Homer's Travels: April 2008

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Many Words For Insane

I am going (have gone?) insane. I sat around all day waiting for the phone to ring. Waiting for the Realtor to call and say that the buyer has accepted our counter-offer and that he will be coming around with papers to sign. Waiting ... but nothing is happening. The phone is silent.

The buyer did come by yesterday evening for another look-see with his wife. We hoped this would result in something today but ... nothing.

Crazy. Loco. Bonkers. Cuckoo. Daft. Demented. Disordered. Distraught. Maniacal. That is how I am feeling.

OK ... I was putting this post together and the realtor called. It sounds positive and we should have something signed in our hands by noon Thursday ... we hope.

Crazy. Loco. Bonkers. Cuckoo. Daft. Demented. Disordered. Distraught. Maniacal. That is how I am feeling until at least noon tomorrow.

Monday, April 28, 2008

One Step Closer ... One Premonition Come True

When we were visiting Mom in Omaha and looking for homes, Mom said that things would change in three weeks. That was seventeen days ago. Today we received an offer on the house. Way to go Mom! Makes me want to sing:

We made a counter-offer that is more formality than anything. If all goes well, and that's a big if, we will be closing escrow on the 2nd of June and we'll be moved sometime during the third week of June. (I will probably be in Omaha before our stuff.)

Thank you to all that have been praying for us to get an offer. Now it is time to shift your target from getting an offer to closing escrow. There have been a lot of incidences of people falling out of escrow so the house isn't sold quite yet. Your prayers (and crossed fingers and good thoughts) are still needed.

It would also be appreciated if you prayed for the Wife getting a job offer. We need all the moral support we can get.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Hot Fiesta

Today was Fiesta at the Wife's school. We thought it would be appropriate to make an appearance. The fiesta served up all sorts of food, activities, and every inflatable, bouncy thing you can imagine. People were having fun listening to the mariachis and watching the dancers.

Unfortunately, today decided to be one of the hottest possible days. The festivities, food, and drink were located out in the school parking lot. An asphalt parking lot. It was hot ... a lot.

The Wife saved one of her co-workers from a cream pie in the face and instead insisted they ride the train together around the parking lot (A riding lawnmower toeing a half dozen wagons). By the time they got back from their two laps around the booths and people, the Wife was worried she'd sweated a wet spot on her shorts. Fortunately, she was wrong.

By the time we left, we were roasty toasty. We bought some plants with our remaining tickets and headed home. When we got home (10 minutes from the school) our thermometer in our back yard was reading 103.4°F (39.7°C) in the shade. The only saving grace was it was a dry heat with only 14% humidity. The heat really pooped us out. We'll probably end the day with a visit to the Outback for a steak dinner.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Walking The Art

I've pretty much been stuck in the house most of this week and our house has been a little gloomy lately. The mood has been bleak. We really need something good to happen soon. I decided what I needed was to get out of the house and get some sun. Fortunately for me, this weekend is the Ventura Art Walk. The art walk, held a couple times a year, allows artists to display their art and merchants to attract customers to buy their wares. The Wife was going to a wedding shower so this was going to be a solo excursion.

I only have a marginal interest in the art but I was curious about the three stages with live music. I parked downtown and walked around looking at the photos, painting, jewelry, pottery, and sculpture on display. There appears to be a lot of talent in the Ventura area. I wasn't that impressed with the photos as I've seen better on Flickr but some of the paintings displayed some good talent. The music varied quite a bit - some good, some not so much. There were games for the kids, Clowns, and dancers from as far as England. I watch the Somerset Stave Dancers from Somerset England for a while. They were OK.

I'd had a large lunch before I had gone downtown and I made the mistake of stopping at Palermo and buying some Dark Chocolate Gelato and a Double Chocolate Truffle. They were great - don't get me wrong - but I should have spaced out the eating a little better as now I feel a little bloaty and disgusting. I always seem to do that - no self control.

I tried to walk it off and took a few pictures before I sat down to listen to a local singer, Emy Reynolds, from Nordhoff High School. She was pretty good. The music went well with the people watching. Ventura has such a mix of people - Surfer Dudes, Money, Tree Huggers, yuppies, and ordinary people young and old filling in the gaps.

After four songs, the sun was starting to get warm so I decided to call it a day. Three hours of sun and blue skies lifted my spirits a bit. I added the pictures I took to my 2007-2008 Ventura, CA  Google Photos album.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Topa Topa Reconnoiter

I decided that I needed to clear one of the reasons hurdles excuses for not doing the Topa Topa hike that I've been contemplating since February 2007. The excuse that I was leaning on was that I could not get to the trailhead due to the bad road conditions.

