a visitor from down under



Last year when I went to the Philippines for my mother’s birthday, my relatives from Australia also paid a visit. It was a sort of two birds with one stone kind of thing because it was also a reunion for all the cousins who has not seen each other in almost 25 years. My Aussie relatives arrived first and they stayed in Sofitel, then myself after a couple of days then my brother.

Well this blog is not about that but a plan I learned from my cousin Lolita. She was planning to visit the US of A that fall.

It was nearing her visit but I have not heard any chatter in my social media coming from Australia about her visit. My other cousin Charmaine mentioned that it was a 50/50. It was indeed a 30/70 split learning from Lolita when she finally made it to our home on Thanksgiving day.

I learned from the social media that she’s coming over when i finally saw her picture post at the airport. She decided to join her friends at San Francisco missing the LA leg of their trip. Then Vegas and after that to Miami then NYC. She has toured more in her stay here than myself being here for more than 15 years.

I was happy that she enjoyed her tour and her visit to our home, in New Jersey, was a subdued one compared to others. I was not much of a host during her stay because I really have no idea where to bring guests. I needed to ask my son where would be a better place to show my cousin since they were almost the same age and I am almost twice her age. Fun was not my middle name it was my brother’s. I am more of where do you want to go kind of guy. I only showed her Longwood Gardens at night, then shopped at Philadelphia Premium Outlets then a drive in Philadelphia at night with a stop at the iconic Pat’s Cheesesteak across Geno’s.

It was amazing shopping with her because she did not need Black Friday or Super Sale events to get discounts. She got discounts from men and women just because of her amazing looks plus throw in that Australian accent. The question is will I fare the same as her if and when I visit the land down under? I doubt it, though we’re cousins she’s the type of person who the camera would love and I on the other hand would rather be the one behind it.

Her stay was rather short but I just hoped that she enjoyed her stay. Click the picture above to see other pictures or just click here.

las vegas get-away day 3

fountain at the bellagio

fountain at the bellagio

We planned to drive to Hoover dam that day after our mandatory meeting with the Diamond Resort staff to brief us about our account.

Do you know Murphy? Well you should know him. If you think that nothing will go wrong, there will. That’s Murphy’s law. Well anyway, we got ourselves ready for breakfast and then one of the staff was assigned to us to talk about our account with Diamond Resort. We actually stated in the get go that we were not interested in buying more of what it was they were offering but it was a tough battle since it took us way past lunch time to get out of that meeting.

Our Hoover dam plan seemed to be not happening. My wife and I decided to eat at Goldilock’s (another one of the known food places in the Philippines). To our surprise they had a nice spread for lunch and we ordered the lunch package for 4 and yet we were able to almost finished the entire thing, actually hold that, we actually did. We also found out that they serve breakfast (buffet style).

My wife decided to buy some pastries at Goldilocks’ since they’re famous for that anyway. She also decided to buy more at a local Filipino bakery close to Jollibee. I decided to stay in the car and wait for her, wrong decision. She came back after a long while with a lot of plastic bags and it filled up the back seat of the Yaris. I got surprised and told her that how will those things fit in our hand carry, long story short we were not able to make to the Hoover dam because it was close to 5 PM and I did not want to drive there and did not want to chance getting stuck somewhere out there in the dark. However, we did buy a box to put all that she bought. We went back to the resort to pack up our stuff and I disagreed with her when she bought all those stuff.

At night, we decided to eat dinner somewhere at the strip. We parked our rental in the Bellagio parking and started to walk around. It was pretty crazy walking at night along the strip because there were a lot of people and traffic was crazy. We decided to try to eat at Paris and then went back to Bellagio to watch the fountain show, twice. Then just before midnight we drove back to our resort. Click the picture above or just click here to see other pictures.

las vegas get-away day 2

welcome las vegas

welcome las vegas

Woke up and found that I slept well, I usually find it hard to sleep for a day or so in a new place, probably because of the flight and was just flat out tired. Went out the balcony and saw that there were already a lot of people in the pool below.

