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.

**********

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

Columns of History

Pompeii is an ancient Roman city near the modern day Naples in southern Italy. On that fateful moment in AD 79, it was suddenly buried in 4 to 6 meters of volcanic ash and debris during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

The city remained frozen in time, concealed under ash and rocks until it was discovered by surveying engineer in 1748. With methodical excavation, evidence of a once thriving city was unearthed.

When we visited Pompeii several weeks ago, we were able to witness the ruins, as well as take a peek at a slice of ancient Roman life.

Photo below is one of the main streets, where horse-drawn carriages or chariots pass through. It is amazing how the stone-paved road is in very good condition.

Though the pedestrians, experts believe, walk on the sidewalk and use the step-stones (big stones in the middle of the road) to cross to the other side of the road. The reason why pedestrians don’t walk in the stone-paved road was that most of the time runoff water was flowing in the road as part of their water drainage system. Plus, sewage from homes also stream through it, and you definitely don’t want to step on that.

Below is an entry way to a well-to-do home. I was impressed on the intricacy of the mosaic art on the floor.

Here is a courtyard garden inside the largest home on the block. It was believed that this residence was owned by a prominent Roman of the ruling class.

Below is an ancient eatery or food vendor, perhaps like the modern day McDonald’s or your local carinderia. The holes in the ‘counter’ are where the pots or vessels containing food were kept warm by a fire underneath.

Here is their theater (next photo) where they watch plays and concerts. I wonder what shows they have then. Maybe “The Three Roman Tenors?” Or perhaps “The Phantom of the Colosseum?”

The Romans also have public bath houses. The photo below, believe it or not, is a sauna room. A wood-burning furnace outside sends warm air under the raised floor to heat the room.

Next is a sample of their wall art. Much nicer than the modern day graffiti, I would say.

They also have some sort of sports complex. The facility below is a training ground for gladiators.

Below is Pompeii’s town plaza. At the backdrop is Mount Vesuvius, which is considered an active volcano up to this day, though the last time it erupted was in 1944.

As we walked around the ruins, I have noticed that there were lots and lots of pillars.

I supposed these columns that are still standing today, are testaments of a once proud and prosperous city, and what it stood for. Sorry, pun intended.

From Pompeii (while leaning on a pillar),

Pinoytransplant

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Summer Colors

Summer has arrived as temperature in our neck of the woods is now climbing consistently into the 80’s Fahrenheit. Though the official start of summer, which is the summer’s solstice – the longest day of the year, is not until tomorrow. I am sure our mercury will rise above 90’s F (above 32 C) or even in the 100’s F (37.5 C and above) in the days to come.

Here are some of the summer colors I captured in the past week:

The first photo was taken in downtown Kansas City, when we made a stopover here on our way to visit our son who is working for two months in a summer camp in Missouri.

The next photo was taken in the downtown Botanical Garden here in Des Moines when we checked it out a few days ago.

My wife also got new planters and have started planting annual flowers that hopefully will not just last for the dog days of summer but late until the cold winter wind blows. Here are some flowers in our deck:

The photo below was taken two days ago when I drove down to southern Iowa for our outreach clinic. As you can see, even a summer’s day can become foggy, dull, and gloomy.

However. even if the day gets gray, there is still a possibility of beautiful colors shining through. And that is true in all aspects of our life. Photo below was taken from our front porch:

I am wishing you all a fun, delightful, and colorful summer.

(*all 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)

When in Rome

When in Rome…..

Do as the Romans do…..

You strike a pose!

By the way, the last above photo is at the Vatican, and is not the Star Wars’ Death Star.

I think my modeling was kind of boring. Maybe I should have assumed a more gallant stance like this…..

Or perhaps I should have taken a more dramatic pose like this…..

On second thought, I don’t suppose I should shed off my clothes, so I’ll pass.

Posing from Rome,

Pinoytransplant

*********

(*All photos taken with an iPhone; credits to my unofficial photographer.)

Flying the Roads of Tuscany

When we talk about Italy’s countryside what comes to mind are the picturesque rolling hills and bountiful vineyards of Tuscany.

And there’s no better way to tour this scenic place than the iconic Italian way – riding the Vespa or the Fiat. Well, you could do it too with a Ferrari convertible but that would cost you an arm and a leg.

During our visit to Italy we did the Tuscany Vespa Tour. (This is not a sponsored article though I would gladly accept even a free pizza if they offer.) Some of us rode the Vespa scooter while some of us rode the classic small Fiat car. I did the Vespa.

We picked up the Vespa and the Fiat from the tour’s office parking lot. After a brief tutorial, as I have not ridden a motorcycle since more than 25 years ago, I became more comfortable of riding it. I was at least confident that I would still be alive after the tour.

Then off we go!

Our first stop was at a local vineyard.

After parking our motorcycles and cars, we toured the place which includes wine tasting. I am not really into wine, but they had prepared free pasta lunch too, so I was more than happy. Plus I don’t think indulging in wine and riding a motorcycle afterwards was a good idea.

I even saw a black cat at the winery. Was it a bad omen? Should we not continue on our trip? Nah!

After the vineyard tour, we were back on the road again.

Our next stop was a quaint town. We parked our vehicles and walked around the small town. Here we tasted free samples of truffle spreads, different kinds of cheese, and balsalmic vinegar offered in the local stores. Their balsalmic vinegar tastes good that it rivals the sukang Iloco (being a half-bred Ilocano, I’m still biased for the sukang Iloco).

