In Galadria

The following is my review of the book Galadria: Peter Huddleston and the Rites of Passage which originally appeared in BusinessWorld‘s Weekender, September 23, 2011.

Fantasy for all ages

Galadria: Peter Huddleston and The Rites of Passage
By Miguel Lopez de Leon

FANTASY can be a very tricky fictional genre. Play it too safe and it may become staid, predictable, and unimaginative prose, hardly fantasy at all. Play it excessively daring and readers may find the experience too alien, lacking in empathy, and disconcertingly unfamiliar.

Once in a while, however, a happy medium is struck. Somewhere between reality and dream, a good fantasy book unlocks a dimension of uncharted possibilities. It assumes a life of its own, as the story navigates readers through today’s concerns and tomorrow’s visions. One such happy medium is Galadria: Peter Huddleston and the Rites of Passage.

Peter Huddleston is 12 and, perhaps like most 12-year-olds, digs comic books and chocolates. He could have been a perfectly ordinary 12-year-old, except that he never really feels like he belongs anywhere. Friendless, stuck in the flat beige world of his stepmother’s creation, and unable to connect with an emotionally distant father, Peter feels hemmed in his stifling, everyday world. All it takes to break his box of isolation are cruel, hurtful words and Peter, once simply lonely, assumes a reputation of notoriety and harbors criminal aspirations.

The punishment for his “crimes” is a summer in exile in Hillside Manor. Sent to live with an aunt he never knew he had, in a place he never thought existed, Peter discovers the missing parts of himself, and in the process, rediscovers who he is and what he is really made of.

Galadria: Peter Huddleston and the Rites of Passage is a charming coming-of-age story originally written for children seven to 12 years old. Published by Moon Shadow Press, an imprint of Wakestone Press, Galadria is the publishing firm’s first foray into fiction.

First in a trilogy, the story marks Peter’s introduction to his “other world” and his sudden transition from childhood to adulthood under extraordinary circumstances.

The story starts out slow but picks up pace considerably from Chapter Three. While his life at home forms the background into which Peter is first drawn, his adventures in Hillside Manor make up the main body of the story. The tone also changes from beginning to end, subtly echoing the changes in Peter’s environment. Galadriais laid out in progressive points, paralleling the protagonist’s discovery of Hillside Manor with the readers’ own. Although written in language simple enough for seven-year-olds to easily understand, there is no lack of description that allows older readers to visualize scenes with imagination and clarity.

Much of the charm of the book comes from its quirky characters. It’s not hard to like Peter Huddleston. Not too timid but not too brash, with a liberal streak of childish rebelliousness, Peter makes for a perfectly imperfect hero. Add disconnected father Andrew, emotionally constipated stepmother Gertrude, even flamboyant pseudo-Aunt Celeste, and you see and feel exactly the depths of Peter’s despair. Now, throw in the peculiar but affable Twickeypoos (Arthur and Martha), the butler with the love for mismatched clothing (Monty, my favorite, who I think deserves a book of his own), the beautiful and regal queen (Aunt Gillian), and the conniving, devious nemesis (Knor Shadowray), and you open the door to the possibilities of more adventures down the road. There are other characters, each as distinct as the other, just waiting for the pages to flesh them out.

Like other fantasy books, the supernatural/magical element is a strong suit in Galadria. Hillside Manor certainly does not lack in the supernatural and magical, with lush gardens, exotic animals, and dimensional portals. The author’s choice of a returning boomerang as protection revives its history of traditional use in hunting and weaponry but adds more juice for other-worldly powers. The imaginative use of chocolates as sources of unusual — albeit, short-lasting — powers is inventive and, for many readers, mouthwatering.

If there is one failing this book has, it is that it leaves readers wanting more with its shortness. At 226 pages inclusive of title page, table of contents and illustrations, the book can be read in one enjoyable sitting. The brevity was intentional, the author, Miguel Lopez de Leon explained. As the opening book in a series, Peter Huddleston and the Rites of Passage was meant to introduce readers to the different personalities and set up their life’s circumstance. Development of their characters will follow with the other books in the series. Then, too, the shortness was a result of marketplace economics. A thick, hardbound book would be more expensive to produce; the high list price would limit the audience it reaches and the author wanted more children to be able to read his book.