We had a full day a head of us and we need to get a good breakfast to start the day. My wife suggested Jollibee, I guess she missed eating the traditional Filipino breakfast, TAPSILOG (cured beef, fried rice and egg) or LONGSILOG (Filipino sausage, fried rice and egg). As for myself, it does not matter.

After breakfast, we planned to park our rented car in one of the hotels and just leave it there and walk around. We went to the Venetian and parked the car, it was really difficult to navigate at first but I got the hang of it after one wrong turn. We started our walk around tour using the app I downloaded. Being inside the hotel/casino, you will lose the sense of time and that was the design, I supposed. we were walking inside the Venetian for a long time and I found out that it was connected to the Palazzo as well. We decided to take the gondola ride inside the Venetian. We opted to share the ride with another older couple from Delaware, it’s cheaper that way compared to having the gondola just by ourselves. After, my wife went window shopping, and the trouble with that was, you are going to buy something, regardless.

Went out of the Venetian to walk to the other hotels, as soon as we got to the the exit the heat from outside was just too much. It was a dry heat, you don’t get sticky as much as you get in Miami or Manila. We stopped by a shop and bought a large piña colada with alcohol of course and we shared it. We were drinking while walking at the same time, I guess this was the only place you can drink alcohol and not hide it and not get citation.

We went to Ceasar’s next, but we were taking a lot of pictures using my Sony Alpha 99 and taking videos using my GoPro Hero. At the back part of Ceasar’s there was a huge aquarium and on top was some sort of statues that move. Apparently, these statues stay hidden at first and comes out during the scheduled show. The show was about how the Atlantis disappeared. It was okay for a free show.

Before we headed back to Cancun Resort, we stopped by the famous Las Vegas sign and the White Chapel. Got back to our room and we had to get ourselves ready for the show we booked for the night, Cirque Du Soleil – O. Since the show was not until 10 PM we attended a dinner/presentation for the time share owners.

The show was at the Bellagio and we got there just in time. The stage in the show was water and the platform appears and disappears. It was nicely done and choreographed. After the show, we missed the water fountain show outside the Bellagio, instead we went to the old strip at California Hotel and Casino. My wife’s friend suggested to try “bulalo” in a restaurant inside that hotel. It was a different experience at the old strip, the parking was paid and it was outside. Inside the hotel were mostly Filipinos and I was surprised that there was still a queue in the restaurant. My wife loved her order but I ordered steak but I could not eat it. I have to say that it was not appetizing to eat there, don’t know why but I guess it’s just me. I thought I was eating at Denny’s or IHOP, LOL.

It was early in the morning and we decided to go back to Cancun and end our second day at Vegas. Click here to see the pictures I took or click the picture above.



las vegas get-away day 1

cancun resort

cancun resort

My wife called me one afternoon on my way home from work and told me that the seminar she applied for at work was granted and she was flying to Las Vegas for a two day seminar. I suggested that I can fly over to meet her there if she can extend her flight back until Sunday of that seminar week.

That night, she told me that her request had been granted. I hustled to book a flight with the same return flight as hers, found one and booked it. I contacted Diamond Resorts, our time share resort, and asked for an availability in Las Vegas on the said dates. I was told that there were a couple, I chose Cancun Resort and booked it using our banked points, no cash out. The only cash out was the plane ticket and the car rental, Hertz.

Heck, this was my third time this year flying: Philippines; then Dominican Republic; and Las Vegas. And I am not fond of flying. My wife flew out on a Tuesday and followed that Friday. My son dropped me off at the airport early in the morning and I did not want to go later because of the security. I only had one hand carry and my camera bag.

