Chicago (Bull)Horns

We have been to Chicago several times before, perhaps ten times or more, yet we were there again last Valentine’s weekend. It’s not that Chicago is a particularly romantic place, but we were there for a different reason.

The 2020 NBA All-Star weekend was in Chicago during that time, but we were not there for that reason as well. Though I wish I could have watched the NBA All-Star games. (This post has nothing to do with the NBA team Chicago Bulls.)

We went to Chicago to see a concert. Whose concert? It’s a group that our daughter introduced us to, and she’s a big fan of them. She is a music major and a classical pianist if you have not known that already, and I would say that she has a good taste for music. But we did not watch an opera, for I don’t think I could really appreciate that kind of music genre. The concert that we watched was of a group of three young tenors that are classic-pop crossover who fondly call their music “popera.”

The concert we watched

Many of the songs they sang were in Italian, like “O Sole Mio” and “Grande Amore,” though they have some cover of old polular songs like Frank Senatra’s “My Way” and Barbara Streisand’s “People.” I told my daughter that at least I could understand 1 out of 2 songs that they sang.

We also have relatives from the Philippines that are visiting us here in Iowa so we brought them along for the drive to see Chicago. Even though it was too cold to roam around yet we were still able to show them some of the famous spots of the city. Is the Jollibee restaurant a part of that famous location for a Filipino tour? Of course!

We also took our guests up the viewing deck at the 103rd floor of Willis Tower (previously known as Sears Tower). It took us almost 3 hours to get to the top, not that we have to climb the stairs, for that would be much faster. It was the line of people waiting to go up that was really long. Definitely a painfully long time to wait for an elevator ride.

View from the skydeck of Willis Tower

We booked rooms in a hotel in downtown Chicago at the heart of the city’s bustling traffic. Nearby our hotel was a fire station. So you could imagine the street noise that we could hear even if we were already on the 12th floor of the building. Sure enough it was hard to sleep at night due to the sounds of wailing sirens and cars honking. No wonder they provided ear plugs as part of their amenities.

I am not used to hearing car horns already let alone hearing them almost continuously through the night. I thought the beeping would only last during rush hours, but no it did not stop. People were honking their car horns even at the unholy time of 3 o’clock in the morning. Unless they consider that rush hour still, or perhaps these people were drunk or just plain rude. Well, it’s Chicago’s bullhorns!

Don’t get me wrong, I like the city of Chicago and I have been exposed to noisy environment in my life as I grew up in Manila and I also lived for a few years in New York City. But I have been in Iowa now for 16 years and have adapted to peaceful rural living.

But we’re back in Iowa now. I’m back to the quiet nights where the only noise I could hear when it gets dark is the rare hooting of the illusive owl and the deafening sounds of my thoughts.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Wild Goose Run

January and February are usually the coldest months here in Iowa. It is too cold to run outside, at least for most people. The last time I went out to run was back in December, and it was actually Christmas Day as we had a spring time weather that time.

But today is different. By the way, it is 02 02 2020, how neat is that? Even though it is February, our temperature is above freezing (40º F), which is unusual for this time of year for us.

So I decided to go out for a run.

It is a sunny day and our big pile of snow is starting to melt. It may take several days of “warm” days like this to melt them all down though.

Then I met some flocks of wild geese. They usually fly south for the winter, but I am seeing more and more of them staying here in our place even for the winter months.

These geese are equipt for the cold anyway, as they have down feathers which we even use to insulate our jackets. In fact goose down jackets are one of the warmest jackets you can get and has the advantage of being lightweight. But I know they can be expensive.

Here’s more geese coming for a landing.

There is more cold weather forecasted for this coming week, and we will be back to subfreezing temperature, and more snow as well. But for a day, I enjoyed going outside with the wild geese.

A wild goose chase? Maybe.

my shadow selfie with the geese

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

A Landmark Run

The 2-hour time barrier to finish a full marathon was broken. A feat that was considered for long as impossible for humans, was conquered two days ago by a Kenyan runner, Eliud Kipchoge. He ran 26.2 miles in a blistering time of 1 hour 59 minutes and 40 seconds. What Kipchoge did was compared to Neal Armstrong walking in the moon and Sir Edmund Hillary reaching the summit of Mount Everest, for indeed it was a significant achievement. He inspired many that “no human is limited.”

I participate in marathons every year in the fall. I run the half-marathon event and I have already completed 7 of them. Except this year, I did not register to join as I did not have enough time to train. My excuse is that I am busy reviewing for my Sleep Boards which by the way is less than a month from today.

However, I did not stop running totally as I still do my regular 2 to 3 miles run at least twice a week. The longest run I made this year is only 5 miles. Since I have now a gadget that tells me my pace and monitors my heart rate continuously, I can even track if I may be pushing myself too hard.

