At ground level

A column about LIFE

Holy Week, a time of reflection and renewal

Holy Week always meant a time of reflection, a time of renewal, when I was a child growing up in Manila. Businesses closed, and so did the schools. Television and radio stations would broadcast religious shows. That’s the time I watched movies like “The Ten Commandments,” “The Passion of Christ,” “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” “A Man for All Seasons.”

On Maundy Thursday, which marks the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles, our family followed the tradition of Bisita Iglesia, visiting seven churches. I was always excited to do this. Maybe it was because when we were half way done visiting the churches, Dad would always stop by the popcorn and kropeck (shrimp crackers) stands outside the churches and buy us green and pink candy popcorn as a treat. Sometimes, on the way home, we would pass by a balut (duck egg) stand and take some home.

Or, maybe it was because each year, we would try to visit a church we had never been to. It was easy to find a new church in Manila. After all, they say there are over 600,000 churches and about 20 million chapels in the Philippines! In the new church we would kneel and recite three Our Fathers, three Hail Marys, three Glory Be’s, and then make three wishes. I don’t remember if my wishes ever came true, I just liked the tradition and have even passed it on to my children.

On Good Friday we prayed the rosary at 3 p.m. because historians believe Christ died at that time. On Black Saturday we stayed home and, later in the evening, we attended Easter Vigil and had a nice dinner after mass.

In the U.S., reflection time during Holy Week is observed in church. It seems renewal is observed by giving alms, or “giving up” something for Lent  – candy, chocolates, special food, alcohol, or not eating meat on Fridays. Outside the confines of the church, life goes on as usual. The big celebration for many with families is the Easter bunny and the Easter egg hunt. In some places, it’s a community-wide event.

I have attended many Easter egg hunts with my children. The Easter bunny would come to our house every year, too. For the longest time, my oldest daughter even swore she saw the Easter bunny cross the street in the wee hours of the morning! Some years, I would get so caught up in the festive side of Easter and would just observe Holy Week in a very minimal way.

This Easter I will once again cook lamb for my family, and we will have ham, too, and a variety of salads and pies. But, more than ever, this year, I want to continue my reflection, and hope to experience a sense of renewal.

A friend of mine posted this Lenten message on her Facebook page this week:

To those to whom I have done wrong, I ask for forgiveness.
To those I have helped, I wish I did more.
To those I neglected to help, I ask for understanding …
And to those who have helped me, I sincerely thank you.

Have a renewing and meaningful Holy Week(end), and a blessed Easter!

April 22, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Full circle, living off the land – maybe

Thirty years ago, I lived on an Iowa farm. I was a city girl from another country, so the environment and lifestyle were new to me. One of the things I learned there is at the heart of rural life is the garden.

Mind you, I do not have a green thumb. In fact, my children tell me I have a “purple thumb.” Despite this fact, gardening I did, together with my now ex-husband.

We planted tomatoes, green beans, green peppers, red peppers, banana peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, carrots, eggplant, peas, rhubarb, beets, zucchini and onions. The garden thrived. That’s the beauty of Iowa soil. It is so rich that anyone, even a “purple thumb” like myself, can grow anything in that fertile soil.

My first garden on the farm.

Gardening was challenging for me. I hated the weeding. I was in awe at the bountiful crop, but the novelty soon wore off. I worked part-time as a writer for the county newspaper then, yet it seemed like my real job was to put the produce from the land to good use. With the apples on the farm I baked and froze pies. Then I learned to can applesauce, and did the same for the vegetables from my garden.

The tomatoes just kept coming. I canned whole tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, salsa, and even my very own ketchup. I canned green beans, beets and froze the peas. I canned sweet pickles, dill pickles and pickle relish. I canned peaches. I even made jam and apple butter. I was a busy farm wife.

At the time, I didn’t much appreciate what I did. Gardening and canning seemed such a chore. There were many nights when I stayed up canning and sweating in a hot, steam-filled kitchen. We had to put everything to good use, my husband would continually remind me. He didn’t know that when the crop became overwhelming for me, I would sneak to the barn and feed the tomatoes and zucchinis (they kept coming too) to the hogs!

