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Sentiments of Moonlight Butterfly

  • Our CR1 Visa (DCF) Journey

    CR1 Visa Process (via US Embassy Manila)


    CR1 (Conditional Resident) - This is the immigrant visa that you could apply for if you are a non-US citizen married for less than 2 years to a US citizen or a lawful permanent resident of US. The visa itself acts as a green card valid for 1 year (if you haven't applied for the green card yet). Once the green card fee is paid, the green card that comes with this visa is only temporary and valid for just 2 years, and you have to apply for removal of conditions before it expires to get the permanent (10-year) green card. This visa, that comes with a green card, allows you to enjoy benefits and privileges of a lawful permanent resident of the US such as applying for a social security number, getting a driver's license, opening a US bank account, buying properties, getting employed and others.

    And to be able to apply for this, your USC husband/wife has to file a petition (Form I-130) to the US Embassy in your country.


    Additional Note: Since this walk-through is mainly about the CR1 (spouse visa) process done via direct consular filing, make sure first that you meet the requirements to be eligible to do this - one of which is staying (not necessarily residing permanently) in the Philippines for 6 months or more.


    I've been an active member of VisaJourney Forum since the day we filed a petition for a US spouse visa and a lot of the members there has been asking about our experience since it seemed to be fast-paced, it almost seemed like it's too good to be true. I know I'm not alone and I'm pretty sure there are a lot out there who share a similar experience. I just wanna share ours - what we went through, the requirements etc., as well as mistakes and lessons learned that could have saved us even more time, as I know it can get confusing especially if you get mixed information. Let this serve as a step-by-step walk-through and I hope to be of help to current and future applicants. Disclaimer: I'm not an expert on this, this is just a personal experience. Sometimes, there are cases that would actually require an immigration lawyer, by all means, do so.


    Read more ...

  • The Other Side of 'Yes'


    You know how they say that it's a girl's biggest dream to be married to his prince charming.. to his knight in shining armor.. to his soulmate, et cetera. Well, it's not necessarily true for me. It was not my biggest dream because I always just wanted to be happy, whatever it takes. But I always picture myself marrying the man I love someday. I always imagine myself walking down the aisle getting lost in what might be every girl's fantasy. I would dream of different scenarios on how that moment would come - grand, simple, what have you, when the right guy finally asks me to be his. The thing is, you never really know until that moment finally comes and honestly, I don't remember it clearly. It was like time stopped and I turned deaf for a few minutes until reality slaps me in the face and he's right in front of me asking me those very words that every woman wants to hear, "Will you marry me?"


    It even took me a few seconds to respond not because I have doubts or fears or anything, but because I was surprised. I always knew that moment would come, I just didn't know when. I always try to imagine how it's going to be once he kneel down on his knees. I rehearse in my mind all the possible response I could give. What if I'm not ready? What if the time is not right? What if we're not really meant to be? What if? And that time I wasn't expecting it. It took a few seconds for me to recollect my thoughts and say, "Yes."


    That would be one of the most unforgettable moment in my life. Not because it happened somewhere special or that it was orchestrated in a way that would seem almost magical and even expensive, but because I never really thought that moment would come into my life. That someone would fall so deeply in love with me to ask me to be part of his life from here on. I always thought I'll never be lucky in love to arrive at this moment where alongside my keyboard I'm drafting seating plan for my wedding guests. I always thought I'll become an old maid, granted I actively date and I was constantly in a relationship, but those never really last. And I tend to be too picky and critical with what I want. And frankly it gets tiring. You get to a point in your life when you just want to sit down, watch life as it goes by, and have someone to share a drink with. And he's the one. He's my 'the one.' So I guess I got what I always dreamed of after all... to be happy. Because he makes me happy.

  • Second Chances


    I turned to the other side of the bed. I reached for you. But you're not there. It was like waking up from a dream. 


    I was never the type who believes in second chances. I was skeptical. A realist. I've always believed that once something is broken, it can never be rebuilt again. 


    "Love is like an antique jar. The older it gets the more precious it becomes. But once it's broken, things are never the same again."


    So when he asked me, "what made you decide to give me another chance? " I paused for a while. I searched myself for reasons why. 

    I guess despite the harshness of reality and cruelty of life's everyday struggles, my faith in humanity never once faltered. Plus if we're always afraid and inhibited, we would never get where we want to. 

    I always had this negative notion on second chances. To me then it was like an extension of pain, of disappointment - of even more time wasted. But now I realized, it mostly has to do with the person you give second chance to. He has always been good to me even in the worst of situations so I couldn't deny him of that chance to make it up to me - to prove that things can be better. That, and I love him. I never really stopped.

    People are always afraid of rejections and disappointments. I mean, who would want to go through all the pain when they could just run away? Why go through that long, winding road undoing the past, rebuilding what's broken when it's so much easier to start anew?

    So I thought deep and it occurred to me: this is not giving him a second chance, this is about giving myself a second chance to believe in love again. I don't want to create a new life with someone new because honestly it's just exhausting. I'm tired of dating and getting to know someone. I'm at a point in my life where I know exactly what I want and that is to finally have someone to spend life with, to build dreams with, to plan for the future with...and to eventually grow old with. And I couldn't picture myself doing all of those things with anyone but him. I want him who made me believe in love at its purest form. He who despite modernization and technology believes in chivalry and courtship and that girls should be wooed. He who values faith in God and family more than anything else. How often do you find someone so perfect and have the opportunity to have him in your life? I once had him and lost him. And now he's knocking at my door again so would I deny myself of the second chance at happiness? Of love that I always wanted?

    Second chances require more effort. More work. More commitment at showing the person you're trying to win back you are worthy. At the same time, it requires a level of honesty and openness and a certain degree of vulnerability knowing that in love there is always that risk of getting hurt. 

    I cannot keep telling myself "I got hurt and I don't want to trust again" because honestly, it's a lot more work keeping my doors locked than just letting it go and let life take its course. Life goes on. And it goes pretty fast. One day I'm 18, the next I'm... Well the point is, why deny yourself of happiness when you can just be.

