At ground level

A column about LIFE

Life is like baking cookies

I have been baking cookies all week. They are for the Milk & Cookie Bar at the baby shower I will be giving my daughter this weekend. Some friends ask, “Why not buy? Why go through all that trouble and stress?”

I’m not really sure why I’m putting myself through all “the trouble.” All I can say is homemade cookies always taste better than store bought cookies. And they always seem more special, too, especially when you see others enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Isn’t that the case in anything you do? You tend to celebrate your achievements, especially the ones that have been tough to earn. Like life…

In many ways baking cookies is like life. It can get pretty messy. And like life, it’s how we make it that matters. Paying attention to the ingredients and how much to put in – just like the choices we make in life.

So far, I’ve made nine dozen chocolate chip cookies and, by tomorrow, I will have made seven dozen shortbread cookies in the shape of onesies.

In my haste and distraction, I forgot to add a teaspoon of vanilla extract to one batch. While mixing another batch, I couldn’t remember whether I had already added three cups of flour, so I added yet another cup.

When you don’t measure the ingredients correctly, or combine them the wrong way, the cookies don’t turn out the way they are supposed to. Like life… We make mistakes because we don’t pay attention, or are careless, or don’t heed advice from people who know better.

I thought I knew better than the icing recipe, only to find out the extra tablespoon of water I added to the Royal Icing was just enough to spell disaster. All I could do was stare helplessly as the pink icing quickly ran over the cookies and on to the parchment paper.

Some mistakes are worse than others. That batch to which I added that extra cup of flour turned out downright awful, and I had to start all over again. Like my life, and starting all over again here, in California.

Tomorrow, I will ice the onesies. They have to be perfect because they will be the shower favors. I plan to wrap them individually and top each one with a pink bow.

I’m a little rusty with my decorating skills, but I’ve practiced. I now know better than to second guess the experts. This time, I will make the border first, and then flood the cookie; I will use a #2 tip, instead of a #3 tip; and I will wait until the icing has hardened, before I decorate the cookies with stripes and polka dots.

Practice makes perfect. Like life … you just have to keep on trying until you succeed.

Once the cookies are decorated and individually packaged, I will face yet another hurdle. You see, my daughter lives in Vegas, so packing the cookies in my suitcase and making sure we all get to Vegas in one piece, undamaged, will be a challenge!

I can’t risk taking the frosted cookie favors on the airplane with me, for fear the TSA will confiscate them. I’ve heard of too many horror stories about similar incidents.

After much research, I stumbled on one woman’s advice. She said the best thing to do is to carefully wrap them individually and separate them with bubble wrap; pack them in single layers with more bubble wrap; place them in pizza boxes; and then pray!

Challenges in life never end. About the time we think we’ve overcome one hurdle, here comes yet another. Sometimes, we think we’ve followed the perfect recipe, but somehow hit a roadblock. When we know that we’ve done the best we could, we have nothing left to do but pray…

Mind you, I will be praying all the way to Vegas!

February 8, 2012 Posted by | Life | , , , , | Leave a comment

It was a surreal day in Cupertino…

I woke up this morning (Wednesday, October 5) to the sounds of helicopters and police sirens and my daughter bursting into my room yelling, “Mom, there’s a gunman loose in Cupertino! The police are everywhere. Turn on the TV!”

That was enough to make me jump out of bed and turn on the television. Sure enough, on the news was a scene shot just about three blocks away from our home. Police had cordoned off a 10-mile radius and police cars had blocked off the road we took to school, which was also the road to the quarry, where a tragedy had occurred. It appears an employee at the quarry had shot and killed some people and fled the scene. The police were hunting him down.

Then, more sirens and another piece of breaking news. Another group of law enforcement officers were at the corner of Homestead Avenue and Wolf Road. There had been another shooting incident by the Hewlett Packard parking lot. Were these two incidents related? The news crew didn’t know.

Then came the phone calls and emails from the school. A message on my cell phone, home phone and later, office phone, notified me that due to police activity in the area, I was to keep my child home from school. Of course, my daughter cheered. I was in a quandary. I had to be in Los Gatos for a meeting in an hour. While I felt we were safe and believed the gunman was no longer in the area, my mother instinct told me I should remain at home with my daughter, at least until I was sure that the authorities had everything under control.

Later, we learned the shootings were related. The gunman was sighted by the Sunnyvale/Cupertino border, which happened to be close to where I work. Feeling my daughter would be safe at home, I decided to skip the meeting and proceed to work. When I got there, the office received a notification from the police department, asking us to keep safe and giving the gunman’s description. Our office remained open, but was placed on lockdown.

