Christmas 2013

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(Our themed Christmas card this year features A♥ as Silkstone Roger Sterling, Kittymama as Silkstone Grace Kelly, Alex as a pirate action figure and Alphonse as a Tin Soldier. )

From our Christmas Family Toy Box to yours,

Merry Christmas, friends, and God’s blessings be with you always!


Family Portraits

Originally published by on December 11, 2012

Each year, when the holiday season comes, I feel the urge to bury my head in sand. Now, I must state categorically that I love Christmas and I look forward to it all year long. But once I remember what comes along with the season, I start to hyperventilate. My heart does this little hop-and-skip routine that’s got more to do with anxiety than a real cardiac event. I lose the unflappably sunny disposition that I keep all year round.

Oh, yes, you should hear me bellyache about everything! I worry about the budget I get to work with. *grumble grumble* I complain about all the work required to set up holiday decorations, only nine months after I’ve taken them down. *grumble grumble* I moan about all the cooking and cleaning I have to do, my poor hands and knees grousing from the labor. *grumble grumble*  I do admit, however, that twenty-one years of doing Christmas in this family have taught me to enjoy the occasion, occasional mishaps, screw-ups, and all.  Yet even as I try to overcome all the angst with a focus on the joys of the season, there is still one thing that keeps me up most nights when the holidays beckon.

Family portrait time.  *shudders*

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 When the holidays come, I feel the burden of my family ambitions looming large over me. It doesn’t help that I am alone in this pursuit as I am always vetoed by the male members of my family in this matter. And Facebook just about makes things worse for me! Starting right after Halloween, my news feed becomes a nonstop online album of family holiday pictures; I can’t get away from them!

 Many of my friends now do it yearly as a family tradition. They wisely book photographers, picture companies, and events management services months ahead of time. They plan their poses in advance, as well as outfits, hairstyles, and themes. Oh, I love it when I see pictures of them wearing the same outfits- one year, they’re in all white; the next, in red shirts and blue jeans.  One seven-member family had a picture of them wearing shirts in the colors of the rainbow- ROY G BIV. How cool is that?

I can’t compete, honestly, and it isn’t for lack of trying. When it comes to pictures of my family, I end up with crap most of the time. I never end up with the pictures I always imagine in my head- with sunny smiles, elegant poise, perfect framing and background. Most of the time, just getting us all in one frame is hard enough.

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I remember one Christmas years ago when I took on the task of booking an appointment for the family portraits. It was an investment on memories, I explained to my husband, as I justified the expense of hiring a professional photographer to take pictures in-studio and on location. It wasn’t exactly a cheap investment and my husband started loudly complaining when I added on the cost of outfits and props. When it came to the point of “almost” no-return (a couple of days before we were supposed to pay the fees), however, everything started to fall apart. One of the boys (hint: it may be Alphonse) refused to wear the matching new royal Oxford pastel blue dress shirt with the button down collar that I purchased specifically for the occasion. When we managed to put it on him, creases and all, he bobbed his head and neck up and down like a turkey, trying to make as little skin contact as possible. A few minutes later, the button down collar turned into a little snip of cloth he waved in the air as he ripped his shirt to shreds.

At my sister’s wedding, which, incidentally, fell within the holidays, we got all dolled up and dressed for the occasion. It was a perfect time to take a photo, that is, until one little boss (hint: it may be Alphonse) took off his barong and wiped it across the floor and walls of the San Agustin Church. The only things he wanted to wear were a pair of khaki jumpers and orange sandals! Poof! There goes the family picture again.

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I guess my obsession with family portraits has affected my family. A couple of years ago, one of us (hint: it may be Alphonse) developed a severe camera affliction marked by the display of an odd, sour smile that passes off as posing for the camera. Once the boy sees a camera, that smile gets automatically frozen in his face; a few minutes later, he escapes as far away as he can. We’ve learned the best way to get a natural, sweet smile from him is to lie in wait with camera in hand, keeping as still as possible, unnoticed and melding with the background. You can’t spook him or he’ll turn away. All those hours of watching the National Geographic Channel paid off, but it takes forever just to get him to trust us with a camera again.

