The Hills are Alive With the Sound of…

Cows.

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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!

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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.

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

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

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(*photos taken with an iPhone)

 

 

September Sunrise

It’s been more than a couple of weeks that we have returned from our trip to the Philippines.

I have fully recovered from the jet-lag. My tracks of the mosquito bites were all gone. My sunburn have healed. The stash of the butong pakwan (watermelon seed) that we brought back is almost gone. And all that I have left are the sweet memories of home.

I miss the Philippines.

As September rolls in, heralding the end of summer, we brace for the coming cold season. Yet waking up to this beautiful morning, is not bad at all. Not at all.

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(*photo taken in our neighborhood, with an iPhone)

Summer is Gone

I woke up this morning to the sound of howling winds. I may have left one of the windows open. It rained all day yesterday and most through the night. At least the rain had stopped. But it was still overcast. It was a gloomy day.

The temperature also plummeted to 45º F (7º C) this morning and did not rise much above 50º F today. Though I heard it was above 100º F today in Los Angeles. But this is Iowa.

Tomorrow the forecast is that we will be in the 30’sº F in the early morning. This probably would be our first frost of the season. Time to bring in the outside pets and potted plants. Time to bring out the jackets. Maybe we also need to throw a blanket over our tomato plants in our garden tonight, which still is producing a lot of fruits, so it would not freeze.

We had a good summer though, and for the past few weeks we have experienced warm weather, even if it was already September. So we really cannot complain.

In fact last weekend my son went camping with other scouts, and he grumbled that he should have packed shorts instead of thick pants for it was hot. He said it was warm inside their tent that he did not zipped up his sleeping bag when he slept.

But it is October now. Almost overnight, the summer ended. Cold autumn is here to stay and bone-chilling winter is not very far behind.

The cold winds have blown off most of the leaves in our trees, and our yard is a scattered mess. Is it time for a fall clean up as well? Yet, I must confess that my kids like raking leaves and playing in the pile of leaves that they have gathered.

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my son raking leaves (taken 2 autumns ago)

Fall can be a beautiful season though. With the bursting colors of the trees’ foliage, people wearing fashionable jackets and trendy boots, the farmers enjoying their bountiful harvest, and with the much celebrated Thanksgiving holiday and feasting, it is not hard to imagine why this time of year is the favorite of many people. Not to mention, it is also time for many bargain sales.

But not for me. I am kind of summer guy. I like wearing shorts and t-shirts. I may complain about the heat, but I can bear it. I grew up in a tropical country, for crying out loud!

Yes, I know that summer is gone. Yet in one last act of defiance, I refused to wear my jacket when I went out today.

Of course I was cold!

 

 

Autumn Leaves

It was a rainy foggy autumn morning. I accompanied my family to our local YMCA, where my children would practice their swimming strokes in the lap pool. My wife went with the kids in the pool area, while I went to the exercise/weight room. I prefer to run than swim. Besides, I feel intimidated when I swim with my doggie-paddle strokes.

After I had my morning jolt, I meant exercise not coffee (exercise is a much better pick-me-upper than caffeine), I went out to the gym’s lobby. I sat down in one of the lounge chairs while I waited for my family. I picked up the newspaper and leisurely read. I wish everyday was like this, where I could take my time, sweat up a bit, then relax and read the morning paper without worrying that I would be late for work.

You see, I have taken some days off for a badly needed break from the stress of work. Even though I was on vacation, we did not plan for any far-away travel, as my kids were doing school and they have many scheduled activities for the week. So I just spent time at home.

People say that sometimes the best vacation, is the one you stay at home (staycation). I agree. It is less expensive too. Much less. For many times we are forced to work more just to pay the expenses we incurred from the last vacation we had.

As I was flipping through the newspaper, I happened to open to the obituary section. I don’t usually read this section. But does anyone? Well, that’s not true. I have a partner who regularly reads through the obituary section and relays to our office staff which of our patients would not be coming back for their follow-up. Because they’re dead. Somehow this updates our record.

For some reason this day I read the obituary. Not surprisingly, I saw a name that was familiar. It was one of our patients in the ICU that we took care for a prolonged period of time. I knew he was really ill. He finally did succumb two days ago.

As I was reading our patient’s obituary, it said there that he was always been the “life of the party” with his “ridiculous jokes.” I did not know that. I have only met him in the hospital and I guess his illness sucked away the life out him, and it was hard not to be grim if you were in the ICU. It also said in the obits that he had a “fierce spirit.” No wonder he fought that long. Yes, the disease may have defeated him in the end, but he did fight a good fight. Beyond what we have expected.

Maybe that was one good thing you gain for reading the obituary – you learn more of the person that you never knew before. But again, it’s too late. They’re gone.

As we arrived home from the gym, the day remained gloomy. I knew the sun was somewhere up in the sky, but the dark clouds and the fog was covering it. It seems like it was still night. The weather was like a perfect setting for an eerie movie. It was Halloween season after all.

