Homer's Travels: December 2007

Monday, December 31, 2007

The Year In Review At Homer's Travels

This has been an interesting year full of new experiences. I had a great time posting to Homer's Travels even when it was hard to come up with things to post about. Homer's Travels accomplished it's job of keeping the family and friends informed of what we're up to and what's on my mind. I even picked up a few friends along the way - an unexpected, but welcome, benefit that I am grateful for.

Here is 2007 in links:
  • We went to several concerts this year - most of them in October. We saw:
  • I was a slow reader managing to finish only 8 books this year - not as many as I'd wanted.
I want to thank the "J" for putting up with our antics this year and being such a good friend and travel companion. I want to thank everyone who takes the time to visit Homer's Travels - your comments are always welcome and are a source of smiles and chortles.

Next year will be a year of change for us and I will try to keep you all posted (I promise not to be as down as my last post).

Here's to a Happy and Prosperous New Year for all. May all your dreams come true in 2008.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Big Move ... Big Changes

Our conversation this weekend has started to slant towards preparing for the big move. The conversation sometimes got a little heated when we talked about budgets (I'm too pessimistic), the shedding of luxuries (I am too spoiled), and what to move and what to get rid of (the Wife and I have differences of opinion).

I'm a born worrier and this worry has expressed itself as pessimism since my high school days if not earlier. This drives the Wife crazy as she's more optimistic. I am trying to change that. I do feel that it will all work out in the end but, until we have made the move and are established, I will worry.

If I said that the next six months were going to go smoothly without argument, I would be lying. I have to take a serious look at myself and re-evaluate what is important - what are needs and what are wants. I have to change my outlook on life.

I have a lot of changing to do.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Wife ... Published!

This has been a great year for the Wife. She's been on TV, met the First Lady, and now she's been published! She wrote an article for a college counselor publication and it just got published. I am really proud of her.

To top that off I write a blog and I ... uhh ... I ... um ... crap.

Well, I'm proud of her! And perhaps a little jealous, in a good way.

The Music In My Head

The Godson has posted his top albums of 2007 post on ManyHighways. I happen to own only one of those albums - Rilo Kiley's "Under The Blacklight". As I get old it feels like it's getting harder to keep up with the new music. One source is the Wife - she teaches High School so she hears things from the kids - and the Godson has been another a good source (he's almost 20 years younger then me). I don't always agree with his taste in music but he still listens to some pretty good stuff.

He recommended the Decemberists awhile back. (Decemberist's "The Crane Wife" was his number one pick for 2006) I bought one of their albums ("Picaresque") and really didn't like it but I have discovered that it often takes me several listenings to really hear the music. Sure enough over the last year or so I have listened to it more and more and it has moved up near the top of my list of good music (I was listening to the Crane Wife while I was blogging my latest hiking entry).

I like to listen to music. It calms me. It helps me write. I've had an MP3 player for the last 5 years that I take to work with me everyday. I have over 2,500 tracks on it. I plug it into a set of speakers in my cube and I play music (very low so I don't bother the neighbors). It helps the time go by a little quicker. I figure I can go two weeks without hearing the same song twice.

I have an eclectic taste in music. Just look back at the last few albums that I've purchased: The Decemberists' "The Crane Wife", Joan Osborne's "Pretty Little Stranger", Dolores O'Riordan's "Are You Listening", Alison Krauss' "A Hundred Miles or More: A Collection", The Eagles' "Long Road Out Of Eden", and the already mentioned Rilo Kiley's "Under the Blacklight". Add onto that two singles: Joe Walsh's "Life's Been Good" and Sparks' "Cool Places". I seem to prefer female lead singers. Evanescence, Liz Phair, Rilo Kiley, Cranberries, Joan Osborn, Alison Krause, Go Gos, Kelly Clarkson (Yep, I admit it, I like her), Annie Lennox, and the list goes on.

The only times I don't want to hear music is when I'm reading and when I'm hiking. That is when silence reigns for me. I love to hear the sounds of nature.

When I was single I always had the radio on in the apartment as background noise. The Wife also needs background noise but she prefers the television. I suppose I will fall back into the radio routine once I quit work. I'm on a big NPR kick right now so it will be Morning Becomes Eclectic for me. That will let me get into some new music.

I received an Amazon gift card for Christmas and I think I'll broaden my music experience and play around with some of the Godson's recommendations. If anyone reading Homer's Travels has any suggestions for music I should try, let me know in the comments.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Santa Was Good

[Update: I have fixed the video issues. It should work now. Enjoy!]

This turned out to be another weird Christmas for us. The dinner we had Saturday with the "J" and family felt like the real Christmas Dinner. When we got back from seeing "Juno", we decided to skip the "real" Christmas Dinner. The Wife cooked the Ham and we made some very satisfying ham sandwiches. Christmas is a holiday that should be shared with family and we haven't done that for the past three Christmases. No More! Next year we will be with family and we will celebrate it the right way.

The only thing that felt normal this year was the opening of the presents. This year we opened them on Christmas Eve.
The Wife got me a Tilley LT6B Breathable Nylon Hat, a Petzl Tikka XP Headlamp, a cool In-And-Out T-Shirt, a Dilbert calendar, and a gift card from Amazon.

From those chuckleheads, the Matron Of Honor and Best Man, I received a reindeer that poops candy and a butt bank that breaks wind when you put a coin in the butt's ... slot. What is their fixation with behinds? HA! Homer just barked at the noise and sniffed the slot.

Video has sound that may cause giggles, chortles, and perhaps a guffaw.

The parentals supplied both of us with cash which we will enjoy immensely (the list is forming in my head as I type).

Thank you to everyone for their gifts. We can't wait to do it in person next year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Movies: "Into The Wild" And "Juno"

On Christmas Eve we decided to get out of the house and go to a movie. Since we started using Blockbuster online we haven't been to very many movies. The convenience of watching a movie in the comfort of you own family room beats the theater most of the time but you don't always want to wait the four to six months for the DVD to come out and some movies really look better on the big screen.

