At ground level

A column about LIFE

Sweet, splendid summer, but no time for blogging

Promises, promises, unfortunately, one I have not been able to keep. Although so many thoughts have raced through my mind, I have not been able to put them down on the computer screen. You see, it really has been a crazy, but sweet and splendid summer. How do I put many wonderful experiences and cherished moments into words? Perhaps pictures can tell the story and written reflections can follow later.

First, my garden
My garden has been thriving. Well, I should say the lettuce and zucchini have. Tomatoes are blighted and I was too busy or unconcerned to deal with them, and now, I see, there are many green tomatoes sprouting that have black spots on the bottom! The peppers are doing all right, though stunted since the tomato plants are gigantic and encroaching on their space.

Boo to the cucumber plants and never again to pole beans. Apparently Boston cucumber plants and I don’t get along and the beans aren’t worth a darn for what I can get them for in the store. They take up too much space and don’t seem to like me either!

It’s the lettuce and zucchini that appear to like me a lot. I’ve been able to harvest the lettuce a number of times, and as for the zucchini, two plants have been enough to feed an army. Almost daily, I’ve been able to pick zucchinis and now find myself looking for friends who would like to take them. We are done eating zucchini for a while.

Zucchinis looking great

Siblings together
For the first time in 18 years since Dad died, my siblings and I found ourselves together in one place. It’s not that we’ve never seen or spoken to each other. It’s just that whenever we have gathered, someone happens to be missing. Well this summer, we all met to celebrate the engagement of our niece, the daughter of my youngest sister. Spurred by the amusing text sent by one of my sisters: “We are all in the country. If we liked each other, we would have a reunion.” LOL! And so we did with, of all people, our mother absent. It’s ok, she got a kick checking out the many pictures we tried to take of the six of us together.

Family together, but still not complete. Six siblings are though. See if you can pick them out!

One off my bucket list
I told my friends, whenever we gather together, all we do is eat and drink. Enough of that! I want some adventure. And so we set out to cross one off my/our bucket list – white water rafting. It’s something I would recommend to anyone wanting a bit of adventure. Thankfully, I sat in the middle of the raft. Had I been assigned the front row seat, I, too, would have fallen off the raft. Fun it was, and another occasion to renew friendships with friends, drawn closer due to proximity and circumstance.

This is one off my bucket list!

Visiting Mom and friends
Since Mom wasn’t able to make it for a visit this year, I decided to take my youngest child and fly across the miles to see her and also, to see my good friends in the Philippines.

Sweet friendships. Just the first of many gatherings with friends.

It’s what the doctor has ordered and seems to agree with me. Even without meds, my bp registered at 120/80. I must be relaxed. Of course, I am! I am “home.” This adventure isn’t over yet! Stay tuned for the next chapter!

July 29, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Let my father’s honours live in me.”

A friend of mine lamented that it’s been five years since her father passed away and she still feels guilty because she had to return to the U.S. after a month’s visit with her sick father and then he died a few days later.

She said, “I packed my stuff to come back home stateside to attend the graduation of my two boys. I assured him the two would be in Manila for the whole summer. The good-byes were quick, since I anticipated I would be back again. Indeed I was – a week later – for his funeral. Until now I have not forgiven myself. The burden of guilt for not being there for him and for my family is eating me. I am the oldest, yet I was not here for them.”

Father’s Day is the one day we set aside to honor our father. Perhaps, in reflecting about our dads, we, whose fathers are no longer with us, carry some guilt and feel we could have done more, shown more affection toward them, shared more of our time and even our possessions …

I think it’s natural to feel this way, but I told her, this is a day when we should actually rejoice, for we are the lucky ones! We were blessed with such wonderful dads, who taught us so much, and they and their teachings remain in our hearts today. I was lucky enough to have had a father who truly loved me and showed it. His was such a selfless love. Not many people are blessed in this way.

