Thursday, February 25, 2010

Happy Birthday To ...Me???

Everyone does it.  The become curious.  They wonder.  You know, they Google themselves.  Now a days you almost have to to be sure that no ones talking smack about you.  I set up some RSS feeds, using Google Alerts, searching for Homer's Travels, Homer-Dog, and my Real-World name to keep tabs on myself.  Apparently, I'm living in or near North Platte, NE (about 250 miles due west of where I live).

You see, I've got this doppelganger living out in western Nebraska.  He's married - he was listed in someone's obituary as a spouse.  I suspect he's older than me.  He appears to be a presbyterian.  The latest info is his birth date - February 21 (It was listed in the church newsletter).

Someday I should drive out there, find myself, and say hi!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Homer 05/01/1999 - 02/20/2010

Saturday evening Homer, our yellow lab, our ever loyal companion, was euthanized.  The back injury that he suffered only three weeks earlier had progressed to the point that he could hardly stand on his own. Saturday night, when we took him out to do his business, he collapsed while squatting (He was male but he always squated while in our yard).  After the Wife got him back on his feet, he took a couple steps before his front legs gave out and he face planted  in the snow.  It was the saddest thing I'd ever seen.  After the Wife talked to a veterinarian friend (The Loon Whisperer's husband) who was brutally honest - exactly what we needed at the time - we took Homer to the Emergency Animal Clinic and, after saying our goodbyes, he was peaceful sent on his way.

We picked up Homer in 1999.  He was my third dog and the Wife's first.  We got him at a breeder who specialized in Labrador Retrievers.  The litter was 5 or 6 males and a female if I remember right.  We had the pick of the litter.  We went there a few weeks after he was born.  The litter poured out of the dog house to check us out.  As we played with the puppies, one after the other, the puppies would break off and head back into the dog house.  Eventually only one was left.  That was our Homer.

We would check with the breeder every week or so to check on his progress and to arrange a time for us to pick him up.  The breeder told my Wife that Homer "had a lot of character."  We wondered what that meant and the breeder said that he looked at you when you talked to him.  After we'd had him for a while I think we learned what "a lot of character" was.  It's what made Homer special.

Homer grew up fast, like most dogs do.  He was 16 pounds when we brought him home in early July.  By September he was over 40 pounds.  He eventually maxed out in the 80s.  I remember laying on the floor with Homer on one side of me and a toy on the other and poor Homer could not manage to climb over me.  He was so tiny.

We had him sleep in our guest bathroom.  He had a dog pillow and, if he had an accident, it wouldn't be hard to clean up. (He never did ).  The first night we'd just turned of the light and, after whining a bit he calmed down.  A few minutes later we heard a Boing-Boing sound coming from the bathroom.  Homer had found the spring door stop and was pulling at it.  When we had our first guests stay over we needed to find a place for Homer.  The first night we took him into our bedroom, he jumped up on the bed, and, like the perfect dog that he was, laid down and fell asleep.  He slept with us in our bed from that point on.

Homer was a fast learner - faster than we were I think.  He learned tricks quickly.  He learned to behave like the perfect dog at obedience school and like a crazy child when he was home.  He learned what a treat was and, soon after that, how to spell T-R-E-A-T.  We spoiled him with toys and he learned the name of every one.  We often entertained guests having Homer go to his basket and bringing any toy we asked for.

Labs are social animals and Homer was a prime example of this.  He was always with you as you walked around the house.  If you went to another room, Homer would follow.  You were never alone with Homer in the house.  He also was very fair trying to split his time between the Wife and me.  At times he would find the spot in the house that was half way between us and that's where he would lay down.

The Wife was the prime motivator behind us getting Homer.  I wasn't sure.  I thought he might tie us down.  Of course, after we got Homer he latched on to me (and I latched on to him).  While he was fair most of the time, I was the one he look up to, so to speak.  Many times the Wife would ask Homer something and Homer would look at me as if I had asked the question.  It was so blatant that it was almost funny but I'm sure it was frustrating to the Wife.

Homer was a loyal companion.  He took the move to Omaha in stride.  He was unsure for the first few months but he soon got used to his new home.  He saw his first snow.  To our surprise it didn't phase him at all.  This was amazing when you think of all the things he was weird about.  He would leave the room when we started playing a DVD and would inevitably return when the credits were rolling.  He didn't like the fireplace because of the tick tick ticking sound the expanding firebox made as it heated up and cooled down.  He was wary of the dogs that lived in our kitchen - he saw his reflection in the front of the stove and dishwasher.  He didn't like tile/hardwood floors.  He would move from carpet to rug, often taking the long way around to avoid the tile floor.  We often called him a freak but eccentric would have been a better description.

