At ground level

A column about LIFE

Full circle, living off the land – maybe

Thirty years ago, I lived on an Iowa farm. I was a city girl from another country, so the environment and lifestyle were new to me. One of the things I learned there is at the heart of rural life is the garden.

Mind you, I do not have a green thumb. In fact, my children tell me I have a “purple thumb.” Despite this fact, gardening I did, together with my now ex-husband.

We planted tomatoes, green beans, green peppers, red peppers, banana peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, carrots, eggplant, peas, rhubarb, beets, zucchini and onions. The garden thrived. That’s the beauty of Iowa soil. It is so rich that anyone, even a “purple thumb” like myself, can grow anything in that fertile soil.

My first garden on the farm.

Gardening was challenging for me. I hated the weeding. I was in awe at the bountiful crop, but the novelty soon wore off. I worked part-time as a writer for the county newspaper then, yet it seemed like my real job was to put the produce from the land to good use. With the apples on the farm I baked and froze pies. Then I learned to can applesauce, and did the same for the vegetables from my garden.

The tomatoes just kept coming. I canned whole tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, salsa, and even my very own ketchup. I canned green beans, beets and froze the peas. I canned sweet pickles, dill pickles and pickle relish. I canned peaches. I even made jam and apple butter. I was a busy farm wife.

At the time, I didn’t much appreciate what I did. Gardening and canning seemed such a chore. There were many nights when I stayed up canning and sweating in a hot, steam-filled kitchen. We had to put everything to good use, my husband would continually remind me. He didn’t know that when the crop became overwhelming for me, I would sneak to the barn and feed the tomatoes and zucchinis (they kept coming too) to the hogs!

I can still remember cursing when I made my first batch of ketchup. I stirred the mixture for what seemed like hours, waiting for it to thicken. It splattered all over the kitchen – on my face, on my clothes, on my stove, on the walls, on the ceiling. I was exasperated! “Wouldn’t it be much easier and cheaper to just buy a bottle of ketchup for 70 cents (back then) at the store?” I wailed.

Yet, I have to admit, my ketchup tasted better than the store’s. So did my tomato sauce, my salsa, my pickles, my applesauce and peaches. They looked oh, so beautiful too, all lined up neatly on my shelves.

That was many, many, moons ago … I now live in Silicon Valley. What could be more metropolitan than this place, far away from farm land. It’s just a hop and a skip to the store, where I can buy all kinds of vegetables and fruits. So why do I find myself yearning for the produce that comes straight from the land?

At the store, they now call these fruits and vegetables “organic” and they are expensive. I have to chuckle at the irony of it all. I had all that a long time ago, and didn’t even appreciate it!

Last year, I planted a flower garden, and the year before, I even sodded my lawn. Alas, the Bay Area’s moles and gophers took over my lawn, and the voles devoured my beautiful flowers. I finally gave up.

Lately, I’ve become more determined. I want to have my own vegetable garden. If I want to beat those rodents, I will have to build a raised garden. So yesterday, I bought this kit with precut cedar wood and screws. I have a power drill; I just have to figure out how to use it. Once it’s completed, I want to plant tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, green and red peppers and, eventually, who knows? Perhaps, I will start canning again …

Little did I know when I cursed at that first batch of ketchup, years later, everything would turn full circle for me, and that I would miss those days on the farm, and attempt to go back any way I could – even if it means constructing a raised garden in the city.

The verdict is still out … Remember, I still have that “purple thumb.” I’ll let you know how this project progresses.

April 15, 2011 Posted by | Iowa | , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

Manny Pacquiao, you are my idol!

I have not been writing as often as I planned, even if there has been much to write about and so many thoughts running through my mind. There haven’t been enough hours in the day lately. Now that I have some time this weekend, let’s start with this one …

What’s this? Me, discussing sports again? And boxing, of all sports? I hate boxing. I think it’s a cruel sport. I think you have to have a certain psyche to take on such a sport, and I don’t like that type of psyche at all. Yet, I watched Manny Pacquiao’s latest fight.

Actually, the first fight I watched was his fight against Ricky Hatton in May of last year. I “forced” myself to watch it during a reunion with classmates. It was fun to cheer him on, and then, the suspense and shock of the second round knockout – I thought he killed the man. It left me in awe of this champ.

I never had a chance to watch the other fights, and no real interest after. All I heard about Pacquiao was his English (which made me squirm), his singing (which made me squirm even more), and then his run for Philippine Congress (which made me gasp). Then I watched him sing on Jimmy Kimmel twice (okay, cute, but not sensational). It made me squirm too.

