Homer's Travels: October 2008

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween everyone!

Last year the Wife and I were party poopers and didn't hand out candy.  We were just too tired.  This year ... we're not going to be home.

Tonight we're going to a concert which is going to be a lot of fun.  I have no plans to wear a costume.  I'm not sure about the Wife - she went to work today in her standard Nun costume that she's worn a few times before.  I'm sure I will post about it this weekend.

Not wanting to short change the kiddies, the Wife's neices, RN and KT, are going to be at our house to hand out candy and to take care of Homer.  This will be rewarded with fatials and bread-making camp (i.e. the Wife showing RN and KT how to use their bread machine) tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Strange Findings And The Throwing Of Meat

A few odds and ends.

On my bike ride yesterday, I did not keep a woolly caterpillar count but I did see a few things:
  • A cool, old, rusty, Allis-Chalmers tractor. 
  • A small 12 inch snake sunning itself on the bike trail.
  • A pair of black, lacy, thong underwear, also on the trail (Before you ask, I have no idea).

The other day I saw some sort of bird of prey in the old dead tree behind our house (This picture was taken on a particularly foggy morning).  I mentioned this to the Wife and she said that we were lucky to have the tree as it would attract birds.  When I pointed out that birds, especially birds of prey, didn't seem to like our tree, she said:
"They will when I throw meat in it."
Oookaaay ... you can't argue with that.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I Like The Cold ... Sometimes

The past couple days have been pretty chilly with lows in the 20s and highs in the 40s and low 50s. After experiencing a taste of cold, and having experienced hot this summer, I have decided that I like cold better than hot.

Cold. I love the feeling of chilled air filling your lungs as you inhale the cold morning air. It takes me back to a time when after leaving my college dorm early in the morning, walking to the cafeteria shortly after having showered, I felt the cold air fill my lungs and my hair freeze solid by the time I got there. For some reason that makes me smile.

Cold has an advantage over hot. You can always put on more clothes to keep warm but when you're hot, you can only remove so much clothes before you get arrested.

I took a bike ride this afternoon. The air was chilly but I warmed up after a few miles. I rode under a beautiful blue sky. It seemed I had a headwind no matter which way I was going - the only irritation of the ride. The chill air kept me from sweating. I managed to ride 11.6 miles (I rigged a GPS holder for my bike so now I can give more accurate distance measurements). After the ride, my nose and ears were numb and I just loved the thawing flesh feeling when I got home. It's so much better than the sticky, wet, sweaty feeling of riding on a hot day.  My legs were very wobbly and I nearly fell down the stairs when I went down to the basement.

I'm sure, as winter progresses, especially at 6:20 AM when I'm out in the dark shovelling snow so the Wife can go to work, I may change my opinion, but for now, Cold rules!

Friday, October 24, 2008

This Little Piggy Went ... OW OW OW!!

Yesterday at 6:20 am, after I fed Homer and took him out, I decided to punt the wingback chair down in our basement.  Unlike a football, the wingback chair did not move.  My toe ... well I said some choice words.

Today I went to the doctor for x-rays.  It's not fractured like I thought but I did bruise the bone.

The only thing I've got to say is OW!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Book: Rory Stewart's "The Prince Of The Marshes"

During the lead up to the Iraq war, several members of the Bush administration testified, on the record, that there were no significant ethnic rivalries in Iraq. We have learned better since then and we all know that the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds pretty much hate each other. After my latest read, Rory Stewart's "The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq", it is evident that three groups is an oversimplification.

Rory Stewart worked for the British foreign service and was the deputy governor of two southern provinces of Iraq (Amara and Nasiriyah) and experienced the chaos of the Iraqi provincial politics first hand. His memoir of the year he spent as deputy governor provides an eye opening view of the difficulties of nation building when the nation is splintered into hundreds of political parties, religious sects,and tribes, many with their own militias.

