8 Years of Blogging

Eight years ago this day, I launched myself into the wide and far-reaching space of the blogosphere. And Pinoy Transplant In Iowa has been in orbit since then.

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Eight years in existence may be deemed a milestone, especially if you consider the fact that according to research (which I also read from a blog), the average lifespan of a blog is less than 100 days. Perhaps I’m just more stubborn. Too stubborn to quit.

Though in all honesty, I seriously thought of walking away last year. I even have a “swan song” article written already, though it remained unpublished. Again, too stubborn to quit.

I am thankful for all of you, my readers and followers. The silent majority of you are not bloggers. The past year has been the most successful year yet, with regards to readership, as I got more than 70,000 visits last year. But I know, that’s nothing compared to some popular blogs that can garner that same stats in just a few days. For me, it took me eight years to establish that level of audience. That’s fine, Rome wasn’t built in one day.

Speaking of Rome, do you know that the Colosseum in Rome took 8 years to build? It was completed in 80 AD. Given the available technology and equipments they have during that time and considering how colossal (sorry, pun intended) that structure was, which can hold 50,000 people, eight years was really not long, but was rather quick. So a period of time can be short or long if you look at it in different perspectives. Anyway, we know that the Colosseum is still standing today after almost 2000 years.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not having the delusion that this blog will have the same longevity as the Colosseum. But at least I can say that with the number of visits I have, I can fill the Colosseum in a year.

To all of you, again, I am grateful and humbled for your continued visits.

Sincerely yours,

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Pinoytransplant

 

(*first photo was in Ilocos Norte 2012, the second was in Tel Aviv 2017)

 

Oh My Deer

I thought deer usually roam all their life, like pilgrims or wayfarers that don’t stay in one place. But that is not the case. They can stay in one area for an extended period of time, as long as they have food and they deemed that the area they are in is safe. And I have photos that chronicles this.

It started one morning last summer, when I opened the garage door as I was about to go to work, I saw this deer standing in my lawn near our driveway basketball hoop. She just stood there as our eyes met, as if she’s saying “hello there!” Or maybe it was that deer-in-the-headlight look.

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I tried not to scare her, though she ran away as soon as my car pulled out of the driveway. However few days later, I saw her again and this time she brought her family along. There’s three of them.

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Since then, like a regular visitor, she comes and greets me.

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Her fawn also plays fearlessly in our front lawn.

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All summer I spotted them in my yard, all three of them. They are a regular fixture at my place.

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Summer turned into fall, but they remained. I even saw them resting comfortably in my yard. You may even think they are decorative statues in the lawn.

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Then the cold air came, the leaves have all fallen to the ground, and the grass have turned brown. My sightings of them became few and far between. But they hang around, all three of them.

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Finally winter arrived, the arctic wind blew, and the snow fell. For a long time I have not seen them. Days passed. Weeks passed. Two months passed. And there’s no sign of them.

Maybe I was just not going out of the house that much anymore as it is too cold, so I have not spotted them. Though I see tracks in the snow. Or maybe they really have moved away to find food and relocated to a safer haven for this harsh winter. Did they give their final goodbye?

But this morning, they came!

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All three of them still. Perhaps telling me, that they’re here to stay. At least for now.

(*all photos taken with an iPhone)

Three Wishes for the New Year

I know January is almost half-way, but I hope this New Year’s wishes are not too late. My wishes for you, yes you who are reading this, are:

1. To remain in good health.

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Being healthy though is not an accident. It is a constant choice of having healthy habits and lifestyle. It is well-known that the top new year’s resolution is about getting healthier. We also know that membership to local gyms spikes in January. Unfortunately, some of the people who were so eager to “live healthy” at the beginning of the year fall off the wagon, so to speak, in a few months or even weeks after their resolution.

Joining a local health club might help motivate you, but it is not really needed to stay healthy, as there are a thousand other ways to do it. The key is sticking to whatever resolution you made.

2. To experience warmth and love in your family.

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In today’s society, in our pursuit of our dreams, sometimes we forget the more important things in this life. What does it mean to have a job promotion, or a better pay, or a bigger house, or a more luxurious ride, if our relationships with our spouse, or our children, or with our family in general are wanting?

Invest more time with your family, for that’s what really matters. Nobody in their deathbed wishes that they should have spent more time in the office or that they could have had a bigger TV. It’s the failed relationships that they are regretful of.

3. To live a life with a purpose.

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To have a meaningful existence, we should have a purpose in this life. Whether that be to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, or to save the Galapagos penguins, or to be the best shoe repairman in the world, or be the best dad to your children are all good ambitions.