{Major Spoilers Ahead for those who may want to go see either of these movies}

That's why on Christmas Eve we went to see "Into The Wild", a movie based on the non-fiction book of the same name. The movie follows the journey and eventual death of Christopher McCandless. McCandless, after graduating college, donated all his money to charity and left his old life, family, and friends all behind to seek out truth and to eschew all material needs. He hikes up and down the west coast, works on a wheat farm in South Dakota, rides the rails until he is found and severely beaten. Along his two year journey he meets good people along the way who care for him, help him, and are helped by him, but he never returns the caring really. The search for his elusive truth, and the happiness he believes goes with it, consumes him.

Someplace during those two years he decides that his destination is Alaska. He puts all his effort in reaching this destination and, leaving all the people who really care about him behind, he heads to the Alaskan wilderness.

He spends the months there alone, hunting and gathering for food and when he decides to return to civilization, he discovers his route home cut off by a roaring river swollen with the summer melt. Isolated, cold, alone, too late he discovers the truth about happiness - that happiness is only real when you can share it with someone - and dies of starvation in the old school bus he was using as a shelter.

I liked this movie because it made me think. Before I was married, when I was depressed, feeling blah, or just in a rut, I would fantasize about selling everything and living off the land in Alaska. My fantasy was very similar to McCandless'. It's a little scary. One bad decision and that could have been me. I liked the movie and I highly recommend it. GeekHiker has another view of the movie on his Blog, check it out.

"Juno" is a totally different movie. We went to see it on Christmas Day when it turned out to be too windy for our planned beach walk. Juno follows Juno MacGuff a 16 year old girl, wiser then her years, who finds herself pregnant. She decides to carry the baby to term and give it away to a deserving couple. She finds a couple in the pennysaver and the movie follows her through the birth of the child. Ellen Page, who plays Juno, is totally awesome in the role.

It was a very well written story. The sense of humor was spot on at times but I thought it ebbed and flowed too much. Some of the best lines are delivered by Rollo (Rainn Wilson from The Office) and his scene is way to short. More of him would have been welcome. I wish the humor and pace of the movie had been a little more consistent. I was also bothered a little bit by just how perfect the characters were. I have known each of these perfect people - the wise for her age girl, the supportive parents, the perfect friend - but I rarely have seen all these people in one place at the same time. Even with these minor faults, the movie is a very satisfying story and I was entertained - highly recommended.

One of the strange coincidences with these two movies is that the Wife and I have been to some of the locations filmed or mentioned in both movies. "Into The Wild" takes you to southern California around the Salton Sea. It was fun to see the parts when McCandless was at Slab City and Salvation Mountain because we visited those places earlier this year. In "Juno" Stillwater, MN and St. Cloud are mentioned. The Wife has been to St. Cloud and both of us have been to Stillwater. Made us both smile and shake our heads.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #40: The Fishbowls

I got up early on Sunday to do this hike. I mean early. 4:30 am early. I wanted to get to the trailhead around sunrise (7:00 am) and it was a two hour plus drive to get there. I got up, ate breakfast and managed to leave around 5:05 am.

The night sky was clear and the almost full moon was there to guide me to the trailhead. On the way something ran across the road. In my headlights it looked like a bobcat.

The first rays of dawn were starting to shine over the mountains when I turned onto road 7N03 that winds up into the Los Padres National Forest from Lockwood Canyon Road. The asphalt soon turned to dirt and I slowed down a bit. I could see that there was a lot of burned out landscape - a result of the September 2006 Day fire.

I came up on a sign that said "Fishbowls Trailhead". This wasn't the trailhead that I wanted. There were two trails that take you to the Fishbowls. I wanted the other so I continued on the road until ... the road forded a river and it looked a little too deep for the ol' Honda. I was out in the middle of nowhere and I hadn't seen a soul on the road so I figured if I got stuck I would be there for a while so I turned around and went back to the other trailhead.

It was going to be a chilly morning. On the drive I saw a bank thermometer in Ojai that read 39°F. On the way to the trailhead I saw patches of ice and snow along the side of the road. Well, in places it was half way between frost and snow but it's my blog and I'll call it snow. I got out of the car and turned on my GPS. It took a while to sync up. I set a waypoint for where the car was. Since I was not that familiar with this trail (I had planned for the other trail) I wanted a way to get back to the car if I got lost.

I started on the trail at 7:30 am. The trail goes up briefly before heading down the other side of small pine covered ridge. The trail joins another trail that was probably a road some time in the past. Now it is just a single trail. I turned right and followed the trail. The part I was walking on was on the edge of where the Day fire had reached. There was very little underbrush as it had all burned and the trunks of the trees were blackened. In places it looked like a moonscape. I was surprised that there wasn't more regrowth. I guess the drought has slowed the return. There were some signs of growth though. California Holly seems to be the first plant that is springing up at the base of burned out trees - the roots must have survived the fire and re-sprouted very soon after. Despite the fire damage I really liked the towering pine trees. This hike felt different from others I'd done recently. It felt so remote and wild.

The trail was overgrown in spots but still easy to follow. The trail wonders through what looks like a floodplain and crosses a creek in several places. The creek was icy. This was very cool. I was curious how thick the ice was so I whacked it with my hiking pole. It took several whacks to get through the ice. The ice was an inch thick. In other places the ice was paper thin. This made crossing the creeks a little tough as some of the stepping stones which looked like they were just under the surface of the creek were actually under a quarter inch of wet ice. I managed to cross without falling but there were a few slippery moments. It was weird trying to plant my hiking pole on the creek bottom only to be stopped by an almost transparent ice sheet. The only place I had difficulty following the trail was at creek crossings. The rains that we had a few days ago had widened the creek a bit and it was sometimes hard to cross. I am thankful for my boots as they are waterproof. I often had to move up or down stream to find a place to cross safely and then it took some effort to find the trail. I'd look around for a few minutes until I had an "Oh there it is" moment.