Stewart's analysis, what little there is in the book, is probably as wrong as everyone else's analysis. He doesn't agree with everything that's been done in Iraq. He doesn't seem to have any faith in the Iraqi government while coalition forces are still there and seems to believe they will do better once our forces have been removed and the Iraqis realize that they're on their own. Only time will tell.

I recommend this book but it's not for everybody. The Wife made it about half way through before she lost interest. I, on the other hand, found it interesting, more interesting that Stewart's other book, "The Places In Between" that I read in November 2006, that the Wife enjoyed more than me. I guess I'm more interested in memoirs than travel logs.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thank You For Nice People

I was at Subway yesterday.  I was behind a young couple.  The sandwich dude, who seemed a little inexperienced, accidentally rang up my sandwich with the couple's order.  The woman, catching the error, pointed this out to the sandwich dude.  He was a little flustered by his mistake and didn't know how to take it off her order.  The manager, who had been there a minute ago, was nowhere to be found.  The woman told him that it would take too long to correct the problem and said she would pay for my sandwich.  I was surprised.  I thought she was in a hurry but the couple sat down in the restaurant to eat their lunch.  The manager returned, the dude explained what happened and the manager offered to credit the woman but she refused again.
I paid for my chips and drink and thanked the woman on my way out.  She said no problem and "I should do the same for someone else" as payback.
There are nice people in this world of ours.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bicycle Riding On The Keystone-South Trail

I've been planning to start riding my bike since I moved here.  For one reason or other I have always found a reason not to do it.  First was that it was too hot.  Then it was I couldn't get to the nearby Keystone Trailhead because of the road construction blocking the way.  Well, it's now in the fifties and sixties and the roadwork has been completed.  All reasons excuses have been removed.  At the urging of the Wife, who has been itching to ride as well, we went for our first bike ride Sunday.

Omaha has an impressive trail network .  Eventually all the different trails will be linked up allowing someone with a lot of stamina to ride completely around the city.  The nearest of the trails to where we live is the Keystone-South trail.

We road the 1 mile to the Keystone-South Trailhead and headed south on the trail.  It's an impressive paved trail with 100 meter markers embedded in the concrete along the way.  We road for an hour which meant about 7 miles.  This may seem a little short but we had a 10 - 15 mph headwind for the first half of the ride and it slowed us down considerably.  Considering how sedentary we both have been lately, I feel we did pretty well.

We both returned home with sore behinds and we may have some aching muscles later.  I decided to do something about the bicycle crotch issues and bought myself some bicycle pants with ample padding in the tender areas.  Hopefully this will allow me to ride longer and enjoy it more.

Woolly Caterpillar count, courtesy of the Wife: 27 live ones and uncounted smooshed ones.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Music: Joan Osborne with Matt Morris At The Whiskey Roadhouse

