Homer's Travels: 2023

Monday, March 20, 2023

Happy Spring Equinox


    Spring Has Sprung!   


Go out there, weather permitting, and welcome the arrival of Spring.  I pre-celebrated by going for a walk.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #49

  • On Monday I just didn't feel like walking.  I think the Daylight Saving Time change really did a number on me.  This is not really normal for me.  I usually adjust quickly but this year it felt like the foggy brain lasted all week.

    I did manage to go for a long walk on Wednesday.  I aimed for around twelve miles and ended up doing 12.95 miles (20.85 km).  This is the longest single walk I've done since April of last year.  It also absolutely killed my legs.  *oof*

    On Friday I decided not to walk which was probably a mistake.  My legs were still feeling the Wednesday walk and my head was still a bit foggy but I should have pushed through it and gone out even if it was for a shorter walk.
  • On Thursday the Wife's niece came down and stayed with us.  She was presenting at a school technology conference in Omaha.  It was nice to have a guest in the house.  It also gave us an excuse to go out to eat.  Now that I think about it, the high carb meal I had on Thursday night might explain some of the sluggishness I felt on Friday.
  • Today I washed my car once the temperature went above freezing.  Some of the dirt I washed off was from Arkansas, Luisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and Missouri.  Yeah I don't wash my car very often.
  • The house guest theme continues this coming week when some British friends, who we met on the Amazon back in 2016, will be visiting for a few days so we can go all bird nerdy and witness the Sandhill Crane migration.  This will be fun.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #47

  • On Monday the Wife and I went shopping for Camino gear.  We started at Cabellas and were very disappointed.  Their selection was okay but during our visit no one ever asked us if we needed help. 

    After eating some lunch we went to the 'new' REI outlet (not sure how new it is but I didn't realize it was here) and had an incredible experience.  As we approached the backpack section a representative came up and asked if he could help.  The Wife tried on four backpacks that the rep had filled with our desired weight so she could easily compare how they felt.  She ended up with a Osprey EJA 58L which should work well on the Camino.

    While she walked around the store with a pack on to get the feel, we looked at socks.  Once again a rep asked if he could help and he helped us find some non-wool socks the Wife could wear.

    On the way out we purchased a sleeping bag liner (we will not be carrying sleeping bags on the Camino but the liners are good sheets/covers for the hostel beds and can be treated with permethrin to keep the bugs off).

    Our experience was so good that I bought an REI lifetime membership for $30 and was pleasantly surprised to get a $30 gift card so ... free membership.
  • Continuing on the Camino gear topic, I purchased a set of trekking poles for the Wife.  She's never walked with poles and I hope she finds them as helpful as I do.  They came this week and they looked so nice and shiny that I ordered a new set for myself.  I feel a bit guilty since my old poles are still working but they are all scratched up and there is some corrosion and cracking on some of the quick locks - the Appalachian Trail was tough on them.  When they arrive I'm sure the guilt will quickly evaporate.
  • After the Robins returned over the last few weeks, the Red Wing Blackbirds (along with other types of blackbirds) started to show up.  When they get here in force they will empty our bird feeder double speed.  Of course, that's what the bird feeder is for ... to feed the birds.
  • I contacted the Government Office of Personnel Management this week to confirm my eligibility for my retirement annuity.  I remember thinking when I chose a deferred retirement annuity back in 2008 how far my sixtieth birthday was.  Now it's just a few months away and I wonder where the time went.  The form I need to fill out is pretty straight forward but I had questions on when I could submit it.  The ideal time will come while we are on the Camino but it looks like sending it in a few weeks early is no big deal.  I'm not sure exactly how much this annuity will be but it should cover some of our travel expenses and help extend our savings.
  • I walked two times this week for a total of 21.6 miles (34.8 km).  I am now easily covering ten plus miles per hike and I feel surprisingly well.  This is making me feel optimistic (is that what this feeling is?  I think so) that my third Camino will go well for me.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Book: Nikki Erlick's "The Measure"

This book, Nikki Erlick's "The Measure", begins with a truly novel premise.  On an ordinary day in March, everyone twenty-two years and older wakes up to find a small box outside their doors.  On the outside of the box it says "The measure of your life lies within."  Inside the box is an inscription of the recipient's name and a length of string.  No one sees the boxes appear.  Each day thereafter, when someone turns twenty-two, their box mysteriously appears at their door.

It is soon discovered that the length of the string is proportional to the length of a person's life.  A long string means a long life.  A short string means a short one.  The strings turn out to be accurate no matter the cause of death ... accident, illness, murder ... the strings are always right.

The book then follows several people whose lives become intertwined like pieces of string, one could say, as they try to cope with the world changing events that result from the appearance of the strings.  Laws are passed to prevent short-stringers from working in services like police, fire, and the armed forces in the belief that long stringers would not die on the job (being maimed or put into a coma is still a possibility of course).  Some short stringers become violent.  A Presidential candidate wins an election when his string is shown to be longer than his better opponent.  Relationships breakup once people discover their lives will not be the same length.

This premise fascinated me but as I read on I realized the author really didn't know how to end the book.  It just sort of faded away near the end.  Some things get better.  Society adjusts.  We never learn who or what was delivering the boxes.  I found the end anti-climatic.

When I started this book I thought it may be a five star book but I ended up giving it only four stars out of five on Goodreads because the five star premise was held back by the four star ending.

