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)

 

 

A Snowy Motorcycle Ride

We are in a deep freeze. For a stretch of a few days our temperature here in Iowa have not wandered above zero degrees Fahrenheit. I know my friends in California boast of warm weather there still. Plus recreational marijuana is now legal there too. It’s not fair!

There was even one day last week, that our actual temperature in Des Moines was colder (-18 F or -27.8 C) than that same day in Antarctica (-5 F or -20.6 C). This is not considering the wind chill factor that can be as cold as -30 to -50 F. I’m expecting Emperor Penguins to arrive in my front yard anytime now.

IMG_6241

Yet few days ago, there was somebody who rode a motorcycle on the road in this dangerously frigid condition. Not a snowmobile, but a motorcycle. I know that seems all madness. But if I tell you the reason why he did it, you will be convinced that it was rather a valiant and selfless act.

We have somebody in our church who likes to ride motorcycles. What he owns is a big maroon Harley-Davidson trike. We were told that he rode it to many places, far and near. He even goes to work on it, and I have seen him come to church on this trike.

Recently his health declined and he became more sickly. His kidneys failed, and he started dialysis three times a week. Yet he continued to ride his trike despite all of his illness, and he even rode it to go to his dialysis treatments.

Few days before Christmas, he got hospitalized. Then with one complication after another, sadly to say, he died a few days later.

So earlier this week, we attended his memorial service that was held in our church. The temperature that day was negative 12 degrees Fahrenheit with wind chill factor of 30 below zero. It snowed the night before and into early morning, so there’s freshly fallen snow on the ground. Even though it was bitterly cold that morning, what was more palpable was the love and warmth of the family and friends who attended that memorial.

To honor this fallen brother, they brought his trike to his memorial service. And yes, somebody rode it from this departed brother’s home and into the church, in this Antarctica-like condition!

So there it was, the Harley-Davidson trike, parked at the entrance of the church. It was positioned near the door, waiting like a sentinel. Perhaps it’s waiting for its rider for a final ride into the sunset.

Looking at the Horizon: A New Year’s Message 2018

(This message was delivered during a local church’s gathering on New Year’s Eve.)

In a few hours, we will be saying goodbye to this year and we’ll be embarking on a new year. Happy New Year!

The month of January is named after the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and of endings, and transitions. He is usually depicted as having two faces, facing back to back, one looking at the past and the other one looking at the future.

At this particular crossroad of time – the end of the old year, and the beginning of the new year – perhaps that’s what we ought to do: to look and evaluate the past, but also look and plan for the future.

Earlier this year, we were blessed with a trip to the Holy Land. We visited a place called Mount Nebo, which is located near Madaba, Jordan, or in Biblical times it is known as the land of the Moabites. The mountain is pretty high that it provides a panoramic view of the surrounding areas around it, including the land known as the Biblical Canaan.

As we were enjoying the view, the tour guide was giving insights and explaining the significance of this place to our group, while another group near us was having a devotional and they were singing the hymn “I am bound for the Promised Land.”

Where we were, is the place where Moses stood. And while Moses was looking at this same horizon that we were viewing, perhaps he was looking back at his life. But God also let him see the future and showed him the entire Promised Land, and the specific areas where certain tribes of Israel would settle. Since he was able to see details (recorded in Deuteronomy 34) that can only be seen with powerful binoculars, I believe God miraculously let him see Canaan with an assisted vision.

Yet the irony of this is, Moses never set foot in that land, for he died and was buried there in Mount Nebo.

IMG_3986

Moses, the chosen liberator of Israel, who led his people out of Egypt, and who dedicated his life leading the Israelites to enter Canaan, was not allowed to enter it. So unlike the song, Moses was not bound for the Promised Land.

Was Moses a failure then? Not at all!

Sometimes when we look at our past, we may feel that we are a failure, for we were not able to accomplish what we were supposed to accomplish. We may feel that we are losers for we are not where we wanted to be. Sometimes we feel like a disappointment for we started something but was not able to complete it.

