Figments of Lavender Field

Few weeks ago, my family visited a 90-acre field of wild flowers. It was actually a farm land before, but the owners turned it into a natural prairie. Here in Iowa, the state gives incentives through federal conservation program wherein the government will give yearly rental payment in exchange of farmers turning their agricultural land into a prairie or a wooded area. This is one way of reclaiming industrial lands into natural habitats for the wild life.

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Wanting to see more beautiful field of flowers, my wife checked on a website and learned that there is a lavender farm here in Iowa. She envisioned that it will be an expansive gorgeous fields of lavender flowers. Besides, the farm is located near a scenic route, the Loess Hills, which is included in the National Scenic Byways of America, meaning it is a must-see drive. Since we have not seen it yet, so we drove to it last weekend.

The lavender field is about two hours drive away from our place. Here in the United States’ midwest, two hours drive is nothing. At least when we say two hours drive, we mean we’re really driving mostly at maximum speed limit. Unlike in other parts of the world, like in Manila, two hours drive means a distance you can get to in twenty minutes but you’re stuck in traffic for two hours.

After finishing our Sunday morning chores, we packed the family in the car and drove. My college-age daughter, who is home for the summer, was not even feeling well that morning due to menstrual cramps, but we drag her anyway so she won’t miss it. She just brought a pillow and laid down in the backseat.

It was a relatively cool day for a summer, as it was cloudy and even had intermittent showers. In fact we encountered some heavy rains along the way, which to me, just made the trip more interesting.

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As we approached our destination, we passed by an overlook area. It has a tower where you can view the surrounding scenery. My daughter was feeling better already at that time, that she got off the car and also climbed the tower.

When we came to a nearby town just minutes to our destination, we decided to stop for lunch first before heading to the place. We discovered a nice old diner. It has a 1960’s theme, or perhaps they just did not change it since they opened. We found out that this diner was a major hub even back in the days, as it was near a major train station.

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When we continued on our trip, we got lost as our GPS directed us not to the exact site. Yes, I gave the verdict that the GPS was at fault, and it cannot defend itself. We phoned the farm’s number and it re-directed us to its location.

Finally we found the place. As we were pulling into their parking lot, we saw the field in front of us and it was nothing like what we imagined or expected. It was a dud. A let-down. A disappointment.

No stretches of beautiful lavender. No expansive field of wonderful flowers. Instead, it was a patch of drying bushes. In its defense, perhaps we were just expecting too much.

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As we already drove for two hours, so we still went down and checked the farm, including the small shop they have in that place. We did not tarry though.

We then decided to drive further in a road that has a sign “National Scenic Byway.” It was said that this scenic byway, the Loess Hills, has a unique terrain, formed by windblown silt, called loess. No other place in the world except the one in China, where there are higher loess hills formation than this place in Iowa.

After driving for some time in this said scenic byway, we admit that they were interesting, but we’re not utterly impressed. Maybe because we have already driven from US coast to coast, and we have seen more stunning scenic byways. We turned around and headed for home.

We passed by a small town that has a number of antique shops on our way home. The last time we were there was more than 10 years ago (see previous post). My son who was less than 3 years old at that time, accidentally knocked down an antique mirror sitting on a floor at one of the stores. The mirror fell on its face and shattered the glass into several pieces. I ended up paying $200 dollars. Since I paid for it, I took home the wood or board where the mirror was mounted. $200 for a piece of board!

They say that breaking a mirror will cause seven years of misfortune. I don’t think so. What followed was several years of bliss living in Iowa.

This time we did not shatter any mirrors. Just shattered expectations, I guess. After that last stop, we came home after almost 6 hours on the road.

Have you had any similar experience? Going to a place that did not live up to your expectations? Did we just wasted a day and some gallons of gas? I don’t want to believe so. For even if the destination was less than spectacular, we still spent some quality family time together.

