Doorhenge

If you live near the equator, the time of the sunrise is almost the same throughout the year. When I was living in Manila, the earliest sunrise is about 5:30 in the morning, and the latest will be at 6:30. The more distance you live above or below the equator, the more the difference in the times of sunrises and sunsets through the year.

Where I live now here in Iowa, the earliest sunrise is at 4:40 (Standard time) in June, but due to Daylight Saving Time from March to November, so the adjusted time is 5:40 in the morning. We have about 15 hours of daylight at this time. Then the latest sunrise is at 7:40 in December, and have only 9 hours of daylight.

Have you also noticed that the sunrises and sunsets are not in the same spot on the horizon all year? This is due to the tilt of the Earth’s axis of rotation, which is tilted at an angle of 23.5 degrees (sorry, I’m such a nerd). As a result, at some points in the orbit of Earth, the north pole is tilted towards the sun, and at other points it is tilted away from the sun, making the location of sunrises and sunsets different depending on the time of year.

By the way, that specific tilt of 23.5 degrees of Earth is also the reason for the different seasons of the year. But that is a subject of discussion perhaps for another time.

With regards to viewing sunrises, one enigma of our civilization is the ancient structure, the Stonehenge. One theory is that it was built as a celestial observatory. Though it could be an altar or some kind of sacred monument as well. In any case, it is built to have been perfectly arranged to face the midsummer sunrise, and midwinter sunset. So if you stand in just the right place inside the Stonehenge monument on the day of the northern summer solstice, you’ll see the sunrise align through those pillars.

A similar phenomenon also happens in New York City, when the setting of the sun aligns perfectly with the grid-pattern streets of Manhattan, which happens twice a year, typically in May and July. This is also known as the Manhattanhenge.

Interestingly, I have a similar event in my house here in Iowa. That is on a certain time of the year, the sunrise perfectly aligns with my front door and shines directly through the corridor and into our living room.

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When this happen, I know that we are halfway between the spring equinox and summer solstice. Or this is just time to let the sunshine in and start a new day.

Have a good day everyone!

(*photo taken last weekend 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)

Bite Me

Summer breeze is now blowing here in the northern hemisphere. Yesterday, we had our first 90-degree-Fahrenheit day for the season, and it is predicted that it will be the same today. Summer has arrived in our neck of the woods.

I went out for a run in our neighborhood this morning. Just my usual 2-3 miler run. Nothing extraordinary.

With the warmer air, I felt it was harder to run. Though I am not fond of the cold, I will admit, that running in the colder weather can be better. Personally, I feel that 40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit is the best temperature to run, especially when doing longer distances.

As I was struggling this morning on a steep uphill climb, but was nearing the top, suddenly a fierce-looking black bulldog came out from a neighbor’s yard.

The dog was not barking. It was just charging towards me!

They say that there are two ways to react when faced with danger. The first response is flight.  But as I said, it was uphill, and it would be very difficult to sprint ala-Usain Bolt. Plus I am not sure I can outrun a charging bulldog.

The second response is to fight. Me fighting a menacing-looking bulldog? But I don’t have my Black Ninja sword with me. Would my Kung-Fu deter this attack dog?

Confronted with danger or in an excited state, the flight or fight hormones (adrenalin and the like) will be secreted by our body. With these body juices rushing, individuals can do extreme feats, like carrying a refrigerator all alone during a fire evacuation, or clearing a high fence on a single bound when being chased by a vengeful lover.

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Fight or Flight (as in flying!) response

Well, some people say that there’s another response in facing danger. That is to freeze. Like a deer caught in a bright headlight.

Scientists say that standing still or playing dead is a real mode of defense mechanism. It is employed by many creatures in the animal kingdom. Best known is the opossum. They freeze not just because they are gripped with fear, but rather they are using nature’s way of self-preservation.

And that’s what I did. I stopped running and stood still.

But the bulldog did not stop on his charge. It was rampaging straight for my legs! I saw it open its mean snout……

And then it licked my leg! No bite. Just a friendly lick.