Perhaps you’re thinking that you should have graduated from college by now, but instead you still have a couple of semesters to go since you shifted course. Or perhaps you’re thinking that you should have that high-paying dream job that you always wanted, but instead you’re stuck in a job you don’t really want. We may have started to work on a project, and now, it is still a project!

Friends, what we fail to understand, is that God may have some other plans for us. That God has a different destination for us, and we have just not realized it yet. Or God could have appointed you to begin that task, and He appointed somebody else to finish it. Just like in the case of Moses, where Joshua took over for him.

More importantly, when Moses stood there in Mount Nebo, while looking at the Promised Land from afar, he did not complain on why he was not allowed to enter the land that is promised to his ancestors, a land that was described as “flowing with milk and honey,” a destination I’m sure Moses wanted to be a part of. Instead, he humbly accepted God’s plan for him.

Moses may have not entered the Promised Land here on earth, yet God took him to a far better place, which is in heaven.

Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)

As we stand here in the Mount Nebo of the year 2017, and as we look at the horizon to the year 2018, I pray that it will be prosperous for each one of us. I hope that it will be flowing with milk and honey. And for the lactose-intolerant, flowing with soy milk and honey.

As we set our goals for the coming year, may we not forget that all our plans here on earth are just temporary, for our ultimate destination is the Promised Land, the heavenly Canaan.

God bless us all, and again Happy New Year!

Looking for Falling Stars

Last summer, we learned that there would be a great opportunity to see meteors in our area. That is if we would look at the right time and at the right direction. And provided that we would have a clear sky.

The event is the Perseid meteor shower, a stream of debris associated with the Swift-Tuttle comet. This is an annual event, and they said that in a clear night sky you can potentially see 100 falling stars in an hour. A hundred falling stars in an hour? That’s a proposition that was just too hard to resist.

Even though I spent half of my life in Manila (can’t see much stars in a big city), I have seen meteors several times in the past. The first time was when I was in grade school during our school’s camping in Batangas. The last time was not too long ago when I was driving home one night here in Iowa and it streaked down the sky. Perhaps I am lucky to see falling stars a few times, or perhaps I’m just looking at the night sky an awful lot of times.

My wife who have not seen a falling star ever, except maybe Kris Aquino falling off the stage on live TV some decades ago, so she was really determined to see this event.

So one night last August, we went outside to watch for falling stars.

We live in a country side, which was a decision we made years ago, where our dark night sky still shows the stars shining brightly and not blurred by the city lights. However in the past 13 years we have lived out here, the city has been creeping closer and closer to us. The cornfields and open prairies that we used to pass by is steadily being gobbled up by construction of housing developments and commercial establishments. I am not sure if I would like to call that “progress.”

It was close to 11 o’clock at night when we went out, a time that ordinarily I would already be snoring. We stood in our deck and looked out in our backyard sky towards northeast, the direction we read it would be. After close to half an hour outside, we still have not seen any falling stars. Not even a single one! And they promised 100 stars an hour?

We were also getting cold, for even though it was summer, it was seasonably cooler than usual that night. Our necks were getting strained as well from looking up. We should have placed a mat in our lawn and lay there under the stars with our blankets. At least we would be comfortable while we eagerly wait and while we listen to the ‘sweet nothing’ whispers in our ears. I’m referring to the pesky mosquitoes buzzing around our heads.

After a long while, as I was looking at the sky in the direction we thought the meteors would appear, I believed I saw a light streaked in my peripheral field of vision. So I told my wife that perhaps we were looking at the wrong direction. So we trained our gaze to a different direction in the sky.

Sure enough, in less than a minute, we saw a bright star flashed across the sky and disappeared in the dark. Not much later, another one did. And another one.

Isn’t it like many times in life, what we’re searching for has been there all along, we just have not realized it, or we just have not looked the right way. Like your lost keys. Or the love that you’re waiting for. Or the happiness that you’re chasing.

