Tuesday, July 3, 2018


1990 column picture
It is done.

Some four months after we buried our mother, I have finished scanning all of her clippings of the “Light Sunday” column that she kept from 1990 to 2017.

I learned many things. One, that my mother would have made a very poor librarian. So many of her clippings lacked dates. I guessed at some of the dates based on the order in which the clipping was glued to the page of a large notebook, one of many which featured the faces of long-gone Tagalog celebrities on its covers.  

She was not much for presentation either. I cringed at how unevenly she cut out the columns and felt a faint sense of vertigo over how they tilted left or right on the pages. And she lacked several. My mother wrote for Sun.Star Daily every Sunday from November 25, 1990 to August 6, 2017. I counted 1,340 Sunday columns in her possession, but figured that she lacked about 41 more.

1998 column picture
Two, she wrote about us. Many times I stumbled on a half-forgotten memory retrieved from the yellowed edges of her clipping. There we were growing up, getting jobs, leaving home, getting married, having children, getting sick…named or unnamed, we peppered her columns for some 27 years.

And she wrote about her concerns, things that were real to her. Most importantly, she spoke with hope and total belief in the Lord even if she highlighted issues and challenges that seem insurmountable.

My young immature self then had wondered if my teacher of a mother, whose strong religious beliefs and love of God always managed to work itself into every piece she wrote – masked or unmasked – would register with a newspaper-reading public (Internet access was not widespread then) that seemed to feed on current and more worldly, trendy and cosmopolitan topics.

This column pic lasted just months in 2004.
I should have known better than to doubt her. I have friends who tell me that their mothers would look for and read my mom’s column every Sunday. We would get positive feedback via mail and in person. 

My mother wrote as she lived. With a love for God and family, and a genuine concern for mankind even if that concern was often shortchanged. Sure, she was also critical and sometimes got burned for her opinions, but this never stopped her from expressing what she felt was right. 

Finally, color in 2007.
As I scan page after page and read through years of her writing, I relive having a wonderful, caring, imperfect, stubborn, strong-willed, God-loving and -fearing mother, and I miss her even more. So do my sisters.

We laugh at the memories her writing evokes, wince at the times we unknowingly caused her pain because we had grown up and away from her, share her frustration over how problems remain unsolved because of lack of leadership or will, and admire her tenacity of faith and unfailing belief in the power of prayer.

She got a new column picture in  2017,
the last year she wrote for Sun.Star Daily.
My sister says it best:  "Most people will say that their mothers are special. But Mommy Really. Was. Special."

I have four sisters, a lifetime of memories and 1,340 pages of mostly undated, unevenly-cut and discolored clippings to back me up.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Sign

I stare at the photograph displayed at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Manila.

It is a picture of the interior of the 18th Century Church of La Purisima Concepcion in Guian, Eastern Samar that hangs in the Gallery of the Via Crucis of an unknown Bohol Master.

The photo on display at the Gallery of the Via Crucis
of an unknown Bohol Master inside the
National Museum of Fine Arts.
It is Jimboy, my brother-in-law, who points it out.
In the center aisle, walking towards the altar, is a likeness of my mother, Evelyn R. Luab, who we buried just recently.

“Now that’s a sign,” my sister Ludette murmurs. We both know she is talking about the “signs” that our eldest sister Tessa claims come from Mommy. We’d made fun of her “signs” which range from songs on the radio to car license plates.

But we look at the figure leaning on her umbrella before the altar, and it is easy to see Mommy leaning on her cane in church. I take a picture and send it to my other sisters with the words: “I do choose to think that she wants us to know that she is with God even if it doesn’t make sense to me to ‘read’ it in a picture.”

Mommy inside the Basilica in
Batangas City in 2015.
I am not a believer of “paramdam” from our beloved dead, even from Mommy who I love dearly. But I do believe in God and I know He comforts those who come to Him with their sorrows.

This sorrow cuts deep. Mommy is gone. I will never see her or hear her voice again. I know I should be happy that she IS better off, that the unhappy bed-ridden state that had become her life the last months before she passed away has ended.

But my heart aches. I wake up tired. And I leak all over the place. I can’t seem to keep it together. There are so many things I wish I’d done differently or sooner or more frequently. 

Mommy was an amazing woman. As my sister Tina so aptly put it, we’d always known that she was loved, but nothing prepared us for the magnitude of that love.

She would have been embarrassed by all the attention at the wake, but she would have been deeply touched by her former students, who came in batches. She would have been amused by the lighthearted squabbling over who was her favorite. She would have comforted those who teared up because they had lost the person “who made me who I am today.” She would have been happy to see long-lost friends even if she’d wished that those who came in wheelchairs or struggled to walk had not bothered. She never did like to inconvenience or be a burden to anyone.