I must be like Kentucky Fried Chicken to that bulldog. Finger-licking, ah, er, leg-licking good!

(*photo from the internet)

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!

 

 

A Perfect Day

I was on-call last weekend. It was not particularly busy that I was drowning in work, but enough to keep me occupied in the hospital most of the days during the weekend. I had more toxic calls before, so I really cannot complain.

I was making my rounds in the hospital and making headway on my long list of patients to see. I have seen all the ICU patients and working on the rest of the patients in the hospital. On my way to the other side of the hospital, I passed the crossway that overlooks the center garden of the hospital.

I stopped for a while and gazed longingly at the garden.

our hospital's central garden

our hospital’s central garden

It was already early in the afternoon. It was sunny, but the temperature outside was not hot, nor was it cold. It was just right. It was early September after all, when summer and autumn are in their crossroads.

It was a perfect day to be outside.

I could have been outside. I could have been sitting outside in that garden with the beautiful flowers in bloom. I could have been outside shooting hoops with my son. Or could have been outside having barbecue with my friends. Or could have been outside riding my bike on some engaging bike trail. Or could have been outside just lying on a hammock under a tree. I could have been outside……

Instead, I was inside the hospital walls. Working.

The next stop on my rounds was the Oncology floor. I entered the room of our patient who has history of rectal cancer and was treated several years ago. But now found to have his cancer come back with vengeance, spreading to his lungs. I was suddenly reminded of my mother who has the same circumstances.

My patient was having difficulty breathing. It was quite obvious that even with high flow oxygen he was struggling. Every movement was an effort. He has been hospitalized for some time now, with no clear indication of when he can go home. Or will he ever?

As I entered his room, he was looking at the window. He was looking at the same central garden that I was looking at, a little while ago. Perhaps he had the same thoughts that I had: I could have been outside enjoying this beautiful day.

But he can’t. And perhaps he never will.

That’s when a thought dawned on me. There’s a reason why I am not outside. I was placed here inside these hospital walls, for a sacred duty to care and give comfort for people who cannot enjoy a beautiful day outside, just like today.

It was a perfect day indeed.

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(*photo taken with an iPhone)

 

Crazy Weather

Exactly one week ago, I posted this photo.

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It was taken right after a light shower, with a visible rainbow in an almost complete arc. The brown grass was starting to turn green, and the empty branches were beginning to show their buds. Spring was on its way.

Then two days ago, our temperature went way up to the 80’s Fahrenheit. We put away our heavy coats into the closet. Me and my son played hoops in our driveway basketball court in our t-shirt and shorts. That night it was hot enough that I was tempted to turn on the air conditioner. Did summer arrived already and altogether skipped spring?

Yesterday the heavy rains came and it was gloomy all day. But it was alright, for we badly need the rain. Besides, the saying goes, “April showers bring May flowers.”

But this morning I woke up to this.

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Snow? No! The temperature dipped below freezing again. Needless to say, our heater was on once more, and our winter coats were out of the closet again.

Crazy Iowa weather!

 

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)

Of Goslings and Ducklings

June has rolled in upon us. The entry of this month heralds that spring will be officially transitioning into summer here in the northern part of the hemisphere. Born and raised in a tropical country, where there is eternal summer, I can’t wait for the summer to come, after experiencing a harsh winter here in Iowa. Come to think of it, we even had a snowstorm in May this year!

Another thing that June is known for is weddings. This month is named after Juno, the Roman goddess of marriage, and that may be the reason why it is the most popular month to tie the knot. Many couples will take the plunge this June and start their own little family.

Speaking of family, it’s not just humans who raise their little family this time of year. I can see mother deer and their fawns, as well as big and little rabbits frolicking in our yard, much to the dismay of my wife, as they eat her flowers.

A few mornings ago while I was running, I saw a family of geese swimming in the pond near our place.

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A couple of weeks ago, we also came face to face with a family of ducks, while we were dining in a restaurant that is beside a man-made pond.