According to experts, you should keep your heart rate between 70% to 85% of your target maximum heart rate during vigorous excercise. To calculate for your maximum heart rate, you subtract your age from 220. So for me my maximum heart rate should be around 170. Though sometimes my heart rate speeds up to 170-180 when I am running, so I have to slow down. It’s either I am pushing too hard or I am still not conditioned or trained enough.

I even brought my running shoes during my short visit in California. Besides, running gives you a chance to enjoy the sun outside and the view around you. My run may not be a landmark like of Kipchoge, but at least I can take photos of landmarks while I run.

Here’s the scenery when I ran in California where my aunt lives (photos taken 10 days ago):

Here’s the scenery here in my home in Iowa (photos taken yesterday):

I will never run as fast as Kipchoge, not even in my imagination, but I will keep on running. Maybe I should stop taking photos so I could run faster. Nah!

(* photos taken with an iPhone)

Brighter Sunrise After A Storm

We are blessed to have a scenic view in front of our home. Many times after a difficult day, all I want to do is sit at home and stare beyond the horizon.

When we were looking for a place to live 15 years ago, I made a decision to get this house after standing outside at the front, before even seeing what it looks like inside. For me, if you don’t like the layout of the house, you can always renovate or change it, but not the location or the view. You cannot just place an ocean or a mountain in front of your house. Or maybe you can, but that will be a great undertaking to create an ocean or move a mountain.

When we moved in, one of the movers complimented our view. He said that it be better still if a lightning would strike the two trees which are actually in my neighbors yard, and that would give us an unobstructed view of the river valley below. Though I told him we were already satisfied with what we have.

One thing that I really enjoy here is watching the sunrise right in front of our porch. It is just so magical (photo below, taken autumn of last year).

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However, there would be times of the year that the sunrise would be blocked by my neighbor’s trees. Because as you know the sunrise (and sunset) is not always in the exact location throughout the year. Remember our earth is tilted 23.5 degrees on its axis, so as it revolves the sun’s path across the horizon changes.

Here’s another beautiful sunrise (photo below, taken spring of this year). I know it is partially obstructed by my neighbor’s trees, yet it is still majestic, isn’t it?

Few weeks ago we had thunderstorms and gusty winds in our area. It broke some branches of out trees and flattened some of our plants. It downed some trees in our neighborhood too, including the one of our neighbors’. Yes, the one right in front of our house. So our neighbor has no recourse but to cut down the whole tree.

As I have said before, storms are part of life. We will go through some that will almost break down our will and flattened our spirits. But if we weather them we could have a brighter outlook, a more glorious sunrise, if you will.

I feel bad for the downed tree and for our neighbor, but not too much. For now that the tree in front of our house is gone, we have a less obstructed view of the valley (photo below). Storms can indeed bring brighter sunrise, literally.

Here is a time-lapse that my wife took of the magnificent sunrise.

Down the River

It is September once again and Labor Day weekend here in the US heralds the unofficial end of summer. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, we should expect a “Polar Coaster” this coming winter. Meaning, it will be freezing, frigid, and frosty.

So my friends and I went for an adventure last Sunday to take advantage of this fleeting summer. Did we go biking? No, done that. Hiking? No, done that too. We went kayaking!

I have never done kayaking before. I have been in a canoe a few times, but not in a kayak. The only “kayak” I have gotten into before was the search engine for cheap flights and hotels. Our group, three teams of father and son, were mostly first-timers, except for the one who planned this trip.

We went to this little Iowa town to meet our guy who would provide our equipment. We then drove through a winding dirt road and came to one access boat-ramp by the river where we parked our car. Then we were taken by a truck, with our rental kayaks, a few miles up the river where we were dropped off to start our journey.

The river was relatively quiet with only a gentle current. No big scary drop-offs, just a few rapids. Since it was also the end of summer, several portions of the river were shallow, so shallow that you could get stuck in some rocky portions.

It was the perfect weather for being outdoors that afternoon. Not too hot, nor too cold, and the water was cool and inviting for a swim, if in case your boat tipped over.

When we were dropped off the river, we were told that we were going to paddle 5 miles down the river to the station where we parked our car. We were given landmarks to watch out for. We were told that when we passed the first bridge, that meant we already travelled 4 miles. And when we passed the second bridge, that meant our destination was only half a mile away. If we missed that access ramp, we could end up paddling for several more miles to the next access ramp (or to Missouri?), so we had to be vigilant.

After some time paddling, we got the hang of it, and were able to drive forward, instead of going in circles. For me, a kayak was much easier to maneuver than the other paddle boats I have tried. It can be tiring though, yet it is a good work-out for the arms.

It was a great adventure to travel down the river. We saw several herds of deer drinking at the river bank. There were lots of birds flying above us and we even spotted a bald-eagle. There were fishes swimming around us, and thank goodness there were no piranhas or alligators in this river. There were other smaller creatures, like water-striders that glided across the surface and dragonflies that zipped above the water. We also passed some people fishing and saw two men who set up a camp in a secluded area of the river.