Sunday, March 05, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #46

It was a slow week.  Not much happened worth noting except for a couple things like:
  • The Wife and I started our Camino shopping this week.  I recommended some Salomon hiking shoes that I like.  She's been wearing them for a few days and she likes them so far.  We ordered some toe socks as well.  A short test proved that the Wife is still allergic to wool.  She tried on a pair of my merino wool blend socks but started itching in only a few minutes.  We will have to find a non-wool (probably polyester) option for her hiking socks.  We will be going sock and backpack shopping on Monday.

    I did something that I thought I would never do.  I ordered the Brierley Camino Guidebook.  Brierley has lots of good information including history about what you are passing along the Camino de Santiago but, since it also includes suggested stages and a lot of pilgrims treat Brierley's guide as the bible, you end up with traffic jams at the suggested Brierley stops.  We cursed Brierley during my first two Caminos but here I am buying his guide.  We will not be following the stops suggested by the book but will use the information about the places along the way.
  • I walked three times this week and managed to do a decent distance.  I walked a total of 31.8 miles (51.2 km).  Two of the walks were over eleven miles and they both wore me out but I felt better than I expected so that is a good thing.  I also, somehow, knocked 4 lbs (1.8 kg) off my weight this week which makes me happy.  I'm not overweight by any measure but I am much closer to what I think is a healthy weight for someone my height and age.  I've been this weight before and my cholesterol numbers are always better.

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

Photograph: "Under The Railroad Bridge"

"Under the Railroad Bridge"
Bruce H.
During my walk today, under a beautiful clear blue sky, I went under a railroad bridge.  I've taken pictures of the bridge before and I decided to take another one.  I am a fan of rusty metal.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Photograph: "Sun Beam"

"Sun Beam"
Bruce H.
Beautiful sunrise this morning.  I've never seen the bright vertical beam before.  This photo doesn't do it justice really.  The beam was more pronounced to the naked eye.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #45

  • On Monday the roofers came in and swapped out our box/turtle vents with turbine vents.  This was done to increase the ventilation in our attic (to reduce condensation) and to prevent the sucking of snow into the attic.  The snow and condensation was staining our ceiling in several rooms.  The roofers also vented the bathroom fans to the outside as they should have been from the beginning.  The builder had just vented the bathrooms into the attic.

    While doing the work the roofers pointed out that the baffles that ensure proper airflow from the soffit vents into the attic were not installed correctly.  They will be back in April (when workers return after taking off the winter season) to evaluate/fix these air flow issues.  This will result in a bill between $2K and $4K depending on what they find when they tear off part of the roof.  *sigh*
  • Geek Talk Warning:  For years I've been using GoDaddy as my domain registrar for Homers Travels.  This week I learned that GoDaddy had discovered a multi-year hack of their system.  While this only seems to affect websites hosted by GoDaddy and I only use their Domain Name registration, I decided to play it safe and moved my registration over to Google Domains instead.  I suspect you, the consumer of Homer's Travels, will not notice anything.  Carry on.
  • Walking was a bit chaotic this week.  Due to several factors beyond my control I only managed two hikes this week - one short and one long.  I ended up walking 15 miles (24 km).  The longer hike, over 10 miles (16 km) felt very good so I think I can push longer miles.  I don't expect any interruptions to my walking schedule this coming week so it will be interesting how my body handles longer miles.

    A pair of signs that made me smile.
  • Saw my first Robin last week.  This, and the more spring-like temperatures in the forecast, seem to be hinting at an early Spring.  Our snow is almost all gone (we didn't get anything more than a trace from the storm that came through Wednesday night).  We only have rain coming this week.  Yay.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Photograph: "Faux Black & White"

"Faux Black & White"
by Bruce H.
This photo which appears to be in black and white is actually a full color photo I took this morning out our back window.  The trees are covered in a thin coating of ice and the sun is at the correct angle to wash out most of the color.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Oscar Shorts 2023

Wednesday afternoon I performed the pseudo-annual tradition of seeing the Oscar Nominated Shorts (Animated and Live Action).  Over the past few years the art house movie theater that shows them here has had the terrible habit of timing the airings so that it was impossible to watch both on the same day.  Fortunately for me they corrected their wayward ways and this year I could watch both back to back.

The animated shorts were first.  They all were pretty good.  "The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse" was a bit too saccharine for me.  "The Flying Sailor", based on a true story (The Halifax harbor explosion) was a little too abstract as was "The Ice Merchants".  I think "My Year of Dicks" probably should win but not sure they have the guts to give the Oscar to an adult themed short even if it was funny.  The safe one would then be "An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake and I Think I Believe It" which is ok.

After a short break between movies - and a good piece of banana bread - the live action shorts started.  The danger of the live action shorts is they often take on serious themes that are often very bleak.  This year two of the five fit the potentially bleak category.  The other three had enough humor and a happy enough ending to make them good.  My pick to win this category is "An Irish Goodbye".  It was sweet, funny, and had a satisfying ending.

There is a third category of Oscar shorts: Documentary.  The Wife and I have gone to them a couple times and have left depressed.  They are almost always too tragic and downbeat.  I'm not sure if I'll go to those this year.

Left the theater to find a glaze of ice on the windshield.  We have some ice and snow coming overnight.  Yay.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Book: Emily St. John Mandel's "Sea Of Tranquility"

After two mediocre books I finally found a good one.  Like "How High We Go in the Dark" I found this book in the Goodreads' best science fiction books of 2022.  Emily St. John Mandel's "Sea of Tranquility" was voted the best science fiction book of 2022 and, this time, Goodreads users were right.