    Second chances are not traveling back in time for a do-over. It's about learning the mistakes of the past so that you'll be more able to give and receive the right kind of love with the right person. Because in relationships, you don't just look at one person's flaws and shortcomings,  it's always a mutual decision to commit to love and a partnership against all odds. 

  • Broken

    It was the longest.. and the most painful thing I had to go through.

    My friends are amazed how I am able to pull it through

    No one has the faintest idea how much it took toll on me

    To watch the man that you love slowly pull away

    Little by little each day

    His eyes grow more sadness than flame

    He lost the passion, he seized to care

    Now nothing but my heart and I are here to stay.

    I had to pretend nothing's wrong

    I could only cry in my sleep

    I had to suffer in silence

    I had to go through each day acting like it didn't cut me so deep.

    I love him. So much. Like the words could barely measure up.

    I loved him with all the love I can give only it seems never enough.

    "I'm no longer happy" was the saddest thing I ever heard from him.

    And it stabbed me straight through my chest

    Long before I could even protest.

    I thought love is about fighting.. I thought it's about not giving up.

    I thought love is not ever wanting to hurt the person you love.

    I thought love is about taking risks.. taking chances..

    And believing, just believing, that anything's possible.

    My heart is weeping. Still.

    Letting go is the hardest thing to do. Forgetting is the closest next.

    I can't remember the happy times anymore.

    All that was left is hurt

    Immeasurable, inexplicable.. just enormous amount of pain.

    Pain that's enough to make me weak and numb.

    And still recognize the unfamiliar emotion I have not prepared myself for.

    'Coz I thought this day would never come.

    Still you said, I'm not "the one".

    And just like that... you're gone.

  • How To Register as a Taxpayer at the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) (A step by step guide for professionals or self-employed individuals who are first-time registrants)

    I know how tedious and gruesome a task it could be for anyone who plans to do it by himself, especially for professionals who are so caught up with their jobs and hardly have the time to do it, unless they'll hire someone else to do it for them. I myself had quite a hard time because one thing I noticed, BIR is not as organized. Well I guess it depends on the BIR branch or Regional District Office (RDO) you're visiting. The major problem I had was that I was completely clueless and none of the BIR staff was clear enough in conveying the details regarding what I really am required to do. Except for the handful of security guards who go out of their way guiding people where to go, assisting them what forms to fill up and others. I can't blame the BIR staff though, working long hours and with the gazillion of people who visit their office every single day. I wish there was some sort of "BIR Registration for Dummies" that I could refer to. The BIR website is too technical as it is. So that's when I thought of blogging about it on how I got it done, in the hopes to be of help to people who plans to register in the future.

    The deadline for registration is on January 20th of each year but I suggest doing it a lot earlier in the month so you'll have enough time for everything. And for sure it will take a lot of time from you to get everything done. It took me almost 3 weeks with multiple visits to the BIR branch office to pay, submit forms, et cetera et cetera.

    STEP 1
    Acquire a cedula from the municipal hall of your town. You will need this to be able to get a PTR, which you could also get from the municipal hall. How much you'll need to pay for the community tax or cedula depends on how much your salary is. The PTR costs Php 300

    STEP 2
    Go to the BIR branch where the city of your workplace is under. Have all your original and photocopied documents ready:
    - Certificate of License from the Philippines Regulatory Commission (PRC)
    - PRC ID
    - Tax Identification Number / TIN card (if you don't have one yet, you can get it from the BIR for free, bring 1x1 photo); you can only acquire one TIN in a lifetime, possessing more than one TIN is punishable by law
    - PTR
    - a certification from the company or clinic where you practice or are affiliated with
    - duly accomplished Application for Registration Form 1901 (you can get the forms from the BIR)

    STEP 3
    Fill up the Payment Form 0605 (you can get the forms from the BIR). Fall in line to the counter and present your documents if they ask, and have the BIR officer stamp your Form 0605

    STEP 4
    Proceed to the nearest bank accredited by the BIR to pay the registration fee. All future monetary transactions with the BIR should only be done through accredited banks, they have a list of it in the website. Present your stamped Form 0605 to the bank teller (it should be stamped by the BIR otherwise they will not proceed) and pay the Php 500 registration fee

    STEP 5
    Have all your documents photocopied, including the Payment Form 0605 you just paid, along with the bank receipt. Acquire a documentary stamp (you can buy it from the BIR office, it costs Php 15 each, better to have a couple as you're going to need it again later)
    Fall in line again and wait for your turn. Submit the photocopied documents and the documentary stamp. Get your claim stub indicating when you'll return to get your Certificate of Registration

    STEP 6
    Go back to the BIR on the specified date on your claim stub. Attend the brief seminar for beginner taxpayers, it can be useful in the future. And well, you can only get your Certificate of Registration after you did attend the seminar, so it's not like you have any other choice. Present your claim stub to get your COR

    STEP 7
    Register your books or columnars or ledgers whatever you call it. You can buy whatever kind you like from any bookstore and have it stamped by the BIR officer. Fill up the details being asked on the stamp mark on your columnar then return it to them to have it signed. Fill up the Application Form to Update 1905 (you can get the forms from the BIR) and submit it to them. They might ask for a documentary stamp, you can buy one there in the BIR office, it costs Php 15 each. Your columnar should be signed and your Form 1905 should be stamped or signed encoded (don't miss this because if you start using your columnar without registering it yet you'll be on the ground for violations)

    STEP 8
    To be able to start issuing Official Receipts at work, fill up Application to Print Form 1906, only the information you can supply and the rest is to be filled up by an authorized printer

    STEP 9
    Go to an authorized printer or printing press of your choice, the BIR website has a list of accredited printers. Present a photocopy of your Payment Form 0605, Certificate of Registration and your ATP Form 1906. Pay the necessary fee (it may cost more or less Php 2000 but you initially just pay a downpayment and you settle the balance upon claiming the receipts). The authorized printer will process it with the BIR. Keep your claim stub and keep in touch with the printer for when your printed receipts will be ready. You should be able to use it for the next taxpaying month. You can file "no transaction" for now for the month of January (deadline 20th of February for the monthly tax) since you basically just registered and had just set everything ready.

