Homer's Travels: February 2011

Monday, February 28, 2011

Camino De Santiago: February Update

Another month has passed and the Camino is getting inexorably closer.

Over the past few weeks I've accumulated a few of the smaller items I'll need for the Camino.  I found a lightweight sleeping bag liner to use as a hostel/albergue sheet/blanket/sleeping bag.  I found a first aid kit in a waterproof pouch which I augmented with some extra moleskin.  I'm thinking waterproof may be a key thing as the first two weeks of my trek will be during the tail end of the rainy season in Spain.  I bought a high absorption, quick drying camp towel.    I decided to supplement my pack rain cover with a dry sack that I'll use as inside-the-pack protection.  The dry sack will hold clothes, sleeping bag liner, and towel.  Finally, I bought the critical New Balance 978 walking shoes.  I wore them a couple days last week to confirm fit and I will start wearing them everyday around mid-April to thoroughly break them in before the Camino.  They are practically identical to my 977s and should, with my custom orthotics, provide my feet the necessary protection for a 481 mile walk.

I still have a few things to buy.  When it comes to shopping I can be a little obsessive with 'the best' and especially with price.  I get so obsessed with saving that last buck that I probably spend several months worth of life in a few hours trying to digest all the conflicting numbers.  It always end in the same way.  I throw up my hands, sometimes figuratively and sometimes literally, and just buy the next one I see, damn the price.  I then invariably discover a cheaper one within twenty-four hours.

The one thing I am finding hard to find, of all things, is a neck wallet.  I've decided that the best way to carry my passport, money, and other important documents would be in a pouch around my neck under my shirt.  I've spent a couple weeks looking for one that is water proof.  You would think that would be easy but it really isn't. A few pouches made for divers/swimmers exist but they're just cheesy plastic bags that probably wouldn't feel that great against my chest.  Anything that seems functional and that would feel comfortable are not waterproof though some are water resistant.  A guy at a local backpacker's shop suggested augmenting the standard neck wallet with a plastic baggy i.e. put my passport and important paper in a Ziploc® bag inside of the neck wallet.  While this seems like a sub par solution it may be my only option.

All this preparation is finally getting to me.  As time grows shorter I'm starting to get that stressed feeling of anticipation.  I used to get this feeling when I used to go to new sites for my old job.  I would spend days, if not weeks, running things through my head.  Who would I have to meet?  Where would I meet them?  What did I need to do the job?  What could go wrong?  That last one drove me crazy.  It still does.  The Camino scenarios are starting to run through my head.  They're starting to keep me up at night.  One strange thing is these thoughts have me paralyzed when it comes to preparing myself for the walk.  I haven't gone for a walk or a hike for ... a month and a half?!?  What am I doing!?!

I guess I'm freaking out a bit.  I just have to remember that when I went to those new work sites, after freaking out for weeks before, I always got the job done satisfactorily.  The Camino will be no different.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Time For A Name Change

When I started Homer's Travels back in 2006 (!!!!) I decide to post anonymously.  Since I'd named the blog after our dog, Homer, I decided to use his name as my nom de plume.  I was a little paranoid about posting my name out there in the ether and I wasn't sure who would be reading my blabbering.

Over the years my hidden identity became more and more transparent.  The coup de grĂ¢ce to my disguise was my joining Facebook just over two years ago.  It didn't take me long to put a link to Homer's Travels on my Facebook profile.  I guess that's when I decided that privacy, the little we have online, doesn't really exist.  (If you don't believe me, go to Spokeo and type in your name)

Almost everyone who reads Homer's Travels regularly are either family, friends, or internet friends who know who I am.  I have met some of my internet friends in person ... I guess that means I could drop the internet adjective.  Anyway, the point is most of my friends and family know my real name.

A year and a day ago, the real Homer-Dog passed away.  I kept posting in his name as sort of a memorial, but it's time to move on.  As of this post I will be posting under my real name (I will still keep other people's names out of the blog).  Homer's name will live on in the blog title and a few other places out there in the intertubes.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

High And Low ... Brow

Saturday was a mix of high brow and low brow entertainment.

High Brow

The Wife introduced her new school to Poetry Out Loud.  She worked on it at her last two schools and had one of her students go to nationals last year.  Saturday were the regionals.  Frankly , the Wife was a bundle of nerves Saturday morning worrying about that afternoon's competition.  One of her students was participating. She was a little shy, not used to doing these kind of public recitations.  I know, at her age, I wouldn't have been able to do what she was doing.