My father died very suddenly 18 years ago. It’s like God plucked this special human being from this earth and just like that, he was gone from our lives. My only regret is that we never got a chance to say good-bye and to tell him one last time that we truly and deeply loved him.

Looking back, I now realize his was a beautiful death and God really was being kind and meant to spare our family much pain. Dad didn’t suffer at all. Yes, we hurt, we cried, boy, did we cry, but at least we didn’t have to see Dad suffer for months or years with an illness or disease, like some families have to bear. This way, we remember Dad happy, smiling, vibrant, teasing and joking. We had no regrets for Dad. He lived his life to the fullest, it had meaning, and he did what he wanted to do.

From Dad, we, his six children, learned to work well and work hard. “No matter what you become, even if you are a street sweeper, you need to be the best street sweeper there is,” he would tell us.

Dad built up our self-esteem, and from him we learned to be self-confident. Whether it was giving a speech in class or a talk at some function, or teaching a college course, he would tell us, “Trust in yourself. You know better than the people in the audience. That’s why you are the one up there, so share what you know.”

When we had an idea, he would encourage us to fly with it. “Go for it! You can do it,” he would say. That was Daddy, our number one cheerleader!

From Dad we learned to be kind to others, to be generous and share what we have. “You have to help the people around you because they have nothing and you have so much,” he would constantly tell us. Dad did all these, even if it meant paying less attention to his business. As marriage and youth counselors, he and Mom would make time to speak to parents and children in the schools about God, life, marriage or parenthood. Dad would give the little money he had to a hard-up employee, a classmate of ours who needed money to finish her schooling, a friend of ours who was just short on cash, or a big tip to a waiter.

Dad was kind; he was gentle. Even his spankings were more like pats. He could get angry though, and there were a couple of times when he took out his belt, but never did he strike any of us.

Dad could be consoling, and no matter what, we felt as long as he was around, we were safe. I remember one time in the third grade, so many rumors floated around at school about kidnappings and robberies. I just couldn’t sleep. Dad embraced me and said, “We have Brownie, hija (daughter)! He will never let anyone into our home. You hear him barking? He will bite anyone who comes inside our house. So go to sleep now and don’t worry. He will protect us all.”

From Dad we learned to have courage, no matter what confronted us, and to persevere. Whenever I would return to the States after a visit, his parting words to me would always be, “Be brave, hija, be brave!” I would always wonder why he would tell me to be brave. I’ve been through a lot in my life since then and, somehow, remembering his words has helped pull me through the most difficult trials.

Most of all, from Dad we learned to trust in the Lord and pray. “Pray, pray pray, hija. You are nothing without God,” he would say. And when things got tough, he would tell us, “God will provide.” And God always did.

Since Dad’s death, whenever my siblings and I would each reach a fork on the road, we would wonder what Daddy would have said to us at that time. I miss his advice, but somehow, I have always felt I knew what he would have said. He taught us well, my dad.

What I really miss is Dad’s warm embrace. Our last took place when I was leaving for the airport to return to the U.S., after Mom and Dad’s 40th wedding celebration in the Philippines. That was a few months before Dad died. Dad hugged me tight in the rain and said, “Take care, hija, be brave, and pray.”

My fifth grade English teacher sent this message to all her students this morning. It is so appropriate. On this day and every day, I pray:

My dad, as I remember him.

“Let my father’s honours live in me.”  – William Shakespeare

June 19, 2011 Posted by | Children, Family, Life, Parenting, Religion | , , | Leave a comment

First crop

My first crop from my garden.

I was so excited yesterday. In between my busy schedule I harvested the first crop from my raised garden. I decided to snip my lettuce right away before the bugs and squirrels sensed there was something edible there to eat. Then, after washing it well, I made my favorite – wilted lettuce salad.

There is a story behind my wilted lettuce salad. The first time I tasted this particular kind of salad was at the home of my in-laws the first year I was married. It was my then husband’s favorite, so like a good wife, I attempted to make it when we harvested our crop from our own garden.

