Warm Thoughts on a Cold Day

Last Friday, I drove to our new satellite clinic. This was the most distant one so far compared to our other outreach clinics, as it takes an hour and 40 minutes to get there from our main office. I go to an outreach clinic at least once a month.

It was a very cold day for a drive. The outside temperature was -2 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill factor of -20 degrees. The wind was brisk and it was blowing the snow that was already plowed to the sides of the road back into the road.

The whole surrounding was white as we had fresh snow that had fallen the past couple of days. There was also a shiny glaze on the branches of the bare trees as in addition to the snowfall, it was preceded by a freezing rain that coated everything with ice, including the roads, which layered underneath the snow. This made the travel more dangerous.

In fact one of my partners cancelled his trip to another one of our outreach clinics a day before mine, due to the snow, sleet and ice.

But on the day of my travel, though it was very cold, it was sunny. Thus I decided to press on. Besides, there were many patients that were waiting and expecting to be seen. Plus, I felt confident in my driving and in my trusty vehicle.

I felt warm though while I was cruising along the wintry rural highways of Iowa. My favorite feature of my car on a very cold day like this was the heated seats along with the reliable heater. In some countries, like in the Philippines, a car airconditioner may be a luxury to keep you cool on a hot day. But where I live now, we can survive without an AC but not without a heater. It is a necessity or we’ll freeze to death.

But there was something more that was keeping me warm besides the heater, the heated seat, and the heated steering wheel. It was the warm thoughts and happy memories of a tropical place I still call home.

Playing on my car radio was streaming music sync from my iPhone from an on-line radio station. What was the radio station I was listening to? Pagudpud Beach Resort Radio Station! (Pagudpud is a place in Ilocos Norte, Philippines with a year round temperature of 70 to 90ºF.)

photo taken few years ago in a beach resort in Ilocos Norte

I could almost hear the lapping waves as they break into the sandy shore and the rushing breeze bristling through the palm trees. A stark contrast from the view of a slew of ice and snow surrounding me. They say that you could take away the boy from the island, but could never take away the island from the boy.

It’s true, I was feeling homesick. It has been three years since I last visited my motherland. Perhaps it is time for a journey back to that very familiar place.

I know I’m not the only one missing home. Most of us, in one way or another, have wandered away and left our comfort zones in pursuit of a dream. And many times in our quest, the path we crossed was not easy, for it was uncertain and unfamiliar.

I was deep in this thought when a familiar song played on the radio:

Hawak-kamay,

Hindi kita iiwan sa paglalakbay,

Dito sa mundong walang katiyakan,

Hawak-kamay,

Di kita bibitiwan sa paglalakbay,

Sa mundo ng kawalan.

That was all I needed to hear, a reassurance that we are not alone in this journey.

I glanced at my car’s GPS. It indicated that I still have 70 miles to go, and an hour more before I reach my destination.

Well, I still have an hour to enjoy this “beach.”

(*lyrics from Hawak Kamay a song by Yeng Constantino)

Bracing for Snow

There’s no question that snow is beautiful. It blankets everything in white. But shoveling and clearing your driveway, and worse yet, driving on it is something else. It is at the least treacherous, especially during a major snowstorm with more than a few inches of snowfall.

Iowa State Capitol Building (photo courtesy of KCCI)

However if you live in a place that has significant snow accumulation in winter, like here in Iowa, you need to deal with it. Driving in snow is a skill that you need to develop through experience.

Last week, we had consecutive days of heavy snowfall. There was a lot of cancellation in our clinic appointments as patients decided not to come as they deemed the roads were not safe.

I went home early and sure enough as I was driving down the interstate, there were several cars that were abandoned as they had fallen in the ditch. There were several reports of collisions too. Oh the joy of slipping and sliding in winter driving.

When I arrived home, the snow was still falling. With about 4 or 5 inches on the ground already and no sign of letting up, I called my son down. I told him that we were going to drive in snow.

My son got his driver’s permit a few months ago. He cannot drive alone, but only when there’s an adult in the car. Yet he needs to gain experience to drive in snow. He needs to develop the skill. I thought, this was the perfect opportunity for him to do so.