On Saturday the Wife and I went to the Horseshoe Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa to hear one of our favorite singers: Joan Osborne.  To make it even better, it was a free concert.  I couldn't believe this at first.  They charge admission for other concerts but this particular one, the one we were interested in, was free.  Over the past few weeks I kept going back to the website to confirm that yes, it was free.  Cool.
We arrived early planning to eat and possibly gamble before the concert.  We had a good dinner at JB's Cafe before weaving our way through the beep, boop, cling, clang of the slot machines to the Whiskey Roadhouse.  We noticed that a line had started to form so we decided to skip the gambling and got in line (Sorry Mom, I didn't play your money).
They opened the door a half hour later and everyone rushed in to get a good seat.  We'd never been there before and we were a little slow but we managed to get a table about 20 feet from the stage with a clear view.  There are some nice padded benches along the walls that would have been better - next time.
For the next hour and a half we drank, talked, and watched the characters in the crowd.  You had the deadhead in tie-die (Joan Osborne travelled and performed with the Grateful Dead) and the dude in the sky blue suit with alligator panel accents and cowboy hat who for the life of me reminded me of a bad Fred Willard character.
At 8:00, Matt Morris took the stage.  I'd never heard him before.  He was okay.  He had a good singing voice with an impressive range.  He accompanied his singing with a acoustic guitar for most of his songs with a couple done with a keyboard.  While I was impressed by his potential, his music was mediocre in my opinion.  His rendition of the Beatle's "Help" had a very lounge singer feel too it.  It reminded me of Bill Murray's Saturday Night Live lounge singer skits.  The venue didn't help him either.  The Whiskey Roadhouse is a bar and the background chatter, the football games on the big screens, and the sound of the slot machines were not friendly to his acoustic style.  To me, it was very distracting.
Joan Osborne and her band came on at 9:00.  The room was packed with a lot of people standing in the back by the Bar and all the tables full.  She was AWESOME.  She blew me away.  She has this bluesy voice and style that just works.  She preformed songs from her first album, "Relish" and from her new album "Little Wild One".  I was very impressed.  I'd expected a small set from a free concert but she sang for an hour and fifteen minutes and then came out for a fifteen minute encore.  Matt Morris joined her for one duet that worked very well.  The encore was two covers: "Please Don't Tell Me How The Story Ends" (I think but I can't seem to remember for sure - memory is a little foggy) and Motown's "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted".  The band overcame the background chatter with ease and really rock and rolled the joint.
A comment about fans our age.  The Wife asks, why, when dancing, do they look like they're either doing their aerobic routines or are doing P.E. calisthenics?  A mystery.  (We, of course, look cool.)
We both left feeling great.  The concert was much better than we expected and we felt totally entertained and satisfied.  It hit the spot.  I ended up with a T-Shirt and a copy of her new CD.
So, to sum it up:
  • Matt Morris: C+ for good vocals, mediocre song choice, and bad fit for the venue.
  • Joan Osborne: A for great vocals, great song choice, and good fit for the venue.
  • Whiskey Roadhouse: B- for a great intimate venue with too much background chatter.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Senseless Drive By Punkin' Chuckin'

Halloween is approaching and we had our first casualty this morning.
We don't know who the perpetrator was.  The Wife's school foolishly publishes the teacher's addresses and phone numbers so we suspect it may be one of her students.

When will the violence end?  Can't we all just get along with our pumpkin brethren?

Friday, October 17, 2008

A New Tradition: Scrabble Night

The Wife is hosting the first monthly Scrabble night at our place tonight.  She's invited old friends over for a challenging game of scrabble and a whole lot of girl and teacher talk.  Since she has a complete Scrabble quorum (17 points before the bonus squares) and girl and teacher talk frightens me a little, I think I'll retire to the bedroom and curl up with a good book.  I suspect Homer will join me.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

You Know Winter Is Getting Close When ...

You Know Winter Is Getting Close When ... The dog's pee steams. 

We had our first frost this morning. It's starting to feel like winter is approaching. They're predicting a cold dry winter this year and I hope they are wrong about the dry part. I'm really looking forward to the first snow. I want to see how Homer reacts to the falling white stuff. The closest he's come to snow is a brief California hail storm.

This morning he went out to do his business and walked around sniffing the frosty grass. I took a picture ... of the grass, not the business.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Seeking A Routine

When we decided that I would quit my job and we would move back to be near family, I took this as an opportunity to change, and hopefully grow, as a person.  I had grandiose plans to take classes, learn languages, learn how to cook, and do things that were a little out of my comfort zone to improve myself.  Now that we've moved and I've had four months to settle in, all I can do is ask: "What the heck happened?!?"

Since we've moved I've been trying to set up a routine.  I am a creature of routine.  I like predictability with just a touch of surprise to keep things lively.  I haven't achieved that yet.  I had started things, like the push-up program that I've started twice, just to see my will and motivation wane after a couple weeks.  I feel like I'm flailing around which is a little disconcerting.  This has put me firmly in a funk for the past two months.