The soil on the trail was very sandy in spots and as I walked it gave a satisfying frozen sandy crunch that reminded me of Iowa in the winter. The trail was dimpled where the raindrops had punched craters into the sand before freezing. Later in the day as the sun warmed things up the crunchy sand would give way to slippery mud.

I eventually made it out of the burn area and the pine forest thickened. I came up to an
old sign. It looked like it was torn from its pole. Another smaller sign was on the ground in splinters. I noticed the three gash marks in the pole and wondered it it was a bear sharpening it's claws. This was supposed to be bear country.

The trail wondered along the creek through pine forests. There were still some burned trees but they were fewer and fewer as I went on. Every now and then I would hear strange noises. One sounded like a cap gun or small caliber gun going off. Later I heard a big crack and turned around in time to see a large limb of a dead pine a few hundred feet away break off and fall a good 50 - 70 feet to the ground. It sounded like a cross between a gun shot and thunder. I am glad I wasn't under that limb and I was a little wary of the trees as I continued along the trail.

I sat down on a wet log in the sun and ate my sandwich and orange. I usually eat my lunch at the half way point but since I got up so early this morning I was hungry early as well. Early on it had been very quiet on the trail but a cool breeze was picking up and rustled the needles. I thought about where I was. The hike description had said that the other trail - the one that I was on - was seven miles long. If this was true that I had another two miles to go. I had packed a brownie from our Saturday desert in my bag and I decided I would indulge in its savory yumminess when I finally reached the fishbowls.

I continued on and after one particularly difficult creek crossing I arrived at a camp. The broken sign said "Fishbowls Campground". I read my hike description again and realized that I had passed right by the fishbowls and hadn't even noticed them. I sat on a log near an old campfire pit and ate my brownie (It was very good). My GPS showed only 5.23 miles. The description, as had many of the descriptions from the Ventura County Star, was wrong again. Oh well. I briefly thought about making this hike into a loop by walking to the other trailhead and then following the road back to the car but I decided against it. I wasn't sure how deep the water was at the ford and I did feel like wading in ice cold water.

I started back to the car. This time I watched for the fishbowls. It turns out the fishbowls were another victim of the drought. You could see where, if the water level was higher, there would be several large pools - some deep and big enough to swim in. I'm sure they would fill up with fish as well.

The walk back to the car went well. I didn't lose the trail nearly as much. The trail was turning muddy and slippery. My boots got heavy with mud and sand sticking to the bottom. I slogged my way back to the small ridge that seemed a lot higher now. I huff and puffed my way up and over to the car.

I think I will try to come back next spring to see if I can reach the other trailhead. Since the other trailhead is on the opposite side of the fishbowls it would not have experienced any damage from the Day fire. It should be a totally different hike then the one I did. There is also a geocache in the area passed the flooded ford that I want to go after. Hopefully after some more rain and some time for the ford to dry I will be able to go back.

I took
some pictures including a lot of the ice on the creek. The ice and meager snow really made this hike feel different. The sugar pine forest was almost magical. I really enjoyed the hike though the fishbowls themselves was a little let down. The hike was 10.26 miles with about 636 feet of vertical from trough to peak.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve Musing

Today is Christmas Eve and I hope everyone has finished their shopping and are ready for a Christmas Paper Massacre tomorrow morning. I am definitely in the mood today.

This was helped by our dinner we had on Saturday. The "J" and her visiting parents came over and we had a great evening. I can see where the "J" gets her sense of humor and conversational skills. Great people. We enjoyed some New York Strip Steaks on the grill, German Potato Salad, the Wife's Homemade Dinner Rolls, and, as the wife refers to it, the Cliché Green Bean Casserole. We topped the meal off with a Triple Chocolate Brownie with a dollop of Vanilla Ice Cream and Hot Caramel Sauce - yum. All the food hit the spot.

The wife did a real bang up job this year decorating the house. We had the gas fireplace lit and candles were burning and we were complimented about how homey it felt. Christmas music was playing in the background (Johnny Mathis IS Christmas, ya know). We talked about work, retirement, travel, geocaching, and a bunch of other stuff. We all had a great time. The Wife was surprised at my hosting skills as I am usually a little shy and anti-social at times - not that night.

The Wife had put some scratchers under each plate and after dinner we tried our luck. The Wife is the only one that won anything - a free ticket.

The "J" brought out some presents and said she needed to see our faces so we opened them. She gave us each a "Poor Coco" T-Shirt! How funny! She also gave me some Sponge Bob Square Pants band-aids. She thought I should carry them when I hike - Heh!

We topped it off with a drive down to the historic district of Oxnard to see the Christmas lights. This street traditionally decorates every year. Some of the displays are pretty cool. One house has three life size fiberglass camels. Another had a huge train set that covered the entire front yard. I imagine the electric company sends them all Christmas card every year. I took my camera and was surprised that most of the pictures turned out OK ... sort off ... if you are generous in you criticism. You can check them out along with my other 2007 Christmas pictures right here.

After walking the lights we said goodbye to the "J"'s parents who were heading south to more family. The "J" road back to our place to pick up her car. Before she left, the "J" noticed my camlebak and that brought up a short discussion on the Pilgrimage of Saint James. I am planning to walk the Pilgrimage in 2010 and the Godson has told me, through the Matron Of Honor, that he is interested in doing it with me. The "J" is also interested but we thought she wanted to do it alone. It appears that she may have changed her mind and wondered if she could join me and the Godson. YES! It's kind of weird - when I hike I tend to want to be alone but as I envision doing this Pilgrimage I always see myself with someone. I think this is so big that you need someone to experience it with. I welcome the Godson, and now the "J", to join me. I would really enjoy doing this walk with them. I can't wait! It's going to be fun!

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Omaha ... Everywhere!

Well, it's starting.

After we decided to go to Peru last year I started to see references to Peru everywhere. I'm sure they were there before but I just didn't notice them.

Today I was at the grocery store buying food for the dinner we're sharing with the "J" and her visiting parents tomorrow night and I saw this Birthday card. I guess now I'll be seeing Omaha references everywhere I go.

