Homer's Travels: February 2019

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Book: Ian McDonald's "Luna: New Moon"

My second book of 2019 was Ian McDonald's "Luna: New Moon".  The book takes place in the future when a group of five families (i.e the five dragons) control the resources and wealth of the Earth's Moon.

The book mixes asian, brazilian, australian, and other cultures to make an interesting mix of languages, names, and titles.  The book has a glossary to help you through the meanings of the different words employed by the citizens of the Moon.

I read a review that described it as a mix of the Dynasty and Dallas television shows and I would wholeheartedly agree.  The entire book is about the power struggles and intrigues between the five families that control everything on Earth's satellite.

I have mixed feeling about this book.  I never liked TV shows like Dallas and Dynasty and this tinted my view from the book.  It's not a bad book but it isn't quite my cup of tea.   This is the first book of a series.  I doubt I will continue the series.

I gave the book three stars out of five on Goodreads.  I almost gave it four since it's not a bad book but I just couldn't do it.  Three and a half stars might have been a better rating.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Snowshoeing Iowa: Hitchcock - Snow Is So Much Better Than Mud

I did my third snowshoe of the week back at Hitchcock.  I pushed a little harder and did four and a quarter miles with some decent elevation.  A lot more of the trails had been stomped down by other snowshoers, cross-country skiers, and hikers so it wasn't as hard as the earlier snowshoes I've done but I managed to find a few trails with pristine snow covered to challenge me.

One thing about snowshoeing, going downhill is a lot easier than going down muddy hills.  When the temperatures move back over freezing all the melting snow will make Hitchcock trails unhikeable for at least a week, if not longer, until the mud dries up.

Despite the sub-freezing temperatures we are experiencing, some of the trails in the southern part of Hitchcock were already starting to melt with dark soil poking through along Badger Ridge trail.  The northern part of the park is more sheltered and should be slower to melt.  I hope to get another snowshoe in this weekend and move the mileage counter in the sidebar a little higher.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Snowshoeing Iowa: Hitchcock, Now With Even More Snow And Hills

Got my second snowshoe in for the year back at Hitchcock Nature Center.  I did another three miles like I did last Thursday but I added a couple more climbs along the route to add some difficulty.

It was a cold morning with temperatures in the single digits (℉).  There was a lot more snow on the ground after Saturday's snowfall.  There was so much snow that I accidentally wandered off the trails a couple times.

Snow on the trees.  Animal tracks Mark the Bunker Hill trail.
While the snowshoes have been tough, I think I am handling the exercise much better than I've done in the past.  The backpack hiking that I've been doing seems to be doing the job.  My strength and endurance has improved over the last nine months or so.

I am thinking of snowshoeing again on Wednesday.  We are having a major cold snap so most of the snow should still be around the rest of this week ... if not longer.  I will be taking advantage of the snow as long as the weather holds out.

Sunday, February 24, 2019


We had nine inches of snow last night.  This was combined with strong winds to give us blizzard conditions.  This made me think two things: I would be clearing snow Sunday morning and I would have awesome snowshoe conditions on Monday.

Clearing the snow was a workout.  Even with a snow blower it was tough.  The blower kept bogging down and, in places, the drifts were higher than the snow blower.  Under the snow was a layer of ice (it rained before it snowed) so deicer was spread.  I have some strap on spikes that keep me from slipping - amazing how very tiny 1/8 inch spikes are enough to keep you on your feet.  I'm not sure I could have cleared the snow with only a shovel.  That would have sucked.  The nearly two foot deep drift on our deck ... will probably stay there until it gets warmer and it melts on its own.

Homer never liked the snow.  I had to scoop snow off the yard to get him to do his business.  Iago loves the snow.  He likes sticking his head in the snow while he walks - we call it snow plowing.  He often comes back in with snow on his nose.  The snow in the yard is almost up to Iago's belly.

Cool windswept snow texture.

The snow we got on top of the snow we already had on the ground and the blustery conditions gave the fields behind our house a cool texture, especially early in the morning while the sun was still low on the horizon.

Sunrise over the snow covered field ... and electrical pylons.
I mentioned last post that we are seeing a lot of snow this February.  Another thing we are getting more of is icicles.  Not sure why the conditions are so good for their formation but they are everywhere.

Long icicles outside our front door.
Tomorrow (and maybe Wednesday too) I will be enjoying the new snow.  Hitchcock snowshoe number two ... here I come.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Snowshoeing Iowa: Hitchcock Nature Center

Snowshoe print to the right,
Pole with snow cup on the left.
It has been over nine years since I last snowshoed.  It wasn't due to a lack of desire.  We just haven't had a lot of snowy Winters the past few years.  This month has been completely different.  We've had nearly 18 inches (45.7 cm) this February alone which is high for Omaha.

I like snow but I don't like snow when I want to do my strength training hikes.  Hiking in snow sucks frankly.  So when we got another five inches of snow this week I switched out my backpack for snowshoes, added snow cups to my hiking poles, and headed to Hitchcock Nature Center.