I guess I should accept it by now. We’re not your typical family and will never be one, not by anyone’s standards. We’re the family that never gets our portraits taken on Christmas time, or any other time of the year. Not when one of us (hint: it may be Alphonse) hates cameras, hates sitting still, hates getting dressed (yes, he loves his birthday suit!), hates being photographed, hates anything with wires, hates lighting, and hates having to be posed.

And so this year, I finally give up on this foolish quest. I promise to stop wishing for the moon and accept that the only family pictures that will ever matter to me are the ones that are already in my mind and heart. My petty ambitions and lofty dreams will always come second to my family’s comfort. Knowing that, I am not the least bit disappointed; I am kind of relieved, in a way.

So, Merry Christmas, friends, and have a Happy New Year! This is the magic of Photoshop.

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Getting Ready for Christmas!

Fourteen days before Christmas and everyone’s getting ready for Christmas! Even if I didn’t get to finish my Sylvanian Nativity (which means it’s the first on my list for 2013), there were other ways to make Sylvanians ready for the Big Day. We’re still adding crafts as we go along, but a DIY wreath defeintely adds good cheer to a home!

SF DIY wreaths

The wreath is made from fallen foliage from an artificial tree that’s seen better days. Since the needles are attached to a wire base, shaping it into a circle is easy even without using long-nose pliers. Hot glue some balls from broken garland strings, add a ribbon in front and another to serve as a hanger, and you’re all set to go.

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Hang it on doors to announce your Christmas spirit. See how a festive wreath announces the glad tidings of the season outside the carry case house.

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While inside, Grandpa Rhys and Grandma Patricia try to make their home cozy for the season. Can you think of other miniature decorations for the holidays?

GOOD Kitty!

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I know I wasn’t alone in my Hello Kitty fantasies and obsessions. How could I be, when the whole world recognizes Hello Kitty as an International Icon of Cuteness?

Few characters have had such a distinguished career as this furry feline. Even without a mouth, Hello Kitty crosses the barriers of age, gender, and nationality with such ease that you’d think this cat that weighed no more than three apples was bestowed with her very own manifest destiny.

Consider this: In 1984, Hello Kitty was named UNICEF Ambassador in the US. Ten years later, Japan’s UNICEF office also awarded her the same post. And in 2008, she was hailed as Japan’s offical Ambassador for Tourism, a post highly coveted by humans and nonhumans (fictional or otherwise) alike.

At 38 years old and nearing midlife, Hello Kitty seems to show no signs of aging as she continues her domination across the globe.

Few of us have ever gone to Japan’s Sanrio Puroland and Sanrio Park Harmonyland, or even Malaysia’s very new Hello Kitty Town in Johor. For many Filipinos in love with Hello Kitty, these will remain part of their bucket list, probably unchecked for years, because of soaring ticket prices and travel costs.

Still, there is a Hello Kitty glimmer in the horizon, and it comes perfectly on time for this holiday season, as SM City North EDSA, the largest mall in the country, teams up with Sanrio and Gift Gate to bring Hello Kitty to her many fans in the country.

Yes, my friends, Hello Kitty will be here soon.

Hello, Hello Kitty!

At SM City’s North EDSA The Block Atrium, from November 10 to January 6, Hello Kitty will be featured in one of the most animated, interactive events of the supermall’s history.

Hungry for Hello Kitty treats? There will be a Hello Kitty Cake Shop where kitty treats are more than just catnip!

A coffee lover, are you? Then head on to the Hello Kitty Coffee Shop to get your caffeine fix with just the right amount of Kitty sweetness!

The Hello Kitty House is perfect for photo ops with you and favorite Kitty friends, so bring them all and wear your finest Hello Kitty oufits! (I know I will!)

Looking for a romantic date? The Skygarden has Hello Kitty lanterns for a most unique experience!

And everywhere in the Activity Hall, you will find exciting activities that are sure to whet your Hello Kitty appetites for more, including but not limited to the following:

  • face painting sessions, from November 10 to December 24, from 2 to 4pm, with Hello Kitty up, close, and personal
  • Hello Kitty fashion show on December 8, 4pm, where the latest and trendiest Hello Kitty fashion and accessories will be shown off

Still not convinced this is the BIGGEST Christmas extravaganza this season? Check out the Hello Kitty Luxe Collection at the 3rd floor of The Block from November 10 to January 6 and prepared to be amazed!