Everything went well until about a month ago.  I won't talk about what happened as I've already mentioned it in a couple of posts here and here.  What we had to do on Saturday night was the hardest thing we've ever had to do but it was also the most right.  Since then I have gone through the whole gamut of emotions.  Guilt: I should have walked him more.  I should have played with him more.  We should never had let him sleep on our bed.  It goes on and on in my head.  Happy: when I think of the good times we had.  I laugh when I remember how he would come up behind you and stick his head between your legs with his ball.  I smile remembering how, even as an old dog, he would pounce on his ball like a puppy.  Sad: I cry as I catch myself expecting to see Homer behind me.  I look around the room, a room eerily quiet without the sound of his jingling tags, and I imagine where he would be if he was still with us.  It's amazing how much space a dog takes up - you don't notice it until he is gone and the house suddenly becomes empty and hollow.

People, with good intentions, have suggested we should get another dog.  I don't think I'm ready for that yet.  Maybe in a year or two I might think differently, but not now.  For now I just want to keep him in my memories.  

I have uploaded some pictures to my 2000-2010 Homer Google Photos album.  I didn't have very many pictures of Homer because he would always bark when you covered your face.  Not sure how he learned that habit.

Unfortunately, this post doesn't do Homer justice.  I just don't have the words.

I often listen to music when I draft posts.  The first song that came up on shuffle play when I started this post made the drafting a little more difficult and brought some tears to my eyes.  It was "When I'm Gone" by 3 Doors Down.  I think the chorus of that song is the best way to end this post:

So hold me when I'm here
Right me when I'm wrong
Hold me when I'm scared
And love me when I'm gone
Everything I am
And everything in me
Wants to be the one
You wanted me to be
I'll never let you down
Even if I could
I'd give up everything
If only for your good
So hold me when I'm here
Right me when I'm wrong
You can hold me when I'm scared
You won't always be there
So love me when I'm gone


May 1, 1999 - February 20, 2010

Homer

aka Homer-Dog, Pokey, Pokey-Dog, Monkey, Monkey-Dog, Sweety, Sweety-puss
He answered to them all.

He will be missed.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

40 ... 633 ... 870 ... 10:39 Flat

Note:  I should be posting about something that happened Saturday night.  It's importance in my life should make it the subject of this post.  I can't do it though.  I'm not quite ready to do it.  I'm sure I will put something together later this week.  Possibly soon.  Maybe not.  Instead, I will be posting about an event earlier in the day.  I drafted this before things happened.

Today I trekked of the First National Tower, the tall building in this picture, the "tallest building between Chicago and Denver."  I arrived an half hour early and, despite all the warnings about not getting there before your allotted time, was able to register, get my race number (#650), get my chipped wrist band, check my coat, and get in line a full fifteen minutes before I was even supposed to show up.

You swipe your armband to confirm the information then, when they give you the go ahead, you swipe it again and start up the stairs.  Racers are spaced out every 30 seconds or so.  The stairs were fairly narrow allowing just enough room for two people to pass side by side.  The rise of the stairs felt low to me so I started taking two steps at a time knowing that I would never be able to maintain that pace.  Sure enough, after a couple floors I slowed down to one step at a time.

There were water stations on floors 10, 20, 30, and 35.  I skipped the first one but hit every one after that.  This slowed me down a little but it gave me an opportunity to rest.  I passed a few people.  A few people passed me.  Volunteers on every floor kept saying "you're almost there."  They all lied except for the last three or four.  I felt a lot better than I'd expected to feel when I got to the top.
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On the 40th floor, 633 feet up, after climbing 870 steps, I reached the top, swiped my chip, accepted the commemorative towel, medal, and bottle of water.  I walked around cooling off and taking in the view out the big windows.

Eventually I took the elevator down and found the free swag bag table and picked up a free t-shirt and swag.  The free food, furnished by Whole Foods, was a little too health nut for my taste - granola, berries, that kind of stuff.  I ended up with a nasty fruit drink and a banana.  It was a good banana.

My official results, pathetic as they are:
Time:   10:39 
Overall Place: 672 of 1126   
Place in Gender: 416 of 524    
Place in Age Division: 97 of 124      
This was my very first, non-school related, athletic event.  It was easier than I was anticipating.  I enjoyed myself and I will probably do it again next year to see if I can beat my time and move up a little in the rankings.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

"What's The Score?"