I am far from being the most expert driver or the most skilled in driving in snow. But I have several years of experience in driving in this weather, and my best qualification to teach him is that I am his father. I know what is best for my kids. Plus our car is an all-wheel drive with high ground clearance, built to play in rough terrain.

First we drove around our neighborhood. I let him slam the brake when we were going downhill and let him feel the car sliding. Of course nobody was on the road except us, so we were never in danger. When my son gained some confidence, we went out in the highway to let him experience real driving in snow with cars tailing and passing us.

After almost an hour of driving, we went home.

Yesterday, I received a phone call from my daughter who was in college a couple of hours away. She said that she was supposed to go somewhere but snow was starting to fall. I sensed some alarm in her voice and she was not feeling confident in driving in snow. She was asking if she should go or not.

My daughter has been driving for a couple of years, but have not driven in snow by herself. If I could only go to where she was, I would, but she was far away. So I did what I think was best. I advised her to drive slowly and carefully. I told her that sooner or later she would have to drive in snow but she should be fine. Besides the snow was a couple of inches only.

Even though I sounded convincing when I talked to her, in my heart I had some fear. But I know I had to let her fly on her own. I know she needs to build her confidence. I know she needs the experience to be independent.

I was relieved when she texted later that she made it to her destination safely.

As parents, we don’t stop parenting even if our children are grown-up. Their challenges may be different now. It’s not about the big spider on the wall anymore, or about a difficult math equation, or a bully in the playground. But their challenges may be bigger. Would I pass this college course, or would I find a job, or would my salary be enough, or would I find a niche in this world?

I hope I have equipped and prepared my children in facing the snowstorms in life. And I don’t mean just driving in snow.

Groundhog Shadow

It is Groundhog Day today.

If you have no idea what Groundhog Day is, you probably not alone. I admit, when I was still in the Philippines, I have no clue what is a groundhog. I know “ground,” and I know “hog,” but a groundhog? What on earth is that? And a day celebrating this creature?

When I came to America, I came to know what a groundhog is. I even came face to face with a groundhog. For he lives right underneath my porch! (See previous post)

Here is my neighbor groundhog, sunbathing in my porch. This photo was taken a couple of summers ago.

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I guess you only care for Groundhog Day if you live in a country with wicked winter, and you’re growing tired of the bone-chilling cold and shoveling snow. According to tradition, during this day, when a groundhog peeps out of its burrow and emerges out, that means spring will come early. However if the groundhog sees his shadow and retreats back to his burrow, that means there is six more weeks of winter.

The largest Groundhog Day celebration is in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania where the famous resident groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil is watched by a large crowd as he emerges from his hole and predicts the coming of spring.

I woke up this morning and it was negative 6 degrees Fahrenheit outside. To say it is cold is an understatement. The weekend snowstorm just dumped more than a feet of snow in our area.

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Groundhog Day sunrise

I know it is beautiful when you’re inside looking out on this ton of snow. But when you go outside and even drive on this, then that is a different story.

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I had to drive on snow-covered unplowed streets early yesterday morning during the height of the storm, as I was on-call this past weekend. While driving to the hospital, I have noticed several cars stalled in the snow and in the ditch. Without the high ground clearance and all-wheel drive of my vehicle, I may have not made it to work. It pays to have a car that loves to play in the snow. Or you can opt for a reindeer-powered sled.

I heard one of the doctors in our hospital slipped into a ditch yesterday, and had to have her car towed out. She was alright, and made it to the hospital, albeit a little shaken and a lot late. It was such a hassle. I know. Been there, done that.

I even had a patient yesterday that I accepted for transfer to our ICU from an outlying local hospital, that on their way to our hospital, his ambulance fell into a ditch as well. But emergency responders came immediately and pulled the ambulance out of the snow bank. A rescue team rescuing a rescue squad, how about that! Needless to say, my patient made it to our ICU with no added injury to his already life threatening medical condition.

And so today, guess what groundhog Phil saw this morning? His shadow, of course! That means 6 more weeks of this crazy winter.

