At ground level

A column about LIFE

Tending my garden one day at a time

Tomato plants on the left, then my now sickly looking pepper plants, and then lettuce in the middle. To the right front are beans and then another cucumber plant.

It’s not even June yet and it’s already a busy time for me. More visits from friends and family, weekend outings and long trips are in store for us this summer. I’ve been tending my garden though, despite my busy schedule. Here are pictures of my vegetable plants at five weeks. I’m especially excited that my lettuce is up. I’ve been hungry for wilted lettuce salad!

I’m worried about my pepper plants, though. They were the most hearty plants in the beginning, but now their leaves have holes, and whatever is attacking them has stunted their growth. I’ve checked the plants, but can’t seem to find the culprit. I may have to plant new ones if I can find the time.

Then there appears to be a problem with my tomato plants. The tips of the leaves are turning black. So far, I haven’t stumbled on a definite answer or solution to the problem. Some sites I’ve googled say it could be a fungus, while other sites say it could be from too much watering. I sure hope it’s the latter, because I’m not in the mood to race to the store and meander through the aisles in search of the best fungus killing spray.

Despite having had a garden decades ago, I still consider myself a novice. I wish I had paid more attention back then. Clearly, I am not sure I know what I’m doing with these plants! In any case, I think I may have to thin them out. I also think it’s time I staked the tomatoes and the beans!

We threw a few bean seeds on the ground of my now defunct flowerbed and they were growing quite well until the rabbits ate them. Aside from moles, gophers and voles, we now have a family of rabbits that like to squeeze in between the fence slats and hop along my yard. They appear to be having a heyday at my expense!

I’ve come to the conclusion that planting a raised garden was, indeed, the best option for me. I’m told, though, that even a raised garden on legs is not full proof protection for my plants; that soon, I will have to contend with the birds and perhaps, the squirrels, that right now appear content to run along the top of my fence, the old telephone lines and the neighbors’ trees.

I guess I’m just going to have to take this gardening business one day at a time and see how this story ends.

The zucchini plants (back) are thriving the most. Right front is another cucumber plant. In the middle are beans.

May 30, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

As my daughter turns 16, is it time to let go? – Part 2

There is an episode on the television show “Parenthood” that’s endearing to me. It’s the episode where Haddie begs Adam, her dad, to take her practice driving. He’s surprised, because he thought mom Cristina had been doing just that the last few weeks. Well, it turns out Cristina and Haddie had just been sitting in the car the whole time, while Cristina lectured. Cristina hadn’t allowed Haddie to get behind the wheel. When Adam confronts Cristina and asks why, she repeatedly replies, “She’s not ready yet.”

I can relate so well to this episode. You see, I’ve used every excuse possible to postpone this chapter. My daughter will turn 16 in August and, for the past months, I have been stalling. I told her she couldn’t even think of learning to drive until her grades improved. When they did, I said I was too busy to even consider it.

Finally, I could no longer postpone the inevitable. I got her the DMV handbook, so she could study. She took the online course, passed, and a couple of days later, her certificate arrived in the mail. On Wednesday, we went to the DMV office. She passed the vision exam, then took her permit test and passed. Tomorrow, the instructor is coming over for her first behind-the-wheel lesson.

Where have the years gone? It seems like yesterday, when I wrote that column about the time I dreaded buying my oldest daughter her first car. She is now 27 years old, married, and just bought her very first brand new car. Three years later, my son followed in her footsteps. Now, it’s their sister’s turn. She is the last, the youngest of my three children. My baby!

C’mon, she was just riding her push and ride racer and that Little Tikes Cozy Coupe not too long ago. It’s not fair that the years have gone by so quickly!

The other reason I’m dreading this is I never taught my children how to drive. In Iowa, the schools still have driver’s education as part of the high school curriculum. On weekends, their father taught them, so I was saved from the torment. When I finally rode with them behind the wheel, they were experienced drivers, and yes, like many mothers, I loved sending them to the store for milk and other items. We didn’t just skate through those times, though. They had their own share of fender benders, but thankfully, no major accident.

