Sun Dogs

The photo below was not taken in some galaxy far, far away, where there’s 3 visible suns in the horizon. This photo was taken by our friend, right here on planet Earth, somewhere in wintry Iowa.

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The phenomenon seen on the photo is called sun dogs. No, I’m not talking about those 2 dogs playing in the snow. What I am referring to is those “mirage” sun images on the right and left side of the “real” sun. These glowing spots which are part of a halo around the sun, are created by the sunlight refracting off the hexagonal plate-like ice crystals in the cirrus clouds. The meteorological term for sun dog is parhelion (plural parhelia).

Explaining why sun dogs occur is probably easier, than knowing why it was named so. One explanation is that dog in English can be used as a verb meaning to follow or track. Since the mirage image follows the sun, thus the term. Another possibility according to one expert, is that the term may be from Norse mythology where archaic names from Scandinavian languages, like Danish: solhunde (sun dog), or Norwegian: solhund (sun dog), or Swedish: solvarg (sun wolf), pertains to the star constellation of two wolves hunting the sun and the moon.

I think calling those 2 dogs in the photo above, sun dogs, as they were enjoying the sunlight in this cold day, is perhaps much easier to understand.

(*photo courtesy of my friend)

 

 

A Snowy Motorcycle Ride

We are in a deep freeze. For a stretch of a few days our temperature here in Iowa have not wandered above zero degrees Fahrenheit. I know my friends in California boast of warm weather there still. Plus recreational marijuana is now legal there too. It’s not fair!

There was even one day last week, that our actual temperature in Des Moines was colder (-18 F or -27.8 C) than that same day in Antarctica (-5 F or -20.6 C). This is not considering the wind chill factor that can be as cold as -30 to -50 F. I’m expecting Emperor Penguins to arrive in my front yard anytime now.

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Yet few days ago, there was somebody who rode a motorcycle on the road in this dangerously frigid condition. Not a snowmobile, but a motorcycle. I know that seems all madness. But if I tell you the reason why he did it, you will be convinced that it was rather a valiant and selfless act.

We have somebody in our church who likes to ride motorcycles. What he owns is a big maroon Harley-Davidson trike. We were told that he rode it to many places, far and near. He even goes to work on it, and I have seen him come to church on this trike.

Recently his health declined and he became more sickly. His kidneys failed, and he started dialysis three times a week. Yet he continued to ride his trike despite all of his illness, and he even rode it to go to his dialysis treatments.

Few days before Christmas, he got hospitalized. Then with one complication after another, sadly to say, he died a few days later.

So earlier this week, we attended his memorial service that was held in our church. The temperature that day was negative 12 degrees Fahrenheit with wind chill factor of 30 below zero. It snowed the night before and into early morning, so there’s freshly fallen snow on the ground. Even though it was bitterly cold that morning, what was more palpable was the love and warmth of the family and friends who attended that memorial.

To honor this fallen brother, they brought his trike to his memorial service. And yes, somebody rode it from this departed brother’s home and into the church, in this Antarctica-like condition!

So there it was, the Harley-Davidson trike, parked at the entrance of the church. It was positioned near the door, waiting like a sentinel. Perhaps it’s waiting for its rider for a final ride into the sunset.

False Promise of Spring

Even though winter here in the northern hemisphere has officially more than a month to go, here in Iowa, we are getting a break from the cold. In fact it was so warm this weekend that people went out without the need of a jacket. And some even wore shorts.

Yesterday I saw flocks of geese in their majestic V-formation flying northward, which means they are coming back home. I saw children playing  at the park. And even the bikers were out cruising down the road. These are definitely not a February scene. Not in Iowa anyway.

February here is usually one of our coldest months, with the average temperature of 20-30’s Fahrenheit, and can even dipped down to the single digits or even below zero degree Fahrenheit.  We should still be subfreezing at this time and we should still be buried in snow. Yet the pile of snow at the side of our driveway from last week’s snow storm, have all melted away. We are experiencing close to summer-like temperature today.

I should not be complaining, right?

