In the midst of the pandemic lockdown last year until recently, I turned to online courses to keep my mind off unproductive thoughts. The ones I completed provided valuable takeaways, but I want to mention three that left such meaningful and lasting impressions: “The Science of Well-Being” (Yale University), “Resilience in a Time of Uncertainty” (University of Pennsylvania), and “Positive Psychology” (University of Pennysylvania) – all from the Coursera platform.
All three had substantial discussions on the virtue of character strengths and how developing them can help us experience fulfillment and satisfaction in our daily lives. Recognizing our unique character strengths and applying them in our personal activities could hold the key to creating better versions of ourselves.
From the 24 character strengths listed by The VIA Institute on Character, I chose 12 and used them as subjects for my Facebook cover photos, after adding related quotes from well-known personalities.
For the first-half of 2021, I posted cover photos forOptimism, Love, Kindness, Perspective, Humor, and Faith.
From July to December, I shared quotes about Humility, Gratitude, Creativity, Leadership, Integrity, and Enthusiasm.
By compiling all of them in this blog post, now I only need to click once to be reminded that happiness and well-being, indeed, can be taught and learned.
Should you want to know what your character strengths are, simply click here.
You may also want to consider registering for any of the courses I mentioned through Coursera.
Christmas is about showing how much you care. It’s about sharing and giving gifts to celebrate your special bond with your loved ones, dear friends, and trusted associates.
This coming Christmas, allow one group known for ‘caring well’ to help spread Love and Hope – the most precious gifts ever!
Carewell (short for the Cancer Resource and Wellness Community) is a nonprofit foundation that provides support, education, and HOPE to persons with cancer. Members participate in support group meetings, informative talks, counseling, and various wellness activities – all free of charge. For over 15 years, Carewell incorporators, sponsors, volunteer healthcare professionals, office staff, and members have committed themselves to the mission of managing the challenges of cancer through holistic means. Despite the pandemic, Carewell continues to provide its activities via the virtual platform.
In its latest fundraising campaign, Carewell invites friends and supporters to help in its mission through donations in exchange for gift packages as described below.
Please consider this opportunity to help Carewell while expressing the true meaning of Christmas – making others happy – as we celebrate another season of Love.
To express your support, kindly fill out this form.
You may click here to know more about Carewell and its wellness advocacy.
It takes someone who has actually done it to state with confidence that the hands that rock the cradle can also till the soil. Women can successfully raise children, produce food by cultivating the land, and contribute significantly to community building.
Luzviminda Teston-Oropesa is one such woman.
None of those tasks is easy, especially for a single mother like her, who manages her farm in an environment that lies in the country’s typhoon belt. Minda Oropesa is from Catanduanes, which had experienced extreme weather disturbances in recent memory. Each time she felt like giving up upon seeing the damage caused by those storms, she kept reminding herself of the many reasons she should rise and start all over again. She has always placed the welfare of the farm workers and those who stand to benefit from the fruits of their labor above her own.
Geologist turned farmer
Before she went into farming, Minda was a professional geologist and was working as the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) officer of a mining company in Leyte. While managing soil rehabilitation activities in the mined areas, she envisioned vast potentials for her family-owned farm in Catanduanes. She had clear plans for her retirement, and as soon as the opportunity came in 2011, she went back to her idyllic town of Baras and started developing their more than three hectares of agricultural property.
In 2012 she organized the Happy Farmers Producers Integrated and Livelihood Association, Inc. (HAFPILA) composed of 37 members/farmers, 30 of whom were women. The term ‘Happy Farmers’ in their name has the same ring to it as that of The Happy Island, the tag used by Catanduanes for tourism promotion. The organic farm is listed as one of the Certified Learning Sites for Agriculture in the Bicol region, a classification given to farms that adopt applicable agricultural technologies, using doable and sustainable farming strategies, and are operating successfully.
She deserves the credit for introducing the members to the Diversified Integrated Farming System (DIFS), a concept that favors polyculture or growing different crops, over that of the traditional monoculture, where a single crop is planted over a wide area. Researches have shown that DIFS is more viable, uses natural resources more efficiently, offers better pest resistance, and produces more varied and nutritious produce. In the long term, it has better contribution to economic stability and social equality as it allows farmers to participate directly in decision making.