This week has been a little tough.  I've been fighting a persistent bug, the Wife stabbed her hand with a large screwdriver (It looks bad but it's getting better), and poor Homer, his back end problems are not getting better ... if anything they're getting worse.  The poor guy's hobbling around like an invalid.  Every time I look at him I feel so sad and helpless.  So to combat this potential emotional collapse, I've been looking for things to make me laugh.

I came across something that reminded me of something that happened early in our marriage.  The Wife had a habit of talking in her sleep, a habit that has diminished greatly over the years.  Either that or I'm just sleeping through it now.  Soon after we were married, in the middle of the night, the Wife turned to me and asked me: "What's the score?"  While I was awake, I was trying to sleep so I ignored her.  She would have nothing of it and pushed me and asked again more adamantly: "What's the score?"  Trying to placate her I said something like: "20 to 13."  This inevitably provoked the follow on question: "Who's winning?"  Knowing that the Wife is an hard core Notre Dame fan, I naturally answered "Notre Dame."  In a whiny voice she responded "But they're not playing!"  What's a guy to do?

A year or so later, I feel a shove and the Wife saying: "Honey!"  I tried to ignore her.  "Scratch my back!" she says.  I ignore her some more.  She shoves me some more, more violently, and says: "Honey, scratch my back!"  Trying to remember why I married her, I turned over and started to scratch her back.  Next thing I know, she turns her head and asks: "What are you doing?"  All the shoving and asking ... she was asleep the whole time.

As I said, over the years she talks less and less in her sleep, or I'm sleeping deeper and deeper, either way the only thing I've heard her say lately is "Pencils Down!"  Even in her sleep she's teaching.

So, what reminded me of all this sleep talking?  This website:


You may have already heard about this guy.  I'm a little slow at finding things some times.  He talks in his sleep so much that his wife set up a voice activated recorded and she posts what he says on her blog.

Funny Stuff.  Hopefully it will lift my spirits.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Fever, In The Morning, Fever All Through The Night ...

The Wife's been fighting a bug for the last week or so.  She finally beat it and I thought I might get a pass but ... last night while I was watching the Olympic opening ceremonies I started feeling weird ... weirder than usual that is.

This morning I felt a little better so we went out for breakfast (Amato's - pretty good and featured on Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives) and a little antiquing but that was enough for me.  I got home and plopped myself down on the couch, turned on the Olympic coverage, and, feeling miserable, zoned out most of the afternoon.  I got up to check my temperature ... 101°F ... a little high.

I'll have to take care of myself since I'll be trekking up the tower in a week.  I may have to dope up with some Emergen-C.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Hiking Iowa: Wabash Trace Nature Trail - Council Bluffs to Mineola ...Almost

Thursday was another first for me as far as I can remember.  I set out to walk the Wabash Trace between Council Bluffs to Mineola, a 20 mile hike.  Since I managed to do over 20 miles on my last walk, I figured a 20 mile hike on the relatively flat Wabash Trace would be eminently doable.  Unfortunately I overestimated myself and for the first time that I can remember I did not meet a hiking goal.

The hike started off well.  I left from the same point where I had snowshoed a while back.  A mile or so up the trail I started to suspect that I'd missed something.  The trail seemed a lot tougher than I remembered or expected.  Out of curiosity I looked at the GPS elevation plot and, sure enough, the trace was going up in elevation.  The change was relatively small and I figured that it shouldn't be slowing me down so much.

The next thing I wondered about was the fact that I was hiking on snow.  I'd dismissed this as a problem as the snow was hard packed and, thanks to the thawing and freezing we've had lately, hard as ... well, ice.  I was sinking in no more than a half inch and, in most cases, not sinking in at all.  Walking on this hard snow surface couldn't be slowing me down, could it?

To psych myself I set some short term goals, namely, geocaches along the trace.  The first was about three or four miles from the trailhead, a good first goal.  I reached it and, after a brief search, found it (Wabash Autocache).  After the successful find I got a second wind so I headed for the next geocache that was another two or three miles farther ahead.  I reached it and, once again, found it (Farmerrick's Wabash #1).

At this point I looked at my watch (it was noon) and took inventory of my body (I was in major needed of damage control).  I decided the three miles to Mineola, and the six miles it would add to the round trip, were not realistic. I ate a snack bar and head back the way I came.

