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Happy Thanksgiving!  Today, I'm thankful not only for the "usual" things like my good health and loving family but also for the fact that today marks the start of a very long vacation for me.  With my recent assignment having ended yesterday (a half-day and a farewell party), I won't start another until mid-January.  I'll be out-of-town (mostly out-of-country) until that time except for this coming week and a little over a week in December.

The best part is that it really feels like a vacation.  I really don't have anything that I have to do other than perhaps getting a haircut.  I do want to do some cleaning in my apartment — prep-work for moving in seven months (there's two closets that I want to clean out, throwing things away and even selling a few items on eBay).

I really do feel like I've accomplished a lot in the past few days (nights).

I'd finished buying Christmas gifts for my family quite some time ago but had been putting off wrapping those presents, boxing them up for shipping, and lugging them to the post office (my least favorite parts of the entire holiday season).  But I finally knuckled down a couple of nights ago, struggled with the wrapping paper and managed to find boxes large enough to fit the various gifts (for Spencer's gift, I had to adapt two large cartons and tape them together).  I put the three large boxes in my car once I was finished packing them full and stopped by the post office on my way home yesterday.  It cost me almost $40 to mail them but at least I'm completely finished with gift-giving for the year.

I also packed for my impending London trip that same night.

I've always hated checking luggage; everytime when I do, it seems like something bad happens.  (The last straw was a couple of years ago when I was returning home from Christmas in Florida.  I had a stopover in Houston where it was pouring rain.  I could see my "waterproof" duffle sitting on the runway for almost an hour before it was loaded onboard the plane.  Naturally, everything in the bag was completely soaked by the time I opened it back in Albuquerque.)  Well, I've been looking for the "perfect" carryon bag which would fit everything I'd need for any given trip.  I do like duffle bags (I now buy an extra waterproof liner to encase my items inside the bag) and I like rolling suitcases.  I had found a good-sized but fairly inexpensive combo rolling duffle for my recent Pacific Northwest journey.  It handled the trip well EXCEPT that one of the wheels caved-in about midway through the trip; I'm sure I left all sorts of black marks along the tile floors in the Seattle and Albuquerque airports from dragging the damaged bag around.  Back to the drawing board (meaning, back to the online luggage retailers):

I already had a High Sierra drop-duffle (a lower compartment for clothes, an upper for other supplies) with wheels PLUS concealed backpack straps so I knew those were very high-quality.  But this particular bag is a 36-incher — much too big to take on the plane with me.  After much searching, I finally found they had a 20-incher (just within the airline regulations for a carry-on); not too many retailers carry it for some reason.  When it arrived, I was very pleased with the bag but also realized it would be too small to carry the electronic gear I "need" to travel with (digital still and video cameras with extra lenses plus their battery chargers, plus miscellaneous other small items).  I could put all of these items into my existing camera bag and fasten it to the duffle with D-clamps, but it was a bulky solution.  I spend a long time prowling the local Wal-Mart, Target, etc. looking for "something better."  I actually found the solution on eBay; I'd purchased a lens filter kit from a seller and noticed the store (a major retailer of camera supplies) also had a variety of Tamarc bags with a messenger bag-style design.  It's less bulky than most camera bags yet has a place for everything I needed to take (and well-protected, too).  Plus, it has one of those pockets so you can slide it over the handle of your carry-on roller bag.  When it arrived, I was amazed at how much I could fit in it!  The best thing is that it qualifies as the allowed "one personal item" in addition to the carry-on bag.

I easily fit all the clothing, travel docs, and electronic gear I need for London into these two pieces of luggage.  There's also room for a bit more.  Mission accomplished for this trip, at least.  Packing for my mid-December to mid-January trip will be a bit more difficult as I'll be spending a week in a cold climate and the rest of the time in a very hot sub-tropical location.  What to do with my warm-weather clothing while on the beach in my limited amount of luggage?  Perhaps I'll mail my coat back home from Portland and perhaps just keep one warm shirt for the return trip (or, I could buy a sweatshirt during one of the layovers coming home — something to wear while I'm sitting in the Vancouver airport waiting for the next plane back south).  I'm sure packing for that trip will require a couple of "dry runs" but I'm pretty good at solving puzzles (which is how I view such packing); this is why I no longer wait until the night before a trip to pack for it.

