Archive for the 'all that you can’t leave behind' Category


It’s been years.  But I just broke my arm so I think I may have time on my hands…

But first, some housekeeping.

Almost 30 years ago(!)

SSA Bacolod 1979, if you click on the photo you’ll see where I am

Sisterly shoe memories.

Funny how we ended up with these 2 posts.  One written by me 3 years ago, and now this from the little sister (well, younger sister, because we aren’t little anymore…)


My aunt and cousins are here in SF for a few days and when I passed by their hotel tonight Tita had a bag of Pinoy goodies for me, shit it was as big as a Santa bag, and in it were:

  • 2 boxes of carabao milk pastillas de leche
  • 2 boy bawangs (!!!)
  • 6 packs of dried mango
  • 2 bags of brownie-like “butterscotch”
  • 2 round containers of lengua de gato

Scary to think we might just eat it all…

Year after

I can’t believe how fast 2007 zipped by my gosh it’s almost 2008 already!

Mom’s been dead for a year now, and strange but it seems so long ago and so recent.  I never got multo naman but I swear I did really feel her near me during her birthday last June…I wonder if when you’re dead you can really see people on earth or if you spend your time just “being” in the afterlife…

Pa still seems to be having a hard time letting go, but heck after 30+ years together what would you expect.  I think he is slowly getting better, but will have to see for myself when I go home (hopefully) later in 2008.


It was a difficult trip for me to make but in the end when mom passed she was surrounded by all of us and her friends were there praying all around her. Her sickness gave us time to try to prepare but in the end her body was so battered that it was almost a relief for her to get rest.

We had no coffin at her wake, only the urn and a lot of flowers and nice pictures of mom, so it wasn’t so depressing, it was almost like a party, which is what she would have liked. During the last mass before her urn was placed in the crypt, there were so much people that they had to open the viewing area next door to fit everyone. Mom had a LOT of family and friends who loved her, it was amazing.

I always think of her now as watching us while she sits with her parents, and friends who have also passed, and she is still annoyed (but grudgingly tolerant) of the pets we have had that she will be keeping an eye on until we all get to eat and laugh and snark and bicker together again.


I love the word. But are we ever?

Back in Manila

I’ve actually been in the Philippines for a week na. It was my moms birthday and I really wanted to spend some time with her (and my family and friends and pets). She’s actually doing better now than she did 3 weeks ago, when she couldn’t get up from bed and was in pain and was sleeping with an oxygen mask na. Now she tries to walk with some assistance and can sit up and eat more. Lumakwatsa pa nga sa bar ng tito ko one time heehe.

Considering that last July they said life expectancy for someone with her stage 4 lung cancer and mets was 3 months and she’s still alive now, I guess its not too bad. Moms a fighter and we all keep hoping she stays longer and gets better. She’s currently on Tarceva and taking some transfer factor. We’re doing one more month of Tarceva and then maybe stopping because we just can’t afford it. Sometimes nga I get so upset and wish we had more money so we could keep her on it, but it’s just so so expensive and however I try to study the finances, we just cannot sustain the cost :( Puta I’ve been feeling so sad over the fact na it has become a matter of money.

In a way I’m pissed off at her doctor because the doctor never outlined possible treatments and costs. If we knew we could have prepared more hay. Akala ko chemo was the last because after that and even after her tumor was growing the doctor said nothing. It was only when she was bedridden and akala ko mamamatay na that the doctor says “Meron pang last ditch treatment when chemo doesn’t work. It’s Tarceva and theres something na a 30 to 40 percent chance lang that it works but it costs 150k for 30 pills, so you may want to consider that” Why did she wait that long when months before the tests showed some progression na and Tarceva was already an option then. If she was thinking mahal and maliit lang ang chance she had no karapatan to not tell us. We should have been advised of options then. So we could decide if we would proceed and then we could have made arrangements if we decided then. She should not have hit us at the last minute, especially as alam naman nya yung drup has been around na for a few years e. It didn’t come up lang naman in the last 2 months. And this is what I am really upset about – she never said that it was a maintenance thing – yun pala it was “take it indefinitely until it doesn’t work na”. So we could have saved more diba? I feel so guilty for buying shoes and other expenses I would not have if we had known the Tarceva was so expensive. Haaay she said take it for a month and then when we said the month was over she looked at moms blood test results and said “oy it seems to be working so take it for another month” Akkk you should have seen me namutla talaga ako. And we needed to buy it the next day. Paano ko agad huhugutin yung pera? :( What does she think? Everyone has unlimited money and can pull out that amount on the same day?