We stopped once to take a break and to take a leak. While resting, we also ate some snacks and took a drink of water (no, not river water, we’re not that adventurous). We tried our skills at skipping stones on the river as well. My son proudly said that he was able to skip a stone almost 20 times. Though that may sound impressive, the world record is 88 skips, so it was not even close.

We were enjoying our time together, leisurely paddling and floating down the river, but we got really excited when we saw the first bridge. Maybe it was reassuring to know that we were making good progress and that we were nearing our destination. After that, it did not take us long to pass the second bridge. It took us a little less than 3 hours to cover the 5 miles. Not bad at all.

The last mile of our trip seemed to have more rapids, which made us go faster, but I got stuck on the rocks in one of those rapids. And no amount of paddling or maneuvering could get me free. So I got out of my boat, waded in the river, and pulled my kayak out of the shallow waters.

When we reached our destination, two from our group took an unintentional swim as they were getting out their kayak. Or maybe they really just wanted to cool off before we pulled our boats up the boat ramp.

It was an exhilarating experience, and what a nice way to end this summer. Our arms may be aching, but our hearts were swelling with joy. We enjoyed it so much that we promised that there would be a next time.

Floating down the river,

Pinoytransplant

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(*Photos taken with an iPhone; I was ‘brave’ to bring my phone in this boating trip, knowing that my phone might take a swim.)

Follow the Sunflower

A couple of weeks ago, when we were coming home from a week-long international camporee, we happen to drove by a sunflower farm here in Iowa. We were unaware that there’s a sunflower field here. Since we were all tired from the camping, we did not go down to check it out, but promised ourselves that we’ll come back and visit it some other time.

Last Friday, after we helped our daughter get settled back to her dorm, we trekked down to the sunflower farm, which was less than an hour drive from our daughter’s university.

When we arrived at the field, we were a little disappointed, as the condition of the sunflowers has passed its peak. Summer after all, is almost ending and plus the heavy rains earlier in the week did a number on the sunflowers. In fact some of the sunflowers had already fallen to the ground.

Since the state of the farm was not that picture perfect anymore, the $3 entrance fee had been waived, and instead a box for voluntary donation at the gate was placed. It was also free to take some flowers home.

I have to say though that overall, peak or past their peak, the sunflowers were still a beauty to behold.

I noticed something peculiar as well. I always heard that sunflowers always face and follow the sun from sunrise to sunset. This phenomenon is called heliotropism. However in this field the flowerheads were actually turned away from the sun as they were facing east, though the sun was already starting to descend in the west. Why?

I asked one of the farm attendant and she told us that young sunflowers follow the sun across the sky, but when the plant mature, the stalks become stiff already so they lost their ability to turn. So the mature sunflowers face east permanently the rest of their days.

Isn’t that like people? When we were young, we were impressionable and we follow rules without questions. But when we get old, we become “stiff neck” and become pasaway (hardheaded).

Speaking of pasaway, here’s one:

watering the sunflowers

Don’t worry, I did not really “water” the sunflowers. It was all for photo effects.

For some reason while I was on this field, I had this certain Beatles song playing in my head. Maybe because I know that the sunflowers follow the sun:

One day, you’ll find
That I have gone
But tomorrow may rain, so
I’ll follow the sun
Yeah tomorrow may rain, so
I’ll follow the sun.

From the sunflower field of Iowa,

Pinoytransplant

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Fallen Nest

Few days ago, we experienced a strong summer thunderstorm. After the storm, our yard was littered with fallen leaves and broken tree branches. Then we saw this on the ground under our front yard tree:

It is a bird’s nest. We picked it up and placed it at our front porch. We did not find any eggs around it nor birds that might had inhabit this nest. The strong winds must have knocked it off from the tree branch.

Looking at the intricacies of the nest, I felt bad for the birds that owned it. They may have woven it for a long time. They may have occupied it and was their home for a while. I hope they are safe and unharmed. They must have flown away and maybe are busy building another nest somewhere.

Maybe we also have worked for something for a long time. Maybe we have invested precious time and efforts to accomplish something special. But some strong storms in life knocked off our nest and it came crashing to the ground.

But you know what? It’s just a nest. We still have our lives. We can still rebuild. We can rise again. We again will fly.

“Only in the shattering can the rebuilding occur.” Barbara Marciniak

Bugging Critters

Since it’s summer, I have been spending some time outside sitting in our front porch. In fact, that’s where I prefer to read as I prepare for my Boards (read previous post). I am taking advantage of the warm season while it last.

But while I am studying, I have been distracted by some critters, and I cannot help but take photos of them.

