Weekly Photo Challenge: Threes / Flock of Birds

(Here’s my entry to this week’s WordPress photo challenge.)

Recently, here in the northern hemisphere where I live, I have been seeing flocks of geese in their majestic V-formation in our skies.  And they are flying north. That just mean one thing – spring is coming!

However this morning, as I looked in the sky, I saw a different flock of birds.

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They seem to be in a somewhat V-formation as well. But why are they not heading north? Does it mean spring and summer will skip us this year?

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No. Because they are not a flock of geese, and they are not even birds at all! They are steel birds!

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They are a flock of stunt planes, and they are probably practicing for an upcoming air show. That means spring (and summer) is not far behind indeed.

(*photo taken with an iPhone)

Frozen

The title is not about the latest Disney movie, but about our current predicament.

We are having an unusually cold February in our area. The mercury has not wandered above freezing point for quite a while now. On cold days like these, I wonder if the contention of global warming phenomenon even exist. But that’s a different topic on its own.

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Above is a photo of the water tower in our area. Apparently there’s a leak in the pipes in the tower somewhere, causing the water to gush down. But it is so cold that the cascading water is frozen like a plume of icicles.

I have to agree, that even a problem like a leaking pipe and a subfreezing temperature can still be viewed as beautiful.

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(*photo taken with iPhone)

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).

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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)

Ninja Runner vs Polar Vortex

It’s dead of winter. But I ran 3 miles outside today!

Before you declare that I am a little crazy, well, I know that already. Yet hear me out.

After last week’s polar vortex which plunged our temperature in the arctic range, we are enjoying a slight break today. During the cold blast, the mercury here in our place plummeted to -15 F (-26 C), with wind chill in the -20 to -30 F. It was so frigid last week that school was forced to close, not from snow, but just from the bitter cold. It was so frosty across the US and Canada that I have seen photos that the mighty Niagara Falls froze and stopped flowing.

But today was different. The thermometer reading have wandered above freezing. It was even a few digits higher than the freezing point that the ice coating the roads have melted and it was not slippery at all. It was a heat wave!

So that’s why I decided to go out for a run. We may never have another “warm” day like this for a while. In fact, it was a balmy 37 F, when I went out this morning.

Besides, over the years I have invested on high-tech cold running gears. They were light-weight yet warm. (See previous escapades of Black Ninja runner). If I layer up and use my nifty apparel, I can run comfortably outside as long as the temperature is not in single digits (F) or lower.

Even though I can run in an indoor running track inside a gym, or in a treadmill, nothing beats running outside in the open. To feel the sunshine on your face, breathe the chilly air, while winter birds cheer you on, is so liberating.

Here is the man-made lake that I usually pass over during my morning run. The water was frozen over. Should I try to run over it?

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Here is what it looks like during summer.

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I have not been running consistently for the past month or so, so I took my time in completing the 3 miles. After about 40 minutes, I came back home exhausted yet feeling fulfilled.

In keeping up with this trend of self-portrait photos, below is my selfie.

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As you can see I traded my Black Ninja look for a more colorful gear. Green Ninja? Oh, Ninja Turtle!

Because it was still cold, even after running for more than 30 minutes, I don’t think I even broke out a sweat, not until I went inside the house. The first 3-mile run of the New Year. No sweat at all!

Now my muscles hurt. Should I ice it? Or maybe I can just go outside to cool them.

Cold Fashion

We are in a deep freeze. In the past couple of days, our temperature here in Iowa had struggled to get up to double digits (Fahrenheit). We have not been above freezing point for more than a week or so now, and I don’t see it happening for the next couple of days. Or weeks? Or months?!

We have accumulated a few of inches of snow on the ground as well, from snowfall from few days ago. I believe the ground snow will linger for a while (White Christmas then?), and will not melt, as our temperature will remain subfreezing for the next several days. My son’s snow fort, which he built a couple of days ago, is still standing sturdy and proudly in our front yard.

I like the sight of snow. But I don’t like driving on it, nor shoveling it. I don’t like the bitter cold either. I grew up in a tropical country (Philippines), where the coolest temperature is in the low 70’s F. And believe it or not, when the temperature in the Philippines drops in the 70’s F, it is already considered sweater time!

Speaking of sweaters, since I live now in a place akin to being inside an icebox, I have learned (or forced) to dress warmly. Over the years I have collected a few sweaters. And for the past two weeks now, I have been wearing my different collection of sweaters and cardigans to work, on top of my usual khakis and shirts. Coat and tie is not my style, at least not in the hospital.

I was rounding in the ICU yesterday when one of the nurses approached me and smilingly said to me, “Doctor, you are the Imelda Marcos of classy sweaters.”