    I hope this article helps. Yes, computing and paying for taxes can be so stressful. But try not to stress too much :)

  • 'Till Then

    I still remember the time when you were right here beside me
    You were looking at me with that look of love in your eyes
    Sometimes I wish you can choose the moments in your life,
    press PAUSE and REPEAT through infinity
    Moments when you were just... happy.
    I miss you...
    Every day it's getting tougher and tougher to hold on
    To remain strong and keep the faith
    To reminisce that memory of us when
    we held hands watching the sunset
    Or that deep conversation we shared about life at the balcony
    Or the kiss that had long lingered still on my mind
    And things slowly get lost in a blur
    I want you...
    Right now. Right here.
    I wish I could say with confidence that I'm the best for you
    Like how you have always thought me to be
    But I can never be perfect
    And still you have loved me.
    I love you...
    Until now I still get overwhelmed
    with the intensity of emotions it entails
    With the immensity of life it takes from us
    With the measure of time it takes and never gives back
    Still, it didn't stop us from betting on the bigger world before us
    The world that promises haven for us two
    Until we meet again,
    and the longer I can have you.

  • Things I Learned From Video Games


    Sometimes you get to a point in life where in you wonder if you're living the kind of life you're suppose to - whether you're going on the right track or you need a change.

    "Are we alone? 'Coz I needed something to believe in..."

    Time goes by and I watch peole around me grow and build a life of their own. My friends one by one disappear into someone else's wife, they get married, raise a kid, travel or do the adult stuff society expects of them. While I, after all these years, haven't quite figured out just yet what I want in life. What do I want?

    Happiness. True and lasting happiness is what everybody has always wanted. And still, how do you find such? Where do you find the contentment?

    I have tried to travel around to see new places, meet new people, try new things and discover my potentials or how far I can get. Somehow, I'm back to square one.

    So I idly spent one rainy afternoon in my bedroom thinking about life, and also, playing some video games. Yes, you read that right. Whenever I get overwhelmed with things going on around me I always go back to the child inside me - naive, carefree, not thinking twice. It's a lot easier to be happy back then. Give a kid throwing a tantrum an ice cream cone and he's good for the day. But what could a twenty-something year old want? What could make her happy?

    I shrugged it off, put my mental faculties to rest and engaged myself for a couple of hours in the virtual world with my handy gadgets. Then it dawned on me, life teaches us what we need to learn in the most creative ways possible - either through other people, a personal experience, a passage we read from a book, some song lyrics we heard on the radio on our way home and now, it turns out playing video games meant more than beating my previous high scores.

    Angry Birds

    Those ill-tempered birds are not just about strategizing. Somehow, in its crazy ways, it teach us that you shouldn't let bad days get the better of you. When someone has wronged you, it's alright to fight back but you shouldn't act rash or make decisions at the heights of your emotions. You should still think carefully and plan your actions no matter what. Although you can always figure out things by trial and error, it's also a time wasted committing the same mistakes over and over again. You should always consider that which gives you the most benefits for it only gets tougher through time.

    Plants vs. Zombies

    Life would never run out of zombies - of people who would test you, or judge you, or try to bring you down. You should always be prepared for all possibilities. You should know how to defend yourself when needed. Arm yourself with the right resources - knowledge, strength and courage to face it all.

    Super Mario

    Now, my very first game ever. Somehow it made me realize (as the screen constantly moves forward as you move and there's no turning back) that life doesn't wait for anyone. You just keep going. Think smart and think fast. Along the way you face different obstacles. As you trudge along the course of life, you're constantly tasked to make decisions; decisions that will make or break you. But I believe there is no such thing as failure. Only a lesson learned, a success delayed, or some silly story you tell your friends over some bottles of cold beer. It never hurts to have a goal. Mario may have spent his entire time looking for Princess Daisy but... well, let me put it in two ways: First, having a purpose gives us the feeling that we're here on earth for a reason, that we're working hard for something and not just free-floating. Knowing it's all gonna pay off in the end make all the life's struggles bearable. Second (and the cheesy part), people have constantly searched for "the one." Admit it, it's all been part of our lives and it's considered as a basic need by Maslow. So, at the end of the day, if you meet Princess Daisy only to realize it's just a monster in disguise who tricked you and you feel like all your efforts are gone in vain, don't lose hope. Don't be afraid to fall in love again. For all you know, she may be on the next level.

    Temple Run

    Just keep going. Never back down on anything. Never be afraid of the challenges ahead. Sometimes it helps to have a competition - even if it's just yourself. So you always have a reason to do better each time. Just thinking running through life and wanting to finish first or ahead of others is good enough of a motivation. Still, it matters which path you choose as it will dictate the course of your journey. You may get lost for a bit, get derailed from your original plans, but as long as you focus on where you're headed you'll always get to your destination. But then again, life is a never-ending journey.


    Just take it all in! Whatever life throws at you, never hesitate to seize the moment. Just grab all the opportunities you can and avoid what's harmful for you. It's always better to gain more in life - not of tangible things but of memories and life experiences. Just enjoy the ride and stop skipping ahead to the end of the road. You never know what you've been missing out.

    "Live life to the fullest. Don't put your life on hold for a goal, for you may not live long enough to achieve that goal."


    Some things are just not meant to be. There's an appropriately sized and shaped brick that would perfectly fit on that void. You cannot push something that's not meant to be there. Otherwise you're gonna end up with a poor foundation, you screw up the whole structure and everything crumbles. The same way as not all people you meet in your life are meant for the keeping. No matter how much you want to cling on them, sometimes it's a lot better to let go and accept things the way they are. Sometimes you meet them to help you at a particular time of need. Sometimes to teach you of a lesson. And sometimes, they just had to play a cameo role in your life's screenplay.