At a friend’s house on Saturday, I watched Pacquiao fight Antonio Margarito. I learned then why this fight meant so much to the Filipinos – they were upset about Margarito’s reputation of being a cheater and his making fun of Freddie Roach’s Parkinson’s disease. Uh, not classy. So, I, too, wanted Pacquiao to knockout Margarito.

Watching the fight was an eye opener for me. Unlike in the Hatton fight, Manny didn’t knockout Margarito on Round 2, as I had hoped. In fact, they went the whole 12 rounds. I squirmed when Manny got caught in the ropes and was punched several times. I squirmed even more when Margarito’s face became practically unrecognizable.

This fight made me pause and changed my view of Pacquiao and boxing altogether.

I not only saw a world champ boxer, but I saw the true character of Manny Pacquiao. All of a sudden, my respect for the fighter and the man soared, as I watched Pacquiao show his concern over Margarito’s swollen eye. By the 11th and especially on the 12th round, it seemed like he had eased up on his opponent. He admitted later that he knew he had won and there was no point in further beating up the guy. “That’s not what boxing is all about,” Pacquiao told the commentator

Like my dad did with baseball, many have written about boxing as a metaphor of life. Boxing, they say, knocks off your arrogance and teaches you humility. You realize you are not infallible. You roll with the punches, and when you get hit, you get up again and try not to get knocked out. Sometimes, you get hit hard, but you need to get back up on your feet and bounce back again. Just like life …

I don’t think I will ever like boxing like I now like baseball, but I am getting to like Manny Pacquiao more and more. The man is truly noble, a gentleman. He not only has valor, he has heart, humility and kindness. He may be regarded as the “master” of his game, but as he has demonstrated by making the sign of the cross and reciting a prayer before and after each fight, he has another Master, a higher power, whom he acknowledges, and this is all right by me.

Manny Pacquiao wins!

I am starting to think that, perhaps, we do indeed need this simple, virtuous man in the Philippine Congress. He may stand among the very few politicians that have true concern for the plight of their countrymen and the future of the country. He is an example of a person coming from rags to riches who still remains humble and caring.

And sing? Heck, as far as I’m concerned, Manny can sing to the top of his lungs and as often as he would like.

I won’t even squirm anymore when Pacquiao gives interviews, because Manny Pacquiao, you are now my idol!

November 25, 2010 Posted by | Life, Philippines, Religion | , | Leave a comment

Remembering my hero on Veterans Day

November is truly Dad’s month. His birthday is on the 19th. He would have been 91 years old. This Thursday is Veterans Day. I like to tell his story every chance I get. He and many others fought a great war, so we may all be free. This is for Dad and all our heroes …

Covering a Veterans Day memorial service for the newspaper one year, I heard someone speak of our World War II veterans as “the generation of heroes … ordinary people who serve as examples of what we should be,” and I remembered my hero.

Dad was a lieutenant in the Philippine Army, which at that time was part of the USAFFE (United States Armed Forces in the Far East). He fought in the Philippines against the Japanese during World War II. He was captured in Bataan and survived the infamous Death March. That’s all I knew about my dad’s war experience until many years later, when one evening, after meeting another veteran and Death March survivor in our town in Iowa, and with some prodding from my father-in-law, Dad opened the door to a part of him we had not known before.

Dad, along with other ROTC cadets, was inducted into the Philippine Army just a few months before the war. He was only 22 years old at the time. Since he had a college degree, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Quartermaster Corps and only went to the front lines when he had to take food supplies.

“It saved my life,” he said.

It was while Dad and some of his men were on a truck delivering canned goods in the Bataan peninsula that they were captured by the Japanese. When Bataan fell, Dad and the other prisoners were made to walk 60 miles in the searing heat from the battlefield to a main station and then transported to Camp O’Donnell in Capas, Tarlac.

The Death March lasted from five to nine days, depending on where on the trail a prisoner began the march. There were about 75,000 Americans and Filipinos captured in Bataan. After the march, there were about 54,000 still alive. Less than half survived the internment camps.

Dad said even after many years, he would still wake up in the middle of the night from nightmares of the “heat and sweat.” He said not one day went by when he didn’t think about his friends who were killed.

Dad recalled being fed one bowl of rice a day and, sometimes, nothing at all. He was only allowed to drink water from the river, along with the horses, and he remembered it being tainted with blood. He could not sleep because he was tied back to back with another prisoner during the night.