For me though it was more than the gloomy morning. I couldn’t shake the thought of our patient that died. In fact, I mused on all the patients that despite of our best efforts, still died. Yet I know and have resigned that that is beyond our control.

Do you think it is easy to forget them? Especially the recent ones? Including the one that died on my procedure table a few days ago? I tell you, it is not. And it can be haunting at times. Not the scary-type of haunting like the Halloween. But haunting, that is poignant like the falling leaves.

I looked out our window. The rain was pouring down. The wind was blowing. And the autumn leaves were falling. One by one to the ground.

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photo taken at our friends’ yard

Last Hurrah for Summer

September is here, heralding that the days of summer are numbered. At least here in the northern hemisphere.

This past Labor Day weekend, which is the unofficial mark for the end of the summer (Labor Day in the US is the first Monday of September), our family went out for a picnic. We also took the opportunity to take pictures for our family portrait. It may be our last hurrah for this summer.

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We did not go far, but simply went to the communal picnic area of our housing development. It was basically in our backyard. It was a perfect day though for a picnic. And for a photo shoot.

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To celebrate the end of summer, we all wore all-white. It was my wife’s idea actually. You know that there is an unofficial fashion rule that you cannot wear all-white anymore after Labor Day, right? I don’t know where that moratorium came from, but I suppose people associate white clothing, only for the summer.

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I can say that we did have fun picnicking, taking photos, and just frolicking in the warmth of the sun. We stayed in the park until it got dark and watched as the summer sun disappeared in the horizon.

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This morning, I passed by the picnic area. The day was breaking. But it was cold and foggy.

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Is summer gone already?

(*family photos taken with self-timer)

Autumn Camping

Summer is gone and autumn is upon us. Though last weekend our family and our friends still went out for a camping trip. Maybe this will be the last hurrah for this season before our temperature dips down to bitterly cold range.

We drove down to Lacey-Keosauqua State Park which is about 2 hours from Des Moines. This state park is one of the biggest and most picturesque in Iowa. “Keosauqua” is a Native American term meaning “the stream bearing a floating mass of snow, slush or ice.” Though no snow yet when we were there.

Autumn camping has a different appeal due to the awesome color of the surrounding nature.

fall foliage with its peak color

You may argue that it was not a true camping since we did not sleep in tents. Instead we stayed in small rustic cabins. The cabins were complete with a toilet, shower, heater/air conditioner, refrigerator, stove, microwave and sofa beds. What else can you ask for? A jacuzzi maybe?

our comfy cabin

camping is not complete without a campfire

When I went out for my morning jog, I can hear a lot of movement and rustling in the woods. I know I was not alone. But before you think that there were fairies and supernatural creatures in this forest, it was not that. What I mean were forest animals. In this case, there were deers.

can you spot the three deer?

more deer crossing

There was a lot of hiking trails in this park. And I believe the best way to enjoy nature is by hiking through the woods. And that’s what we did.

hiking trail

We encountered these ghostly creatures in this enchanted forest. OK they were just our kids in a “jumping” photo.

stony path

Our hike led us to the lake. The water was so serene. With the fall-colored foliage reflecting on the water, it was really beautiful. There was even a beach. Alright, alright, it’s probably not a beach that you picture in your mind just like in Hawaii. But still, it is a beach with a sandy shore.

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downward pathway leading to the lake

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fall colors reflection in the water

my son and his friend in the beach

The following day, we headed down to a nearby bigger lake. This time we did not just stay on the banks of the lake, we went into the waters. No, not swimming. We went canoeing.

my son and I in one canoe

we even did some fishing

flock of geese flying over the lake

our friends in the other canoe

our friends in the other canoe

my daughter and her friends in another canoe

After almost two hours paddling and fishing, how much fish do you think we caught? A big fat zero! And we thought we can have a freshly caught grilled fish for lunch. O well, we settled for egg-salad sandwich instead.

our canoes side by side

It was a great camping trip and it sure was fun. We may have not caught any fish, but we still do have a lot of stories to tell. (And pictures to show too.) Until the next adventure.

(*all photos taken with iPhone)

September Morning

The cool air is moving in, heralding that the days of summer are numbered. It is not that cold yet that it is freezing, but just enough to make the mornings cool and crisp. The night temperature falls usually meeting the dew point  (as if I know what I am talking about) and this forms a thin wisp of fog above the ground in the mornings like a floating white blanket. The days are getting shorter too. And the Iowa cornfields are turning into golden-yellow. It is indeed September.

September. There is something about this month that brings about a certain sentimentality. Some kind of nostalgia if you will. Just the number of songs that I know that have September in its title proves this point. From “See You in September” (The Happenings), “September” (Earth, Wind and Fire), “September Morn”  (Neil Diamond),  and “September of my Years” (Frank Sinatra), all from yesteryear, to the more recent songs like “The Late September Dogs” (Melissa Etheridge), “Wake Me Up When September Ends” (Greenday) and “September” (Daughtry). I know you can name a few (or a lot) more songs than these. Perhaps you can sing them all too.