That purpose in life cannot be decided by somebody else. You have to determine that for yourself.

Actually the above wishes and aspirations are for myself. But I’m glad to share them with you. May we all have a prosperous new year.

 

(*all photos taken with an iPhone)

Sun Dogs

The photo below was not taken in some galaxy far, far away, where there’s 3 visible suns in the horizon. This photo was taken by our friend, right here on planet Earth, somewhere in wintry Iowa.

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The phenomenon seen on the photo is called sun dogs. No, I’m not talking about those 2 dogs playing in the snow. What I am referring to is those “mirage” sun images on the right and left side of the “real” sun. These glowing spots which are part of a halo around the sun, are created by the sunlight refracting off the hexagonal plate-like ice crystals in the cirrus clouds. The meteorological term for sun dog is parhelion (plural parhelia).

Explaining why sun dogs occur is probably easier, than knowing why it was named so. One explanation is that dog in English can be used as a verb meaning to follow or track. Since the mirage image follows the sun, thus the term. Another possibility according to one expert, is that the term may be from Norse mythology where archaic names from Scandinavian languages, like Danish: solhunde (sun dog), or Norwegian: solhund (sun dog), or Swedish: solvarg (sun wolf), pertains to the star constellation of two wolves hunting the sun and the moon.

I think calling those 2 dogs in the photo above, sun dogs, as they were enjoying the sunlight in this cold day, is perhaps much easier to understand.

(*photo courtesy of my friend)

 

 

A Snowy Motorcycle Ride

We are in a deep freeze. For a stretch of a few days our temperature here in Iowa have not wandered above zero degrees Fahrenheit. I know my friends in California boast of warm weather there still. Plus recreational marijuana is now legal there too. It’s not fair!

There was even one day last week, that our actual temperature in Des Moines was colder (-18 F or -27.8 C) than that same day in Antarctica (-5 F or -20.6 C). This is not considering the wind chill factor that can be as cold as -30 to -50 F. I’m expecting Emperor Penguins to arrive in my front yard anytime now.

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Yet few days ago, there was somebody who rode a motorcycle on the road in this dangerously frigid condition. Not a snowmobile, but a motorcycle. I know that seems all madness. But if I tell you the reason why he did it, you will be convinced that it was rather a valiant and selfless act.

We have somebody in our church who likes to ride motorcycles. What he owns is a big maroon Harley-Davidson trike. We were told that he rode it to many places, far and near. He even goes to work on it, and I have seen him come to church on this trike.

Recently his health declined and he became more sickly. His kidneys failed, and he started dialysis three times a week. Yet he continued to ride his trike despite all of his illness, and he even rode it to go to his dialysis treatments.

Few days before Christmas, he got hospitalized. Then with one complication after another, sadly to say, he died a few days later.

So earlier this week, we attended his memorial service that was held in our church. The temperature that day was negative 12 degrees Fahrenheit with wind chill factor of 30 below zero. It snowed the night before and into early morning, so there’s freshly fallen snow on the ground. Even though it was bitterly cold that morning, what was more palpable was the love and warmth of the family and friends who attended that memorial.

To honor this fallen brother, they brought his trike to his memorial service. And yes, somebody rode it from this departed brother’s home and into the church, in this Antarctica-like condition!

So there it was, the Harley-Davidson trike, parked at the entrance of the church. It was positioned near the door, waiting like a sentinel. Perhaps it’s waiting for its rider for a final ride into the sunset.

Looking at the Horizon: A New Year’s Message 2018

(This message was delivered during a local church’s gathering on New Year’s Eve.)

In a few hours, we will be saying goodbye to this year and we’ll be embarking on a new year. Happy New Year!

The month of January is named after the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and of endings, and transitions. He is usually depicted as having two faces, facing back to back, one looking at the past and the other one looking at the future.

At this particular crossroad of time – the end of the old year, and the beginning of the new year – perhaps that’s what we ought to do: to look and evaluate the past, but also look and plan for the future.

Earlier this year, we were blessed with a trip to the Holy Land. We visited a place called Mount Nebo, which is located near Madaba, Jordan, or in Biblical times it is known as the land of the Moabites. The mountain is pretty high that it provides a panoramic view of the surrounding areas around it, including the land known as the Biblical Canaan.

As we were enjoying the view, the tour guide was giving insights and explaining the significance of this place to our group, while another group near us was having a devotional and they were singing the hymn “I am bound for the Promised Land.”

Where we were, is the place where Moses stood. And while Moses was looking at this same horizon that we were viewing, perhaps he was looking back at his life. But God also let him see the future and showed him the entire Promised Land, and the specific areas where certain tribes of Israel would settle. Since he was able to see details (recorded in Deuteronomy 34) that can only be seen with powerful binoculars, I believe God miraculously let him see Canaan with an assisted vision.