    Zombie Tsunami

    My latest addiction, haha. This game opened up my eyes to a better understanding of friendship and interpersonal relationships. It has taught me the value of teamwork and working together towards a common goal. But then again, in life, you can only have as much friends as you want and not all of them will stick around for long or will be able to help you out in the long run. Some may drag you down. Some may abandon you along the way. Some may walk the opposite way. Some you just have to let go for they are only there because they needed you at that time. Some may fail you. Some may not live up to your expectations. But you don't hold grudges. They're your friends. What you do is just move on. There are times that having just a handful of real people in your life can get you far. So learn to trust those who are worthy of your trust and let go of the people who thrive in negativities. You are not living their lives but yours.

    And... at the end of it all, there's always the option to try again. Succeed. Save the game.

  • Bittersweet Refrain (a romance fiction)


    It isn't a butterfly. A moth perhaps. Some sort of dark, brownish in color with quite long antenna extending on its rear end. Its dull-colored wings are thin and slender as to the leaves of what the people call "money plant" intertwined by the end. And it seems like its looking at me as I gaze up at it on the ceiling. It was the second time I saw that same creature inside our house. First, on the wall of my bedroom and now, high above the firmament of the intersection between two rooms. Moths sleep during the day and I suppose it is for it could have long fell down the ceiling if it's already dead. People have this belief that late relatives or loved ones who passed away take the form of black or brown butterflies so when you see the it fluttering inside your house, it is the spirit of a loved one who died recently paying you a visit. And more often than not do people mistake large moths for butterflies. Who could be this one? Is it…? Oh, so much for the weird beliefs.

    Grandma Sophie died a couple of weeks ago from a heart attack. It runs in the family I guess. Still, her loss is painful for us up to now. She truly was a great person. We got along very well during her days and I sure miss her a lot. Who would take care of me now that my mother and I are the only ones left living together? My mother is always out for work. My father, on the other hand, died when I was four years old and I was the only child. Our relatives live downtown and we seem like total strangers in this oddly quiet subdivision. Another thing that is so puzzling is the key my grandma has handed down to me before she passed away. I never knew what the key is for…and I would never figure it out now. A key to some sort of treasure perhaps? Nope. My grandmother spent the whole seventy years of her life in plain living and I doubt if she ever put up a business or anything that will earn her tons of money before she died. We wouldn't be struggling for money then. I remembered my mom asking me once what the key was doing hanging in my chest through a twelve-inch chain of gold to complement it's rusted luster, intrigued by how precious it had become to me that I always wear it wherever I go. I would ask her stuff about the bronze key and she would end up even more puzzled as I have. Nobody knows what the key is for. And great are the questions handed down to me as granny left me with the heavy thing which weighs, to my estimation, almost a pound or even more for it nearly fits half of my palm.

    "Your grandmother sure is a very secretive person", my mom would often joke. But I'd rather think of her as…mysterious. Though we are so close to each other, she never spilled out any of her childhood memories or even how she met my grandfather and stuff like that, the usual things a grandmother and grandchild would converse about and reminisce. I never knew much about her. That is also the reason why I am so surprised to have discovered a bunch of photos of her with a person I never before seen hiding under her bed. I only got the opportunity to go over it now that she's gone. I remember when I first found it, accidentally, scattered on top of her desk when I was looking for her. I didn't hear her came in so when I turned, I startled to see her teary-eyed in front of me and she pleaded that I go out because she didn't want me to see her cry. I checked over the photos this time, for the second time, taking a good look at the man sitting beside her in a bench. It was somewhat a park, a place called Hunter's Grove as the signboard next to their seat implies and seeing the sea of fallen leaves peeping beneath the soles of their feet, I could tell it was way past autumn. The photo is black and white with white borders so I can't really say what the color of the man's coat is. But there's no denying the fact that the man is so handsome, hair slightly curly at the temples, mustache thinly arranged on top of his lips as his arms stretched behind her, resting his right hand on her shoulder. My grandmother, on the other hand, hair extending long behind her was wearing a dress, bear at the shoulder blades, billowing above her knees. My granny's hand was placed on her lap as the gentleman's left hand covers them. And they seem so happy back then. How I wish to have known the man. The way my granny's lips curved to expose her pearly white teeth... my grandmother had always had the best smile. And the way her eyes sparkle even though the sun sets behind the mountains leaving them a dark twilight at the park only enliven by lamps hung on the posts…she seemed like…she was so much in love with him. Weren't they? The way they appear in the picture, it looks as though it was a photo of two lovers having the best day of their lives. And there are plenty of the likes. A picture of them, together, hands entwined walking past Hillary Theatre. On the other, they were dancing, her hands clasped around the gentleman's neck as her long gown sweeps off the dance floor. And on the other their mouth shut open, side by side in a roller coaster in an amusement park called "Fun Land".

    And this gave me the urge to unfold the mysteries of her past…my grandmother's untold youth.

    The first person I would ask about my grandmother would most probably be my mother, but she is rarely home so while she's out and I'm alone in our house I planned on visiting our relatives downtown to gather up information. Good thing I still have a couple of weeks to spend before the start of classes this year.


    I went to see grandma Norah, sixty-five, the only sister granny have and who is still alive. I spotted the old woman on the porch, seated though steadily on a rocking chair, knitting, from my point of view – a couple of meters still away from her – a pair of blue mittens for the coming cold season. I hurried my steps to get to her side, ascended the three-step-ladder entrance to the terrace where she is and bent down to kiss her on the cheek.

    "What a short notice… what can I do for you…my dear," she whispered, delighted to see me.

    "Hello grandma Norah… I just dropped by to see you and…. I wish to ask about…regarding some matters which I…I find of the utmost import" I stammered and I gazed at the woman, her watery eyes narrowed as she stared back at me, her curly salt-and-pepper hair blown by the wind.

