Five Fascinating Facts about Victor Hugo

A great post! I’m thinking of trying Hugo’s remedy for writer’s block …

Interesting Literature

Five fun facts about Victor Hugo, the celebrated author of Les Misérables

1. He had an unusual technique for dealing with writer’s block. While he was writing – or trying to write – Les Misérables, Victor Hugo found himself suffering from colygraphia (that’s our suggested technical word for ‘writer’s block’). So he decided to take all his clothes off, take himself off to a room where he had only pen and paper for company, and force himself to write, without even the distraction of clothes to derail him from his task. His servants reportedly had orders that they weren’t to return his clothes to him until he had written something. He worked on Les Misérables for many years, beginning work on it in the 1840s but not finishing it until 1862.

2. The most popular novel among soldiers in the American Civil War was Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. Published…

View original post 271 more words

travel, Uncategorized, writing

These Shoes Are Made for Walking

Recently, I wrote a blog post in which I went on about my arduous quest to find a pair of shoes to wear on the Camino de Santiago. I had high hopes and an empty wallet after buying a pair of Vasque hiking shoes from REI. Would the 8th pair do the trick? Alas, they rubbed my heel raw and they have been summarily rejected.

However, I have triumphed at last! Nine is the magic number! These Teva Kimtah Waterproof Mesh Hiking Shoes are the winners. And they are less than $60 on Amazon – a much nicer price than the Vasque’s. Thankfully, REI’s return policy is unparalleled so I will be able to recoup my money. The Teva Kimtah’s won because they are wider than the other shoes I tried and have just enough arch support. Still, they do require a little adjustment to be perfect. One of my feet is smaller than the other, like many people’s, so in addition to high quality socks I put a heel insert in that I bought at CVS. I tried another heel insert but it was too flimsy and small and curled up the first time I used it. The ones at CVS are bigger and more sturdy. I also need a piece of moleskin over my heel for the perfect amount of snugness.

Today I did a 7 mile hike in them and my feet feel great – no problems. Woo hoo!

I realize that this shoe quest (surely the most unglamorous of all quests, yes?) could have been cut shorter if I had been less concerned with proper fit and other amenities like waterproofing. However, I worried that blisters and general discomfort would make my Camino experience miserable so I was willing to take the time to prevent that from happening, at least as much as is possible beforehand. It was so time-consuming and difficult because I never really paid much attention to my feet before – as long as they didn’t hurt and got me where I wanted to go I just ignored them. In order to do what I could to avoid future problems that wasn’t good enough this time, though. So I had to really pay attention to examining my feet after hikes and becoming aware of the fit and feel of the shoes while I walked.

It’s amazing what focused, concentrated attention can do, in this and other endeavors. I took a course in mindfulness training a few years back, and it has really changed my life. There’s so much that we do in everyday life that we don’t think about, that we do by rote. Mindfulness helps us to become aware of our actions and to pay attention in a focused, yet objective manner. It is so simple, but so profound. This video goes over the first mindfulness exercise I performed. It really demonstrates how something as tiny and seemingly insignificant as eating a raisin can be infused with meaning and richness. We can learn to embrace that richness in many aspects of our lives, making them fuller and more sacred.

travel, Uncategorized

Fear and Loathing on the Camino de Santiago

I had no more booked the airline ticket for the Camino de Santiago, filled with excitement, when it reared its ugly head: fear. And by fear, I mean:


First, I became certain that I would die. Why? Well, the son in Martin Sheen’s movie on the Camino, The Way, died en route. Certainly I would, too! Sure, there were all these statistics and assurances that it is a very safe endeavor. And sure, the son somehow died “in a storm” (what does that mean, anyhow? That he was struck by lightning?) but that could still be me. I mean, hadn’t I just proclaimed to myself that I would prefer to die not wasted away from old age, but on some adventure or another? What if God was listening? What if I have months to live instead of years?

Okay, God, if you were listening, I wish to make this public: yes, I would like to die on some adventure, but NOT this one. Not even the next ten adventures. Really. I think I still have some good years left and I would like to experience them. Please?

After a day or so this whole death fear passed. Next came the physical weakness fear. Who was I kidding? I am a flabby middle-aged woman. I’ve just spent 2 years coaxing my bad back to health. Sure, I love to walk and hike, but I do that in 3 or 4 mile increments, not 500 mile increments! Oh, what have I set myself up for? I am going to stumble down the road for 6 steps and my feet will explode into a shredded mass of agony. My spine will crumple after 8 steps and leave me lying in a helpless blob on the trail until wild dogs scent easy pickings and eat me alive.

