At ground level

A column about LIFE

Some regrets, but we can move forward

I feel like I’ve been sloppy at work lately. Just too much on my mind. So, I’ve been berating myself about mistakes I’ve made at work. You see, I have this tendency to beat up on myself if I don’t get things right. The thoughts below were inspired when I made one of those errors, which seems minor now compared to other things in life …

There was a time I could say I had no regrets in life. Even mistakes I made in my youth, I felt, were well worth it because they made me who I am today. As I got older the mistakes got bigger, and now, I can say, I have some regrets.

The piece below, written by the late Erma Bombeck, my favorite columnist, puts things in perspective. There are mistakes and then there are MISTAKES. It reminds me that I should not dwell too much on mistakes at work because they are minute compared to more important things in life that I need to focus on, so my major regrets will be less as I move forward in life.

Many versions of “If I had to Live My Life Over” have been circulated on the Internet. The piece below, according to, is the original penned by Bombeck. It has been incorrectly noted that she wrote the article when she was ill with cancer. Actually, she wrote it in 1979 at the age of 52, according to  She died in 1996, at the age of 69. It’s a good read whenever we think things are going bad for us because it reminds us about what is really important about life. It reminds us to stop working so hard and, instead, stop and smell the roses. I admire people who are able to do that. I have to be reminded of this every so often.

If I Had to Live My Life Over

By Erma Bombeck

Someone asked me the other day if I had my life to live over would I change anything.

My answer was no, but then I thought about it and changed my mind.

If I had my life to live over again I would have waxed less and listened more.

Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy and complaining about the shadow over my feet, I’d have cherished every minute of it and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was to be my only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.

I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.

I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.

I would have eaten popcorn in the “good” living room and worried less about the dirt when you lit the fireplace.

I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.

I would have burnt the pink candle that was sculptured like a rose before it melted while being stored

I would have sat cross-legged on the lawn with my children and never worried about grass stains.

I would have cried and laughed less while watching television … and more while watching real life.

I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband which I took for granted.

I would have eaten less cottage cheese and more ice cream.

I would have gone to bed when I was sick, instead of pretending the Earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for a day.

I would never have bought ANYTHING just because it was practical/wouldn’t show soil/guaranteed to last a lifetime.

When my child kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, “Later. Now, go get washed up for dinner.”

There would have been more I love yous … more I’m sorrys … more I’m listenings … but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute of it … look at it and really see it … try it on … live it … exhaust it … and never give that minute back until there was nothing left of it.

I feel the same way as Erma Bombeck did. If I had to live my life over, I would hug my three children even more tightly than I did when they were toddlers, and even more when they would grow up to be teen-agers. In fact, I would give them a million more hugs and kisses and I love yous. I would take more time to listen to them and probe more when I thought something was wrong. I would go on even more trips with them. I would laugh more with them. I would watch less TV, unless it was with them. I would relax more and worry less about keeping the house impeccably clean. I would worry less about saving money and, instead, I would treat my kids out to a fancy dinner more often.


Instead of resenting having to raise them alone, because that’s what it seemed like, I would seize the moment and cherish the opportunity to do so. I would scold less and not get so uptight when they spill something on the carpet. After all, they didn’t do it on purpose. I would have hugged my eldest tight, instead of screaming when she spilled the pitcher of juice inside the refrigerator that I had just cleaned.


I would have spent more time with my son and been more enthusiastic about his ball games.

Maybe that’s why parents are often better as grandparents … We all come to this realization when we see our children with their own children.


My two older children are now grown-up, but my 15-year-old is still around – though not for long. So I try to remember all these lessons.

I no longer dust my blinds every week, and there are times I even leave the dirty dishes in the sink overnight if it means spending a late night with my daughter, listening to her talk about how her day went, or what she plans to wear to school the next day.