Addendum: The scanned card is a © Hallmark Fresh Ink card. The inside text says "Birthday or not, don't go with Paco."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dogged by Dreams

OK, the Wife's off for Christmas break and she took the time yesterday to sleep in. When she woke up she remembered having a dream.

A little background. The Wife rarely remembers her dreams. Since we decided to move back to the Midwest, the Wife has had dreams showing us in a nice little house and being happy. Along with the Wife and I, there are usually a couple dogs.
Awhile back she had a dream where we had two dogs. One was Homer. In her dream we were naming the second dog and, if I recall correctly, it went something like this:
Wife: What do you want to name it?

me: Astroburger.

Wife: Do you mean Astro?

me: No, AstroBURGER.

Now, yesterday she has another dream. In this dream we have three dogs. The new one is not named but the other two are Homer and Astroburger . Now, I am not one of those people who believe that dreams are mystical or that they foretell the future but, you know, this time these dreams may just have to be self-fulfilling prophecies. If we ever decide to get a second dog we may just have to name it Astroburger.

P.S. No, I will not change the name of the Blog to Astroburger's Travels.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

O Tannenbaum

On Sunday we finally got around to decorating the tree. Now it feels like Christmas.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #39: Old Boney Trail

Another weekend, another day on the trails. This Saturday I headed out to hike the Old Boney trail. This hike turned out to be a Down-Up-Down-Up trail that really gave me a workout.

I reached the parking lot of the Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center where I would start the hike. It was a chilly morning which suited me just fine. Along the road there were hints of frost on the plants. I left the parking lot and walked the quarter mile to the Culture Center. From there I turned down the paved Big Sycamore Canyon Trail.

Big Sycamore Canyon Trail heads down pretty quickly. When on this trail watch out for bicycles. This is a popular trail for bicycles and horses. The views the surrounding hills, ridges, bluffs, and mountains are pretty amazing. The trail bottoms out at a bridge and continues on until you reach the Danielson Multi-Use area at the 4 - 4.25 mile point. On this stretch I managed to find 10 geocaches. My GPS was really off on most of the caches and I had to do some extra searching to locate most of them. This slowed me down a bit. One interesting cache is "Belly of the Beast" that was a small container hidden in a rubber lizard. The lizard was just sitting on a rock under a bush. I think I jumped when I first saw it. A clever hide.

At the Danielson Multi-use area you have the choice of continuing straight for another 3 miles or so to the ocean. On Saturday I made a left here and headed up Blue Canyon Trail. The trail goes through a forested area where I ran into several deer. I missed a good picture when I startled a deer on the trail. I was so busy looking at my GPS that I didn't realize there was a deer no more then twenty feet away from me. It ran into the brush before I could get my camera out. Fortunately just a few yards down I came across a couple more near the trail and a got a picture or two. Very cool.

The trail starts going up at this point. In just under a mile you reach a junction where the Blue Canyon, Backbone, and Old Boney trails intersect. At this point I found a cache ("Dinosaur Egg!") and sat on a large boulder in the shade to eat some lunch. I was becoming a little concerned about time. I had quite a ways to go, and several caches to go, and I doubted I would have time to finish the hike before sundown.

At this junction I turned left and headed up Old Boney Trail. The trail was overgrown but easy to follow. Near the top of a ridge (Huff - Puff!) I took a side trail thinking there was a cache there. The side trail climb sharply up a hill but didn't get me close to the cache. At the top of the hill I was rewarded with a beautiful view of the Oxnard plain, Boney Mountain, and the surrounding hills. I could see the trail that I was on led across a saddle up a steep trail up to the tri-peaks area. I may have to do this trail someday - looks like a challenge (and there are four geocaches up there).

I went back to the main trail and followed it to the Danielson Fire road. The trails meet where the Old Cabin Trail starts. I followed the Danielson's fire road down the hill. I was tired but I was hauling butt as I needed to make up some time. I reached the bottom and took a spur trail to a waterfall area to look for a cache. I had tried to find "Fern Gully 2" once before without success. This time wasn't any better. I gave up in frustration and went back to the main trail.

At this point I had a choice to make. I could follow the more direct route up the Danielson Fire Road to the car or I could take the Upper Sycamore Canyon Trail back to Big Sycamore Canyon road. I looked at my watch, threw caution to the wind and headed down Upper Sycamore Trail. This way would end up adding some distance and several more geocaches. Since I was short on time I decided to limit my cache searches to only 5 minutes. I managed to find two more bringing the total to 16 caches which tied my previous record.

Upper Sycamore Canyon is a beautiful forested canyon. Many of the trees had changed into their fall colors which added to the appeal of the trail.

The trail connects up with big Sycamore Canyon Trail near the bridge. I turned right and started up the paved trail up the last hill. I was pooped but I managed to make it back to the car around 4:30. I'd been on the trail for nine and a half hours. I'm guessing the the caching added two to three hours on to the hike.

Now I like hiking and I like geocaching and these two activities often mesh together pretty well. On this hike though I discovered that too many geocaches can spoil the hike. In this case I had 34 geocaches loaded into my GPS (34!). I would say about 12 were not actually on the trails that I was taking so I will probably do them some other day. I was so preoccupied by finding the remaining 22 caches that I think I missed the relaxation that I usually get from hiking. I have learned a lesson on this hike. The Hike is priority one and geocaching is secondary. All the caches made me feel rushed and, while I enjoyed the hike quite a bit, I would have enjoyed it more if I had done it at a more leisurely pace.

The total distance hiked was around 13 miles with about 1,700 feet of vertical from trough to peak. Pictures are here. My next hike, if the weather cooperates, will be the Fishbowls deep in the Los Padres national Forest.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Book: Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation

I have also listened to her many times on NPR's This American Life (TAL). I have always found her stories funny and her delivery spot-on. After seeing her at the live TAL taping I decided to try one of her books and purchased "Assassination Vacation". The book is about Sarah Vowell's investigations, during vacations, of the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. I expected her book would have the same deadpan style that I'd heard, and loved, before and I was not disappointed. After reading this book, I have come to realize that Sarah Vowell's idea of a vacation destination is very strange, almost as strange as our roadtrips.