    "Tell me, honey, w-what is it t-that…bothers you…child", she smiled.

    "It's Grandma Sophie…"

    "What about her...?"

    "No, I mean…these photographs..." I showed her the images and watched her as she looks at the photographs, searching for every detail, wondering what it is I am anxious to know.

    "These are great photos, where did you get this?"

    "It's Grandma Sophie's"

    "Really? But I haven't seen these before"

    "Exactly my point."

    "Y-Yes, t-these…are indeed, photographs of her youth…but," she stood before she looked at me and descended the wooden stairway. I followed her from the veranda across the open garden.

    "She never looked as gay and…lovely as before…"

    "How about the guy, do you know him?"

    She turned to me and a soft grin beamed on her face. I led her to the part of the garden where the red roses are just about to bloom. The hum of the birds resounding in midst sky, clear sky of the morning.

    "How come we know so little about her… how about you grandma Norah, how much do you know about your sister?" I inquired as I watched her take her feeble steps toward the flowers, catching their petals falling on her hand as she touches them one by one. The hem of her dress racing with her pace, and she began:

    "I remember, when we were still young… w-we used to play together…when I get wounded, she would nurse me and…she's great at it", she uttered feebly. She turned her direction to the bright sky as memory flashed back and time turned backwards.

    "It was her eighteenth birthday…when she met him. Kyle Andrews. Oh, such a perfect, perfect man. So astute…s-so gentleman…I got a crush..on him even…but no, oh no, he h-has only heart for one..woman…my sister. She, in turn, was very, very beautiful. Y-you wouldn't notice her loveliness at that instant but when you know her…oh, such a perfect…perfect person", she grinned and overwhelming feelings enveloped her as she narrates the story of their days.

    "What about him, Kyle A-a... What is it?"

    "Andrews. He was very rich and popular. Many girls come running after him… but he loves…my sister most", she spoke.

    "How come she didn't let anybody or even me know about him?about her life before? About—

    "She hated the pain of his loss…."

    "He died?"

    "And she suffered so many years…t-that's why she became frail and sickly.. b-but you helped her…you helped her at least b-bring back…the light in her…" she hardly breathed the words.

    "I have always wanted to help her"

    "I know, I know… that's why you are great…dear…" she reached my hand and caressed it before she held it so tight and I felt the warmth of her aged hands.

    I stared in her eyes. I wanted to know the answers, the reasons…I know it's something sad, and dark and hard…but I want to know it all. Then, I asked her:

    "What happened?"

    "Josephine and Kyle had a fight right before Kyle flew to one of his business trips around the world. My sister knows too well, even before…Kyle is someone you should not trust. She suspected a third party…but that was only a mere suspicion…and my sister just loves him so much… And besides what I already told you I know of nothing else more…She always doesn't want to talk about it…so secretive and…aloof "

    I pulled out the key hanging from my neck and showed it to her.

    "Grandma, this key…do you know anything about this key that she left me before she died?" I uttered, hoping for some clear answers to the puzzle that grandma left unsolved.

    "I'm sorry dear…but I know nothing about it…"

    I ate lunch with her and it was almost six in the afternoon when I returned home.


    "Why, you're early this day mom." I met her at the doorstep. She is dressed in black, in her nighties, and she is somewhat preoccupied with something.

    "Well, I finished all my paper works early and I didn't have to bring them home so, lucky me" she grinned and I noticed a rectangular thing she was weighing on her side. It was covered with white cloth and I could easily tell it was a frame of some sort.

    "Where have you been, honey?" I heard her spoke again.

    "I've been to grandma Norah's house."

    "Something important? Problem?"

    "Nah, just paying her a visit" I replied. "What's that mom?" when my attention was finally caught by the object she is carrying on her side.

    "Oh, nothing. Just trashing an old crap. A painting by some unknown artist. Mom's favorite" she said.

    "If it's granny 's favorite…then why are you trashing it?"

    "Well, we don't have any room for some old junk. And besides, it will help us move on."

    "But it's no junk, mom! It's grandma's treasure. It's the only keepsake she left us and it's antique. It might not have any value because as you said an unknown artist painted it, it is still grandma's. And I don't want that "moving on" you're talking about if it means taking away grandma out of the picture." I stated bitterly.

    "Oh well, you can have it if you like. I don't want to argue. I'm tired." She uttered, irritated and she pushed the painting to me and I caught its weight on my body before I saw her stomped up the stairs.

    I brought the painting, almost dragging it, inside my room. I looked for a hook on the wall where I could hang it. Then I saw a perfect place. I retrieved the picture of my mom and I from the wall and replaced it with the painting. It is a painting of a Mountain. The painting was in a front view angle. I could just see myself in the picture now. The top of the mountain was all-covered up by sparkling white snow. Tall and green pine trees surrounded the mountain, and there were houses that seemed like tiny little spots of colors at the foot of the mount. Birds fly in the clear sky as tranquil wind seemingly blows off a cool breeze. Grasses and bright flowers were blossoming on the ground amidst the blanket of white glittering snow. And the sign says Hunter's Grove. The colors of the painting are so detailed that it almost seemed like real.

    "This is a work of art" and I gazed at the beauty of the masterpiece hung before me, mesmerized and awed.

    I touched the painting, caressed it, and wonder why even if I saw the painting so many times before, it seems familiar only now.

    "Wait a minute… Hunter's Grove. Hunter's Grove…Haven't I heard of that name before? That's it", I thought and I grabbed the photos I hid in my pocket, the ones I showed grandma Norah a while ago. I pulled out the one shot in a park and a shudder of surprise struck me. The structure of the park…and the place drawn in the painting… They're the same! Same structures, same ground, same trees, same place, all the same!

    Hunter's Grove. It must have homed the answers to my questions, the key to all perplexities.