As the day progressed we learned more about this gunman. A single-parent, father of a teen-age daughter, a seemingly good person, a TV host who even authored a book and preached against non-violence. How could he have shot and killed three people and wound six others? For a while I felt sorry for the man. He must have snapped. But how? Why? I wondered out loud.

“He will be judged at the pearly gates. I have no sympathy. He killed three people,” someone muttered.

With the day off from school, I allowed my daughter to watch a movie with friends. Some people at work were surprised I was so permissive. I seriously doubted a man on the run would want to visit the mall. And I couldn’t keep my daughter home alone, when I recalled that time, when I was not much older than her. That day when I had arrived at school and was met by a flood of students streaming out of the school. Martial law had been declared, they cried out. No school! Soon after, my friends and I found ourselves frolicking around the streets of Manila, carefree, oblivious to the soldiers with guns that rode by in their trucks. That day we pranced into a parlor and got our nails and hair done, unconcerned about the uncertain future before us and the gravity of what was to unfold after that monumental day. Little did we know that a year later, we would be among the many students marching in front of the President’s palace calling for justice, democracy and the end to a corrupt dictatorship. My daughter’s afternoon was tamer than mine, it seems. She returned safely home after the movie and her afternoon was otherwise uneventful.

Back in Cupertino it soon turned to afternoon and still the gunman had not been found. I received yet another notification from the school thanking us for our cooperation and telling us they would continue to keep us abreast on further developments.

At around 4:30 p.m. we received yet more breaking news. Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder, innovator, visionary had died. The toll of the day had finally taken over and I trekked home with a very heavy heart.

I was reminded of a few things today:

1. Stuff happens and your life can change in an instant.

2. The safety of family is more important than a meeting at work.

3. I was impressed with the school’s diligence in notifying parents about the status of the school and students.

4. Kids have to experience a little adventure. You can’t keep them locked up in the house, alone and afraid.

5. I didn’t realize how much I admired Steve Jobs until today. I didn’t know the man, but have always loved his Apple and Mac computers. I was surprised his death hit me hard. Godspeed, Steve Jobs and thanks for my Mac and iPhone!

October 6, 2011 Posted by | Children, Family, Life, Parenting, Philippines | , , , , , | 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

Where “home” was always meant to be …

As we stepped outside the airport in the wee hours of the morning, a blast of hot air hit us. Then came the noise from the traffic and a swarm of people. I smiled, for I knew I was home. After a short drive, we arrived at my mother’s house. There was Mom, who is 84, looking so well and happy to have us back.

It was raining; in fact, there was a typhoon, which thankfully, had not crossed our airplane’s path. I loved the smell of the rain. Then came the sweet aroma of garlic rice, eggs and spam, a traditional Filipino breakfast – yet another sign that I was home. Except for a few out of town trips and gatherings with friends, I stayed close to home this trip. It was just nice to be in the house.

The house we now call “home” is the perfect place for Mom. It’s almost identical to, but a smaller version of the home where my siblings and I spent much of our childhood years. This one-story house where Mom now lives is located in an exclusive village in Makati, the business and shopping center of the country. It is the very first house Mom and Dad built a few years after they were married, though they never lived here. Instead, they had the same architect design and build a larger two-story version of this Eichler home, 900 sq. meters, in Loyola Heights, close to the schools they wanted us to attend.

For nearly three decades they rented the Makati house to the U.S. embassy, until one day, the embassy informed my dad that it would no longer be renting the house. At the time my father was stretched for money and decided to sell the Makati house. Each time, for some reason, the sale would fall through. Eventually, the real estate agent told my dad, “Mr. Meily, I’m not a religious man, but it’s really uncanny that something always happens whenever we try to sell this beautiful house. I think God has another plan for this house.”

Not long after, the plan unraveled … Dad finally gave up the idea of selling the house and, instead, had it rented. A year later, Dad died and we decided it was best for Mom to move to the house in Makati. It is less than half the size of our house in Loyola, but it would be more manageable, and a safer place for her to be.

Mom and I sat in the terrace and reminisced. Although Dad had to wade through an hour or more of traffic to get to his office in Manila and then spend the same amount of time to get home, he refused to move to the smaller house in Makati. He loved the sprawling front lawn and backyard of our Loyola home, Mom recalled.

“Where would I put my things, hija (daughter)?!” I remembered Dad groaning whenever I broached the subject of moving. How he worried about his papers and collection of magazines – Look, Life, Time, Newsweek, and yes, even Reader’s Digest!