She arrived a little late - drove the Wife a little crazy waiting for her.  The competition consists of two rounds of  poetry recitation.  The recitation is graded for several attributes by area poets and literary luminaries.  The student did pretty good.  The top five of the eleven schools participating in our region moved on to state.  She was one of the five.  Her name was announced last which just added to the nerve rackification.  She now will compete at the state competition where one reciter will win and go to nationals.  Winning nationals will get you $50,000 in prizes.  Very cool.

The cookies they served between rounds were pretty good too.

Low Brow

After our triumphant Saturday afternoon, we picked up some good friends and went to see the season opening bout of the Omaha Roller Girls (ORG).  Roller derby is one of those guilty pleasures.  This season the ORG moved to a larger venue in Council Bluffs, IA (The Mid-America Center).  Their old venue, SkateDaze, was way too small and recently they had to turn away fans.  Last night they sold out the Mid-America Center selling 3,200 tickets.  We got there early and got great seats.  Turns out the ladies sitting in front of us were scouting out the competition.  They would be racing against ORG in three weeks.  Any of the three ladies could have whipped out a$$es ... with one tattooed arm tied behind their backs.  They were fun.

Along with the change of venue, they changed their format a bit.  Last year there were two bouts per month, one by the ORG AAA team and one by the ORG All Stars.  The new format combines both bouts on the same day.  The first bout was the AAA team and ... well they didn't do so well against the Lincoln AAA team.  The All Stars were a completely different story.  We ended up leaving at half-time when the score was 154 to 10.  ORG was kicking butt.  The final score was ORG 226, Fox City Foxz (from Appleton, WI) 42.

During half time they have raffle drawings.  Our friend Ga turned out to be a winner.  He won four tickets for ORG's next home bout in April.  He gave us two of the tickets.  Thank You!!!  I'm starting to wonder if we're lucky.  The last group of friends who went to the derby with us won one of the raffles as well.

In a few weeks we get to repeat this all over again.  We will be down in Lincoln for the Poetry Out Loud State competition and, it turns out, ORG will be playing their first away game in Lincoln on the same day.  We haven't decided if we will go to the derby but, for now, it is in the plans.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Missed Her... Again

The Wife and I have liked Jenny Lewis ever since we first saw her at the Revenge of the Book Eaters.  After hearing her I went out an purchased her solo album ("Rabbit Fur Coat") and the lastest Rilo Kiley album at the time ("More Adventurous").  I really fell in love with her/their music.  I've since bought all the Rilo Kiley albums, Jenny's second solo album, and I saw her again one more time, this time part of Rilo Kiley in 2007.

Ever since we moved back to the Omaha area I've been hoping to go see her again.  Early on Rilo Kiley had signed with Omaha's Saddle Creek Records and I hoped she would visit her old stomping grounds.  Sure enough in 2008 she came through Omaha.  Unfortunately I found out about this a month or so after she performed.  In 2009 she performed at the slowdown in June ... when we were on vacation in Yellowstone and Moab.  In 2010 she performed on September 11 when we were seeing Anthony Bourdain at the Holland Center (We bought those tickets before hearing she was performing).  Now it's 2011 and, once again she's coming through ... on June 4th ... when I'm in Spain.  *sigh*

I think she may be avoiding me.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

We're Going To Get Spanked

As I type this post it is 65°F outside.  It's a beautiful sunny day with a light southerly breeze.  In the middle of February no less.  The Wife has even broken out the shorts and we have the windows open airing out the homestead.  When the weather is this good in mid-winter you know that we will be punished sooner or later.

Of course, this could be compensation for the virus attack our computer experienced last night.  The System Tool 2011 Virus/Trojan took over the computer.  It pops up a fake anti-virus scan and claims to have found a ton of infections then offers to fix them ... for a price.  To make it worse it prevents the execution of all programs so you can't browse to search for information, run system restore, or even run your anti-virus program.  I ended up booting from a CD and running system restore from there.  Then, after a success boot I ran my anti-virus program and deleted that sucker.  I now have full scans scheduled automatically (I was using the real-time scan but it didn't catch it, something other people online have been complaining about).  It was a relatively quick fix - a half hour of me flailing around to get it to boot and an hour or so to run the full anti-virus scan.