    "Jeanette, dinner is ready!" I heard mom cried from down the hallway so I hurried down the stairs to the dining room where the delightful sight of chicken salad and fettuccine alberto, and the aromatic scent of grilled pork awaits me. I mixed up a bunch of smoothies for us, mom's favorite, before I seated myself next to her in our dining table. I swallowed my serving of chicken salad as mom busily munched on her grilled pork. A couple of minutes of stillness then I broke the silence.

    "I've been downtown to Grandma Norah"

    "Yeah, I heard you mentioned that earlier"

    "You know why?"

    "Why?" and she eyed me narrowly, bewildered.

    "I asked her about the photographs of granny I saw"

    "Oh, the one you showed me the day after the burial…So, what's her reaction?"

    "Same as yours."

    "I didn't know mom was quite a catch back then. I told you it's not so much of a fuzz" and she flinched and swallowed a spoonful of rice and began chewing.

    "What about the painting… Do you have any idea where she bought it? And I even wonder why it's kind of thicker than the usual…" I asked.

    "I don't know. She already has it even before I was born"

    "Hmm… Now you're talking"

    "Hey, what are you a little Nancy Drew? What's with these interrogation stuff?" she chuckled.

    "I just want to know the person I thought I knew and yet a real stranger to me all along. I can't believe I know so little about Grandma Sophie", I drank my smoothie, quivered with the crystals of ice that hugged my teeth and the sweet-and-sour taste of the fruit, then I continued.

    "Tell me, how much do you know her?"

    I saw her stopped from her eating, placed the silverware on her plate, fingers intertwined before she faced me and started:

    "Well, I've known her as the best mother in the world there is. She told me that my father died in a civil war so she was forced to raise me all by herself and with the help of aunt Norah…"

    "So, that's the reason that woman never married," I interrupted.

    "I don't think so" she giggled.

    "Go ahead," and I lolled at my seat to listen to her with ease.

    "And I never knew him…Dad. She said she was just three months pregnant when she left."

    "W-wait a minute… you never met him?"

    "Nope. Ever."

    "Don't you think that the man in the picture with granny would most likely be…"

    "My father? Oh no, no. I know that guy, silly."

    "You know him!" I stared at her, wide-eyed, astonished.

    "Of course I do, he's aunt Norah's husband or should I say…man," she replied.

    "What?" I exclaimed. I can't believe this, now there's even more pieces of the puzzle missing than I thought.

    I never finished my meal for I was, in the moment, in a far more important discovery.

    "And I thought she's an old maid," I murmured.

    "No. She's unmarried, yes, but never an old maid."

    "But I never heard her even get involved with anybody…"

    "Neither do I. I only found out about it when mom died, aunt Norah arrived home from Alaska for her sister's wake and she took him with her at the mourning, riding on his wheeled chair. He's pathetic, I tell you, he can't even move a muscle."

    "Oh yeah I remember! That's him? I mean.. I never had an inkling it could be him. Well, I only vaguely remember the man since grandma kept anyone from talking to him. And they never stayed long for me to actually get the chance to ask who he is or how he knows grandma."

    And then I thought... She's hiding him. For I could have seen him when I visited her in her house.

    "I tell you, she's not really the type of woman who makes friends or gets along with anyone" and mom began transferring the dirty dishes to the sink. I helped her and she started washing them.

    "What does grandma Norah's husband doing with granny in the picture?" I thought, as clouds of mysteries grew to envelop my mind.


    "Hi grandma Norah!" I greeted when the door of the old lady's house opened after ringing her twice. She sure is shocked to see me.
    "Boy, nothing quite like a surprise visit", I wondered and I hid a mischievous grin beneath my innocent facade. I continued my pace toward the living room and saw the man she can no longer hide from me now that I caught him before me, on his wheelchair. The man is so slender, balding with almost little white hair remaining on his top to shed off with the time remaining in him. He is wearing a thick turtleneck sweater, checkered blue. A blanket of black wool on his lap covers the lower appendages. His cheeks slackened, eyes dark and deep, face livid, mouth trembling as though his features betrayed the fact of his existence.

    "Kyle Andrews," I saw him moved yet only slightly, as he fears the pain it would cause him, his eyes in deep amusement turned to his unexpected guest.

    "W-who…a-are..y..you…?" he uttered. I approached him, ignoring the old woman's refusal behind me.

    " I'm Jeanette Simmons. I believe you know my grandmother…Josephine Gardner?" I started.

    "Excuse me!" Grandma Norah stormed from behind and hurried to his side.

    "T-this is ridiculous… He doesn't know what you're talking about" she retorted. All of a sudden her voice seemed firm and strong.

    "Let him answer," I stated sharply.

    Then the old man, seemed like on his eighties already, and with so much effort, raised his right hand to prevent the upcoming of a possible commotion.

    "I t-think…it's about time…that everyone knows the truth," he said and the two of us froze and awaited his words.


    "I love you so much, Kyle… I don't want to lose you," she whispered to his ear and his arms tightened around her as they gently sway in the romantic melody of waltz. They swept the dance floor the whole night and young love filled the Grand Ball.

    "You won't, as long as you continue loving me…" he breathed on her ear and she leaned her head on his shoulder as the music went on.

    The evening dance that almost seemed endless turned into a stop. Josephine searched for Kyle but he was nowhere to find.

    "Now can we go?" she heard a girl spoke in the hallway so she hid herself beside the nearby glass cabinet of keepsakes where in the dusk she could not be seen.

    "Alright, alright. But this would be the last time. I don't want Sophie to see us…And you won't spoil our wedding next week."

    Josephine was startled to see who the silhouettes are concealing themselves from the glance that knows too well.

    "Kyle…N-norah…" teardrops fell down from her eyes down to her cheeks and she sank down, deeper, lost beyond the darkness…


    "What are you doing here?" Josephine clamored as a familiar face stood by her front door.

    "Sophie, what is the matter, honey? Why aren't you dressed yet? It's our wedding today, remember?" his voice broke and tears ran down on his face.

    "I am not marrying anyone. Not that I know of as dishonest," she replied bitterly and she gazed at him as tears blurred her sight.

