48-hour whirlwind East Coast weekend: the Boston Book Festival and the Boston Filipino-American Book Club

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
 – Robert Frost, American poet, from “The Road Not Taken”

Waiting for my red-eye flight to Boston at Oakland International Airport.

In mid-September, Grace Talusan, Fulbright Scholar, English professor at Tufts University in Boston, and winner of the 2017 New Immigrant Writing for Nonfiction by Restless Books, contacted me to let me know that the Boston Filipino-American Club (BFAB) was going to be reading my novel, A Village in the Fields, for the month of October. Grace, whose memoir, The Body Papers, will be published in the Fall of 2018, asked if I would be willing to Skype with the members at their October 29th meeting following their traditional brunch. Absolutely, I let her and book club founder and artist Bren Bataclan know.

At some point in October, my husband, David, suggested that I use up points and fly to Boston the weekend of the book club meeting. At first, I dismissed the idea. I’m not spontaneous, I pointed out, echoing a famous line of mine from my college days. But as the days went by, I started to warm up to the idea. However, I didn’t want to burden anyone with my visit. When I finally reached out to Grace and Bren, they were enthusiastic and welcoming of the visit. So I booked my flight and was looking forward to the trip. My job has been very stressful these past few months and I pulled two near-all-nighters the week before my planned visit. In fact, that Thursday evening, I worked until the early morning. I wasn’t sure then if it was a good idea to be going away. But David noted that I needed to get out, that being around book lovers would be a welcome change and just the community that I needed to be in the midst of.
So I took the red-eye from Oakland to JFK in New York and caught the next leg to Boston. (An aside: It turned out that the woman sitting across the aisle from me was headed for the Boston Book Festival. Her publishing company, New York-based Other Press, was hosting a tent, which is where she brought up recognizing me on her flight. She noticed that I was reading Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere.) Grace and a good friend of hers picked me up at the airport, and we had a nice breakfast at the Eastern Standard, an elegant French-period appointed restaurant on Commonwealth Avenue in the heart of Kenmore Square, which is on the other side of the highway from Fenway Park. Afterwards, Grace dropped me off at Copley Square, site of the Boston Book Festival, a one-day event of talks and panels, tents filled with myriad publishers, and book signings! I was in heaven and the weather was perfect – fall chill in the air, changing colors of the trees. There were multiple sessions that overlapped, so I had to make some difficult decisions.

Fall at the entrance of the Eastern Standard restaurant.

Of course, I had to get a picture of me near Fenway Park (courtesy of Grace Talusan).

Rapping with Shakespeare.

My introduction to the festival was listening to The Shakespeare Time-Traveling Speakeasy. During 2016-2017, Shakespeare to Hiphop (literary performers and TEDx Boston alumni Regie Gibson and Marlon Carey) partnered with the Boston Public Library to celebrate the great bard. The result is The Shakespeare Time-Traveling Speakeasy: “an all-new presentation combining American jazz-funk-country-pop and hip-hop with poetry, song, storytelling, rap, and Shakespeare’s own words.” Their performance was entertaining and crowd-pleasing.

Checking out the different tents and publishers.

Food truck at Copley Square.

I walked around the tents, checking out the various local presses, and then I walked over to the Church of the Covenant to hear the fiction keynote featuring Claire Messud and Jacqueline Woodson discuss their recently released coming-of-age novels, The Burning Girl, and Another Brooklyn, respectively. Both read excerpts from their novels. According to the book festival program: “The mutability of memory, the swift passage of time, the use of stories to make sense of experience, the treacherous landscape of female adolescence, and the simultaneous vitality and volatility of teenage girls’ friendships – these are common threads that run through these narratives, as both writers draw perceptive, unsentimental portraits of young women growing up and growing apart.”

Church of the Covenant.

What a thrill to hear Claire Messud and Jacqueline Woodson read from their new works, and in such a beautiful setting as this old church.

