White Christmas with Filipino flavors

It was a good thing that my sisters and I decided to spend Christmas in the United States instead of an earlier plan to fly straight to Canada where two of our kids are stationed.

Mary Anne and Nenen left for the US mid-December but since I could not fly out until December 22 because of work commitments, we decided to spend Christmas Eve with our aunt, Yoly Llavore, in San Diego along with our niece, Misha, who is living just an hour away from our relatives.

With sisters, Nenen and Mary Anne before the statue of playwright George Bernard Shaw in the middle of downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake.*

And we were fortunate to delay our plans because just days before Christmas, the deadly winter storm that left over 60 people dead in the East Coast also left thousands of people stranded in airports all over the US.

It was the same in London, Ontario in Canada where my son, Giancarlo, and his girlfriend Elaine are residing. Although it was not as severe as the snow storm in New York, it poured as well and it was white everywhere.

When we took our flight to Toronto, early morning of December 28th, there were still travelers laying around in the airport, especially in the Southwest Airlines terminal which took a hard hit from delayed and cancelled flights.

I am a fan of Southwest Airlines because it is the only carrier I know that does not charge extra for your luggage. But because my sisters booked their flights ahead, I opted to follow their trip schedule so we could fly together even if we had to pay an extra $30 for each piece of luggage.

We were fetched at the airport by our cousin, Joseph “Jojo” Espina, who lives in Burlington which is less than an hour drive from Toronto. Jojo and wife, Princess, were hosting my son and Elaine and Nenen’s daughter, Isay, who also relocated with her partner, Robby Escobar, and daughter, Maxene, to pursue further studies. With five extra people in their household, we decided to book a hotel room which is a 10-minute drive from their home.

We immediately played tourist and my son, who also timely got his driver’s license just a couple of weeks before we arrived, drove us around using our cousin’s van that comfortably sits 8 people.

First stop was Niagara on the Lake, which is a quaint town that I got to visit in summertime last 2018 when we attended the Rotary International Convention in Toronto. It looked even more picturesque in the winter with snow covering the homes and the majestic lake that borders Canada and the US.

My grandniece Maxene poses before Christmas icons that abound all over Main Street.*

Despite the cold, a must-try was their famous Moo ice cream made of, of course, cows milk. You can go through the entire town by foot and browse through antique shops, or visit the home where Prince William had a staycation with his family.

The next day, we drove back straight to Niagara Falls but since the ferries that bring you close to the falls were non-operational during winter, we explored the falls through the tunnels which is a totally different experience from riding the ferry.

It is even more majestic because the snow and icicles that surround the falls makes it look more massive. You just have to be careful though because the walkways were very slippery and I was glad that I decided to buy waterproof snow boots before we flew to Canada.

Before the day ended, we met up with Nenen’s high school classmates – Ritchy Sumande, Caryle Anne and Penrose Mellado – all graduates of Negros Occidental High School 1986.

New Year’s Eve was spent in Jojo’s house and we were happy to let the children take over the kitchen as it is their field of expertise. My son works as a restaurant supervisor while his girlfriend’s mastery is in pastries.

We welcomed 2023 with an all-Filipino fare of pancit molo, pancit palabok, sisig, camaron rebosado, butter-garlic shrimp, roast beef Filipino style, maja blanca and brazos de mercedes. Food wise, it felt like we didn’t leave the Philippines as we had tocino, longganisa, tokwa’t baboy for our meals with rice of course.

NOHS alumnae (l-r seated) Ritchy Sumande, Caryle Ann, Mary Anne Espina, Nenen Espina, Penrose Mellado and me (standing).*

So while it was cold outside, we were definitely warm inside from both the food and the company of family and friends.

We parted ways on the first day of the year as my sisters flew to Sault Ste. Marie to assist in our niece’s relocation. I can’t say I am envious because they arrived there with a foot of snow outside their apartment plus lost luggage that were recovered a day after.

Meanwhile, Jojo and I drove Giancarlo and Elaine back to London as they had to go back to work the following day. I am happy that after a little over a year since he relocated to Canada, I got to reunite with my son even if it was just for a short time. It gives me some sense of peace to finally see where he lives and works, and that they are both doing well.

I am still in Toronto and scheduled to meet up with former media colleagues, Daydin Alcalde (Bombo Radyo), Odette Montelibano (Visayan Daily Star) and Fevel Toledo (RPN TV8) before I fly back to the US to attend our Rotary International Assembly in Orlando, Florida.

Holidays are best spent with family, whether home or elsewhere.*

Daydin who is now an immigration consultant and along with Odette, helped process my son, Elaine, Isay and family’s papers to Canada and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Happy New Year and may 2023 be kinder to all of us.*

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