I really enjoyed this book which, considering the subject, was a surprise. I think if anyone else wrote this book I would have been bored to tears and most like I would not have read it in the first place. Vowell fills the pages with humor and anecdotes that maintain the reader's interest. I even found myself learning something about American history. Some of the anecdotes do stray a little from the main theme but they were in most cases funny so the meandering was excusable. I find my reaction to the side stories odd since similar side stories just irritated me while I read
Bill Bryson's "A Walk In The Woods".

The one thing missing from this book is Kennedy. Vowell stays away from our most recent, and controversial, presidential assassination. I would be interested in her point of view.

One thing to mention. There are parts in the book where Vowell lets her political views shine through. It turns out that I tend to agree with most of her views, especially her view of the current President, but I know some people who may be turned off by this. Even agreeing with her, I would have preferred that she had kept those political feeling to herself. This is only a minor criticism of a very engaging and fun read.

I enjoyed this book enough that I am planning to check out her other books sometime.

If you're interested in a second opinion on "Assassination Vacation", you can read the Godson's review at

Friday, December 14, 2007

How Paladin Met His Sunshine

As I mentioned in my last Roadtrip 1995 post, the Wife and I met online. I promised myself to post about it sometime. I guess now is as good a time as any so here goes.

I had been visiting the Fox Television website looking for information on one of their new shows (Space: Above and Beyond). I came across the chat rooms and decided to lurk there for awhile to see what was happening. My username at the time was Paladin. Yeah, I played way too many computer games back then.

The Wife, then teaching at an all girls school in Omaha, had discovered a slip of paper on the classroom floor that had the address for the Fox chat rooms. She had logged on to make sure her students weren't going to someplace inappropriate. Her username was Sunshine. She was in the chat room looking for a literature chat. That is when Paladin met Sunshine.

I don't remember what we talked about that first night. It must have been something interesting as we set up a time the next day to meet again. We chatted a lot over the next three or four weeks. We even picked the name for our future dog (Homer) during our chats. We exchanged names and pictures eventually (I sent her a picture of me at Glacier NP's Scenic Point above the cloud layer). I mentioned her at work where my friends asked the obligatory: "Are you sure it's a woman?" It took very little time for me to become completely smitten.

Then something happened. I can't remember exactly what it was. I think it had something to do with someone entered the chat room and started to talk like they knew me. Whoever it was, they were talking smack and it was all a pack of lies. They were just trying to mess with us in a very mean-spirited way. This upset the Wife and I a lot. We ended up logging off in a bad mood that was telegraphed loud and clear. I remember getting up and pacing in my small apartment not knowing what to do - I felt like crap. Then the phone rang.

Back then I had a listed phone number. The Wife had called information and had gotten my number. I answered and, if I remember right, she hung up. Then she called back and this time we talked ... and talked. After talking on the phone, chatting just didn't do it for us. We ended up calling each other almost every night. That is until I got my $400+ phone bill - Ouch! We cut back on out phone calls while I investigated different phone plans. We changed plans so that we both could get reduced rates. The plan we got on offered free holiday calling to a number of your choice and we spent hours talking on those days. On New Years eve we talked for 12 hours with only a couple hour long breaks. We even watched TV together while on the phone. We were crazy kids back then.

Over the next five months or so we wooed each other over the phone and e-mail. I baked chocolate chip cookies and brownies for her and her students. We exchanged Christmas gifts. I sent her roses on Valentines (A first for both of us). I even sent a yellow rose to the school receptionist to make sure everything got to the Wife in a timely fashion. Six Months after we met, during Spring Break, I flew to Omaha to meet her in person. She picked me up at the airport and we went to a restaurant to make sure everything was O.K. We both had safety outlets - My Mom lived in Omaha and the Wife's friends called to check up on her a few times. We ended up at her place and we had a great week re-introducing ourselves. It turns out we liked each other in person as much as we did on the phone.

The Wife visited a month or two later. The first half of the visit was a little rough for some reason. We were both a little tired from work and stuff. Mid week we went for a picnic at Lake Cachuma and visited Solvang, a touristy Dutch town. We had a great time and our moods did a 180. The remainder of her stay went very well.

Her second trip out also went very well. Especially after I proposed to her. It wasn't anything fancy. We were walking into a mall and I turned to her and said, "You want to get married?" and she said "Sure." We walked straight to the jewelry store and picked out rings. The mall isn't there anymore. I think I proposed where the Home Depot is now.

When summer started I flew back there and we went to meet her family at their lake house in Iowa. We officially announced our engagement and congratulations were exchanged. I was expecting a grilling from her family but it was a lot easier than I expected. We set a date for the wedding for next summer. We figured it would be smart to give ourselves a year to let the euphoria settle and to make sure we knew what we were doing.

We left the lake house and did a roadtrip around Minnesota and the Great Lakes. Nothing like traveling with someone in a small car to see if you are comfortable together. We experienced our first Alpine Slide at Lutsen , visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cincinnati, and dropped by the Wife's Alma Matter, Notre Dame (Where, once again, I tried and failed to finish a piece of One Thousand Chocolate Chip Cake at the Steak and Ale). When we got back to Omaha we had survived each other - a good sign.

Over the next year we flew back and forth spending a week together here and there. The Wife came out and we spent Christmas in a cabin outside the entrance of Sequoia. It snowed the day we got there and the trees were covered in snow - very beautiful and romantic. The lodge owner suggested we do the Ladybug Trail as it was lower in elevation and would be relatively snow free. The road to the trailhead went from a two lane road to a narrow paved road to a narrow dirt road to a narrow, rutted dirt road. If we had run into another car going the other way it would have resulted in a lot of backing up for someone. It was kind of scary in spots but well worth it as the hike was enjoyable for both of us. We even saw some Ladybugs. Along this road we encountered the rare magic black mountain cow. We turned a corner on the narrow road and there was a cow. There was a shear cliff on one side and a sharp drop on the other. We couldn't figure where it had come from hence "Magic."