The member farmers do not use chemical fertilizers; instead, they produce carbonized rice hull enriched with vermicompost tea and extracts from fish amino acids (FAA), fermented plant juice (FPJ), and oriental herbal nutrients (OHN). They also engage in vermiculture or the cultivation of earthworms for composting. The by-products, which are made available commercially to the community, have been proven in many studies to promote plant growth and significantly increase nutrient content of fruits and vegetables without degrading the natural resources.
These days it is not uncommon to see young people, especially agriculture students from the Catanduanes State University and youth council members, getting immersed in farm activities – a hopeful vision for Minda. “Our farmers are already old, I hope that the children will continue their parents’ endeavors in tilling the land where they were born,” says this woman farmer who walked her talk when she chose to nurture her father’s bequeathed land.
At certain times, Minda’s farm would burst with colors from flowers and fruits of roselle, dragon fruit, and other seasonal crops, which are sold fresh or processed as jams. For additional income and sustained livelihood, HAFPILA ventured into the production of natural food supplements in 2014. Medicinal plants, including moringa, serpentina, turmeric, mangosteen, and gotu kola grow abundantly on the island. These are solar-dried or made into tea, essential oil, or processed and packed as food supplements in capsule form. Despite the ‘no approved therapeutic claims’ caveat, the use of certain herbs for medicinal purposes has become popular in many cultures. Many of them are undergoing scientific reviews for their possible health benefits, especially in light of the ongoing pandemic. For example, serpentina (Andrographis Paniculata) is believed to reduce the severity of lung inflammation and could be helpful during the early stages of Covid 19.
Happy Farmers, for a Happier, Healthier Lifestyle
For her laudable initiatives to promote organic farming in Catanduanes, Minda was awarded the top prize in the Search for Outstanding Rural Women of the Department of Agriculture in 2015. In her acceptance speech, she said, “It is an honor to be a woman. We play a big role in shaping our nation.” Onwards, she knows that this role comes with huge challenges. “Despite the abundant resources in our province, Catanduanes remains one of 20 poorest provinces in the Philippines with high prevalence of malnutrition,” she says.
Through HAFPILA, she hopes to achieve food security through the use of efficient, effective and productive farming systems. She dreams to replicate the humble successes of her group in as many farming communities as possible in Catanduanes. “In supporting us, in buying our products, you are helping us realize our dreams.”
What if, for a few hours, you are given a chance to leave behind uncertain and distressing thoughts and make room for fresh and creative concepts? All you need to do is watch, listen, and allow yourself to be fascinated by a group of multitalented high-achievers from across several disciplines, who will discuss topics of interest to the youth.
As it is, luck is on your side because TEDxYouth@Fitzrovia led by Nicola Allen, a student at King’s College in London, will independently host a virtual event on 21st of August 2021 allowing young people like her to participate in great conversations revolving around the theme “Onwards and Upwards.” It will livestream from 10:30 am to 2:30 pm BST in London, and from 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm PHT Manila.
A senior panel of experts who draw inspiration from London’s cultural diversity and vast capacity for innovation will lead the discussions with topics ranging from filmmaking for social causes, communication coaching, business and professional ethics, and space architecture or the inevitable colonization of the planet Mars!
The carefully curated panel of speakers is an impressive composite of experts in their respective fields.
Here’s a quick view of the speakers and their chosen topics.
A personal note about lead organizer Nicola Allen:
In the TEDxYouth@Fitzrovia web page, Nikki describes herself as an Activist, Brainstormer, Explorer, Performer, Student.
Well, she is all that and a lot more! Find out about her long list of other interests in this 2018 post. And, I might run the risk of being disowned 😊 if I fail to mention that she is the daughter of my friends Marites Allen, an international feng shui master, and Nicholas Allen, a British international executive. Nikki has three other siblings: Kirck, Kevin, and Shannen, who are all high-performers in their own rights.
Pardon me for diluting Descartes. I don’t do crafts to prove I exist (although that’s also true 😊). I craft because it makes me happy. Even without realizing themany benefits of crafting back then, I just gave in to that urge to create beautiful things – either to keep and treasure, or to give away as gifts.