Back in January I drove up to Sisar Road to see what it looked like. They looked pretty bad. Sisar road is a narrow paved road through a residential area with no parking. The pavement ends and continues as a dirt road past a pair of water tanks. The last time I was there years ago the road past the tanks was in poor condition and I ended up parking near the tanks. Back in January the road up to the water tanks was rutted and looked impassable for the Honda.

I drove up there this morning to check it out. The road from the pavement to the water tanks had been repaired since January and looks pretty good. Past the tanks the road is pretty rough but, driving slowly and carefully I managed to make it all the way to the trailhead. The excuse is now officially gone. (Phil, you were, of course, correct)

Now the only thing stopping me is my uncertainties and they are fading fast. Last hike proved I could do the distance. The only doubts I have remaining is the vertical. All I need to do is give myself enough time to rest on the way up. On my way up there this morning I timed the drive - 45 minutes. Dawn is scheduled for about 5:30 AM, about 30 minutes before sunrise so I am planning to leave around 4:45 AM. This will give me maximum daytime to accomplish the hike and give me a lot of time to rest on the way up. It will also give me some time up on the top and time to find the twelve geocaches along the way back down to the car.

I drove back through Ojai and verified that a wilderness pass was not needed to park at the Sisar Road trailhead. I think I'm almost ready.

This will be the last hike on my to-do list. I'm sure that Phil or Geekhiker can suggest some good hikes to fill in the gap between Topa Topa and our move back to Omaha.

Monday, April 21, 2008

News Of The Cynical Kind

Read this on Boing Boing today. An Italian performance artist was hitching hiking across Europe in a wedding dress to spread a message of peace and "marriage between different peoples and nations." In Turkey she was picked up by a "mentally ill" person, raped, murdered, and dumped in the bushes.

There's so much symbolism there, I think I'll be sick. Says a lot about our world, don't it?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Open House And Dog Parks

The open house is over and it was a success. The Wife says that the vast majority of the comments she heard were positive. Around 30 people walked through our house, much better then the four from the first open house. Some of the comments she overheard may indicate an offer in the near future. Keep your fingers crossed.

While the Wife listened to the wonderful compliments, I was with Homer at the dog park. This was Homer's first trip to a dog park and he behaved very well. He ran around the pit bulls, mastiffs, saint bernard's, chihuahuas, and terriers of all ilk, sniffing as many butts he could stick his nose in. Eventually, I think Homer was just overwhelmed by all the other dogs and people and he just walked up to the gate and looked at me like "Can we go home now?" We spent the rest of the four and a half hours in the car - Homer sleeping in the back and me reading.

Today is ending with some good Bar-B-Que from Just-Bar-B-Que and an aura of positive feedback and hope. Feels good.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Housing Update

Time for an update on our housing situation. We decided to make an offer on the house we found in Omaha. We offered the asking price for the house contingent on us selling our California house. The sellers have accepted our offer but are keeping the house on the market. If they receive another offer, we will have 24 hours to remove the contingency and buy it or to withdraw our offer. I am not that optimistic about getting this house but there really isn't any downside for us to try at this point.

About our California house, we are holding an open house Sunday. Our realtor is spreading the word as best as he can. He has received a few phone calls that have resulted in OOOOHs when they hear our new asking price. We've had a couple walk ups who had the same reaction. Not sure if the OOOOH means "Oh my God our own house is dropping in value" or "Wow! What a deal! We could afford to buy this house." Hopefully we will find out this coming week.

The realtor also said that he needed someone to help with the open house - mainly a body to be upstairs so that things don't disappear. His wife usually does this but she isn't available so he asked if we would stay during the open house. The Wife will be helping the realtor. I feel a little weird about watching people wander around our house and I'm not sure I could handle negative comments. The Wife has the same misgivings but she has agreed to stay. She has a lot more self control than I. (I suppose this means that I owe her Jewelry.)

I haven't decided where I will be during the open house. Homer will be in the gangway beside the house. I've thought about driving out to the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve to take pictures but I'm not interested in the two hours it would take to get there and the weather is going to be chilly and windy (50s with wind gusts up to 45 MPH). I've thought about visiting the Oxnard Library. Not sure what I would do there though. I may just find someplace to park and read. That would be the simplest and cheapest alternative.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Hiking Ventura County #50: Sulphur Mountain Road

I've hike parts of Sulphur Mountain road three times before. The hike is a 10 mile section of ranch road that leads from the 33 to the 150. the 33 side is low and the 150 side is high. Twice I started from the bottom and went about three miles up. Once I started at the top and hiked about two miles down. The best way to hike this road is to drop a car at one end and then have someone drop you off at the other trailhead. I didn't have this option (The Wife was at work when I was doing this hike) so I started at the bottom and hiked as far as I could before turning around. Since I am preparing for a hike up Topa Topa and that Hike is approximately 15.6 miles, that was my goal.