Since I was only familiar with iceberg lettuce salad and bottled dressing, I wasn’t real sure how to make this wilted lettuce salad dressing. There was no Internet then, and my mother-in-law didn’t really have a recipe that I could follow to the letter. I was just supposed to eyeball it, she said. The proportion of bacon and the blend of oil, vinegar, water and sugar depended on the amount of lettuce we wanted to have for our meal. That amount would vary from one huge 32-cup Tupperware bowlful of lettuce to a couple of pints more or less.

I tried multiple times to get the mixture right, but would always fail. Each time I failed, the other half would chastise me. Finally, at the dinner table one summer day, hot, tired, angry, exasperated and feeling like my efforts were never appreciated, I pushed the gallon bowl filled with soggy lettuce swimming in oil toward him and sternly said, “Eat it!” He knew I meant business. He didn’t say a word and dutifully ate every bit of it.

Eventually, I was able to perfect the dressing, with the combination of oil, vinegar, water and sugar proportionate to the amount of lettuce I served. Years later, we would recall that time and chuckle. It was one of the times I appreciated his obliging me and eating that awful concoction I had made. Now that I know better, I wouldn’t wish that moment on anyone!

Last night, my warm mixture of oil, vinegar, water and sugar was perfect the first time around. Topped with bacon bits, the salad was delicious. Even my sister, who is visiting from the Philippines, was impressed. We had enough for a couple of generous servings – just right to start off a good meal.

After yesterday’s rain, I see that my lettuce has sprouted up once more. We may be able to have more salad in a few days!

Wilted lettuce salad, topped with bacon bits and perfect the first time around!

June 5, 2011 Posted by | Life | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Playing the piano evokes a moment “when I feel that speech is nothing after all”

It was a proud moment for me when I listened to my daughter play “Für Elise” this morning. It was just her second piano recital, and she performed even better than the first time.

I’ve always liked “Für Elise” by Ludwig van Beethoven. It’s a simple piece which I remember playing when I started piano lessons decades ago. The short, romantic piece evokes much emotion for which Beethoven’s pieces are well known.

The story behind this musical composition is clouded in mystery. There’s been much speculation about for whom he wrote the piece. The English translation is “For Elise,” though historians say there appears to have been no one in his life named Elise at the time he composed the piece. Some say his handwriting was misread and it actually meant “For Therese,” a woman with whom he was deeply in love at the time and whom he intended to marry, but it never happened. In any case, it’s a pretty piece and when one listens to it. It can’t help but stir our emotions because it’s so moving and beautiful.

As I listened to the little more than a minute-long rendition, I was glad I bought my piano and happy that my daughter likes playing it. It takes up much space in our living room, but the melodies from this instrument can be quite entertaining and many times, even soothing.

It pained me that I had to leave behind my beautiful piano when I moved to California. Not having it around made me feel like our home was incomplete. Then, when I considered purchasing a new one last year, I worried where I would put my Christmas tree because the piano would take so much room. A friend told me, “The piano will make you happy all year long. You can worry about the Christmas tree in December.”

So I bought the piano, and it all worked out in the end. Like the miracle of the five loaves and two fish, somehow, there was more than enough space. I managed to fit everything nicely – the piano, the Christmas tree, and even a new treadmill – all in the same room!

Having a piano warms my heart. Sometimes, I’m afraid to sit down by the piano because once I do, I find myself playing the instrument till the wee hours of the morning. I would never get anything else done. Like writing and reading a book, it transports me to another place and calms me. When playing the piano, I get to soak in the loveliness and pure beauty of music, and I feel much like Beethoven wrote in one of his love letters:

“My heart is full of many things… there are moments when I feel that speech is nothing after all.”

I’m glad my mother made me take lessons. I think my daughter is beginning to feel the same way.

June 4, 2011 Posted by | Family, Parenting | , , | 2 Comments

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

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