A Passenger

Would you like to be a driver or a passenger?

Many of us would probably choose to be the driver, for we want to be in control. However, there are certain journeys in life where being a passenger is more delightful.  And just enjoy the ride.

Eight years ago, I was a passenger to my son’s playful dream (see original post here).

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Today, I am really his passenger.

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Even though it can be uneasy, I will savor this passage.

Who knows what’s next on this journey, but I am looking forward to it.

(*photos taken by the passenger)

Steel Magnolia

Silo|ˈsīlō|: a tower or pit on a farm to store grain.

Silos are a common sight here in Iowa. Since Iowa is mostly farm fields, they are part of our landscape. Yet, when we went to Texas, we toured a silo. What we visited was not an ordinary silo though. In fact it was a popular destination.

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As you already know, we went to Texas two weeks ago for a medical mission (see previous post). But we were still able to squeeze some time for a side trip.

After we landed in Fort Worth, Texas and were on our way to our hotel, we saw many road signs that lead to Waco, Texas. My wife asked our Uber driver how far Waco was from Fort Worth, and he told us that it was about an hour and fifteen minutes drive. My wife got excited.

Waco, Texas has been known in the past for some disturbing events. Some even correlate Waco to Wacko, which means Psycho. If you don’t know the history, it was about a cult led by David Koresh who had his followers live on a ranch in Waco. However, it was later put under siege by the government authorities in 1993. The compound was set ablaze, leading to several deaths.

My wife was not excited to see Waco for that. Fortunately, Waco is now known in a more positive light thanks to the popularity of Chip and Joanna Gaines. This couple became famous due to their HGTV show “Fixer Upper,” where they converted many rundown houses in Waco into beautiful dream homes.

The “Fixer Upper” show ended, but this couple has engaged in some other business of their own. They had bought a property in Waco that has a rundown silo, and they turn it into their own store, making it their most notable project to date. It is officially known as the “Magnolia Market at the Silos.” It is rustic, yet chic. Like a blend of steel and flowers. This property is now a tourist destination.

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It was not in our initial plan to go to Waco, but my wife, who is an avid fan of Chip and Joanna Gaines, could not resist the chance to see this place. In order to visit Waco from Fort Worth, we had to rent a car. Going by taxi or Uber would have been impractical as it would be too costly, and riding a bus would take us several hours – a time that we didn’t have.

When we went to the car rental, we were told that the only vehicle available since we did not have a reservation, was a large pick-up truck. That did not stop us. We drove that big truck to Waco and readily blended-in as Texans. Everything is big in Texas!

My wife could not contain her excitement when we reached the Magnolia Market. Needless to say, we did not leave that store empty-handed.

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Besides the home décor store, they also have a garden, a seed supply store, and several food trucks selling gourmet sandwiches, interestingly flavored ice cream, freshly squeezed lemonade and much more.

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In that market, they also have a bakery that sells some rather tasty cupcakes. The bakery was so popular, that the line snaked long outside the building. A sign in that bakery states: “A balanced diet is a cupcake in each hand.” Of course we tried some of those bake goods too.

Even though we were there for only a little more than an hour, we felt gratified. We spent more time driving than the actual time we stayed there, but it was still worth the effort. For one thing, it made my wife happy. And that was more than enough for me.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

A Place Somewhere In Time

Nestled between the upper and lower peninsula of Michigan is a place where time stood still. The Mackinac Island, located in Lake Huron, is a popular tourist attraction due to its certain appeal. This place has undergone extensive historical preservation and restoration and is considered a National Historic Landmark.

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I have heard of this place from a partner of mine when we moved to the Midwest more than a decade ago, but it was only recently that we were able to check this place out.

Mackinac Island is only reachable by a ferry from either Mackinac City or St. Ignace. These are fast hydro-jet ferries and only takes less than 20 minutes to get into the island.

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As winter can be brutal in this part of Michigan, most businesses on the island, hotels included, are only open from May to October. Though there are residents that stayed on the island even through the winter.

Visiting Mackinac Island is like walking back in time, as houses and buildings are mostly built from the glorious era of the past, or at least they are made to look that way.

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The island is not only for history fans but also attract nature lovers. There are lots of beautiful sights to enjoy, either cultivated or natural.

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Tourists who visit Mackinac Island are called “fudgies.” I believe the reason for this is that the island has several fudge stores, and all of them offer free samples. So the tourists definitely take advantage of this, us included. But we also brought some home, as we felt obliged to buy after sampling a lot of them.

One of the most unique feature of the island is that there are no cars here. All motorized vehicles are banned on the entire island since 1898. There are only three motorized vehicles in the island: an ambulance, 1 police car, and a fire truck. So to get around, you either walk, bike, or take a taxi. Of course the taxis are horse-drawn carriages.

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When you’re on the island, time is not an essence. People here take their time leisurely. And even if you are in a rush, you cannot hurry the horses. The horses rarely trot, and most of the time they walk. They don’t gallop. If you’re a fast walker, it may be even faster than riding the carriage. As I said, time here stand still.

Horses rule the island. They have only one physician in the whole island, but they have three veterinarians available here. So you know where their priority lies in this place.

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One of the down-side of having many horses walking the streets, is that the roads are littered with their manure.

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The smell is undeniable and sometimes can be overwhelming. But there are many people employed here as a “pooper-scooper.” They even have a mechanized street sweeper or cleaner. Of course it is also horse-drawn (photo below).

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Beside the horse-drawn carriage tour, another faster way than walking, to tour the island is to go biking. And that’s what my family and I did. The whole island is only 8 miles around, though there are some steep hills that may be challenging to ride up.

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One of the most iconic place in the island is the Grand Hotel which opened its doors way back in 1887. As the name implies, it really is grand. It even has its signature horse-drawn carriages available for their patrons.