I parked my car near the locked gate and headed up the road. Within the first quarter mile or so you will pass a little stream of oil along the road. When I first saw this I thought "whoever dumped this oil is an A$$hole" before I realized that it is natural seepage.

The road is flanked on both sided by private property. I'm thankful that they've given hikers and bikers the right of way on the road. There are signs all up and down the road.

The road winds up through forests, meadows, and fields of vibrant yellow mustard. The wildflowers were out in force and the meadows were green. The sky was blue, the breeze was light and cooling, and the day was near perfect for a hike. As you walk along the road the thrum of the traffic fades and is replaced by the thrum of the insects and the chirps of the bird. The views from the road vary from green valleys, oak forests, ocean, lake, islands, and mountains.

I had 20 geocaches programmed into my GPS. I ended up doing 17 - the other three being beyond my turn around point. The first one I did was in a shoe hanging from a tree branch, "1000 Stinky Badfeet". In a hollow of the tree was some PVC pipe you could assemble into a pole that let you retrieve the shoe. Very clever.

I continued to pick up caches until I got to "Stinky Mountain 8, Stealth View". I found the container in the hollow of a tree. I put my GPS down in the crook of the tree and reached in to get the container. Next thing I know I'm feeling something pinching my arm. I pulled out my arm and it was covered in big, biting ants. I took a minute to do the OhMyGodAntsOnMyArm dance before I took a closer look at the cache. The cache and the entire tree was engulfed in ants. I grabbed my GPS, rolling it in the grass to get the ants off it, took pictures, then walked away flicking ants off me. I was probably bit five or six times.

I found several more caches until I was distracted by the sweeping landscapes. At the two mile mark the ocean of mustard became almost overwhelming. I forgot to look at my GPS and I passed two caches by. I ended up getting them on the way back to the car.

At three miles there is a great view of the city of Oak View and lake Casitas. I felt pretty good at this point. Over the next three miles I slowly wore down.

I reached my limit at around 7.62 miles. I stopped at a great vantage point. From here I could see Boney Ridge, the Channel Islands, Lake Casitas, and the backside of two tree hill. (Two tree hill is a hill overlooking Ventura with two solitary trees on top. The Wife used to us it as a navigational landmark.) On the lower seven miles of the road there are no homes, at least none visible. At my turn around point I saw a bus parked on a knoll. The bus has been converted into a motor home. From that spot you would have views of the entire valley all the way down to the ocean. If I owned a converted bus and I wanted to park it in the perfect spot, that would be where I'd park it. Turning around I noticed a house on the top of the ridge line above me. All I could see were the eaves of the roof. The house didn't seem that great but the views from up there had to be spectacular.

I saw a few animals on this hike. Birds, lizards (this one startled me as I was examining a cache), snakes, and the largest animal I've ever seen on a hike ... the cow.

This was a really nice hike. The views were magnificent and the conditions were perfect. The hike was 15.24 miles - a personal best - with 1,842 feet of vertical. This hike proved that I could do the distance up to Topa Topa, but Topa Topa has a lot more vertical - 4,487 feet. Pictures of Sulphur Mountain Road can be found here.

Topa Topa is my next hike. I'm not sure exactly when I will do it. I need to psyche myself up. It will be my biggest challenge and I'm having some major doubts about if I can do it or not. One issue is simply that I can't get to the trailhead because of the poor condition of the road. The ol' Honda just couldn't handle it. Another is if I'm not sure I can handle it. We'll see.

Speaking of the ol' Honda, when I got to the car and started for home, I noticed the check engine light was lit. The car is in the shop today. *sigh*

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Creeping Mid-Western Rituals

Don't you hate when you realize that you are reaching that age when you start doing 'old' things? We reached a milestone last Friday. Now, I don't know if this is an age thing, a Mid-Western thing, or both, but last Friday we went out for dessert.

'Going out for dessert' has always been a mid-western thing that I have associated with my parents and family. I never went out for dessert in California, at least not as a social gathering. In the Mid-West 'going out for dessert' is often a weekly ritual.

So, last Friday we invited an old friend of the Wife's and her husband out for dessert. They suggested the Cheesecake Factory. Over Tiramisu, Snickers® Bar Chunks and Cheesecake, and, my favorite, Chocolate Tower Truffle Cake™ (The friend's husband said it looked like a slab of steak), we chatted about jobs, houses, and the 'Big Move'. It was a nice end to our trip to Omaha. I suspect going out for dessert will become a habit. A Mid-Western ritual.

So, now that we've "gone out for dessert", what's next? Will we buy a card table and invite people over to play cards? Man, I hope not. I really don't like to play cards.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Book: Tim Moore's Spanish Steps - One Man And His Ass On The Pilgrim Way To Santiago

At the recommendation of the Best Man and the Wife, my latest read was Tim Moore's "Spanish Steps: One Man and His Ass on the Pilgrim Way to Santiago". This book tells the tale of the author's walk along the Way of Saint James. Wanting to experience the true Pilgrim's walk, Moore walks with a donkey.