After that minor ordeal last night, a sunning spring day in the middle of winter is quite welcome.

P.S.  Please, no Mac/Apple comments.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Camino De Santiago: Getting There - Part Two

Back in November I posted about getting to Spain. back then I deferred the discussion of getting from the Madrid airport to Saint Jean Pied De Port, France, the start of the Camino Frances.  I returned to that discussion this week when I stopped by the AAA office.

I talked to the same travel agent, Roni, who helped us book last year's Jordan vacation.  She saw me come in and the first thing she said was "Don't tell me you want to go to Egypt."  I was impressed that she remember me as we hadn't seen or talked to each other in almost a year.  I told her that I had an easy task for her.  Turned out I was a little wrong.

We started going over my options.  My main criteria was that I wanted to arrive in Saint Jean the same day I arrived in Spain.  My flight arrives at 7:40 AM so I thought that was a reasonable request.  I suggested that a train from Madrid to Saint Jean was the best option.  Unfortunately the only train she could find left less than an hour after I was scheduled to land and there was only one train per day.  I then suggested a train to Pamplona and a bus the rest of the way.  No dice.  There was only one bus out of Pamplona and that left before the train arrived in Pamplona.

We kept going through different scenarios but they kept requiring an overnight stay somewhere getting me in to St Jean in the late afternoon on the 13th.  I really believe I need time in Saint Jean to visit the Pilgrimage office and to just relax before I started my Camino walk on the 14th.

The options started getting more expensive.  How about renting a car in Madrid and dropping it off in Bayonne, FR where I could catch a train to Saint Jean?  Wow, that was a wrong answer.  First they didn't offer cars with automatic transmissions.  I can drive a stick but, by the time I got to Bayonne, both me and the transmission would probably be having a breakdown.  The second reason, cost for a one day rental, pickup in Madrid, drop off at the corner ESSO station in Bayonne, $1,483.58!  That's $570+ dollars more than my round trip airfare.  Ridiculous!

How about flying from Madrid to some city/town closer to Bayonne/Saint Jean?  $400.00 for the airfare plus another $100.00+ for the train connections ... and I still got to Saint Jean late on the 13th.

Our final option was me changing my outbound flight to Paris where it would have been easy to catch a train to Saint Jean.  I would have even made it there on the 12th like I wanted.  Since I'd made the airline reservations, it was up to me to change the tickets.  Roni thought it shouldn't cost me more than $500.00 to change my flight.  I went home and called American Airlines.  How much would it cost?  $1,300.00.  Are you out of your F-ing mind!?!  What I thought  would be the easy part, the trip from Madrid to Saint Jean, was turning into a nightmare.

I sat at the computer and did a Google search.  I don't even remember what search terms I used but it gave me a link to this AllExperts page.  The person who answered this guy's question was my sanity's savior.  He walked him through all the ways to get from Madrid to Bayonne including links to the Spanish and French train lines.

After I got over my excitement, I called up the Spanish train line and did a search.  Turns out the Spanish trains stop at the border and you have to change over to a French train (The answer dude included this info in his response, bless him).  There were two trains, one at 8:00 AM (too early for me) and another at 16:15.  Yeah!!!  I can make that second train.  This train dumps you off  at 22:05 in the town of Hendaye.

Next I called up the French train schedule and found a train leaving Hendaye to Bayonne at 5:17 AM.  It arrives thirty-eight minutes later.  This could work.

Next came a search for the train from Bayonne to Saint Jean.  8:15 AM arriving at Saint Jean an hour and eighteen minutes later.  I could get to Saint Jean before 10:00 AM.  Not the same day arrival I was hoping for but early enough that it would work.

The only major question I have is what to do in Hendaye.  I'm thinking I'll just try to sleep at the train station instead of trying to find a hotel for the five to six hours I'll be there.  If I can doze at the station it would save me the cost of a night in a hotel room.  Of course I may be pretty rank by the time I arrive in Saint Jean.

There are three or four historic hotel in Saint Jean along with a half dozen or so pilgrim albergues.  I think I will treat myself to a hotel room.  One last good night's sleep and a real shower will be nice before I start the Camino.

