Monday, December 31, 2018

A Homer's Travels Look Back At 2018

2017 was the year that I became lost.  2018 was a year of recovery and of finding my way back to my path.  Sometimes it has felt that I'm just floating along and my sense of time is totally shot - don't ask me what day it is, I won't know.  Recovery has been slow and there have been setbacks throughout the year but I feel the changes within me and they are in the right direction.
Let's look back at 2018, shall we:

  • January: The year started how it usually does.  The mild depression that had dogged me all of 2017 was still there but things were improving little by little.  Birds in the backyard always lift my spirit.  The loss of Dolores O'Riordan bummed me out a bit.  Our cord cutting experiment was not successful ... yet.
  • February: The beginning of this month was packed with the school trivia contest, escape rooms, and familyTrek up the Tower wasn't for me. I went to see the short Oscar nominated films, my on-again-off-again tradition.  I bought my seventh camera.  The Olympic games gave the end of the month a non-political backdrop to my life that I needed.
  • March: I welcomed an early preview of spring.  The Wife's Mom passed away not long after.  My annual blood test turned up crappy numbers.  A repairman's mishap ended up disconnecting us for forty-eight hours.  This may have started the ball rolling with our cord cutting plans.  The first to get cut was our landline and us entering the cell phone era.
  • April: The month started out slow.  I continued to walk and was looking forward to biking.  The mid-month snow, on the other hand, was not helpful.  Despite the late snow I really began to start feeling better.  The Wife's student reached third place nationally in Poetry Out Loud - the best performance yet.  The sun came out and I biked in the real world, something I thought would never happen again.
  • May: This month, while walking and riding, my depression began to lift and I caught myself smiling again.  My seventh Caminoversary came and went full of thoughts happy and sad.  I went to my first boxing match.  A new mix of bird seed in the feeder attracted more types of birds to cheer me up.
  • June: We lost Tony Bourdain to suicide.  Summer arrived with thunder and lightning bugs.  We started our train travels through Canada.
  • July: Our travels started in Vancouver with a visit with Just A Girl, The Boy, and E.  I posted part of our travels while I was riding the train.  Next came Jasper where we celebrated nature and relived our honeymoon.  Winnipeg was our next stop and was a surprise for me.  A nice city.  We temporarily left the train and flew to Churchill to see polar bears, beluga whales, and bugs.  We returned to Winnipeg where we spent a few more days due to the train schedule.  The next train leg was our longest at thirty-eight hours and felt like thirty-eight days.  This long leg dropped us in Toronto where we had a whirlwind thirty-six hours to see this modern city.
  • August: While I posted about my vacation mostly while I was on vacation, the last two stops were not posted about until August after we got home.   In Montréal I had my fifty-fifth birthday and, like many other past birthdays, I was in a terrible mood.  I managed to work myself out of my funk enough to enjoy the city.  I dreaded the last train leg to Halifax - I was tired of trains and all the sitting I'd done this vacation.  Halifax was our last stop.  It turned out to be a nice seaside city.  We managed to get out on the water twice - on a hopper and a tall ship.  As soon as we got back we started planning our next travels.  I end the month cycling in hail.
  • September: I'd started hiking with a pack back in August.  I continued these hikes into September including one hike where I got eaten alive.  I posted pictures of all the Canadian magnets we bought (I managed to get them all up on our magnet display).  September eleventh was remembered.  The Wife planted sunflowers.  I welcomed the Fall with a hike at Hitchcock.  The rain we had this month led to some minor flooding along the Missouri river.  This led to a rare hike in the rain.
  • October: I voted early and kept my fingers crossed.  We had our first snow in the middle of the month.  I managed to see the Fall colors this year.  I remembered the fifth anniversary of the end of my second Camino.  Fallen leaves and ladybugs livened up a hike at Indian Cave S.P.  Halloween came and went.
  • November: This month we finally cut the cord.  Actually it took place at the end of July but this is when it all sunk in for me.  The election happened and, mostly, things went in the right direction.  Took a long, cold hike in Indian Cave S.P. where my drinking water froze.  We attended a beautiful wedding in Sioux Falls, SD.
  • December: The Christmas season started with the blooming of the Old Lady.  I got my almost annual curling fix with the Omaha leg of the Curling World Cup.  I kept up my hiking even in the snow and mud.  We had a low key Christmas season.  Winter started with a frosty morning.  The last week of the year we spent in Iceland.  The posts about that adventure will have to wait until next year.
  • Walking: This year I started hiking more.  This is especially true after we returned from our Canadian By Rail travels.  I began hiking with a backpack to help strengthen my legs with mixed results - I am stronger but my range with a pack got stuck between eight and nine miles.  In the end I hiked a total of 458.12 miles (737.27 km) which makes this year the fifth out of twelve for miles hiked.  More than last year but I've done better.  It should be noted that my average walking speed is the second lowest in twelve years.  I guess the backpack ... and my aging body ... are slowing me down a bit.
  • Biking: After pledging never to ride a bike out in the real world ever again, I rode my bike out in the real world.  It took me two years and nine months to convince myself to get back on the bike trails.  The biking lasted about five months before I decided to concentrate on my hiking.  In all, I rode my trainer 345.2 (555.5 km) miles and my bike in the real world 719.89 miles (1158.55 km).  The real world miles in the second longest of the last eleven years.  Not bad.
  • Books: I'd set a goal of twenty-four books to read this year.  While I should have been able to meet this target I fell a couple short.  Part of that could have been the fact I didn't read on our Canada By Rail trip reserving that time for podcast listening and post writing.   Here are my Goodreads stats for 2018.  I didn't read any real clunkers this year nor did I find a gem.  Most of my books were in the four star range with only a handful of three star 'MEH' reads.  I don't think I really was into reading this year.  Just kinda felt like I was going through the motions.
  • Concerts & Shows:  We didn't go to many shows or concerts this year but we did start to go out to see more movies which has been fun.  The three concerts or shows this year were:  
  • I posted 113 times this year - the lowest since 2012.  I found it hard to get motivated to write this year despite this being a better year for me than 2017.  My posting felt like a chore and I often rushed writing the posts so my work was a bit drab, in my opinion.  Having so many television options didn't help either.
At the end of this year I am watching the news less - there is only so much politics I can take and remain sane - hiking more and just floating along.  So what's ahead for me?  I don't know but I am confident it will be filled with new places, new people, and new adventures.  A healing of mind and spirit may also be in the stars.  The only way to find out for sure is to go out there and live.