I was a working mom in the ‘90s when cross-stitching became a craze. I also got hooked and remember spending much of my free time doing some projects – patiently counting rows and rows of stitches, switching thread colors, until the desired pattern is sewn onto the fabric.
The fad has long ceased to be. I, too, am done with all the counting and the crisscrossing stitches. But many of my finished works are still with me, properly framed and hung in some corners of the home. I don’t have the heart to part with my labors of love.
Next Phase: Washi Eggs
With the thrill of needlework gone, I discovered a new hobby and went into a frenzy puncturing eggs. Crafting washi eggsrequires whole egg shells (carefully emptied of their contents) as base, and washi paper as covering. Washi is traditional Japanese paper made from tree fibers and other natural materials.
The making of washi paper has a history that dates back to over a thousand years, and the craftsmanship was listed on UNESCO’s list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2014. Imagine my sense of pride and fulfillment to have used this paper for many of my creative projects!
I have these beauties to show for this phase of my crafting journey.
Clothespins, Recycled Bottles, etc.
At one time, I got crazy with clothespins. While many of them were done for decorative purposes, quite a few came in handy as photo holders, bill clips, and refrigerator magnets.
Used bottles and jars didn’t escape my fancy.
Lately, I’ve been into decoupage. It started when a dear friend gifted me with a native bag. I figured it wouldn’t hurt if I jazz it up a bit. It didn’t hurt, either, that after that first attempt, so many similar projects followed. I used them in lieu of Christmas boxes, as gifts to friends, and quite a number were sold to interested buyers. 😊
The pandemic restrictions should have given me more time to indulge my crafting passion. Ironically, my crafting supplies are getting lonesome. If only they could, they would have cried for attention. Truth is, I got even busier these past months with my online work – writing and editing for my longtime clients. Some say working with words is another craft form, while some will argue to the contrary and say it’s more of an art.
If you’d ask me, I would like to revisit my crafting kit the soonest I could.
(This piece was originally published in The Catanduanes Tribune in May 2007, l-o-o-o-n-g before I started blogging. It appeared in Sisay Kita?, a column written by Dr. Ramon Felipe Sarmiento, a respected advocate of Catandunganon heritage preservation. He graciously wrote the following intro to my essay:
Note: The recently concluded elections once again reminded us of one truly dark aspect of our Catandunganon selves. Every three years, we are made to partake of this shameful, degrading exercise. It leaves such a heaviness in our spirits, a nasty bad taste in the mouth. Why do they have to schedule elections during the merry month of May when we are supposed to bask with sunlight, indulge the senses with the scent of flowers and the taste of delicacies, and enrich the spirit with devotion to the Holy Cross and Mama Mary? The good news is that there is enough of our Catandunganon experience that could counteract the negative effects of elections. Tribune reader Chit Aldave-Tribiana, now based in the capital city, sent this charming essay about her memories of summer in Calolbon. We publish it here to remind us of the brighter side of our being Catandunganons, something that should hopefully take the better part of us and eclipse, God willing, our vices. We should not give up on ourselves. – Mon Sarmiento
I count the summers that I have not been to my hometown and I sigh over lost opportunities. The last time I visited San Andres was in 1994, so that adds up to over a decade of missed chances to go back in time – to places that hold personal significance, and with people I’ve kept special kinship with despite the years. San Andres is ‘home’ because it is where I was born, and although I was raised, schooled, and now have chosen to live with my own family in Manila, my parents, when they were still around, made sure that we spent summers with relatives and friends in good old Calolbon. Looking back now, those were unforgettably feel-good times.
It’s the peak of summer again, and memories seem to recur even at the slightest effort.
I scale the stairs to take my MRT ride to work and suddenly it feels strangely like counting the steps going up and down the Calolbon municipio – a favorite energy burner back then when the knees were stronger and the heart could take the pounding, no problemo. And all that just to get a nice view of much of the town sentro, the turquoise span of the Maqueda Channel, and the distinct contour of the Mayon Volcano on the horizon.