This is the second Emily St. John Mandel book I've read.  The first, "Station Eleven", got a rare five stars from me so I had high hopes for her latest work.  Like "Station Eleven" this book is simple and understated and an interesting read.  The book weaves time travel and simulation theory together to create a really interesting read.

Now, I should note that I do not believe in the possibility of time travel.  I believe we will eventually discover that time travel into the past is not allowed by the laws of physics that govern our existence.  Having said this I always am able to suspend disbelief when I read a good time travel story.  Frankly, if you are a reader of any science fiction, suspension of disbelief is a mandatory skill.

The only fault I can find with this book is the use of simulation theory - the idea that we are living in a simulation.  After finishing the book I am still not sure why it was included in the story.  It seemed superfluous and unnecessary.

I gave the book four stars out of five on Goodreads.  I sometimes wish I could give half-stars since this one could have gotten four and a half stars.  It was nice to read something I actually enjoyed again.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #44

  • I was going to walk three times this week but only managed one.  On Monday, when I would have walked, I decided I just didn't want to.  I headed to the She-Shed, put on some music, and proceeded to take a two and a half hour nap.  For a person who rarely naps for more than a half hour this was odd - I guess I was tired for some still unknown reason.

    On Wednesday I actually walked.  I picked a route closer to home but along streets I rarely walk and managed to hike 8.1 miles (13.0 km).  It was a nice walk but I think I need to start pushing myself and go longer.  I've been stuck in the 8 mile rut for the last month.  This week I'll try to push up to the mid nine mile range.
  • On Thursday morning the snow that was going to miss us to the South didn't.  By early afternoon we had 6 - 7 inches (15 - 18 cm) of relatively fluffy snow.  It was our first 'real' snow we've had this winter and came quite a bit later than usual.  I used the neighbor's snow blower to clear out our driveways and sidewalks.

    On Friday I went over to Mom's house and shovelled her driveway and sidewalks.  She has a snowblower but I'd never used it and I didn't want to wake her so I cleared it by hand.  While I probably would have walked that day I got plenty of exercise moving the snow.  I was concerned my back would bother me after all the exertion but to my pleasant surprise I felt fine this weekend.
  • Friday afternoon I went to the early IMAX showing of "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania".  This is the start of Marvel's phase five and a good start it was.  I enjoyed it.
  • I got a new pair of glasses a week or so ago.  I have to say it's been a long time since I got a well fitting pair of glasses.  These fit like a glove.

    The past few times I've gotten the color changing lenses (sometimes called Transition lenses) that darken in the sun.  (I had Transition lenses in high school but stopped getting them when I became an adult.)  I got them again before I went on the Appalachian Trail hike and I liked them.  The new pair added polarisation to the color changing.  The change is amazing.  The old ones always had glare issues but the new polarized lenses cut the glare and reduce my squinting and glare induced headaches.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Travel Magnets - Key West Roadtrip 2023 Edition

What?!?  You thought we wouldn't get more travel magnets on our recent roadtrip?  Of course we did.  We did keep it more under control limiting the number to sixteen new magnets.  Actually, we could have bought more.  We never got a Florida, Tennessee, or Missouri magnet (we did get an Arkansas one).  We didn't get any in Mobile or Birmingham (we did get a few in Memphis).  But we did get a few cool magnets this time around.

Hemingway House.
My favorites include the Hemingway House, Key West, and the Lorraine Motel.

A nice piece of Key West art.
The semi-3D Lorraine Motel magnet.
You can find these and other travel magnets in the Travel Magnets tab at the top of the blog.

P.S. You can also find a magnet from the Historic Park Inn Hotel where we stayed last December.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #43

  • I did my taxes this week.  This was a weird return since the Wife retired this year and our health insurance is from the affordable care act now.  One of the easiest returns I've done in years.  Turns out we are getting a larger than expected refund this year.  It's large enough to pay for our Key West Roadtrip so that's something.  I usually hate giving the Government a free loan but I'll get over it when the money is in the bank.
  • I decided to skip the State of the Union speech on Tuesday.  Probably the first one I've missed it in several years ... possibly decades.  I felt a bit guilty as I read my book instead but the feeling passed.  Things have changed a lot as you pretty much can get summaries and relevant pictures and clips any time you want.  Ain't technological progress wonderful.
  • Speaking of technology  I deleted the "Tweet to me" button from my sidebar.  I suspect it was never used and I also suspect it will likely stop functioning as Elno monitizes Twitter into the ground.  I'm not leaving Twitter yet.  I have read rumors that the IFTTT service I use to repost Homer's Travels to Twitter may stop working too.  If it does then my Twitter presence may become read-only.
  • I walked three times this week for a total of 25.7 miles (41.3 km).  The two weeks off due to our Key West Roadtrip didn't help much.  My legs were a bit sore but by the end of the week I'd recovered the progress I had before the trip.

Thursday, February 09, 2023

Book: Erin K. Wagner's "An Unnatural Life"

Two disappointing books in a row.  What are the odds?  This was a novella I received for free so it's not much of a loss except for my time.

Erin K. Wagner's "An Unnatural Life" is a typical 'robot commits a crime and an idealistic lawyer defends them' story.  There are some new facets - the robots are all considered sentient and humans are bigoted against them.

The issue is the story ends abruptly.  Yes it's a novella but even a short novella needs a proper ending.  If this was part one of a series that would make sense but it's not.  It felt like the author either lost interest or got distracted and threw on a crappy ending.  Very disappointing.

I gave this book three stars out of five on Goodreads.  It needed more.  The new facets were a jump off point with lots of potential that was tossed in the trash.

Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Book: Sequoia Nagamatsu's "How High We Go In The Dark"

I found this book on Goodreads.  It was nominated for the best science fiction book of 2022 and came in fourth.  I figured I couldn't go wrong.

Sequoia Nagamatsu's "How High We Go in the Dark" starts with an archeological discovery in the melting permafrost of Siberia.  An ancient pathogen is released.  The following chapters are each independent, but interconnected, stories of how the world deals with the death of children followed shortly by adult deaths after the pathogen mutates.  The early chapters deal with death ... a lot.  At first I wondered if it would all be about death but eventually it started to move away from death.  Some of the chapters really go off the rails going on strange tangents.

Each chapter shares some characters.  A baby in one chapter appears as an adult in a later chapter.  In books like this I expect to find clues in each chapter that all come together in some elegant manner in the last chapter or two.  If done well you will be surprised but will see how everything comes together.  This book was not done correctly.  The last chapter takes a hard turn introducing something that is totally unexpected.  It's like reading a murder mystery and finding out the killer is a character introduced in the last chapter of the book.

I gave this book three stars out of five on Goodreads.  The off the rails chapters and the totally crazy last chapter did not sit well with me.  There was potential here but it was wasted.

Sunday, February 05, 2023

Key West Roadtrip 2023 - Epilogue

I enjoyed our roadtrip but it was tough, emotionally and physically.  There is no way to visit three Civil Rights Museums without being torn up emotionally.  These are not happy places.  The rest of what we did - Key West, manatees, NASA, diamond digs, visiting family - didn't quite balance it all out.  It's hard to balance so much injustice.

Our roadtrip felt a lot harder physically than other roadtrips we've done in the past.  This one was 4,360 miles (7,016 km).  The longest, probably our Route 66 trip, was longer but not by much ... 300 miles or so longer.  That one went from Omaha to Chicago to Santa Monica, CA to San Francisco and back to Omaha.  I don't remember it feeling as hard as this latest roadtrip did (this could be selective memory's doing).  Part of it may have been age ... Route 66 was almost twelve years ago ... but I think how we arranged activities and driving was a major part.

On this trip we arranged the activities for the mornings and saved all the driving for the afternoons.  I think this made the driving portions too long.  If we did it again, planning the activities for the early afternoon would work better as it would split the driving into morning and afternoon legs.  The activities, be they digging for diamonds or visiting a museum, would break up the long and tedious driving.

There is evidence for this.  The days between Birmingham, Memphis, and St. Louis were all shorter than four hours driving and none of them felt terrible.  It was the ten, eight, and seven hour driving days that exhausted us.

Things don't stay the same.  We are getting older.  What was once easy may not be so easy anymore.  Live, learn, and adapt.

I've gone back and updated the Roadtrip posts.  I added pictures to a couple and altered the text a little bit on a few more. I added pictures of the mangrove kayak and the manatee snorkeling to my 2023-01 Key West Roadtrip Google Photos album.

Friday, February 03, 2023

Key West Roadtrip 2023 - Day Thirteen - The Gateway And The Way Home

UPDATE 02-04-2023

The Gateway Arch looking east.
On our last day we had breakfast at the hotel and then headed to downtown St. Louis to visit the Gateway Arch.  We'd both been there before but we were both kids. I think I was there in the 1968 - 1971 time frame only a few years after it was finished in 1965.

We went through the museum portion fairly quickly before watching a movie documenting the construction of the arch.  The movie felt like the cheesy films we used to watch in school in the pre-VCR days which is probably when it was made.

After the movie we got in line to go up the arch.  Getting here early on a Tuesday morning has its advantages as the line was only eight people long.  The elevator/tram that takes you up 620 feet (189 m) to the top consists of five tiny cars that hold five people each.  The Wife and I had a car to ourselves.  The door is glass but, since the tram runs on the inside of the concrete and steel arch you only see the interior staircase on the way up.  Apparently before 1967 walking up the one thousand and seventy-six stairs was the only way to the top.  The tram is described as a combination of an elevator, escalator, and a Ferris wheel.  You can feel the cars rock a little as they follow the curve of the arch.

St. Louis, Missouri looking west from the top of the Gateway Arch.
At the top you have ten minutes to take in the sights (a COVID restriction).  We were lucky and we had mostly clear skies this day and could see all the way to the horizon.  The view of the city is pretty cool.

After coming back down we raided the gift shop for shirts and magnets before heading back to the road.  The Wife had developed a wicked cold over the past day so I would be doing all the driving today.  The sixish hour drive back home was uneventful as the ice storm that had been forecast went south of our route.

This roadtrip felt very long and I will confess that I was ready to go home somewhere around day nine.  Not sure why it felt so long.  I may have some thoughts about that in a later post.  Suffice it to say the Wife and I learned some things this trip.

Photos can be found in my 2023-01 Key West Roadtrip Google Photos album.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Key West Roadtrip 2023 - Day Twelve - The Lorraine Motel

UPDATED 02-04-2023

The Lorraine Motel where MLK Jr. was assassinated.
We finished the civil rights portion of our travels in Memphis, Tennessee at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel.  We normally go through museums quickly but this one was very well done and we spent nearly two hours making our way from slavery to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The museum, located next to the Lorraine Motel where MLK Jr. was killed, gives the place more meaning.  As you work your way through the museum, knowing what is coming at the end, gives more importance to all the exhibits.

True then and true now.
The Wife was coming down with something so on the way out of Memphis we stopped at a drugstore for pain relievers and cough drops.  Hopefully a hot shower and a good night's sleep will get her through this.