Here's to a Happy and Prosperous New Year for all.
May all your dreams come true in 2019.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Next Adventure Begins Today

We were supposed to start our Iceland adventure yesterday but a cancelled Icelandair flight changed our plans.   Our flight left a  day late.  Hotel reservations were changed and a city tour was rescheduled.  Nothing like a little chaos to start your vacation.

When we got off the plane today we were in Reykjavik, Iceland.  This is only the second time we've travelled internationally twice in one year (the last time was in 2016 - Cuba and South America) and it is the first time we've traveled at this time of the year.

We will be here from today to the second of January.  During this time we will take six tours visiting the highlights of the country.  Most of the tours range from seven to eleven hours - the shortest being the three hour city tour of Reykjavik.  The island is full of natural wonders like glaciers, lava, waterfalls, whales, hot springs, and, naturally, the aurora borealis.  I am looking forward most to the Aurora but I have to be realistic.  The weather forecast for Iceland is looking pretty grim with overcast skies and rain almost every day.  I will be keeping my fingers crossed that on one of our long nights on the island we will get the chance to see a light show.  If not, there is a lot more to see.

I don't plan to post about the trip until I return next year.  I expect to be tired at the end of the long tours and the idea of composing a post and editing pictures doesn't sound appealing. 

Enjoy the rest of 2018 ... I know the Wife and I will.

Note:  The Icelandic Flag graphic is from Wikipedia.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Book: John Scalzi's "The Collapsing Empire"

My last read of 2018 is another John Scalzi book.  It is my fourth Scalzi book of the year and I think I have concluded that my Scalzi Limit is three.  Scalzi's "The Collapsing Empire" starts a new series in a new world with new physics, politics, and intrigues all populated with the same old characters from his other books.  While I was reading this book I thought any of these characters could have been lifted right out of the Old Man's War series.

The book is about an empire dominated by an emperor (an Emperox), a religion, and monopolistic trade guilds.  The 'Flow' which allows interstellar travel is discovered to be collapsing which would result in the end of the empire and the near extinction of the human race.  All of this has so much potential but as I read it I just couldn't get into it.