Life is a journey. Sometimes it is not the destination that matters. But it is the joy of experience, discovery, shared moments together, and the eventual precious memories during the travel, that really matters.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

False Promise of Spring

Even though winter here in the northern hemisphere has officially more than a month to go, here in Iowa, we are getting a break from the cold. In fact it was so warm this weekend that people went out without the need of a jacket. And some even wore shorts.

Yesterday I saw flocks of geese in their majestic V-formation flying northward, which means they are coming back home. I saw children playing  at the park. And even the bikers were out cruising down the road. These are definitely not a February scene. Not in Iowa anyway.

February here is usually one of our coldest months, with the average temperature of 20-30’s Fahrenheit, and can even dipped down to the single digits or even below zero degree Fahrenheit.  We should still be subfreezing at this time and we should still be buried in snow. Yet the pile of snow at the side of our driveway from last week’s snow storm, have all melted away. We are experiencing close to summer-like temperature today.

I should not be complaining, right?

But I know that this warm respite is not going to last that long. Sooner or later, the cold wind will be back, and we’ll be facing the freezing reality again. For the record, there’s a forecast of snowstorm with possibility of several inches of snow accumulation, by the end of this week.

I too joined the multitudes of people who took advantage of this beautiful not-like-winter weather. I went out to run this morning. As I looked around, I could already see some buds coming out from the bare branches of the trees.

However I feel for the trees and plants who may be getting a little confused. Due to the out-of-season weather, the hibernating buds and flowers may be awakened too early by this warm temperature, thinking that it is already spring.

I know few years ago the same thing happened. Too early in the season, it became unseasonable warm. The buds and blossoms sprouted. Only to be frozen and coated with ice, as the cold snap came back. It killed them. That year we did not have much flowers, and in fact there were no cherry blossoms when the real spring came.

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branches coated with ice

That’s what I’m afraid would happen again. A false hope of spring. A promise of warmth that it cannot keep.

I know some of us have experienced those untruthful promises before. Some of us have been given false hope. In my native language we even have a term for that, “pinaasa lang.” 

Those empty promises and false hopes killed our buds. It crushed our expectations. But you know what? For the time being, we may have lost our flowers and our trust for humanity. But we learned our lessons. We may have become cynical, but it made us strong. Life continued, and in due time we blossomed once again.

As you might surmised, I am not just talking about the seasons here.

So I am watching this weather with a guarded hope for spring. I wish the plants and the trees are too. I’m definitely not putting away my winter coat yet.

(*photo taken after an ice storm few weeks ago)

Trusting Strangers

I grew up in Manila in a time where trust is hard to get by. We were indoctrinated never to trust a stranger. But this perhaps is true in many parts of the world.

It was inculcated in our young minds that when a stranger talk to us in the streets, to make sure that we hold our bags more tightly, or check if we still have our wallets. When we are in a public or crowded places, we were told to be sure that we have our valuables close to us and never ever leave them.

When I was commuting to school, I always carry my backpack on my chest (should it be called a chestpack?), since the pickpocket can easily access my bag without me knowing if it is on my back.

We have even been instructed on the so many modus operandi of the mandurukot and snatchers. They usually have accomplices that would distract your attention, while somebody else go for your valuables. But sometimes they just seize your valuables right in front of your face.

Though on a good note, I have heard from my friends and relatives that Manila is much safer now, under the administration of President Duterte. I hope this continues.

I have personally witnessed snatching a few times in the past. I may have been a victim also, as I lost my money once while I was riding in the jeepney. Though I may have just dropped it, as I was a little burara when I was younger.

Once in college, while we were crossing the overpass in España Blvd in front of UST, a snatcher grabbed my classmate’s necklace. He was about to run after the snatcher, but I held him back, knowing that these people were armed and always have accomplices. It was better for him to just lose his necklace than his life.

In another instance when I was in high school, I was in Harrison Plaza when I was approached by somebody asking for the time. Then he stared at my watch suspiciously. It was a Citizen automatic watch, that was given to me by my father on my birthday. I suddenly sensed a bad feeling – like a “spider sense,” that I quickly ran away from him and entered a store where there was a security guard standing by.