I did make a mistake by waiting until yesterday to do my grocery shopping.  I was already a bit frustrated from the heavy city traffic by the time I arrived at Smith's (many drivers here don't seem to obey traffic laws on a "good" day, much less the day before Thanksgiving).  It seemed that many of the bad drivers of Albuquerque had arrived at the store simultaneously and were intent on playing "demolition derby" with the shopping carts.  When I grocery shop, I like to go down each aisle checking out the sales before I decide on what type of meals I'm going to put together.  But that was impossible yesterday and it took all my concentration to avoid being run over by a cart.  The past couple of years, I'd cooked elaborate dinners that took hours so I wanted something simple for this Thanksgiving.  They no longer seem to sell those 2-pound boneless turkey loaves with gravy so I ended up buying a package of four turkey legs; then, I decided that it would be nice to "splurge" on a nice steak so I bought one of those two (I used to grill steaks a lot but I haven't done that in a couple of years).  I also bought a couple of boxes of Thai noodle dinners (coconut ginger, which I haven't tried yet, and pad Thai — my favorite).  Everything else was desert-related (I've been dieting recently on salads, fruits, and noodles so I've been craving some sweets; I'm going to pig-out today and go back on my diet next week) — apple cobbler, pumpkin pie, pumpkin ice cream, and some sweet rolls).  Oh yes, I did get some of those Hawaiian sweet buns and a package of cresent rolls.  I probably won't eat much today (just a bit of snacking, perhaps), but at least I won't have to go back to the grocery store until after I return from London.

What else?  Big plans for today — since I'm still awake (I napped through most of prime-time television last night), I've got the CBS Morning Show on and will probably sit through the Thanksgiving Day parade waiting for my sister to call.  Then, I'll probably watch some football while trying to read between the exciting plays (a Dean Barrett mystery novel set in Bangkok).  I doubt if I'll watch a DVD; I finished watching the last episode of The West Wing fifth season set a couple of nights ago and already watched The Rabbit Proof Fence this morning (which I HIGHLY recommend, by the way).  There's nothing else that I'm in the mood to watch today (I have a bunch of recently-downloaded concert DVD's that I haven't seen yet, but I just haven't been in the mood lately).

I'm still debating whether or not to put any of my Christmas decorations up this year.  It used to be my tradition that I'd put up the tree and other things on Thanksgiving.  I think that I didn't do anything last year until sometime after my birthday.  Since I won't be in the country for most of the holiday season I certainly won't put up the tree (a huge ordeal even when I'm in the mood for it).  Perhaps I'll put the cards on the mantle this year (received the first one a week ago — from my tailor in Hong Kong) and maybe hang my stocking (knitted by my Grandmother Jochim it's almost as old as I am).

It's odd that I'm in more of a Christmas mood this year than I have been the past several.  I'm looking forward to seeing London decorated for the holiday and it looks like there's several Christmas-related events I can attend in Portland.  But in the place where I'll be for the actual day doesn't celebrate the holiday at all so it will be very interesting (there is, however, a large expatriate community there so there might be a Christmas party at one of their hangout bars).

The weather forecast for today in Albuquerque sounds very unseasonable:  clear and sunny skies with a high of 63 degrees.  If it's still nice out tomorrow, perhaps I'll take a drive downtown (been aching to go down there and take some photos of a few certain things) and maybe even get my car washed (it REALLY needs it!).  It's just plain strange thinking there isn't anywhere that I have to be until next Saturday and the flight to London.  It's a good feeling, but I hope I don't waste it all away by puttering around at home!



I just finished (finally) watching the documentary on the making of the Born To Run album included in the 30th anniversary package.  It actually got bumped down in rotation by Madagasgar and Star Wars Episode III (which shows how much Springsteen has fallen in my "priorities" recently).  (By the way, I was a bit disappointed in Madagascar — loved the penquins, though — and thoroughly enjoyed Star Wars; this was the first installment that I hadn't seen in the theatre first.)

Anyway, I thought the Wings For Wheels documentary was very well-done and a real treat for long-time fans.  I did feel it was a tad too long (just hitting the 90-minute mark) and that I would have edited it slightly differently (too many shots of Bruce driving to Freehold, for example).  There's A LOT of previously-unseen footage, not only of the E Streeters working in the studio but also of live footage.  I'd expected some shots of the Hammersmith Odeon concert to be worked in from time-to-time, but there was also plenty of footage from other concerts from that era (including, significantly, a snipet of the slowed-down version of "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" that was only performed during late December 1975 shows at Philadelphia's Tower Theatre).  It was interesting to see that they used a bit of audience-shot footage that has circulated among collectors for many years (that of Widener College in February 1975); really, the only previously-seen non-Hammersmith live footage included.

