana plants or their flowers or the early summer wind – here today and gone tomorrow or a few years the most?

I guess the more important questions to ask are: are we producing any good fruit or positive deeds before our expiration date? And are we growing or mentoring any offshoots (students, sons or daughters, disciples) as our legacy for when we're done and gone?

My Ma always say in her sermons, what is true in the natural is also true in the spiritual. Meaning, what works in our physical, temporal world or in our day-to-day living can be applied in our faith or relationship with the Lord.

Whenever you eat banana que or turon (jumping jack we call them in Bicol) or order a halo-halo with bananas except for the nutrients and other benefits they provide, may this amazing fruit remind you: how short but productive (or enjoyable or important or crazy) life is. So, do your part – bear fruit and be a mentor to someone while you can. Learn from the BANANA!


Interesting banana facts:

* Bananas are not trees, they are from the herb family.

* Bananas are excellent source of vitamins and minerals especially protein, raw sugar, vitamin B and fiber.

* Bananas are naturally and slightly radioactive.

* The Philippines is the second banana producer/exporter in the world.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

FEAR NOT! (On kids’ abduction for internal organs) by Lj Salceda

(picture from this site)
“I swear to God, it’s the TRUTH even if it never happened.” (CSI)
I really don’t know why at our age and time and with the advent of modern technology most Filipinos are still so GULLIBLE and SUPERSTITIOUS. We believe in almost everything! Sigh. Again, please double-check if something you are passing on whether info, video, photo or link is true and helpful to others.
We’ve already tackled these “rumors about kids being abducted for their internal organs and being left somewhere with a note and payment” on our show Pinoy Espesyal with a police superintendent as our guest. For the last time, there is NO TRUTH to this. This is one of the top URBAN LEGENDS in the world with different variations. When we were kids growing-up in the province panakot na ito sa amin.
Please consider the following reasons why it is VERY UNLIKELY to abduct kids for their INTERNAL ORGANS.
  1. It is illegal and medically impossible to harvest organs from kids or anyone for that matter without proper papers or background check. There are so many things that need to be considered like matching blood types, tissues, complications and other health concerns in order to accept an organ from a legitimate source like a hospital or an approved organ-donation organization.
  2. A regular person with no medical background or experience CAN NOT harvest any organ from anyone. You will need a roomful of doctors or medical professionals who are knowledgeable and trained with the proper medical equipment to harvest even store organs/tissues (like corneas) and finally conduct the transplant because this is a very delicate and intricate medical operation. Medical schools obtain their organs/cadavers from legitimate sources like funeral homes and hospitals. Again, the harvesting needs to be done by a surgeon in a required operating/medical room (temperature, cleanliness highly considered) not a van or a house and with the proper tools.
  3. Some organs need to be transplanted within hours or else it will not be viable. To store them you need the right solution, accurate temperature, proper handling and medical devices to make sure they stay in the best condition.
  4. Most organ donors are NOT from third world countries. Organ donation awareness in the Philippines is still very low compared to that of first world countries like the US or Spain (top organ donating country). We still need a lot of education, discussions to make and we still have a long way to go.
  5. No victim, at least in Valenzuela has had the courage to report this to the authority with any valid evidence except for text messages or passed on information from kapitbahays or the inter-net. If you are a victim, I beg you PLEASE talk to AUTHORITIES or the MEDIA. We are here to listen, believe and help you if you are telling the TRUTH. We do need to VALIDATE stories/info first.
  6. It is a CRIME to concoct stories with the goal of creating panic or danger to the people, it is a SIN to lie or steal or kill and it is ILLEGAL to sell or buy internal organs (it should be donated.)
And if this is indeed TRUE, scaring people will not do this country any good. Spreading fear, wrong information and indignation will only empower the perpetrators. But it will NOT solve the problem. Fact is evil is everywhere. Bad people will keep on doing bad things. Some don’t get caught because no one reports them. Blaming the government or media or authorities will not make things better. Crime will not stop because we live in a fallen world.

To make matters worse, we are subjecting kids to trauma and we are raising a scared and scarred generation. We’re not educating them how to protect themselves, who to believe, what to believe and most of all what type of example are we leaving to these kids? I am SO disappointed with schools and school staff who suspended classes for baseless information. For goodness’ sake! Do kids get abducted? Yes they do and unfortunately so. Do they get killed? Sadly, yes for various reasons and means.