I am not sure if I would be glad with that compliment or not. Or is it even a compliment?

Well, at least she said “classy” sweaters. Here in this part of our world, “ugly” sweater is more notorious. They have ugly sweater parties, ugly sweater contests, and I know there is even an ugly sweater event run.

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Ugly Sweater Run (photo from here)

Though I cannot really take credit for my “classy” style. My wife bought all those sweaters. She must have a fine taste and she is dressing me right. She is a good shopper as well, as she got those quality items at discounted price.

But to be compared to Imelda Marcos? That is different. Well, she got good taste, I’ll give her that. But being “Imeldific” has a different connotation. Besides I don’t have thousands of sweaters as Imelda has thousands of shoes! I only have a few sweaters. OK, more than a few.

This made me think: am I living lavishly and excessively? I hope not. There’s so much need in this world that is more important than fashion.

Maybe I am over thinking the nurse’s comment, which she intends as a compliment, and nothing more. Maybe she just really admire my sweaters. Or maybe she was just impressed with my GQ fashion sense (barf!).

At least I have an excuse for having all those sweaters. It is so darn cold!

Malayo Pa Ang Umaga

Dito sa dako ng mundong kinaroroonan ko ngayon (sa northern hemisphere), dahil pumapasok na ang tag-ginaw, ay maikli na ang oras ng liwanag at mahaba na naman ang gabi. Hindi tulad sa Pilipinas, dahil malapit ito sa equator, halos parehas lang ang haba ng araw at ng gabi sa buong taon. Pero ibang haba ng gabi ang aking tatalakayin sa sulating ito.

Bata pa akong paslit noon, nang pinadagdagan ng isang kwarto ang aming munting bahay sa Maynila. Maliit man ang kwarto na ibinigay sa akin ay sarili ko naman iyon. Mahigit lang ng konti sa isang dipa ang kitid, pero malawak na iyon para sa akin. Katunayan, may maliit pa akong basketball goal doon. Iyon ang unang pagkakataon na matulog akong mag-isa.

May isang gabi akong natatandaan, na hindi ako dapuan ng antok. Dahil sa madilim at mapanglaw ang gabi, ay pumunta ako sa kwarto ng aking nanay at tatay. Matapos akong patahanin ng aking nanay, ay pinabalik na akong muli sa aking sariling silid. Sa aking pag-iisa, totoong naramdaman ko noon na napakahaba ng gabi. Nang kapanahunang iyon, hindi pa naisusulat ni Rey Valera ang kantang “malayo pa ang umaga.”

Fast forward natin ang kwento ng mga ilang taon. Unang salta ako dito sa Amerika. Kauna-unahang pagkakataon na totoo akong mapalayo sa aking pamilya. Ang pinakamalapit na kamag-anak ay libo-libong milya ang layo sa aking kinalalagyan. Hindi lang pamilya, kundi iniwan ko rin ang aking nobya sa Pilipinas noon. Tunay na ako ay mag-isa na.

Mga ilang araw pa lang ako sa Amerika galing Pilipinas (may jet-lag pa), ay nasabak na agad sa trabaho. Ayos lang dahil iyon naman talaga ang ipinunta ko rito, para mag-training at mag-hanapbuhay. Sabihin na natin na maganda ang aking edukasyon mula sa UST at St. Luke’s, pero iba pa rin ang sistema sa ibang bansa.

Ang kauna-unahang rotation ko bilang medical intern ay night float (pang-gabi).  Ang oras ng night float rotation ay mula 10 PM hanggang 7 AM. Lahat ng pangangailangan sa ospital, maliit man o malaki, ay ako ang unang tawag. Kapag hindi makatulog ang pasyente, o sumasakit ang tiyan, o may chest pain, o kaya’y hindi makahinga ang pasyente, ako ang unang tinatawag. Siyempre may back-up pa ring mga duktor kung kinakailangan. Ngunit bilang intern, ako ang unang sundalong susugod sa guerra, ika nga.

Hindi tulad kapag pang-araw, maraming mga co-interns, senior residents, at mga attending physicians na kasama mo at madaling mapagtatanungan, kung hindi mo alam ang gagawin. Kapag night float, ikaw ang naiiwang bantay na lumalaboy-laboy sa ospital, habang ang lahat ay natutulog. Parang “you against the world,” ang pakiramdam.