Now, if you think Hello Kitty will exempt the normally calming oasis of the elegant Interior Zone, think again! Also from November 10 to January 6, longtime collectors and Interior Zone tenants will team up with some of the the country’s best designers from the Philippine School of Interior Design to present to you Kittified room exhibits.

Wait, there’s also a Hello Kitty car display collection to make you drool! Can you absolutely believe it? Hello Kitty will be everywhere at the SM City North EDSA! *faints*

Of course, SMNE outdoes itself by adding more events in this season of merriment!

  • There’s the Santa Meet and Greet at the City Center (main bulding) 3rd floor, on December 9,16,24,and 25 from 3 to 5pm.
  • The Mr. Men and Little Miss Misterland opens on December 1 at the Annex 4th floor, with free storytelling sessions on December 2,14,22,and 23.
  • Be serenaded with the most enchanting carols on December 2 and 16 by SM’s Grand Chorale.
  • Shop till you drop at the All-4-Kids Sale at the City Center 3rd floor from November 14 to 18 and December 10 to 16.
  • And if you haven’t had your fill yet from toy sales, the latest being Toy Kingdom’s very successful Warehouse Sale at SM Megamall, SM City North follows it up with a Holiday Bazaar at the Skydome on Novemver 30, December 1 and 2.

Truly, there is no limit to our holiday merrymaking this Christmas!

See you at SM City North EDSA! Kittymama won’t miss this for the world!

~0~ ♥ ~0~

And now for some sponsor acknowledgements:

SM City North EDSA

Sanrio and Gift Gate

With the special participation of the following:

HP, Samsung, Firefly, Uniqlo, Toy Kingdom, SM Department Store, The Philippine School of Interior Design, Color & Life, Eglo, Linden Teak, Market Square, Space & Style, Urban Concepts, Breadtalk, Jamba Juice, Papa John’s Pizza, and Tender Bob’s, Forever 21, National Bookstore, Pink Parlor, Van’s, Shell Canvas, Cakes R Us, MSI Notebook.

A Time to Laugh

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; Ecclesiastes 3:4

At midnight last night, I was fast asleep in bed, with Alphonse curled at my side. We had gone to Christmas Eve dinner at my parents but we went home earlier than the rest of my siblings to keep Alphonse’s bedtime rituals and schedule. And so, when the clock struck twelve, Alphonse and I were already somewhere in dreamland.

A light tap on the shoulder woke me up. I heard a small whisper in my ear. “Merry Christmas, honey. Wake up.” As my eyes tried to adjust to the darkened room, A♥’s smiling face came to view. Then he handed me a box wrapped in- what else?- newspaper and a small gift card.

Dearest P.,

I figured you might want company by the Riverside. Merry Christmas!

I love you always,


“Riverside? Company? What was he talking about?” I thought to myself.

I was carefully removing layers of tape and paper when it dawned on me that…hmmm… I did own a new house called Riverside Lodge. Did he mean to give me a new neighboring house? Was that what he meant by “company?” It could be, my mind reasoned out. The box was big, after all, almost as big as, if not bigger than, Willow Hall’s box. As my mind tried to unravel the mystery before me, the careful unwrapping gave way to an orgy of flying paper and tape. I beamed him a smile as I beheld Larchwood Lodge, coming all the way from BeHappy Malaysia. (Thank you, Popo and Kiki!)

I thanked A♥ profusely, hugging my box and kissing it with joy. Alphonse started fidgeting in his sleep so I had to reduce my giggling and gurgling noises. I stared at it for a loooong time, turned it every which way, and then, feeling the onset of yawns, set it down reluctantly. I thanked A♥ again and prepared to get back to bed when A♥ pulled a bigger box from somewhere in the darknesss. “Where did that come from?” I mouthed the words silently. He just smiled even more.

When he handed me another card, the one that said

Dearest P.,

Dreams do come true. I should know, because I have you. Merry Christmas!

I love you forever,


I thought I knew. My heart was heaving inside my chest, thumping like I was running a marathon. Oh, you should have seen me dancing crazily, hopping and shaking with glee. It had to be. It could only be that.