I wonder if I'm being to harsh and that I may not be in the right mental space to appreciate this book.  There is a second book to the series out but I think I will wait (unless I run out of books to read) a bit before I dive back into Scalzi's works.

I gave this book three stars out of five on Goodreads which may be too harsh but it is how I felt as I read this book.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Low Key Christmas

This year the Wife and I decided, for this Christmas season, to do the tiniest amount of decorating as possible.  We didn't put up a tree.  The only signs of Christmas in the house are the Christmas cards propped up over the gas fireplace (which hasn't been lit in a few years) and a candle on a warmer to give the living room a nice holiday oder.

On the outside of the house are laser lights in the front yard.  That's it.  After some thought I decided not to put the big balls in the oak tree.  While I've had some second thoughts about the balls, it's now too late to put them up - the effort it takes to put them up requires a minimum of three weeks of display time.

The Wife and I aren't exchanging gifts this year either.  The funds set aside for Christmas gifts will simple be added to our Fun Money budgets.  Some of that will most likely be spent on our Iceland trip that starts on Christmas Day.

Despite how this sounds, I am feeling the Christmas spirit and it is getting stronger every day as we approach the big day when we will have a nice Christmas Eve at my Mom's place and a Christmas Day evening at the Best Man's and Matron Of Honor's home in Minneapolis.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Frosty First Day Of Winter

We've had some unusually warm day lately and it has not felt like Winter was approaching.  Today, the first day of Winter, we at least had frost on the grass.

I hope everyone has a fun filled Winter Solstice, even if it is the shortest day of the year.

OK, Universe, you can start making the days longer now.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Photograph: "Smash"

Posted on a light pole outside an all girls school.

"Smash"
Photo by Bruce H.
(Original Artist Unknown)

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Book: Jy Yang's "The Black Tides Of Heaven"

Every fantasy that I can recall reading have always been likely based on Eurocentric medieval culture.  Knights, sorcerers, kingdoms - that kind of stuff.  My latest read, Jy Yang's "The Black Tides of Heaven", comes at fantasy from an Asian perspective and was totally refreshing.

Along with the Asian angle, Jy Yang brings an interesting gender-centric view as well.  The author describes themselves as "a lapsed journalist, a former practicing scientist, and a master of hermitry. A queer, non-binary, postcolonial intersectional feminist [...]" {from the About The Writer section of the book}.  In the book characters choose their gender.  Once a gender is chosen, mages use magic and chemistry to physically change the person's body to the gender of their choice.

The book is the beginning of a series.  This book sets up a conflict between the magic users and the non-native users.  The book is almost self contained but there are many places the story can go.

The one confusing thing in the book is the use of pronouns.  The author uses they/them/their to refer to persons who have not chosen their gender.  While I read I often has to pause and think if they were referring to a single person or multiple people since 'they' often is used to refer to two or more people.  Once the main characters choose their gender the confusion dissipated.

I gave this book four stars out of five on Goodreads.  The different perspectives gave the story some freshness that I liked.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Slip Sliding On Down The Trail

Went to Hitchcock Nature Center this morning.  I knew that there would be snow on the ground there but there was a lot more than I expected.  most of the trails had four to six inches with some drifts being knee deep.  It turns out, though, that the snow depth was not an issue.  Last weekend the Greater Omaha Area Trail Runnerz (G.O.A.T.Z) ran the Hitchcock Experience.

The Hitchcock Experience consist in three races - an half marathon (13.1 miles), a 50 mile, and a 100 mile trail run.  All those runners, and the ATVs that broke the trail through the snow, left most of the snow in the trails compressed down.  This was good and bad.  On level trails it was good since you didn't sink into the snow.  Going downhill sucked since the compressed snow was slick as ice.  Going up hill wasn't too bad because the racers had pounded little stair steps up the hills.

Early morning sunshine on Badger Ridge Trail.
I showed up at Hitchcock early in the morning to try to beat the thaw.  If the ground is frozen there is no mud.  I hoped to get my hike done before any exposed trail got muddy.  I didn't quite make it.  I was five miles in on my hike when I started down the Angel's Dead End trail. Angel's Dead End is a steep trail dropping down from the top of Fox Run Ridge.  Some of the trail did not have any snow cover and had been in the sun for a few hours.  I stepped on what I thought was dry ground but it turned out to be covered in a thin layer of grease-like mud.  I promptly began sliding.  Ended up with thick, sticky mud up my pant leg, on my butt, and all over my jacket.