One hardly expects a fantasy writer to discuss magical realms and economics in the same breath, but this is not unusual to the author. Born to a Filipino family steeped in business, De Leon learned the trade very early on from his parents. His interest in writing bloomed only in adolescence, an offshoot of his love for comics and fantasy books. Educated largely in the United States (except for high school, when he attended an international school in the country), De Leon found his niche in poetry and short stories, many of which have been published in literary magazines and book anthologies in the US.

Galadria: Peter Huddleston and the Rites of Passage stands in stark contrast to the dark fantasy De Leon serves his short story fans, but he makes the shift with ease. In many ways, while De Leon admits to a creative process that melds order and method with imagination, his first foray into children’s fantasy succeeds because he writes from the heart. Take, for example, his portrait of Galadrian culture, which mirrors elements of Philippine culture and is reflective of his roots and values. It is also a testament to his national pride.

De Leon remains mum on the future of Peter Huddleston and Galadria. Even as the sequel, Galadria: Peter Huddleston and the Mists of the Three Lakes, becomes ready for publication next year, there is little to indicate the direction his characters will take, only a reassurance that the follow-up book will answer some of the readers’ lingering questions. Not even a query on his favorite Creamer could elicit a hint of what’s in store for readers in March 2012. Wisely, he chooses only from the Creamers readers have already encountered in Book One: the Creamer that lets one fly.

In real life, however, De Leon has no need for Creamers. As one of the few Filipinos who have made tangible marks in the world, Miguel Lopez de Leon is already flying high.

with the author, Miguel Lopez de Leon


Now 16, Forever Sweet

Today, Alphonse turns sixteen.

It never ceases to amaze me when I look at him, now almost grown up. He stands three inches taller than me, fits into men’s clothing, and sports a slightly disheveled moustache which matches the smattering of hair in his armpits. Everywhere I look, I no longer see a trace of the baby or the child he once was. All I see is a man.

The truth is, I miss my baby. I miss the sweetness of his breath in the morning. I miss the softness of his unblemished skin. I miss being able to carry  him in the crook of my arm to sing him to sleep.

 I miss the way he fits in the side of my body when he curls up in bed with me.

I miss his chubby cheeks and his round, heavy body. I miss the hibernating porkchop and his pouty lips.

I miss his childlike smile, the one that erases all my fears away. 

But even as I miss those mementoes of his childhood, I marvel at who he has become today. Almost a man, but not quite. Loud, quirky, opinionated, determined. Headstrong and bullish. Sweet and trusting. 

It has been a long journey from then to now. There were many days of pain and heartache, and of grief and despair, but for each one of those miserable days, our lives were blessed a millionfold by what we have learned living with and loving him. Alphonse has taught us patience and tolerance, forgiveness and acceptance, gratitude and surrender. Most of all, he has taught us how to love without hope or thought of reciprocity. We love him because we do, and not because of anything he does to make us love him. It’s as simple as that.

Happy birthday, our dear sweet child, our Alphonse.  Papa, Mama, and Kuya Alex love you so much.


While on the subject of birthday celebrations, this blog also turns a year older this month. Happy 3rd birthday to Okasaneko Chronicles!

In 2007, when I started blogging, I was lucky to get even just ten people a day to read my blog. Three years later, despite the lack of promotion (I’ve never really been very big at that) and the freedom to express myself, those numbers have multiplied exponentially. In this little corner of the Internet I call Kittymama’s home, I have made many friends. I have also become part of a larger community of people I would never have met were it not for this wonderful experience. Thank you to all those who have come, visited, read, lingered, commented, returned, or even just glanced at the pages of my life. I am humbled by your kindness and love.

The Okasaneko Chronicles’ 3rd Blog Birthday Giveaway starts today so please be sure to leave a comment in this blog post to join. You can read the mechanics here for the full details on the giveaway. Many, many thanks to all those who have helped make this giveaway a reality: Sanrio Gift Gate Philippines, Ban Kee Trading, Inc., BusinessWorld/, Autism Society Philippines, The Fairy Godmother, and Alphie (who is none other than Alphonse, the birthday boy who wishes to share his birthday blessings with his Mama).


