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 (photos 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)

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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United Nations Headquarters (white building)

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The Empire State building from afar

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Midtown Manhattan

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Brooklyn Bridge and Lower Manhattan

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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From New York,

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Pinoy Transplant

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(*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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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,

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Pinoy Transplant

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(*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)

Garden of the Gods

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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(*photos taken with an iPhone)

 

View Through a Battle Shield

I sat quietly surveying my field of vision like a pilot of a battle tank. And I realized that I was looking at a killing field. It mostly happened last night, but it was veiled in the darkness. I had no idea that it was this vicious, until I saw it in the morning light.

In front of my eyes lay several casualties. Perhaps in the hundreds. They were all dead. Crushed and mangled. Their innards scattered on the battle field.

Life is short. I know for them it is shorter. And it just become even shorter. Life can be unfair sometimes.

All they want is freedom. Freedom to live. Freedom to propagate. Freedom to roam on a beautiful warm summer’s night.

But I want my freedom too. And my freedom to roam clashed with theirs.

I don’t like it. Nor did I plan it. It was not my intention to annihilate them. No, not at all! They were just in the wrong place, and in the wrong time. Or was it me that was in the wrong place and in the wrong time?

Dang it! My windshield is splattered with dead bugs again!

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(*photo 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)