I was interested in Moore's story since I'm planning to walk the Way of Saint James in the Saint James Holy Year of 2010 (schedule and dollars willing). The book can be divided into two intertwining threads. The first is a string of brief descriptions,usually at the beginning of the chapters, of towns, personalities, and events that illustrate the history of the Way. As I read these gems, my interest in doing the walk intensified. The second thread is an often humorous description Moore's interaction with his ass, Shinto. While I found these donkey stories funny, they got in the way of what I really wanted, a description of the Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. I suppose I would think differently if I was going to walk with a donkey. I'm not. I'm walking with the GodSon. He's not a donkey... nor an ass. The saving grace for these parts is that they are funny.

I am really looking forward to seeing the bridges built by the Romans and the churches built by the Knights Templar, protectors of Pilgrims. I am even more interested in the people I will meet along the way. While Moore talked about some of the people he met, I wish he would have delved a little deeper into the people. I wish he would have talked more about the challenges of walking the nearly 500 miles. It seems to me that there would be humor and interesting anecdotes in the people and the travails met along the Way. Instead we get a stubborn donkey.

The Wife was a little disappointed that the religious aspects of the pilgrimage is not explored more. Moore is not very religious. This didn't bother me too much. It's interesting to find out that many of the walkers were hoping to find truth ... to change their lives ... just to find out that, once the pilgrimage is complete, they were the same person they were at the beginning of the camino. It reminds me a little of how I felt after my 1995 roadtrip. A little let down. A little disappointed. The fact is, the change often comes after the ordeal, not during. It is how we see our 'normal' lives after we have pushed ourselves beyond our limits that brings about change.

Moore's writing style is both informative and humorous. Moore isn't the best humor writer that I've read but he's good enough. It could have been better but it's good enough to recommend. You can find another opinion at the Reader's Diary.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Food: King Fong's Cafe ... For Lunch

King Fong's Cafe
315 1/2 S 16th St, Omaha, Nebraska

I'd been told about King Fong's by the Wife. The Wife had eaten dinner there before and she thought it was a really cool place. She described it as a Viet Nam during the French Imperial period. She used adjectives like cool, strange, 'really neat'. We talked with Mom, E, and E's Sons and they used adjectives like dark, spooky, scary, and weird. Armed with all these adjectives, on a cold, windy, rainy day, we went down to King Fong's for lunch.

From the outside, King Fong's Cafe is a tall neon sign over a door that leads to a dark and somewhat narrow stairway up to the second story restaurant. Look out for the first step - I almost kissed the steps when I tripped on the first step. Looking at the door alone, you would not know that there was a restaurant there at all. The Wife had only eaten there in the evening and apparently the place is quite different. During the evening the waiters, all Asian, are dressed in white and are more formal. During lunch, service is less formal. We couldn't quite pin down our server's nationality. Possible Chinese. Possibly Indonesian.

The restaurant has been in the same place since it opened in 1921. The restaurant is located in what once was Omaha's Chinatown district. The restaurant is located in a room that mixes Art Deco and Chinese decor. Art Deco lighting and stained glass windows. Many of the original furnishings were imported from Hong Kong. The Wife has fallen in love with the marble tables and has asked for one for Christmas. We'll see.

Not being the adventurous eater, I started with a rather safe order of Chicken Fried Rice. I don't recall what the Wife had. The servings were large. I only managed to eat about half of the plate but it was pretty good. I felt like I needed a roll or something but that's just me - bread-aholic - bread is not an Asian thing. I liked it. The flavors were good and went together well. There were a few other diners despite the ugly wet day outside. That says something. I can see myself eating here again sometime. Next time it will be for dinner.

While I think many of the adjectives used to describe this place to me do not apply, at least during the lunch service, the place does have an interesting ambiance. If you like Chinese cuisine in an interesting setting then King Fong's Cafe is worth a try.

Personal aside: As I've said, I'm not an adventuresome eater. King Fong's was the third Chinese restaurant I've ever eaten in (the other two were cheesy chain buffets). I'm a little surprised that I even entertained eating lunch there. I've told myself that Omaha would be a fresh start for me. A chance to throw off the old and to experiment with the new. I guess this was the beginning of the experimentation. I was surprised at myself in a positive way. In the past I would have picked at my food, pushing aside things that I was unfamiliar with. This time I just plowed ahead and ate everything on my plate. I discovered many, oh so many, years too late that I shouldn't be so finicky. I'm sure my picky ways won't completely change but eating at King Fong's Cafe was a good first start.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Omaha: Part Two

Well, the Wife's interview went well so now comes the wait for the call back.