After Christmas we went to Las Vegas to celebrate New Years. The strip was closed to cars and revelers were partying out in the street. We watched them blow up the old Aladdin hotel - very cool and boomerific.

At the end of the school year the wife moved out. Then the real whirlwind started. She flew in on Thursday. Interviewed at one school on Friday. We looked at a house on Saturday. We made an offer on the house on Sunday. She interviewed at another school on Monday. We received a counteroffer on the house on Tuesday. She got job offers from both schools on Tuesday. We counter-counter-offered on the house on Tuesday. We opened escrow on the house on Wednesday - a 13 day escrow. She accepted one of the job offers soon after. 12 days after opening escrow, we moved into the house. Two days later we flew back to Iowa and a week later we got married. WHEW!

After the marriage we flew to Calgary, rented a car and drove to Jasper for our honeymoon. The drive up 93 is one of the most amazing drives - ooh-aaws along the entire way through the Canadian Rockies to Jasper. Three days in Jasper and one in Banff and a day driving in between. We stayed at a place called Becker's Chalets that the Best man and Matron Of Honor had recommend. A wonderful place. In Jasper we white water rafted, took a tram up Whistler's Mountain, went out onto the Columbia Icefield glacier in a sno-cat, and did a short but spectacular hike that overlooked the icefields (we saw rams butting heads). We had a wonderful Honeymoontastic time.

We flew back to Omaha and drove the Wife's car and some of her stuff to California and the rest is history. And what an amazing history it has been. Thinking about how much luck was involved in our meeting makes my head spin. We figure that if we had passed in the street, we wouldn't have even looked at each other. The way we met online is the only way we could have met. I can't wait to see what comes next.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Plaques For The Memories

Last week we had a big working group meeting with out head honchos from D.C. I received a cool plaque showing their appreciation for me doing my job. I had my picture taken receiving the plaque and all. Today at an "All Hands" meeting the Captain (I work on a Navy Base) was supposed to present me with a Letter of Appreciation (Suitable for framing). At least that's what my supervisor said before he left on his month long vacation. I went to the "All Hands" but there was no letter. I don't know what happened there.

I never was that ambitious. I spent the first 15 years or so of my career keeping my head low, keeping a low profile, and keeping out of sight. This place can be a whore house at times - the better you perform the more you get screwed. I did my job and tried my best to keep everyone happy with what I was doing. The way to advance here is to go into management and I've never been interested in management. I have always been one of those people who try to steer the leadership from the background. It's kind of like being a manager without the responsibility that comes with the position. Five years ago my old job was moved to another state and I moved to my current position which has a lot more responsibility. I think I've done an O.K. job. I met schedules and solved problems as they came up. It took me about three years to overcome my aversion to responsibility enough get into the swing of the job.

My supervisor came to me a few weeks ago and asked me to write up a list of accomplishments and achievements over my career. This input would go into the letter the Captain would present to me. I sat down and realized that I really didn't have any major achievements. I had supported other people in their achievements. No ones fault there but my own. I submitted a rather bland description of my rather bland career. Gee, I wonder if that's why I didn't get the letter.

I feel like a walking contradiction. On one hand I don't want the attention. On the other hand I want the recognition. I guess you can't have it both ways. I do like the plaque though.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Some of you may have noticed the countdown clock just below the travel magnet on the right side of Homer's Travels. Those of you who are members of my family know what it's counting down to. Over the past few months, I have picked up some good on-line friends who don't know me personally. They, and the occasional random visitor, may be wondering just what that countdown is. The countdown is to my last day of work.

Our parents, siblings, and most of our other relatives live in the mid-west (Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota). I have been away for just over 20 years. The Wife has been away for over 10 years. We have decided to move back to Omaha to be close to our families (Yes, I have been to Westroads where the recent shooting took place). I will be resigning from my job on the 3rd of January 2008. The wife will continue working until the end of the school year. In June/Early July we will make the move.

I haven't posted about it on Homer's Travels before now because the Wife has not told her work that's she's leaving. She intends to tell them after she returns after the new year holiday. We decided I could post about it since the only people from her school who read Homer's Travels already know.

The next six months or so are going to be hectic. I'm looking forward to the move with anticipation and anxiety. There is so much to get done. We have to sell or donate all the stuff we don't want to move. We have to sell our house. We have to buy a house in Omaha. We have to move our stuff. The wife will be looking for a job. I will be taking a year off to be a househusband. We are going to see if we can live on one income. We have some nice savings built up. The one big financial advantage of this move is that we will no longer have a mortgage once we move. I expect I will get bored soon though and will find a part-time job or maybe a job I can do from home.

We have been planning this for a while now. When I started counting the days there were over 1,000. When we made the decision it gave us extra incentive to go see the sights in California since it is not likely that we will be back - at least not anytime soon. That is also why I started doing all the hiking in the area. I want to soak in as much as possible before I leave.

I have lived more of my life in Oxnard than in any other place. It's going to be a little tough to leave but Oxnard has never really felt like home to me. Moving back to Omaha is moving back home.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #38: Matilija Falls

After two weeks of big bump healing, it felt great to get back out on the trail. This Sunday I chose to hike to Matilija Falls. This hike leaves from the same trailhead as the Murietta Trail I did earlier this year. I had actually mistaken this hike for another. There is a hike that follows the Upper North Fork Matilija Creek which I have done portions before. When I read the description the day before the hike I realized that the Matilija Falls were on another trail (i.e. there are three trails leaving from the same trailhead, not two).

I got up early on Sunday and got to the trailhead at 6:45 am. On the way I had to drive around fallen rock on Matilija Road. This road closes often which must drive the residents crazy in the rainy season.