I can still remember cursing when I made my first batch of ketchup. I stirred the mixture for what seemed like hours, waiting for it to thicken. It splattered all over the kitchen – on my face, on my clothes, on my stove, on the walls, on the ceiling. I was exasperated! “Wouldn’t it be much easier and cheaper to just buy a bottle of ketchup for 70 cents (back then) at the store?” I wailed.

Yet, I have to admit, my ketchup tasted better than the store’s. So did my tomato sauce, my salsa, my pickles, my applesauce and peaches. They looked oh, so beautiful too, all lined up neatly on my shelves.

That was many, many, moons ago … I now live in Silicon Valley. What could be more metropolitan than this place, far away from farm land. It’s just a hop and a skip to the store, where I can buy all kinds of vegetables and fruits. So why do I find myself yearning for the produce that comes straight from the land?

At the store, they now call these fruits and vegetables “organic” and they are expensive. I have to chuckle at the irony of it all. I had all that a long time ago, and didn’t even appreciate it!

Last year, I planted a flower garden, and the year before, I even sodded my lawn. Alas, the Bay Area’s moles and gophers took over my lawn, and the voles devoured my beautiful flowers. I finally gave up.

Lately, I’ve become more determined. I want to have my own vegetable garden. If I want to beat those rodents, I will have to build a raised garden. So yesterday, I bought this kit with precut cedar wood and screws. I have a power drill; I just have to figure out how to use it. Once it’s completed, I want to plant tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, green and red peppers and, eventually, who knows? Perhaps, I will start canning again …

Little did I know when I cursed at that first batch of ketchup, years later, everything would turn full circle for me, and that I would miss those days on the farm, and attempt to go back any way I could – even if it means constructing a raised garden in the city.

The verdict is still out … Remember, I still have that “purple thumb.” I’ll let you know how this project progresses.

April 15, 2011 Posted by | Iowa | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Friendship and Apple Pie

Friends gathered again at my home this past Monday. It was a workday, but I didn’t mind. We were planning to just meet at a restaurant and have dinner, but one of them suggested my place. She said she liked my place a lot because it is “so cozy.”

With that said, how could I turn them down? I love having friends over! So on Sunday, I made apple pie – it’s actually an apple galette that I make these days. I call it a “lazy man’s apple pie.” It’s become my signature dessert, along with my strawberry pie. (I had just made six galettes a couple of weeks ago for my brother in-law’s 50th birthday celebration!)

As I peeled and sliced the apples for two pies, I thought about the first time I made pie in a farm in the Midwest. Back then I even made my pie crust from scratch. Oh, was it ever so good – better than any crust you can buy in the store today. “Never Fail Pie Crust,” my recipe is called. Indeed, it never failed me. Since then I have made hundreds of apple pies. We had several apple trees on the farm, so in the Fall, we would make dozens, freeze them, and take them out in the winter and bake them. Warm apple pie was always a delicious treat on a cold winter day when family or friends would gather in our home.

As I mixed the flour, sugar and cinnamon for the filling, I looked around my kitchen and wished it was larger. I missed my house in the Midwest. It was much, much larger than the box I live in now. When friends gathered, we had more space – a dining room, a large kitchen with signature appliances, a large deck, a family room. I missed my three-season porch! I imagined gathering there with my friends, or hanging out in our basement, which was fully finished, with yet another family room, ping-pong and billiards and another bathroom.

As I plopped the apple mixture on the crust and sprinkled streusel on top of the mixture, a feeling of inadequacy came over me. When guests come to my house we have to squeeze in the dining-living area and make do with only one tiny, old bathroom, no air-conditioner on hot days, and a very weak furnace on cold days.

As I placed the pies in the oven and washed the dishes while they baked, I fretted about not having a dishwasher and how my guests often have to help me wash the dishes.

The next day, I welcomed six friends into my home. We had an array of food – Thai pad thai, chicken satay, pineapple fried rice, curry, shrimp cocktail, even two kinds of special chicken adobo, stir fry shrimp and vegetables, a friend’s signature mango bars, and my apple and strawberry pies. The evening was dominated by so much laughter and constant shrieks. Our very loud voices filled the air. I was half expecting the neighbor at the back to knock on the door and complain, like he did when we had a similar gathering last summer and were up till 2:30 in the morning!