Wednesday afternoon we went out and looked at a few more houses. The first house, the newest that we've looked at, was gorgeous. We walked in and the Wife, my Mom, and I fell in love with the place including the awesome view of farm fields and creek out the back windows. Who would think that Nebraska could have beautiful views? I guess I have to rethink my preconceptions. The Wife who is partial to older homes (50's stuff) was a little disappointed that she liked the 10 year old house. I, on the other hand, like newer stuff and I liked it. The house is move-in ready and would make it really easy to move. Unfortunately once our house in Oxnard has sold, I am sure this 'dream house' will no longer be available. The only consolation is that the realtor said that similar houses in the same subdivision are becoming available periodically. This is sort of how we bought our current house. We found a floor plan we liked and then we looked until we found a similar house that was for sale at the right time.

Thursday we slept in a little. It was a rainy spring day and the wind was blowing so going outside was not very desirable so ... we went out.

We first went to the Joslyn Art Museum. We walked around the near empty museum (empty of people that is) and looked at the exhibits. There were a couple school field trips wandering through. There was some interesting stuff. The museum is pretty impressive. The building is an early example of art deco architecture. They have an impressive collection of Native American art. I didn't ask if you could take pictures but I didn't see anyone with cameras. If they allow cameras then I will have to come back some time.

After the museum it was time for King Fongs. I will talk about this culinary adventure in another post. I will say that it was interesting and pretty good.

After lunch we were planning to go down to the Old Market area of Omaha to walk around a bit. Unfortunately, the rain was coming down, the wind was whipping, and it looked really cold outside the car. Add the fact that all we saw were restaurants and full parking spots so we decided to save it for some other time. We drove by Sokal Underground where we may be see some good music in the near future. We drove through the Dream Home's area before heading back to Mom's.

Friday the weather turned to snow flurries - in April! Nothing accumulated but the wind was still whipping and it felt colder than the day before. We were very grateful for my Mom and E for having us as their house guests so we took them out to lunch. Mom suggested Old Chicago, a restaurant out by a new shopping center. The shopping center, Shadow Lake, is near our 'dream house' and I expect we will spend some time there. The food was pretty good.

After lunch we split up from the Mom and E. The Wife and I checked out the stores and checked out some dream furniture for our dream house. We took a wrong turn as we left the shopping center and took the very long way back to the dream house neighborhood to cruise around a bit before heading back to Mom's. When we look at houses we often become stalkers.

That evening we went out for dessert with one of the Wife's old friends. It felt weird going out for dessert - it's such a mid-west, old thing. I think that deserves a whole post by itself.

This was our last day in Omaha. The end of the week was much more hopeful and happy than the beginning. We left Omaha feeling positive and full of hope. We really didn't want to leave. We ended up going to bed late and getting up really early to catch our flight back to Oxnard. We both are anxious to get Home.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Omaha: Part One

For those who do not know, we are in Omaha and what a crazy few days it's been so far. We had two reasons to be in Omaha. The first was to look for houses and possibly buy one. The second was for the Wife to interview for a new job.

Last week as we sat in bed talking about all the crap that was going on we came to the conclusion that buying a house in Omaha before we sold our house in Oxnard was a really foolish thing to do. We made a decision then that if the house hadn't sold by the time that we moved, we would rent in Omaha. Right there, the first reason for being in Omaha went right out the window. We decided to continue on our original plan and look at houses so that we could get an idea where everything was and get a feel for the Omaha market. The Wife had picked a realtor at random and he's turned out to be a nice, honest guy. She showed us fourteen houses over Sunday and Monday and we've more planned for the next three days. Turns out there are lots of houses in our price range but they are selling a lot faster in Omaha than in California.

So with the first reason to be in Omaha diminished, the second reason became more important. The Wife had sent out 12 resumes to Catholic schools in the area and received only two prospects. Two other schools responded in the negative and eight others did not respond at all. *sigh* The Wife contacted the two schools who were interested and set up an interview at one (She's at that interview as I compose this post) and left a message at the other. Later that day the other school sent an e-mail saying that the position that had was filled. *sigh* Seems we flew to Omaha for one interview.

When we received the e-mail for the second school (a school the Wife was excited about working at) we both sunk to a major new low. Our plans seemed to be unraveling before our eyes and we seriously started thinking about cancelling the whole move. Even my mom's practical optimism didn't help. The Wife stood up and said lets go out for a bite and we got in the car and started driving. We really didn't have any idea where we wanted to eat. We were both really discombobulated. We were driving down Center St. figuring we would eat at the first restaurant we ran into. The first restaurant we ran into was ... [dramatic pause] ... the Rock Bottom Cafe. We parked the car and the Wife opened the door and almost immediately slammed the door back closed and said that this was a really seedy bar and we were not 'there yet.' We got back in the car and headed to the Dundee area of Omaha (a nicer old part of the city) and ate at the Dundee Dell, a much nicer bar/restaurant.