But if, perchance, the dogs are busy devouring some other hapless pilgrim, I will still need to be trotted into the local hospital where they all speak Spanish. Undoubtedly, these doctors will quickly decide – without consulting me and without anesthesia – to hammer a two-foot long steel beam into my back to “fix” me. Then they will shove me out the door  and pelt me with rocks until I stumble back onto the trail, weeping piteously the whole time.

You see what kind of imagination I have. It’s not really a blessing.

Still, after a couple of days this fear passed. And guess what? Another was waiting in the wings.

Mainly, the jet-black, spider-like, odiferous specter of money. Oh, this fear I know well, having met it many times in the past. Yet in this incarnation I became convinced that this jaunt into Spain would bankrupt my husband and I. I’d no more get back into town than my husband would meet me at the door of our repossessed house. He would hand me a single satchel filled with rags and maybe some dried pinto beans and half a roll of toilet paper. We would wander the streets of our quiet suburban town like zombies from the Walking Dead, crying out for brains. At night we would huddle in the trash next to the storm drain. We would find scraps of cardboard and write sad messages on them for passing motorists. Life would be awful and it would be ALL. MY. FAULT.

Hold on. It is true that freelance pickings have been slim for me lately, but my husband is still gainfully employed and we are not behind on our house payment. I also was able to find a great deal on my airfare to Spain. And the albergues set up along the pilgrim’s route are very low cost. Still, that cost adds up.

I put up a GoFundMe page and then left it languish for several weeks while I agonized or whether or not to let friends and family know about it. I mean, who was I to ask for money? Everybody has expenses and obligations and they need their money. Why would they want to support my pilgrimage? After all, is this desire of mine a worthy cause? Would their support of me hurt other, more worthy causes, like, say, blind orphans or three-legged dogs? Or blind, hungry orphans living atop garbage heaps with their three-legged dogs?

Remember what I said about my imagination? It’s not a friend sometimes.

I posted about my fears on the American Friends of the Camino Facebook page and received so many messages of kind support that it overwhelmed me. How sweet and loving they were!

Yes, these fears are normal. Still, they are illusions.

You can do it.

You are following your intuition and it won’t lead you astray.

Go. You won’t be sorry.

These people did not even know me and they bolstered my faith. They reminded me that I am not crazy, that faith triumphs over fear, that if I was called to go – and I really believe I have been – then my needs will be provided for. They posted inspiring images and quotes like this one that are so beautiful that they make me shiver:


My friend Janet Loftis heard about my trip and jumped aboard. She seems to have bypassed all the dramatic fearmongering that has gone on in my brain and instead pledged so unselfishly to be there for me in person, and experience this great and wonderful journey with me. What a courageous soul she is! And so kind, generous, and supportive! It’s difficult to accept such open-heartedness. She doesn’t seem to care that I don’t deserve it. And where are my tissues? Allergies, you know.

I screwed up my courage to let people know about the GoFundMe page. Peering out my window afterward, I looked for the villagers waving pitchforks, but they weren’t waiting to chase me out of town. Maybe the Spanish doctors got to them? Instead, wonderful, generous friends rose up with messages of support – even donating to the cause. How kind and loving they are! I’m beside myself when I think about them. They make me feel like I can do this. Like I will do this. Like they are waiting along the route to cheer me on.

Sure, I’ve been feeling fear. When it comes up its loud and awful and it makes me quake. But on the other side of it lies faith and assurance, friends and mentors, and deep, glorious assurance.

Courage is not the absence of fear, someone once said. It’s feeling the fear and doing it anyhow.

So. This is me, doing it.

Catch you later, fear. I know who has my back now.

travel, Uncategorized

Gear Preparation for the Camino: The Fun That Never Ends

When I was a little girl, my favorite bedtime story was “The Elves and the Shoemaker,” in which an elderly shoemaker woke up every morning to discover that magical elves had spent the entire night crafting beautiful, stylish, and well-made shoes for him to sell the next day. How cool would that be? I studied the pictures in the book so much that I can still remember how the red-cheeked shoemaker and the brightly colored elf shoes looked.

Little did I know how much magic actually goes into shoes until I began preparing to walk the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage across northern Spain. In my last post I went on about the travails I faced with buying shoes two sizes too big for me, as recommended by numerous Camino walkers.

