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.

26168643_1991096740906107_4703490139235989107_n

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)

 

 

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)

The Hills are Alive With the Sound of…

Cows.

FullSizeRender

Here’s the story behind the above photo:

During our last trip to New York City, we planned a side trip to upstate New York to see the autumn foliage. However we were disappointed as the color of the leaves were not that colorful or have not peaked yet. It’s delayed this year for some reason.  So out of a whim, from the suggestion of our friend from New York, we drove to Vermont to see a “better” fall foliage.

And we were not disappointed. Vermont’s fall foliage was much colorful!

IMG_6087

With hasty plans we headed to Stowe, Vermont which was 6 hours drive from New York City. Well, 1 hour was just trying to get out of the city’s traffic. We found a place in the mountains called the Trapp Family Lodge. If you are familiar with the Von Trapp family, from which the movie “The Sound of Music” was based on, this is their property.

IMG_5999.jpgAfter the Von Trapp family left Austria, they settled in Stowe, Vermont in the 1940’s. They built a home on an enchanted farm surrounded with beautiful mountains reminiscent of their beloved Austria. Later on they opened a lodge for visitors for some Austrian-inspired hospitality.

IMG_5973

IMG_5979This is a place where the hills are alive with the sound of music. And cows.

IMG_5878

By the way, those cows are owned by the Von Trapp family. I wonder if there’s a cow named Moo-ria.

*******

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

 

 

In New York State of Mind

If you have been reading my blogs, you probably already know that I once lived in New York City. I left New York seventeen years ago, though I came back once for a visit, and that’s seven years ago too.

But now it’s time to visit New York once more.

When you hear New York, you picture in your mind the big crowded city. But in reality, a large part of New York State is mountains and forested areas. And that’s where we started our visit.

IMG_5658

Yes, the above photo is New York.

We did some not-so-serious hikes up the mountains, and the view there was breath-taking. Breath-taking, not just because we were panting after the climb.

IMG_5631

IMG_5594

IMG_5587

It’s not all work though, for we did some relaxing as well. Lots of relaxing. Especially beside a lake. We even went for a calm boat ride.

IMG_5555IMG_5576

Beautiful mountains, trees, a lake, and some quiet time. What could be better than that?

IMG_5584

Well, this: to enjoy it with the love of my life.

IMG_5583

IMG_5650

While in upstate New York, we also visited the Culinary Institute of America. Besides touring the place, we also ate a sumptuous meal there (see previous post).

IMG_5527

IMG_5964

Another place we went to is the Walkway Over the Hudson, in Poughkeepsie, New York. This is the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world, spanning 1.28 miles over the Hudson River. It is actually an old railroad bridge that they converted into a pedestrian bridge.

IMG_5708IMG_5712

After spending a couple of days in upstate New York, it was time to visit the city.

We decided to stay not actually in New York City, but across the Hudson River, in New Jersey. So we can sleep with a view like this (photo below). And going into the heart of New York City is just one ferry ride away.

IMG_5731

IMG_5868

Though we stayed a few days in the city, I’ll just chronicle here a one-day trek that we did through the city.

We started at the new improved Chelsea Market. It is an enclosed food hall, shopping mall and offices all rolled in one. It was built at the old Nabisco factory complex, where Oreo was invented and produced. They transformed the factory, but kept many of its original structures.

IMG_5733IMG_5734IMG_5737IMG_5736There were places that we visited that were not existent yet when we were still living in New York. Like the High Line Park, a long elevated linear park at the West Side of New York City, which opened in 2009. This is again an old elevated rail road track that was repurposed into a park and walkway.

IMG_5754

IMG_5767

Walking this park gives you a unique perspective of the city, as well as get interesting stories as you peered through buildings, neighborhood and people’s backyards.

IMG_5756

IMG_5774

IMG_5933

 

IMG_5924

IMG_5765

IMG_5769IMG_5772

IMG_5923

And yes, we walked the whole 1.45 mile span of the High Line Park.

The photo below shows typical New York. That means construction never stops in this city.

IMG_5778

Besides walking inside the city, we also rode the ferry to get a different “feel” of New York City. That is, to view it without the noise, the hustle and the bustle.

IMG_5794

United Nations Headquarters (white building)

IMG_5795

The Empire State building from afar

IMG_5798

IMG_5810

Midtown Manhattan

IMG_5821

Brooklyn Bridge and Lower Manhattan

IMG_5826 (1)

Statue of Liberty from a distance

We got off at the Brooklyn port from the ferry, and then we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge by foot back to Manhattan.

