At ground level

A column about LIFE

Carving pumpkins, cherishing the moment

Pumpkins. Halloween. What is it about Halloween that signals the festive fall air? The rustle of falling leaves, the crisp, cold night, and then, of course, there’s the strong odor of pumpkin guts coming from my dining room table.

Coming from a country that did not observe Halloween, carving my first pumpkin was a new experience for me – slicing the top of the pumpkin, digging out its guts, shaping a face on it, and then placing a candle inside, so its flame would glow all through the night. Since then, for 26 years, I have carved many a happy-faced pumpkin, toothless ones, slit-eyed, three-eyed, jagged toothed, and “scary” looking pumpkins. It can be a chore and a mess, so when the time came, I would happily hand over the paring knife to each child, so they could carve their own pumpkin with minimal help from me.

Despite the mess, carving pumpkins has become a tradition in our household. Over the weekend, my 15-year-old and I tackled the task. I chose something new this year – a knucklehead pumpkin. You know, one of those creepy, freaky heavily-warted pumpkins we’ve been seeing in the stores this year. The pumpkin proved to be a real knucklehead! It had such a hard shell, I couldn’t even pierce its skin. Rather than running off to the store to buy a “saw blade” pumpkin carving tool, we decided to be a little more creative with my knucklehead …

My daughter was quite adept at carving her pumpkin this year. She didn’t even need me hovering around her, worrying she would cut herself with the knife.

“No, Mom, I don’t need your help. If mess up, then I will,” she smiled.

With ease, she sketched her pattern, slit the top, sliced out the eyes, the nose, the mouth, scraped the inside of the pumpkin, dug out the guts, and produced a grinning pumpkin that looked like Mickey Mouse!

Grinning Mickey Mouse pumpkin with the "knucklehead"

Every Halloween, I would walk the neighborhood with each child dressed as a cat, a Ninja Turtle, Lucy, Barbie, a pirate, a monster, a witch, a football player, a fairy, a princess, a vampire, a beggar, a rock star, a ballerina, a lady bug, Little Red Riding Hood. We would make a mad dash around the neighborhood at the stroke of 6 p.m., so we could be back in time to still greet kids and hand out candy at our home.

There is a strange tradition in Iowa that is not practiced by kids in California. The Iowa custom is, in addition to yelling “trick or treat,” each child would have to tell a joke. How jokes came to be part of Iowa’s Halloween tradition always baffled me. There were times when my kids would be more concerned about their jokes than their costume. “What do cows do on Saturday night? … They go to the moooooovies!” is a favorite of mine, along with “Why did the coach go to the bank? To get his quarterback!”

I don’t have to worry about thinking of a joke for my child anymore; nor do I hear them during Halloween. In fact, I no longer walk up and down the neighborhood holding my child’s hand. This year, Snow White will be trick or treating with friends, just as she did last year. I knew this time would come …

I know the day also will come when I will no longer be carving pumpkins. It’s why this year, more than last year, I was more enthusiastic about carving pumpkins. I even took greater pride in decorating my goofy knucklehead, and cherished the moment.

October 25, 2010 Posted by | California, Children, Iowa, Parenting | Leave a comment

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change …

I was eager to post today that my carpet is now dry and tacked back to the floor; my house is back in order; work for the week is virtually completed; my visitors have left; my dear friend who lay in a hospital bed across the miles was putting up a good fight, and I hoped against hope she would pull through. I was looking forward to enjoying a nice, quiet weekend …

Early this morning, I woke up to a text message that Susan passed away a few hours ago. My weekend is now saddened with her loss …

Life gets tougher as we get older – problems get bigger; we have more worries. There are people who disappoint us; and, there are friends who leave us. I guess, all I can say is, in difficult times, we have to have faith and know it is His will and not ours.

Problems have come and gone, and each time, God has answered my prayers. There is one prayer He still doesn’t seem to hear. Each time I have tried to resolve this problem, the door shuts on my face.

One day, I cried out to my mom in desperation and deep frustration, “Why isn’t God listening?? He has always listened up until now!”

Mom answered, “Maybe it is you who is not listening. Maybe He is telling you to leave things up to Him. All in His time; not yours.”

So, I continue to cling to faith. I look back at my life and see a tapestry woven by Him; how, slowly, He has shaped my life to be what it is today.

Someday, I know God will answer my prayer. In the meantime, I need to always remember life is a gift from God; that it is beautiful and precious, and must be lived fully and well. I must remember we are here not merely to exist; that each one of us has a talent we must use to the best of our ability, to make this world a better place. And, in the process, as we accept the joys, we must also accept the setbacks, the frustrations, the conflicts and illnesses. We also must choke back the tears, swallow the disappointments and the sorrows – even the death of our loved ones.

In times of adversity and sorrow, I cling to this prayer:

I will miss you, Tuta. Maybe you can give God a nudge and ask Him to answer my prayer. In the meantime, know that so many of our friends are feeling your loss today. Here’s to you, Susan – remembering the fun times, the laughter and the giggles … Thank you for being a special part of our lives!

Susan Ledesma-Reyes

October 16, 2010 Posted by | Friendship, Religion | Leave a comment

Finding humor in all this madness

It has been a week of madness. Laughter is the best medicine, so please, help me find humor in all that transpired during the week.

My relatives are still in town and there is not much peace and quiet in my home. My poor daughter told me the other day she has hesitated asking me questions because she sees me constantly being interrupted with questions and comments from the relatives.

Then, the other night, I noticed a portion of the living room carpet was wet. It was not till close to midnight when I discovered my neighbor’s hot water heater was leaking on to my living room floor. By morning much of the carpet was soaked, and we had to move the furniture aside. Even if I had called and informed him about the steady leak, my landlord didn’t get there till mid-morning.

