Saturday, September 17, 2016

“Davao’s young Palanca winner
Sun.Star Davao, Sept. 17, 2016

At the age of 16, Jill Esther Parreño checked off a precious item in her bucket list.

            It was an outstanding feat that most creative writers could only dream of achieving in their lifetime. Her piece, “To Thine Own Self Be True”, won first prize in the recent 66th Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature (Palanca Awards) in the Kabataan Essay category.
            Considered as the longest running literary competition in the Philippines and organized by the Carlos Palanca Foundation, Inc., the prestigious Palanca Awards is deemed as the “gold standard in writing excellence” This year’s contest bestowed awards to 51 writers in different categories.
            Jill is currently a Grade 11 (Senior High) student of Davao Christian High School and serves as the editor-in-chief of DCHS’ student publication, Hillstar. She is the only child of Leo Elcid Europa Parreño, a businessman and Rowena Velarde-Parreño, a customer service seminar facilitator and online tutor. 
            Let’s get to know Davao’s young and fascinating Palanca winner in this one-on-one interview:
When did your love affair with writing begin?

I started writing seriously sometime around Grade 6, where we had a lot of writing activities and I tried writing a short fantasy story. Some time after that, I joined Wattpad and continued attempting to write creative fiction.

How did you discover that you had a talent for writing?

I never really considered it a talent- it's more of skill in the sense that it's something I've learned to do well after countless hours of reading and writing. Skill is honed through experience and hard work. I don't believe there's such a thing as being naturally good at something without having prior experience. People learn at different speeds, so that's also something to consider. In the end, whatever I have is a gift from God.

Who or what inspires you to write?

I started writing back in Grade 6 because I loved the idea that I could send messages with my work. My main inspiration was the “Chronicles of Narnia” series - a set of stories that subtly told the story of Christianity while not shoving the messages down the reader's throat. I loved the idea that stories could bypass the usual skepticism of readers and plant the seeds of ideas straight in their hearts. That was - and still is - my main inspiration for writing: to let the world know about Christ. Writing, after all, is powerful - the Bible is one of the prime examples of this.

How do you hone your writing skills?

I read as much as possible. It's impossible to write well without knowing what good writing is like. I also try to keep a daily journal, and of course, manage Hillstar as the Editor-in-Chief. I also occasionally write online on a few collaborative creative writing sites.

Aside from the Palanca Awards, do you have any other writing awards in the past?

I won first place in the English Secondary Category of Feature Writing in the Division and Regional levels of the National Schools Press Conference 2016, and sixth place in the national level.

 Who encouraged you to join the Palanca Awards? What was the experience like?

I heard about the Kabataan Essay category of the Palanca Awards from Teacher Tes Derequito, my English teacher from my elementary school, Abbas' Child Science School. She was also the one who started me along the path of writing. She is very inspirational. The experience of writing the piece was beyond stressful, but in the end, it was worth it.

How long did you prepare for your winning piece, “To Thine Own Self Be True”?

I knew about the contest a few months before the deadline but was hesitant to start writing because I had little experience writing personal essays. I started writing three days before the deadline - three extremely stressful days of hating myself for procrastinating, frequent prayer, and countless attempts of nearly giving up. I kept reading Colossians 3:2, which says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters”.

The awarding happened recently, how did it feel to be recognized as one of the country’s finest writers?

Overwhelming. If anything, I hope this opens more opportunities for me to influence people with my work, as well as glorify God through my skill. I'm not sure how to respond to all the congratulations, but I really hope people would spend more time thanking God. My skill is a result of experience, and experience is a series of events that God has  planned for my life. In the end, really, the glory belongs to Him. It's also nice to know that Philippine creative writing is more than Wattpad-published Taglish romance novels, and that there is an entire, relatively-unknown community of skilled writers here in our country.

In the awarding ceremony, did you see any writer you’ve always wanted to meet?

National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose

What were your prizes as the Palanca Awards’ 1st prize winner for the Kabataan Essay category?

I received PhP 11,000, a certificate, and a medal. Davao Christian High School also received a cash prize of PhP 8,000.

Any future plans to join another writing contest?

I plan to join the Division level of NSPC 2017 this September. I'm also planning to submit a short story I'm still working on a young adult fantasy anthology.

