At ground level

A column about LIFE

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

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

Remembering friends …

The past two months have taken a toll on me. Three people I know have died and a number of friends are sick – with cancer, or condition unknown. Bring me back to those days when we thought we were immortal and would live forever, when life was still beginning for us, when we didn’t have a care in the world!

It’s a sobering feeling when good friends die. It just fills my heart with sadness.

Below I write a tribute to two friends. I find strength in writing about them, and in doing so, I hope they will be remembered.

Remembering a Fellow Editor: To Sandy Sanderson, My Mentor

Sandy Sanderson at the Des Moines Farmers' Market during the July 4th weekend in 2008.

At a beautiful ceremony I was privileged to attend, we listened to a couple of songs Sandy sang with his guitar, which he recorded for his daughter a few months ago. I had to blink, because it was so clear, as if he was physically there, singing to us. Then we shared memories. Here are mine.

“You can take the man out of the newspaper, but you can’t take the newspaper out of the man.”

This thought came to mind when my friend Sandy Sanderson informed me last year that due to the economy he was retiring sooner than planned; yet, I could feel his excitement when he talked about launching his own website, called “Sandy’s Ankeny” (

You see, Sandy loved Ankeny, and it seems Ankeny loved Sandy too, as evidenced by the newspaper’s lifespan. Ankeny is the remaining Press Citizen newspaper, and Sandy Sanderson had been the paper’s managing editor for what seemed like forever.

It was at the Press Citizen Newspaper Network where I met Sandy more than a decade ago. In fact, he was in the room when I first interviewed for the managing editor’s post for the Urbandale Press Citizen. I was amused because Sandy took it upon himself to act as a mentor to me, despite my telling him that I had worked in newspapers for almost as many years as he. He insisted in showing me the ropes. I have to admit, he taught me a few tricks about laying out the newspaper in Quark XPress. I was never afraid to walk into the dark Press Citizen building on a quiet Sunday afternoon, because he would often be there, laying out his paper.

Sandy was the old-timer, the veteran of the Press Citizen gang. We may not always have agreed with him, and would sometimes laughingly chastise him about mixing fonts in his newspaper, but we respected him, and we knew that the Ankeny Press Citizen was his baby. Lo and behold anyone who even thought of tampering with it, or wrestling him for the editor’s spot. He made it clear he was captain of that ship!

Sandy had a kindred spirit and apart from the newspaper, he loved his music. He sang and played rhythm guitar in a band. He got to love ballroom dancing, which is where he met Lois, and they both loved to travel together.

Most of all, Sandy had a big heart. I now live in California, but while going through a tough time several years ago, Sandy and Lois opened their home to me when I needed a place to stay. He knew I was hurting, and continued to be there, offering to help in any way he could.

Each time I would return to Iowa, Sandy would update me on the latest news in the area and about our mutual friends. Sadly, our schedules didn’t jibe the past year, and we never got to meet. I still remember him telling me, “That’s all right, Hon. Now keep in touch and we’ll get together next time you come around. Make sure you call now, okay? You take care.”

I will miss Sandy’s stories, his relaxed demeanor, his jokes, including his cackling laugh. They say the best thing you can do while on this earth is share your talents with the world, and leave it a better place. Sandy left Ankeny a better place. His legacy is etched in the Ankeny Press Citizen newspapers, for all to see – in his city council and school board stories, in the features he wrote, and in his often amusing column, “Odds ‘n Ends.” What a marvelous way to be remembered!

I’m glad Sandy is “safely home.” I have no doubt he is smiling down on Ankeny! As for me, I’d like to tell him, “I’m sure we’ll see each other next time around. In the meantime, you take care, my friend.”

My tribute to Sandy was later submitted to the Des Moines Register. See here:

Thank you, Charles, for submitting it. I’m sure Sandy is smiling down on you too!

Grace Is Safely Home …

The news about Grace Marci had been on my mind for many days. I had tossed and turned at night, thinking about her and her two daughters. Now she is at peace…

Grace wasn’t one of my closest friends, but she was always there among my classmates, through grade school and high school. Some years, she was in the same class as I; other years, she wasn’t. But Grace is a classmate I will always remember.

I remember Grace as always smiling, often with a pen in the pocket of her uniform. She was always neat – hair never tousled, uniform always crisp and clean. She always brimmed with self-confidence, was so energetic, exact, direct, a to-the-point kind of person.

I grieve for Grace and for the daughters she leaves behind, but I believe, with all my heart, that she is safely home with our Lord in heaven.

When I arrived home after my dad’s funeral many years ago, I was distraught and asked God to please give me a sign that Dad was with Him.

“Give me a sign that he is safe with you; that he’s ok, God,” I prayed and pleaded.

A few days later, I received this novena solicitation in the mail from some rectory. In it was the prayer below. It brought tears to my eyes and a chuckle. How American to have God’s message come to me in the form of the U.S. mail! But then I knew that Dad was safely home.

To this day, this has been my favorite poem. I read it and am consoled every time I learn someone I know has passed away. I know that Grace is “safely home” too, at peace, and looking down on her family and on all of us.

Safely Home

I am home in heaven, dear ones;
Oh so happy and so bright!
There is perfect joy and beauty
In this everlasting light.

All the pain and grief is over,
Every restless tossing passed;
I am now at peace forever,
Safely home in heaven at last.

Did you wonder how I so calmly
Trod the valley of the shade?
Oh, but Jesus’ love illumined
Every dark and fearful glade.

And He came himself to meet me
In that way so hard to tread;
And with Jesus’ arm to lean on,
Could I have one doubt or dread?

Then you must not grieve so sorely,
For I love you dearly still;
Try to look beyond earth’s shadows,
Pray to trust our Father’s will.

There is work still waiting for you,
So you must not idly stand;
Do it now, while life remains,
You shall rest in Jesus’ land.

When that work is all completed,
He will gently call you home;
Oh, the rapture of that meeting,
Oh, the joy to see you come!

– Anonymous

Grace Marci, a friend and classmate

September 17, 2010 Posted by | Friendship | Leave a comment