D-6 and Counting

Late yesterday afternoon, I received three email messages confirming the pick-up places for the giveaways. Woohoo! This was all coming along so well, I thought to myself as I half-ran, half-skipped all the way to the bathroom to get ready.  I wanted to do at least one pick-up last night and depending on the state of traffic, maybe add another one. When Alphonse saw me getting ready, he started flashing his dizzyingly gorgeous smiles at me, which was a very convincing plea to bring him along.

I was excited but control freak that I really am, I had this script planned in my head already. I would bring along Alphonse, and with his dad taking our picture, he and I would pose with some store personnel in the act of receiving the donated gift items. More bloggable moments, I figured.  Our first stop would be the Sanrio Store at SM North EDSA Annex, where Ms. Isabel Lopez, marketing manager of Gift Gate- Sanrio Philippines (Great Gifts sales & Licensing International Corp.) had sent the giveways for pick-up. If traffic cooperated, maybe we’d have time to drop by Toytown Eastwood Mall where Mr. Joseph de Leon of Ban Kee Trading, exclusive distributor of Sylvanian Families in the country, had dropped off the SF giveaways.

I’m not a very vain person but when I know I’d be posing for pictures, I try to look better than I normally do. (The script in my head demanded for that, too.) Rummaging through my Kitty-inspired clothing, I fancied upon this super comfy gray Kitty shirt from Torrid, matched it with some black leggings, and finished the outfit off with my Hello Kitty Crocs McCall. Sorry for the creases in the shirt, folks. By the time I thought to take the pictures, Alphonse had been sitting on my lap for a while. 🙂

Kittymama in leggings- who knew?

In love with my Kitty Crocs

Traffic, as usual, was bad last night, so poof! I moved the second destination to another date. We would have gone back home were it not for Alphonse, who was so excited to be out again that he was literally squealing in glee. But nothing in the script, it seemed, was going to go as planned. The ride to SM North EDSA which normally takes just fifteen minutes stretched to an hour last night. Alphonse was in such a great mood, though,  that we didn’t worry too much about him getting bored. I prepped him with the plan again and elicited a pinky promise from him to behave very well.

I think he meant to keep his promise, really, he did. From the fourth level where we were parked down to the upper ground floor where the Sanrio Store is located, Alphonse held our hands and walked calmly, all the while flashing his silly grins. When we reached the store, I made him pose for a picture before we went in to get the giveaways. He smiled shyly, stood still for all of three seconds, and bolted away! I managed to click the shutter once before he ran straight to the Pizza Hut kiosk across the floor! I almost dropped the camera as we started running after him but he was determined and fast. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. Poof! Another planned moment gone in a few seconds.

The good news is that even without the camera documenting our every move, I did receive the Sanrio giveaways. I am very grateful to Ms. Isabel Lopez and the Gift Gate family for their gifts, which we will raffle off to three lucky readers of this blog. Inside each of the bags is a charming yet functional Hello Kitty star card case/coin purse in canvas, a 35th Anniversary plastic file folder to organize your documents, a Hello Kitty magnet sheet (I’m a sucker for magnets, heehee), a mini-memo pad which is perfect for stashing in your bag, and a unique sticker sheet featuring all the official designs of Hello Kitty from 1974 to 2008. This is a great gift any Hello Kitty fan would love to have and it’s FREE!!! What could be better than that?  

I’m getting ready to publish the mechanics of the contest so please be sure to watch out for it. The contest will start on November 3 and end on November 14. I will pick the winners via this cool raffle drum on loan to me by the very kind folks at BusinessWorld. 🙂

Thanks for staying tune, friends! I will take more pictures of the giveaways as I receive them and post them up too. I hope these whet your appetite for The OC 3rd Blog Birthday Giveway. See you soon!

Definitely Not An Inconvenient Day

I should have posted this as early as Wednesday morning but I had a few problems uploading my pictures. I didn’t want the week to end, however, without giving you an update of what I’ve been up to. Most memorable of the events of my life this week is Mr. Al Gore’s visit to Manila and his two-hour talk at the SMX Convention Center last Tuesday before an audience of 4000 people.   