The flight was great and my experience with Delta Airlines was so much better compared to US Air. I was seated close to the front of the plane because I find it better compared to the tail section. I had a nice chat with an elderly lady (she was with her husband) who were attending some sort of a reunion with their children in Idaho. I saw her reading the daily bible reading and asked her if she was a Catholic and she nodded. I showed her my daily reading application in my tablet and told her that this was handy and it contained so much more, she countered that she finds the book better. We had a small chat and got to know something about each other. I told her about my kids and she did the same. She also mentioned that her kids were not her biological children, they were her husbands from the first marriage. She told me that she used to be a nun and was teaching were her husbands kids were going. She was friends with her husbands first wife. She moved back to Pennsylvania when her husband’s first wife died. Her husband and kids would visit her in Pennsylvania and after several years they fell in love and she left being a nun and got married. I would think that they were already older when that happened since she did not have any biological child of her own.

The pilot announced that we were passing Salt Lake and I opened the window shade and saw how magnificent the lake was. We landed at Salt Lake and we said our goodbyes and wished each other a nice time. I had to hurry out since I did not have much layover time at that airport. I quickly bought some quick lunch that I can eat inside the plane or probably while waiting for boarding.

It was just an hour flight from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas and I thought that I was going to be bumped for the next flight because I over heard the ground stewardess that it was booked flight. My ticket did not have a confirmed seating assigned. I was given a seat at the last row of the plane, but I was lucky enough that my seat was by a mother separated from her daughter who was seated in row 16. The mother asked me if I mind to switch place with her daughter, I said I did not mind but in my mind I was so happy I did not have to seat at the back. Looking out at Las Vegas from a window plane, you will find out that the whole city’s surrounded by solid rock mountain ranges and no trees in sight except for the palm trees they probably brought from other places.

Landed at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, the first thing that will hit you was the presence of slot machines all over the airport terminal. Welcome Las Vegas! Walked out of the airport, it was a breeze since I did not have any checked in baggage, and the dry heat was so overwhelming. Got in the shuttle to the rental car place and picked up my rental car. All I can say was that I will not be using Hertz next time. I was told the only thing they can give me was Toyota Yaris, thinking at that time that it was comparable to what I booked online I accepted. When I got to the car,I found out that the car was much smaller than I booked and it did not even have a power windows and it did not have a remote control lock (I had to use the key to open and lock that damn car). Heck, Budget rental was cheaper and they usually upgrade you without additional charge. I also found out that I was spoiled, and those small features in the car I cannot live without.

Drove to Cancun Resort and I found out that it was not that far from the airport. I checked myself in and went to the room which was outdated. What struck me was the swimming pool and the massive Aztec pyramid. The resort was along Las Vegas Boulevard (the strip), and about a couple of miles or so away from the famous Welcome Las Vegas sign.

Grabbed my camera bag and drove to the closest IN-N-OUT burger joint. I ordered a double and milk shake, I was surprised that it only cost me less than $5. I then stopped by Target which was in the same location of the burger joint, to buy some water and velcro as well as car charger (i forgot mine, or the one I had did not work).

Talked to my wife and she told me that I can pick her up. They were staying at Red Rock Resort which was more than 10 miles away from the strip. I find it easier to drive in Las Vegas compared to New Jersey, however, their roads were not painted but rather used the reflectors. I would think that it would be a challenge driving in the rain. Picked up my wife with her new found friend who asked for a ride back to the airport.

Since it was still early for her friend’s flight, they suggested to eat something at the nearby Jollibee and Chow King. Then we dropped her friend at the airport and we headed back to Cancun Resort.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Click here to see other pictures or just click the picture above.


marriage enrichment weekend class 8

marriage enrichment weekend class 8

marriage enrichment weekend class 8

This past weekend, we assisted in the Marriage Enrichment Weekend for the class 8 couples who attended at Hyatt House in Norristown, Pennsylvania. This event was hosted by FIAT-ME Ministry of Pennsylvania, there were also others like in North of New Jersey (North Jersey for short). Some members of the North Jersey ministry were also present to assist last weekend.