For a while there Mom and I lamented about the house in Loyola. The buyer had torn it down and it is now the tallest condominium on that street. Perhaps it was for the best … We (and so many of our friends) have many happy memories of our time in Loyola Heights, but I think I would feel sadder if I passed by the house today and wondered who was sleeping in that large room, once occupied by four little girls. How about the boys’ room? I would wonder who was now browsing through the books lined in the gigantic bookcase in the study, and who was playing with the old turtle that had made our backyard pond its home.

“That house served us well. It was a good home,” said Mom. “Before we left I cleaned that house from top to bottom and left it spotless, even though I knew they were going to tear it down. Then I bade it good-bye and thanked it for being such a wonderful home for our family.”

I observed Mom walk across the living room, pass the dining room and kitchen, and head toward the hallway, which is just a few steps from her bedroom. I concluded, without a doubt in my mind, that all this was meant to be – the look, the feel of this house is almost identical to our house in Loyola. Best of all, it’s always felt like “home.”

They say there’s a reason for everything … It’s nice to know this house that Dad and Mom first built had a purpose from the beginning. It never sold because it was always meant to be “home.” I only hope old Mr. Turtle was able to walk away before the bulldozers leveled the house in Loyola …

A family gathering at the Makati home a few years after Mom moved there. It's so much like our home in Loyola. It is here where we now make happy memories.

A young Mom and Dad, newly married.

We have many happy memories of our house in Loyola Heights.

September 2, 2011 Posted by | Family, Life, Philippines | , , , | Leave a comment

Tomatoes from my safe haven

I love sitting in my patio and watching my garden grow. These days it is the tomatoes that are thriving. Every day I get to pick some tomatoes and look forward to making them part of our meal.

I read somewhere that the tomato continues to have an identity crisis. Is it a fruit or a vegetable? According to the Oxford Dictionaries, “… Scientifically speaking, a tomato is definitely a fruit. True fruits are developed from the ovary in the base of the flower, and contain the seeds of the plant (though cultivated forms may be seedless)…

“As far as cooking is concerned, some things which are strictly fruits, such as tomatoes or bean pods, may be called ‘vegetables’ because they are used in savoury rather than sweet cooking. The term ‘vegetable’ is more generally used of other edible parts of plants, such as cabbage leaves, celery stalks, and potato tubers, which are not strictly the fruit of the plant from which they come. …”

I never used to like tomatoes. I think my dislike for them stems back to the day of my first hangover when I was a teen-ager. Two mischievous friends stopped by the house to check up on me and handed me a Bloody Mary. They suggested I drink it because it would make me feel better. I never got over the joke, nor the taste of that tomato juice mixture. To this day, I dislike Bloody Marys.

I learned to like tomatoes in the farm. My father-in-law loved his sliced tomatoes on toast. Sometimes, he would slice them and sprinkle sugar on top. I, myself, prefer having them on salad. I also love cooking with tomatoes. So far, I’ve used my tomatoes in chicken fritada, spaghetti, salsa and goulash. Next time I plan to use them in a new adobo recipe, sans the soy sauce. It is supposed to taste delicious, I’m told.

Someone reading this blog will quickly realize I am enjoying my garden immensely. I’ve wondered why myself. Perhaps it’s because in my garden I can actually see the fruits of my labor, almost immediately. The garden is also something I can manage with relative success, within the small confines of my yard, unlike all the problems of life that I have to face.

These days I feel like I’ve been experiencing a meltdown, and the only thing that seems to console me and shelter me from the chaos of life is my garden. It’s become a safe haven. Watering my plants and picking the tomatoes, green peppers and zucchini (the beans and cucumbers were a disaster) seem to calm me – up until the time that darn blue bird dives down on my tomatoes and bites into one of them!

Tomatoes and green peppers freshly picked from my garden.

August 24, 2011 Posted by | Life | , | Leave a comment

To my grown-up son

My cousin Sandy kept this poem by Alice E. Chase in her wallet while her only son was growing up, to remind her to spend more time with him. He is now a young man and lives far from her, so she doesn’t often get to see him. Like Sandy, I miss my son and I also wish I could go back and do all the things he asked me to do …

To My Grown-Up Son

by Alice E. Chase

My hands were busy through the day,
I didn’t have much time to play
The little games you asked me to,
I didn’t have much time for you.

I’d wash your clothes; I’d sew and cook,
But when you’d bring your picture book
And ask me, please, to share your fun,
I’d say, “A little later, son.”

I’d tuck you in all safe at night,
And hear your prayers, turn out the light,
Then tiptoe softly to the door,
I wish I’d stayed a minute more.

For life is short, and years rush past,
A little boy grows up so fast,
No longer is he at your side,
His precious secrets to confide.

The picture books are put away,
There are no children’s games to play,
No goodnight kiss, no prayers to hear,
That all belongs to yesteryear.