I got back on my feet, took inventory and found nothing wrong, and decided to keep going.  I took one side of the Legacy Loop trail back up the ridge.  I was planning to go back down the ridge on the other half of Legacy Loop trail.  When I reached the top I realized that the other half of the loop was a very steep muddy trail.

A nice, easy, flat part of the Hidden Valley trail
showing how much snow was on the trail.
I thought it over and decided to try walking on the snow along the edge of the trail.  I took three steps when the snow under my foot gave way.  I grabbed onto a small tree and swung around it as my backpack pulled me downhill.  I ended up on my back, head pointed downhill, holding onto a tree.  At least it was snow and not mud.  To get back up I released the tree and, as I slid down a foot or two more, rolled over so my backpack was up (think a turtle flipping itself over).  I climbed back up and decided I'd had enough and took the easiest way back to the car.

I ended up doing only 5.7 miles today - 2.3 miles shorter than I planned.  Can't wait til the temps go low enough, and stay low enough, that I don't have to worry about mud.

P.S.  As I got in my car I'd placed my GPS on the roof of the car.  Three hours later I realized I'd left it on the roof.  I ended up driving back to Hitchcock where I found the GPS in the middle of the road.  It still works.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Omaha ... Curling Capitol?!?

Last year Omaha hosted both Curling Night in America and the Olympic Curling Trials.  This year Omaha is co-hosting (with legs in Suzhou, China and Jonkoping, Sweden and a grand finale in Beijing, China) the Curling World Cup.  This year the world cup includes ten nations - USA, Canada, Russia, South Korea, China, Japan, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, and Scotland.

The Curling sheets in Ralston Arena.
This leg is being held in Ralston Arena which is like five minutes from where I live.  I went to the opening session on Wednesday, another one on Friday, and, with the Wife, the last session on Sunday which showcased the men's team final.  The women teams and mix doubles were earlier on Sunday.  Team Schuster, the American team, won the the Men's event, Japan won the Women's event, and Norway won the mixed doubles' event.

My souvenir from the Curling World Cup: a tiny curling stone only an inch and a half across.
Last year I bought a T-Shirt as a souvenir.  This year I bought a scale model of a curling stone made with authentic granite (from Scotland) and a metal handle.

A few photos (taken with my cell phone) can be found in my 2018-12 Curling World Cup Google Photos album.

I am always surprised what events pop up in Omaha.  My hat is off to the people who book all these events.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Photograph: "Frosted Cafe"

This is the sign for the now defunct Bohemian Cafe in downtown Omaha. The sign faces north.  Can you guess which way the wind was blowing when it snowed on Sunday?

"Frosted Cafe"
by Bruce H.

Monday, December 03, 2018

The Christmas Season Has Begun Again.

While, for me, the holiday season starts with Thanksgiving, the season of Christmas starts with the blooming of my Christmas Cactus.  Today, a bud that I have been following for the last week, bloomed.

First bloom of the 2018 Christmas season.
This plant is a descendant of the Wife's Great-Great-Grandmother's cactus.  It is quite possible that this plant, and all the clippings I have gifted to other family members, continue a line that is over one hundred years old.

Christmas is finally here and all is good with the world.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Book: Victor Lavalle's "The Ballad Of Black Tom"

I have only read a little Lovecraft.  Horror, on the pages of a book, doesn't do much for me.  To me horror is a visual and aural experience.  I received the e-book of Victor Lavalle's "The Ballad of Black Tom" as a free gift for subscribing to the TOR.com newsletter (as was "All The Birds In The Sky" I read in October).  This book is a take on H.P. Lovecraft's world that twists the racial inequalities of the Jazz era with the horror that is Cthulhu.

The book is a short read and, like most short stories or novellas, always feel a bit incomplete to me.  I always feel the author should have taken the time to filled out their world a little bit more and built up richer character backstories.

I can't say that I dislike this book.  For what it is, a short horror novella in the Lovecraftian tradition, it is perfectly fine and I gave it four stars out of five on Goodreads because of this.  If Goodreads let me though, I would have given it three and a half.