Buy me a ticket, puh-leazze!

I went with my husband to the event, my presence at this much talked-about occasion courtesy of a gold ticket my husband bought for me as a very early birthday present. When he informed me that BusinessWorld had a partnership to the event with SM Prime and that tickets were to be given to employees, I asked him to buy me one.   It wasn’t hard to convince my husband to shell out money for this ticket — okay, I was not above begging for it and my puss-in-boots baby eyes technique worked its magic, heehee —  after all, when it comes to environmental issues, he knew that I was Compost Queen of his household. 

I primped up bright and early that day. My hairdresser friend of many years, Rose of David’s Salon in SMNE Annex, went to work on her day-off just to give me a decent haircut and blow dry. (I can’t say thank you enough, Rose. You made me feel half-human again. I wished I had enough time for the whole make-up and hair thing.) By noon, I was dressed and ready for the four o’clock event. 

I had looked through my wardrobe the day before, looking for something befitting the event. I was set to don a black and silver ensemble matched with a pair of sensible heels, but since I knew I would be commuting home, I opted to wear something less dressy. Much, much less dressy. I donned my favorite yellow Tubby princess top (I call it that because the sleeves remind me so much of a princess’ dress), a pair of stretch Marks & Spencer white jeans, and what else? My Hello Kitty Cayman Crocs with H&M Hello Kitty socks, of course! I picked up a yellow shawl to match the yellow in my blouse, as well as the yellow in the new Hello Kitty pouch bag I got on sale from my Multiply friend Ruth. Why do I even mention what I was wearing? Please bear with me, dear reader, as I tell you the whole story.  Just a little addendum, though: when I got to the venue, I realized I was a yellow in a sea of conformist black

Photo from BusinessWorld/Reuters

It proved to be an enlightening hour and a half as Mr. Gore talked us through an Asian version of his “An Inconvenient Truth.” Having watched his DVD many times, I was familiar with much of his spiel. Even his warm-up remarks were down pat: 

Hello, I’m Al Gore and I used to be the next president of the United States.” People chuckle. 

I don’t think that’s funny,” Mr. Gore deadpans. 

And yet, I found my eyes watering and tearing up when pictures of the onslaught of Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) were shown, as well as the devastation brought about by this year’s prolonged dry season in many parts of Asia.  It takes a hard heart to turn away from Mr. Gore’s message — that the environment is more than a political or financial or technological issue, it is also a moral issue as the decisions made by this generation will have such a profound effect on all future generations.   

Mr. Gore struck me as sincere and very down to earth. When the Q&A anchor, Ms. Cheche Lazaro, baited him into responding to a veiled question on his recent personal life (we all have heard the news of his separation from his wife of 40 years, Tipper), he simply refused to speak about it.  There was no politicking and no showbiz razzmatazz for this advocate. He came to speak his heart, and he did. 

Remember how I told you that I was a yellow in a sea of black? And that this yellow ensemble was not only casual but matched with Crocs? This was how I was dressed when I met ex-Vice President Al Gore in person. The only Crocs-wearing person in a whole room of dressed-to-the-nines people. I hope the official photographer took a full-body shot that night. I want to cross-post this picture in the Crocs Philippines Facebook page. 🙂 

I wasn’t supposed to be there. I knew I was going home right after the talk, and indeed, I had already found a ride home. But lo and behold, a last minute cancellation happened and the opportunity fell on my lap! I was so happy I danced a jig! Who could say no to a photo op and dinner with the man himself?   

Dinner was fabulous and oh-so-tasty. Sponsored by SM Prime and Unilever, the dinner presented by Sofitel Executive Chef Marko Rankel was ingeniously Filipino and yet remarkably international in flavor. I loved every bit of my entrée, soup, main course and dessert that I cleaned out my plate each time and looked over lovingly at my husband’s plate every now and then. I was sending him mental vibes to share his dinner with me, but of course, he couldn’t, this being a formal dinner and all. One more good thing- since I was the only female in the table, I was served first always! Yay! 