One time we were in a food court of a mall, when a distraught lady ask around if anybody saw her bag. I was sure it was stolen perhaps when she was not paying attention.

In recent times cellphones have been the favorite object of snatchers. I even heard of horror stories that people got hurt because they won’t give their cellphones to a holdupper.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my homeland. But these things I don’t miss. For foreigners who are planning to visit Manila, I am not scaring you away, for it really is worth a visit. Just take proper precautions.

Then, I moved to Iowa.

Somehow all the years of my upbringing looking suspiciously to any stranger that comes near me, have to change. I don’t have to be hyper-vigilant all the time. I learned to trust people again.

Few days ago, I had a day off and my wife and I had a breakfast in a restaurant in Des Moines. The place was fairly busy with lots of people coming and going.

A family came and pick a table near us. When they went to the counter to get their order, they left their belongings unattended on the table. Cellphone, car keys, wallet and all!

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It was so unnatural for me to see this, that I have to take a photo.

You may call it naive, but people here are still so trusting. I hope it never change.

It may take me a while to fully let my guard down and leave my cellphone and valuables unattended. Or perhaps I never will.

 

A Gray Day to Run a Marathon

It was time for my annual participation for the half marathon. As always, I can’t run without taking photos. I could have played Pokemon Go and capture Pokemon creatures too, but I settled in just capturing pictures.

It was a foggy and an overcast morning. Though for runners, there’s no “bad” day to run. As you can see, hundreds of runners showed up on race day. Here we are waiting for the run to start.

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And here we go! Crossing the official Starting Line.

img_3577Weaving our way through downtown Des Moines.

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Passing the Pappajohn’s Sculpture Park.

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We’re away from the downtown buildings now. The visibility remained a few hundred yards due to the fog, as shown below.

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Circling around a lake. Where’s the lake you may ask? I know you can’t see it, but just believe me, that’s a lake.

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Crossing a foot bridge in Gray’s Lake. It was really gray indeed!

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Even if it’s foggy and cool, we need to keep hydrated. Below are the paper cups thrown aside by the runners just past the water station.

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Running around the Capitol building. The golden dome is barely visible due to the fog. It was about this time that I felt my legs starting to cramp. So I started to intermittently walk and run.

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I almost crawled the last (13th) mile. But to look good for the spectators at the finish line, I ran fast for the final 0.2 to 0.3 miles to the Finish Line. As they always say, finish strong! Even if it just for a show.

Finally, me approaching the Finish Line! Look, a medical personnel is waiting.

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(*all photos were taken by me, except for the last photo which was taken by my wife)

Nothing To Do In Iowa

Summer here is on its last leg, and autumn is knocking on our doors. Yet we are still trying to squeeze out the fun of what’s left of this summer.

Like the summers before, we again had a few friends and relatives from out-of-state who visited and stayed with us here in Iowa. They came from New York, from Florida, and even from out of the country like Taiwan and the Philippines.

One friend who came from Florida, was told by her office mates when they learned that she was flying to Iowa, that there’s nothing to see and do in Iowa. Except if you’re a Presidential candidate and you’re campaigning.

True, Iowa is not a tourist destination, like California or Florida. There may not be much to see here. But for our friends, seeing us, maybe is reason enough for them to visit Iowa.

Yet we tried our best to show our visitors what is here to see. We toured them around the city of Des Moines, the covered bridges of Madison County, and the farm fields of Iowa. Some of them even had the chance to go to the annual Iowa State Fair.

They said that our state fair is truly part of Americana. For where else can you go around the fair grounds while chomping on a whole turkey leg or a pork chop on a stick? Or munch deep-fried Oreos or deep-fried Sneakers? Or see the biggest cow, or the biggest pumpkin? Or see the famed butter cow sculpture?

This summer, we also had the chance to visit other states, like Montana and California. We have a few relatives in California, including my mother-in-law, who sadly to say, got awfully sick and eventually passed away during our visit there. Thus our vacation had a sudden turn of sad events.