These plans bring up a question about Madrid.  I'll be there for almost nine hours.  It's an hour metro trip from the airport to the train station.  Figure no more than two hours to get off the plane, pick up my bag, and go through customs, I should have almost six hours to kill in Madrid.  I do have some restrictions.  I will be carrying my backpack everywhere I go.  I have to have enough time to get to where ever I want to go and then to the train station afterward so I can't go too far or to too many different places.  I also will have to get some lunch in there as well.  I guess I would prefer to go to one interesting place where I can eat and wonder around being the tourist.  Any suggests?

I haven't bought any of these tickets yet.  Most can't be purchased until you are less than sixty days from the travel date so I'll have to wait for mid March before I can buy.

Now, a minor ethical dilemma.  It turns out that I really didn't need to go to Roni at AAA.  I discovered all the train information by myself after I talked to her.  Unfortunately I went to her after several early unsuccessful searches for the train information I needed.  We worked together for an hour before we decided to defer the search until mid March when we could actually buy tickets.  Who would have guessed that I would find the solution about an hour later.  So, my dilemma is: Should I go ahead and make the reservations myself, thus cutting Roni's booking fees (approximately $10), or should I have Roni do the booking and thus pay her for her hour's worth of intense, though unsuccessful, searching?  What do you people think?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Book: Iain M. Banks' "Inversions"

Some of you, upon reading that I was considering not reading any books this year, cringed in horror or at least told me that it was not a smart thing to do.  I have to be honest and say that it felt like one of my more ... idiotic ... ideas.  I was glad when the book I'd requested from the library finally came in.  It only took about six weeks to arrive and it turns out that there was a good reason.  The library had not gotten it via inter-library loan.  They'd bought a new copy instead.  I was the first to read it.  The book was Iain M. Bank's "Inversions".

I've read four other books by Banks, all of them in his post-singularity Culture universe.  While "Inversions" is not officially a Culture book, it is widely believed to be the story of two Culture agents from the intelligence/contact organization known as "Special Circumstances".

The story takes place on a planet with a medieval society where two advisors, one a body guard to a governing general, the other a doctor to a king, influence their respective charges, slowly nudging them away from their feudal society towards governments more hospitable to the people and, presumably, eventually, the Culture.  The two separate but concurrent stories are told from the point of view of locals, not those of the presumed agents.  This gives you a more interesting perspective.  What do the locals think of these subtle manipulations?  Would they even understand what change was taking place?  Would they welcome or shun it?

I liked the intertwining storylines and the how the characters are handled.  It kept my attention which resulted in me finishing the book in eight days.

"Inversions" is a good Culture book which I would recommend.

I have requested two more books from the Library.  I am second in line for one and the other will have to come by inter-library loan or purchased.  Hopefully one will arrive before I run out of magazines to read.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Root Canal Update

I had my first root canal this afternoon and, frankly, it went a lot easier than I expected.  The numbness has worn off and there doesn't seem to be any pain.  Of course, I haven't tried to bite anything really hard yet on that side of my mouth so it's a little too early to say if this procedure will be totally pain free.

Now I just hope this is the last trip to the dentist for a while.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Lamps And Flowers

Well this has been a fairly uneventful week.  The Wife had a couple of snow days.  I had a dentist appointment which, sadly as I alluded to last post, will be followed by more.

I spent two days this week looking for a desk lamp.  All I was looking for was a replacement for a clamp on architect lamp.  When I found one, at Office Depot, they were out of them.  I eventually found a bunch on Friday.  I ended up buying three.  One for the den, one for the Wife's classroom, and the third will be returned (I bought it and then found a cheaper one in another store).  I guess I went lamp crazy for awhile which resulted in me downing a bag of Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Squares and a king size Milky Way over three days.  I'm thankful my next blood test isn't due for another six months.

The only thing we managed to do outside the house, besides shopping, is go to the St. Cecilia Cathedral Flower Festival last Saturday.  The theme was a Mexican one: "Xalapa, City of Flowers."  The theme resulted in very colorful displays of tropical flowers.  It made you forget the white, black, and brown snowscape outside, at least for a while.  I managed to get a few good pictures that you can see here.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Put Them Both Together ...

Root: An anchor or support of green things.  The word has an earthy tone to it.  We plant our roots and make the land our home.  Going back to our roots ... always a desirable thing.

Canal: a channel for water.  A way for water-borne commerce.  A place to laze the day fishing.  A place to skip stones, chase frogs, and to splash on hot summer days.

Sadly, when you put them both together, you end up with something all together different:  Root Canal