In any case I am glad mom has had 2 months of Tarceva because that and/or her Transfer Factor has improved her condition (since we started both at the same time we can’t really tell which one, or if both, or if any is what helped her improve. Hee pwede nga she improved because she was looking forward to me coming home diba?)

The good thing is she’s agreeing to try some alternative treatments that I have been reading since she was diagnosed with cancer. It’s nothing radical. more like cutting out all red meat, having a lot more veggies, no sugar, and more healthy oils. I had wished she was agreeable to this from before because from what I read people have actually gotten way better (some even cured) through this program. It’s a lot of work for the people with her though, pero what can we do? e di pagsakripisyohan nalang. I wish I were with her now because I can usually direct people. Well, I guess I can still do that naman. I just have to be more vigilant and do my phone call checkups.

We’ll work with what we have, I can’t see the point in losing hope. Sure talo na yon.

Nasugbu, April 1996

scanned because wala pa digital camera then

Buried in Sand: JC
1st Row: Mia, Dennis, Lawrence, Noel, Eden, Joel
2nd Row: Alex, Erika, Aimee, Derlie
1st Row: Lawrence, Felix, Eden, Derlie, Aimee, Noel, Erika
2nd Row: Mia, Joel

Waiting for our Sundo

Still Waiting

Hay Nako. Still Waiting

Noel, JC and Dennis acting up

A Place at the Stable

Posted on Sun, Dec. 07, 2003

Choosing satisfaction over financial security, a woman from Wichita and her husband start a sanctuary for abused animals in Montana

The Wichita Eagle

OVANDO, MONT. –In a house on a ranch in a valley, where grizzlies, wolves and cougars sometimes roam, Alayne Marker and Steve Smith live in a white modular house that smells faintly of fine food and wet dog.

In and around it live animals, many of them crippled, blinded, abused, neglected or rejected by previous owners: 27 dogs, 15 cats, 16 chickens, eight pigs, three ewes, six cows, nine horses and one cancerous, elderly mule named Lonesome George.

Five years ago, Alayne and Steve bought this 160-acre patch. They planned to retire there in 10 years or so.

But three years ago, they chucked their $200,000 combined income from Boeing in Seattle, built the house, then built two barns, three dog cottages, a cow shed, a wood shed and a cat house. And yes, they call it a cat house.

They named the place the Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary, because when they turned their first batch of rescued dogs onto it, the dogs rolled around… like dogs.

They adopted Walker, the mentally retarded hound.

They took in Patti, a Shepherd mix, blind since someone swung a shovel blade into her face.

They gave a home, a bed, and ’round-the-clock care to Champagne Bob, so shapeless and damaged by a skeletal disorder that it’s hard to see the cat inside the fur.

They took in Hamlet the pig, who knows exactly what he wants, which is food. They took in a cat that a teenager found wandering, starved, with abscesses on its body. The vet saw .22-caliber bullets in the X-rays. Four wounds. Alayne and Steve debated names: Remington or Winchester. They chose Winchester. They surrounded themselves with victims of cruelty, talked to them like parents talk to curious children, trained the dogs to sit or stay, and watched as looks of curiosity and wry humor and a desire to please replaced apathy and anger and fear in the eyes of Pappy and Patti and Widget and all the rest of them.

They took in creatures great and small, not one of them useful to ranchers, except for Smudge, Smoke, Skitter and Barney, four barn cats with a yen for mice.

Doing this cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars.

They have their reasons.

On a hiking trail near Bellevue, Wash., in 1994, Steve rounded a turn and saw a woman with a black dog.

He said hello, glanced at her left hand and kept jogging.

He stopped a quarter mile later; the dog had followed. Alayne said later that Spats was a sensible soul who never followed strangers. Maybe Spats knew something.

Steve led the dog back, made small talk, avoided putting the woman on guard with a come-on. He hoped like mad that she’d give a sign that she liked him. In the moments they talked, she glanced down at her dog, and Steve saw a look that thrilled him.

He jogged on.

In the trailhead parking lot, he did stretching exercises that he didn’t need, waited, but did not ask her name when she came. He watched her get into a car with a Boeing manager’s sticker on the windshield.