She was hospitalized in a small hospital in Hollywood. In fact, the hospital was a couple of blocks from Sunset Boulevard and all the touristy spots in Hollywood. But driving back and forth to the hospital and where we’re staying was not a pleasant trip, as we were most of the time stuck in terrible traffic in the Los Angeles area.

photo taken after we visited my mother-in-law at the hospital

My mother-in-law stayed in the ICU for a few days, and I had the chance to talk to her physician. I introduced myself as an ICU doctor as well, so we can have a direct talk about the nitty-gritty details involved, as well as management, and of course prognosis.

The ICU physician was nice to me. Though he was in a bit of disbelief that I am practicing in Iowa. Perhaps he, like many others, have the impression that there’s nothing but corn and cows in Iowa.

He even asked my kids what do they do for “fun” in Iowa. My kids just politely said “a lot” without giving much details. I’m sure the good doctor was expecting answers like going to Disney, or visiting a theme park (which we also have though not as famous), or going to the beach.

My kids could have answered, how about catching fireflies. Or riding ATV in the cornfields with our friends. Or riding bike in dirt trails. Or perhaps just watching the sunset, or counting the stars.

As he was leaving, my mother-in-law’s doctor told me that he felt “sorry” that I live in Iowa. I just smiled and did not answer. It was past eight in the evening, and I knew he was not even on-call that night for he told me so, and yet he was still making rounds and seeing patients.

Me in Iowa? If I’m not on-call, I’m done with work by five in the afternoon, and I’m doing something “fun” by that time. Or maybe I’m just home spending time with my family.

In reality, it was me, who felt sorry for him.

For somebody who have lived in Manila, New Jersey, New York City, California, and Florida, I know what I’m talking about. And that’s why I chose to live where I’m living now.

Yes, there’s nothing to do in Iowa.

me and the bike trail in the middle of cornfiels


 

Mysterious Weed

After being away for a few weeks, we came home and was pleasantly surprised that our garden was still in full bloom. We had lots of rain this summer, plus we asked our friend to water our plants if needed, while we were gone.

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Not just the flowers, but the vegetables as well were blossoming, like the tomatoes and the pepper.

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But besides the flowers and vegetables, the weeds have also grown tall. There are areas that the weeds are crowding the other plants, that it even started to look like a weed garden. No, I’m not talking about the illegal “weed.”

When we looked closely to a patch of our garden with overgrown weeds, a peculiar plant was among them. We thought it was just a tall weed, but it wasn’t.

It was corn!

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It’s kind of puzzling how those corn plants got there, for we definitely did not plant them.

We know that a corn field is not too far away, could the wind blew some seeds when the farmers were planting their crop? Or maybe a bird drop a corn kennel there? Or maybe the chipmunks? Or could it be the leprechaun that planted them? Who knows?

After clearing the weeds, we decided to keep the corn and not pull them out. After all, they have ears of corn on them already.

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Maybe next year, we’ll plant corn in our garden on purpose. This is Iowa anyway, the corn center of the entire USA, and perhaps the whole world.

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Not too long from now, we’ll be harvesting our own corn. Unless the leprechaun (lepre-corn?) get to them first.

 

House in the Woods

I know our current economy is not the best and many home owners are having difficulty paying their monthly mortgages. Though renting and not having any property at all is not good either.

But a couple of weeks ago, my wife on a whim, bought a house. Yes, you read it right. A house!

Now, she wanted me to put the house on the market, and open it for potential tenants. As a good husband, I complied. I set the house in some prime location in a good neighborhood.

If I made you to believe that we are real estate moguls, then I lead you wrong. Here is the house that my wife bought, that my son and I set up in our backyard tree, a “house in the woods.”

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We are hoping that a young family of birds will take residence in this house. Maybe a robin? Or a bluejay? Or a cardinal? Or a chickadee? Or a goldfinch? Or hummingbird? Or maybe it may not even be birds but chipmunks.

Perhaps we should put up a sign under it, “Wanted: house tenants.” And it is rent-free!