Yet the irony of this is, Moses never set foot in that land, for he died and was buried there in Mount Nebo.

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Moses, the chosen liberator of Israel, who led his people out of Egypt, and who dedicated his life leading the Israelites to enter Canaan, was not allowed to enter it. So unlike the song, Moses was not bound for the Promised Land.

Was Moses a failure then? Not at all!

Sometimes when we look at our past, we may feel that we are a failure, for we were not able to accomplish what we were supposed to accomplish. We may feel that we are losers for we are not where we wanted to be. Sometimes we feel like a disappointment for we started something but was not able to complete it.

Perhaps you’re thinking that you should have graduated from college by now, but instead you still have a couple of semesters to go since you shifted course. Or perhaps you’re thinking that you should have that high-paying dream job that you always wanted, but instead you’re stuck in a job you don’t really want. We may have started to work on a project, and now, it is still a project!

Friends, what we fail to understand, is that God may have some other plans for us. That God has a different destination for us, and we have just not realized it yet. Or God could have appointed you to begin that task, and He appointed somebody else to finish it. Just like in the case of Moses, where Joshua took over for him.

More importantly, when Moses stood there in Mount Nebo, while looking at the Promised Land from afar, he did not complain on why he was not allowed to enter the land that is promised to his ancestors, a land that was described as “flowing with milk and honey,” a destination I’m sure Moses wanted to be a part of. Instead, he humbly accepted God’s plan for him.

Moses may have not entered the Promised Land here on earth, yet God took him to a far better place, which is in heaven.

Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)

As we stand here in the Mount Nebo of the year 2017, and as we look at the horizon to the year 2018, I pray that it will be prosperous for each one of us. I hope that it will be flowing with milk and honey. And for the lactose-intolerant, flowing with soy milk and honey.

As we set our goals for the coming year, may we not forget that all our plans here on earth are just temporary, for our ultimate destination is the Promised Land, the heavenly Canaan.

God bless us all, and again Happy New Year!

Looking for Falling Stars

Last summer, we learned that there would be a great opportunity to see meteors in our area. That is if we would look at the right time and at the right direction. And provided that we would have a clear sky.

The event is the Perseid meteor shower, a stream of debris associated with the Swift-Tuttle comet. This is an annual event, and they said that in a clear night sky you can potentially see 100 falling stars in an hour. A hundred falling stars in an hour? That’s a proposition that was just too hard to resist.

Even though I spent half of my life in Manila (can’t see much stars in a big city), I have seen meteors several times in the past. The first time was when I was in grade school during our school’s camping in Batangas. The last time was not too long ago when I was driving home one night here in Iowa and it streaked down the sky. Perhaps I am lucky to see falling stars a few times, or perhaps I’m just looking at the night sky an awful lot of times.

My wife who have not seen a falling star ever, except maybe Kris Aquino falling off the stage on live TV some decades ago, so she was really determined to see this event.

So one night last August, we went outside to watch for falling stars.

We live in a country side, which was a decision we made years ago, where our dark night sky still shows the stars shining brightly and not blurred by the city lights. However in the past 13 years we have lived out here, the city has been creeping closer and closer to us. The cornfields and open prairies that we used to pass by is steadily being gobbled up by construction of housing developments and commercial establishments. I am not sure if I would like to call that “progress.”

It was close to 11 o’clock at night when we went out, a time that ordinarily I would already be snoring. We stood in our deck and looked out in our backyard sky towards northeast, the direction we read it would be. After close to half an hour outside, we still have not seen any falling stars. Not even a single one! And they promised 100 stars an hour?

We were also getting cold, for even though it was summer, it was seasonably cooler than usual that night. Our necks were getting strained as well from looking up. We should have placed a mat in our lawn and lay there under the stars with our blankets. At least we would be comfortable while we eagerly wait and while we listen to the ‘sweet nothing’ whispers in our ears. I’m referring to the pesky mosquitoes buzzing around our heads.

After a long while, as I was looking at the sky in the direction we thought the meteors would appear, I believed I saw a light streaked in my peripheral field of vision. So I told my wife that perhaps we were looking at the wrong direction. So we trained our gaze to a different direction in the sky.

Sure enough, in less than a minute, we saw a bright star flashed across the sky and disappeared in the dark. Not much later, another one did. And another one.

Isn’t it like many times in life, what we’re searching for has been there all along, we just have not realized it, or we just have not looked the right way. Like your lost keys. Or the love that you’re waiting for. Or the happiness that you’re chasing.