Going past Mother Mary’s statue at the EDSA Shrine, I couldn’t help thinking of the Batong Paloway chapel, which enshrines what is believed to be a miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary. I last saw the image in the early ‘70s when it was about the size of a regular postage stamp; it has reportedly grown bigger since then, and sadly, has been the subject of a few controversies. I, myself, am puzzled as to how a probable reproduction of a Renaissance painting on a stone found its way into the barrio. The painting, which is called the Madonna del Dito or Our Lady of the Thumb, is sometimes attributed to Carlo Dolci, a 17th century Italian painter. Interestingly, the question of who actually painted the Madonna del Dito still has no definitive answer. Of course, for many devotees, faith has no need for proof or logic, and in the final reckoning, believing unconditionally is what really matters. There’s no denying though that the Batong Paloway imageis one of the most beautiful representations of the Virgin Mary in a dolorous form. Whatever the true story is behind the ‘growing stone’, San Andres is a must-see place if only because of Batong Paloway.
Where we live in the city, a group of young people have started hanging buntings on the streets in preparation for the feast of San Isidro Labrador in the middle of May. That’s when I ache for the slew of fiestas taking place back in San Andres during this merry month, especially those in Sta. Cruz, Salvacion, Datag, Tibang, Carangag, and Lictin. The city folks could learn a lot from Calolbonganons, or from Catandunganons for that matter, on celebrating fiestas – from the de rigueur novena, to the pabayle, to the fiesta proper, down to the segunda dia.
For nine consecutive nights before the fiesta, the barrio jovenes keep themselves busy by organizing the novena prayers to their patron saint. This means, among other things, decorating the ermita, inviting the parapoon and hiring a gitarista. The novena attendees are lucky if the jovenes are the hardworking type, because then, their goodie bags or tandan after the prayers would include not only biscuits but also ibos and pinurunan. With thoughts of the pinurunan, I feel my craving reaching its peak. This delicacy, which is made from ingredients and materials largely found in the province, virtually takes a village and trusty teamwork to prepare. Especially when it is used as tandan, I view it as a metaphor for the barrio folk’s piety, diligence, and strong sense of community.
A cabo and his or her group members who are assigned on a given novena day, usually source the materials for the pinurunan. Other jovenes give either cash or contributions in kind, such as rice, coconut, sweet potatoes, and sugar. The rest pitch in by working the grindstone, preparing the lukadon and the langkoy, wrapping the pinurunan, or tending the hours-long steaming. Wrapping itself can be a creative expression. The easy way is to wind the despined coconut leaf or langkoy around the round-shaped dough in a radial fashion and tie the neat package with a knot; the fancier way, which is rarely done nowadays, is to weave the langkoy, mat-like style, around the dough. Because of the coconut content, pinurunans do not keep for a long time. But then, what took hours to prepare is virtually demolished in a flash. After a bite into the chewy texture with the distinct sweetish, nutty taste, there’ll be no reason for leftovers.
The pabayle, which comes after the novena, draws volumes of memories that perhaps it is best left for another round of musing. For now I imagine dusk setting in, creating silhouettes of coconut trees with their fronds waving gracefully in a nature dance. From somewhere, the faint strains of a guitar, which earlier accompanied the songs of the pious, drift into my consciousness, lulling me to dreamland. The whole pinurunan experience fades into the night, but not without leaving its tacit lesson: prayers coupled with hard work have their just rewards in due time. For some, the rewards may come fast and sure like the tandan after the novena. Others may have to count years, but if they wait, life’s blessings do come without fail. Many of those youth group members who are now way past their jovenes days hold positions of governance in their town or elsewhere. Clearly, their first shots at leadership had served them well.
I’ve just passed up another chance to visit San Andres. Although writing about it eases the longing somehow, I know I’ll have to do something about going back sooner rather than later.
For now, I invoke echoes of summers past in my mind… and I’m home.
On my way out from the doctor’s office after my regular checkup today, I saw these posters along the hospital corridor. They instantly reminded me of the quote (source unknown) that I used as the banner for this post.
Each poster speaks for itself. Together, they help us remember that true healing comes from treating not just the body, but also – and perhaps more importantly – the mind and soul. And that some forms of medicine cannot be bought from the drugstore. They are available for us, free. We just have to go out (or deep within ourselves) and find them.