The relatively short drive to St. Louis, Missouri was uneventful except for the fact the temperature dropped as we went further north.  At one point we had freezing mist on our windshield.  Fortunately for us it looks like the approaching freezing rain will stay south of St.Louis and shouldn't slow us down tomorrow.

Tomorrow we visit the Gateway Arch before driving home.  Tomorrow night we will be in our own beds.

Photos can be found in my 2023-01 Key West Roadtrip Google Photos album.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Key West 2023 Roadtrip - Days Nine, Ten, And Eleven - NASA, Manatees, And Civil Rights

UPDATED 02-04-2023

Day Nine

We had some breakfast and headed to the Kennedy Space Center.  We arrived right before the parking lot opened and thirty minutes before the gates opened.  We ended up being first in line.  They opened the gates and we walked to the bus tour terminal.  We were following advice the Wife had read suggesting it was best to do the Bus and the Apollo/Saturn V exhibit along the route first before it got crowded.  The advice turned out to be right.

The Saturn V rocket with the insignia of the moon missions.
I'd visited the Kennedy Space Center when I was seven or eight and a lot had changed since I was there.  The command center for the Apollo moon program was now a visitor's center with a Saturn V rocket and displays about the moon landings.  They lead you from one introductory film to another until you exit into the main display room and the Saturn V rocket is revealed.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket being transported for reuse.
We got back on the bus and headed back to the main visitor's center.  Our trip back was interrupted briefly when a truck pulling a refurbished Falcon 9 rocket crossed the road.  I was surprised the refurbished rocket, that was being reused, still had carbon scoring from prior missions.

The Space Shuttle Atlantis.
Back at the visitor's center we did the Atlantis exhibit which covered the entire Space Shuttle program.  The exhibit was set up like the Apollo one - a movie opening to reveal the Space Shuttle Atlantis hanging in front of you.  The shuttle is a lot smaller than you think.  The exhibits include simulations of working in a zero-G environment, a model of the space station you can climb through (the Wife did ... I didn't), and a 'reentry' slide (the Wife did ... I didn't).  There was also a section about the astronauts lost during the Challenger and Columbia disasters.  The last thing we both did was a Space Shuttle launch simulator that was interesting and felt surprisingly real.

We ate some lunch and hit a few smaller exhibits about Mars and commercial space partners.  We finished with an attempted shopping spree in the "Largest Space Store".  I say attempted because nearly every shirt I liked was not available in my size.  We still managed to leave with three shirts and several magnets.

The rest of the day we drove back to the Wife's cousin's place for the night.  Google Maps tried to steer us away from congestion but just managed to add an extra hour to our travels.  The algorithm does weird things sometimes.  We filled up the car with family heirlooms to take back home to distribute to others in her family.  

Day Ten

A manatee and friends.
We left Tampa and headed an hour up the coast to Crystal River, Florida where we swam with the manatees.  First of all, it was cold that day with temps in the fifties.  We donned wetsuits and took a pontoon boat cruise through the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.  Manatees need fresh water and there are five fresh water springs that feed into the refuge.

We found one early and we all got in the water.  It turns out it was warmer in the water than on the boat.  I got some good pictures of the feeding manatee and large fish in the area.  The manatees are huge.  Almost hippopotamus size fully grown.  I won't post pictures until I get home and have a chance to process the pictures on my camera.

We got back in the boat and froze out patootees off.  I developed the most severe case of the shakes I've ever experienced.  We did get some relief when we poured cups of hot water inside our wetsuits.

Momma and baby manatees ... they stay together for almost five years.
We moved to another spring and there were manatees everywhere so we got back in.  We saw a mother and baby along with others of all sizes.  We were making our way back towards the boat when a manatee swam under the Wife, turned over on its back, and grabbed the Wife with his fins.  They to cuddle her.  The Wife held still and stared down into the face of the manatee.  It probably was just trying to warm up.  It eventually let her go and swam away.  You can say the Wife got her money's worth on that tour.

A memorial to the victims of
water cannons made more
poignant by rain water running
down her face and chin.

We returned to a hot shower and dry clothes.  We left Crystal River and drove just over seven hours to just south of Birmingham, Alabama.  As we drove north several muscles in my neck, shoulders, and back started stiffening up and hurting.  I suspect it was a result of the shivering and cold water.  

Day Eleven

It was raining off and on this day when we drove into Birmingham to take a civil rights tour of the city.  We met with the guide and one other  tour member and had an interesting combination of walking and driving tour of the civil rights history of Birmingham.  The area was in iron country and back during the civil rights struggles the Klan had access to dynamite.  The result was fifty - sixty bombings against civil rights leaders giving Birmingham the nickname of Bombingham.

We learned about the children marches and the four children killed when a church was dynamited.  The twisting of the laws by white supremacist Bull Connor.  All this was with the backdrop of the dilapidated, run down city streets.  The poverty reeked.

History is important to learn no matter how painful it is.  It cannot be buried by bigotry for long.  It will always come back even stronger.

After the tour we drove towards Memphis, Tennessee in the pouring rain.  We were grateful that the hard rain held off until the end of our tour.  We stopped for the night just outside the city.

Tomorrow we drive into Memphis to visit their civil rights museum and the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.   We are hoping the upheaval caused by the recent killings by police there doesn't hamper our plans.