My feet hurt like the dickens, which I attributed to the incorrect size. It appears I must retract that assertion, though, because the highly recommended Saloman shoes in the correct size also hurt my feet. Back they went to REI.

This was the 7th time I tried out shoes and then had to return them. Yes, you read that right.

The 7th time.

Trying out shoes has been a full time job over the last few weeks, or so it seems. I tried the Saloman’s (in two sizes), two pair of Asics, two pair of Keen Whispers, and one pair of Saucony Grid Ridges. These are just the ones I actually bought and returned, not the ones I rejected in the stores themselves.

Then, I decided to go to an REI in another city entirely. Maybe I would get better help there.

Cue the music of the heavenly host for the (imaginary) soundtrack of this post.

For, lo, the Angel of the Lord was found in a tall, hairy shoe salesman named Ben.

When I explained to Ben what I was doing he recommended hiking shoes as opposed to trail runners because they would provide my feet with support over the long distances. They were heavier, but since I planned on carrying 15 lbs or less in my backpack, I could handle a little heavier shoe. He compared the soles of the trail runners, which are twistable, with the Vibram soles of the hikers, which are not. He also recommended that I get them at least a 1/2 size bigger than my normal size.

“People who walk the Pacific Coast Trail come in here all the time,” he explained. “After about a week on the trail their shoe size goes up one whole size, and doesn’t go down for the whole trip. It’s caused by all the walking and the extra weight of their backpacks.”

He seemed to know what he was talking about, unlike the other salesmen I’d met on my ill-fated quest so far.

So I tried on Vasque Breeze 2.0 Low GTX and grew cautiously optimistic. They felt good, and they were waterproof due to a Gore-Tex lining. Built in waterproof linings are better than spray on waterproofing, he explained, because the spray-on coating keeps the shoes from being breathable.

He was also a fount of information about walking sandals, since I wanted to be able to wear them on the trail if necessary.

“You definitely don’t want the Keen Whispers,” he said. “Too lightweight. Same goes for Tevas. You want Chaco’s, for their rubber soles, or possibly Ecco or Newport H2s. I did a two week hiking trip in just my Chaco’s recently and they worked great.”

Glory Hallelujah!

Sandals would have to wait for another time, though. I gathered up the Vasque’s and though I’ve never in my life paid $150 for a pair of shoes, I did this time. The expense would almost be worth it for nothing else then to have this interminable shoe quest over.

This morning I took them on a 45 minute walk and tomorrow I’m going on a hike of a couple of miles. So far so good.

I guess the 8th time is the charm.


I’ll push you

A truly beautiful and inspiring video. I feel called to the Camino as well. What a blessing it is!

Jen's Journey - Camino de Santiago 2013, 2016, & 2019

Taking a moment out of my regular posts to share a really inspiring Camino story about two best friends who walked the pilgrimage, one of them in a wheelchair.

It gets a little slow around 5:00, but hang in there – the message is deeply moving. It’s totally worth the 18 minutes.

View original post

travel, Uncategorized

What Not To Do While Preparing for the Camino

I never said I was the brightest bulb in the package.

I’m not stupid, I know this.  I’ve managed some education and some fairly mentally taxing work and accomplishments in my day, but this has mostly been due to bullheaded persistence and hard work. And while I’ve been around a few people in my life that made me feel rather brainy, I’ve also been around a few brilliant people that made me feel as if I have all the mental wherewithal of a turnip.

Despite this rather self-deprecating attitude, I am pretty confident in some of my abilities, one of which is research. I’m able to wield my Google Fu with enough skill that if I spend the necessary time cruising around various forums, webpages, and Facebook pages, I can get the answers I want. After the heady rush of booking my airline tickets to Spain the reality of the monumental enterprise I had set for myself came rushing to the surface like champagne bubbles of panic. Or maybe I should say, the bends of panic. Because walking hundreds of miles along the Camino de Santiago does seem like it could be lethal, even if in fact the chances of croaking are pretty small for a moderately healthy if not exactly young and spry person such as myself.

So, anyhow, I set to researching various sites that provide advice and information on the Camino, the most valuable of which so far has been the American Pilgrims on the Camino, which has a helpful website, local chapters, and an active and encouraging Facebook page. I’ll undoubtedly join the organization at some point, especially since one can take a special hospitalero training that allows you and, if you wish, your non-walking spouse to volunteer as an albergue (hostel/dorm for pilgrims) host in Spain.