One morning, I was bugged by this little bunny (above photo). I thought I heard it say, “Hey, what’s up doc?” Maybe it was only in my head as I was thinking of another famous “bugs” bunny.

Moments later, another rabbit passed by the driveway and he seems to be exchanging stories with the squirrel (photo below). Maybe they were discussing what they want for breakfast: “I crave for a 24-carrot delight,” said one. “I go wild for nuts!” said the other.

There were also lots of birds, and they were noisily chirping around as if they were intentionally disturbing me. It was alright by me for I can’t hush them anyway. “Ssshhh, this is a study area.”

Here’s a cardinal at the bird bath. He seems to be contemplating if the water is cold and if he should take a bath. “To bathe or not to bathe.” But he did eventually.

Below is a mother deer and her fawn. The fawn was taking a drink at the bird bath, “Mmmm, taste like a cardinal punch.” “Oh, don’t drink that!” warns her mother.

I took the photo before I got out to the front porch, but they scurried away the moment I opened the door.

Lastly, there were other critters that were buzzing around me, including bugs that bite. Bzzzzz….”Ooohh, happy meal!” They left their marks on my legs, which I am annoyingly scratching now.

Damn critters!

The Unconquered Hill

There are places that are hard to conquer because of their natural physical barrier. Like the Masada in Israel, a fortress on top of a rock plateau 1400-feet high. This was the last foothold of the Jews against the Romans. Or the Maeda escarpment, which is a 350-foot high ridge in the island of Okinawa, Japan. The Americans lost hundreds of lives trying to capture this place, a story featured in the movie Hacksaw Ridge.

But I am not really going to talk about battles or wars today. The unconquered hill that I was alluding to was a hill in a bike route. Yes, no shedding of blood here, only sweat for it’s just a bike ride.

I participated in the RAGBRAI*, which is a popular annual week-long bicycle ride across the state of Iowa. This was my second time to join this event.

Before you really get amazed on my undertaking, I want to let you know that I only rode for one day, and not for the whole week. And I chose the day with the shortest route too, which was only 40 miles. I say only 40 miles, because on the other days, the course ranges from 60 to 88 miles.

see my shadow taking photo?

I did not train much for this bike ride. Since I run at least 2-3 times a week and can run 3 miles comfortably, plus knowing that I have finished several half-marathons in the past, I was confident that biking 40 miles should not be a problem at all. After all, I am reasonably fit, right?

When I run for the half-marathon, I usually train for at least 2 months. But the only preparation I did for this bike ride was I performed a 5-mile exercise in a stationary bike at a gym a week before, and I rode a 10-mile road test 2 days before the real event.

That was a mistake.

My cardiopulmonary function may be alright, and my determination is like titanium, but I overlook one thing. Riding a bike uses a different set of muscles than running.

So on one of the steep uphill climb, I felt my quadriceps muscles cramping and almost giving out. They were not trained to pound on the pedal for that long. As you probably know, running uses more of the hamstrings and calf muscles, not so much in cycling.

We stopped for a while after that grueling hill, and sat at the side of the road to give my cramping quad muscles a break. This bike-ride is not a race anyway. You can do it at your own pace, and can stop several times if you want. In fact, stopping to sample the foods being sold along the way and hanging out in the small towns we passed through was encouraged.

bikers and bikes taking a break

I made it through the 40 miles ride in one piece, and without keeling over. No bruises, no fractures. Only fractured confidence.

On the bike course of that day, the last leg was a couple of hills. I don’t know why they chose a steep hill for a finish after already pedaling 40 miles and passing so many hills. But since we were already within the vicinity of what was considered the end of the route, we skipped the last hill climb and called it a day.

the last hill of the course

We then phoned for our ride to fetch us at the street before the last hill – the last unconquered hill.

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(*RAGBRAI- Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa; photos taken with an iPhone)

Alliums and Peonies

This period is one of my favorite time of the year when it’s not too cold and not too hot either. Plus the flowers are blooming. Smelling flowers are much more enjoyable than shoveling snow, you know.

I would like to share some photos of what are blooming now in our garden, that have not been eaten yet by the deer or the wild rabbits.

Purple allium and white alliums:

By the way, Allium is the Latin word for garlic. As you can surmise these plants belongs to the family of onions, garlic and shallots. Since these blooms are in the family of onions, they have the trademark smell.

Peonies:

Peony is named after Paeon, the Greek god of medicine and healing. I don’t know if these flowers have curative properties. But one thing for sure, they are fragrant and maybe that’s healing enough.

These large flowers last about two weeks only, so might as well take the opportunity to gather them and display them inside as well.

Below are flowers not from our garden but from a grocery store. I included them here since I like my photo of it.

Despite allergies and all, there’s one unwritten rule in our household: No fake flowers allowed.

The last photo is the harvested peonies. And a selfie of course.

(*Credit to my wife, the master horticulturist; all photos taken with an iPhone)