I’m having a harder time letting go of this one. She is my baby. We now live in the Bay Area and it can be dangerous driving here. Also, I am now a single parent and feel solely responsible for her safety.

When she visits her father in Iowa this summer, he promised he would teach her, too. But that’s in Iowa. There are fewer cars in Iowa. There are no pedestrians in Iowa. Merging on the freeway in Iowa is not the nightmare that it can be here, in the Bay Area.

When I spoke to the driving instructor last night, I asked him why is it that the California DMV only requires six hours of professional driver training. She needs more hours, I told him. If I had my way (and more money), I would pay for a year’s worth of professional driver training. He pointed out that in addition to the six-hour driving course, she is supposed to have 50 hours of behind-the-wheel experience with an adult, like a family member.

“A family member? You mean, me? … I just can’t!” I shrieked.

The instructor chuckled and said, “Let’s see how it goes on Saturday after I evaluate her.”

Thank goodness California law still requires her to have her permit for six months before she can take the driving test and get her driver license. And until she turns 18, she will have provisional restrictions.

The last of all the toys have been packed away for quite a while. This is my millennial child, who runs with earphones attached to her iPod and would rather text a friend than talk on the phone. I still cannot understand the music that blares from here iHome, and yes, like her siblings before her, she no longer calls me “Mommy.”  Like them, she, too, has grown up and is about to enter a milestone in her life.

I’d like to wail, “She’s not ready yet!!!”

Let’s see how tomorrow goes …

May 13, 2011 Posted by | California, Children, Family, Iowa, Life, Parenting | | Leave a comment

As my daughter turns 16, is it time to let go? – Part 1

I wrote the column below 11 years ago, when my oldest daughter turned 16 years old and received her first car. I think it works well as a prelude to my next blog post:

My oldest daughter will turn 16 years old in a couple of days. After much resistance on my part, I finally relented and we bought her a used compact car. My husband tells me, “It’s the American way.” I never had the experience in my country. Most teen-agers don’t get a car when they turn 16 in the Philippines.

I took a survey among my friends and neighbors, and everyone told me they did, indeed, get a car when they turned 16. It may not have been a new car, but it had wheels and it took them places. Everyone said their first car was the most memorable. My husband still reminisces about the days when he drove his ’62 Ford Fairlane. “It was a very reliable car and got me through a lot of hard times!” he still says with nostalgia.

Another friend fondly remembered his Ford Tempo. Still another recalled the beat up station wagon which she hated, until she realized she could pile all her friends into her car.

Many mothers have told me I’ll actually be glad when Rina turns 16 and can drive, because I will now have an errand girl and life will be simpler – no more rides here and there. In fact, she will be able to give her siblings rides and I will be “free.” I’m not sure I like the sound of that, because this also means SHE will be free. Maybe this is what I am actually resisting – the coming of age, entering another chapter, this “rite of passage.”

It’s difficult for a parent to let go, especially for the first time. It seems like just yesterday when she was three and she and I were at the Hy-Vee Food Store. We had passed the cereal aisle, and with a twinkle in her eye, in a loud voice for all the world to hear, she said, “You’re going to get me cereal, right Mommy? Not dog food!”

Then, when she was five, there was the case of the traveling caterpillar. I had noticed her socks and underwear stashed in one corner of her room. “What’s all your stuff doing there?” I asked her. She mumbled something about “making a place for my caterpillar to sleep in.”

Then she explained, “When I rode my bike the other day, you know, I found this caterpillar on the road, so I took it home for a pet. Well, Mommy, I had to keep my caterpillar warm. Only it died.”

Trying to appear calm, I asked, “Where is it now?”

“I put it in my wastebasket, but I think it went for a walk,” she answered.

Inside the trash can I found some papers and grass that apparently came with this caterpillar; but, no caterpillar. I never did find the caterpillar in the house.