Photos can be found in my 2023-01 Key West Roadtrip Google Photos album.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Key West 2023 Roadtrip - Day Eight - Heading Towards The Stars

Today was a driving day.  We slept in late and left the Keys heading north-east towards Titusville, Florida.  The last twenty-four hours have resulted in a few changes to our Itinerary.  We decided to cancel our crawl through a cave near Birmingham.  We moved the Civil Rights tour a day earlier.  This gives us a less hectic final four days of our roadtrip.  The cave may have been interesting but I don't think it's going away anytime soon.

We arrived in Titusville a bit earlier than we usually do each day so we looked for things to do.  There is apparently only two things to do in Titusville.  One is to watch rocket launches from Kennedy Space Center - there are none at the moment.  The second is night kayaking through bioluminescent plankton which really looks cool - the plankton is seasonal and peaks between July and September so none for us.  We ended up just driving around looking for a cute downtown (none was found and what we found was closed early for some unknown reason) until we stopped to get milkshakes.

Speaking of hectic, I don't expect I will be posting over the next couple days.  I will try to catch up when things slow down a bit.

Over the next few days we will be visiting the Kennedy Space Center, snorkeling with manatees, and doing a Civil Rights tour in Birmingham, Alabama.  Hopefully I will find time to post after the tour.

Photos can be found in my 2023-01 Key West Roadtrip Google Photos album.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Key West Roadtrip 2023 - Day Seven - Key West (Part Two)

UPDATED 02-04-2023

Today was a day of relaxation.  We really only had one thing planned for the day and that required zero effort on our part.

The day started with a flash.  My alarm went off.  I turned it off and got back in bed.  We both just laid there with our eyes closed trying to decide if we wanted to get up when we both saw a flash.  Since our eyes were closed we have no idea what the flash was.  The sliding glass door was covered with a heavy curtain and the bathroom door was closed blocking the only other window in our room.  We both got out of bed but saw nothing (no sparking or scorching) and smelled nothing (no smoking electrical fire) so we decided it must have been Robert the Creepy Doll's fault and we got dressed.

Which way?
We stopped in Marathon, Florida at a place called Porky's for breakfast.  I had pulled pork for breakfast for the second time ever.  Not sure I'm convinced that anything with BBQ sauce should be considered breakfast food.  It was good though.  (The first time I had it was back in July in Gorham, New Hampshire before my Appalachian Trail hike started.)

From there we went to Fort Zachary Taylor Historical Park ... not for the fort but for the connected beach.  We spent four hours sunning ourselves.  Well, the Wife sunned herself.  I sat in the shade of a rented umbrella while I read my book (My feet and calves were exposed and they did burn to a crisp).  It was a bit windy but it was a nice 85℉ (29℃).  We had some rain yesterday and there is rain in the forecast tomorrow so things worked out for us.  (Thank you Robert?) 

How I spent my Key West vacation.
Tonight we went back to the Florida Boy Bar and Grill for dinner.  The food was good the last time we ate there so why risk a bad meal somewhere else.  My meal was ok - BBQ short rib grilled cheese - but there was fennel in the bread which I do not like.

Tomorrow we drive to Titusville, Florida where we will be close to some space age entertainment.

Photos can be found in my 2023-01 Key West Roadtrip Google Photos album.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Key West Roadtrip 2023 - Day Six - Key West (Part One)

UPDATED 02-04-2023

We got up early and drove to Stock Island which is right outside Key West. Here we got in our two person kayak and joined our guide and fellow kayakers on a tour of the mangrove forest. This turned out to be pretty cool. We kayaked through natural trails through the forests that build islands over the centuries, provide habitat to numerous wildlife, and protect the islands from hurricanes. We saw tree crabs, cassiopeia jellyfish that live upside down on the bottom of the shallows, sea hares which are shell-less snails about six inches or more in size, starfish, and nurse sharks. I will add some pictures of some of these creatures when I get home and can process my camera pictures.
Kayaking through the mangroves.
Southernmost point.
After the kayak we drove into Key West proper and tried to find a parking spot.  The first parking lot was full but, to our surprise, I managed to find a spot near the southernmost part of the continental United States.  We stopped at the Southernmost Point Bar for some lunch before exploring the town.  While we ate under the umbrella it poured rain.  Fortunately it was nearly over by the time we finished lunch.

First stop here was the Southernmost Point Marker.  Not much to see here really except a large painted marker.  Still cool though.  So far we have been at the most southern, western, and the most central part of the United States on our travels.

Next we walked to the Hemingway house and learned about the writer, his life, and his wives.  We saw the famous Hemingway cats - there are now fifty-seven of them - who are famous for having extra toes.  One cat we saw had one extra toe on the front paws and two extra toes on the back paws.

Where Hemingway did a lot of his writing.
Our next stop, not on our itinerary, was a lighthouse across the street from the Hemingway house. From the top of the eighty-eight steps you could see all of Key West and it was an interesting vantage point.  (I may be sore tomorrow not only from the kayak rowing but also from the stair climbing.)

Robert the Doll.
The Tennessee Williams exhibit that was on our itinerary was not open so it got skipped.

We returned to our car and drove to the Fort East Martello museum home of Robert the Creepy Doll. This museum actually was fun. We usually don't like museums but this was an eclectic mix of all sorts of random stuff including Robert who was, in fact, a very creepy doll.  The scary music right out of a bad horror movie set the atmosphere perfectly.  We also saw junk art and a few iguanas sunning themselves on the fort grounds.

We ended the day with a relaxing sit on out back porch watching the sun go down over Duck Key.

Tomorrow we return to Key West for some beach sitting and, perhaps, a few more stops in town.

Photos can be found in my 2023-01 Key West Roadtrip Google Photos album.
Sunset over Duck Key.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Key West Roadtrip 2023 - Days Three, Four, And Five - Mobile, Family, And Getting To The Keys.