This morning it was COLD - 44ºF. Well, cold by California standards that is. I was wearing a long sleeve shirt and a sweatshirt jacket which kept me pretty warm as I walked up the dirt road. What I had forgotten is gloves. My hands were frigid so I pulled the jacket sleeve up to cover my hands which worked well. There was a chilly breeze most of the day and I kept the jacket on for about two thirds of the hike - a lot longer then I expected.

The road passes through the Matilija Canyon Ranch Wildlife Refuge before heading deeper into the canyon. The road follows the Matilija Creek, crossing the creek twice. I was surprised to find one of the fords that had always been covered in water to be dry - damn this drought!

The road continues past the signed Upper North Fork trail off on the right and the signed Murietta Trail on the left a little further on. The road continues until you come to a 'T'. Turn right and you reach a wooden gate. The road crosses private property here - the forest service has easement rights. There was a sign on the gate that said "STOP - No Entry - Fire Hazard." I stopped and contemplated the sign briefly, looked around to see if I could see anyone in the nearby ranch buildings - nobody in sight, and decided to say "to heck with it" and walked through the gate and continued on the road. If the trail was really closed I figured that there would have been more signage and a threat of fines or something. The fact that the Matilija Wilderness area is not in the Zaca Fire closure area also seemed to indicate that it was open to hikers.

The road continues through the ranch. Once you pass through the other side of the ranch land, the path narrows to a single trail. The trail takes you to a camp at about the 2 mile point before turning left and follows the creek up. I found a geocache at this camp, "Matilija Camp". When I was looking for it I was smacked in the face by a tree branch. I didn't think much of it until I was finished signing the cache log. I put the cache back in it's hiding place and looked around - everything was blurry. I closed my left eye - things were clear. I opened my left and closed my right - things were blurry. I blinked a few times but it was still blurry. There was no pain and it didn't itch or anything. It was just blurry out my left eye. This kind of sucks as my right eye is a little near sighted and the left eye is a little far sighted. The blurred left eye limited my distance vision. I walked over to the stream and splashed some water (running water which I assumed to be relatively clean) into my eye. Nothing. I decided to keep on going figuring it would get better.

The canyon, quite wide where the road goes, narrows here and the cliffs overhead are pretty cool. There was a variety of trees along the trail including some that showed some of their fall colors. In southern California you sometimes forget that trees change in the fall.

At this point the trail becomes a little iffy. The trail is not maintained. Some parts are in great shape and easy to follow. Others parts, not so much. The best advice here is keep going upstream.

I kept going upstream. I kept loosing the trail - the blurry eyesight didn't help much. Each time I reached a dead in I would cross over to the other side of the creek and I would inevitably find a trail. There were cairns every now and then on the many rocky portions of the trail but there probably should have been more.

At one point I followed what I thought was the trail up the side of the canyon. After climbing the steep hill for a short while, I decided that I was going the wrong way. I headed back down the hill but not on the trail that I had gone up on. This was possibly a mistake on my part. The hillside was covered in crumbly shale and climbing down felt more like surfing. I'm surprised I didn't fall on my behind. I made it down to a level spot about 8-10 feet above the creek. I looked for a way down to the creek. The only place that appeared doable was a steep rock face with some teensy-weensy hand/foot holds. A tree was growing near the creek and a thick branch ran parallel to the rock face and I figured I could use this to steady myself on the way down. I started crawling down on my butt - crab style - searching for footholds. I reach up with one hand and grabbed the branch. The act of reaching knocked the precarious hold friction had on my rear-end and I started to slide like a stone across the sheet (that's curling terminology for those scratching your heads). Realizing friction was not going to stop me I grabbed the branch with both hands. The branch bent with my body weight but stopped my slide with my boots about a foot from the edge of the creek. I got back on my feet, took inventory, and then reached around and felt my behind - two tears in the seat of my pants - one on each butt cheek. @#$%^! Fortunately these holes are small and I can patch them up. I can't afford to replace my pants after every hike. I didn't take any pictures of my pants - sorry.

At about the 4.4 mile point you come upon a side canyon. I turned up this canyon looking for a cache ("Two Trees") and located it right beside the first waterfall. It's quite impressive. More rain would have made it more impressive but then crossing the creek would have been more difficult. The waterfall was two tiered. I climbed up to the top of the bottom tier where I found an impressive pool. A little too cold to swim in today though.

I left the falls and went back to the main canyon turning upstream in search for the other waterfalls and caches hidden about a quarter mile further up. The rock hopping was pretty strenuous and it was tough going at times. I found another cache, "Backpackers Cache", before heading up to the second waterfall. The second falls was also impressive. It was also the end of the trail. There is a third waterfall and pool above these falls but to get there you have to climb a rope. I looked at the rope and realized it went straight up a shear cliff. I decided that two waterfalls were enough.

By this time my stomach was growling so I walked back to a small camp (there are several along the creek), sat down on a makeshift chair of rocks and logs left by past campers, and ate lunch. I looked around and could see that my left eye was still blurry. Things seemed a little better but I wasn't sure if it was my brain adjusting to the blurriness and just using the right eye more or if there was really any improvement in the left eye.

I headed back down the creek and hiked back to the car. I passed a few people, hikers and residents of the area, on the way back. By the time I made it back to the car my legs were tired. All the rock hopping really sapped the strength.

This was a great hike despite the aching muscles and the blurry eye. My eye, by the way, is better after a good nights sleep. I found a total of five geocaches and searched for eight (two have been missing for a while and I just couldn't find the third). Pictures can be found here. The total distance hiked was 9.28 miles with about 1,201 feet of vertical.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Championship Winning Saints!

Last night The Santa Clara Saints defeated Bishop Diego Cardinals to win the state championship. I wasn't there but the Wife was there with her Helmet Of Victory. The Saints trailed until the last couple minutes when they tied. The game was won in overtime. Good going Saints!

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that this is their first championship win in 42 years!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Not A Drop Of Rain In Sight

What is it with meteorologist in southern California? They predicted 0.5 to 1.5 inches of rain from Thursday night through Saturday Afternoon. How much did we get? Z*E*R*O. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. I wanted to spend a quiet Friday listening to the falling rain. Instead I watch the 25 MPH wind blowing the crap out of everything.