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Like the seasons, with spring turning into summer, then into autumn, and finally into winter – these little goslings and ducklings will grow and mature, and then not too long after, they will become parents and will have little critters of their own.

It was spring last year when we learned that my wife was pregnant with our third child. And it was also spring last year that we lost our supposed to be third child in an early termination of pregnancy.

Few nights ago, my wife commented that we could have been holding our 5-month old baby right now. Yeah, that’s an endearing thought.

But we don’t dwell on the “what ifs” and “could have been.” We have long accepted that it was not meant to be. Besides we have two “older” children that are constant source of joy and inspiration for my wife and I.

Being a parent, I believe, is the greatest privilege that our Creator have endowed us.

For all the parents out there who have little ones right now, can you please hug your babies a little tighter, for our sake. May you all have a beautiful summer.

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Life’s Gifts and Surprises

Boys’ Rite of Passage

A child was being carried by his father to the hospital’s Emergency Room. The kid was wearing an oversized skirt, which was heavily blood-stained. And the kid looked scared, and rightfully so.

But before you speculate more on what happened to that poor child, let’s just say that the kid had a complication of a common procedure. A procedure being done to boys. Especially in the Philippines. Did I just told you that the kid with the oversized skirt was a boy? And he just had a circumcision.

Circumcision. Almost all young boys in our country have to go through this kind of initiation. I am not so sure though, why we Filipinos are so hung up with this tradition. If we are Jewish, then I can understand that. But we are not. Not all cultures are particular in circumcising all their boys. Globally it is estimated that only about 30% of all males are circumcised. But in Filipino culture, you dare not be branded as “supot,” or uncircumcised, as this is viewed as bad as being neutered.

When I was a boy, I was told that the statue of Andres Bonifacio in Balintawak with his raised hand holding a bolo, was a symbol that he was looking for all uncircumcised boys. I even heard that BSP does not really stand for Boys Scouts of the Philippines, but rather “batang supot, patuli!” That’s how ingrained this circumcision is in our culture that every boy cannot escape this “painful” tradition. And the mere mention of the word “tuli” can bring shivers to the spine of every uncircumcised boy.

I can tell you that circumcision is more of a “traditional practice” rather than a real medical necessity. In 1975, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stated in no uncertain terms that “there is no absolute medical indication for routine circumcision of the newborn.” They have restated this position in 1983, 1999 and again in 2005. Though there are mounting medical evidence of the benefits of circumcision, at this point it is still not recommended as a “routine procedure” by any medical organization.

I think the real danger, at least in our culture, of having all our boys be circumcised is who and how this surgical procedure is being done. I have heard stories from my elders, that in many barrios, it was traditionally the barber who performs this surgery using “labaha” or razor. They employ the “pukpok” (you don’t want me to elaborate on this!) method. The boy being circumcised chews on some guava leaves, and after the “pukpok,” he had to immediately spit the chewed leaves to his wound. Then they were ordered to swim right away into the river or the ocean. No wonder little boys were scared to death!

I know it is better now, with medical and semi-medical professionals performing this procedure nowadays. From midwives, to nurses, to medical students, to licensed doctors. Circumcision Clinics abound even in small towns especially during summer months of April to June. Many medical missions sponsored by different organizations and schools bring these professionals to different barrios to perform free-of-charge circumcision to right-age boys.

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Operation Tuli

I had the opportunity to join several of these medical missions when I was in medical school and when I was an Intern. After learning from my mentors, I performed a few of this minor surgical procedure. The method we employed was much sophisticated and sterile than the “pukpok” method. We used scalpel and sutures. And yes we gave anesthesia!

Whatever the reason why we Filipinos are so particular with circumcision or why it is so deeply rooted in our culture, I really cannot tell. But somehow, this ritual, which is mostly done during the summer, has become like a rite of passage for young boys. And after bravely undergoing this “painful ceremony,” they can be rightfully called young men.

By the way, that boy who was wearing a skirt who was brought to the Emergency Room and was terrified? That was me.

(*photo is not mine, taken from here)

 

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.