As I observed the laughter and the enjoyment on my friends’ faces, I realized all the things I fretted about my place didn’t matter to my friends. They really liked coming to my house, even if it is a box and just has one bathroom.

At 12:30 a.m., reluctantly, I announced that I had to shoo them away. They needed to go home since two of us had work the next day and one still had to take a couple of them home and head all the way to Benicia!

The next day they e-mailed their thanks. One friend wrote: “Rose, the ‘Grand Central station’ & hostess w/ the mostest.” I was touched.

A couple of them had these kind words to say:

“… Your place is very nice and relaxing to hang out.”

“Love your place because it’s cozy. We can all sit around your table and walang sagabal (no impediment)! And your bathroom does the job for what we need…huwag lang sabay-sabay (just as long as we don’t need to use it at the same time)! Lol!”

It really doesn’t matter how small or big your place is, as long as friends find it inviting and a comfortable place to hang out. True friends don’t care about the trimmings, especially at this age when all of us have gone through the wringer of life and realize what is important and what is not.

And the apple pies? All gone. The few pieces left were taken home in a container for someone’s lunch the next day, or for a spouse to taste.

True friendship and apple pie. It is a good combination. Of course, we had wine, too!

April 8, 2011 Posted by | Friendship, Life | | Leave a comment

Happy Spring!

Yes, I know. It has been months since I have written in this blog. “Too busy,” I shrug off an answer when my friends ask me why. The truth is, sometimes, life slaps you down so hard it takes some time to get up. It’s happened before, and always, I managed to get up, though barely. This time, it took a toll on me, and even writing was no longer a safe harbor.

The tragic news came on Thanksgiving Day, right after we had enjoyed a great meal, a wonderful Thanksgiving with family. I look back now and realize God was still kind. When I received the news, He made sure I was surrounded and comforted by family. If a big storm had to hit me, I was in good company.

It’s taken months to get back on my feet. Some days I would even wonder how long I could keep it all together. Since then, Christmas has passed, we greeted a new year, and now, it is spring. Friends have visited, I’ve attended celebrations, loved ones have passed on and I have managed to continue to bury myself in my work and dote on my loved ones. I am grateful for the friends who know and who are brave enough to ask me how I am. Sometimes I can talk about it; other times, I just can’t. But they ask anyway, and it’s nice to know they care.

I know that no family in this world goes through life unscathed. Rich or poor, we have all had our share of problems. For years I have wondered, can anyone have a problem as unbearable as mine? For it’s a problem that won’t go away for many years, if at all.

The past months I’ve come to fully accept and also realize that things could be worse. I have friends who have close relatives who have “disappeared” and have found no closure; then there are those with a son or daughter in the military, stationed in the Middle East, and each day, they worry whether they will ever see their child again. Then there’s the tragedy in Japan, watching your family being swept away by the tsunami. There are those caring for relatives with debilitating sicknesses. Yes, no one goes through life unscathed.

In the past months I’ve also learned to compartmentalize my worries and try to dismiss the needless anxieties – to accept the things I cannot change and not dwell on them so much that it brings me (and the ones I love) down. And not to worry too much about the future. As my dad used to say, “God will provide.”

Just the other day I came across one of the columns my parents wrote in a weekly Philippine magazine. They related the story of some blind beggars in an Italian town. A man observed that one blind man seemed to be receiving more money than the others. Curious, the man approached the blind man and saw a small sign hanging across his chest. On it were written the words: “It is April, and I am blind!”

With April here, I think about this story and open my eyes to everything I didn’t see because I was dwelling on my sorrows. That radiant sun, the beautiful sky and stars aglow, the glorious sunset, the flowers that are now starting to bloom. I think of my very favorite Bible verses  in Matthew 6:26-34. These words calm me:

26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,

29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’

32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

His message is clear, isn’t it? May God protect me from needless anxiety. Keep me strong and let me continue to have faith. If God takes care of the trees, the flowers and birds, what more you and I, right?

It is April. The storm has passed for now and the sun is shining. Happy Spring!

April 1, 2011 Posted by | Children, Family, Friendship, Life, Philippines, Religion, Writing | , , | Leave a comment