Exploring North Shore

We’re supposed to attend a wedding in Canada this summer. Besides seeing relatives and friends we’ve planned to explore some places there as well. But COVID-19 changed our plans. US residents are not allowed to cross the border. Well, the wedding still happened, albeit without us in attendance.

Though I did not cancel my vacation altogether, for I needed to get away. The stress of this pandemic to us, healthcare workers, is wearing me down. I needed a break.

So my family and I drove up North.

View from our lodge

Since Canada is still close to visitors, we stayed within the US border for our vacation. Yet we ventured really close to the northern border. We explored Minnesota’s North Shore Scenic Drive, which is Lake Superior’s rugged westside coastline through Highway 61.

Highway 61 stretches from Duluth, Minnesota up to the Canadian border. Photo below is the aerial lift bridge at the Canal Park in Duluth.

We passed some lighthouses along the scenic drive and went down to check them out. Lighthouses nowadays don’t serve the same importance as it used to, as ships and boats usually navigate now with the GPS instead of just relying on visual cues. Yet lighthouses are still of iconic beauty.

Since we don’t have a tight schedule we had time to stop at a beach on a whim and just enjoy the scenery. Or also skip some rocks.

Skipping rocks requires both skill and knowledge of basic physics. Having the right spin, speed, shape and angle is needed in order for the stone to “skip” on top of the water. It may seem impossible at first to have a stone jump on water, but it can be done. Maybe life is like skipping rocks. We need to have the right elements in order for us to have our heads stay above water.

Here’s my son skipping rocks: (How many skips did you count? It was about 10.)

Although we were near the water, we spent much of our time in the mountains. The mountain resort where we stayed is a known ski destination but it has a different appeal during the summer months.

We rode the gondola up to the mountain peak. The view on the top was something to die for.

Then we rode down the mountain via the Alpine slide. This was half a mile of exhilarating ride.

This was a first-time experience for us. You can control your speed with a brake as you slide down the track. You can go slow (if you’re cautious) and enjoy the view, or go really fast and everything is a blur. My wife was so slow that it spoiled the fun of the kid behind her on the slide. I overheard the dad asking the boy if he had fun after the ride and he vehemently said no. Poor kid.

We like it so much that we did a second run. I thought of offering that poor kid a free ride but I couldn’t find them anymore. My wife did much faster on her second run. Maybe we should try bobsledding for our next adventure.

We also did some not-so-serious 2-mile hike up the mountain. Most of our activities were staying away from crowds as we practiced social distancing. We chased water falls while we also chased our breaths.

We followed up the river where it has less turbulent rapids and rested there. We ate our pack lunch while watching the river flow.

The morning we did the hike I received a phone call from our office informing me that one of my partners died. It was sudden and unexpected. Our life is in such a precarious balance that it could topple any moment. We should always be thankful for every precious time we have. (I’ll write a tribute for him later.)

We drove further up towards the Canadian border which was a little more than an hour drive from where we were staying. Again stopping along the way to enjoy the road-side view.

There was a last rest stop just before the border. Since it was in a state park, there were hiking trails in that area. So we hiked again.

We followed the trail that leads to the Canadian border, where at the end of that specific trail, we found this marker stating, “International Boundary Commission.”

We can’t get any further so we headed back. While we were hiking to this international boundary marker, we were interrogated not by Customs agents but by insects. And all we took back as souvenirs from the border were bug bites from friendly Canadian insects. At least they were duty-free.

From the North Shore,

Pinoytransplant (with my signature jump shot).

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

A Room with a View

Our planned trip to Canada this summer went kaput. Because of this COVID-19 pandemic, the northern border is still not open for tourists. Instead of giving back the vacation days that I already took, we scrambled to look for an alternate local getaway.