Regrets? Having lived more than a half a century, I now have some. I probably will have more down the road; but this time, I’m a little more aware of what’s important. I know it’s not a clean house or what people think. And I promise not to have to wait till I become a grandparent to cherish life and exhaust every minute with my three children.

And mistakes at work? I will probably continue to fret over them, but when I do that, I will try to remember the daughter that’s still home, her older sister and brother, and what’s more important, and make sure the fretting will last no more than a few minutes, so I can move forward with my family.

September 24, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Remembering friends …

The past two months have taken a toll on me. Three people I know have died and a number of friends are sick – with cancer, or condition unknown. Bring me back to those days when we thought we were immortal and would live forever, when life was still beginning for us, when we didn’t have a care in the world!

It’s a sobering feeling when good friends die. It just fills my heart with sadness.

Below I write a tribute to two friends. I find strength in writing about them, and in doing so, I hope they will be remembered.

Remembering a Fellow Editor: To Sandy Sanderson, My Mentor

Sandy Sanderson at the Des Moines Farmers' Market during the July 4th weekend in 2008.

At a beautiful ceremony I was privileged to attend, we listened to a couple of songs Sandy sang with his guitar, which he recorded for his daughter a few months ago. I had to blink, because it was so clear, as if he was physically there, singing to us. Then we shared memories. Here are mine.

“You can take the man out of the newspaper, but you can’t take the newspaper out of the man.”

This thought came to mind when my friend Sandy Sanderson informed me last year that due to the economy he was retiring sooner than planned; yet, I could feel his excitement when he talked about launching his own website, called “Sandy’s Ankeny” (

You see, Sandy loved Ankeny, and it seems Ankeny loved Sandy too, as evidenced by the newspaper’s lifespan. Ankeny is the remaining Press Citizen newspaper, and Sandy Sanderson had been the paper’s managing editor for what seemed like forever.

It was at the Press Citizen Newspaper Network where I met Sandy more than a decade ago. In fact, he was in the room when I first interviewed for the managing editor’s post for the Urbandale Press Citizen. I was amused because Sandy took it upon himself to act as a mentor to me, despite my telling him that I had worked in newspapers for almost as many years as he. He insisted in showing me the ropes. I have to admit, he taught me a few tricks about laying out the newspaper in Quark XPress. I was never afraid to walk into the dark Press Citizen building on a quiet Sunday afternoon, because he would often be there, laying out his paper.

Sandy was the old-timer, the veteran of the Press Citizen gang. We may not always have agreed with him, and would sometimes laughingly chastise him about mixing fonts in his newspaper, but we respected him, and we knew that the Ankeny Press Citizen was his baby. Lo and behold anyone who even thought of tampering with it, or wrestling him for the editor’s spot. He made it clear he was captain of that ship!

Sandy had a kindred spirit and apart from the newspaper, he loved his music. He sang and played rhythm guitar in a band. He got to love ballroom dancing, which is where he met Lois, and they both loved to travel together.

Most of all, Sandy had a big heart. I now live in California, but while going through a tough time several years ago, Sandy and Lois opened their home to me when I needed a place to stay. He knew I was hurting, and continued to be there, offering to help in any way he could.

Each time I would return to Iowa, Sandy would update me on the latest news in the area and about our mutual friends. Sadly, our schedules didn’t jibe the past year, and we never got to meet. I still remember him telling me, “That’s all right, Hon. Now keep in touch and we’ll get together next time you come around. Make sure you call now, okay? You take care.”

I will miss Sandy’s stories, his relaxed demeanor, his jokes, including his cackling laugh. They say the best thing you can do while on this earth is share your talents with the world, and leave it a better place. Sandy left Ankeny a better place. His legacy is etched in the Ankeny Press Citizen newspapers, for all to see – in his city council and school board stories, in the features he wrote, and in his often amusing column, “Odds ‘n Ends.” What a marvelous way to be remembered!

I’m glad Sandy is “safely home.” I have no doubt he is smiling down on Ankeny! As for me, I’d like to tell him, “I’m sure we’ll see each other next time around. In the meantime, you take care, my friend.”