That crisis seems so trivial now compared to what’s ahead of me, for really, parents never stop worrying about their children. People are right when they advise others with young children to “enjoy that time,” because the worries do get bigger. Potty training is a cinch compared to worrying whether my daughter will get into an accident tomorrow. But as my other half has said, “She will have to drive sooner or later, and whether she’s 16, 18 or 21, you will still worry.”

Her Barbie dolls are packed away; the boom box is playing loud music I cannot understand; the tap dance shoes have been replaced with a tennis racket and a telephone; and teen-age boys and girls now frequent our home. I am no longer “Mommy”; I am now “Mom,” or called “Mother!” in that very impatient tone. It brings back memories of me and Mom, and those oh, so very turbulent teen-age years!

I know from my own experience that this, too, shall pass, but I tend to agree with my husband. After he bought Rina the car and headed for the airport on a business trip, he muttered, “Oh, how I wish she was three again and we were still going to her grandma’s farm for eggs on Saturday morning!”

My sentiments exactly!

May 13, 2011 Posted by | Children, Life, Parenting | | Leave a comment

A tribute to my mom

Mom in her youth

I wrote a column similar to the one I’m writing now as a tribute to my mom 10 years ago. There’s not much I can add to it, other than the fact that my mother, Anita Meily, is now 84 years old, and she continues to amaze me!

I tease Mom that her social life is busier than mine. Sometimes, she is so busy she doesn’t even have time to talk to me on the phone. “I can’t talk long, I’ve got to go somewhere pretty soon,” she has told me more than once when I would call. I am so glad she continues to live a full life. She is a model of wisdom, strength and fortitude.

When Dad died suddenly 18 years ago, Mom was devastated and didn’t want to continue living. Dad and Mom were an inseparable couple. Their marriage had reached a level few couples ever attain. Eventually, she picked up the pieces and moved forward, with courage, grace, and lots of prayers. She continued their work of counseling engaged and married couples and teens, and giving talks to schools and organizations. With much encouragement from us, she continued writing their weekly column in the Panorama, a Sunday magazine in the Philippines, changing the column’s name from “Husband and Wife Speak,” to “And Life Goes On.”

One time she told me, “When your dad died, I felt like a baby learning to walk again. It was hard to act independently about matters which I had always dealt jointly with your dad.”

I can’t imagine Mom being “helpless.” Mom has always been the rock of our family. When Mom was sick, a certain sadness engulfed our home. Things just didn’t seem right when Mom didn’t feel well.

Mom and I didn’t always get along. In fact, during my teen-age years, we were constantly at odds with each other. Once married, our relationship grew. Being a wife and a mother, I often experienced what she had experienced and felt what she felt.

When I think of Mom, the many sweet childhood memories come to mind – the weekend family outings, the birthday parties, the serious talks, and even the stern warnings. Mom always appeased a visit to the dentist with a trip to a coffee shop for my favorite chicken pie and a Coke afterward. She taught me to make pancakes from scratch, leche flan, chocolate cake, corn soup, beef tenderloin, shrimp creole and her other signature pastries and dishes.

I cried for Mom on the first day of nursery school and I cried with Mom when Dad passed away. I remember her stern look whenever I did something wrong, but I will always cherish the time I was so touched when, instead of scolding me, she gently asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee when I had my first hangover. She knew when to pull the reins and when to let go…

There was a time she held my hand and that of my siblings as we walked through the marketplace. These days, we hold her hand and lead her around the mall. There was a time she brought us treats from the grocery store. These days, we bring her sweets and treat her out to dinner. There was a time when she would dress us up in our party dresses. These days, we buy her dresses she likes.

Her words of advice continue to ring in my ears after all these years. In my teen-age years: If he really loves you he will call. Always keep a conversation going, even if you have to talk about the weather. Don’t come home too late. Be true to yourself. When I lived in the Midwest and became a wife and a mother: Stay warm. Your husband comes first before us. Enjoy your kids; they won’t be kids for long. You can always regain your career, but you can never regain your children’s early years. And always: Don’t work too hard. Be sure to get enough rest. Take care of yourself. Pray, pray, pray.