I couldn’t stay for any book signings afterwards. I would have had to stand in a long line, considering how packed the church was for their keynote. I dashed back to Trinity Forum to catch the “Voices of American: The Immigrant Experience Through a Writer’s Eyes” session, which featured Ha Jin, Marjan Kamali, and Grace. I have read Ha Jin’s books, including Waiting, which won the National Book Award for fiction in 1999. I picked up Marjan’s novel, Together Tea, which is about the matchmaking exploits of an Iranian woman’s parents. And I look forward to Grace’s memoir to come out next year. Grace read an excerpt about her father’s childhood in the Philippines that was gripping, heartbreaking, and beautifully written. My heart was literally in my throat as she read, which is how I define meaningful storytelling – the kind that stays with you, that you turn over and over in your head at night and for days. The three panelists talked about being immigrant writers, and while Marjan wished to be thought of as a writer and not “labeled” as an Iranian-American writer, I applauded Grace’s response: There are few Asian-American writers; she is more than happy to take on that mantle to draw more attention to the stories of Asian Americans, of Filipino Americans.

A very packed room for Ha Jin, Marjan Kamali, and Grace Talusan.

Marjan Kamali signing books after the session. I forgot to take Ha Jin’s up-close photo!

Once I briefly met Ha Jin and Marjan, I dashed to the Boston Public Library. I wasn’t able to catch the session “Fiction: Missed Connections,” with Eshkol Novo, Celeste Ng, and Lily Tuck, but I decided that getting their books signed was more important. I ended up reading a good chunk of Celeste’s second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, on my long plane ride back home the following evening. It’s a beautiful novel, both in character revelation and insight and in her writing. I wasn’t familiar with Lily Tuck, but I picked up her latest novel, the slim Sisters, which I read in one sitting that night. I appreciated the structure of what I consider a novella, and I learned a lot about crafting intense short scenes/chapters. Another writer to read more of her previous works!

The front of the Boston Public Library.

Courtyard in the Boston Public Library – a building we didn’t go into when my family and I vacationed in Boston in 2010.

Lily Tuck signing her slim novel, Sisters, for me.

Celeste Ng signing her new novel, Little Fires Everywhere, for me.

I completely missed “Freeman’s: The Future of New Writing.” John Freeman, literary critic, poet, and former Granta editor, is a childhood classmate of one of my favorite local proprietors, Jen Komaromi of Jenny K. I wished I could have attended, but it was time for me to head on over to Bren’s place in Cambridge. I caught a Lyft and met my gracious hosts, Bren and Bob, in their beautiful turn-of-the-century flat. The trees had already changed colors and it was cold. Perfect fall weather. Bren grew up in the Bay Area and is now a successful painter and muralist. He and Brian share the distinction of being one of the first couples to be married in Massachusetts when same-sex marriage was legal. While they had a dance performance to attend that evening, I was perfectly happy to cozy up on the couch and read Sisters in one sitting. And then cat-nap and catch the World Series.

Thinking of my daughter, Isabella, as I took a picture of the hare statue in Copley Square minus the tortoise.

Old South Church across from the Boston Public Library.

In the morning, after my error of telling Bren and Bob that the weekend before Halloween was Daylight Savings time was discovered, we had enough time to right the ship, get ready, and head on over to hosts Rory and Jane’s home to enjoy a Sunday brunch and discuss my novel. I was in awe of all the great food that was on the table. What a wonderful tradition of a having a potluck brunch with Filipino food such as puto and a rice dish that was supposed to feature Spam (Anna, who brought the dish apologized for not being able to find the tin of Spam in her kitchen). I met some wonderful people and new friends. I felt so welcomed. Rather than drain me, my short whirlwind weekend energized me. I was surrounded by books, book lovers, writers, my Filipino American community, warm hospitality. What more could a writer ask for? Maraming salamat, dear new friends!

Meeting host Rory Dela Paz and Anna (courtesy of Bren Bataclan).

Enjoying Filipino food and conversation (courtesy of Bren Bataclan).

New and long-standing members of the Boston Filipino American Book Club (courtesy of Bren Bataclan).

Talking about my book (courtesy of Bren Bataclan).

Members of the Boston Filipino-American Book Club and their tasty spread hosted by Jane and Rory Dela Paz.

Saying goodbye to this artistic couple, photographer Alonso Nichols and memoirist and fiction writer Grace Talusan (courtesy of Bren Bataclan).

The late August and September garden

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.
– Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman politician and lawyer

I continue to catalog the bouquets from my garden.

The August 26th bouquet for our LUNAFEST chair, Joann. She has done so much for the East Bay LUNAFEST film festival the past 10 years, that delivering bouquets this summer was just a small token of my appreciation for all that she does and continues to do in the community.

The other side of the bouquet.

The August 30th bouquet for Joann.

Close-up of the August 30th bouquet. I love the combination of pink and blue.