What is your advice for other young writers?

Write to express yourself, not to impress others. Keep reading good books. Don't be content with mainstream titles, but search for the great classics of literature, the obscure award-winners that not many of the youth know about. Write something that you'd want to read. Expand your horizons. Educate yourself. Get more ideas.

The internet is one of the greatest resources of our generation, bringing the world to our fingertips - explore the endless seas of information out there. Learn to love knowledge. Try to see the world from the eyes of others. Learn to accept criticism of your work and use it to refine your creations.

            Above all, keep writing. Skill is not something that springs up overnight but a tool honed by hours of working. Do not consider your current abilities as your permanent skillset, but always seek to improve your capabilities. Persevere.

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Parreño, 1st prize winner, Kabataan Essay category, 66th Carlos Palanca Awards for Literature:

Saturday, September 3, 2016

“Bento Mommas in Davao”
Sun.Star Davao, Sept. 3, 2016
Since Mom-About-Town first featured them in 2013, the Bento Mommas have become a national sensation.

From an avid group of around 800 social media followers, their following has now ballooned to almost 28,000 and counting, thanks to the growing interest in bento-making and their media interviews on “Kris TV”, “CNN Philippines”, “Lifestyle Network”, among others.

According to Wikipedia, bento is a “single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine”. It can be elaborately arranged in a style called “kyaraben” (character bento) or “oekakiben” (picture bento). Japanese homemakers often spend time deliberately preparing the lunchbox of their spouse, child or for themselves.

Bento Mommas (BM) is a bento hobby group which is comprised of five moms based in the Philippines and abroad.

The rationale behind their group was initially to exchange bento tips and encouragement eventually expanding to weekly design challenges, bento resources, bento online shopping, and bento catering through their Facebook page.  Currently, they conduct bento workshops around the Philippines.

Recently, during the long weekend break, the Bento Mommas Kaye Sy-Catral, April Lim and Monet Ongpin-Aquino (who also happens to be my dear college classmate) unboxed the mysteries of bento-making in two separate workshops held at Expo Mom Davao and SKS Interiors, Inc. These events were made possible through their partnership with Mommy Mundo, Glad Kitchen, Jolly Eats, UFC Banana Catsup, Dona Maria Premium Quality Rice, Joseph Joseph and SKS Interiors, Inc.

Now on its 3rd year in Davao, “Expo Mom: The Motherhood Journey” at Abreeza Mall treated moms to a day of heartwarming discussions, entertaining games, and educational workshops such as the bento-making session by the Bento Mommas. The expo also had an exciting lineup of exhibitors featuring family-friendly products.

The Expo Mom bento-making workshop introduced me to my first ever hands-on attempt using the kid-approved Three Little Pigs theme. It was quite a challenge as we rolled the rice and made them into tiny heads; tinted them with colorful catsup using the Glad plastic storage bags; punched seaweed into circles to make eyes and; and shaped ham for the nose and ears. As we assembled the rice, corn, beans, hotdogs, and chicken with the help of cute cupcake liners inside the trusty Glad container, I realized that bento-making, despite being a somewhat laborious task, was also satisfying, and even exhilarating. Just knowing that this foodie creation will bring big smiles to our kids’ faces made it rewarding to say the least.

More mommies joined the bento-making craze at the SKS Bento Mommas workshop where they interpreted the well-loved characters Pikachu and Judy Hopps of Zootopia.

Mommy Kaye explained that one of their primary reasons for getting into bento-making is to expand the food choices of their children as more than some are picky eaters, and even have food allergies. Bento-making has helped introduce a wider and healthier range of food choices to the kids.  

“Bento-making need not be an expensive hobby. A “decent” bento can be achieved with really basic tools—i.e. just one spill-proof food container, storage bags, a handful of colorful food organizers, some basic cutters, and a few decorative picks. All these are washable and reusable”, says Mommy Kaye.

“The most important tools come dirt cheap – free, in fact. They’re called imagination, creativity and a sense of humor!”, smiles Mommy Kaye.

Follow the Bento Mommas on Facebook and Instagram.