Her former students came in batches
and the flower stands overflowed
into the hallway outside the chapel.
But since she wasn’t around, all five of us daughters did what we could. We listened and smiled and did our best to attend to all of them. And many moments in between, we cried. My eyes have not been this clean in decades. Or saddled with so many bags.

Now that we’ve buried her body and gone back to a semblance of normalcy in our lives, I remember why I miss her so badly.

Sure, my last memories of her were in her weakened state, when she could only manage a few minutes on the phone before she got tired or humor my chatter before she turned on her side to rest. 

But now, I remember the strong-willed and loving mother – the one who left herself out when dividing the family treat on weekends so that we would each get bigger slices. The one who made us do chores and brought us to Carbon market then Pasil not only to help bring the goods home, but to train us how to buy vegetables and fish.

This is the mother who made us study every day even if we had no quizzes the next day because she wanted to SEE us studying. She required us to put in hours on the family business on weekends and made us take turns accompanying her to that eternally-long church service outside of Sunday mass every week.

She made us help her check the objective-type tests she gave her students.  She even managed to get two of us to teach her students dances for the play she was putting on for the school.

We obeyed her because she was Mommy and she said so, and we were none the worse for it. 

Thanks to her, we learned to read at a very young age. It wasn’t just the Mills and Boon or Barbara Cartland books that she left lying around the house, but also English literature which she brought home from the school library. We discovered “Nancy Drew” and “Hardy Boys” only after we realized that our school library didn’t only carry “The best of classic American short stories” or “Roots” or “Fountainhead”. 

Now that I am a parent, I marvel at how much leeway she gave me even when I was still in high school, more so in college. I went on overnight trips and leadership trainings outside the city and even beyond Cebu. I rode the jeepney and walked everywhere by myself. Part-time work in a local paper during college meant coming home very late at night or early in the morning, which must have given her some sleepless nights. 

Mommy and her girls.
She gave all of us daughters our wings and the courage to test them. She rarely reined us in, except when she saw us heading in the wrong direction. And even then, she struggled to understand. Many things changed through the years but her love kept us coming back and together. That love endured through all that five, strong-willed and independent-minded daughters could throw at it.  And we loved her back. Oh, how much we love her.

Mommy died on February 28, 2018 but we lost her before that. She’d stopped laughing at my jokes long before she drew her last breath. It was not because my jokes were not funny. Even those drew a polite laugh which turned genuine when I'd tell her she was faking it.

Now, she is silent and I am afraid that if I cry any more, my heart will finally break into a thousand pieces that I can never recover. How then can I hold her if not in my heart?

I look at the picture and I know that the Lord will hold her for me until I am whole again and can remember with less pain. Maybe I am desperate but I am taking this picture as a “sign” that our mother is now in God’s house and facing His altar. 

We differ on Tessa’s songs and Mariles’ white butterfly, but all five of us seem to agree on this “sign”. We know that the Lord comforts us. And yes, Mommy might just be pestering Him as well. 😁

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Applying for a Schengen Visa at the German Embassy

My family and I recently applied for a Schengen Visa to visit relatives in Germany and take in some tourist attractions. The Philippines is listed among the countries that must fulfill this requirement to enter and stay in any of 26 European countries that comprise the Schengen area.

I am sharing our experience to provide information that might be helpful to families applying for a Schengen Visa. Even if a visa application is individual, family members will apply for a visa at the same time and show up for a visa interview together, which gives rise to some questions.

Where to apply for a Schengen Visa

A Schengen visa application must be lodged at the consulate of the Schengen state where you intend to stay the most number of days. Although our itinerary covered areas of attraction in Germany and Austria, we filed our visa application with the German Embassy because we intended to spend nine of the 16 days of our trip in Germany.

Important:  Every Schengen-member country has its own requirements regarding the documents needed to obtain a certain type of visa. So check the website of the consulate or embassy of the country where you intend to file your visa application for information on the visa application process and the corresponding documentary requirements. For information on the visa process and requirements of the German Embassy, click here.

The German Embassy encourages visa applicants to start the process at least three months before the planned date of departure.

Steps in Applying for a Schengen Visa at the German Embassy in Manila
  • Book an appointment online. 
  • Fill out an application form.
  • Attach a recent passport picture/s to your application form.
  • Make sure your required documents are complete and in order.
  • Submit the application documents during your visa appointment/interview.
  • Have enough cash (Philippine pesos only) to pay the visa fee. 

Book a visa appointment with the German Embassy here.

Important: Each member of the family must make an online appointment even if everyone chooses the same day and time slot. 