I ate the pumpkin soup before I remembered I needed a picture, oy!

There was also entertainment during dinner, pr0vided by some of our country’s best performers: Ms. Kuh Ledesma, Ms. Menchu Lauchengco and Mr. Audie Gemora. They filled the ballroom with Filipino songs of love and love for nature and were widely applauded at the end of each song. I could not help but sing along with them as my heart puffed up with Filipino pride. 

I got to take closer pictures of Mr. Gore before and during dinner. I didn’t attempt to take a picture during his formal speech because I’m a stickler for following rules and the rules said, absolutely no photos. Too bad, there were still those who defied this and snapped away, their cameras flashing rudely in the darkened room.  

I absolutely loved this close encounter with one of my personal heroes. Taking away lessons from that day, I feel compelled more than ever to keep doing my bit to make my carbon footprint smaller each day. My contributions might be a tiny drop in the bucket of life, but inspired by Mr. Gore, I am confident that these tiny drops will eventually make an ocean.

Bravo, Mr. Gore! Thank you for this life-changing experience!

Cory Through A’s Eyes

I had the privilege of covering President Aquino for the better part of the second half of her term, so the Cory I saw was a far more mature, far more seasoned, far more decisive, and certainly, far more sensitive chief executive than that who was swept into power on the strength of history’s most peaceful — and most profound — strike against dictatorship.

It was no surprise, therefore, that the end of Mrs. Aquino’s administration coincided with the country’s political and economic development. Repeated attempts to usurp her authority did help stunt initial efforts to progress, but, in my view, her confident gait and resolve to chuck concessions among supporters with varied interests in favor of a clearer vision directly spurred growth.

In this regard, I was fortunate to see Mrs. Aquino at her diplomatic best. The 1992 ASEAN Summit was certainly her most significant foreign trip as head of state, not counting her rousing visit to the United States at the start of her dispensation. She was still the darling of democracy when she made her way to Singapore, a role not lost on her as she shared insights with heads of neighboring nations, but she was also extremely effective in championing the Philippines’ causes at a time when protectionism was becoming passé and barriers to a truly free world trade environment were being torn down.

Ironically, Mrs. Aquino was not one to rub elbows with members of the media to seek support for her objectives. In fact, she was highly distrustful of scribes, borne, perhaps, of her negative experiences with critical quarters of the Fourth Estate. Thus, her “dialogues” with the Palace press corps were limited to twice-monthly “press conferences” and once-a-week taped programs that were heavily regulated and restrictive in nature. My fellow reporters and I were otherwise collectively stuck with sending her a maximum of three questions per day, in writing, and with receiving her replies — two sentences per query at best — also in writing.

The irony was that Mrs. Aquino could be very charming in person. I deem myself lucky to have witnessed her much lighter profile. When she invited the “Brat Pack” (as the Malacañang mediamen were then called) to spend a day at Hacienda Luisita, for instance, she played the perfect host, regaling us with off-the-cuff, off-the-record stories that showed her soft side. She was equally open when she treated us to lunch at her Times Street residence, beaming with pride as she talked not about her pressure-packed working days, but of good times with her son and daughters, and, most happily, with her grandchildren.

So, yes, I remember Mrs. Aquino with much fondness. She didn’t make my job easy, but she was always more than just a news subject to me. I believed in what she stood for when I marched for her, and wound up with countless bylines when I covered her, but my most treasured memories are those of her as a family woman with deep moral values, and who understood that every move she made had to be for God’s greater glory. Thus, she was, to me, the epitome of a leader. She was by no means perfect, but her word was gold, and she certainly did her utmost with the best of intentions. She will be missed.

This was originally published in BusinessWorld, August 4, 2009.

cory with anthony lowres

A with President Cory

My President Too

Originally published in, August 4, 2009

kitty in yellow copy3She didn’t start out as my president.

Perhaps I was an exception, but I was the politically ignorant child of Pisay (Philippine Science High School) of the eighties, proficient in maths and sciences but absolutely lacking in savvy in the real world around me. Head burrowed in books, living a comfortably middleclass existence, I was raised to believe that status quo was the way to go. I was blind and I didn’t even know it.