Nang kapanahunang iyon, naho-homesick na ako, nangangapa pa (hindi dahil sa madilim kundi dahil baguhan pa sa sistema) at wala pang alam, nag-iisa pa sa trabaho, baligtad pa ang oras ng aking tulog at gising – doon ko na naranasan na tunay na ako ay nag-iisa. Idagdag pa dito ang mga isipan na hindi ko alam ang magiging bukas sa bagong yugto ng buhay na ito, kaya’t aking nasasaloob na napakahaba ng gabi.

Bilang night float, ay aking inaabangan ang pagdating ng umaga at ang ang pagsikat ng araw. Sapagkat ito’y nangangahulugang tapos na ang aking mahirap na duty, at nariyan na ang aking relyebo. Ngunit maraming pagkakataon noon, sa malamlam na gabi ay aking inaawit: malayo pa ang umaga.

Hindi ako makapaniwala, dalawampung taon na pala ang nakalipas mula noon.

Totoo nga’t marami pang yugto ng buhay na madilim at mahirap na akin pang pinagdaanan mula nooon. Oo nga’t may mga panahon pa rin ngayon na aking nasasaisip na malayo pa ang umaga, lalo na’t busy sa gabi na ako’y on-call. Oo nga’t humahaba ang gabi sa aking kinaroroonan ngayon habang papalapit na ang winter’s solstice. Ngunit hindi na ako nalulungkot. Hindi na ako nangangamba sa dilim. Hindi na ako nababahala kung ano ang hatid ng bukas. Hindi na rin ako nag-iisa, kapiling ko na ang aking asawa (dati kong nobya), at mga anak.

Sa mga nagpapagal sa mahabang gabi (hindi lang sa mga night shift workers); sa mga nag-iisa, nangungulila at malayo sa pamilya (hindi lang sa mga OFW); sa mga nangangapa sa dilim at nag-aalala kung ano ang hatid ng bukas; sa lahat ng dumaranas na “malayo pa ang umaga,” maging fans man o hindi ni Rey Valera – tayo’y manalig na kahit malayo pa, ay sigurado namang darating din ang umaga.

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bukang liwayway sa aming tirahan

Black Ninja Runs Again

I woke up today and decided that I will run outside. It is the first day for Daylight Savings Time (DST) this year. That means, Spring is in the air!

I looked at the temperature gauge outside and it was a few degrees above freezing. The snow that has blanketed our surrounding for most of the winter has largely melted and what was left were small patches. You may say that it was still too cold to go outside, but hey, I was wearing my Black Ninja running gear. Ninjas are fearless and are not afraid of anything, not even frosty weather.

The sun was nowhere to be found, even though it was already 8 o’clock (DST), as dark clouds hang over the sky. In fact it was even drizzling. But since it was at least 35 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) that means the rain will not freeze over the ground, and I will not encounter Black Ice (see post about Black Ice here).

I was already running for about a mile, when I have noticed that my eyeglasses were fogging and fine precipitations were misting my vision. I also became aware of the gusty winds, and that the drizzle was getting stronger. But Ninjas are not afraid of the rain. Besides, I was too far out already to turn around, might as well press on.

As I continue to run, I started to enjoy the morning even though it was not a picture perfect day. I have also observed that the migratory birds were back.

Here are the ducks, geese and swans taking a leisurely swim in the cold foggy morning.

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I completed my run without any major snag, though I have taken off my glasses the rest  of the way. Ninjas don’t just rely on sight, they can feel their way with their keen sense of hearing, smell and “Ninja” sense.

Yes, I may be a little out of breath and may have a little muscle soreness after the run, but it just feels so good to be out again, and breathe the cool misty air.

The Black Ninja runner strikes again! Next on my running gear wish list: eyeglasses with wipers.

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Black Ninja runner

(*At the time of posting, the rain has turned into snow once again. Will the Black Ninja tread through snow? Until next time….)

Snowballs

It’s March. Are you tired of winter yet like me? I am so ready for Spring!

However, my surrounding is still covered with snow, and there’s more snowfall in our forecast.  Yet there’s no use of cursing the snow, so might as well appreciate its beauty. Just bundled up of course!

Here’s the sunrise in our neighborhood.

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Maybe you can even have fun in the snow. If you ask my son, he wishes for more snow. A feet more of snow!

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Here he is in our front yard throwing snowballs.

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My daughter also joined my son in playing in the snow. However she always ends up as the target of snowballs.

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My wife even made “snow art.”

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Here are my kids again frolicking outside. Or perhaps my son is enjoying it more than my daughter.

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Pausing to admire the sunset, after some time of laughter in the snow.

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As always in life, we don’t have to always curse the dark or the cold. We can learn to accept it and even embrace it. Just like the adage: “If life gives you lemon, make some lemonade.”

And if I may add: if life gives you snow, make some snowballs.