IMG_5828IMG_5913

IMG_5831

the city view from Brooklyn Bridge

As you can surmise from my account, we did a lot of walking that day. In fact, according to my phone app, we walked 7 miles or more than 18,000 steps that day.

After all that walking, I got hungry so I got something to eat. Iconic New York City’s street food, of course!

IMG_5903

We ended our tour at the One World Trade Center, which has become the emblem of New York City’s tenacity and resolve. Photos below show the One World Trade Center and the Oculus NYC.

IMG_5837IMG_6086

Finally I stopped at the 9/11 Memorial and spent some quiet moments besides the reflecting pool. I uttered a prayer and paid respect to the thousands of lives our nation lost there.

IMG_5885

IMG_5888

After visiting the 9/11 Memorial, we decided to call it a day.

On our way home, we rode the subway. Though for some reason, it was not crowded at all. Is this is the World Trade Center’s ghost subway train? Nah!

IMG_5902

From New York,

IMG_5899

Pinoy Transplant

********

(*Photo credit: Pinoy Transplant and his unofficial photographers)

Pinoy Transplant Visits the CIA

Yes, you read the title right. Take note of the “CIA” sign at the door, on the photo below.

IMG_5532

But it is not Central Intelligence of America. It is rather the Culinary Institute of America.

IMG_5534

CIA is a premier culinary school, and boast to be the best in the world. An institution specializing in culinary, baking and pastry arts. It’s main campus is located in Hyde Park in New York, which is the one we visited.

The school campus is nestled in a beautiful location near the Hudson River, with surrounding views that is conducive for learning and artistic inspiration.

IMG_5526IMG_5523IMG_5553IMG_5525

Touring the CIA campus is a gratifying experience in itself as you see the beautiful and clean premises and also take a glimpse of the students honing their crafts.

IMG_5535

IMG_5539

IMG_5538

IMG_5537

IMG_5536

IMG_5552

Just watch out for crossing chefs.

But dining and tasting their food creation is another whole experience of its own. And that’s what we did.

The CIA New York Campus operates four public restaurants. If you don’t mind to be a “guinea pig” of these budding chefs, because in a sense their creation is part of their training and test, and your satisfaction could be a part of their grade. But I’m pretty sure these students are under the watchful eye of certified master chefs.

We dined at Bocuse Restaurant, which serves traditional French Restaurant. If there’s a restaurant there that serves traditional Filipino food, that’s where I’ll go, but there’s none.

IMG_5719

I was not disappointed. From the ambience, the service, the presentation and the food were all excellent. The food I ate there, is one of the best food I ever tasted. I have been to fancy restaurants before, but the appetizer, entrée and desert I had in CIA was a league of its own. An absolute gastronomic delight!

Whoever prepared my food, he or she definitely passed with flying colors, in my humble opinion.

By the way, their wine list is exhaustive as well. But since I dont’ drink wine or any alcoholic drink for that matter, for personal and health reasons, so I did not have any.

IMG_5716

One unique policy they have in their restaurants is that they don’t accept monetary tips from customers, as part of their student’s education is to provide outstanding service even without tips. To this I tip my hat.

From the CIA campus,

IMG_5698

Pinoy Transplant

*******

 

(*I did not receive any commission for the above post. However if CIA would like to give me a free dinner next time I visit, I will definitely accept it.)

(**Photos taken with an iPhone)

Sunset Boulevard

In Hollywood, there’s a famous street called Sunset Boulevard. It is lined with tall palm trees, bright lights, commercial establishments, and is teeming with cars and people any time of the day. This is where the Star’s Walk of Fame is also located. I drove and walked in that road a couple of times.

Here’s our version of Sunset Boulevard here in Iowa, which I am more familiar with.

IMG_5461

IMG_5463

IMG_5466

Just me, the road, and the sunset.

*******

(*photos taken while on our way to my daughter’s university)

Garden of the Gods

This is the Garden of the Gods, a national natural landmark in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

IMG_5366
Five years ago when we went to Colorado, we planned on visiting this place, but a wild forest fire that closed the roads leading here, prevented us on going. Then two years ago, while visiting Colorado once more, we planned on going again. But heavy rains and hail stopped us.

This year, no fire or rain or hail can prevent us from finally visiting this place. Not even rush hour traffic.


This place, is one of the top visitor sites in Colorado. It is a geological wonder with incredible rock formations.