He never forgot the burly Japanese sergeant who hit the prisoners with a stick when they walked in the middle of the road, or whenever he felt like it; the Japanese soldiers who passed them in trucks, eating watermelon, taunting and laughing as the hungry prisoners reached out for the fruits; the hot, airless cargo train that took them to the concentration camp, where he was sick with malaria one day and dysentery the next. He watched his dead campmates being wrapped in blankets and taken to unmarked graves, and he wondered when his turn would come.

Dad’s mom and sister would visit the camp daily and beg the Japanese to release him. Finally, after several months, the guards relented because he was so sick. He later hid north of Manila, listened to a short wave radio and charted the progress of the American forces until Liberation.

The young man at the Veterans Day service said the greatest part about these veterans being heroes is not only that they had fought in the war, but “it is in what they did after that should inspire us. They went on to be doctors, lawyers and teachers. They went on with their lives and continued to make ours better.”

After the war, Dad continued his studies and became a lawyer. He never practiced law; instead, he worked in advertising for the Philippines Herald newspaper. He put up his own advertising and marketing firm a few years later. Then, he and Mom went back to school and earned their graduate degrees in marriage and counseling. They became marriage and youth counselors and gave countless talks to schools and organizations. They also became weekly columnists for the Panorama, the Manila Bulletin newspaper’s Sunday magazine.

On January 23, 1993, the day Dad died, he experienced an excruciating pain in his stomach, but refused to miss a talk to hundreds of parents of elementary school children at La Consolacion College. His last words were to them: “Teach your children to pray. Don’t just tell them; show them.” As he walked out of the auditorium, he collapsed to the floor. It was quick, as if he had been snatched away.

As we grieved after his burial, I lamented on the loss of his knowledge, his wisdom, and I was so afraid I would forget him. Mom consoled me and said, “You have to have faith. All he was is passed on to all of us. He lives on in our hearts.”

It’s been 17 years since Dad died and I still remember, like it was yesterday. I miss him. I miss his warm embrace, his humor, his teasing voice, even his corny jokes. I miss his laughter, and I even miss his nagging, “Hija (Daughter), pray, pray, pray!”

That was my father, a man of great faith.

“You can’t live on prayer alone,” I, the rebel, would sometimes chastise him.

When times would get tough, he would sit on his office chair, scratch his chin, stare out the window and say, “God will provide, Hija.” Strangely as it would sometimes seem, somehow, God always did.

War leaves an indelible mark on people. The experience made Dad more sensitive, more giving toward others and more trusting in the Lord.

Veterans Day reminds us life is about faith and giving, the giving of life for country, making sacrifices so generations after can have a better life, and trusting in God. No matter the reasons for each war, all who have served their country are brave heroes. They pass on a legacy we should cherish and always remember.

Dad passed on to me the story of his life, and most of all, he passed on his strong faith in God, so when I can, I try and share it with others.

When times get tough, I find myself doing the same thing – staring out the window, scratching my chin and murmuring the same words, “God will provide,” knowing Dad and God are with me.

Here he is, grinning from ear to ear, my dad, Lt. Jose M. Meily, Jr. (far right), celebrating at a club in San Francisco, where members of the USAFFE were recognized at the end of the war. This photo was published along with a similar column of mine in one of the newspapers I worked at several years ago.

Dad, Mom and me at my school’s Parents’ Night, 1965

November 9, 2010 Posted by | Children, Family, Life, Parenting, Religion | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Giants’ game and remembering lessons my father taught us

Who would have thought I would be sitting white-knuckled, watching tonight’s Giants’ game. You see, up until a few nights ago, I wasn’t interested in the World Series. Then, I caught the second game last week, and I was hooked. Watching the games brought back full circle the lessons my father taught us through the game of baseball.

I’ve always regarded November as Dad’s month. He would have turned 91 on November 19. Dad died on January 23, 1993. During his necrological service, each of us, his six children, remembered Dad. My brother Jim, gave the following remarks, which summed up so well the kind of man my father was and the lessons he taught us, by just watching one baseball game. Here it is in Jimmy’s words:

During one of his many visits to the U.S., Dad and I were watching a baseball game on TV. He loved the sport with a passion. I kidded him about why he liked watching baseball so much. I found the game slow and boring. He just laughed and said, “Hijo (Son), baseball is like life. It may be slow and boring at times, but when the action starts, it happens so fast.”