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

“Iron hearts”
Sun.Star Davao, August 20, 2016
                Grit is defined as a “combination of passion, perseverance, tenacity and hope”.
            In her book, “Grit”, New York Times bestselling author and psychologist Angela Duckworth explains that it is not only talent and intelligence but grit which will lead an individual to success.
                Last August 7, 2016, several Dabawenyos participated in the Cobra Ironman 70.3 Asia Pacific Championship in Mactan, Cebu. Enduring swimming for 1.9 kms.; biking for 90 kms.; and running for 21 kms. under regulated time, surviving this premier race is truly one of the ultimate tests of an athlete’s will power and determination.
             Read about some of the awe-inspiring moms and dads who hurdled this recent competition as they share their “grit” journey to the finish line: 


Number of times you joined Ironman: The Ironman race held last August 7, 2016 was my first one.

Sports competitions through the years: Durianman, Safeguard 5150 and Dipolog 101
Motivation for an active lifestyle: I wanted to be healthy and actually look healthy.  Also, hearing triathlon stories from my cousin Dolly pushed me to try it out myself.
Journey to Ironman: I started from ground zero with triathlon coach, Patrick Serrano.  I could barely swim 25 meters without struggling for air, and it seemed impossible to run 1 km. without taking a break.  It took about 2 years of 6 days a week workouts which consisted of strengthening, swimming, biking and running at 530 am.  The swim part was what I dreaded since I am not a strong swimmer and the water was quite choppy. Fortunately, the current was going in the same direction as us for most of the way, and I finished the 1.9km swim in 48mins. The bike leg was a challenge since, for half the time, there was a strong head wind, I finished in 3:16. The last leg of the race was running and my legs were pretty tired but I just kept telling myself that I was already half way done so I just had to go on.  I finished in almost 3 hours with a cramped left calf but with a big smile on my face.
Balancing sports with parenting/work: I trained early morning before the kids’ school starts.  When I have work, I skip my workout and compensate the next day. And, I usually dine out with family if I don’t have a workout the next morning.
Life lessons from Ironman: There were days that I was confident that I could do it but there were also days that I doubted myself and thought it was impossible.   But, perseverance, diligence, and support from family members kept me focused in achieving my goal. I learned that nothing is impossible with the right amount of will and dedication. 

Advice for parents who want a more active lifestyle: It takes a lot of sacrifices but the result will be priceless.  As my coach once told me, “No pain, no gain!”.

Number of times you joined Ironman: I raced Ironman 70.3 twice, 2015 & 2016, both in Cebu.
Sports competitions through the years: I usually join local triathlon races all over Mindanao; Durianman in Davao; NAGT in Cagayan de Oro; Lawihan Tri in Gensan. Recently, I raced in the Sarbay Triathlon where I won 2nd place in my age group category 30-34.
Motivation for an active lifestyle: To be healthy for my family, to have energy to perform well at work.
Journey to Ironman: During my annual physical exam in December 2013, I was obese, diagnosed with dyslipidemia and high uric acid. At that point, I thought that if I continue with my sedentary lifestyle, I might not be able to see my kids grow up, so I decided to engage in sports and do daily exercises. I was inspired when I saw triathletes and how disciplined they were. I took up the challenge and trained to swim, bike and run, joined triathlon races starting from novice, sprint, Olympic distance and eventually made it to Ironman 70.3. Training became part of my daily routine and I became healthier. I lost 10 kilos of weight. Cholesterol levels and uric acid now are normal. I have more energy to engage with my family and find time to play with my 2 daughters, aged 5 and 3.
Balancing sports with parenting/work:  Waking up early morning at 4 a.m. gives me a boost of energy to start my day. I start my day with daily training (either swim, bike or run). This helps me to clear my mind and gives me a good perspective on my goals each day. With renewed energy every day, I'm able to manage my different roles: first, as husband to my wife Sai and dad to two kids; be active at work with my teammates; and perform well. My boss is also a health buff like me. I also attend celebrations every Wednesdays and Saturdays with my church community, not to mention occasional social activities with friends and high school classmates.
Life lessons from Ironman: I've learned that anything is possible when you put your mind and heart into it. The human spirit is unlimited that we can do everything that our mind can conceive as long as we are determined to achieve it.
Advice for parents who want a more active lifestyle: My advice is to set a fitness goal, and take small steps towards it daily. Find the motivation to exercise daily, be it for the kids, family or yourself. Imagine to live a healthier happier life in the future.