We sat in our booth and ate a good meal, made a few new plans (plans J and K or something like that) and we calmed ourselves down. The Wife cried, more in frustration than anything else, scaring our server a bit. By the time we were done we felt better. We had an idea of where we we're going even though we realized that we may soon be putting together Plan L or maybe it would be Plan M - I'm loosing count.

We decided we needed a good distraction after Monday's emotional bungee jump so we rung up the Loon Whisperer and asked if we could drop by. On Tuesday we drove out to her place and spent the day wrestling with her three daughters who are the sweetest things west of the Mississippi. Unfortunately I left my camera at my Mom's place so I missed a great opportunity for some great pictures. The spud (3 years old) latched on to me and we played until I was worn out. She kept throwing things at my head which I think means she'd taken a liking to me. The twins (1 1/2 years old) are walking all over the place and seemed to enjoy us being there until I got in the way of the TV and they couldn't see SpongeBob. I corrected that error quickly. One high point was when the spud decided to run around the house buck naked. She said she need some "fresh air." She's a hoot!Our visit was a great distraction for both of us and I'm sure we will be visiting the Loon Whisperer, her husband, and three daughters many times once we move.

Tuesday night we received a couple pieces of news concerning jobs and houses that rekindled our waning hope. If they materialize, I will surely post about them.

So there you go. That's what we've been doing the past few days. It's been one heck of a roller coaster and I know I have never felt so jerked around by my emotions. At times I wonder about the value of this trip to Omaha. Then I remember that we used frequent flier miles and our tickets cost us only $20.00 and we're staying at my Mom's place so there is no hotel costs. If the Wife gets the job it will a very good thing. If not, then down the coaster we'll go and on to the next plan.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Superpowers ... Activate!

Recently, we had a discussion with the Matron Of Honor and Best man about our superpowers. I have no idea what my powers are but the Wife's Superpowers are well know: She will find someone she knows or is connected to anywhere in the world. A few examples:

  1. We're waiting to take off to tour Mt McKinley in Alaska. Who is is the tiny plane with us? Parents of a student she taught in Omaha and a nurse who worked in the hospital where the Wife was born.
  2. We're in Waikiki and we decided to have lunch so we ended up at Dukes. Who's at the restaurant? A student that the Wife and taught in Omaha.
  3. We're in Peru. We've been picked up by our tour guide and we're waiting in the van for another tour group. Who are they? They're the Wife's Brother's Veterinarian and his family from Sioux City, Iowa.

So, her superpowers have manifested themselves once again. We arrived in Omaha yesterday afternoon and we've been in the airport for less than three minutes when we hear "Hi Miss H------!!!" Another student from her time in Omaha. We chat for a while and the Wife says that we're moving to Omaha and we will see her more often in the future. The student says that no, that won't happen because she lives in Chicago. She just happened to be in Omaha to pick up her husband. He works in California a couple weeks each year and she takes the kids to visit her parents while he's gone. Turns out her Husband was on out flight.

I wish I had this superpower but I never meet anyone I know when I travel. Now I just have to figure out what my superpower is.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Hiking Ventura County #49: Chorro Grande

With all the stress that's running through the Homer's Travels household, I needed to get away for a few ours so I went on a hike up in the Santa Inez mountains and the Los Padres National Forest. Chorro Grande, spanish for the Big Stream, follows the Chorro Grande creek up to Pine Mountain Ridge. The hike is described as strenuous+ and it lives up to that description.

I parked the car off highway 33 across from the trailhead sign. The trail starts climbing immediately. The trailhead is already at 4,042 feet in elevation so this trail was starting out at an altitude higher than the peaks of most of my hikes.

I reached my first creek crossing and it was dry. Well, not quite. There were a few stagnant puddles and a really cool drop off that would make a nice waterfall if the water was flowing. All the other creek crossings had water. I was hoping for more because we had some rain the night before. Well, in Oxnard we had enough to wet the pavement but not enough to register in the rain gauge. I was also hoping for snow as the snow level was supposed to be low enough to reach the top of the trail. The trail looked pretty dry so my expectations had to be lowered.

At the one mile mark I reached an intermediate high point. On the ground was the word 'HI' written in stones. I would usually have taken a picture of this but the pictures rarely turn out very interesting so I didn't. Use you imagination. Imagine the word 'HI' spelled out in one foot high letters using round stones 1 - 1.5 inches in diameter. Can you do that? I knew you could.

I had warmed up pretty good so I took off my jacket and gloves. It had been in the 40s when I started.