As we were booking for a hotel or a lodge, we were looking to have a room with a view. I for one is really particular of having a view. Even if I spend the whole day doing nothing, as long as I enjoy looking outside the window, that’s more than enough for me. Thus on many of our trips we hunt for a room with a view. And if we checked in to the hotel and we’re given a room that was different than what we imagined, we would request to be moved and not settle until we get the room that we wanted.

Who wouldn’t like a room with a view?

I don’t know if this can be applied when being hospitalized. First of all you cannot really pick your hospital room. Second, most hospitals don’t have a view. And lastly, if you do have a beautiful hospital window view then you may not want to leave at all, which is counterproductive.

I am not saying that hospitals should not have a good view if they can provide it. After all I believe a serene setting or view could be in itself therapeutic to patients. In our hospital we have a central garden with pretty flowers and some rooms overlook this garden. While a few of the rooms have a view of our city’s skyline. While many rooms in our hospital have brick walls for their view.

Recently, one patient of ours told me that he was surely glad that he was referred to our hospital. He was transferred from a small regional hospital to our tertiary medical center for further management of worsening respiratory status from COVID-19. He told me that besides the advance medical care we can provide in our facility, the view from his window at the regional hospital where he came from was not “reassuring.” In fact he said it was downright depressing.

A couple of years back, we started going to that regional hospital once a month, which is an hour and 45 minutes drive from our main office, as part of our outreach clinic, so I fully understand the comments of that patient. Across the street of the regional hospital is a very “serene” park, though it is probably not what you want to see when you are sick. The said hospital, believe it or not, is overlooking the town’s cemetery. That could be depressing. Though it could be an incentive to get better too, or else you end up across the street.

I remember a story* I read years ago about two hospitalized men who were sharing a hospital room. Both of them were suffering from serious illnesses. One patient was by the window and the other one was across the room. The one far from the window was unable to get out of bed, so everyday he would ask his room mate what he sees in the window. Every time the patient who was lying by the window would tell the other one the beautiful view outside. Like how the sun was shining in the sky, or the children playing at the park, or the pretty flowers blooming in the garden, or the ducks swimming at the pond. This lifted the spirit of the other patient and gave him encouragement to get well so he could go outside and see for himself the beautiful view.

Then one day the patient who was by the window died. The one across the room felt very sad for his room mate, yet he felt good at the prospect that he could transfer to the bed by the window.

When he finally got transferred to the bed by the window, he was terribly disappointed. Why? The window of their hospital room was facing a brick wall. No view of a park, nor of a beautiful garden, nor a pond.

He realized that his former room mate made it all up to inspire him and to keep his hopes alive. That hope that sustained him through his illness and pain.

The next day, there came a new patient who was laid in the bed far from the window. This new room mate ask him what he sees outside their window. To this he replied, “Oh, there were children merrily picking flowers……”

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(*Original short story is by Harry Buschman, “The Man by the Window.” I added the last twist.)

Bugnutin

Sabi ng aking misis ay nagiging masungit at bugnutin daw ako habang ako ay tumatanda. Siguro dahil na rin sa stress sa trabaho, lalo na at napaka-busy pa rin ng aming ICU at sunod-sunod ang aking duty, at marami pa rin kaming kaso ng COVID-19. O marahil talagang gusto ko lang maging “grumpy old man.”

Pero may nahukay ako sa aking baul na magpapatunay na hindi ako tumatandang masungit at bugnutin. Ang aking ebidensiya? Bata pa lang ako ay bugnutin at salubong na ang kilay ko!

Post Note: Kaaway ko siguro yung litratista.

(*photo circa 1970’s)

Harvesting Peony

About this time every year, our yard bursts with colors with these big fragrant blooms. These are peonies, and their flowers only last for only two weeks at the most.

Even though it’s not officially summer yet, we are having a “heat wave” for the next several days as Iowa weather is fickly. These flowers wilt fast and they don’t like the heat so we decided to harvest them early. This also provided a photo op.

My wife agreed to be my model for this photoshoot.

We will definitely appreciate their beauty, even for just a few days. I mean the flowers. The model, that’s timeless.