To me though, September ushers a certain kind of sadness. I know September marks the end of summer, but that’s not why I feel this way. You see, I grew up in the Philippines, a tropical country, where we have summer-like days the whole year through, so I don’t associate this month to the gloom of approaching autumn and winter. In fact in the Philippines, September marks the unofficial start of the long joyous Christmas celebration. Christmas songs can be played and Christmas decorations can be displayed as soon as the months ending with “ber” rolls in.

To me this melancholic feeling about September has a deeper personal meaning. Painfully personal.

It was one day in September, twenty-five years ago that my life’s boyhood summer came to an end. That was when my father passed away at a premature age and we were left to carry on. My sheltered and carefree innocent living came to a screeching halt.  And I became a man overnight, burdened with the huge responsibility passed on to me.

hazy morning sun over golden field of corn ready for harvest

Though September morning just like today, also attests that we can rise up to the challenges of life. We, like the sun can continue to ascend and claim our rightful place in the sky. Soon enough the fog of uncertainties and doubts will burn away in the warmth of the day. The golden fields of harvest will be ours for the taking. And our commitment to reach our dreams will be fortified to face even the harshest days of the coming winter.

September morning. Let the cold wind blow.

Tag-lagas

Lumalamig na naman ang simoy ng hangin dito sa amin. Tumitingkad na rin ang mga kulay ng mga dahon at nagiging ginintuan at pula. Unti-unti rin silang nalalagas, nalalaglag at kumakalat sa lupa. Dahan-dahang namang kumukupas ang mga luntiang kulay ng damo sa aming paligid.

Lipas na naman ang tag-araw. Hindi magtatagal ay tagginaw na naman. Lilipad na naman at babalut sa kapaligiran ang puting niyebe.

Nakaupo at nakahalukipkip sa isang sulok ng aming tahanan ang aking nanay. Siya ay dumadalaw sa amin dito sa Amerika, at mahigit dalawang buwan na rin siyang namalagi dito. Ito ay pangatlong pagkakataon niyang makarating dito sa aming lugar. Ang unang dalaw niya dito, mga ilang taon na ang nakalilipas, ay sa kalagitnaan ng tag-lamig, dahil gusto raw niyang masaksihan ang niyebe. Ngunit dahil sa sumusuot sa butong ginaw ng tag-lamig dito, ay ayaw na niyang manatili at maranasang muli ang tagginaw.

Dahil na rin siguro sa kanyang edad, ay hindi na siya mahilig mag-lalabas at mamasyal. Pinipili pa niyang umupo sa isang tabi at maiwan na lamang sa loob ng aming bahay. Masaya na siya sa panonood sa kanyang mga apo, o dumungaw sa bintana at magmasid sa kapaligirang mundo na patuloy sa pag-ikot. Maaring maligaya na siya na magbalik tanaw na lamang sa mga kasaysayan ng kanyang buhay.

Lahat ay nagbabago. Walang sinisino.

Malaki na rin ang ipinagbago ng aking ina mula ng ako’y unang tumulak parito sa Amerika. Hukot na ang kanyang tindig. Mahina na ang kanyang mga kamay: mga kamay na minsang panahon ay malalakas sa pag-aaruga sa aking kabataan. Malabo na rin ang kanyang mga mata: mga matang minsa’y kay linaw sa pagbabantay noon sa aking kalikutan. Purol na rin ang kanyang pandinig: mga tengang dati-rati ay matalas na dumidinig ng aking mga iyak at tawag. Mabagal na rin ang kanyang mga hakbang: mga hakbang na noon ay mabibilis sa paghabol sa aking kamusmusan, para ako’y malayo sa panganib.

Pana-panahon lamang ang lahat, ika nga nila. Ang oras ay tumatakbo, hindi naghihintay kaninuman.

Ilang araw pa ay tutulak na muling pabalik sa Pilipinas ang aking nanay, parang ibong manglalakbay na lumilipad patungong timog upang tumakas sa nagbabadyang masungit na taglamig.

Hindi ko alam kung ilang pag-kikita at ilang pag-papaalam pa ang nalalabi sa amin. Panahon lamang ang makapagsasabi. Sana ay nakapagdulot ako ng kasiyahaan bilang isang anak sa aking ina. Ito lamang ang pinaka-matamis na ala-alang maipapabaon ko sa kanya.

Hindi magtatagal ay mauubos at mahuhulog na rin ang lahat ng dahon sa mga puno, at matitira na lamang ay mga hubad na sanga at tangkay nito. Mananatili itong pawang tigang at patay…… hanggang sa panahon ng tag-sibol at muling magsisimula ang panibagong buhay.

(autumn photo from here)