“What should I bring?” he asked me, as he was about to head to my place.

“Hello! Can our roles actually be reversed from now on, and can I now collect rent?” I didn’t actually say that, but cynical I was and upset was an understatement. It was a comedy of errors, though at the time, I wasn’t laughing.

It took all day to get estimates which were deemed too high, and it was finally dark when the winner of the bid arrived to fix the problem. The water was turned off the whole day. The landlord tried to turn it back on at around 11 p.m., but the faucet of the main valve was so corroded it broke! Luckily, the plumber was able to rig it and by midnight we had water. The workers and landlord didn’t leave till 1:30 a.m. And me, well, I was left with still very soaked carpet, a laundry basket filled with wet towels, a wet vac (supplied by me!) and my two fans running 24-7 for four days, not to mention a house in disarray.

“What is wrong with this picture?” I muttered to myself in frustration.

In the meantime, there’s still office work I have to do, in between shuttling the relatives to the different sites and shopping centers.

I need to come up for air. Can someone save me, please?!

The carpet is almost dry now, and my relatives are leaving mid-week. I know my house will be back in shape soon; and I know, I will miss my uncle and aunt once they’re gone – even their stories, which they continue to repeat over and over again. My uncle is 81 years old, you see, and boy, do I admire his stamina! No matter the minor irritations, it has been so nice to have them visit.

All week, too, there has been so much sadness in my heart, as I bade goodbye to a very kind man, a family friend and father of my childhood friend. And now, I am preparing to bid yet another childhood friend good-bye …

Dear Susan,

I will always remember your giggles, your squeals in grade school and high school, lunches and playing pelota at your place … You had a quiet, graceful demeanor. Your shrieks never pierced my ears! In fact, I would always giggle when I heard you shriek with delight or horror. Even if we attended different colleges and moved on to different parts of the world and separate lives, you were always one of my special friends.

We all have our special memories of you. I feel so fortunate I was able to visit you and spend that special time with you and your family in Singapore many years ago. I still remember the morning you picked me up at the hotel. Your eyes grew big when you saw me.

“Rosie, are you chewing gum? Quick, spit it out!” you quietly squealed into my ear.

No chewing gum in Singapore; it’s against the law, you informed me. Good grief! No wonder people in the hotel were staring at me. We had a good laugh about that – after I threw the gum in the trash can.

Then you took me shopping, and after, a special dim sum lunch, dinner with Gueli, meeting your little girls … They are so grown up now; so are mine. Where have all the years gone?

You recently reminded me it was at the Holland Village where we found those treasures and our freaky experience with the mix-up of packages! I still have many souvenirs from that day, except for that porcelain elephant whose trunk pointed downward. You were right – that was bad luck, so I sold it at the garage sale I had before I left Iowa!

My heart is heavy and I can’t stop my tears from flowing. I’m so glad we reconnected again on Facebook. And I’m glad the pictures I posted brought you much joy and laughter.

Can I find humor in this, Tuta? Whenever I glance at the batik tapestry we bought at that store, which now hangs splendidly on my dining room wall, and whenever I chew a piece of gum, I will chuckle and think of you and the good times. I’m sure you, too, will chuckle and find some humor in all this. Till we meet again …

October 11, 2010 Posted by | Family, Friendship, Life | Leave a comment

Sunrise, sunset … swiftly fly the years

Nightgown on a curtain rod

Yes, that’s my nightgown hanging from my curtain rod. How did it get there, you ask? Well, I asked my daughter that same question too.

It’s the reason I didn’t stick to my promise of writing something every Friday. That, and the fact that I have company for two weeks. A beloved uncle and aunt are visiting from Denmark. But that’s another story!

So, where do I begin with this story? I guess, I can begin when I walked in on my daughter, who was in my room, frantically getting ready for her Homecoming dance. I opened my door and saw my nightgown hanging on the curtain rod.

“What happened? How the heck did it get there?” I asked, just puzzled.

She mumbled frantically that she wasn’t thinking. That she didn’t have time to explain, just that she needed to block the sun out of the window and tried to move the curtain, the rod fell, so she thought she could use my nightgown to block out the sun. Why not get a stool?

“I didn’t think I had time, Mom! I have to get ready,” she wailed.

So apparently, she piled clothes on a laundry basket, climbed on the basket of clothes, and attempted to hook my nightgown on to the curtain rod and planned to tape it somehow to block the sun out.

“I guess I just wasn’t thinking straight, Mom,” she cried out, and we both burst into a fit of laughter.

This was my little girl, who would hold her Barney tightly (her Barney has traveled all the way to the Philippines with us three times!). She’s my little girl, who would always giggle and laugh to my delight.

Before my eyes, the years flew by, and I was now staring at a young lady, dressed in her oh, so beautiful “fairytale” Homecoming dress, ready to go out on her first date.

Of course, she was nervous; of course, she couldn’t think straight … She was blooming! The guy she liked was picking her up.

To heck with the nightgown hanging on the curtain rod. It could stay there all week, for all I cared! She was happy and I was happy that she was happy.

Then, the doorbell rang, and as I went to answer the door, I could hear her screaming. I chuckled. I’m not so old. I do remember one night, a long, long time ago… I know the feeling…

After we took pictures and she and her date left, accompanied by his mother, I sighed and wondered, where did all the years go? …

And all night long, this song came to mind …

Is this the little girl I carried? Is this the little girl at play?

My girls dyeing Easter eggs at 15 years old and 4 years old

At five years old

At seven years old

At 10 years old

When did she get to be a beauty?

When did she grow to be so tall?

Wasn’t it yesterday when they were small?

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears …

Adapted from Fiddler On the Roof’s “Sunrise, Sunset”

I think this song says it all …

October 4, 2010 Posted by | Children, Parenting | Leave a comment