This event was made possible by the shepherding couple Armand and Minda who has supported the marriage enrichment weekends from day 1, financially as well as opening their home hosting the first events before moving to Hyatt House. Their home has been front and center in the organization of the said event, from holding various meetings and gatherings, staging of materials needed or even just a meeting place. They have built extensions to their home to accommodate such activities.

The weekend event was a long process starting from the creation of committees who will be responsible to make the different parts during the meeting a success, from logistics to food and others. Each committee was headed by a couple and backed up by another couple with the assistance of several couples who had attended previous marriage enrichment weekends. An overall coordinator oversaw everything and were advised by Marriage Enrichment director who informed the committees of the requirement as well as their various job responsibilities.

As you would have probably noticed, couples. In everything, it’s always couples because two married individuals should always act as one.

There were 12 candidates who were selected, or the better term was invited. In the past couple of months we have had about 16 couples going to the event, however, the number went down because of unforeseen reasons why couples could not make it.

The couples who attended need only to bring themselves and change of clothes for the duration because everything was provided to them: rooms; food; drinks; materials and other things that they may need during the event even cater to their dietary concerns. Writing what has transpired and even trying to describe them will not do justice, one has to be there to experience the joy and emotion of that weekend. Need I say that the event was free of charge!

We are seeing everywhere the deterioration of families that may be the cause of so many problems we’re facing and even the decay of our communities. Communities are built by families. Families start with a husband and wife. The weekend event centers on the husband and wife. A priest was present during the duration who provided spiritual advise and to moderate during inspirational talks of several invited couples who shared their life changing experiences. And as you may have guessed, this event is God centered.

You may be saying: “I am happily married”; “there’s nothing wrong in our marriage”; “we go to church whenever we can”; “we don’t need this”; and so on and so forth. Then I will say: “good for you, but wouldn’t you want to make it better?” In the world that we live in: we always want to be ahead; we always want to give our family a big house and lots of cars; we wanted to give our family so many material things. Nothing wrong with that, but most of the time these things cause us to lose focus on what is really important and what is really needed.

I attended in class 7 three years ago at the same location. I attended but I was skeptical. There was nothing wrong with my family much more with my marriage. I attended because I don’t want to have a disagreement with my wife because we were invited. It was free and the only thing I can never get back was the time lost. After an hour in the event my whole outlook changed and it has gotten better and better as it progressed. There was even one couple who attended, the wife tricked her husband: they just came from a week long vacation and instead of going home they went straight to the event. Both of them did not know what’s going to happen, the wife did not know how her husband is going to react. But the husband stayed. They were the head of the committee that my wife and I belonged.

denisha’s birthday

birthday cake

birthday cake

My daughter is simple. She does not like to have a big party held in a fancy place and big expense. She just asked us to celebrate her birthday in the park with friends, and so we did. This celebration was for her birthday as well as for her high school graduation rolled into one.

My wife and a friend called the management for the Washington Lake Park in Sewell, NJ to reserve the a covered area. They were told that for this year there was no reservation and it will be first come first served. There was no reason why it was no reservation because it was clearly stated in their website that there was a fee to use the facility.

Last weekend, everything was set, food were ordered and will be delivered on site at a specific time. A cake was ordered and will be picked up just before lunch. We woke up early that one weekend morning and went to the park to setup the place. There were eight tables in the gazebo. As we were setting up the park ranger approached my wife and told her that if there will be a party later on showing a contract that we were to leave the place. The park ranger explained that the reason for the no reservation for the gazebo was because someone lost the reservation book last March and somebody might have reserved for the place before it was lost.

We gambled and continued with the celebration. We had all the food and cake, we started the celebration and had the candle blowing because the cake was melting. The celebration was going smoothly till the mid afternoon when another party came and demanded for us to leave. One person was respectful while the other was just plain rude. But before we left we asked them to show the contract which they did have.