This is starting to reflect in my posting as my posting frequency has dropped over the last three months.  This strikes me odd as I have so much more free time now than before.  You'd think my problem would be finding things to fill my time but it fact it feels like I have no time.  This, of course, is just an illusion.  My problem is more a lack of get-up and go.  It's so easy to plop myself in front of the TV and surf 100s of channels of junk (last week was dominated by CNN and CNBC - I love watching train wrecks).  To make it worse, Cox just added another six or seven HD channels.

So what am I to do?  I think the first thing to do is turn off the TV.  I need to re-think my plans or lack of plans, get my act together, and remind myself that it's only been four months.  Most importantly, I need to set some goals (a suggestion made by the Wife) and concentrate on achieving them.

Now, what goals ... ???

Monday, October 13, 2008

Me And Cars - Oil And Water

I'm starting to wonder if I shouldn't be driving.  First was the speeding ticket .  Today ... well, nothing disastrous but my heart is still racing a little.

This is what happened.  It's been raining here most of the morning and I was out running errands.  I see the light up ahead turn red and I start to slow down - at least I try to slow down.  I obviously was going too fast for the road conditions and before I knew it the ol' Honda was hydroplaning and the bumper of the pickup in front of me was approaching at warp speed.  I braced myself for impact ... I think my eyes even closed for a second not being able to bear the approaching accident ... and was greatly relieved when the pickup changed lanes.  My guess is our bumpers missed by about 6 inches.  If he hadn't gotten out of my way It would have been crunch city.  My heart is still racing.

Have I learned my lesson yet?  I sure hope so.  I need to get myself out of California-crazy-driver mode and get myself into the slow-mid-west-driver mode.  I will never disparage Minnesota again.  I also need to get a new set of tires as my current ones have no traction on wet pavement and I don't expect them to be any better on snow and ice.  What sucks about that is my tires are only a year old.  They were fine in the dry California climate but here they suck.

Now I just need to slow the ol' ticker down before the Wife gets home and starts giggling again.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Hiking Iowa: Wilson Island State Park

My latest hike took me to Wilson Island State Park.  The park borders the Missouri River and DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge.  The highlights of this park are the Missouri River, a marshy chute, and large stands of cottonwood and dogwood.  Preparing for this hike I printed out a trail map and planned my path.  The limited length of most of the trails meant that I would have to combine some or all of the park's trails.

When I arrived I stopped at the kiosk to confirm my printed map with the one on display.  Confirming that they matched, I looked for trailheads.  Remarkably there was no parking near the two trailheads near the entrance.  After driving deeper into the park following the map and not finding trailhead parking, I found a place to park at a boat ramp that was near one of the trails.

I got my gear ready and walked over to check out the short dock next to the boat ramp.  As I approached a dozen or more frogs scrambled into the water.  I walked out on the dock and inspected the chute.  Unlike Boyer Chute, this chute has not been reconnected to the Missouri River.  This makes the chute look more like a boggy marsh dominated by water plants and lily pads.

I started north on the Chute trail, the longest trail in the park.  Like it's name suggests, this trail follows the western edge of the chute.  The trail is a wide grassy trail through tall trees and shorter bushes and dogwood. Some of the smaller trees were starting to change into fall colors.

The trail curves to the west and comes out close to the kiosk and park office.  I crossed the road and found the trailhead to the Mushroom trail.  This trail parallels the road and is flanked by more tall trees on both sides.  I came across the carcass of a small mole laying in the middle of the trail.  I poked it with my walking staff.  The Wife thinks that's so 10 year old.  She might be right.

The Mushroom trail exits into the campgrounds.  There were several RVs/Campers in the grounds but I didn't see anyone around.  I walked along the road to another boat ramp on the Missouri river.

From here I started on the Riverside trail.  The trail is flanked by trees and meadows on one side and the Missouri river on the other.  This part of the hike was a little noisy as there was an open gravel pit on the other side of the river.  The sound of large dump trucks and machinery drowned out most of the sound of nature.