The trail levels off a little bit for the next mile. At the 1.5 mile point you pass Oak Camp, a small primitive campground surrounded by oaks near the running creek. After this camp the trail becomes a little overgrown. The grass and bushes, some being thorny and raspberry looking but without any berry or fruit to identify them, encroached on the trail. The thorns made me glad that I always hiked in long pants.

I had told myself to spray myself with insect spray. I had told the Wife that I would spray myself with insect spray. I was telling myself I should have sprayed myself with insect spray as I was flicking off the first tick. I'd forgotten in my haste to get on the trail. Fortunately I only had to flick off three ticks this hike.

This lower part of the trail was a mix of oak, manzanita, and scrub. At the two mile mark the trail starts switchbacking up the ridge. As you climbed higher the trees got bigger and they transitioned from Oaks to Pine Tree. As the trail wound up the ridge the wind picked up and it got really chilly. For the first time on a hike I put my jacket back on. I looked up to the top of the ridge and saw clouds blowing over the mountain top. I hoped that they would clear up by the time I got up there.

The switchbacks were really tough. I assume that some of my problem was the altitude. I'm used to being in Oxnard at the towering altitude of 15 feet. Now I was climbing a trail from the 4,000s up to the 7,000 feet level. I was huffing and puffing all the way and stopping often to catch my breath.

I was surprised after all the flowers on the La Jolla Trail that there were absolutely no flowers on this trail. I assume it's the altitude. It's probably is still too cold at night for flowering plants. The only thing interesting were the Yucca.

At the four mile mark you reach the 6,000 feet level and I arrived at the Chorro Grande Camp. At this point I also saw lots of snow. The patchiness of the snow told me this was old snow and there was no evidence of any new snow. This is a nice campground with a spring. Some enterprising soul lugged up some concrete and built a small dam making it easier to get to the cool, clean spring water. In the camp I searched for a geocache, "Chorro Grande Springs" but was unsuccessful. As I was exploring the campsite, I discovered that: Rock + Dew + Moss = Slip + Fall + Pain. Fortunately the only damage I suffered is a six inch scrape on my left forearm and elbow. It still smarted though.

I gave up the search and headed up some more. The last mile of the trail was well maintained and marked with ribbons and yellow tin arrows attached to bushes and trees. This part up to Pine Mountain Ridge road was also grueling. I was stopping every 30 - 40 feet to rest. I finally made it to the top. I took a left on the road and walked into the Reyes Peak Campground. Before resting I climbed up a little higher and found the "Reyes Peak" cache.

I stumbled my way back down to the campground and plopped down on a picnic table and ate my lunch as I was catching my breath. The clouds I'd seen earlier has dissipated but more were coming. The clouds blew into the campground like ghosts. It was kind of eerie. After eating I walked around the campground and took a few pictures of the snow. The camp was full of tall Ponderosa Pines and huge boulders. The views were gorgeous. They say on a clear day you can see the Oxnard plain from here and I believe it. Today the plain was shrouded in clouds.

Eventually I decided it was time to go back so I headed back down. It's amazing what you see on the way down. I was so preoccupied with my lack of stamina and general wheeziness on the way up that I missed a lot of the surrounding beauty. On the way down I saw so much more than on the way up. It's also amazing how much easier it is going down then up. Gravity lends a helping hand on the way down. All you really need to do is shuffle your feet forward and back and let gravity do the rest. On the way up, gravity is an a$$.

I stopped at the Chorro Grande Camp and took another shot at finding the cache but I was out of luck.

I made pretty good time on the way down. I hadn't seen any evidence of people on the trail at all until the very end. There were parts of the trail where the only sign of civilization was the trail that you were on and nothing else. Near the end I ran into an elderly couple. I said hi and the old man smiled and asked where I had hiked to. I told him. He then said that they used to hike in the area but not so much anymore. He commented that it was wonderful living in Ventura County since there are so many good hiking trails and the ocean was close by. His wife was behind him and seemed to be muttering to herself. She raised her voice and complained that her hair was getting in her eyes. The old man said "We have a little Alzheimers." He was smiling when he said this but you could hear the loss in his voice. I wished him a good walk and we parted ways.

I needed a distraction from all the stuff happening, or not happening, back home. This hike provided the distraction I needed and the brief conversation with the elderly gentleman put things into perspective.

This hike was 10.24 miles with 3,199 feet of vertical. Pictures can be found here.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Vacation: San Francisco - Day 4

On our last day of our shortened vacation we planned to visit out last Mission, Saint Francisco de Asis, and return to Mission San Juan Bautista that was closed on the way up.

The Saint Francisco de Asis Mission, also known as Mission Dolores, is a beautiful Basilica. It took us a while to find a parking spot but we managed to find one a couple blocks away in this nice, residential area of San Francisco. It was strange. I mean, how appropriate that our last of the 21 missions was known as Mission Dolores? We toured the Mission and I took pictures. It was one of the better of the northern Missions. Pictures can be found here.