The Sylvanian Families John Lewis Department Store. Oh. My.

Even as I fervently hoped that the gift was, indeed, my number one wish list item, a question nagged me: how could A♥ get it when John Lewis does not ship internationally? Maybe I was wrong, after all.

I grabbed a pair of shears to diminish the sound of paper violently ripping. Alphonse was fidgeting a lot more and I was afraid he would wake up any moment. But halfway through unwrapping the box, as the giant letters spelling JOHN LEWIS were revealed printed on the side of the shipper’s box, a small address sticker caught my eye. I knew right away whose that was, having received packages sent from that address before.

Panda! I gasped.

“You’re not playing nice,” I said to A♥. “You’ve been keeping secrets from me,” I said coyly, pretending to be hurt. When he launched into the full story of how he wrote Panda to ask for her help, I had to launch myself into his arms. A gift from my two bestest friends in the world- what could be cooler and nicer and more generous than that?

So thank you, my bestest, farthest away friend, Panda, for making this Christmas wonderfully memorable. Your willingness to help a friend from across the oceans is truly a gift! And thank you to my bestest, nearest, most faithful friend of 28 years, my A♥, for making all my dreams come true. I will always deeply, madly, truly love you.

Christmas In Our Hearts

Every year, for as long as I remember, I pretend to grumble and grouch over the tasks of the holidays. And every year, at the end of the season. I grouse and bellyache some more, those times reserved solely for missing the season and wishing it were upon us again.

Not this year.

There will be none of the tinsel-throwing I have gotten used to from the kids. None of the careful unwrapping of heirloom ornaments from their crumbly tissue paper. None of Alphonse’s sleight of hand tricks with his favorite ball ornaments. Even the Christmas lighting ceremony we are used to, with A♥ waving his hands in the air like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice conjuring magic, is now but a memory of Christmases past.

This year, because Alphonse still does not seem to adapt well to change, we have decided not to put up the ten-foot tree and all its trimmings. We have not put up our blinking lights or the garlands that graced the stairs. Gone, too, are the wreaths and Christmas socks that bear the boys’ names. They are all in their boxes still, the first time in more than twenty years that they will not see light this time of the year.

I feel the loss as much and as deeply as I feel the loss of life as we knew it. In the last month of the year, almost twelve months since Alphonse got sick, we have only begun to resume the normal cycles of our home life. We live in a state of fragile peace and if sacrificing superficial trappings is all it took to save that peace, we are content to live with a bare, unadorned home.

Still, I sense a sadness in the people who live with me, a kind of grief and regret that often seem too trivial to talk about but are felt, nonetheless. In their unspoken sorrow, I realized that while Christmas will always be in our hearts, sometimes, you have to risk a little to remember that this is all about Him who risked and gave up His life for us.

So yesterday, when I woke up, I brought out a small box of decorations. The nannies were confused. I could hear them whispering among themselves. After a few minutes, when they saw what I did, even they broke out in large smiles.

“We’ll put the tree away when Alphonse is around, Ate,” one said.

“And I’m sure he won’t mind too much the ones on the mantle. They’re out of the way and out of his reach naman,” another said.

“If Alphonse throws them, they won’t break!” chimed another.

“The size of your gifts will be proportional to the size of our tree then,” I kidded and they all laughed.

And with that one single moment, amid the smiles and cheers, Christmas was back in our lives.

An Autism Christmas

It’s a work day today so everything is supposed to go back to its normal, everyday routine. It’s hard to shake off the inertia of the holidays. I feel lazy and lethargic, as if my body recognizes the cool December breezes as its signal for relaxation. I wonder how anything ever gets done in this world when all one wants to do is curl in bed with a good book and a cup of steaming hot coffee (or tea or cocoa, your preference).

I’m enjoying this break a little too much, I think. Christmas came a little late for me this year, what with Alphonse’s illness zapping some of the joy of the season. But the Community Mass at the Ateneo de Manila High School gave me a sense of what I was looking for. The Mass reminded me what the frenzy was all about and reawakened a joy I had felt missing in the last few weeks. Surrounded by the angelic voices of my son’s high school class and embraced by the kinship and friendship of my co-parents, I found much to be thankful for.   