The parts I found most interesting was the playback of different versions of the "Born To Run" track — first the instrumental backing track, then portions as various instruments were added to the mix.  Portions of "Jungleland" were presented in a similar way, although I wish much more was included.  I would have preferred more of the other songs to have been included as well (we hear bits of "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out", "Backstreets", "She's The One," and several others but they aren't given the in-depth treatment as "Born To Run" and "Jungleland" are).

I felt it was interesting that Bruce's previous manager, Mike Appel, was included as well.  He was, afterall, an integral part of the production of the title track of the album before Jon Landau entered the picture.  They did dance around the controversy a bit and made no mention that a year later Bruce had to take Appel to court to gain rights to his own songs.  Among the things Appel did was legally prevent Springsteen from entering the studio to record the follow-up album to Born To Run until mid-1977.  You could tell all parties involved were careful not to bring up the bad blood that still exists among them to this day.

In whole, a very fine production.  That DVD also includes a significant bonus feature — three songs from the 1973 CBS Week Of Music convention at L.A.'s Ahmanson Theatre.  Some of this footage was released in a three-minute promotional reel (interspersed with circus scenes) by Columbia in late 1973 but the (relatively) uncut songs hadn't seen outside of the convention.  Both "Spirit In The Night" and "Wild Billy's Circus Story" are presented in their entirety; "Thundercrack" fades out towards the end and, I believe, the band intros have been edited out (I can't remember if Bruce was doing his comical intros during that period; my favorite occurs during the song in a January 1974 performance).  But what's unexcusable is that the end credits list the wrong date (May 1, 1973) for the gig; it actually occurred in late July (the same version of "Wild Billy's Circus Story", then called "Circus Song", appeared on a promo single that September with the same wrong date but has since been proven by those Springsteen experts employing almost "forensic" detective work to have taken place on July 27).  This little mistake does leave kind of a bad feeling among some Springsteen fans — an unfortunate end to a great DVD.

Perhaps I'll listen to a bit of the CD and watch the Hammersmith Odeon concert sometime in the near future.  First, I'm looking forward to watching the new U2 live DVD which I got last night (I accidentally purchased the one-disc version, forgetting until I arrived home that there's also a 2-disc deluxe version which I would prefer.  And, speaking of U2, I recently found some VERY old Irish television footage of them performing two songs in 1978!  They look so young!)



I've been a Bruce Springsteen fan for many years.  I almost became a lapsed fan this year; his latest album — Devils And Dust only received a couple of spins in my CD player and I honestly haven't listened to any of his music since late April or early May.  I didn't purchase the Storytellers DVD when it was released in August, nor have I downloaded any concert recordings since the Spring.  His activities just haven't seemed interesting to me lately; I've been in a different place musically and lyrically for quite some time.

However, this past Tuesday's release of Born To Run:  30th Anniversary Edition may help bring me back to the fold.  The record's nine-and-a-half- minute masterpiece, "Jungleland," has been my favorite song — by any performer — since the first time I heard it on the radio sometime during my high school years.  The lyrics really spoke to me and the variety of music within that one song sums up all I think is great about The E Street Band.  I've always thought of "Jungleland" as rock & roll's version of West Side Story.  The rest of the album is pretty remarkable as well.

The reissue of the album includes one CD (just the original eight songs — no bonus tracks), digitally-remastered for the first time, plus two DVD's — one featuring a documentary about the making of album featuring all sorts of previously-unseen footage (even for fanatical bootleg collectors like myself) and the other including one of his two Hammersmith Odeon, London, concerts from November 1975.  Although this concert footage has been bootleged, in part, for years (in a mixture of black & white and color footage), it will be wonderful to see the entire show restored to it's orginal running order and mixed in 5.1 Surround Sound.

My copy arrived in today's mail (a little disappointed that it didn't arrive on release day since I'd preordered it a couple of months ago).  The packaging is pretty cool — a large box housing the three discs, each of which are in miniture gatefold sleeves (they were individually shrinkwrapped, however, kind of a waste of plastic if you ask me).  The CD itself is designed to look like a small record, complete with grooves and Columbia red label; even the non-label side is black (I imagine this is what the recent Japanese "mini-LP" reissues look like, but since those are so expensive and I own the original CD's, I haven't bought any of those!).

I may check out the documentary tonight but won't watch the concert until tomorrow when I can turn up the volume a bit more.  And I'll definitely check out the remastered "Jungleland" first before playing the rest of the CD; I want to see if they've finally removed that bed of hiss underlying all other releases (even the gold disc released 10 years or so ago).  Will the song sound any different without the hiss?  We'll see.  But I'm sure it will still move me the same way it does whenever I hear it.  What a grand way to begin listening to Springsteen again.  It's been too long...