We left the city and headed south to Mission San Juan Bautista. This mission had been closed when we came up on day 1. We stopped to have lunch at JJ's Homemade Burgers. The burgers were pretty good. We walked up to the Mission and did the self guided tour. The Mission is really close to the San Andreas fault. Aa a matter of fact the fault runs along the edge of the cemetery on one side of the mission. The mission has sustained very little earthquake damage over the years. This may be explained by the very thick mission walls - 4 - 6 feet thick in places. Some of the pictures I took can be found here.

I decided not to go down on the 101 and instead took the 156/152 east to the 5. This stretch of road was beautiful with everything being green and the road lined with forested rolling hills. The 5, on the other hand, was totally boring. I was expecting new towns and new sights since I hadn't been on the 5 for twenty years. No. There are no towns on the 5. The nearest buildings could just barely be seen on the horizon. Boring. I decided I need to get past this stretch so I cranked the Honda up to 90 and put on some music. That helped a little bit and we made it home in record time.

The next few hours after getting home were occupied with unpacking, repacking, and talking with the "J" who was house-sitting for us. The next day would be an early morning with a flight to Minneapolis. The vacation was over.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Vacation: San Francisco - Day 3

Day three of our San Francisco vacation was dedicated to more Missions. We decide to stick as close to our original schedule as possible.

We got in our car and headed north. The first stop was going to be Mission San Rafael. To get there we would cross the Golden Gate Bridge. Now, for those who don't know, The Wife has a near phobic fear of bridges over water. The Golden Gate is a bridge ... over water. As we approach I could see the apprehension in the Wife's face. This was emphasized by her getting ready for the crossing by reaching for a plastic bag to hurl in. Yep, it's a chunk-blowing-inducing type of fear. I steered the car into the center-most lane figuring that the closer to the center of the bridge the better. That turned out to be the right decision. As we started crossing the bridge you couldn't see much over the side of the bridge and the Wife said "this isn't so bad" and commented about how pretty the bridge was. It is an attractive bridge. Before you know it we were off the bridge and I pulled into a viewing area so we could get pictures of the bridge. I am proud of the Wife. The bag went unused.

We arrived in San Rafael about an hour before Mass. We walked down to the nearby main street and looked for a place to get some breakfast. After entering and making a hasty retreat from a Starbucks (We both HATE Starbucks for some reason - neither of us drink coffee) we located an open cafe/deli. It was an interesting place. It looked like it was owned by a middle eastern gentleman and there was a large map of the middle east painted on one wall. I'm not exactly sure what it represented. It did not have any national borders marked and it didn't seem to correspond to modern day middle east. Several holy sites were marked - Mosques I assume. I thought it might be a map of the Ottoman Empire or the territories controlled by the Caliphate but neither of these maps seem to match what was on the wall.

After a pretty good breakfast of eggs, ham, hash browns, and toast, we returned to the church and attended Mass. After Mass we looked around a little bit but the store was closed and the actual Mission was occupied with Vietnamese and Brazilian Masses. The list of ethnic Masses is testament to the diversity of San Rafael's populace. We decided to move on to the next mission. A couple pictures of San Rafael can be found here.

Mission San Francisco Solano is in Sonoma. The directions I had were dead on. Unfortunately we did not follow them. We made four or five wrong turns before we decided to actually follow the directions. We toured the state run mission. The store was open here - government offices do not recognize Easter holiday - and I found a really cool old style California map t-shirt. I would have bought one if they had my size. *sigh* This mission was the end of the line. The end of the mission trail was marked with a plaque. It felt weird reaching he end. It was not the end for us as we had two more missions to visit after Solano. A couple pictures are here.

We thought about walking around the square near the mission. It was an attractive downtown and the Ben & Jerry's beckoned but we fought the urge and decided to try for Mission San Jose instead.

Returning to the car we pulled out a map and figured out our route to San Jose ("Do you know the way to San Jose" rang in our heads). The drive down was uneventful - i.e. only one wrong turn that was easily corrected. We arrived to find Mission San Jose closed ... of course. We were so fed up with closed missions that we decided that touching the outside of the Mission constituted officially visiting it. A couple pictures of the Mission are here.

We returned via the longer and less attractive Bay Bridge. The Wife didn't like it but managed it with little difficulty. I'm proud of her. We arrived at the Royal Pacific and the Wife suggested a small restaurant across the street - I think it was called Joe's. She walked down the street and confirmed it was open. We went up to our room, freshened up, and went back out and ... it was closed. *sigh* We decided to go back to the San Francisco Brewing company where we ate the day before and we had another good meal. Of course Joe's, or whatever it was called, was open when we returned to the Inn.

That's the end of day 3, our last full day in San Francisco. A lot of driving but not bad as everything was so green.