This was only the fifth time I went snowshoeing and the first time I snowshoed on trails with hills.  I snowshoed a number of different trail with different conditions.  Some had already stomped on my hikers/runners.  The rest had no tracks besides the wild kind (deer and/or coyote).  I picked a route that minimized hills but that turned out to be unnecessary.  The hills I climbed weren't bad on snowshoes at all.

For those familiar with the Hitchcock trails, I started on Fox Run Ridge, went down the Chute to the Bluestem Meander, down to Heritage, around Wildwood, and back to the car via Badger Ridge trail.  The Bluestem Meander, part of Wildwood, and part of Badger Ridge were pristine with no human tracks.  These were also the most difficult parts of the snowshoe.

The pristine snow on the Bluestem Meander.
I was not the only person to have snowshoed here.  On part of the Wildwood trail I followed snowshoe tracks.  Fortunately their stride was similar to mine so I stepped in their tracks to make it a little easier on me.

On the last part part of the snowshoe I climbed up to the top of Badger Ridge trail.  The ridge is exposed to the winds and there were snow drifts all along the trail.  Walking through the drifts was not easy.  At one point I sunk down to my knees.  For those not familiar with snowshoes, they reduced how much you sink into the snow but do not eliminate it all together.  They don't do much on fluffy drifted snow.  At one point I came across a set of tracks on the trail.  Apparently someone without snowshoes tried to hike the ridge and gave up.  I compared the depth of their tracks to mine and found my snowshoe prints were about half as deep as their boot prints.

My favorite tree on the Wildwood trail.
The overall hike was around 2.9 miles which matched the length of my very first snowshoe back in 2009.  I'd forgotten how tiring snowshoeing can me.  I ended up crashing when I got home.  There is more snow coming this weekend so I hope to head back out on my snowshoes on Monday.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Taxes Filed ... Despite Dead Batteries

I filed our taxes yesterday.  During the tax prep my trusty calculator, purchased while I was an Iowa State University (probably 1982 or 1983), died.  It's actually kind of amazing.  A calculator purchased thirty-seven years ago has only gone through two sets of batteries.  I realize it doesn't get used that often but eighteen years per set of tiny little button batteries is amazing.

As for the taxes, this year we are getting back a bigger refund than last year.  Over six times as much as last year.  I suppose I owe someone a thank you for the bigger refund but, at the risk of sounding ungrateful, like He11 will I thank that steaming pile of excrement.

Friday, February 15, 2019

A Mix Of Shorts This Year

I went to see the live action and animated short films nominated for the Oscars this year.  I have gone to see the nominated short films for several years and I am used to seeing a mix of serious and humorous films.  The documentary shorts, which I have not seen this year, are a bit mixed and can often be depressing like they were in 2015.  This year it was the live action shorts that were the downers.

There are five nominees and every one this year are depressing, sad, or both.  A mother who hears her son's abduction over the phone until the cell phone battery dies, a boy whose playful actions lead to the death of his friend, a dying elderly lady pining for lost love, a true story about two ten year old boys who murder a toddler, and a racist family and the twisted and tragic way justice is served.  I exited the theater shaking my head.  The usher saw me, asked if I was going to see the animated shorts, and told me that the animated shorts were less serious.

She was right.  The animated shorts which can often be serious stories, did have a lighter feel.  There was funny ones and a few sober but smile inducing ones which is what I have come to expect for the Oscar nominated animated shorts.

I may go see the short documentary nominees ... if I can fit it in my schedule.

Not sure which of these will win.  I didn't see any that really wowed me.  I expect the Disney animated short will win (though I would prefer to see a lesser known production win).  As for the live action, my bet would be on the story about the two murdering ten year olds.  We'll see in nine days.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

What I've Been Doing: Hiking Hitchcock In The Snow.

I went for a short hike at Hitchcock this morning.  There was three to four inches of snow on the ground and the only tracks on the trails were from deer, coyote, and me.  It feels odd, but nice, when you are out on a trail by yourself.  This is especially true nowadays when we are rarely alone and disconnected.  The pristine snow gives proof that it's just you and nature.

Looking across Hitchcock from Fox Run Ridge trail towards Angel's Dead End trail.
The hike was short.  Walking on the dry snow felt like walking on beach sand - there is a little extra resistance each step you take.  You also had to watch your step since snow often can cover up potential hazards.  Last Saturday I rolled my ankle pretty hard on such a hidden hazard down in Indian Cave SP.  To protect myself from further aggravating (or reinjuring) the ankle I was wearing hiking boots instead on my usual lightweight hiking shoes.  The boots are nice but they are heavier than the shoes so each step was just a tiny bit more difficult.  I ended up only hiking three and a half miles which is very short for me.

 I was exhausted when I got back to the car.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

A Fizzy Drink

Went for a hike up at Hitchcock Nature Center today.  At the start of the hike it began to sleet.  As I listened I realized that the sound of sleet hitting cold, dead leaves sounds just like a Fizzy drink.

A panorama taken from Badger Ridge in Hitchcock Nature Center.
I think this requires a haiku.

If you are drinking a soda ... or champagne
your ear to the glass, eyes closed, listen to bubbles popping,
hear sleet hitting Winter leaves.