    "Don't lie to me Kyle, I saw you… you and Norah, in the hallway, the night of the ball… Stop pretending like you don't even know what all of this is about! How could you do this to me, Kyle… How could you hurt me? You know that I had loved you… and given you my all…" her words trailed off and she shut the door closed.

    "Sophie! Sophie! Please let me explain!" he cried, but not for long, the door would open for him no more.

    A couple of weeks passed, Sophie received a package. She picked it up right at the doorstep and opened it. A bunch of crumpled papers protected what is lying inside the box, a key and a letter. She read what the letter says:

    "Dear Sophie,

    I'm sorry for what I've done. Remember the day you and I had this small fight? I was so lonely and upset then… Norah was there to comfort me and while we're away… something happened between us. When we reconciled, I knew I loved you even more but… Norah is having our baby and she wouldn't stop bugging me, threatening me that she would kill herself. She never let go of me, she wants me to father her child. I'm confused Sophie, you know that you're the only woman that I loved. I'm very sorry for what I've done to you. I know that what I've done is unforgivable still, I hope that someday you'll find forgiveness in your heart. Please keep the key… I know it is hard for you now to keep my memory but I want you still to have it. You have refused to take it before when we had an argument but keep it. I know someday everything's gonna be okay and we will be together again. And I hope you'll wait 'till that time comes. I love you.



    Tears rushed down her face. She felt all her strength and defenses crumbled as she held the letter so tight, placed it close to her heart.

    "I love you Kyle, you know that. But Norah needs you now more than ever… as much as I need you…" and she gripped the key with her trembling hands as agony and solitude calls.


    "B-but why? Why didn't you do anything? Why didn't you beg, why did you leave her?" I exclaimed at the man who was now crying in front of me.

    "This is all my fault…" the old woman wept and immediately went to her room.

    "Norah and I went to Alaska to live there. And I can't even believed myself that Sophie ever found the forgiveness in her heart that she even wished for our safe departure. She had always have the soft heart, the understanding, the love… Maybe because she also cares for her sister as much as she cares for me. But Norah's child died in delivery and Norah was in a critical condition too so I can't leave her alone in the hospital. Just like what Sophie said… Norah needs me, so I never left her to come back to Sophie. I never even heard of her pregnancy to our child, only now that she's… gone" he sobbed when he finished his feeble talk.

    I left them. I walked my way home. All I want is to get away… away from that house. I never knew where my feet are going until I stopped and came up with my senses. Hunter's Grove. It seemed like only yesterday when Kyle and Sophie have been in this place… It's so much different now. Only few trees are left standing. The old, wooden benches are no longer there but benches made of bricks, statues of marbles and a fountain at the center of the park. Many people are strolling, roaming around and I don't seem to… fit in. I guess things do change. Everything changes as time goes by. People come, people go. That's the cycle called life.

    Back in my room, I lied down on the bed, facing the immense artwork before me. I approached the painting. Touched it. Caressed it.

    "Grandma… how can they do this to you… how can you have suffered such a bitter past… and yet you are like this mountain in winter on the painting… strong, cold, immobile, brave and unfaltering. Snowcaps conceal the true glamour of its beauty…" As I moved my fingers around it, I felt something odd. A little mounted surface, a tiny bulk, an unbelievable bulge at the lower right of the painting. I poked it. It seemed to… wear off. Determined, intrigued, I worked my hands on the little bulged surface, scratching it off, then I startled to my surprise. A keyhole. That's what the key is for! I slowly inserted the key hanging from my neck to the little opening, gave it a little twist and turn then finally… it opened. I peeked inside the little hole and pictured a tiny red velvet box plus a folded piece of paper. I reached my thumb and forefinger inside to get it. I unfolded the paper. A letter. I began to read.


    I can't think of no other finer way to show you how much you mean to me but by this. I know you are familiar with this painting. Why, this is the picture we painted together in our favorite meeting place, remember? And remember when I borrowed it from you and took it home? The reason is… I made it more special by inserting my special gift for you inside. And you are so smart to have figured this out. I'm proud of you.

    I love you so much, honey. And I can't think of no other woman more worthy to be my wife but you. Will you marry me?


    I opened the red velvet box. A gold ring with a huge diamond sparkling on top of it met my inquisitive eyes and I felt the drop of warm tears on my fingers as I linger on the precious item I hold with my hand.

    Loss is bitter, truly, when you know there should have been a chance. When time is your enemy and a friend is also a foe. Nothing quite like a bittersweet refrain to a once magical tale.

    - END -

  • Just SMILE: The Real Deal Behind the Ubiquitous Smiley Face and the Science of Smiling


    Yesterday as therapy session with my 3-year old client diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) with accompanying speech and language deficits was just about to start, the parent of my kid from the previous session just arrived and I had to give her feedback on how her child performed during our session.
    So before heading out of the therapy room to talk with my other kid's mom at the reception area I told my kid with ADHD:
    "I will go outside for a while, okay? But while I'm out I want you to stay seated and keep quiet inside. Don't go outside the room and don't grab anything."
    Then while he was seated in front of the table I left him something to monitor his behavior.
    "Look, I will leave you this paper. It has a big face on it. But it doesn't have a mouth yet. Later when I get back and I see that you're still sitting down and quiet, I will draw a smile on its face. But if you don't follow, I'll draw a sad face instead, okay?" And he nodded.

    So while I was out discussing with the mom of my other kid, of course I'm still a bit weary with how the other kid is doing inside the room with no one and without anything to do - and with just a drawing of a circle and two-dot eyes to oversee him. Even though I had asked another colleague to keep an eye on him from afar in case he wander around, this is going to be a big test for his impulse control and I was wondering if he can make it through. But I wouldn't be surprised if I get back inside the room with all the toys scatterred all around or worse, he has gone outside the room and has ran towards me because he couldn't wait that long. I've seen this kid for only three sessions prior and he was really really hyperactive and impulsive during the initial evaluation.