I reached a small parking area and waved at a fisherman loading his fishing gear into his pickup.  I left the trail here and followed a road north until I reach a connector trail that lead to the Dogwood trail.  I followed this trail back to the campground.  There were numbered posts along this trail.  Unfortunately I didn't have a key. At the campground there was a box near the trailhead but it was empty.  This always seems to be the case.  Parks always seem to have trouble keeping trail maps and guides stocked.

I walked a short distance and followed another connector trail to the White-Tail trail.  I followed this loop around through trees and brush filled meadows until it reached the road.

Across the road the trail became the Chute trail once again and I followed it back south before turning north again along the chute before reaching the boat ramp and my car.

The hike was relatively flat and provided an easy but attractive series of trails.  The trails might be very interesting when the dogwood is blooming in the spring.

Pictures can be found here .  Total distance was 5.46 miles with an elevation change of 388 feet.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

McCaptain And Mr. Spobama

I like Star Trek and I like politics, but this is going where no man should ever go.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Walking, Talking, And Meat

To celebrate the Wife's birthday (It's today! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!) we drove up to Minneapolis and had some fun with the Best Man (BM), Matron of Honor (MoH), GodSon (GS), and the Altar Boy (AB).  The Altar Boy's wife was there as well but I don't have a witty pseudonym for her (All you out there who know her, suggest a pseudonym in the comments).

We drove up Friday evening - one of the longest 6 hour drives I've ever driven.  I really don't like driving in the dark.  It feels like you aren't making progress.  With the Wife's permission I drove 5 over the limit most of the way which still kind of felt slow.  I think I irritated her the entire way since I was having a bad allergy attack and I was sniffling and snorting all the way.  We got to the BM and MoH's just after midnight and we talked for another two hours before we decided that we needed sleep.

After a good five hours of sleep we got up and tried to make plans for the day.  The group was going to split up with the lady-folk going to get their faces rubbed (i.e. facials) while the men-folk were heading down to the Mississippi River to walk some trails.

The walk along the Mississippi was relaxing.  There are some pretty good walking and biking trails on both sides of the river.  The river runs in a shallow gorge so most of the surrounding buildings, old mills, condos, and museums, are a bit higher than the river.  This makes the place quite interesting.  The Missouri trough Omaha is flat and rather ordinary.  We did a 3 mile loop that took us by the locks and dams and several historic mill buildings.

By the time we got back to the car, the woman-folk had finished their facials and we arranged to meet them at the Happy Gnome for lunch.  This is one of the BM and MoH's favorite places for brunch and beer.  I have to say that the brunch was pretty good. The only downside was the late arrival of the hash brown truck  resulting in the substitution of breakfast potatoes and the lack of some of the desired beers.  Even with these shortages, we ended up quite satisfied.  In case you didn't know, the Happy Gnome is located at the Center Of The Universe so now I can say I've been at the center of the world and center of the Universe.

Since we were planning on a large dinner, we had to walk off the brunch so we did a walking tour of F. Scott Fitzgerald's various homes in the area.  While I didn't know much about F. Scott Fitzgerald, the tour was interesting taking you past some really cool looking old homes, gardens, and hotels.  Well worth it.

The walking tour was followed by a tour of the GS' new man cave.  This one actually has a bedroom with a door.  The Wife is proud that her GodSon has finally got a grownup apartment.  We all sat down, a few of us plopped down on the floor, imbibed some beverages, and relaxed a bit.  The guy-folk had already walked some 5 miles now and I, for one, was pretty wiped.  It's a nice apartment - good job GS.

Not wanting to leave out the AB, we piled back into the cars and went to the AB's school to see where he teaches.  He teaches English at an all boys military academy.  Very nice place. 