I spent several evenings combing through the various posts getting an idea of how I should prepare for this trip. The two most important items seem to be backpacks and shoes.

Former Camino walkers strongly recommend that you spend freely to obtain quality gear. After all, you don’t want to find yourself in rural Spain with faulty equipment and no way to buy replacement gear. The Camino does pass through some moderately big cities, but it also passes through many, many humble villages where you would be lucky to find a bite to eat much less high-end specialty backpacks and the latest laser-rigged, titanium-steel-threaded trail runners. Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration about the trail runners.

Discussions about backpacks are fairly low-key and mainly centered around the size thereof. Since you’ll likely be staying in the albergues along the route, there’s no need to carry cooking gear and tents. Traveling light is key here, and for that you don’t need a huge pack. Many people recommend one with a capacity of around 30-40 liters. Packs should be fitted for your body type — and you be aware that they are different for men and women. Osprey seems like a well-respected, although hardly cheap, brand. I ended up purchasing a dark pink Osprey Kyte that’s 36 liters of utter and complete gorgeousness. I love it from the top of its satiny pink head to the bottom of its sturdy gray buckles. We’ll be getting lots of rooms together soon, wink wink.

Shoes, however, are another matter entirely. First there’s the debate between boots or trail runners. In a less spiritually-minded bunch the passionate debate this fosters fists would fly and noses would be bloodied over. Having done a fair amount of 3-5 mile hikes in my local area, I favor the trail runners because they have good traction and are light and comfortable, unlike my experience with boots, which make my feet feel like they are duct-taped to bricks.

Now, boots have their place in hiking, definitely, but the Camino is more of a dirt path than bramble-choked wilderness, so I’m not seeing the need for them here. Cute-as-a-button Lindsey Cowie whose Camino YouTube videos are quite helpful also recommends walking sandals. Most people seem to bring one good pair of shoes and one pair of flip flops for the shower, but Lindsey gave me the idea of bringing the gorgeous Keen Women’s Whisper Sandals as a second pair so that’s what I’m planning on. That way if my main trail runners wear out, get struck by lightning, or are pilfered by Gypsies, I’ll still be able to walk.

Numerous people counseled to “Get your shoes 1/2 to 1 size bigger than your regular shoe size.” The idea behind this advice is that your feet will swell with hour after hour of pounding the metaphorical pavement. Huh. Well, that seemed to make sense.

I hied myself on down to REI where a fresh-faced young salesman measured my feet and pronounced me a size 7.5. Obligingly, he trotted back and forth from the storeroom to me as I tried on several pairs of shoes. April is supposed to be fairly rainy so I chose waterproof Saloman something-or-another trail runner’s in size 8.5.

Back at home, I jammed 15 pounds of split peas and rice, extra clothes, and a blanket into the backpack to simulate my load, laced up my shoes, and took off on a demanding hike. The load weighed me down, definitely, but by the end of the hike I was a happy, if somewhat sweaty woman.

I can do this! I thought jubilantly.

The next day I took another hike. Except that now I noticed that my feet hurt. I probably just wasn’t used to the load and the shoes and hiking day after day. My tootsies would feel better soon.


I fretted and moaned to my husband after coercing him into rubbing my aching tendons. They felt a bit better in the morning. Again I repeated a training hike of around 3 miles. And again there was pain in the evening and night.

After a few more days of this, I began to fear that it would be a way of life for the next few months. And I hadn’t even set one foot on the Camino yet!

I must confess, there was some sniffling and weeping when this realization set in. Here I thought I could do the Camino. God knows what unrelenting agony I would find there instead. Because there was no way I was backing out now. I tried to make things better by lightening the load in my backpack. It didn’t help.

I was doomed! DOOMED!

“Nah, you’ll be fine,” commented my husband Dave. “It must be your shoes.”

“But the Internet said I should get them one or two sizes bigger than normal!”

He looked at me, trying to school his facial features sympathetically. The man hasn’t been married almost three decades without learning a thing or two about how to talk to me without later being savaged for being snide. “The Internet is wrong.”

Say what?

“But these people have been on the Camino. They must know something I don’t.”

“Well, did your feet hurt like this before, on all your other hikes?”

“Um … no,” I admitted, realization slowly dawning.

“Then they’re wrong.”


Well, that did kind of make sense.

So, off I went to return my shoes and get them in the proper size for my feet. You do recall what I said in the first sentence of this post, don’t you?

My nice, comfy feet salute you.

Until my next blog post about the Camino, farewell.