We packed and transferred to the nearby tables (without cover and under the trees). The kids were playing somewhere in the soccer field and did not witness the scene. They were just surprised to see we were no longer in the covered place. We still managed to continue our celebration and after a while guests took home food and we called it a day.

My daughter opened her gifts back at home and she was thankful for those who attended and gave gifts. She was happy and I guess that was all that mattered. You can click the picture of the cake, which was actually beautiful, or just click here to see other pictures and a video.

denisha’s high school graduation

high school graduation

high school graduation

My daughter just graduated high school from Deptford High last week. Another milestone in our lives and in hers. In a few months, she will be embarking on another chapter in her life, college. It will be a new experience for her and I know that she’s up to the task as God will be with her constantly.

Her graduation was held in the school’s football field late in the afternoon early evening but it was so hot and humid. Our parking was not great either, it was a long walk to the stands. We were seated in the middle part of the stadium which was strategic for taking pictures if not for the official photographers blocking the view since they were in the field for a closer shot. Most of my shots was using the Sony 200 mm F/2.8 lens on a Sony Alpha 99.

The speeches were not long, I guess in consideration of the weather. The school’s principal, superintendent and the town mayor gave their inspirational speeches as well as the graduating class president, salutatorian and the valedictorian. What I liked the most was the salutatorian’s speech. It seemed impromptu and it was lively, not boring since it was down to earth kind of speech.

You can click the picture above to see other shots and a video or just click here.

hershey park – take 2

hershey park – part 2

We went back to Hershey Park two weeks ago because we were given a rain check. Last year we went to the park but soon after lunch the rain just poured down and we decided to go home close to 4 or 5 PM. My wife went to the customer service before we headed home to ask about our visit that day and was told that they can give her a rain check to be used within the year.

Some of us were able to get the return vouchers while others who went home earlier were not able to.

There were about 4 or 5 families went that day. This time we brought Cooper with us since we knew that there was a kennel in the park for only $10 for the whole day. I just need to go back and walk the dog.

Click the pictures above to see the rest of the pictures I have taken that day or just click here.

2014 deptford high school spring concert

spring concert

spring concert

I was on time coming back home to the US because after a few days my daughter had the spring concert. She plays the flute for the wind ensemble, however, during that concert she also had to play with other group for the combined performance.

I commend the music program of Deptford because the music teachers are so dedicated. Even though the budget had been slashed for multiple years now, the teachers used their own resources to make due for their respective programs. Click here to see the pictures I took and videos of their performances.

7 may 2014

manila bay sunset

manila bay sunset

The last full day of the Aussies in Manila. They invited us over for a get together before they head back to Australia the next day. We arrived at Sofitel about 2 PM and we hung out at the pool side, as always. They just finished their lunch at Sofitel and we were just in time to take a dip at the pool.

I did not like the pool so much because I don’t know how to swim and most of the time if I go to the pool I will just be on the side soaking. I had to go to the pool because I had an agreement with my cousin Charmaine that if she eats the balut (duck egg), I will go swimming. Well true to her words, last Sunday- 4 May 2014, she ate balut even though I told her that she did not have to and I will still go take a swim.

I did swim with my cousins and we tried out the pool slide, it was kind of dangerous. the way it was designed that if you were not careful you might hit your head on either side of the slide.

I did not take a lot of shots because I was enjoying myself at the pool and afterwards just a good conversation with the Aussies who will be departing the next day. At days end, we said our goodbyes and most if not all were in tears. I apologize to Bruce but I was not expecting him to be that emotional.

The above picture was another picturesque sunset at Manila Bay just behind Sofitel, you can click the picture above or click here to see the few pictures I took.

It was really a nice and lots of fun spending the time with my cousins, aunties and uncles. I know it may be years before we see each other again. I asked my Tita Sita, Charmaine and Lolita if they want to go out for dinner at the Kanin Club. Only Lolita took the invitation because they all need to pack up. Jhay made the reservation and we head to Makati. Would you believe that it was my first time to be back in Makati since 1997?