UPDATED 02-04-2023

Day Three

Mobile - Home of
On day three we had a scheduled tour of the African-American Heritage Trail.   The tour, led by an excellent and knowledgeable guide, took us through the history of the Clotilda - the last slave ship to bring slaves from Africa - through the formation of Africatown by the descendants of the slaves.  The Clotilda was sent on a bet.  A rich landowner in Mobile bet that he could bring slaves from africa (at the time, while slavery was legal, the importation of african slaves was illegal on penalty of death) and get away with it.  So the last slaves brought to America from Africa were brought here on a bet.  *sigh*  The landowners family is one of the prominent families in Mobile today so they got away with it. *sigh*

The tour took us to places where once stood successful African-American businesses that were destroyed and turned into parking lots and vacant lots in the name of 'urban renewal'.  We learned a lot of history on this tour and it was all heartbreaking.

Outside the welcome center, where we started the tour, was Mardi-Gras square.  Mardi-Gras in Mobile, Alabama pre-dates the one in New Orleans.  The Christmas trees in the square and welcome center had been redecorated in the purple, yellow, and green of Mardi-Gras.

We left Mobile around noon in the rain and drove to Tampa, Florida to visit with the Wife's aunt and cousins.  That drive felt like it took forever.  This was likely because a lot of it was either in the rain or in the dark ... or both.

Day Four

Day four was spent with family at Mass and eating lunch at a great tapas bar/restaurant.  Most of the day was spent chatting about all sorts of things which is what we do when family gets together.

We walked around the block, bought lemonade from some girls' lemonade stand (we overpaid on purpose), and ended the day with a homemade chili dinner.

It was nice having a day where the Wife or I didn't have to drive.

Day Five

Day five was a travel day.  We drove from Tampa to Long Key in the Florida Keys.  The drive wasn't that bad until the last hour.  A bus had stalled on a bridge between keys.  The traffic was backed up ten to twelve miles and what should have taken us less than twenty minutes took over an hour.

The view from our back patio.  We share it with a few other rooms and at least one pelican.
Our hotel, the Edgewater Lodge is awesome.  The Wife picked a good one.  Our room backs to Gulf waters and we have a shared patio along the waterline.

The day ended with a steak, mac'n'cheese, and asparagus dinner at the Florida Boy Bar and Grill.  It was one of the best steaks I've had in a long time.

Tomorrow we kayak in a mangrove forest and explore Key West.  I forgot my SD card adapter so pictures I take with my waterproof camera will not be posted until I get home.  Sorry.  Silly me.

Photos can be found in my 2023-01 Key West Roadtrip Google Photos album.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Key West Roadtrip 2023 - Day Two - Digging Deeper

Our stop of the day.
On our second day we checked out of our hotel and went to Crater of Diamonds State Park.  The draw of this park are the diamonds that are 'easily' found near the surface.

We arrived, rented our screens and shovels, and headed out to the plowed field to look for our fortune in diamonds.  I figured we would be there for two to three hours.  After about an hour I was done.  We kept at it for another half hour maybe before we decided to quit.  We didn't find any diamonds.  The Wife found some quartz and some calcite that both look very diamond-like but aren't valuable.  I found out I wasn't patient enough to be a prospector.

The diamond field is periodically plowed to help stir up the diamonds.
We, of course, are just amateurs.  While we were there we saw people loading up dozens of buckets full of dirt to be sifted and looked through.  Diamonds one carat or more are commonly found here but not by us.

It was a chilly day but the filtered sun was warm while we unsuccessfully hunted for riches.
The rest of the day we drove to Mobile, Alabama (passing through Louisiana and Mississippi along the way).  We stopped for a great lunch in a little diner in Farmerville, Louisiana.  The Wife did most of the driving today.  The eight hours of driving felt like more than the ten hours of the day before.  I'm starting to wonder if I'm getting too old for road trips.

Tomorrow we take a tour of Africatown and learn about the Clotilda, the last slave ship before driving on to Tampa, Florida to visit family.

Photos can be found in my 2023-01 Key West Roadtrip Google Photos album.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Key West Roadtrip 2023 - Day One - Diving To The Deep South

UPDATED 02-04-2023

I got up early to clear the half inch or so of snow and spread deicer before we got on the road.  The road conditions were not nearly as bad as we expected.  Thank you Mother Nature for that.

The first part of the drive was kinda boring.  The vacation feeling arrived when we stopped at a Waffle House for brunch.  As the Wife says, the vacation doesn't start until you eat out in a restaurant you don't have back home.  We aren't picky ... Waffle House fit the bill.

The Waffle House ... the unofficial start to our vacation and famous for the Waffle House Index.
Once we got to southern Missouri the landscape changed to forest covered mountains with outcrops of rock.  The views along the way were very nice and will be beautiful once the trees leaf out.  Fall, with the changing colors of the leaves, are probably spectacular.

The vistas continued into Arkansas.  The last couple hours took us up, over, and around mountains and valleys.  Small towns, where churches outnumbered the people, added variety to the scenery.  The churches have names that look like someone tossed a bunch of semi-religious words into a bag and then randomly drew four or five and strung them all together.

Despite the gorgeous views, ten hours of driving through four states can be draining and I was drained (and a bit irritable) by the time we got to our hotel in Nashville, Arkansas.  My only regret on this day was not stopping at the Walmart Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas.  It was a long driving day and it would have been hard to fit in.  (I'm only somewhat kidding here.)  Looking back I think we should have divided the driving over two days to make it less exhausting.