He worked at Boeing, too, with 200,000 others in Seattle.

For weeks he searched Boeing directories, looking for her face. Why didn’t I ask her name?

Man, she’s sweet.No ring on the left hand. But the big thing? How she looked at her dog.

A peek into her soul.

From life he’d learned a lesson: The stable and intelligent people he’d known loved animals, not as inferiors but as fellow beings. That was what he’d seen in that look.

And I jogged away from her.

It took weeks to find her, through friends. He took Alayne to lunch. They talked pets.

God, was she sweet. A Kansan, born in Wichita, a West High and Wichita State University graduate, trained as a lawyer at the University of Kansas. Witty. Animated. An only child; her father Bill a staff engineer and middle-manager at Boeing Wichita. When she went home from Seattle to visit Wichita’s west side, Bill and Virginia Marker took her walking, rode around so she could see Wichita’s growing skyline. She did legal work for Boeing in Seattle: contracts, insurance, risk management.

Steve worked for Boeing as a director of communications.

His zeal for animals had begun in Sri Lanka. His father worked as a diplomat for the U.S. State Department. Steve was born in Pakistan, traveled the world. He worked the foreign service also, as an embassy press officer.

One day in Sri Lanka, someone threw a kitten over the wall of Steve’s American Embassy-owned house.

Steve took it in.

The Sri Lankans watched.

More cats flew over the wall.

When he moved to America in 1989, he brought six cats. He felt like he’d done something.

Years later, at that first lunch with Alayne, he told her all this.

She told him two things:

1. She loves animals.

2. She is allergic to cats.

He sank into his seat.

“We’ll have to figure a way around that,” he said.

They wed six months later, after Steve spent $17,000 on her allergies; he built a cat house in their back yard.

They made money, hiked the Cascades. Alayne loved Kansas but loved mountains more.

Steve fidgeted at work. Was he doing any good? Rescuing cats felt good; treadmill corporate tasks did not. Meetings. Budgets. Meetings. Goal setting. Meetings. Raise the bar. Meetings. Evaluations. Planning for meetings.

Am I doing any good here?

Alayne loved legal work, her boss and Boeing, but she shared one doubt: Were they doing any good? For Boeing? For anyone?

They drove mountain ranges, hunted for hiking trails. In 1998, they drove an hour east of Missoula, Mont., and found a mountain valley carved by ancient glaciers, drained by the north fork of the Blackfoot River. They’d come here before and thought it beautiful.

At a bed and breakfast, Alayne saw a magazine ad about land for sale. South of the Scapegoat Wilderness, in a patch called Kleinschmidt Flat, they saw grass and sagebrush.One hundred sixty acres for sale.

They bought it.

“Mountains,” Alayne said. “We can go hiking. And build an animal sanctuary when we retire.”

They’d already talked about a sanctuary. Alayne had taken up the animal cause as zealously as Steve. Back in Bellevue, they had six dogs and six cats, Spats plus pets rescued from shelters or Sri Lanka.

Steve’s a fanatic planner. Alayne doesn’t plan as tightly, but she said sensible lawyer things: They were in their 40s. They would work for many years — at least until their mid-50s. Right? Then retire to the ranch. Right?

When they returned to Washington, Steve noticed that for weeks after, they talked of nothing else.

In early 2000, out of frustration, they pulled out sheets of paper, made two lists. One listed all reasons why it would be stupid to chuck Boeing now and build the sanctuary. It was a long list of costs, how crazy it would be to toss their savings out the door like barn hay.

The pro list stayed short. One line said “quality of life.” Alayne said that meant “happiness.”

Alayne looked over the lists.

“If we took in a bunch of animals, we’d be taking care of them 24/7. We’d be wrestling horses and dogs at midnight, in storms, when they’re sick. It would become exhausting. We’d never take vacations. We’d not know for years whether we’d hire help, get donations.

“If it will be that physically demanding…. I’m past 40. I don’t know if I can do this when I’m in my 50s.”

Steve said later: “Alayne had just made an argument for not doing it that sounded like an argument for doing it now.”

On a November morning, icy fog blankets the surrounding mountains. When Alayne steps outside bundled head to foot, she laments the fog: “We’re surrounded by one of the best mountain views you’ll ever see — if you could only see it.”