We spend Labor Day Weekend with my cousin and her husband, who live in the next town over from our hometown of Terra Bella. I brought cut flowers and made an arrangement for her dining room table. The light hit it just right in the early morning.

Another view of the bouquet in its pretty green vase, with alstromeria, dahlias, and arctotis.

The September 4th bouquet for Joann.

The September 10th bouquet for Joann.

A late bloomer, one of my new favorites is the rudbeckia hirta “Cherry Brandy.” I love the deep cherry red of this hardy flower.

A nice close-up of a scabiosa and a pink and orange zinnia. I love the little star-shaped details in the center of the zinnia.

The September 16th bouquet for Joann.

A close-up of a zinnia and scabiosas.

Zinnias in the planter box in mid-September.

A butterfly on a miniature bi-color rose, which we got from Trader Joe’s. At first the roses turned black and I cut the four different kinds of roses way back. Then they came back, and they are healthy and prolific bloomers. I’m glad I stuck with them and didn’t pull them out and compost them!

David caught this bee visiting our cosmos. We are excited to see so many bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds in our backyard, which is something that we told our landscape architect that we wanted to see with regard to flower and plant selection.

Following the path of the butterfly as it lands in the monster red straw plant in our backyard garden.

The September 20th bouquet for Joann. I like this painting-like photo of this bouquet. The gourd, which my cousin Janet made, gives it an autumnal touch, especially with the red gaillardia x grandi celebration flora, which is right in the front.

A close-up of the September 20th bouquet. The zinnias give it a fall touch.

We had a LUNAFEST reunion dinner at committee member Laurie’s house. Along with a bottle of wine, dessert, and David’s torta, I made this bouquet for the hostess.

I made two bouquets for my friend Soizic. One always brings bottles of wine and bouquets for the hostess. This one features alstromeria, echinacea, dianthus, scabiosa, and amazingly the resurrected dahlias. This is a favorite of mine this season, too.

The second bouquet for my friend Soizic. This one has a lot of zinnias and arctotis. I really like this bouquet, and I consider it one of my favorites of the season.

Looking back on the garden in August

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.
– May Sarton, American poet, novelist, and memoirist

It’s already October, mid-October at that, and I’m behind in my reportage of my summer garden. Time to play catch-up. Here are the bouquets of late summer, with fall bouquets still in production.

For the August 11th delivery for the Korematsu bouquets, here’s the first one.

Here’s the second Korematsu bouquet, a more colorful and bright bouquet.

A close-up of my favorite, the scabiosa, which for the first time in my garden has been giving me more than a few blooms per season. And oh the beauty of the light yellow dahlia tipped in the faintest of pink hues.

The deep pink dahlia in all its perfection.

And the spiked magenta dahlia.

Dinner-plate size pink dahlia.

Spiked fireworks dahlia.

When I was in Maine, I found some beautiful little bottles, some vintage, at some shops in Brunswick. Since I have a lot of flowers that are short-stemmed but equally beautiful, I thought to highlight them in this display. I put them on a platter and used this display as decoration for David’s office group party in mid-August.

Here’s a close-up of the bottles, holding echinacea, rudbeckia “Prairie Sun,” centaurea cyanus blue, and a pink rudbeckia-type flower.

I made a bouquet for David’s office group party, as well. Cosmos, dianthus, and alstromeria accompanied this bouquet of dahlias.

The platter of tiny bouquets decorated the kitchen table alongside a plate of Isabella’s homemade vanilla iced scones.

A pair of swooping swallows, made in Haiti by artisans using reclaimed steel oil drums, appreciate the tiny bouquets I made that was placed on the tables in the patio for the party.

The August 15th bouquet is spilling over in its splendor, with white snow puff cosmos and monster red straw flowers.

For the August 15th ECHS bouquet, I added a platter of tiny bouquets.

The next day, August 16th, I had a lot of flowers to cut, so I made this bouquet for our LUNAFEST chair, Joann. The scabiosa, monster red straw flowers, and zinnias were in abundance.

Another view of the August 16th bouquet for Joann.

One more view of the August 16th bouquet. I confess I’m not great at curating these photos. This one shows off the pink zinnias.

This August 18th bouquet for the Korematsu auction winners is one of my all-time favorites. I like it because it’s so horizontal and bountiful.

Here’s a top-down close-up with zinnias, rudbeckia, echinacea, scabiosa, cosmos, and pink arctotis (African daisy).

The other side of this horizontal bouquet.