Satisfied, my wife suggested that we can go back inside the house, knowing also that the right direction where we can look was in the full view of our bedroom window. So we pulled out a sleeping mat and placed it near the window, and there we laid for the night instead of our bed, and watch for more shooting stars.

They said that you should make a wish when you see a shooting star. Of course I did. That wish was already been granted: lying down here beside me.

IMG_5651.jpg

Happy Anniversary my dear. It has been 23 years of happy moments and fulfilled wishes.

(*photo taken in Mohonk Mountain House, New York)

 

Christmas 2017

Some parts of the United States have seen significant snowfall early this season. Even in places that rarely see snow, like Atlanta Georgia and Texas had some snow this December.

But not here in Iowa. We have been dry the whole month of December. Though 2 days ago we had some dusting of snow. The snow fall was so little that they melted few hours later. I thought we missed our chance of having a white Christmas this year.

Then this Christmas eve, snow came to our area. We’ll have another white Christmas after all!

IMG_6226

Like the anticipated snow fall here, the coming of the Messiah was long-awaited by his people some two thousand years ago. Yet when he came, they missed it! Only the unsuspecting shepherds came and some wise men from far away foreign land.

Today, I hope we don’t miss the reason for this season. And it’s not the snow.

Merry Christmas every one!

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Iba Namang White Christmas

Habang ako’y nagda-drive pauwi kagabi ay aking napuna na may mga butil-butil ng niebe (snow) na lumilipad. Matagal-tagal na rin namang kaming naghihintay ng snow, kahit na hindi ko paboritong libangan ang mag-shovel nito. Sabi kasi sa aming weather forecast, maaaring magkaroon daw kami ng 1-2 inches ng snow. Yey, White Christmas!

Pagbangon ko kaninang umaga ay dumungaw ako kaagad sa labas. Kakarampot naman pala ang snow na bumagsak. Ang kuripot naman!

IMG_6217

Dahil konting-konti lang ang aming snow (above photo), siguradong malulusaw at maglalaho na ang lahat ng ito bago pa mag-Pasko. Sang-ayon ulit sa aming weather forecast, wala na kaming  snow fall bago mag-Pasko dito sa Iowa. Mapupurnada yata ang aming White Christmas!

Nainggit tuloy ako sa mga lugar dito sa Amerika na maraming snow ngayong Pasko. Noong nakaraang araw lang, ay pinadalhan ako ng aming kaibigan ng photo na kuha niya mula sa Morristown, New Jersey (photo below). Parang scene sa Frozen ang dating.

IMG_6215

Sa Morristown, New Jersey ako unang napadpad at nanirahan dito sa Amerika. Tatlong taon din akong lumagi doon. Dito ko naranasan ang aking kauna-unahang White Christmas, na noon ay nakikita ko lamang sa mga pictures. Dito ko nasabing para akong nakatira sa loob ng Christmas card.

Nang ako’y bata pa at naninirahan sa Maynila, hindi ko inakalang ako’y makakaranas ng White Christmas. Nagkakasya na ako sa mga dekorasyon namin sa aming classroom sa paaralan ng mga Christmas tree na pinuno ng mga bulak para magmukhang may snow. Sa bulak lang masaya na ako.

Tapos sa klase kakanta kami ng “Dashing through the snow” at “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas.” Ano ba naman ang malay ko sa snow at White Christmas? Alam ko lang noon ay “dashing through the flood!” Kinakanta rin namin ‘yung “Frosty, the Snowman.” Pero ‘yung Frosty alam ko at gusto ko. Ito ay isang brand ng ice candy noong bata ako. Masarap siya!

Taong 1991 nang nakaranas ako na pumuti ang kalsada sa Maynila. Pag-gising ko isang umaga at sa pagdungaw ko sa labas, ay nakita kong medyo maputi ang aming paligid. Nag-snow sa Maynila?! Pero nang aking kilatisin, hindi ito snow, kundi abo pala! Abo mula sa pagsabog ng Mt. Pinatubo.