But I know that this warm respite is not going to last that long. Sooner or later, the cold wind will be back, and we’ll be facing the freezing reality again. For the record, there’s a forecast of snowstorm with possibility of several inches of snow accumulation, by the end of this week.

I too joined the multitudes of people who took advantage of this beautiful not-like-winter weather. I went out to run this morning. As I looked around, I could already see some buds coming out from the bare branches of the trees.

However I feel for the trees and plants who may be getting a little confused. Due to the out-of-season weather, the hibernating buds and flowers may be awakened too early by this warm temperature, thinking that it is already spring.

I know few years ago the same thing happened. Too early in the season, it became unseasonable warm. The buds and blossoms sprouted. Only to be frozen and coated with ice, as the cold snap came back. It killed them. That year we did not have much flowers, and in fact there were no cherry blossoms when the real spring came.

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branches coated with ice

That’s what I’m afraid would happen again. A false hope of spring. A promise of warmth that it cannot keep.

I know some of us have experienced those untruthful promises before. Some of us have been given false hope. In my native language we even have a term for that, “pinaasa lang.” 

Those empty promises and false hopes killed our buds. It crushed our expectations. But you know what? For the time being, we may have lost our flowers and our trust for humanity. But we learned our lessons. We may have become cynical, but it made us strong. Life continued, and in due time we blossomed once again.

As you might surmised, I am not just talking about the seasons here.

So I am watching this weather with a guarded hope for spring. I wish the plants and the trees are too. I’m definitely not putting away my winter coat yet.

(*photo taken after an ice storm few weeks ago)

Where have all the snow gone?

Where have all the snow gone,  long time passing?

Where have all the snow gone, long time ago?

Where have all the snow gone?

Gone to melting everyone.

 

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?

Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?

Where have all the flowers gone?

Hope they’ll spring soon everyone.

IMG_2504(*Post is inspired by the seasonably warm February we are having these couple of days. It reached 60º F yesterday. Average temperature this time of year here is in the 20’s. Photo taken today from the driveway.)

 

Christmas 2015

We are experiencing a seasonably warm December right now. In fact we have more rain than snow this month, that we had flooding in downtown Des Moines these past couple of weeks. Yesterday it felt weird that we even had a thunderstorm, with lightnings and pouring rain this late in the year. Is this Iowa winter?

Come to think of it, if it has been cold enough, with all this moisture in our area, this could all be snow!

I know it’s not just here in the Midwest that we are experiencing the relatively warm weather, but also in other parts of the US. Some friends of ours in New York City even posted in Facebook that it was 70º F today there. I guess there will be no snow in Central Park this Christmas.

Experts said that it is El Niño, the periodic warming of the equatorial eastern Pacific Ocean, accounting for this phenomenon. Or is this global warming?

It’s not that I am complaining, for I’ll rather have a warm day than freeze, but my children have been wishing for snow for Christmas, just like the song “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.” And they may not be the only ones who are praying for snow.

Then today, on this Christmas eve, it came. Santa Claus? No. Snow!

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We will have white Christmas after all.

From our family to yours, may you have a Merry Christmas!

(*photo taken with an iPhone)

 

Cold Break

After being cooped up indoors for too long due to bitter cold, I finally went out today. And ran!

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most of the ground snow have melted away

Yeah, it was a bit chilly as we only peaked in the high 40’s to low 50’s Fahrenheit (and will dip below freezing tonight), but still, that was about 50 degrees warmer than 2 days ago.

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the pond was still icy

Today, I ran my first 5K (yes, I was slacking for months!) for this year. Albeit a little slower pace. OK, much slower than I use to. But hey, who’s watching?

Even if I was running slow, I was still chasing my breath. Do you suppose my breath was running faster than I was? Yet it was just exhilarating to be outside. To feel the wind in my face, the sunshine in my eyes, and the sweat in my brows. Even though I was panting and my legs were heavy, it is good to be alive!

I saw friendly neighbors outside as well. Some were walking their kids. Some were walking their dog. Some were walking themselves. Huh? And some were just sitting on their porch. All waved as I passed them by. So it was not just me who took advantage of this break from the winter blast.