It is so rare for the meteorologists out here to get it right. They say it's going to rain, it doesn't. They say it's not going to rain, it does. It's going to be hot, it's cold. Well, you get the picture. What can you expect from guys named Johnny Mountain and Dallas Raines.

Of course I may be a little tough on these guys. Maybe southern California just has unpredictable weather. Maybe since we really don't have weather out here, they are just not used to real weather. It befuddles them.

Tomorrow I'm hiking Matilija Canyon. They are predicting partly cloudy, cool, and dry. I hope this doesn't mean that it will be pouring while I'm out on the trail.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Santa Clara Helmet Of Victory ... And Embarassment?!?

I have many reasons to love the Wife and one of them is because she is crazy - in a good way. The Santa Clara Saints Football team are in the championships (Go Saints!). The championship game is Saturday. To prepare for the game the Wife bought 15 batters helmets, spray painted them gold, and epoxied little Saint Clare statues to the top of the helmets. She is going to give them to other teachers and they will wear them to the game. With the paint fumes on Wednesday and the epoxy fumes on Thursday, I think we were both going a little loopy.

She finished them Thursday night. The "J" was planning to stop by to see them. There was a knock on the door. The Wife donned a Santa Clara Helmet of Victory and opened the door and ... was face to face with a total stranger. There was a short pause when no one said anything then the lady at the door, without skipping a beat, asked if Eileen was home. Except for the pause, the lady did not react at all to the Wife wearing a gold helmet with nun stuck to the top of it. The Wife told her that she had the wrong address, closed the door, and promptly died of embarrassment. I, of course, supported her by laughing my A$$ off. It's been a long time since I laughed so hard. The wife was mortified but she started laughing because - what're ya goin' to do? What's done is done and what 's done is hilarious.

The "J" arrived and I opened the door to make sure the lady hadn't come back with the police and to prevent any more embarrassment. We shared the story with the "J" and we all had a good laugh before going out to eat at Pirate's.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Update 4: The Big Bump

Good news. This will probably be the last update on the big bump status. The Nurse Practitioner removed the packing and gauze and replaced it with a band aid. She said it looked good and that packing was no longer needed. She also said I didn't have to come back unless it takes a turn for the worse. Yeah!!

I have been waiting to get away from the packing because I have not been able to shower. I have been giving myself sponge baths which, frankly, are no fun and I always feel not quite clean afterwards.

I asked her if I could go hiking this weekend and she said "sure" so, depending on the weather, I will be back on the trail - probably Matilija Falls. It's supposed to rain Friday and Saturday so I may have to hike on Sunday. There should be some good water in the creek.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

I Have 100, Do I Have 200!

Last night was the charity auction at the Wife's school. This is one of the few school functions that I attend and I usually have a good time. Last night felt different and I really don't know why. The auction starts off as a mixer giving time for all the 'yoo hoo - hi there' activities and gives a chance for everyone to look at, and bid on, the silent auction swag. The auction was held in the pavilion this year, a much larger venue, and the crowd was quite large. The theme was the Oscars and everything was very well decorated. When you entered you walked the red carpet, a carpet lined with stars with the faculty's names on them (They mis-spelled the Wife's name - Drat!), got you picture taken, were interviewed on camera by two students, before entering the main hall. It turns out the interview was being shown on the big screen in the pavilion so you could see everyone be dorky as they came in. I am sure I was just as dorky as everyone else.

I have been to about four of these things and I have never bid on anything. I usually don't see anything that I can't live without. The Wife, on the other hand, usually finds a couple things to bid on. This year it was a Longaberger Handbag, a pair of Korean Porcelain Ducks, a Silver Bracelet, a String of Pearls, and a Pink Beach Comber Bicycle with the obligatory bell.

As they closed down the silent auction tables everyone took a seat and had dinner - salad, bread, stuffed chicken breast, potatoes, and mixed vegis. The food was pretty good but for some reason I didn't have any appetite. I only ate about half of the main course. The chocolate cake that was served for dessert was consumed completely - I have my food priorities.

There was a tribute to a priest who was leaving. They had a hilarious slide show of some of his high school pictures. It was also almost his 50th Birthday. They saluted him and other alumni at the auction including a lady from the class of 1938 (She was excited about the bottle of wine they gave her).

During dessert they brought up an auctioneer to sell off the live auction stuff. The Wife bid on a few things (the pearls and the bike) but didn't win anything. Some of the auctioned items were interesting - a helicopter tour of Oxnard with dinner at the exclusive Tower Club (you get to land on the heliport), A private airplane flight over the Grand Canyon, Dinner with Oxnard's Mayor (an alumni), and autographed footballs. The auctioneer kept shushing the crowd and making lame jokes - we couldn't wait for him to shut up and get on with selling things.

Now, for some reason my enthusiasm just wasn't there. As I said I had little appetite, I was a little warm, my back ached for no reason whatsoever, and, unlike previous years, dress was cocktail formal so I was in a suit. I'm a jeans and t-shirt type of guy and I'm just not comfortable in a tie. Having said this, the Wife thinks I look damn fine in a suit and I would have to agree with her. I just don't want to wear it all night. Other then that there really wasn't any reason that I shouldn't have had fun. I knew people there - the Wife, the "J", other teachers I have met along the way. I really wanted to support the Wife but I think I just fell flat. I hate when I let her down.

After all was said and done, the Wife walked away with the handbag and the ducks. This was better then the big fat zero we left with last year.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Pickles And Lederhosen

For those you haven't decided what they what for Christmas, here are a couple of suggestions. The first is illustrated at left. Who doesn't need a Yodelling Pickle?!? What have we done without one for so long?!?

The other gift is the Wind Up, Hopping, Yodelling Lederhosen. The pièce de résistance is the ergonomic knockwurst remote control. Nothing like a knockwurst to get you pants a hopping and a yodelling.

You can find these and so many more totally awesome cool stuff at Archie McPhee.