Taong 1994, aking nilisan ang Pilipinas. Hindi para makakita ng snow o maghukay ng yelo, pero para tugisin ang aking mga pangarap sa buhay.

Ngayon, makatapos kong maranasan ang marami ng White Christmas, iba na ang gusto ko sa Pasko. Ibang puti na ang gusto ko, hindi snow. Puti, tulad ng puting buhangin sa beach ng Zambales.  Puti, tulad ng kesong puti sa loob ng bagong lutong pandesal. Puti, tulad ng bagong kaskas na niyog sa ibabaw ng puto bungbong.

Umulan na lang sana ng bagong kaskas na niyog. Samahan na rin sana ng pag-ulan ng puto bungbong at bibingka. Teka, masakit yatang mabagsakan ng bibingka!

Hay, nami-miss ko na naman ang Pilipinas.

Sa lahat ng mga Pilipino sa iba’t-ibang lupalop ng mundo, ano mang puti ang pumapaligid sa inyo – maging ito’y snow, o kaya’y abo at lahar, o puting buhangin at malinaw na dagat, o kaya’y disyerto, o mga puting semento, o kaya nama’y mga kumpol na bulak, o tambak ng puting basura, o kaya’y maging bagong kayod na niyog – kayong lahat ay aking binabati ng Maligayang Pasko!

 

 

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)

Last Walk of a Fallen Jedi

(It’s Christmas season once again. Also in 10 days the new Star Wars movie will be out. I would like to re-post a story of one of our ICU patients. The original article was posted in December 2015, “When You Wish Upon A Star Wars.”)

I entered the room and stood silently at the foot of his bed, watching him breathe. He was hooked to a small ventilator that is connected to a mask covering his face with straps around his head, that he looked like a jet fighter pilot. Beside the bed was his father and his mother who were obviously distraught, yet trying to hold off tears.

Luke* (not his real name) was one of our ICU patients. Even though he was only in his 20’s, he had his fair share of surgeries and hospitalizations than many patients in a geriatric floor combined.

He had a genetic disorder that prevents the development of various organ system. This affects the skeletal system giving them a peculiar look and stature, that some people coin the term FLK syndrome: Funny-Looking Kid. Though for me, there’s nothing funny at all. This disorder also causes heart defects, and can involve other organs like the lungs, liver, gastrointestinal tract, lymphatic and blood system. Even so some people with this genetic disorder could live to adulthood, some would succumb to this disease early in life.

Luke had a number of surgeries to fix his heart problem, and other procedures too many to recall. He had been treated in well-known hospitals like Mayo Clinic, for his disease. But despite of all the technology and medical interventions, his body continued to betray him.

For the last several months he had been in and out of the hospital, usually staying for several weeks at a time, including ICU stay. I have taken care of him a number of times in the past.

In spite of his illness, Luke tried to live his life as “normal” as possible. His family gave him the opportunities and the best care they could. His mother, who was a patient of mine too, had the genetic disorder as well, albeit with a milder manifestation, thus I knew the family well.

One thing I learned, was that Luke likes Star Wars, even though the first Star Wars movie came out more than a decade before he was born. Perhaps he envisioned himself as a Jedi Knight. Yeah, he was a fan of this movie genre, just like the rest of us, I guess.

In this last hospital admission, Luke came in with a lung infection causing respiratory failure, requiring intubation and mechanical ventilation. He came on Thanksgiving Day.

After several days in our ICU, we were able to extubate (take out the endotracheal tube) him, only to place him on a non-invasive positive pressure ventilator (NIPPV) with a face mask, as he cannot breathe on his own. This is like a CPAP machine. At least he can stay awake and not be sedated on the non-invasive ventilator, and he can speak as well. He can only tolerate a limited time off the NIPPV, and had to be hooked right back on it. He would not survive without it.