The Marillion t-shirt I designed for the London trip arrived today.  That was quick!!  It looks even better in real-life than it did on the design template.  But the shirt's a bit lighter-weight than I'd thought it would be so I'll probably have to wear another t-shirt underneath.  (This current cold weather has me thinking alot about such things...)  But kudos to Cafe Press for the quick turnaround (I think having the date on the design helped alert them that I wanted it quickly!  of course, it didn't hurt to click the "Next Day Shipping" box...).


Although we had a short (one night) bout of cold weather last month (including some higher elevation snow), Albuquerque had it's first freeze of the Fall early this morning.  Yesterday's high temperature was 51 degrees Fahrenheit, but that occurred at 1a.m. and it went down from there.  It got as low as 18 degrees at the airport; we typically run about 10 degrees colder than that up here in the Heights.  This was actually the third latest date for our first freeze since they began keeping records back in 1890.

The preview for the 10:00 news mentioned that snow might be in the immediate forecast as well (my guess is that it's just a tease and the snow will actually be at higher elevations or further north).

At any rate, I'm not really ready for cold weather anymore.  Back when I lived in Kansas, I knew how to dress for bitter cold and lots of snow and ice; even when we had wind-chills of negative 20 a few times, I remained toasty warm.  Nowadays, I begin to freeze at home if the temperature falls much below 45 or so.  I own a couple of fairly warm coats but nothing that would protect me against sustained cold for more than a half-hour or so.

Which has me wondering what I should back for my impending London trip.  The only time I've been there previously was during summertime (and during unseasonably warm weather at that).  I don't want to freeze when I'm outside taking photos, standing in line before the Marillion concert, or exploring the back alleys of Whitechapel during the nighttime Jack The Ripper walk.  But I also don't want to spend the concert sweating under a heavy coat (the venue doesn't seem to have a coatcheck).  Since I'm now traveling by carry-on only (if I can help it, I plan to never check another bag), want to be prepared for the weather but I don't want unneeded clothing items to take up too much space in my luggage.  Current thinking is that I'll pack a couple of long-sleeved shirts and my Marillion hooded-fleece jacket — I think it will be warm enough, but then again I'm not really sure.

And I'm not sure about the next trip as well.  I don't know how much colder Portland will be in mid-December.  The city has been relatively mild thus far but, with my luck, it will be hit with a major winter storm at the time of my visit.  What makes packing a bit more complicated is that I will be leaving from Portland for my "secret destination" where it will be much too warm for any type of jacket.  Should I spend three weeks in the tropics carting around unnecessary winter-gear, or should I mail the jacket, etc. home from Portland?  But, then I'll need it on the return trip (well, I'll be spending most of my time on the return in airports and on airplanes so will I even need a coat?).  A dilemna...

With my feet freezing here in Albuquerque and not knowing which jacket I should put on even to walk down to the mailbox has me thinking of such things.  It will all work out in the end (maybe I'll take a light-weight jacket and one sweatshirt to Portland, mail them home from there, and keep another jacket in the car to put on for the drive home from the airport — and that brings up whether I want to drive to the airport in the first place or take a shuttle or taxi rather than pay the parking costs... too many pre-trip "worries"...).



In what is rapidly becoming a tradition, I have just finished making a t-shirt design for my upcoming London trip to see Marillion.  The reason for my trip is to celebrate my 40th birthday with the band at the last concert of their 2005 "Not Quite Xmas Tour".  Lead singer Steve Hogarth had invited me way back in September when we talked in Portland, Oregon.  Indeed, it seems like they're giving the the "royal guest" treatment.

Anyway, I'd designed a couple of t-shirts for their Pacific Northwest "Los Trios Marillos" shows — a design listing all the show dates for the West Coast tour and one for my friend Mike and I specifically for the shows we attended.  (My online user name is "Albuquerque Anorak" and his is "Bozeman Barry", using Marillion's band mascot/logo named Barry, created for 2001's Anoraknophobia album; the t-shirts included the Barry character holding an Albuquerque flag on my shirt and a Montana flag on Mike's shirt.)  The shirts were a big hit with band and fans alike (I even gave my extra shirt to bassist Pete Trewavas; they didn't make any official tour t-shirts so the three I made are all that exist!)

I hadn't even thought of making one for the upcoming London show until just last week.  I'd been so busy preparing for my upcoming Christmas/New Year's "mystery" journey, that I hadn't been thinking of Marillion at all (gasp!).  But I received an e-mail from the band's communications director with details of what time to be at the soundcheck the afternoon of the show (part of my birthday "celebration").  I suddenly thought, I must make a t-shirt!  As is my usual habit lately, I became too busy and forgot all about it...