My tribute to Sandy was later submitted to the Des Moines Register. See here:

Thank you, Charles, for submitting it. I’m sure Sandy is smiling down on you too!

Grace Is Safely Home …

The news about Grace Marci had been on my mind for many days. I had tossed and turned at night, thinking about her and her two daughters. Now she is at peace…

Grace wasn’t one of my closest friends, but she was always there among my classmates, through grade school and high school. Some years, she was in the same class as I; other years, she wasn’t. But Grace is a classmate I will always remember.

I remember Grace as always smiling, often with a pen in the pocket of her uniform. She was always neat – hair never tousled, uniform always crisp and clean. She always brimmed with self-confidence, was so energetic, exact, direct, a to-the-point kind of person.

I grieve for Grace and for the daughters she leaves behind, but I believe, with all my heart, that she is safely home with our Lord in heaven.

When I arrived home after my dad’s funeral many years ago, I was distraught and asked God to please give me a sign that Dad was with Him.

“Give me a sign that he is safe with you; that he’s ok, God,” I prayed and pleaded.

A few days later, I received this novena solicitation in the mail from some rectory. In it was the prayer below. It brought tears to my eyes and a chuckle. How American to have God’s message come to me in the form of the U.S. mail! But then I knew that Dad was safely home.

To this day, this has been my favorite poem. I read it and am consoled every time I learn someone I know has passed away. I know that Grace is “safely home” too, at peace, and looking down on her family and on all of us.

Safely Home

I am home in heaven, dear ones;
Oh so happy and so bright!
There is perfect joy and beauty
In this everlasting light.

All the pain and grief is over,
Every restless tossing passed;
I am now at peace forever,
Safely home in heaven at last.

Did you wonder how I so calmly
Trod the valley of the shade?
Oh, but Jesus’ love illumined
Every dark and fearful glade.

And He came himself to meet me
In that way so hard to tread;
And with Jesus’ arm to lean on,
Could I have one doubt or dread?

Then you must not grieve so sorely,
For I love you dearly still;
Try to look beyond earth’s shadows,
Pray to trust our Father’s will.

There is work still waiting for you,
So you must not idly stand;
Do it now, while life remains,
You shall rest in Jesus’ land.

When that work is all completed,
He will gently call you home;
Oh, the rapture of that meeting,
Oh, the joy to see you come!

– Anonymous

Grace Marci, a friend and classmate

September 17, 2010 Posted by | Friendship | Leave a comment

Marveling at the fast-paced world of instant communication

I continuously marvel at this fast-paced technology. I still remember when, in the late 1980s, VHS tapes were the big thing. My eldest daughter was around four years old then. We had to go somewhere and lamented we would have to miss our favorite TV show.

“Just tape it, Mom,” she hollered as-a-matter-of-factly while doing a cartwheel on the living room floor.

Her dad and I looked at each other and chuckled. This little girl didn’t know when we were first married, we had to make do with an old black and white TV with rabbit ears and no cable!

At that time computers were slow, big and bulky. Soon they, too, became speedy, compact and more advanced. Now, it is no longer enough to have a desktop; we need a laptop, or even an iPad. Now, computers and their software are advancing even faster than cars. For Macs it is no longer enough to have Tiger. There is Leopard and Snow Leopard. Windows is at number 7. My gosh, I still have to update my Microsoft Word so it reads docx!

Then there’s the marvelous e-mail. What a delight it was to receive that first e-mail from my sister in the Philippines!

“What’s your ulam (in Tagalog, the Philippine language, it means viand, a main dish that goes with rice) tonight?” she e-mailed me.

Adobo (a Filipino dish),” I e-mailed her back.

We used to e-mail each other frequently; now e-mail seems to take more time. Texting is the key to instant communication, as well as IM, iChat, ICQ, Yahoo Messenger and, of course, there is Facebook, Twitter and all the other social media. Today, we have Webcams and can actually talk and see each other at the same time.