Satisfied, my wife suggested that we can go back inside the house, knowing also that the right direction where we can look was in the full view of our bedroom window. So we pulled out a sleeping mat and placed it near the window, and there we laid for the night instead of our bed, and watch for more shooting stars.

They said that you should make a wish when you see a shooting star. Of course I did. That wish was already been granted: lying down here beside me.

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Happy Anniversary my dear. It has been 23 years of happy moments and fulfilled wishes.

(*photo taken in Mohonk Mountain House, New York)

 

Christmas 2017

Some parts of the United States have seen significant snowfall early this season. Even in places that rarely see snow, like Atlanta Georgia and Texas had some snow this December.

But not here in Iowa. We have been dry the whole month of December. Though 2 days ago we had some dusting of snow. The snow fall was so little that they melted few hours later. I thought we missed our chance of having a white Christmas this year.

Then this Christmas eve, snow came to our area. We’ll have another white Christmas after all!

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Like the anticipated snow fall here, the coming of the Messiah was long-awaited by his people some two thousand years ago. Yet when he came, they missed it! Only the unsuspecting shepherds came and some wise men from far away foreign land.

Today, I hope we don’t miss the reason for this season. And it’s not the snow.

Merry Christmas every one!

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Iba Namang White Christmas

Habang ako’y nagda-drive pauwi kagabi ay aking napuna na may mga butil-butil ng niebe (snow) na lumilipad. Matagal-tagal na rin namang kaming naghihintay ng snow, kahit na hindi ko paboritong libangan ang mag-shovel nito. Sabi kasi sa aming weather forecast, maaaring magkaroon daw kami ng 1-2 inches ng snow. Yey, White Christmas!

Pagbangon ko kaninang umaga ay dumungaw ako kaagad sa labas. Kakarampot naman pala ang snow na bumagsak. Ang kuripot naman!

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Dahil konting-konti lang ang aming snow (above photo), siguradong malulusaw at maglalaho na ang lahat ng ito bago pa mag-Pasko. Sang-ayon ulit sa aming weather forecast, wala na kaming  snow fall bago mag-Pasko dito sa Iowa. Mapupurnada yata ang aming White Christmas!

Nainggit tuloy ako sa mga lugar dito sa Amerika na maraming snow ngayong Pasko. Noong nakaraang araw lang, ay pinadalhan ako ng aming kaibigan ng photo na kuha niya mula sa Morristown, New Jersey (photo below). Parang scene sa Frozen ang dating.

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Sa Morristown, New Jersey ako unang napadpad at nanirahan dito sa Amerika. Tatlong taon din akong lumagi doon. Dito ko naranasan ang aking kauna-unahang White Christmas, na noon ay nakikita ko lamang sa mga pictures. Dito ko nasabing para akong nakatira sa loob ng Christmas card.

Nang ako’y bata pa at naninirahan sa Maynila, hindi ko inakalang ako’y makakaranas ng White Christmas. Nagkakasya na ako sa mga dekorasyon namin sa aming classroom sa paaralan ng mga Christmas tree na pinuno ng mga bulak para magmukhang may snow. Sa bulak lang masaya na ako.

Tapos sa klase kakanta kami ng “Dashing through the snow” at “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas.” Ano ba naman ang malay ko sa snow at White Christmas? Alam ko lang noon ay “dashing through the flood!” Kinakanta rin namin ‘yung “Frosty, the Snowman.” Pero ‘yung Frosty alam ko at gusto ko. Ito ay isang brand ng ice candy noong bata ako. Masarap siya!

Taong 1991 nang nakaranas ako na pumuti ang kalsada sa Maynila. Pag-gising ko isang umaga at sa pagdungaw ko sa labas, ay nakita kong medyo maputi ang aming paligid. Nag-snow sa Maynila?! Pero nang aking kilatisin, hindi ito snow, kundi abo pala! Abo mula sa pagsabog ng Mt. Pinatubo.

Taong 1994, aking nilisan ang Pilipinas. Hindi para makakita ng snow o maghukay ng yelo, pero para tugisin ang aking mga pangarap sa buhay.

Ngayon, makatapos kong maranasan ang marami ng White Christmas, iba na ang gusto ko sa Pasko. Ibang puti na ang gusto ko, hindi snow. Puti, tulad ng puting buhangin sa beach ng Zambales.  Puti, tulad ng kesong puti sa loob ng bagong lutong pandesal. Puti, tulad ng bagong kaskas na niyog sa ibabaw ng puto bungbong.