Tomorrow we dig for diamonds at Crater of Diamonds State Park.

As I upload photos, you will be able to find them in my 2023-01 Key West Roadtrip Google Photos album.

It's Roadtripping Time!

Today the Wife and I are heading out on a roadtrip.  We are heading to the south ending up eventually in Key West.  We will be visiting the Wife's Aunt and cousin who live in Tampa along the way.

The Wife has planned an incredible itinerary for us.  Here are a few things we will be doing over the next couple of weeks:

  • Dig for diamonds at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas.
  • Explore the history of Africatown and the Clotilda (the last slave ship) near Mobile, Alabama.
  • Kayak in a mangrove forest in the West Florida Keys.
  • In Key West we will:
    • Visit the Hemingway house.
    • Visit Robert the creepy doll.
    • Visit the Tennessee Williams museum.
    • Visit the Southernmost point of the United States.
  • Visit the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida
  • Snorkel with manatees in Crystal Springs, Florida
  • Explore a cave at Sims Cave State Park (this will require us to squeeze/crawl through narrow passages and you are asked to bring a set of dry clothing to change into after you exit the cave).
  • Take a civil rights tour in Birmingham, Alabama.
  • Visit the Lorraine Hotel and civil rights museum (where Martin Luther King was assassinated) in Memphis, Tennessee.
  • Visit the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri.
Like our other trips, I do not know if I will post along the way or wait until we get back.  For some reason I feel like writing on the road this time but I know this has not worked in the past.  It all depends on how much energy I have at the end of the day.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Book: Becky Chambers' "A Psalm For The Wild-Built"

I decided to move away from non-fiction for now.  The second book of 2023 was a novella written by Becky Chambers.  I've read four of her books.  I liked all four of them, not because they told compelling stories, but because the author created a colorful and complex world full of interesting and fleshed out characters.

Becky Chambers' "A Psalm for the Wild-Built" is not explicitly in the same world as the other four books but it could easily be in it.  It takes place on a habitable moon orbiting a gas giant.  A world where the machines in the factories accidentally gain sentience.  The people invite the sentient machines to join them as equals but the machines refuse.  They chose to go into the wilderness to live a peaceful life away from humans.  The humans, not knowing how the machines became sentient, chose to deindustrialize.  They still have technology but they do not use machines for manufacturing.

The story follows a monk in search for meaning in his life.  In a spontaneous action he leaves in search of meaning in his life, going into the wilderness to an old abandoned religious retreat.  Along the way he meets a robot who is trying to find out if humans are doing ok since the machines left.  Their meeting helps both work through their issues.  Actually, the robot has few issues compared to the issues the monk is working through.

I enjoyed this novella as I've enjoyed the author's other books.  I gave it four stars out of five on Goodreads because it made me think about meaning and freedom.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Travel Magnets - 2022 Fall Travels Edition

Seventy-Five.  That is the number of travel magnets we purchased on our travels through Israel, Turkey, Egypt, and Ethiopia.  It was a long trip with many things to see but that number still feels a bit excessive, even for me.  There are also some accidental duplicates (i.e. two magnets commemorating the same place) but that really doesn't account for the number.  There were just so many places to commemorate.

The magnets are a mix of generic and unique.  I always prefer the handmade one over the generic photo magnet but handmade ones can be hard to find. Here are a few of my favorite ones:

Jars similar to the ones the dead sea scrolls were found in.
A hand painted picture of a Gulet.
I hated my camel ride but I like this camel magnet.
The face of an Ethiopian woman.
The Travel Magnet folder now has six hundred and seven magnets.  We are once again running out of space to display them all.  I will have to add more metal panels to the pantry hall walls to display them all.

I've always had trouble photographing the 3-D magnets.  The flat ones can be scanned on our flatbed scanner.  The 3-D ones always had issues with weird shadows.  I fixed it this time by purchasing a cheap ring light.  The one I bought is a piece of sh!t but it works for me.

You can see all our magnets in the Travel Magnets tab at the top of the blog.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Weekly Ephemera #42

  • Played one-sided phone tag with the roofers.  Not looking good for getting this work scheduled in a timely fashion.
  • Took my Mom to her eye doctor appointment.  It went well so we rewarded ourselves with ice cream.  My eye appointment is coming up this week.
  • Walked twice this week for a total of 17.8 miles (28.7 km).  Didn't walk on Friday because I had to take the car in for routine maintenance.
  • Speaking of the car, we are leaving on a roadtrip later this week.  It's going to be a long drive so I wanted the car to be checked out and ready to go.  This trip is the domestic roadtrip I mentioned in my year end post.  I will post more about this.  Stay tuned.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Book: Jonathan Haidt's "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics And Religion"

The first book of 2023 was a book from 2012.  Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist, explores why humans divide themselves into groups and why these groups are often at odds with each other.

Haidt's "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion" is an interesting book.  The divisions between our religions and political parties that he tried to explain in 2012 only became worse - by orders of magnitude in my opinion - since the publication of the book.

Some of what the author talks about is not in my wheelhouse ... namely psychology.  Despite this most of the concepts he discusses are easy to understand.  You can see how the divisions are based on psychology  and evolution.

Understanding why we are so far apart, while interesting, is not very uplifting.  How do we correct millions of years of evolution?  How do you change how our unconscious mind reacts to differences?  it's all kind of depressing if you think about it.

I gave this book four stars out of five on Goodreads.  It was interesting enough.  I just wish the message was more positive.  I just wish I didn't see the same divisions in myself.