If I have my way, I’ll chase that nervous groundhog the hell out of his hole, that he will not even see his shadow.

 

 

 

A Salty Predicament

I came from a culture that loves salt. Growing up in Manila I came to like salted peanuts, salted dried fish, dish with salted black beans (tausi), saltine crackers, and of course salted eggs.

Besides the table salt, any Filipino household have patis (fish sauce), bagoong (seafood paste), and toyo (soy sauce) – all of these are very salty condiments, catering to the salt-loving taste of the Filipinos.

Even our beloved and iconic bread, is called pan de sal, which literally means salt bread. Though, I’m not sure why it was called that, because it taste slightly sweet rather than salty.

I even listened to a Filipino folk rock band, Asin, which means salt in Tagalog, when I was growing up, and have come to love them through the years. I still play their songs once in while in my iPod.

Now that I have lived in the US for almost 20 years, and experienced many bitterly cold winters, I have known one use of salt that many of my kababayan in the tropical Philippines will never think of. Where I am now, I got used to salted highways and salted walkways. Yes, we put salt in our roads!

With snow, sleet and freezing rain during winter, our roads can get icy and become dangerously slippery. Sprinkling salt on the roads can help melt the ice by lowering its freezing point. A 10% salt solution freezes at 20 F (-6 C), instead of 32 F (0 C). A 20% solution freezes at 2 F (-16 C).

Liquid_deicer-truck

The sprinkled salt can be in the form of rock salt or salt brine, which is a salt solution. Salt brine is said to be better as it is in liquid form and thus work immediately when applied and can be more effective in lower temperatures. However when the temperature approaches 0 degree F or below, even salt brine can be ineffective. Unfortunately, where I live, it is not unusual for the mercury to drop lower than 0 F.

Here in Iowa, our roads are not on low-salt diet. In fact it is the opposite. This winter, the Iowa Department of Transportation has stockpiled approximately 230,000 tons of salt and nearly 2.5 million gallons of salt brine. Though a few winters ago, during a very snowy season, our transportation department spread more than 300,000 tons of salt in our roadways. That was one salty winter!

Last weekend, we invited some friends to come into our house. But before that evening, we had some drizzle followed by a rapidly dropping temperature. To prevent our visitors from slipping and falling (unless they brought their ice skates), my son and I sprinkled rock salt in our driveway and walkway.  I could have used patis or bagoong, which are technically salt brines, but I don’t think my guests, who are non-Filipinos, would have appreciated the smell.

With all the tons of salt thrown in our roads and sidewalks, besides wrecking havoc in our cars, some are concerned that it can also harm the environment. In one study in Minnesota, it was found that 70% of the salt applied on roads stays within the region’s watershed and can make the groundwater salty. But that is another topic on its own.

But with the real perils of winter driving, I prefer the salty roads and driveways rather than slipping and sliding, or falling into a ditch. And if I happen to drop a boiled egg and it rolled in my driveway? Voila, I have a salted egg!

(*photo from here)

Winter Driving

Driving in the winter, especially in snow and ice, can be very challenging. There is no scarier moment in driving than when you turn the steering wheel to one direction but your car heads the other way, or when you hit the brakes but you continue to skid forward, or worse you start to spin. (I have experienced all of the above.)

We had snowstorm again yesterday and today, and the roads were dangerously slippery. There were few minor accidents in the road, that it took me more than an hour to drive to my work both days, a distance that I usually cover in 20 minutes. (I should not complain too much, for in Manila it takes an hour drive, a distance you can walk in 10 minutes.)

In one particular icy stretch of the highway today, I saw several vehicles that have fallen into the ditch. I have noticed that most of the vehicles in the ditch are either pick-up truck or SUV, which is counter intuitive. You would think that these type of vehicles will have an advantage in the snow. I guess the drivers of these vehicles had false sense of security and invulnerability and were driving at speed limit of normal road condition.

In my opinion, in winter driving, more important than the high ground clearance (like in truck and SUV), or the 4 x 4 or all-wheel drive, or by being equipped with winter tires — is using some common sense and a bit of caution.