As I watched him with his “jet-fighter mask” with his bed as his vessel, what came to mind was that in a cruel twist of fate, this kid who likes Star Wars, now breathes like Darth Vader: whoooh….poooh, whoooh…..poooh, whoooh…..poooh. Every breath, there’s a gush of pressurized air coming out of the ventilator and through his mask.

After one holiday, another one is approaching. Christmas is just around the corner. And Luke remains in the hospital, ventilator-dependent, with no clear sight that he’ll get better. He knows it, and his family knows it. Luke’s days here on earth is numbered.

With wishful thinking, maybe he can linger a little longer to see the new Star Wars movie which he was looking forward to seeing for the longest time. But how? Him in the hospital? On a ventilator?

But wait, isn’t it Christmas season after all?

Wish granted!

After making elaborate arrangements and collaboration, Luke and his family will be going to a movie theater, to be accompanied by some medical staff, for a special private showing of the “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” when it opens this weekend.

After that trip to the theater, Luke will be going home for Christmas with his family, on hospice care. No more hospitals. No more ventilators. No more pain.

Perhaps he could stay home until Christmas. But if not, Luke could soar into the heavens and once and for all, walk on stars. His final home.

********

Post Note: Luke made it through Christmas. He eventually lost his battle few months later.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Transformation

Here’s my entry to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge.

IMG_6116

Transformation (transfərˈmāSH(ə)n): a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance.

Everyday we are witnesses to different transformations. Whether it be night turning into day, or day into night. Enemies into friends, or friends into enemies. Failure into success, or success into failure. But we can do something about how we want it written.

And the photo above? I transformed it. I posted it upside down! I’m not sure if many of you even noticed.

Here’s the original photo.

IMG_6116

(*photo taken during my morning run)

Turkey Trot

By now, you already know that I like to run. No, not running from responsibilities, but running as in road races. But I missed the annual Des Moines Marathon this fall, in where I usually run the half-marathon. It was because I was in New York during that event.

To scratch that itch to run, this Thanksgiving, I decided to join the Des Moines Turkey Trot. In this event you can either do a 5K or a 5-mile run. I did the 5 miles.

IMG_6127

You may say, I was crazy to run on a Thanksgiving Holiday, where one should just be resting and relaxing. But as you can see with my photo below, I was not the only crazy one.

IMG_6141

I was surprised on how many runners join this event. According to the official results, there were about 3,000 finishers. I’m not sure if there’s more that started but were not able to finish the race.

The event was more of a family affair, as I saw many parents with their young kids who participated in the run. Unlike in the marathon or half-marathon events, which definitely were longer runs, there were more “serious” runners or even elite athletes joining those runs. I’m not saying that I am a serious or an elite runner. Far from it.

IMG_6136

The course took us through downtown Des Moines. The most difficult part was the uphill climb around the Capitol building. Good thing it was in the first mile.

IMG_6144

After going around the Capitol, it was mostly downhill from there, or at least no more climbs.

I was slow, but I was not the slowest. See, I was already heading downhill while others are still going uphill (photo below). On second thought, maybe they were released much later, as runners were released in waves, and I was just among the first wave of runners to start, giving me my imagined advantage.

IMG_6145

I finished the 5-mile run under an hour which was my goal. However, when I checked the official results, I was indeed one of the slowest finishers. There were runners in the 5K and 5-mile that finished with a pace of 5-minute mile! I was wrong in thinking that there were no serious or elite runners joining that race.

At the end of the race, it really does not matter if we were slow or fast. We were all finishers, and that is what’s important. As in all other endeavors we participate in.

One thing for sure, running this event gave me a reason, or more of an excuse, to gobble (gobble, gobble!) more food. It was Thanksgiving after all!

IMG_6126

Me and the turkey (hindi kami bati)

(*photos taken with an iPhone)