Umulan na lang sana ng bagong kaskas na niyog. Samahan na rin sana ng pag-ulan ng puto bungbong at bibingka. Teka, masakit yatang mabagsakan ng bibingka!

Hay, nami-miss ko na naman ang Pilipinas.

Sa lahat ng mga Pilipino sa iba’t-ibang lupalop ng mundo, ano mang puti ang pumapaligid sa inyo – maging ito’y snow, o kaya’y abo at lahar, o puting buhangin at malinaw na dagat, o kaya’y disyerto, o mga puting semento, o kaya nama’y mga kumpol na bulak, o tambak ng puting basura, o kaya’y maging bagong kayod na niyog – kayong lahat ay aking binabati ng Maligayang Pasko!

 

 

Bethlehem Hills and Herod’s Mountain: A Christmas Reflection

It is mid-December, and in a few days it will be Christmas. It’s a season for celebration, yet it is well-known that the holiday season can be a cause of stress and depression for some people. Perhaps we should let go of that long Christmas shopping list of ours.

Even if the whole world celebrate Christmas in December, it is likely that Jesus was not born in the winter. Based on Biblical narrative, shepherds were watching their flocks in the fields at night during that time, and December nights in Judaea can be too cold for the shepherds to sleep outside in the fields.

Many scholars believe that it was probably spring time when Jesus was born, so December 25th is unlikely to be the exact date of Jesus’ birth. What I am saying is that the date may be off, yet I am not saying that we should not remember or celebrate Jesus’ birth. That’s another subject of discussion and debate.

Earlier this year, we were blessed with a visit to the Holy Land, including a trip to the city of Bethlehem.

IMG_4282.jpgBethlehem is about 10 kilometers away from Jerusalem. Today it is a Palestinian territory. So our guide who was an Israeli national and who was touring us in Jerusalem, boarded off our charted bus just before we entered Bethlehem, and another tour guide whom I assumed was a Palestinian, hopped in our bus after we entered the city and cleared the checkpoint. They must have some specific rules and arrangement.

We went to visit the Church of Nativity, the site believed where Jesus was born. This Byzantine basilica was built on top of a cave. So at the cellar of this church was a grotto (photo below), marked as the traditional site of Jesus’ birth.

img_4306Though the exact location is hard to prove accurately with archeological support, for me, it is enough that the city of Bethlehem exists to believe that Jesus was born. It does not matter where the exact spot is, as long as it was recorded that it was in Bethlehem, the city of David.

“For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”(Luke 2:11). What a reassuring thought, that our Lord and Savior came to this earth, and that should not be a cause of stress and depression, but instead of joy and hope.

While on the bus, I observed that the terrain around Bethlehem was hilly. In fact, Bethlehem sits on top of a hill rising about 3,500 feet above the desert valley. It must have been difficult for Mary who was fully pregnant and about to give birth to climb those hills.

IMG_4290We passed through some hills that were full of houses and buildings today (photo above). It was probably in one of those hills, two thousand years ago, where shepherds were watching their sheep when suddenly they saw a bright light and then the angels appeared to them announcing the birth of the Messiah. It must have been a marvelous experience to be on those hills that glorious night.

The tour guide asked us to look beyond Bethlehem hills and direct our sight to a strange-looking mountain in the distance. It was truncated and cone-shaped. I enlarged the section of the photo above to feature the mountain. (Sorry I was not able to get a better picture.)

IMG_4290It was a strange-looking mountain because it was man-made. The mountain was named Herodium, a fortress that Herod the Great constructed, about 5 kilometers southeast of Bethlehem. This was the same King Herod that tried to kill Jesus by slaughtering all the male infants in the region.

As history recorded it, when Herod the Great, was searching for a place to build his home and fortress, there was not a mountain high enough for him to build this structure. Instead there were two hills near each other at the site where he wanted it.

So what did Herod do? He cut down one hill and with an army of laborers he placed the pared hill on top of the other hill to make it higher, one bucket of dirt and rocks at a time. He literally moved a mountain.

When Jesus and his disciples were having discussion about faith, they were probably looking at this Herod’s mountain, which was hard to miss in the Judaean desert. Its dominating presence was a constant reminder of an oppressive regime. It was a common knowledge of that time how Herod moved a mountain.

However, what Jesus was telling his disciples is that faith, is much more powerful than what Herod can do. With faith they can be mightier than the mightiest ruler of their time.

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

Yes, we can move mountains. Though not by our own power but by the mighty power of God.

What mountains are we facing? What giant challenges are gripping our hearts with fear? Let’s put our faith in the King of Bethlehem hills, and He will move our mountains.

May we all have a meaningful Christmas.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)