After the school tour, it was time for the birthday pièce de résistance: Meat.  We all converged on Gasthof zur Gemutlichkeit , an awesome German restaurant.  This place, frankly, is beyond belief.  The decor, the waitress clothing, the wandering accordion players, the food - totally German.  We started, of course, with a round of beers - served in 1 liter mugs.  The Wife needed both hands to lift it.  (My pathetic diet coke was in a half liter girlie-man mug.)  The MoH then ordered three platters full of every form of schnitzel and breaded meat product on the planet.  The seven of us managed to empty about 2 1/2  of the huge platters.  I was feeling like a schnitzel myself but it was soooo good.  Meat ... Meat ... Meat ... Beer.  Along with the meat, beer, and shots of German stuff, at your request the waitress would use a spring loaded teeter tooter kind of thing to shoot snuff up you nose.  While I didn't partake, several of our party did.  They all blew black snot for awhile (UGH!).

One of the wondering accordion players was called over and we all sang the family song - the schnitzelbank -  before he went into a long 10 minute rendition of personalized birthday songs for the Wife.  It was fun.

After finishing our food and beer, we went out to the huge tents out in the parking lot to drink more beer and talk loudly over the polka music.  The place was incredibly crowded.  We were jostled constantly as we formed a tight circle to talk and drink.  We were joined by the MoH's brother.  We had planned our own little beer game - everyone drank when they got her brother to say Maverick (It's a McCain-Palin joke).  They must of thought we were crazy talking about top gun, western TV shows, and other Maverick related stuff.  The MoH's brother caught on pretty quick so a lot of beer was consumed.

By the end of the night my feet and legs, with all the walking and the standing in the tent, were starting to ache.  We piled into the cars one more time and converged at the BM and Moh's condo for some more talking, drinking, and fun.

That was one of the fullest Saturdays I've had in a long time. I'm sure I left all sorts of things out of this post.  I'm also sure I'll be reminded about it by someone.

We slept in a little on Sunday.  We woke up to pouring rain.  We ate some light breakfast - No Meat Please - before we said our goodbyes and drove home.  The drive was better during the light of the day.  The leaves in Minnesota are starting to turn - the dark green trees are getting frosted in gold, orange, and red.

I've been really bla for the past few weeks (months ??) and, even though this weekend was the Wife's, it help my mood tremendously.   We had a great time spent with great people.  Can't wait for Thanksgiving when even more of the family gets together.

Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit, der gemütlichkeit
Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit, der gemütlichkeit
Eins, zwei, Drei gesoffe!
Zicke! zacke! zicke! zacke! hoi! hoi! hoi!
Zicke! zacke! zicke! zacke! hoi! hoi! hoi!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Checking Out The Bridge

Thursday is usually my hiking day but I decided to skip it.  I'm not sure that was a smart thing since I only have six or seven weeks of hiking weather left before it starts getting colder.  Instead of hiking I mowed the backyard and went downtown to check out the pedestrian bridge that opened a week or so ago.

The bridge is pretty impressive.  The span snakes its way across the Missouri River in a large 'S'.  It's wide enough for bikes though the number of people walking across made it a little hazardous.  One couple crossed on skates which looked really fun.  Makes me wish that I knew how to skate.

I started across the bridge and was surprised to feel the bridge move under my feet.  The concrete bridge shifts around as people walk on it.  I assume this is to allow the bridge to expand and contract with the weather.  It would also make it more resistant to the wind I would think though I wouldn't want to be on the bridge during the hurricane force winds we had last June - what a ride that would be.

I took some pictures of the bridge.

I reached the Iowa side and saw that the bridge connects to a trail system that went both north and south.  Most of these trails seem more bicycle oriented than hiking.  I'll have to bring my bike to ride over the bridge and onto these trails.

I started back to the Nebraska side and came upon an older woman with a funny look on her face.  She looked at me and asked: "Is the bridge moving or is it just me?"  I assured her that it was the bridge.  We talked as we walked over the bridge talking about the bicycle hazards, the landscaping being done on the Nebraska side, and the lack of benches to sit on.  We said our goodbyes and I continued up the Riverwalk trail.

The trail continues north.  I turned at Miller's Landing and headed back to the old market area where I'd parked my car.  I'm guessing I walked around 4 1/2 miles.  I feel like I've walked the downtown area a lot in the last few weeks.

On the way home I took a picture of Saint Cecilia Cathedral .