I know it's better to be safe than sorry. This doesn’t mean we can’t instill in them values and basic life-saving instructions like: don’t talk to strangers, walk with your friends or classmates from school, tell your parents where you’re going, learn self-defense, always verify your information and do not be too quick to spread info or news no matter how attractive (or scary) they are.

Parents please teach your kids about having faith in God. Tell them about His angels, Daniel and his friends and miracles. Truth is, this world is full of dangers, the devil is real but enlighten and empower them too. Offer them SOLUTIONS not just EMOTIONS. Please be more pro-active than reactive.

Isn’t He who is in us more powerful than anyone against us? Didn’t God promised to be our protector, defender, helper and His Son our Savior? Can’t He give us wisdom or discernment if we ask Him to?

Btw, there's a BIG difference between ORGAN DONATION and ORGAN SELLING (SMUGGLING.)

Friday, March 18, 2011

MY COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS Lj T. Salceda

(College Grad pic, Batch 2000)

I've never been invited to speak in a Commencement ceremony, but just in case I do get invited (or not) I already have a prepared speech. O ha?! :)

I almost didn’t make it as a broadcaster or a book author. For starters I almost didn’t finish college because of poverty. However my Ma didn’t single-handedly raise us to be quitters in life, so I searched for ways to sustain and finish my four year Bachelor in Communication Arts undergraduate degree (with honors.)

While I submitted resumes and actively looked for a full-time job, I also started volunteer work as a reporter/researcher/host at 1125 DWAS, FEBC’s Legazpi station. I thought time is so precious to be wasted for passively waiting for some good news.

Months flew by and in spite of my earnest attempts I was still “jobless.” The P50/day stipend that I received as a full-time volunteer, working eight hours a day and doing a full-time employee’s job was not enough for transportation, much more food and other expenses. My Ma would sometimes make “parinig” (question me) if DWAS is really where God is calling me to be. I knew in my heart that God will use me in either broadcast or the arts, despite the hurdles I persisted.

Before I reached my eight month with DWAS I had a heart-to-heart talk with God. I said, "Lord, I know you will use me in this field. If this is really where you want me to be please supply my needs and open the door before I reach my one year here. Or I might just not be that patient enough to stay and I don’t want to, but I might try to do things my way. I’m sorry if that’s a selfish prayer."

After a few weeks and with the recommendations of my co-workers at DWAS, I was finally sent to Manila, where our main office is located and started my formal training as Announcer/Producer. I was accepted albeit their need for a MALE announcer. (Same with Ate Maloi's experience.)

My story doesn’t end there though. While I was preparing for the documents and medical requirements for my new full-time job, I found out that one of my ears can not hear certain sounds. And if you’re in the broadcast industry, especially as an on-air personnel except for your mouth, your ears are major tools in the trade.

When I got my hearing test result I was SO dejected. Although I have no problems with regular conversations, I knew it was a major roadblock. I was so tempted to either bribe or talk the officer that conducted my auditory test into giving me a more "favorable" result. I turned to God again and prayed that if I’m called to do broadcast this will not be an issue or a hindrance to my application. I completed all my medical requirements (urine, x-ray, audio test etc, without doing "any under the table"); written exams, other documents and sent them to our Manila office.

Our God is indeed an awesome God! After a few more months I finally became a full-time, employee of DWAS.

During my third year of employment at DWAS, God started stirring my heart. He wants to expand my territory and enlarge my tent. I didn't know how and when. So one day, I informed my boss that I was planning to move to Manila and study while working. "Work where?" he suspiciously asked me. Deep inside I said, "I have no clue!" But I answered, "Maybe my brother can help me find a job." By this time my brother was already working in a major TV network in Manila.

Back then there was no opening at DZAS for an announcer, but a few weeks before my scheduled move to the big city, I found out one of the announcers at our flagship station had just resigned. Although I was sad to find out she left, I also thought could this be a confirmation Lord?

I took another risk by talking to the DZAS’s manager then for a possibility to continue my service with FEBC while studying. Another answered prayer! Not only did he agree to absorb me at DZAS, but he also suggested a scholarship program to help me pursue further education. He also gave me a flexible work schedule in order for me to attend my classes.