Though I didn't reach my intended target, I did see some interesting landscape along the way.  The trace passes through the loess hills and parts of the trail are flanked by tall, tree covered embankments twenty to forty foot tall.  It must be magnificent in the summer when the trees are leafed out.  I passed through the location of the town of Dumfries, a town that came into existence because of the railroad and faded away once the train had left, leaving only a plaque on a marker.  Near Dumfries is a small park where bikers gather.  The park is decked out with bike racks, picnic tables, and cheesy plastic tiki torches.  Judging from some of the team stickers, most of the bikers are adolescent boys (I'm especially impressed by Team Horny and Team Pound-It).

The sad thing was, I didn't notice some of the sights until after I was on the way back.  I guess I was plodding along looking at my feet and I was forgetting to look up at the beauty around me.

The six plus miles back to the trailhead and the car were shear hell.  I have rarely felt so whipped.  My legs were like noodles, my back was aching (something that happens when I'm on long hikes - even without a backpack), and more telling, my knees were aching.  I began to realize that the snow was not as stable a surface as I'd thought and the muscles and joint in my knees were working overtime to keep myself steady.  I decided that it was like walking on the beach.  Walking on the beach always seems harder than it should be and the snow covered trail felt similar.  I think it was the snow, and not the elevation change, that was kicking my butt.  The total hike was around 13.69 miles.  The elevation change was not really that impressive, 200 to 300 feet. There were times I asked myself why I was putting myself through this pain and torture.  All I can say is that I see the  beauty in the world around us when I'm hiking (and remember to look up) and the sense of achievement when I do reach my goal always lifts my spirits.  You can't win them all but there will always be next time.

I added a few more pictures to my 2009-2013 Wabash Trace Nature Trail Hike Google Photos album.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Homer Update

Homer went to the vet today.  He usually jumps into the car but I had to get him some help to get him in the back seat.  He stumbled on his way out.  His rear end just doesn't seem very coordinated anymore.

Nothing much to report.  The vet agrees that it may be a pulled/strained muscle in his lower back and thinks there may be some arthritis doing its dirty work in there as well.  He pumped him full of cortisone to help reduce inflammation and we have some pills to give him.  He seems a little more spry already but the trip to the vet, like most trips in the car, tired him out.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Our Bed Feels Empty

A week ago Homer slipped when he jumped off the bed.  Our bed is a rather high affair and his paws have little traction on the wood floor in the bedroom.  Ever since the poor guy has been gimpy, gimpier than he usually is, that is.  He doesn't wince when you touch him but you can tell he's sore.  I suspect he pulled or sprained something during his slip up ... maybe his back.

He takes a while to stand up, he doesn't play with his ball as much, and, to top it off, he will not jump up on the bed.  For a few nights I lifted him up onto the bed but, frankly, it's not easy to lift an 85lb dog and after a few days of this my back was starting to ache and I was getting a little gimpy myself.

Yesterday I went and bought him a big pillow to sleep on.  We put it on the floor near the bed where he could see me.  He was a little hesitant.  He looked at me with a "why aren't you picking me up" look on his face.  You can tell he want to be close to us on our bed.  He's been sleeping on our bed for 10 - 11 years.  He eventually acquiesced and slept the rest of the night on the pillow.

If this continues then it's off to the veterinarian next week.  I did see him stretch his back yesterday, something he hadn't done for several days.  I hope this is a sign he's getting better.  Today he's still gimpy as ever though.

Homer, in better days.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Laughter Therapy

A few months back I posted about finishing all my The American Life podcast episodes.  Since then I've been searching for suitable substitutes.  I listen to podcasts while I clean the house and do chores so I needed something interesting but not too interesting to distract me from my chores.  I can multi-task but, as everyone knows, multi-tasking is doing several things poorly at the same time, at least it is for me.