My hands once busy, now lie still,
The days are long and hard to fill,
I wish I might go back and do,
The little things you asked me to.

I have one more child at home, but it’s not going to be long when she, too, will be off on her own. And soon, my busy hands will lie still, and the days will be long and hard to fill …

My oldest daughter is expecting … When that joyous moment arrives, I will pass this poem on to her, so she will cherish those simple joys that I sometimes forgot to do.

August 23, 2011 Posted by | Children, Family, Life, Parenting | Leave a comment

What a difference a meme makes

Last I looked there were 22,498 members and counting, just in a matter of days. And I dare not count the number of posts and comments. If my inbox is any indication, it has reached thousands upon thousands.

Like the article “Facebook meme triggers UP frenzy of nostalgia” by JM Tuazon of GMA News says, in just a matter of days Facebook became a time machine for us graduates of the University of the Philippines – Diliman (UPD), bringing together thousands of UP alumni and thus creating an “online bonfire.”

Cleve JD Mallari, the group administrator, set up a group page on Facebook, which tasked members to complete the sentence “Taga-UP Diliman ka kung …” (You are from UP Diliman if …) with memories to which only alumni of UP Diliman could relate. Little did he know his Facebook page would explode in just a matter of days. Nostalgia set in and within a few days, the group page was filled with posts from enthusiastic alumni from all over the world. They flooded the site with memories of those good old days from food – like the best butterfly ice tea, the barbecue and delicious fish balls, to seemingly endless nights of studying, riding the “ikot” (the jeepney that serves as transportation around the UP Diliman campus), the terror teachers and the cool ones, and many amusing anecdotes about trying to register for classes and answering test questions on that famous blue book. They remembered the rallies against Martial Law and the boycotts. And, after all these years, so many of us still remember our student ID number!

Ann Angala’s post (807 and counting) “Taga UP-Diliman ka kung … hanggang ngayon memorize mo pa din student number mo…game! 87-00440,” (You’re from UP-Diliman if … until now you still have your student number memorized) along with many similar posts by others, made me recall that once very valuable student ID.

Like some other alumni, I still have my student ID 73-02494 – with my picture in my baul (treasure chest). I scanned and shared it with the group. I completed the sentence: “Taga UP- Diliman ka kung … hanggang ngayon nasa iyo pa ang UP ID card mo to recall the first time you became ‘a number.’” (… if until now you still have your UP ID card to recall the first time you became ‘a number.’) It generated 42 likes and 50 comments within a couple of hours. Ancient, paleolithic age, some of the young grads quipped, and some even noted “wagas!” (perfect)

I’m not sure why I kept my student ID. I think it signified freedom and independence for me. For 12 years, through nursery, pre-school, grade school and high school, I attended a convent school run by the Maryknoll sisters. Though the American sisters were already thought to be educating us to be independent thinkers and decision makers way ahead of the times, it just seemed natural that attending UP would be the next step for me after high school.

In UP I was just a number, but the freedom felt good. Freedom to learn – or not. Freedom to make something of myself – or not. With teachers who took us to task and challenged our minds. But it was not only the teachers, for there were many great teachers in the other good schools. In UP, there was just something different in the air you breathed. Whatever it was, just like the Maryknoll sisters, the university shaped me to be who I am and I am grateful for it.

I thought I had special grade school and high school memories, which I continue to share with longtime and very special friends, but this group page opened up yet another of many chapters in my life, which I had almost forgotten and it has been a pleasure to look back and cherish those times. Thank you, Cleve JD Mallari, for doing just that!

Whether it be due to common experiences over time, or our idealism, love for country, quest for truth (especially during the Martial Law days), and hope for a better future for a country that continues to have difficulty getting out of the trenches of graft and corruption, we have all united and made even more friends through your group page.

Mallari himself sums it up well in the article: “Iba-iba kasi yung kagandahan na nakikita ng bawat isa sa iba’t-ibang panahon na nag-stay sila sa campus,” he said. “Pero nagkakaisa kaming lahat sa pagmamahal namin sa pamantasang ito bilang mga Iskolar ng Bayan.” (Each generation experienced a special time when they stayed at the campus, but they all unite in their love for a university that reared scholars of our nation.)

In June Taguiwalo’s post (183 and counting): “Ano ang natapos mo sa UPD at ano naman ang trabaho mo?:)” (What did you finish in UP and what is your job now?), you see fruits that this powerful academic echelon of a university has produced, from international engineers, distinguished teachers, scientists, writers, proud fathers, mothers, homemakers, to highly regarded public servants. How can one not dare to hope for a better tomorrow?

73-02494 - just a number back then

August 16, 2011 Posted by | Life, Philippines | | 2 Comments

“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

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