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Bonus: While we were harvesting the peonies and doing the photoshoot, someone else, uninvitedly though definitely welcomed, came in to the scene. Here’s the video:

(*photos and video taken with an iPhone)

A Train Ride to the Alps

I know many parts of the world still have travel restrictions currently and some areas are just coming out of lockdown from this COVID-19 pandemic. We don’t know if world travel would ever be the same again, however I just wanted to feature a long overdue post about a trip that we made some time ago. In fact, we made this trip exactly a year past already, in May of 2019.

We rode the Bernina Express. This is touted as one of the most scenic train rides in the world and it runs on the highest railway accross the Alps. We boarded the train at Tirano, Italy and traveled to St. Moritz, Switzerland.

By the way, in this time of pandemic and limited travel, I saw that there are virtual train rides around the world that you can experience (see this link) right now. Bernina Express is one of them.

Tirano, Italy

The Bernina Express travels through the UNESCO World Heritage site via the Rhaetian Railway. When we say World Heritage Site, it is a landmark or area, that is selected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for having cultural, historical, scientific or other form of significance, and that it is legally protected by international treaties.

And off we go….

The train has comfortable seats and is roomy inside. The glass windows are huge and are up to the ceiling, offering uninterrupted views of the breath-taking landscapes.

We passed through bridges and tunnels, mountains and valleys, towns and even lakes. No underwater tunnel though.

Photo below is the Lago di Poschiavo, a natural lake in the Poschiavo valley near Miralago, Switzerland.

The landscape gradually changed as we went higher and higher in altitude. Not too long from then we were coursing through the Alps. We were on top of the world!

After a little more than 2 hours, we finally arrived at St. Moritz, Switzerland where we boarded off the train. We spent only a shortwhile there, perhaps only to take some photos, and then we headed back to Italy.

This is an instance that the journey is as good, maybe even better, than the destination. A wonderful ride indeed.

St. Moritz, Switzerland

Here’s a short video clip of the train ride as we were navigating through the snow and glaziers that it was like the Polar Express:

From the top of the Swiss Alps,

Pinoy Transplant

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(*photos and video taken with an iPhone)

Tulip Time

Every month of May there is a place in Iowa that turns into a tulip town. And even though there’s still a scare of the pandemic, we went to visit the place. Of course we practiced precautionary measures and social distancing while we were out.

As their landmark says, it is “Tulip Time.” There is supposed to be a parade also during this festival that showcase the town’s Dutch heritage, however due to COVID-19, it was cancelled for this year. But we can still admire the tulips.

Also popular in this town is the famed Dutch bakery where the baked goods are as colorful as the tulips. The most sought after item though is the Dutch Letter, an S-shaped pastry that taste so delicious. S stands for Sinterklass, the Dutch Santa Claus.

Dutch Letters

Here are some more photos that does not necessarily feature tulips, nonetheless, they caught my fancy.

From Pella, Iowa,

Pinoytransplant.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Coming to the Dark Side

Because of this COVID-19 pandemic, as a defense it is now advised that everybody wears a mask when going out. However, there is a shortage of masks available and other personal protective equiptment in many hospitals. Dark times indeed.

Thus, I’m wearing my own respirator mask to work.

“You are unwise to lower your defenses.” – Darth Vader

(*Warning: not a true protective mask. Rest assured for I am donning an officially prescribed PPE when dealing with patients.)

Let the Thawing Begin

It’s March. In a couple of weeks it would be officially spring time.

For the past few days our temperature have wandered above freezing that the residual snow on the ground have melted away and our frozen ponds and rivers are beginning to thaw.

Photo below shows our partially frozen local pond (photo taken last week).

Our weather forecast for the coming week are all above freezing. Yes, spring has sprung! Let the thawing begin.

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Extra: Use thaw in a sentence.

Tweety Bird: “I thawt I thaw a puddy kat.” (Looney Tunes)

Have a nice week everyone!