On May 1, 2003 I arrived and started a new life in Valenzuela without any friends in the vicinity, away from my family (my bro lives in Makati so we could only see each other once a month or every other month). There were times when I was scared and lonely, but it was and has been an adventure that I will never regret doing!

Although I wasn't able to finish my post-graduate degree, the Lord opened another opportunity for me to take a short-term course in writing, eventually published a book and some of my articles, traveled to the US twice and to other tourist destinations in the country. I've met my fiance while working in Manila too! I'll reserve our story in my second book though.

My dear graduates, don't be scared to take risks. Learn to fight for your dreams, because no one else will. Most of all consult the Lord in all you do, He has your best interest. Hold on to His promises and in time He will fulfill them.

Dreams do come true! Need more proof? Read my article Dream On in the Young Women on the Journey book published by Church Strengthening Ministry.


"In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." Proverbs 16:9 (NIV)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Me, of Little Faith

(pic from this site)

Me, Of Little Faith

(Lessons in Humility, Patience and Trust)

Lying in my bed for the past two hours with no sign of sleep only made me more antsy, frustrated and hungry. Debating whether to maintain the rest mode or feed my grumbling stomach- it wasn't long before I gave in to my flesh.

It is easier to appease a growling tummy than to pacify an anxious heart. I lazily got up, cooked instant noodles and sliced a piece of egg pie.

The worry rat that I am have been on the edge for days. My source of restlessness- our visa application, rather the long, hard wait for the K1 a.k.a US Fiancee visa.

What if our packet got lost? What if John forgot to include a document? What if we made a mistake? What if it takes years before they finally approve our application? There goes my what if tirade again...

It’s been more than two weeks since my fiancĂ© sent our pack I-129F, the first step to the fiancee visa application and we have yet to receive any response or information from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). From what I’ve heard from other applicants I’ve met on-line, it typically takes a few days to two weeks the most to get an approval or worse, the dreaded Request for Further Evidence (RFE). We haven’t gotten either of the two and two weeks have already passed.

I couldn’t silence the what-if voices inside my head anymore. I finally instructed John to give USCIS a call which I would later regret. The USCIS staff informed him it might still take a month before we’ll get a response from them.

What?!!

That just sent me to panic mode. The phone call only made me feel worse.

That's such a long time! What about our wedding date? Our invitation? How come? Why?

Thank God, He gave me such a patient, understanding and prayerful future husband. John tried everything he could to console me and keep me optimistic. The night after the call- between chewing my midnight snacks and trying to make sense of the turn of events, my wandering eyes caught a familiar sight: my maroon passport peeping through my plastic envelope where I keep my K1 documents.

The Lord, in a still, small voice gently rebuked me.

"Lj, my child when will you ever learn to fully trust me? Have I not shown you enough? Have I not proven what I can do? Have I ever failed you?
"

I felt so ashamed I almost choked on my noodles. I answered NO to the last three questions. Then, He lovingly reminded this forgetful, faithless, frail soul…

"When you applied for a tourist visa, you didn’t have the money and everyone was telling you, you wouldn’t get it. But I proved them wrong! You didn’t just get a 10-year multiple entry US visa, it all happened at a record-breaking period of one month including your renewal of passport!

How many times have you been to the US since you got your visa? Twice! And without spending much.

You are the only member in your extended family to ever step foot on US soil. Not even your very hard-working, late grandmother made it out of the Philippines.

Some of your cousins have settled down and have beautiful kids, but you are the only one in your family who has the privilege to plan and prepare for a wedding. And to actually have one in the US!

You envy people who have lots of money? Guess what? They've worked longer than you and harder than you, but were they able to enjoy the wealth they've amassed? Most important of all, have they invested in what really matters?

To top it all- have I not blessed you with a great guy and an amazing family-in-law to-be?


Patience, my dear. Worrying will not get you anything or anywhere. Have you forgotten your favorite verse?

I, not you will make all things beautiful in MY time, not yours. (Ecc. 3:11a) Trust me."

Though embarrassed, I slept humbled that night.

A few days later my fiance posted this message on my FB wall…

John Schroeder LJ good news it (NOA1) came today finally in the mail Yayyy!