I almost made the mistake of assuming that an appointment made under my husband’s name would suffice for the family. Fortunately, I thought better of it and checked with the Embassy. What’s nice about the German Embassy is that they are very quick to reply to queries, which is why I was immediately able to access the online appointment system and set the same interview schedule for my daughter and myself.

Important:  Each applicant gets a confirmation email, which he or she must print out and bring to the Embassy during his or her scheduled appointment.

Fill out the application form

The link to the online application form is found in the application requirements suitable for the purpose of your trip. We found two separate documents on the Embassy website that addressed our purpose in visiting Germany: 1. to visit family and 2. for tourism. A look at the requirements under both purposes showed that they were quite similar so we decided to comply with the application requirements for a visa for the purpose of visiting family and/or friends in Germany.

When filling out the online form, make sure you are ready with your passport and itinerary as well as the full name, address, contact details and passport details of your contact or relative in Germany (if applicable). 

Note: You will not be able to print the visa application form unless you have filled up all relevant sections.  Print and sign a copy of the application form as well as the Declaration according to Section 54 AufenthaltsG.  Parents of minors must be the ones to sign their kid/s visa application form/s and declaration/s, indicating their full name and relation below their respective signatures. 

Attach a recent passport picture to your signed visa application form. 

GLUE a passport picture on the picture box provided in your application form. Since we were asked to provide two passport pictures each, I used a paper clip to attach the second passport picture to the visa application form.

Make sure your required documents are complete and in order. 

The German Embassy requests that documents be taken out of brown/clear plastic envelopes or clear books upon submission. To keep all papers neat and in order, I used a metallic binder clip which the interviewer easily removed to access all documents.

Important:  Each applicant must have a set of required documents even if these documents are duplicated in the visa applications of all family members (e.g. bank certification, investments, land titles, etc.).

I had wanted to use recycled paper for the photocopies but the Embassy advised that it was best to use new, clean sheets of A4-sized bondpaper. I printed on both sides. 😊

Other helpful information:
  • Blogger Yoshke Dimen of The Poor Traveler offers very smart advice (which I took) for applicants to write a cover letter explaining the purpose of their trip and showing their detailed itinerary. Check out his blog for a sample letter and itinerary.
  • Arrange the required documents in the order stated in the check list provided in the applicable “application requirements for a visa” which can be accessed on the Embassy website. 
  • There is no need for a flight reservation. The Germany Embassy is clear about this. What we did was print out a flight itinerary from an airline that was aligned with our planned dates of travel to and from Germany.
  • Bring the original documents if you can. We had provided photocopies but were ready when the interviewer asked for the original bank deposit certificate, approved leave from the company, certificate of employment, and certification on investment plans.
  • Even if the Embassy does not specify it on their website, think of what you can submit that will clearly show that you can support yourself and fund your trip, and that you have every intention of returning to the Philippines.

Submit the application documents and attend the interview in person.

The German Embassy is located on the 25th floor of Tower 2 of RCBC Plaza along Ayala Avenue in Makati City.

Show up early for your appointment and register first with the German Embassy reception desk located at the ground floor lobby of Tower 2. One member may register for the family.

At the 25th floor, we were directed to a window where I was asked to show the emails confirming our visa appointment schedule and our passports. We were each given numbers then directed to proceed to the other side of the elevators, where a lady guard asked us to deposit our cell phones in a cubbyhole before allowing us to enter the interview area.

If your visa appointment is scheduled at 11:30 a.m., all it means is that you have to be at the interview area before or exactly 11:30 a.m. to be entertained. Applicant number 20 was being interviewed when we entered the interview area. By the time my daughter (applicant 32) was called, it was past 12 noon.

Each member of the family was interviewed by the same Embassy personnel. When my daughter’s number was called, I accompanied her to the window to explain that there were three members of the family applying for a visa. After establishing that both parents were on site, and that we had signed her papers, the interviewer waved us off and talked to my 14-year-old daughter alone. 

Important: Coach your kid/s on the itinerary and travel details as well as past travels outside the country, but encourage them to be honest and admit if they do not know the answers to the questions.

Have enough cash (Philippine pesos only) to pay the visa fee.

The German Embassy does not accept credit cards or Euros as payment for the visa fee of 60 Euros per applicant 12 years and older. Trust me, it is a hassle to run down to the lobby and withdraw cash from any of the ATMs there because of the security checks that you have to go through again. Plus, this oversight meets with disapproving frowns and irritated looks, which you can really do without.

But all's well that ends well. We suspected our visa application had been approved because the interviewer took our passports and made us fill out 2GO delivery forms.  This was confirmed six days later when our Schengen visas were delivered at a fee of P170 each. The multiple-entry visa was valid only for a month, but it was more than enough to cover our trip.