Number of times you joined Ironman: It was my first time to join the Ironman Philippines Asia-Pacific Championship in Shangrila, Mactan Cebu. I got 3rd place in my age category (45-49) with a female time of 5:58:37

Sports competitions through the years: “Rody Duterte Lumba Bisikleta sa Kadayawan” - Champion, Ladies Category (2015); Sprint distance/Novice Overall Champion –Female Manta Triathlon (2014); Overall Champion - Female XRail Offroad Triathlon (2015); 1st Place-Age category Dipolog Triathlon (2015); 3rd Overall Champion Defy Triathlon 123 (2015); Offroad Triathlon Overall Champion - Female Petron Blazemen Offroad Tri (2015); and 2nd Overall Champion –Female 8080 Triathlon (2015)

Motivation for an active lifestyle: I want to stay fit and challenge myself to my limits.

Journey to Ironman: Ironman is a hard endurance race. Starting day 1 of my triathlon training, I realized that this is not an easy sport. It will take much of my time. But, as long as I have the passion to do it, I just do it day by day. I stay hyper focused on a goal, then conquer anything I thought wasn’t possible.

Balancing sports with parenting/work: My daughter is 16 years old already and understands my sports. I see to it that we have time together and go out on “date” regularly I see to it that I spend quality time together with my loved ones in between work, training and rest. My work schedule is very flexible. So, it simply fits to my training program for a certain day.

Life lessons from Ironman: I learned from joining Ironman that if you dream something big and work hard for it, dreams do come true. In my 2016 Ironman Experience, the hard work I put into my training paid off, I finished, and even got a bonus, I Podium-ed.

Number of times you joined Ironman: Challenge Philippines 70.3 distance inaugural race in Subic with son Carlo, our 1st half IM distance (2013); IM 70.3 Cebu (2014); IM 70.3 Cebu (2015); IM 70.3 Vietnam (2016); and IM 70.3 Asia-Pacific Championship Cebu (2016).

Sports competitions through the years: Running has been my forte before my 1st marathon in 2013. I have completed the Run United Series in Manila in 2012 and did more than 30 half marathon in 2 years. Since then, marathon became my staple run every end or start of the year. I have finished the Audax 200 kms. from Davao to Mati and have been a consistent Triathlon Podium Finisher in the DurianMan Olympic distance series races. My bucket list includes, Tokyo Marathon in 2017 and Great Wall Marathon in China in Sept. 2017.

Motivation for an active lifestyle: Defy age. It is just a number. I hope to inspire my three growing active teenage boys by involving them in sports and nutrition as well as instill discipline and maximize their potentials. Besides leading a healthy lifestyle, I wish to instill in them the value of sportsmanship, performing their best and not giving up.

Journey to Ironman: At first, I could not run a mile without my heart pounding. My bike had spent more time at home than being ridden out for a spin.  I could not barely finish a lap in the pool. It took a lot of guts, courage, motivation, and discipline to join an IM. But, when I took that initial step to run, pedal that bike and glide that stroke to swim, anything is possible. If you worked and trained for the IM distance, trust your training and believe. You compete with no one but yourself. Focus on finishing and completing the race than trying to outrun anyone in the race.

Balancing sports with parenting/work:  Running is my therapy. It relaxes my mind. It became a part of my lifestyle so I incorporated it in my daily schedule, usually in the morning before heading to work. On the other hand, cycling or spinning is my cross training activity. It gives me the opportunity to go to other places and explore. Lastly, swimming is part of my recovery. It relaxes my muscles and a good therapy for my run-bike program. My recovery is equally important as my training.

Life lessons from Ironman: Sports or triathlon is part of our family’s lifestyle. Every race or activity becomes a family affair and a chance for us to bond, travel together and have fun. All of us are looking forward to the after-race feast whether I make it to the podium or not. I just simply thank the Lord for letting me finish strong, safe and injury-free. Joining Ironman is a life-changing experience for me. I learned to persevere and be patient at my stance. One realizes that there is no shortcut to success but hard work. It actually made me a better person as I was not only able to inspire my kids but also my friends and teammates. In addition, I learned to appreciate God's gift of life and strength. All things emanate from Him!