Words seem inadequate to thank Mom for all she has done – for giving me the skills to fight my battles; for applauding my efforts and supporting each of my zany ventures; for being my guide. She has taught me to live life and to take failure in stride, to continue to have faith amid heartache and desperation. I hope I have been able to be as good a mother to my children as my mom has been to me.

I look forward to more outings and quiet talks with Mom. I look forward to growing old and wise like her. I love you, Mom!

Mom with her six children

My mommy today

May 8, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment

Fairy tales and tending my garden

The last few days have seen much coverage of the royal wedding. Many, including myself, stayed up through the wee hours of the morning to watch the special event. There were others, like the woman I saw at the craft store, who, in my opinion, got a bit carried away and bought wedding accessories for a royal wedding get-together with friends in front of her television!

Some people scoff at all the fanfare, but I am one of those who believe the occasion is truly one for celebration. As young girls, we grow up with fairy tales, from Cinderella, Snow White to Sleeping Beauty. Always, in these fairy tales, the girl ends up with her Prince Charming, she becomes a princess, and we assume they live happily ever after. What these fairy tales seem to leave out is it takes a lot of hard work to live happily ever after and, sometimes, it just doesn’t turn out that way.

For me, the royal wedding symbolized a renewed hope that true love still exists, a confirmation of marriage, and best wishes for the happy couple, that they can, indeed, live happily ever after.

As I watched the ceremony unfold, Shakespeare’s words “To thine own self be true,” echoed in my mind. Unlike the marriage of his parents and many people in this world, it was obvious as William and his bride entered into the Sacrament of Marriage, that they were being true to themselves, devoid of pretenses, truthful and transparent with each other.

I, like many people, entered marriage with high hopes and the belief that we, too, would live happily ever after. It didn’t turn out that way. I still have to meet that someone who is devoid of pretenses and can be transparent with me, and who adheres to those same words:

“This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Marriage is like planting a garden. It needs to be watered, tended and cared for. Relationships can’t continue on an even keel and be expected to succeed. Hopefully, the royal couple will “tend to their garden.”

This brings me, literally, to the subject of my raised garden. How does my garden grow? So far, so good … It took several days, but finally, it is done, thanks to my brother-in-law, who is the one member of our family with a truly green thumb, and my nephews, who gathered here on Easter Sunday and lent him a hand.

When I enlisted his help to assemble the kit I bought and drill screws into the pre-cut cedar, my brother-in-law shook his head and said, “Take it back. This is too much money for what you are getting. I’ll build you a better one.”

So off to the hardware store we went. It was an ambitious project, but we – rather, he – got it done in a few days, with redwood, bolts and screws, a table saw and handy drill – a 4×8 garden box with legs. Then we carried tons of garden and special organic soil, chicken manure and perlite into my yard, donned gloves and proceeded to mix this, his “sure-fire formula.”

As we mixed everything in the box, my brother-in-law turned to me and said, “Can you feel it? Isn’t it so warm? That’s the manure.”

The distinctive pungent aroma reminded me of the farm, but I had to chuckle, for even in the farm, never did I mix manure by hand!

“Ugh, this is disgusting,” I muttered.

“I promise you, you will be able to grow anything in this mixture,” he assured me.

My garden is now lined with tomato and pepper plants, a row of lettuce, a couple of cucumber plants and zucchini. I even threw in some beans for good measure. Let’s see what grows …

Garden fever must be upon us. Yesterday, my daughter and I got more of that soil and planted some orange and red zinnias and pink and purple begonias. They look so pretty by my yellow and pink roses and lavender bougainvilleas, which are now in full bloom, and thankfully, still untouched by those dreadful rodents.

“Just make sure you water the plants every day, or all that hard work will go to waste!” my brother-in-law reminded me when he left.

Yes, I need to tend my garden, just as the royal couple now needs to tend theirs. Time will tell …

As my father would say, “That’s not the end of the story yet!”

I do hope both have a happy ending!

My raised garden

May 1, 2011 Posted by | Family, Life | , , , , , | Leave a comment