And then my husband came along. My husband, student council president, was the firebrand in our batch. When the school authorities suspended some of our batch mates for a melee inside school grounds (whereas the opposing team from another school who was also involved in the brawl received much lighter sentences), he rallied all of us to the cause. We stayed out of classes for a sit-down strike. We marched around school carrying banners with slogans calling for justice and equal treatment. This was but a preview of what he would be when we grew up—fiercely idealistic and morally uncompromising.

magtanong sa pangulo lowres

A (right foreground) with President Aquino in "Magtanong Sa Pangulo"

If my husband was politically mature for our age, I was the exact opposite. We were just 18 when EDSA called to us in an unlikely revolution, and while he heeded the call of his beliefs, rushing to the streets with the rest of them and risking his life for a cause, I stayed home and studied, waiting for announcements of when school would resume. And so, when Cory Aquino was swept into power in this historic, bloodless clamor for change, he always knew she was his president.

In 1989, straight out of college, he found work as a reporter for a business paper, the same paper he still works for today. As a rookie scribe, his assignments brought him to witness the inner workings of Congress and, shortly after, Malacañang, This was his last and most important coverage as a reporter, entering the Palace grounds on the second half of Mrs. Aquino’s term as president. (When Mrs. Aquino’s term ended, he was promoted to sub-editor/section editor.)

press corp officers lowres

A (second to the left) in Malacañang Press Corps Officers oathtaking

I was in medical school at that time. Occasionally, he would bring me to the press office in Kalayaan Hall where I met his friends and colleagues in the Malacañang Brat Pack. The night a major storm paralyzed most of the city with waist-deep floods in 1991, he and I sought shelter in Kalayaan Hall, where Mrs. Aquino sent all of us “storm refugees” pandesal and sardines to tide us over for the night. He brought me with him when the press corps was invited to Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac, acting as his photographer and alalay (assistant) in one. I was thrilled, of course, to meet the President in person and in less formal circumstances. She was a gracious host, sincere and warmhearted. Contrary to expectations of what public officials would be, she was interested in people and made an effort to find out who we were, even with the short time given to all of us. When she found out I was studying to be a doctor, she gave me a soft pat on the back. It wasn’t difficult at all to respect and like her.

tools fo a journalist lowrescopy

An old point-and-shoot film camera, a microcasette recorder, pen and paper-these were the tools of his trade then.

My husband loved being a journalist, even at a time when laptops were still not widely used and he had to send stories meticulously written in longhand. (His record number of stories in one day: 15!) And if he loved what he did, it was because he had such a deep respect for the subject he covered. Mrs. Aquino was his president, the one he stood for and with on the streets of EDSA, the one he bet his life on amid the tanks and soldiers of the powers-that-be, and, for better or worse, he stood firm in his beliefs that she was an extraordinary individual in an extraordinary time. And, indeed, she was.

At a period in history when honesty and virtue were in great demand in government, she supplied it with a life lived by example. For one who had already lost so much, for one who had been violently stripped of any semblance of normalcy and peace in life, and for one who had been thrust in the eye of the storm, she was an amazingly brave and selfless person. Years after she left the presidency, she lived a life of quiet dignity, albeit always cognizant of her role as social conscience to her people.

On Wednesday, August 5, 2009, we bury Corazon Aquino, wife, mother, president. To her people, however, she will always be more than the positions she once held. She was valor, integrity, and virtue personified. I weep with my husband as we mourn her passing. She was my president, too.

Newspaper Of The Year

For my husband A and my dear friends of the BW family (and indeed, we are a family), congratulations for bagging Newspaper of the Year. BW’s been through a lot these last couple of years, but today, 21 years past its founding, it still stands true to the ideals set forth by the late Raul Locsin, 1999 Ramon Magsaysay awardee for Journalism, founder and editor-publisher of this venerable institution.

God bless you all, guys!  

P.S. If you caught the announcements over primetime news last week, you would have seen my A on television, sitting beside Korina Sanchez, who won Newscaster of the Year. A received the award on behalf of BusinessWorld.  Yayy!!!