And I’m sure it’s not just coincidence that the first letters of these next three ‘medicines’ spell the word FIT!
(Featured image source: Dictionary.com on Twitter)
Several times last month, I experienced sudden spikes in my blood pressure. I couldn’t quite get a handle on the cause as I was diligently taking my medications. Whenever this happens, my immediate reaction is to apply acupressure on my hands and feet. Somehow this helps.
I reviewed in my mind what I could have done to contribute to the spikes. True, I’ve been taking coffee, but I limit it to only one cup a day in the morning. Still, I told myself to go easy on the caffeine.
I spend a lot of time online because I review and edit academic manuscripts as a side hustle. While I try to avoid distressing posts about pandemic-related issues and leaders I love to hate, I could not help checking out on what friends have been sharing on their Facebook pages. I’m a mindful follower of physical distancing, but social distancing is another matter.
It occurred to me that the ominous photo of a lighted candle against a black background had been passing through my News Feed a lot. This could only mean that someone I know or someone close to that person had passed on. In the last few weeks, it included several known personalities, a much-loved wellness coach, and a former work colleague. The depression was real.
During the long lockdown, taking online courses has been an enjoyable and fulfilling diversion for me. I have successfully completed courses offered on the Coursera platform by top US universities. My latest course, however, was not all fun. It was a two-month course, with several quizzes and peer-reviewed assignments. Prior to the exams, they would normally flash a message saying that only a small portion of test-takers pass the exam on first attempt. That was just a little too much for this senior learner.
Still, I was determined to complete the course. I opted to take it on audit mode (which saved me US$79) and didn’t bother applying for financial aid, even if a formal certificate would boost my credentials as an academic editor. The course was “Writing in the Sciences” by Stanford University. The exercises and the peer-reviewed assignments weren’t a walk in the park. I’m sure they have contributed to my anxiety—and the rising BP.
Promptly, I searched for other possible modalities to help calm the mind. I went back to doing my qigong meditation exercises and this time, I listened to songs that are popularly believed to help keep the BP on an ideal level. I’m glad that among those listed is my favorite “Watermark,” an instrumental number by Enya.
And then, there’s “Weightless” by Marconi Union. A study has shownthat listening to this song resulted in a striking 65 percent reduction in participants’ overall anxiety, and a 35 percent reduction in their usual physiological resting rates.
I didn’t have to wait long. I’m now back to my 120/80 BP level.
Which tells me that running away from stress does not always cut it for anyone. Sometimes we have to face challenges head on if we know that overcoming them will make us feel better and happier down the road. Back to that Stanford course, I managed to complete what was programmed to be a two-month offering in just about three weeks (luckily, without any need for retakes). Halfway into the course, I was able to apply a lot of the concepts taught in my editing work.
Of course, Friedrich Nietzsche and several other great philosophers like him do not make ideal poster figures for Valentine’s Day. They are remembered for their critical thinking and scholarly pursuits; but love and romance? Zilch.
Nietzsche, in particular, had a disastrous love life. He proposed thrice to the same woman but was rejected in all his attempts. He lived alone for most of his nomadic life, though he believed and wrote in one of his works that serial marriage would be good for men. In his mind, women were cut out for domestic life.
In a letter to the woman he wanted to marry, he wrote:
“I would greatly wish to be allowed to be your teacher. In the end, to be quite frank: I am looking for people who could be my heirs; some of the things that preoccupy me are not be to found in my books—and I am looking for the finest, most fertile ground for them.”
That’s a classic declaration of love – Nietzsche style.
SØren Kierkegaard is another tragic romantic. He fell in love and was loved in return. A month after his engagement, he broke off with his fiancée and was said to return his engagement ring to her – via mail. Fearing that he could not be a good husband, theologist, and literary critic all at the same time, he chose to remain unmarried.
His regret over this failed romance can be seen in these lines from Either/Or (1843), his first published work:
“If you marry, you will regret it; if you do not marry, you will also regret it; if you marry or do not marry, you will regret both…”
The following great thinkers aren’t very inspiring either.