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“tomorrow may rain (*snow*), so I’ll follow the sun” ….Beatles

I know winter is not officially over. And who knows what old Iowa winter still has in its sleeves? For arctic air can blow back and we can still have snow the next day, or the next week, or even the next month.

But this I know, spring is coming.

 

Shivering Tulips

Arctic blast is back in our area. After a few days of relatively warm days with some melting in our piles of snow, our temperature is again in single digits (Fahrenheit). The next few days does not look encouraging either. Afterall, we are still in the thick of winter.

As I was seeing patients in our clinic today, one of the constant small talk that I have with my patients is the cold weather. With most of my patients having significant pulmonary condition, this subfreezing temperature is such a struggle for them. My parting shot with them as they get out the door is “stay warm!”

The last patient I had this morning was someone who had been followed in our clinic for more than ten years. Ten years is more of a rarity to be followed by us, as most of them are with advanced lung disease and thus they do not last that long.

He is an old sweet man with a sunny disposition, but crippled with severe COPD, and had been oxygen-dependent for several years now. Damn cigarettes!

He is on maximum medications, inhalers and nebulizers we can place him on, but despite of that, he admits that minimal exertion, or even talking, makes him short of breath. Though he said that not talking much is probably good for him, as his wife who always accompanies him on his visits, laughed with his confession.

As we talked about the deep freeze, he stated that it was too cold outside that the “tulips were shivering.” I told him that it was not yet spring, and so it was not time for the tulips to get out anyway.

When I asked him how he was doing, he said that he was “ready to be planted.”

Was he still talking about the tulips? Or did he mean being “planted 6 feet under ground?”

I know he understands that we have not much to offer him, yet he always come to his appointments, even just to chat with me and my nursing staff. Sometimes I feel that a plain doctor visit gives some of our patients a chance to get off their mundane schedule and provide something to take their mind off their existential misery temporarily. And by merely showing up in our clinic, they let us know that they are still alive.

Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to see them. I know as well, that they are happy to be seen. Or perhaps they are happy just to be here.

Knowing that his condition will only get worse, our discussions wandered to what his advance directives might be. He said that if it comes to a point that he cannot breathe on his own, he does not want to be placed on a ventilator or a machine to keep him alive; and if his heart stops, he said that he does not want to be resuscitated. In other words, he just want to go gently and naturally into the night.

I even offered that I can refer him to Palliative Care Medicine or even Hospice, but he said that he was satisfied with my management and did not feel we need to do anything else at this time.

As I walked out of the exam room, I called out to him, “stay warm!”

He looked at me meaningfully, as if he expects something more.

Quickly realizing my comment, I said that I wanted him to “stay warm” from this arctic temperature. To “stay warm,” that is to keep his sweet and positive disposition. And to “stay warm,” that means staying alive and warm-blooded, and being above ground.

With that I added “I’ll see you in spring.”  I hope the tulips will not be shivering. Nor weeping.

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(*image from pinterest.com)

 

Snowplay

As the old adage goes: if life gives you lemons, make some lemonade.

But what if life gives you snow….IMG_5239

And snow…..

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And more snow!

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Then, make a snowman!

Coming from a tropical country, I admit, I don’t really like snow. I grew up in an eternal summer, and played tumbang preso and patintero in the heat of the sun. I never imagined playing in the snow when I was a kid.

But not my children. They like snow, and love to play in the snow. With “Frozen”-like enthusiasm, my kids built a snowman.

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After several minutes of joyful labor, here it is, our very own, snowman! Meet Bobby. (That’s what my son named him, I could have named him Buboy.)

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Our weather forecast for the next couple of days predicts that our temperature will wander way above the freezing point, so Bobby may not linger that long. In the meantime, we’ll enjoy his company before he turns into slushy.

I think Bobby, our snowman is now ready to play patintero. Who could have guessed that I will put snowman and patintero in a single sentence?

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(*tumbang preso and patintero are Filipino children’s street games)

 

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.