After hitting the road again, our last stop was an old fortress. Its medieval courtyard was transformed into shops and eateries. There were no sword-wielding knights nor jousting tournament though. The closest we had to a battle were tourists jostling to buy the ever popular Italian gelato. Of course we had some too.

Overall, it was a really fun ride. You may think that this small scooter is under power, but it is not. Yes it is not as muscular as the Harley-Davidson, but this Vespa Sprint model with its 125 cc cylinder can still fly through the Tuscan hills.

It was a swell experience to fly the Tuscan roads with the sunlight on my eyes, wind on my hair (even though I don’t have much) and bugs in my face. Wait…..what?

Actually “flying” has a double meaning here, as this includes the flying insects that may hit your face as you zoom through the hills. I must be in a state of exhilaration with my mouth wide open that one insect hit my teeth. Good thing I was able to spit it out.

Italian bug tasting? Not included in this tour.

From the roads of Tuscany,

Pinoytransplant

(*All photos taken with an iPhone. Thanks to my unofficial photographers who took some of the pictures. A shout out to JDC Private Tours, who made our tour of Italy such a pleasant experience.)

Kanal, Eskinita at Sinampay

Kahit na bumibisita sa isang banyagang lugar, bakit kaya mga pamilyar na bagay pa rin gaya ng aking kinagisnan sa Pilipinas ang tumatawag sa aking pansin?

Noong isang araw ako’y natuwang maglakad sa tabi ng mga estero o ng malalaking kanal…….

Naglagalag at sumuot sa mga maliliit na eskinita…….

At tumanaw sa mga pinapatuyong sinampay (ngunit hindi ko naman ito sinungkit).

Pero may pagkakaiba rin naman sa bansang ito. Dahil dito, kahit sa kanal ay may mga namamangka.

Kahit na tabing-kanal ay maari palang maging romantikong lugar.

May mahuhuli kaya kaming dalag?

(*photos taken with an iPhone in Venice, Italy)

Flower-Strewn Pathway

I was going out for my morning run a few days ago and as I got out of the front door I noticed that our walkway was covered with flower petals.

Beautiful morning. Flower-strewn pathway. What else could I ask for?

Maybe our crabapple tree was treating me as royalty, shedding and laying its flowers on my path.

I remember an old movie “Coming to America,” where the character played by James Earl Jones, the king of Zamunda, a fictional wealthy African nation, visited the United States, New York City, to be exact. He was looking for his son, played by Eddie Murphy, who was the crowned prince of that said nation. In one scene, as the king steps out of his limousine, royal attendants strew flowers on the ground where he would walk on. I know, I am no royalty.

Come to think of it that is what flower girls in a wedding do too. These cute little girls would scatter flowers in the path where the bride would walk on. But I am no bride either.

By the way the tradition of flower girls scattering flower petals has its origin from the Greek and the Romans. The young girls walking before the bride in ancient practice, scatter herbs and grains to wish the bride fertility. But nowadays it is replaced by tossing flower petals as a wish for happiness for the bride. And maybe fertility too.

Our journey in this life though is not always filled with happiness or a flower-strewn pathway, so to speak. Or perhaps it is, as our path could be littered with roses but including its thorns. Maybe the flower vase is thrown in the path as well with its broken pieces of glass!

A poem by Annie Johnson Flint said this, “God hath not promise skies always blue, flower-strewn pathway all our lives through.”

The author of the poem, Annie, was only 3 years old when her mother died while giving birth to her baby sister. Her father who also had an incurable disease decided to give Annie for adoption as he couldn’t take care of her, and he died not long after that. Annie was sent to school by her adoptive parents and was able to finish her education and became a teacher. However she developed painful and debilitating arthritis at a young age which extremely limited her mobility. She was resigned to a wheelchair most of her life.

Yet she still penned this poem:

WHAT GOD HATH PROMISED

God hath not promised skies always blue, 
Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;
God hath not promised sun without rain, 
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

God hath not promised we shall not know
Toil and temptation, trouble and woe;
He hath not told us we shall not bear
many a burden, many a care. 

God hath not promised smooth roads and wide,
Swift, easy travel, needing no guide;
Never a mountain rocky and steep,
Never a river turbid and deep

But God hath promised strength for the day,
Rest for the labor, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above, 
Unfailing sympathy, undying love.

What a great reminder for us indeed.

As for my morning run that day, it did start with a flower-strewn pathway though it got a little thorny especially on the last mile. But I did fine.

I am thankful for the promised strength for the day. And I don’t mean just for running.

(*photo taken with an iPhone)

We’ll Be Alright

We had a very cold winter this past season. It was among the snowiest too that I can remember. According to the weather almanac, this past winter in Des Moines set some records in snowfall.

In the 15 years that we have lived here in Iowa, this last one was the most brutal winter we’ve experienced.

But winter is gone. Everything is forgotten. Above photo is our front yard in mid March when snow and ice were beginning to thaw.

Here it is today:

Life is like seasons. You may be undergoing harsh winter now, yet keep in mind that winter will not last forever. Life will flourish again.

Just like what the song “Leaves” of Ben and Ben (a Filipino indie/pop band) says:

Leaves will soon grow from the bareness of trees,
And all will be alright in time,
From waves overgrown come the calmest of seas,
And all will be alright in time.

In this case, flowers grew too from the bareness of trees. Yes, we will be alright in time.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

**********

Here’s the official lyrics video of the song “Leaves.”