The second August 18th bouquet for the other Korematsu auction winner.

A close-up of this second bouquet, featuring rudbeckia, echinacea, arctotis, and zinnia.

I have fallen in love with the zinnia, so I’ll be growing more of these long-lasting flowers next year, even if they are annuals.

The other side of the second bouquet.

The August 20th bouquet for Joann.

A close-up of scabiosa columbaria, “flutter deep blue.”

The other side of Joann’s bouquet.

A variety of African daisy, another new flower that I’ve introduced to the garden.

Joann invited me to attend the El Cerrito City Hall’s time capsule celebration, one of the many events commemorating the city’s centennial. So I made a bouquet to take to City Hall.

A close-up of one of my favorite dahlias in the August 24th bouquet.

The bouquet at City Hall.

Riding in the El Cerrito Centennial parade

It’s been my belief that learning how to do something in your hometown is the most important thing.
– Pete Seeger, American folk singer and social activist

My town of El Cerrito, Calif., where I’ve lived since 1996, is celebrating its centennial this year. One of the major events for the celebration was the Showcase Parade, which featured 59 groups or distinguished individuals. I was invited to participate as a local award-winning writer. But the biggest honor was sharing the red convertible with Gail Tsukiyama, award-winning writer of eight novels and resident of El Cerrito.

Pictures say it all, so I will let them do the talking.

Everyone is getting ready for the start of the parade at the staging grounds. Lots of convertibles and jeeps.

Ruth, our driver and owner of the red convertible, took a picture of Gail and me before the parade started.

And we’re off! That’s Nathan the Magician behind us, who unicycled and juggled all the way to the end of the parade – and wearing a dress shirt and tie! Nathan is an El Cerrito High School grad who, after college, became a full-time magician.

The parade in front of us. We turned right onto Richmond Street, which is a major street in El Cerrito. The ECHS marching band was in front of us, too.

We’ve got our signs up!

Looking behind us. Keeping Nathan honest.

My sad attempt at a selfie with Gail as we enjoy the 70s music that the El Cerrito High School dance group was dancing to.

The energetic ECHS dance troupe entertaining us all.

Residents waved from their picture windows of their homes on residential Richmond Street, and many pulled up their chairs and waved from the curbside.

I recognized a number of families from our schools, and was pleasantly surprised to see our long-time friends Yoko and Bruce at one of the street corners.

Coming up Moeser Street and getting closer to Cerrito Vista Park, our destination.

More crowd shots.

We have an active El Cerrito Arts and Culture Committee, thanks to parent and San Francisco State professor Chris Sterba. Marching in the parade is Maw Shein Win, El Cerrito’s Poet Laureate, in the red with the hat.

David, my husband, was near the park entrance and took this picture of Gail and me. And that’s Chris Sterba on the left, handing out leaflets on the Arts and Culture Committee.

A close-up as we drove by.

And I had to include this photo of Ernie Broglio, who is an ECHS alum who also pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs. Best known as the player who was traded to the Cubs from the Cardinals in exchange for Lou Brock. Yep, you know which team made out big. But the other big thing is that our house is Ernie’s childhood home. His family was the first owners of our current house. We are the second owners. After the parade, David went up to tell him we own his house. What a pleasant surprise that was for him!

The end of the road for us, while more townspeople gather at Cerrito Vista Park. What a great event.

El Cerrito Centennial Parade

This coming Saturday, September 16th, I’ll be in the El Cerrito Centennial parade, riding in a convertible – red, no less – with former El Cerrito resident and author Gail Tsukiyama (Women of the Silk, The Samurai’s Garden, Night of Many Dreams, The Language of Threads, Dreaming Water, and The Street of a Thousand Blossoms). I’m honored and thrilled to be riding with her in celebration of my hometown and her former hometown’s 100th anniversary of its founding. The route starts at the Safeway on San Pablo Avenue near Del Norte BART station at 8:30am and ends at Cerrito Vista Park at noon. See you there!

How does the garden grow? A pictorial from mid-July to early August

A garden should make you feel you’ve entered privileged space – a place not just set apart but reverberant – and it seems to me that, to achieve this, the gardener must put some kind of twist on the existing landscape, turn its prose into something nearer poetry.
– Michael Pollan, American author, journalist, activist, and professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, from Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education

When one talks about his or her garden, it’s best left to pictures. So I’ll do that. I’m picking up from my last blog post and displaying photos of the bouquets beginning with July 14th. But first, some solo shots in the dahlia garden.