Number of times you joined Ironman: This is my 4th Ironman 70.3 in Cebu. All the half Ironman races I have joined since 2013 have been in Shangri-La Mactan, Cebu. Each year has given me different experiences and it never seizes to amaze me year after year how the sport and the races are getting better and better that is why I keep going back. The Cobra Ironman 70.3 race in Cebu is the “it” race for me yearly.

Sports competitions through the years: Every sports event I register for during the year is geared for training leading up to the Ironman 70.3 race. Last year, I joined the Beijing International Triathlon in China and came in 2nd in the 40-44 female age group. I also ran the full marathon (42 km.) during the Davao Finisher’s Marathon last December 2015. Early this year, I joined the Kalilangan Duathlon in General Santos City where I placed 1st in the female age category 35 and up and the Sarbay Triathlon in Gumasa Beach, Sarangani Province where I placed 3rd overall in the female category. In Davao City, I joined the first ever Durianman Cross Channel Triathlon in the Island Garden City of Samal and placed 1st in the female 40 and up age category.

Motivation for an active lifestyle: I joined numerous fun runs here and there, usually 10 kms. and up. Ever since I joined my first ever Novice Triathlon way back in April 2012, I got hooked to this multi-sport. I never looked back since then. I took swimming lessons, had an online running coach from Manila and bought a better bike. I then met some running buddies like Yvonne Sasin and Haroon Cali whom I molded strong friendships with through running 3 times per week for the last four years.

Journey to Ironman: The journey towards completing the Ironman 70.3 race is priceless! It entails countless of early morning hours, sweat, blood and money! Crossing that finish arc is a very emotional and surreal feeling for me because everything I trained for over the last 6 to 8 months is finally put to a test. The race itself - swimming 1.9 kms. in the open waters of Mactan, biking 90 kms. from Lapu Lapu City to Talisay and running 21 kms. under the intense heat of the sun is not an easy task to complete. You have to have an iron heart and will, and be mentally strong to embrace the pain.

Balancing sports with parenting/work: I am fortunate that my two daughters are now 16 years old and 13 years old. They are very independent when it comes to their schooling. I always believed in letting them learn from their mistakes and I am just there when they ask for help. I have learned how to delegate all the tasks to cater to their needs. My mornings, which starts around 4:00 a.m., are for my training sessions (swim, indoor bike, run or yoga) and after work, I spend time with the kids during dinner time. I don’t have any social life because I am asleep by 8:30pm.

Life lessons from Ironman: I have learned that if you put in the time and effort into your training, you will improve. It is also important to invest in a coach or training lessons because they will always help you.

Advice for parents who want a more active lifestyle: It is never too late to start today. Age is not a factor at all. Being healthy and fit, makes you happy and that aura will spread to your children and family.


Number of times you joined Ironman: It was my first time to join the Cobra Ironman 70.3 Philippines, 1st Asia Pacific Championship held in Shangrila Mactan, Cebu City.

Sports competitions through the years: Durianman - Finisher (2016 & 2015); Xtrail Offroad-Finisher
(2015); Regent 5150 Subic Bay - Finisher (2015); SarBay Fest - Finisher (2014); Timberman Butuan City -Finisher (2014); Tunaman Gensan - Finisher (2014); 1st Phil. Eagle – Finisher (2014); and 6th TRIAD Davao- 1st in Adult Novice (2010)

Motivation for an active lifestyle: My friends and health. I used to have high cholesterol and sugar level.

Journey to Ironman: It all started as a hobby and eventually, I got hooked on it. I realized how this kind of sport could benefit one’s health. I wanted to become an inspiration to others also. As the saying goes, "Kung kaya nila, kaya ko din!". Another factor were friends who were so supportive of me. We share the same passion. We do these all together for God’s Glory. The heart medal for the finisher serves as an inspiration to me. It symbolizes the finisher’s “iron heart". That's where I draw strength from during the darkest hours of my race.