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May this provide us some bird-watching activity for the next few months. I hope the tenants don’t mind their snooping and nosy neighbors.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Last Drive

Since I live in the outskirt of the city of greater Des Moines, I travel some distance everyday for work. I drive close to 40 miles a day roundtrip. I don’t mind to drive though, as long as the traffic is moving fast. In reality it only takes me less than 25 minutes one way, which is less than the average time Americans spent going to their workplace. I know if I drive in Metro Manila, that distance I covered will take me an hour or two, plus a lot of cursing.

In addition, as I have written in the past, I go once a month to our satellite clinics (I go to 2 outreach clinics now) which is about an hour and a half drive from our main office. Even though it is about 80 miles away, the travel is easy with open highways that goes through scenic rural Iowa of rolling hills of farmlands and prairies. In fact I even consider the drive relaxing (read previous post “Zen Driving”).

For the past several years I have made this journey alone, except for my thoughts, the radio playing the music I picked for that day, and my trusted car. The other day, I made that same journey again. But somehow, something was different.

It was my last drive on this trip with my “old” car.

My car is getting old. Like dogs, 1 car year is probably comparable to 7 human years, especially if you drive it a lot. I have read in car reviews that the average life span of a car is about 10 – 13  years or about 150,000 miles. Though there are cars that still runs good even after 200,000 miles.

My car is 10 years old and approaching 150,000 miles. It may be considered already a grandma in car years, though it still runs well, however it’s getting expensive to maintain. Not too long ago, I have to change some parts that costs a hefty sum, that I wondered if its worth spending that amount. I surely would not like to spend more than its remaining trade value.

Thus I decided that its time for it to go.

But on our last trip together, I let it run wild. Instead of zen driving I transitioned to rallye driving. I shifted to sports gear all the way, and I let its engine revved as we climb hills and raced through open highways, bringing out its racing heritage. My car may be old, yet it still has lots of feistiness remaining in it.

As we were whizzing through open country roads and as I was listening to its engine growl, my car was singing to me its swan song.

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(*photo with and iPhone)

Pinoytransplant Goes to Iowa Caucus

Besides corn, there’s another thing that Iowa is well known for: politics. It is a fact that Iowa is the political epicenter and the state of the first major electoral event for the US presidential nomination process, the Iowa Caucus.

So tonight, after living here in Iowa for 12 years, I got to participate in my first ever caucus.

Since we were first time voters, my wife, my daughter who would be turning 18 this year, and I, had to register first and show our identification documents, before we were handed our ballots. I guess no “flying voters” here, just like in the Philippines, where even the dead can vote.

Then we entered this big hall and were given instructions on how this process would go. As I looked around the large auditorium, there were probably 250 to 300 people in that voting precinct. It was noteworthy, that my family and I, stuck out like a sore thumb in that group of people, for we were the only non-white or of a different race there. Not much diversity to speak of here.

Then we were asked to separate to different groups based on our candidate preference. As people went to different corners of the room, there were a few who remained seated. I supposed they were the undecided, or maybe they were just too lazy to stand.

Then each group picked a representative to speak for each candidate’s behalf. While people spoke enthusiastically for different candidates, I was really surprised nobody spoke for Mr. Trump. No one! Fox News should have seen this!

Finally after all the representatives have spoken, we mark our ballots and they were then collected. 

After the all the ballots were cast, most people made their way out the door, and only a handful stayed to witness the counting and the tallying of the votes. Its either they don’t care about the results, or the big snowstorm coming our way in a few hours scared most people to head home.

As I placed my ballot into the collection box, I knew something happened to me. I now can call myself, a true Iowan.

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Symbol

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Iowa Capitol Building

This structure can be a symbol of many things. Of a State. Of a government. Of law and constitution.

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Free as a butterfly.

Or it could be a symbol of liberty. Of freedom.

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But on the day I took this photos, it took another meaning.

As a transplant, and after several years of living as an outsider, it became a personal symbol of my adopted home.

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A foreigner, no more.

(In response to WordPress The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Symbol.”)