This petite tri-color dahlia has tight tubular petals.

Another petite dahlia with spikey petals.

One of my favorites – a deep maroon dahlia, which was one of my prolific bloomers.

One of the two Korematsu bouquets for July 14th.

Closeup with heliotrope alba trailing down the vase and rudbeckia “Prairie Sun” on the left and right.

The second Korematsu bouquet for July 14th.

Closeup with the rare white dahlia and a tiny orange zinnia in attendance.

Front car seat loaded up with flowers, with my daughter, Isabella, dutifully assisting me on all my deliveries. And Sammy, too.

A July 16th bouquet for my friend Kelly, with the birthday gift that keeps on giving.

This petite orange dahlia has been a productive flower all summer.

Because I can’t get enough of this rare white dinner plate-size dahlia. Perfection.

The July 18th ECHS bouquet with a pink and burgandy theme.

The other side of this same bouquet looks like a different bouquet – with carnations, daisies, helipterum roseum “Pierrot,” and cosmos bipinnatus “Snow Puff.”

A tiny arrangement that will keep my friend, Joann, happy because these echibeckia Summerina Yellow daisies will look great as a dried arrangement.

My bonus bouquet for Tuesday, July 18th, was given to my LUNAFEST chair and community leader extraordinaire, Joann.

A closeup with a big beautiful yellow dahlia, which is original to the first owner of our home, ol’ Joe Broglio. Also starring centaurea cyanus blue, alstroemeria, and Love in a Mist.

I only had one delivery for my July 21st Korematsu bouquets because one of the families went away on vacation. So I call this bouquet my stuffed dahlia arrangement.

Bear with me, as I couldn’t curate the pictures for this particular bouquet. Another angle with one of my favorite and also rare salmon, orange-colored dahlia in the middle.

A closeup of this beauty of a dahlia.

And another closeup, but of the pink variety, which looks beautiful next to the trailing heliotrope alba.

Magenta and burgundy.

And the pale yellow dahlia with pale pink streaks.

The day that I was leaving to take a red-eye to Portland, ME, for my business trip, I couldn’t resist making two last bouquets. To whom to give them? This went to my neighbor Carla.

Closeup of the brash and showy bi-color dahlias.

My neighbor Faith got the yellow and orange dahlia arrangement.

When I got back early Monday morning, July 31st, the garden was bursting with flowers.

I got back to work with gusto. Look at all these blooms!

I made four bouquets in all. First, the August 1st ECHS bouquet.

It’s really a rare dahlia, though I take a million pictures of it.

This compact bouquet of maybe only six dahlias was a statement piece nonetheless with the dinner-plate size of the blooms. The recipient of this red, purple, and yellow bouquet? My friend Joann.

Even though it was a Tuesday, August 1st, I had enough for the Korematsu auction winners. This pale but bursting beauty was one of the Korematsu bouquets.

Closeup of the spikey pale yellow dahlias with scabiosa atropurpurea “Florist Blue.”

This is the second Korematsu bouquet. Because of the lighting and its resulting moodiness, this picture reminds me of a Dutch still life, a Vermeer.

The same bouquet in bright light.

Back to the Friday delivery of the Korematsu bouquets. Here is the August 4th first bouquet, anchored by a ginger plant and flanked by Helichrysum bractetum “Monster Rose” on the sides.

The second August 4th Korematsu bouquet.

We celebrated my college roommate Susan’s birthday on August 5th. I wanted to do a big bouquet for the celebration.

There were many stunning dahlias in this bouquet. One of my favorite dinner plate-size burgundy.

Magenta beauty.

The white dinner plate.

Yellow spiked dahlia.

What a pair.

Dahlia love.

A different view of the bouquet.

This magenta dahlia is perfectly formed, underneath a purple dahlia.

Two bouquets for the August 8th ECHS delivery. Here’s the smaller of the two – and a non-dahlia bouquet at that.

The other side of the smaller bouquet.

The second bouquet – an explosion of dahlias.

The other side of the bouquet.

Accompanying the dahlias are scabiosa atropurpurea “Florist Blue” and the venedio arctotis daisies.

Rose-colored dahlia.

Helipterum roseum “Pierrot” (white flower with black centered rimmed in yellow) and catananche caerulea “Cupid’s dart” flowers hidden in between the dahlias.

Two bouquets ready for delivery!