This is turning into quite the long-winded post, isn't it?

Well, yesterday I received the latest 2-disc live Marillion CD from the band's Front Row Club (#030 — Bielefeld, Germany 3/20/94).  The shipment included the latest Racket Records (their own label) catalogue listing, among other things, a newly designed t-shirt for their upcoming Colours & Sounds tour documentary DVD.  It was then that I realized the show was only three weeks away and I would be leaving in less time than that; better get cracking on my t-shirt design so there would be time to get it printed!

Since I'd recently received an e-mail from Cafe Press saying they (finally) had black t-shirts available to place designs on, I designed my t-shirt with a black background.  The actual design work didn't take very long since I had a general idea of what I wanted; I reused my "Albuquerque Anorak" flag-holding character and placed him over the design for this short tour.  I added a few words and was ready to upload the front design.

Well, I found out then that the black t-shirts weren't ready to purchase yet (although I could place my design on the black t-shirt template — it looked really sharp!) so I had to go back and redesign for a white background.  I also found out that the black shirts won't be able to use a back design.  But since I was back to white, I made one for my t-shirt.  I decided a cool design would be a map of the world (Marillion had a song called "Map Of The World", incidentally) with an arrow showing my route between Albuquerque and London.  For the two cities, I used small marble logos from the band's most recent album.  I originally had the words "Another long journey for a Marillion concert" across the top but changed it at the last minute.  I also put a small "Albuquerque Anorak" and tour logo and the bottom corners, but now that I placed the order I think it makes the bottom look too crowded.  Oh, well.

I originally thought about having the design printed on a sweatshirt but figured that would be too heavy and hot during the concert.  I didn't want just a regular t-shirt so I went between the two and decided on a baseball jersey with red sleeves (matches the red in the Albuquerque flag).

And without further blather, here's what the finished product will look like (front and back):

Not bad for an hour's worth of work on something I'll probably wear only once!



New Mexico seems to have an awful lot of disrespectful people who like to deface public property. As you drive around Albuquerque, you see plenty of graffiti; the city even has a special division of the Police Department dedicated to catching vandals and cleaning the messes they leave behind.

It particularly angers me with these miscreants target historical or cultural landmarks.

A couple of years ago, somebody defaced the beautiful artwork that had just been installed on the noise-abatement barriers lining the Interstate north of Santa Fe. There have been numerous times when various petroglyphs or ancient pueblos have received coatings of spraypaint.

The latest affront has been the significant number of Albuquerque Tricentennial decorative flags that have been stolen over the past several months. These are large banners that hang from tall poles throughout the tourist areas of the city. Many of the poles - particularly in the Knob Hill area and around the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center - are now empty. That someone would steal these shows how little they care about their own city. It also angers me because - as a taxpayer - I helped buy those flags.

(While on the subject of Albuquerque's Tricentennial, I ordered a nice shirt and some other items from the official website back in October. Although my credit card was debited a month ago, I have yet to receive anything from them and my email inquiries have gone unanswered. If nothing happens this week, I plan on taking my concerns to Mayor Chavez. I'm sure he can get the ball rolling on my order!)

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In just over three weeks, I turn 40 years old. I'll be spending most of this birthday in the air on the way to London via Cincinatti. And yet I haven't even had time to think about that trip at all.

My main focus - in my minimal free time - has been on the second half of the trip after the British journey. Not only have I been trying to learn all I can about my destinations' things to see and do, but I've also been trying to learn to at least speak some of the local language.

There just does't seem to be enough time. I've been working a lot lately and my "usual" home-based projects are stacking up. It wouldn't be that bad, but the stack of pre-trip books and other reading material is starting to intimidate me!

It's been difficult even to get local errands done. For example, I received my 2-year car registration renewal in the mail almost a month ago. It took me until yesterday to get the required emissions check (you would think the air-quality check stations would keep later open hours for the working crowd). And it took me almost as long to pick up a registered package from the post office. Thank goodness there are 24-hour groceries and restaurants nearby or I'd never get anything to eat!

Even when I try to sleep I can never seem to rest my mind enough to drift off to a peaceful slumber. I usually end up getting up and spending an hour or so working on one of my many personal projects. Lately, that's meant updating portions of my Marillion chronology website. At least I feel like I've accomplished something there.

Right now, I'm trying to "beat the cycle" by remaining awake until I drop. I haven't slept for a little over 42 hours. I can barely keep my eyes open so hopefully I'll fall asleep right away and I'll be refreshed enough to put a big dent in my studies over the weekend.

I just hope there's enough time left. One thing is certain, I'm really going to need this vacation in paradise!

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