The Ateneo High School Christmas Community Mass

with the class 4B as choir

We celebrated Christmas- autism-style, again- this year, and by this, I mean, we were prepared for everything. All my plans for a quiet dinner went out the window when Alphonse invaded the kitchen halfway through the final preparations. He insisted on sampling each of the dishes, coming back for seconds and thirds and even, fourths. Food I had left to garnish had to be hurriedly served, shared, and eaten; the alternative would have been to throw them away as it drives him crazy to find still uneaten food. Either consume it all or throw it away, that’s his motto. Glassware and delicate china had to be kept and replaced with sturdy plastic and melamine. We’ve learned through experience that there is no such thing as shatterproof when it comes to Alphonse. And finally, the rest of the food had to be hidden away in the oven warmer for later that night when he fell asleep.

Baked ham (missing its garnish as Alphonse had eaten most of it), Garlic Tiger Prawns, Lengua Estofado, Crab with Szechuan sauce, Lasagna, Japanese Rice- all served in small, manageable portions  (Not in picture: the meatrolls, chicken, caramel cake and DQ’s peppermint ice cream cake!)

All in all, our Christmas Eve was a collage of moments of chaos and panic (like when Alphonse tried to run away with the whole ham) but nothing we could not laugh about afterwards. The key to living with autism is finding the “funny” in everything. We treasure the moments when things go right and dismiss them as momentary stumbling blocks when they don’t. Tomorrow is always another day to make things right. We savor each moment, each smile, and each hug as if it were last. I’ve lived through the worst life has to offer- five years of daily, miserable violence and constant aggression- and nothing can ever break me again, as long as we are all together.

The kids had a lot of fun opening their presents. Even Alphonse was excited to get his pressies. He especially enjoyed ripping giftwrap paper. Big Brother let Alphonse open some of his presents and they had a blast tossing ripped pieces around. (Not a lot of fun for their mom, though.) Alex got more new clothes, a complete set of mangas, a capo for his guitar, and the computer game he was asking for. Alphonse got clothes, an Aquadoodle mat, a tabletop candy dispenser, and -guess what?- an iPad!  How the iPad found its way to our home is another story which I will share another day when I no longer feel the need to bawl my eyes out at the memory. Let it suffice for now to say that it involved more embarrassing crying in the middle of a crowded mall, haha.

Alex: What’s in the box, Ma?

Me: Fabric conditioner, Son. For your laundry, heehee.

Alphonse gets help with his presents from his Papa.

He got an iPad! (Alphonse smiles, poses for the camera, then tosses the iPad away. Thank God for the Otter Defender case!)

On Christmas Day, we celebrated with my family. Alphonse was particularly difficult that day, refusing to wear clothing and taking them off as soon as we put them on him. He wasn’t unhappy, that’s for sure; on the contrary, he was extremely happy that all he wanted to do was dance buck naked in the cold! We wanted to take photos too, but just getting him to sit down was a challenge; he kept running away. As you can see from the outtakes, family portraits require more than just sitting and looking pretty with our family. What we always need is brawn, and lots of it!

First attempt: Alphonse tries to run away, that silly boy!

Second attempt: Not only is Alphonse thinking of new ways of escape, the camera caught me with my eyes closed! Boo!

 Third attempt: Success!

And off he goes! Freedom! (Alphonse flaps his arms in happiness!)

I guess we’ll never ever be the kind of  family that spends peaceful days in holiday bliss, the kind, I imagine, that sits  for enjoyable, peaceful dinners with polite and  pleasant conversations. There’s always too much going on in our lives, autism and its many gifts always present and forefront. We’re the kind of family that runs after the one who has bolted away, that catches spilled food over and over again and mops it up, most of the time, with a smile, that stays up till 3:40 in the morning patiently waiting for one son to finally fall asleep. But, we find our smiles when others don’t, and knowing this, I am at peace. In fact, I am kind of glad. Autism may make many things more challenging and more difficult but the happiness that comes with it is a kind of  pure joy many people spend their lives looking for. 

I have much to be thankful to the One who gave up His Son for us. But let me just mention the most important gift He has ever given me- the one who stands beside me in the picture below.

Because with this man by my side, Christmas, even autism-style, is always perfect.