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This hotel has hosted many presidents, dignitaries, and famous people in its existence. Even if you don’t stay in this hotel (as it is a little pricey) you can still tour it for a minimal fee. It remains one of the most visited place in the island.

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The hotel is also known in the popular culture as this is where the classic movie “Somewhere in Time,” starring Christopher Reeves and Jane Seymour, was filmed. The film is about a time traveler who fell in love with someone in the past. They chose this location for the obvious reason that the hotel have not changed much even in the passing of time.

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Overall, we really enjoyed our trip to Mackinac Island. Even though we are not time travelers, perhaps we can be considered as such, as we felt like we visited the “past.” And we definitely fell in love too from something in the “past.”

From Mackinac Island,

Pinoy Transplant

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(*all photos taken with an iPhone)

No Uber

I have used Uber several times before to get around in places we visited. I have used this ride in cities like Chicago, Boston and New York City.

However in our recent trip to this certain place, there was no Uber. In fact, this was their equivalent of Uber:

It is not only Uber that is banned in this place, but all motorized vehicles for that matter. It is like being stuck in the 19th century.

I guess we just have to use our legs to get around.

(*photos taken in Mackinac Island, Michigan)

Under The Presidents’ Nose

That’s where I was last week.

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We have been to the Blackhills, South Dakota twice before, but this was the first time we hiked the Presidential trail, and thus got a closer view of the Presidents’ faces. We were really right under their noses.

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(*photos taken during our recent trip to Mount Rushmore with our visitors from the Philippines)

Return to Florida

We were in Florida for a few days about a week ago. We accompanied our son who had a team competition held there. That was our official purpose to go to Florida, though there were other reasons.

One reason is to escape the cold, as there was still snow on the ground in Iowa when we flew to Florida. Another excuse perhaps was to see the ocean. Iowa is a land lot, and the nearest ocean is about 1000 miles away, so it’s not everyday that we can view the ocean. But the biggest reason to return to Florida, was to see our many friends there, for we once called that place home. That was before we moved to Iowa.

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beach in Sarasota

We have lots of good memories in Florida. Spending weekends in the theme parks or time in the beach were not even the highlight of our three years of residence there, even though we’ve become good acquaintances of Mickey. First of all, it was in Florida where I started a “real” job, after three years of Medical Residency (New Jersey) and another three years of Subspecialty Fellowship (New York) training.

After finishing my training in 2000, I had to change my visa from a “training” to a “working” visa. That transition took several months to get approved, and I was in limbo with no permit to work and no place to go. I was jobless, broke, and homeless. I cannot provide for myself let alone for my wife and my daughter who was a toddler at that time.

During that dark period of our life, we were fully dependent on the kindness of friends and family. We spent a month living in our friend’s home in New Jersey, then two months in another friend’s apartment in New York, then several months with our relatives in California. We did not starve nor sleep in the streets because there were good people who adopted us and cared for us. They provided everything, from the food we eat to the diapers for my daughter. It was a humbling experience, yet at the same time awe-inspiring on how good people can be.

When my visa got finally approved in 2001, we moved to Florida for my first employment. It was a wonderful feeling to move to an apartment of our own, sleep in our own beds, buy our own groceries, and cook our own food. It was not that the food we ate during the times we were “homeless” taste bad, but it was just good to taste food from the fruits of our own labor. Florida is known as the “Sunshine State,” and for us we really experienced a sunny existence there after going through some cold and dark circumstances in life.

So during our return to Florida last week, besides seeing our friends, we also visited the homes we rented (we moved twice) when we were still residents there. We felt so nostalgic driving through the streets and neighborhoods we used to know. Although it took us some time driving around to find the homes we rented, as there were considerable changes in that area. It was sad to see that the orange groves around our previous residences are now gone and turned into commercial complexes.

We drove by the clinic and the hospital where I used to worked. We also visited the hospital where my son was born only to find that the whole building was demolished and the site was turned into a park. The hospital was relocated to a new site and is a much larger facility now.

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the new relocated hospital

I even teased my son that we’ll return him to the hospital where he was born. The back story to that was after my son was born, our daughter who was 5 years old at that time was jealous at the attention our new baby was getting. So she pleaded, “Let’s return the baby back to the hospital.”

Since technically the hospital where my son was born is gone, he can argue that we cannot return him anymore. I guess we are stuck with him. Hah!

I would be lying if I say that it was all good things that we experienced in Florida. For there were alligators there. They were not just in the lakes and swamps. They wear clothes like you and me. To be fair, they can be anywhere not just in Florida. Yet I still believe that overall, people are good.

While we were living in Florida, we had a friend and his wife who underwent a transition phase where they were in-between jobs, just like what we went through before. They have no place to go, so we adopted them and they stayed with us for a few months. We cannot repay those who adopted us before, but we can do to others what was done to us. We paid it forward.

As expected, this couple made it through their dark times and was able to get back on their own. We were happy for them.

So guess where we stayed when we visited Florida recently? At the Disney Resort? No, done that. At the beachfront hotel? No, done that too. In a tent at a campground?  Not this time. We stayed somewhere much better.

We stayed at the home of our friend whom we adopted before. A home where love abounds trumps even the most posh hotel. Not just we stayed there for free, it also gave us more time to catch up and enjoy each other’s company again. Besides, their place was cozy with a resort-like feel. Consider waking up to this view (photo below).

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We also had a meet-up with other friends who took special efforts to delight us. From a treat to a restaurant, to a home-cooked Pinoy breakfast, from home-baked bread to freshly picked malunggay for our “pabaon.” I’m not sure we deserve all these kindness but we’re thankful to all of them.

We surely had fun visiting Florida again. And we did not even see Mickey.

(*photos taken during our last trip to Florida)

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.

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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)