This place was purchased by Charles Elliot Perkins, a man who lived in Iowa. (Because I live in Iowa, of course I have to mention this.) But he donated this land to the City of Colorado Spring in 1909, so everybody can enjoy this wonderful site for free.

plaque in the rock

Some of the rock formations are massive. Some are not so massive.

IMG_5332

And some are thin and delicate, with some rocks even dangerously wedged waiting to crash down.

IMG_5362

Though the rocks are already wonderful to see, the light from the setting sun added magic to the show. Note the colors of these rocks change from red, to orange, to fiery yellow.

img_5337

IMG_5347

IMG_5348

IMG_5357

Of course, the sunset is in itself a spectacle to witness. Certainly this is a place to spend some moments of awe and silence. A befitting name to be called the garden of the gods.

IMG_5354

It might have taken us several attempts to visit this place, but it was sure worth the wait to finally see this impressive landmark.

From the Garden of the Gods,

Pinoytransplant

img_5318

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

 

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.

FullSizeRender

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.

IMG_5173

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.

IMG_5182

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.

IMG_5183

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)

Masada: the Last Fortress

Masada, which means “fortress” in Hebrew, is a place of history, defiance, triumph and tragedy all rolled in one. About three months ago, we had the chance to visit this place.

After Jerusalem, Masada is the second most visited site for tourists in Israel. This fortress became a symbol of pride for the Jewish people, as it was their last stronghold against the Roman invasion.

DSC_0389

IMG_4219

Masada is located at the western end of the Judean Desert. Sitting on top of an isolated rock plateau, with surrounding cliffs as natural barrier, it is understandable why it was so hard to conquer it.

Today, it does not shun intruders, instead it even invites guests to come for a visit. To get to this fortress though, you have to ride a lift.

DSC_0371

DSC_0428

There is also a trail going through stairs that you can hike from the bottom of the valley to the top of the cliff.  This route is for the more adventurous souls, and definitely you need to be in excellent condition to go up this way.

DSC_0375

After reaching the top, we feasted on the spectacular view around us.

DSC_0379

DSC_0383

DSC_0426 (1)

DSC_0410

Masada is overlooking the Dead Sea valley which is the lowest point on earth.

Photo below is the Dead Sea which is about 430 meters below sea level, while the height from the valley floor below to the Masada fortress is 450 meters. So even though it looks that this fortress is at such a height, in actuality, it is at sea level.

IMG_4225

While we were on top of the cliff, we saw some paragliders sailing above the Masada fort. I would say this is far more cooler way to tour Masada, that is through a bird’s-eye view.

DSC_0392

DSC_0385

DSC_0397

King Herod the Great built the Masada fortress as a refuge for himself. Not only as a fortress, but on the northern part of it, separated by a wall from the fort, is a residential villa for the king.

Below is what remains of a palace court.

IMG_4223

Even what was left were ruins, it can be noted that this king’s palace was such a lavish place during its heyday. Photo below is one of the terraces of the king’s villa.

IMG_4224

King Herod the Great found a way to bring water to this fortress. Not just that it was in the middle of a desert, but also bringing up water to such a high place took a lot of engineering, logistics and possibly enormous brute labor.

Below is what remains of a large bath house.

IMG_4233

This specific room is the caldarium, where the suspended floor was supported by rows of low pillars, so hot air from the furnace outside, can be blown under the floor and through clay pipes along the walls, to heat the room to the desired temperature. In other words, it was the sauna! Who would have thought sauna was existing already more than two thousand years ago?

IMG_4235

After Jerusalem fell to the Romans in 70 CE, a group of Jewish rebels, zealots, and their family, held the fort of Masada. According to history written by Josephus Flavius, the Romans established camp at the base of Masada, and the fort was laid in siege. The Romans constructed a ramp from thousands of stones and beaten earth against the western wall of the fortress. It was said that part of the ramp were bodies of dead Roman soldiers, who died during the battle.

Below is the photo of the ramp the Romans built to conquer Masada.

DSC_0423

Finally in 74 CE, the Romans moved a battering ram up this ramp, and breached the wall of the fortress.

DSC_0388

The tragic story of Masada was when the Jewish defenders realized that it was apparent that the fortress would fall and they would be conquered, they decided to commit a mass suicide. There were almost one thousand men, women and children. They chose to die from their own swords than be conquered.

Those Jewish defenders casted lots to choose 10 men who would kill the last survivors. And then the last Jew killed himself, before the fort finally fell to the Roman invaders.

DSC_0425

Masada, a mighty fortress by a mighty people. Yes, it was breached and invaded. But never conquered.

*******

(*all photos taken by pinoytransplant)