Balancing sports with parenting/work: It's all about planning and time management. In my daily life, I get to bond with family in the morning then before or after work, I allot time, either for a 2-hour swim or run. But, I make sure I eat dinner with the family. Saturdays are for bonding time with triathlete friends in Samal where we swim, bike and run. Saturday nights and Sundays are entirely for the family.

Life lessons from Ironman: Anything is possible if you pray. You can do things with perseverance and determination. To God be the glory!

Advice for parents who want a more active lifestyle: It's not about joining all the three sports. You can start with just purely walking every day. Put your heart and soul into it then that's it. You can start right there and then. And, enjoy every minute of it.

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Saturday, August 6, 2016

“Pippa’s Marché Gourmand birthday fete”
Sun.Star Davao, August 6, 2016

            It was a spectacular culinary event that whetted the guests’ appetites as Davao’s top chefs joined their whisks and spatulas to concoct Aoife Marie Barretto Uy’s Marche Gourmand birthday fete at The Marco Polo Davao.

Fondly nicknamed Pippa, Aoife (uniquely pronounced as “Ee-fa” which means “pleasant, beautiful and radiant”) is the fourth child of well-loved couple Moe and Bianca Uy. “We decided on the nickname Pippa so that we will always remember the correct pronunciation of her name”, says Bianca.

The energetic mom who serves as the assistant vice president for Kar Asia, Inc., the family-owned authorized franchise dealer of Mitsubishi in Southern Mindanao, admitted feeling a bit exasperated in choosing an appropriate party theme for their dear Pippa as every conceivable kiddie party theme has already been used.

“Luckily, it dawned on me, why not use my husband’s penchant for food as the party theme!”, enthuses Bianca. After all, aside from being the owner and building administrator of ATU Development Corp., Moe is a certified foodie and great cook, as well as the culinary genius behind Fat Monkey.

“I was inspired by Moe’s passion for cooking, his constant hunt for the finest cuisine and scrumptious food concoctions. Finally, it was decided that the party theme was the Gourmand Market/Kitchen Party”, Bianca shares.

To make this ambitious foodie soiree a reality, Davao’s premier party organizer Annie Paz-Lim and her team donned their thinking toques to whip up a grand feast fit for a gastronome’s princess!

Taking only less than a month to prepare, Moe and Bianca, together with Annie, meticulously handpicked the suppliers for Pippa’s party. They wanted to achieve an authentic Gourmand Market experience which was new and gastronomically enticing. Hence, the party featured tasty artisanal food products in different gourmet food stations.

There was delectable homemade ice cream, dessert buffet and savory treats all the way from Tagum City’s Yuyu’s Café and Dessert Shop by Chef Adi Uy; Chicken Quinoa, Kani and Avocado and Salted Egg Salad Shakers from Soul Kitchen Co.’s Mimi Vergara-Tupas; 24-hour cold brew coffee and milk shakes by Basti’s Brew’s Randall and Vanessa Ong; as well as mouthwatering kiddie sandwiches from Kutsara ni Juan’s Chef Maki Uy.

As if the food booths were not appetizing enough, The Marco Polo Davao’s executive sous chef Alex and team likewise served a lip-smacking Chinese buffet as well as fresh whole raw tuna and lechon.  
“The gorgeous 5-tiered cake with flowers, stripes, spoons, forks and a teddy bear on top was made by the ingenious Joel Rodriguez of Osvaldo’s.  It was the stunning piece de resistance to complete the backdrop”, smiles Bianca.

“We also had a live acoustic band that rendered cover versions of popular songs.  However, to maintain the childlike character of our party theme, we used whimsical decors and filled the place with toy bears, kitchen toys and balloons”, Bianca continues.

“Our hats off to Annie!  Her inimitable styling never fails to surprise my husband and I. She went above and beyond our expectations (as always!).  The décor was tastefully done and she really made sure our so called “favorites” were conspicuously laid out in the ballroom”, Bianca enthuses.

Kiddie guests went home with functional mini picnic bags made by Anna Ibarreta-Santos of FTU (Fabianne Trends Unlimited) packed with goodies and Fat Monkey’s pesto with pistachio nuts.

Merci beaucoup to Simply Gray Studio for Pippa’s Marche Gourmand birthday fete photos.

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