At that moment, one of the players got a hit and the ball drifted towards the right fielder, for what should have been a routine catch. But the right fielder fielded the ball so lackadaisically, that he missed the catch.

Right then, Dad said, “See, hijo, he took it for granted that he was going to catch the ball. That’s just like life. You can’t take anything for granted. You should always try to be the best you can be and do everything with 100 percent effort.”

He continued, “Enjoy your life like these baseball players do, but always try to be the best in whatever you do, and DON’T DROP THE BALL!”

Then, a television commercial appeared with one of the baseball stars promoting donations to the United Way, a charity organization in the U.S. My dad turned to me and said, “Hijo, you should always do charity work in San Francisco.”

I told him, “Dad, I don’t have the time.”

Right away, he replied, “MAKE THE TIME.”

The game continued and one of the players made the sign of the cross before batting. My dad quickly said to me, “You see, Jimmy, even these baseball players are close to God. That’s why you should go to mass every Sunday and pray to the Lord every day, because unless you’re close to God, you’re nothing.”

So, just by watching that baseball game, Dad taught me how to live on the playing field of life.

First, be the best you can be at whatever you do.

Second, share your life with others through charity work.

Third, and most important, be close to God.

On this November evening, as I watched Edgar Renteria make the sign of the cross before he batted and made possible that three-run homer, and as I watched pitchers Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner (last night), Matt Cain (the other night), Brian Wilson, catcher Buster Posey, infielders Aubrey Huff, Freddy Sanchez, outfielders Cody Ross, Andres Torres – to name but a few of this special group of players – play hard and do their best to win the World Series, I remembered Dad. It was as if through the Giants’ games, Dad was reminding me again, about how to live in the playing field of life.

Dad was an avid Yankees fan, but I bet he would have cheered for the Giants this evening!

November 1, 2010 Posted by | Parenting, Religion | , , , | 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

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

Sunrise, sunset … swiftly fly the years

Nightgown on a curtain rod

Yes, that’s my nightgown hanging from my curtain rod. How did it get there, you ask? Well, I asked my daughter that same question too.

It’s the reason I didn’t stick to my promise of writing something every Friday. That, and the fact that I have company for two weeks. A beloved uncle and aunt are visiting from Denmark. But that’s another story!

So, where do I begin with this story? I guess, I can begin when I walked in on my daughter, who was in my room, frantically getting ready for her Homecoming dance. I opened my door and saw my nightgown hanging on the curtain rod.

“What happened? How the heck did it get there?” I asked, just puzzled.

She mumbled frantically that she wasn’t thinking. That she didn’t have time to explain, just that she needed to block the sun out of the window and tried to move the curtain, the rod fell, so she thought she could use my nightgown to block out the sun. Why not get a stool?

“I didn’t think I had time, Mom! I have to get ready,” she wailed.

So apparently, she piled clothes on a laundry basket, climbed on the basket of clothes, and attempted to hook my nightgown on to the curtain rod and planned to tape it somehow to block the sun out.

“I guess I just wasn’t thinking straight, Mom,” she cried out, and we both burst into a fit of laughter.

This was my little girl, who would hold her Barney tightly (her Barney has traveled all the way to the Philippines with us three times!). She’s my little girl, who would always giggle and laugh to my delight.

Before my eyes, the years flew by, and I was now staring at a young lady, dressed in her oh, so beautiful “fairytale” Homecoming dress, ready to go out on her first date.

Of course, she was nervous; of course, she couldn’t think straight … She was blooming! The guy she liked was picking her up.

To heck with the nightgown hanging on the curtain rod. It could stay there all week, for all I cared! She was happy and I was happy that she was happy.

Then, the doorbell rang, and as I went to answer the door, I could hear her screaming. I chuckled. I’m not so old. I do remember one night, a long, long time ago… I know the feeling…

After we took pictures and she and her date left, accompanied by his mother, I sighed and wondered, where did all the years go? …

And all night long, this song came to mind …

Is this the little girl I carried? Is this the little girl at play?

My girls dyeing Easter eggs at 15 years old and 4 years old

At five years old

At seven years old

At 10 years old

When did she get to be a beauty?

When did she grow to be so tall?

Wasn’t it yesterday when they were small?

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears …

Adapted from Fiddler On the Roof’s “Sunrise, Sunset”

I think this song says it all …

October 4, 2010 Posted by | Children, Parenting | Leave a comment