“You know, it’s quite a job starting to love somebody. You have to have energy, generosity, blindness. There is even a moment, in the very beginning, when you have to jump across a precipice: if you think about it you don’t do it.” — Nausea (1938)
“Love is a trap for men to perpetuate the species.”
Where science rules, love is also a widely studied subject. But to talk about lust and attraction in terms of testosterone, adrenaline, dopamine, or serotonin could be quite formidable.
And that explains, perhaps, why all the world loves a poet. Poem writers love rhyme and rhythm. They capture pure emotions in beautiful lines. In school we were told to memorize lines, or even entire poems; and some of those come in handy on certain days – like today.
‘Roses are red, violets are blue,’ for example, is more than just a nursery rhyme. It has been the inspiration for many Valentine greeting cards and love letters. And if you were around in the ‘60s, you might have sung this tune, too.
Years after school, it seems Elizabeth Barrett Browning and How Do I Love Thee never left us. I know some schmaltzy seniors who are still counting the ways — and can recite the poem from memory.
Remember the wedding scene in the movie Love Story? The character Oliver (Ryan O’Neal) recites Song of the Open Road by Walt Whitman, and Jenny (Ali MacGraw) reads Elizabeth Browning’s Sonnet XX11.
And this scene from the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral? The poem is by W. H. Auden.
To end this post, here’s one of Shakespeare’s famous sonnets.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove. O no, it is an ever-fixèd mark That looks on tempests and is never shaken; It is the star to every wand’ring bark, Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken. Love’s not time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks Within his bending sickle’s compass come: Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
The Chinese New Year starts on Friday, February 12. As we may all know, each lunar year is associated with a zodiac animal, and 2021 is designated as the Year of the Ox. Based on the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac, this year’s Ox sign is also linked with the Metal element; thus, 2021 is specifically the Year of the Metal Ox.
In Chinese culture, the Ox is considered a power symbol, and an Ox year is usually seen as a more hopeful year. Just like the Gregorian New Year, the equivalent Chinese celebration should be the perfect time for us to rewire our thoughts and life intentions based on what we have learned from the previous year.
How may the Metal Ox help us pull through in uncertain times?
Chinese people associate each animal sign with certain characteristics. Those born in the year of the Ox are generally known to be traditional and conservative. They may be slow to act but are very persistent and hardworking, such that once they have made certain decisions, they will hammer away despite difficulties. And given their unquestionable will power, they may be expected to almost always achieve their goals.
The Metal Ox, in particular, oozes with confidence and is strong-willed. This Ox is quite frank and may not always care about what others think or feel. But one good thing about this Ox type is that they will always deliver on what they promise to others. Although not very social in nature, they keep a circle of loyal friends who are always ready to help during difficult times. The metal element represents firmness, resistance, and clear thoughts. In relation to human nature, this symbolizes inner strength and discipline.
The Ox is also associated with the Yin energy, generally associated with feminine attributes, nurturing of family, and compassionate towards those in need. This trait will be very helpful in times when we have to rebuild emotional and spiritual strength during difficult times.
In whatever way we decide to navigate the Year of the Metal Ox, may we be inspired by the winning characteristics of its ruling animal:
Focused and Determined — with a clear vision of the things that are really important to us and to achieve them given the resources available without doing harm to anyone.
Stable and Persistent in executing our plans of action even when things seem impossible to overcome; and whenever difficulties arise, keeping faith that they will be resolved through hard work — and at times, with the help of family and true friends.
And most importantly, by being Compassionate. This mindset is grounded in the principle of seeing beyond our personal needs — and perhaps placing the good of others, if not on equal terms, even higher than our own. This caring for others could be seen in many forms during the past year, and if maintained even after the pandemic, could be a true agent of change. It is, perhaps, the most critical factor in the reprogramming we need for the years ahead.
It is believed that people born in a given year have the personality of that year’s animal. That should sound good for Ox-born people (like me 😊).
Let us take to heart the ideal attributes of this zodiac animal — Focused, Determined, and Compassionate. We may have different personalities and life pursuits. But it may not be such a stretch to believe that there’s a bit of an Ox in each one of us.