I ended up going to the NPR website in search of new podcasts.  I'm a fan of NPR and I thought I'd find something that would interest me and fit the bill.  I came up with the following:
  • On The Media discusses ... the media naturally.  I like the interviews and their topics interest me.  It feeds into my News-Junky tendencies.
  • Radio Lab, recommended to me by the Altar Boy, covers interesting subjects with a somewhat scientific bent.  I like Robert Krulwich's style and the subjects are interesting and their treatment is similar to This American Life.
  • Think includes interviews of authors and lecturers about various subjects.  The interviews can be a little flat and lack a little in the style department but the subject are varied and often interesting.  I don't listen to this while I'm cleaning but I do load them in my MP3 player to help cut the monotony when I'm doing city Walkabouts.  One note though, on those long walks, make sure you have spare batteries.  During my last walk the battery died three hours before I got home - D'oh!
  • This American Life is, of course, still around and I often listen to at least one new episode each week.
  • Planet Money podcast covers economic issues with a very human perspective and in an approachable way.  The podcast is too short for chores, being in the 15 to 25 minutes range, but I do listen to it when I just need a short, relaxing listen.  Yep, listening to stuff about the economy is relaxing to me.  Weird, I know.
  • Eclectic Mix and Morning Becomes Eclectic, a couple of music podcasts, which I usually listen to when I need to relax and take a nap.
  • And my guilty pleasure, and what inspired the title of this post, Car Talk.  The hosts, Tom and Ray, are a bunch of chuckle-heads and, while I really have no interest in cars, just listening to them laughing and chuckling makes me smile and lifts my spirits.  Car Talk is my laughter therapy.
If any of you have podcasts you think I'd like, pass them along in the comments.  I'll check them out if I can find the time.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Ice, Kites, Polygamy, Gay Marriage, And So Much More

What makes a great weekend?  For me it's visiting with family, seeing new sights, eating and drinking way too much, and discussing gay marriage, polygamy, abortion, and the Apple iPad.

Last Friday we picked up the Wife's brother and his wife (TE and JA) on the way to Minneapolis/Saint Paul to visit the Matron of Honor (MoH) and Best Man (BM) and to check out the Saint Paul Winter Carnival.  The drive seemed longer than usual but we had good company in the car and we nearly solved all the family problems by the time we'd reached Minneapolis.

The MoH had our Saturday planned out for us starting with iceboat racing and kite flying on Lake Phalen.  This marked a couple firsts for me: first time on a frozen lake and first iceboat race.  Walking on the frozen lake was a little eerie.  Every now and then you would step on a bubble and you would hear the cracking and crunching of breaking ice - a cringe inducing sound when you are over frigid water (it was 13°F on Saturday).  It didn't really matter that people had driven cars and pickups out on the ice, it still creeped me out a little.

TE, a kite flyer despite the taunting he gets from his wife and kids, brought his kite and joined the other kite flyers out on the ice while we waited for the iceboats to get going.  The breeze was light which was good and bad - good for us that we didn't freeze and bad for the kites and iceboats.

The iceboats finally got going.  It wasn't much of a race, more like a bunch of guys having fun.  You could tell who had experience as they whizzed by the slow pokes who had to push their rigs.  After watching them go around the circuit a couple of times we decided to go in search of food.

We ended up in a German restaurant, the Glockenspiel.  We were joined by the Altar Boy, the GodSon, and the GodSon's fiancĂ©e (I need a nickname for her).  Food and drink was consumed in mass quantities before we headed for the next stop on out winter carnival tour - the vintage baseball game.  Unfortunately we arrived at the ball field right as the game was ending.  For future reference vintage baseball games last 90 minutes and meals at the Glockenspiel last at least two hours.

We then headed to the next event - the ice sculptures at Rice Park.  Some of the  sculptures were pretty amazing and intricately detailed.  The ice sculptures were followed by picking up some dessert to go and heading back to the MoH and BM's place.  It's amazing how walking around in the cold and driving all around really sucks the energy out of you.  We decided the parade and fireworks would have to wait for some other year.

The rest of the evening was occupied with eating dessert, ordering in some Italian food, and talking about abortion rights, gay marriage, polygamy, and the most contentious of all subjects, the merits or lack there of, of the Apple iPad.  To make it worse, when we stripped our layers of clothes when we came in from the cold, I ended up in blue jeans and long sleeved black base layer shirt which made me look like Steve Jobs (I think he's the Anti-Christ by the way).  Believe me, if I were Steve Jobs I wouldn't have called it an iPad and I wouldn't have made it so sucky.

The weekend was way too short.  Even staying up to 2:30AM shooting the sh!t didn't make it long enough.  The weekend did return some sanity to the Wife and I.  We'd been housebound for far too long and getting out of Omaha was exactly what we needed.  Thank you to the MoH and BM for having us and for TE and JA for joining us.  It was exactly what we needed.

Pictures of the iceboats, kites, and ice sculptures can be found here.  Pictures of all us crazy people can be seen on my Facebook page if you are my friend.