At ground level

A column about LIFE

I am an Apple lover; how can you not be?

I am an Apple lover. I have always loved Apple computers, even before I knew who Steve Jobs was. Beginning with an Apple IIc computer, which we purchased while still living on the farm, I have been through many Apple/Macintosh computers and loved every single one of them – the Macintosh Performa, and then the iMacG3, the iMac, the iBook, the PowerBook, the MacBook Pro.

Yes, some may call me a Mac junkie, with one desktop computer and three laptops in tow. Unfortunately, I had to stop with the Pro. I am a single mother now, and cannot afford to keep up with the latest, like I used to. I did purchase the first iPhone. $250 was a lot of money for me to spend on a cell phone, but luckily I was given a raise at about the same time, so I finally rewarded myself with the iPhone.

Since I bought my iPhone in 2007, I have fought the urge to upgrade and even buy myself an iPad2. It’s been difficult, almost like Eve being tempted to eat the Apple – pun intended. Some may think it was stupid of me not to upgrade my first generation iPhone, but there were times it was a question of having just $20 on a weekend and having to choose whether to spend it at the store or relinquish it to my daughter, so she could watch a movie with her friends.

Like many people, I was a bit disappointed when Tim Cook unveiled the iPhone 4S. I, too, was hoping he would announce the iPhone 5. But it’s okay; I will succumb this time and I will be one of the thousands in line for the iPhone 4S.

The one thing that always irritated me about Macs was their exclusivity, which meant they were pricey, too pricey for the average earner. Even the computer games for my kids were too pricey and few. I often wished they were priced like PCs. My kids complained. All their friends had such neat computer games; we didn’t have many.

Yet I have always continued to love the Mac. It is simple, neat, easy and friendly. I found the IBM so intimidating; same with Dell and other PCs – too formal, too cold. My decades of work with newspapers and even teaching, jibed so well with the Mac. As the Mac grew more sophisticated, so did I, I felt.

The giant behind Apple has left us. I didn’t realize how hard the news of his death would hit me until I learned about it at around 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, a day after the iPhone 4S was unveiled. I imagine he was just waiting until that project and announcement was completed, and then felt he could, indeed, rest in peace.

It was only when I came to live in Cupertino that I got to know Steve Jobs, though not personally. If you live in Silicon Valley and work just a stone’s throw away from Apple’s headquarters, you are bound to learn about Steve Jobs. His leaving this world has left many of us with a hollow, heavy heart. Jobs is, and always will be, a legend of our time.

The text from his speech to Stanford’s graduating students in 2005 is very telling about this great man. Here are excerpts, lessons which I, and everyone, should take to heart:

… Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

… I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

… Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

… Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

He is/was so right!

Thank you, Steve Jobs, for all my Macs and my iPhone. Each time I use them, I will remember you and feel good. And yes, I will make sure I follow my heart!

October 8, 2011 Posted by | California | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grape Jelly 101

It’s hard to believe I’m back to square one, a novice at making jelly. It’s even harder to believe that I wanted to go back to making jelly in the first place. When I saw my grape vine’s bountiful crop, I just couldn’t resist.

A bountiful grape harvest

I was in awe at the grapes that draped this gigantic vine yesterday morning, considering I had hardly watered the vine this summer and the only tending I ever did was to cut the vine down to size to prevent it from crawling up to our windows and on to the roof. I instinctively grabbed a container and began picking the grapes off the vine. A little more than five pounds of grapes filled my container.

I don’t know who planted this grape vine. Even my landlord was surprised to learn he had this grape vine in his yard. It has yielded many grapes since I’ve lived here, but this time, the grapes were overflowing. I’m not even sure what variety of grapes they are. I do know they’re edible and safe to eat. They’re smaller than the ones you buy at the store, not as sweet, and leave a tangy taste in your mouth. I’m guessing they’re wild California grapes.

Then came the dilemma … now that I picked all these grapes, what could I do with them, I wondered. Do I make grape pie or jelly? I yearned for pie, which can taste so delicious, but I’ve only made pie with Concord grapes. These grapes are smaller than Concord grapes, the seeds would be a problem, and I no longer had my sieve. So I set out to make jelly, instead.

It’s been years since I’ve made jelly. I often made apple and plum jelly many years ago, but I have never made grape jelly, especially wild grape jelly. So, today, Google was my friend. I came across a few recipes and timidly set out to try one that received great reviews. After two trips to the store – first for small plastic containers, and then later, when I realized I would actually have enough for several pints of jelly, I went back for the whole shebang – a box of half pint jars with lids and rings, cheesecloth, pectin, and even paraffin.

I spent the afternoon stemming the grapes and washing them, but when I was ready to start making the jelly, I realized I had forgotten the technique. Which came first – sterilizing the jars, lids and rings, melting the paraffin, or boiling the mixture? The recipes never tell you everything, and I couldn’t recall the procedure which, at one time, I used to carry out so flawlessly. Without a dishwasher to help me sterilize the jars, this project became even more challenging. Then came a flashback of my first year on the farm …

Like a novice, I kept glancing at the recipe after every move I made, in between Googling how best to sterilize the jar, how to melt the paraffin, or if I should even still use paraffin. I somehow managed to boil the grapes, strain them through the cheesecloth, take them back to the pan, add the pectin, boil the mixture, add the sugar and boil it again, and at the same time sterilize the jars, lids and rings, and melt the paraffin. That’s probably where I got my excellent multi-tasking skills, I muttered to myself, as I hurried along.

The balancing act wasn’t over. Then it was time to pour the liquid into the jars (Alas, I no longer have my funnel!), skim off the leftover foam and bubbles, wipe the mixture that had spilled out of the jars, then add the paraffin and attach the seals and rings while the mixture was still boiling hot.

After it was all over, I breathed a sigh of relief and surveyed my kitchen and the purple spills around me. Yep, I can no longer brag about my canning expertise. I am back to being a novice!

While washing the pans and cleaning up the spills, I kept checking my jelly, hoping it would set. I finally remembered it isn’t jello; jelly doesn’t set instantly.

More than an hour has passed and it looks like the paraffin has set. Now I remember that I used to go to bed and wake up the next morning to homemade jelly. I think I’ll do that again … If my grape jelly turns out to be a success, then some very special people will receive a jar; if not, I’m going to be stuck with a heck of a lot of grape sauce and will have to search for another bunch of recipes!

Grape jelly all done (I hope!).

September 19, 2011 Posted by | California, Life | , , , , , , | 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

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

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