Steve hasn’t let the dogs out of the dog houses yet, and they are yapping. Over the din, Alayne says bald eagles sometimes perch in the tops of the frost-covered cottonwood trees growing next to the house.

“Sometimes they fly over the house,” she says. “They’re huge. You can hear the air rushing through their wings. Whooosh…”

And yeah, she said, there are cougars and grizzlies in the nearby mountains. They don’t come down on the flat too often. But if they did… she laughed. Yes, she said. It’s true. She really did ask Steve for “stopping power” two Christmases ago, and when she explained that stopping power meant a hunting rifle, he asked if the marriage had gone south.

Alayne laughed again. She had told this story a few days before, in her parents’ living room in Wichita. Virginia and Bill had sat there grinning, trying to imagine their girl standing legs braced, drawing a bead on a grizzly.

No, she said now, standing in the Montana yard, she did not find it strange that a woman who loves animals would kill animals living wild. “But these animals here depend on us for their very lives,” she said. “They trust us.”

Steve bought her a .308 single shot Remington rifle. She’s never had to use it.

Steve lets the dogs out. They run, yapping happily. Steve points out several of the blind ones, and how they find their way by chasing along close to friends who are not blind. Just deaf. Or lame.

In the barn, a blind mare stands trembling in a stall. Clouded eyes roll in fear, and front feet step nervously from side to side.

The stall door opens; the mare pricks up her ears. She’s scarred from years of banging into walls and iron feed racks and stall doors, but she knows now she’s not alone. Alayne steps up to her, touches her cheek.

“Beauty,” she says.

Beauty reaches forward with her nose. Alayne takes Beauty’s cheeks in both hands, pulls the horse’s face to her own, and blows warm, moist breath into the nose of the 1,200-pound mare.

The trembling stops. The mare stands still as Alayne presses her nose against the horse’s nose. The two of them stand like statues for half a minute, misty breath swirling in 20-degree air.

Outside the barn the dogs have grown quiet. Hamlet is sulking in his stall, exhausted after squealing for half an hour as they fought to make him sit still for a shot. Steve dropped a noose around his neck and snugged him to a post to get the needle in. Steve looked near tears.

The work looked brutal and dangerous; Steve and Alayne looked tired from noon on. They cleaned stalls, fed cattle. A startled cow jerked its head the wrong way, missing Alayne’s head only because Alayne ducked. Getting hit with a cow’s head is like getting hit by a boulder.

They worked from sunup to past sundown, medicating dogs, shooting insulin into a cat, gathering eggs to boil and mix with dog food. They wrestled with Shasta the blind horse, treating an infection. They led blind horses to a pasture, watched them run and roll on their backs on the snowy grassland against a backdrop of rugged peaks. They heated water tanks; the temperature gets down to 20 below sometimes.

They worked a few hours at their telecommuting jobs, she as a lawyer, he as a marketing consultant, trying to bring in money. The vet bill for this year alone exceeds $15,000, Steve said. The land and buildings cost close to half a million. Wellwishers have donated several thousand dollars, but nothing to match the expense. Their savings, except for the IRAs and 401(k)s, are gone.

Steve told Alayne that he loses sleep. They can’t spend it all, he said. If they lose the ranch, the animals will die.

They never leave the ranch together. Champagne Bob and Emmitt the paralyzed dog and some of the rest are helpless invalids, Alayne said. “If one of us left, and something happens….”

Yet they have no regrets, she said. None.

One evening, for visitors, Steve cooked vegetarian fajitas. He’s finicky; the fajita ingredients took a long time marinating, and when he found he’d forgotten to buy cilantro, he became almost inconsolable. He loathes mistakes. Alayne drank red Spanish wine and teased him. “You forgot the cilantro?”

As Steve cooked, dogs lolled on short beds around the wood stove, watching Steve and CNN. Steve tried to keep floating dog hair out of the sauce. “The dogs let us live here,” Alayne said.

Champagne Bob interrupted with a squawk from his crib near the dining table. Steve fed him.

Bob’s a mess. But he’s not suffering, which is why they haven’t put him down.

And there’s something else about Bob, Steve said. Alayne had said the same thing earlier, out in the barn, trying to explain this sanctuary business. It applies to Bob, and to Beauty and Pappy and all their creatures. It’s the reason two people quit jobs and money for what seemed more important:

“Bob’s a mess,” Steve said. “But he doesn’t want to die. He wants to live.

“He cherishes life as much as we do.”