    After 5 minutes or so, I went back inside the room and found him just quietly sitting and looking at the face I had drawn. Everything is in its place and there's not a single mess or clutter that's not already been there. I've done this smiley test technique I invented myself a couple of times before and it still surprises me how it works each time. As a reward, I drew him the well-deserved smiley face he had patiently waited for.


    It has always amused me how the smiley face affects us in so many ways. We feel like a single text message when ended with a smiley face is more sincere. A statement written with an accompanying smiley face suddenly becomes positive and encouraging. The use of smiley face has also proven really useful in Occupational Therapy as positive reinforcement, not just for toddlers but for school-aged children as well; not just for children diagnosed with developmental or behavioral conditions but even with regular or normally developing kids.

    According to Cecil Adams (1993), the ubiquitous "smiley face" we know - two-dot eyes, and an upward curve on a yellow circle was originally invented by Harvey R. Ball in Worcester, Massachusetts around 1963 to boost the morale of their workers after the merging of two companies. It was a big hit then and the fad lasted for a year or so. Up to this date, we still see commercialized smiley faces, some like exact replica, and others of some various derivatives.

    At therapy sessions, kids go gaga over smiley faces. Even the most hyperactive and defiant kid would give anything just to be rewarded with a smiley face. So, how can the iconic silly-looking yellow-faced grin have such a powerful effect?

    Dating as far back as in the olden days, we've always associated a smile as something positive. We feel happy, recognized, appreciated or at times, special and important, whenever we receive one.
    Throughout life, we've always worked hard for a smile. We feel all giddy when our crush smiles back at us. We feel good when someone shots us a full-faced grin. Even when traveling in a strange place, when you smile at a stranger they automatically smile back at you and thus breaking the ice or any cultural barrier there is. Later on, the smile just evolves into a pat on the back, a high five, words of affirmation, or tangible gifts.

    According to an article entitled: "Why do we smile?", babies usually start smiling, blinking and crying as early as the 26th week inside the womb but after birth, infants wouldn't smile until they are 6 weeks old - after they have finally adjusted with the difference in environment outside. This further suggests that smiling is a reflex to positive feelings - of happiness, stability and security.

    Later on a child begins his early cognitive development in dichotomy. He only recognizes good and bad, pretty and ugly before he begins to understand gray areas. This somehow explains why more often that not we find babies staring or smiling at more pleasant-looking people and crying at less good-looking people for no apparent reasons.

    But a "smiley face", as we know, is not real and nothing but a mere representation of anything positive. Scientists have long been studying about the different biological processes related to specific social events - and one of particular interest is that of Guillaume Benjamin Amand Duchenne, otherwise known as Duchenne de Boulogne, a French neurologist who coined the term "genuine smile" or the "Duchenne smile." According to Duchenne, a smile is activated by contractions of various muscles of the face such as the zygomaticus major and orbicularis oculi pars orbitalis. When the zygomaticus major or the muscles at the corners of our mouth contracts, it forms what we call "Pan American smile" or the social smile (see A, image below). When the orbicularis oculi or the muscles around our eyes contracts along with the zygomaticus major then it forms the "Duchenne smile" or the "genuine smile" (see B, image below). Duchenne reiterated that "mouth corners" only smiles are fake and a real smile should involve the eye sockets and mouth corners muscles. A genuine smile is believed to be produced as a result of a positive genuine emotion and is primarily involuntary whereas a Pan American smile is partly voluntary.

    Bottomline is: a real smile or not, a visual representation or a face-to-face interaction, a smile is perceived by the brain as something positive. Not only does it make us feel good when we're the one at the receiving end, it also makes us look good when we're the one smiling at others. Smiling also contributes to the general well-being of a person as numerous studies have already proven that those who smiles more live the longest. So make it a habit. After all, it's free. :)



    "Smiley face." (2013). Retrieved on August 14, 2013. Http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/961/who_invented_the_smiley_face

    "Smiling." (2013). Retrieved on August 14, 2013. Http://www.serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/node/49

    "The science of smiling." (2013). Retrieved on August 14, 2013. Http://blog.bufferapp.com/the-science-of-smiling-a-guide-to-humans-most-powerful-gesture

  • Deep Reverie

    Never stop challenging yourself everyday. Life is not meant to be trudged along a straight path. It is an intricate system of crossroads, of which at each stop you are tasked to make a decision. Everyday is an opportunity to live the life as we want it. You wake up in the morning you choose whether to get up as soon as you open your eyes or not. You get up and you decide whether to fix the bed first or head straight for breakfast. Seated at the dining table you decide whether it's gonna be cereals or sandwich. And, oops, you run out of cereals and you're already running late for work so you just took a quick sip of coffee and headed for the shower. A few minutes later you get dressed, get groomed and all set for work. And the story of your life goes on. Tomorrow is another day.

    Funny if you would look at the big picture and try to imagine each and everyone of us having to go through the same ordeal every single day - we just don't really notice it because it has been a routine for some time. And we, human beings, are hard-wired for automatic responses. It's amazing how life works. But if I'm gonna dig deeper into these thoughts, what I have observed is that, every single people on the planet is driven by a force. It is a thing that manifests in us as a "goal." Without a goal we lose the drive to do anything. People are destined to have something to look forward to in the end. It can be a reward. It can be a punishment. It can be a positive or a negative reinforcement. Either way it's comforting knowing something has a definite time frame for when it's gonna end whether in a good or bad way. This thing - the religious people would often term "god" or some other deity names still depending on who's preaching what is morally right or wrong. The scientists would call it an "idea" which brings forth subsequent discoveries. The romanticists would refer to it as "love" which gives a person a reason to justify his actions. Nonetheless, it all pushes us into having a goal.

    "Living on purpose is the only way to really live. Everything else is just existing." - Rev. Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life

    A goal sets us apart from machines. A goal sets us apart from animals driven by their instinctive need for survival. A goal somehow gives us direction, a sense into the world we're living - into the life where we're fated to take part of. And sometimes, you just need that something to hold on to.