With the mobile phone we can communicate with anyone in virtually any part of the world – instantly. I made the mistake of buying my 15-year-old daughter a new cell phone a few months ago. I thought it was neat because it was a touch phone. I didn’t realize it was a true smartphone and allowed her not only to text and take photos, but to use the Internet, as well. Then I got my cell phone bill and saw it skyrocket due to the e-mails and Web surfing she did when I grounded her from the computer!

This fast-paced technology has changed my world. Thanks to the Internet, I can learn about what’s happening around the globe. Through Facebook and my cell phone, I am now in touch with many old friends and relatives.

I do lament over the lost art of letter writing. I even chastise my kids and tell them by texting too much, they are losing the art of conversation. Yet, there are times when, even I, don’t feel like conversing for a long time. There are times when I just want to say “hi” to a friend and ask how she or he is doing. Sharing just one sentence on my wall can connect me with my friends. Their comments give me that warm feeling. I hope my comments make them feel the same way.

We can still write letters and we can still converse over the telephone. But look at all the other tools we now have! There is no excuse NOT to communicate with all these options at our fingertips. We can connect any time, in so many ways. It’s a wonderful world, with so many new and exciting innovations.

So, now, we come to this blog. I still have to master it, but communicating is the first step. Is anybody out there? …

September 10, 2010 Posted by | Philippines, Writing | 2 Comments

Just starting …

I’m just starting this thing that’s called a “blog.” I like to write. In fact, writing has been my career for over 30 years, along with being an adjunct political science instructor.

I started out as a government researcher in the Philippines, my homeland. After pursuing graduate studies here in the U.S. and marriage soon after, I settled in rural Iowa. In a place so unfamiliar to me, I didn’t know what to do, where to start, what job to pursue. The closest town had a population of 278 people. I became number 279. I thought to myself, “Well, I can write.” So began a very exciting and fulfilling career.

I started submitting weekly columns on international affairs (for $10 an article) to a local newspaper, and was eventually hired as a freelance writer. A few months later, I was hired by the rival paper as a reporter, columnist and, after several years, became editor.

When we moved to the city, I picked up where I left off, and pursued the same career. I also taught political science courses at nearby colleges and universities at the same time. By the time I left Iowa after having lived there for 25 years, I was managing editor of five community newspapers in the Des Moines area. I so loved those communities and still miss them today.

Now, living in California, I work in public relations and write about the real estate market, which can be quite interesting, especially in this state! But I miss that other kind of writing, where I can express my opinion about anything …

So, in an attempt to fill that void and keep up with this fast-changing technology, with much encouragement from my eldest daughter and close friends, I have decided perhaps I can do that type of writing in this thing called a “blog.” So much has changed since the time I used to mail a typewritten column to the newspaper. At that time, I already thought the electric typewriter was an improvement from the manual machine! Now, if I could just master this blog!

The weekly column I wrote for the community newspapers was called, “At ground level.” I named it such because I wrote about my first-hand experiences living in the U.S. – in a farm in rural America, and then, as life progressed, my everyday experiences as a wife, a mother, and as a journalist traipsing around several rural Iowa towns, and eventually, the city and its suburbs. I was sure that there were people out there who could identify with my feelings and observations.

“At ground level” was last published six years ago, when I decided to move on to a new chapter in my life. I was sad when I quit the newspapers, but I felt it was time to head west, where I am now, essentially starting over.

Adjusting to a new place doesn’t get any easier with age. There are times when I’ve felt it’s as tough as the first time when I, a city girl from another country, settled down in an Iowa farm. That’s what makes life so interesting – all the new challenges and experiences! And it’s why I am keeping the original title of my column, so I can share these experiences and my thoughts with everyone  – at ground level.

September 3, 2010 Posted by | California, Iowa, Philippines, Writing | Leave a comment