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Adventures within The Crust!

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Not a Flat Adventure – Part 2

The storm warning over the Bay Area wasn’t going away. John had been checking the weather on his smart phone several times a day. “Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked me more than once.  To be honest, I was a little nervous about backpacking in the wilderness under the threat of severe storm warnings. But I wasn’t going to be the first woman to throw in the towel.

Emily, Robin, Kathy and I had been planning this hike for several months. Robin is a teacher, so Easter break was the perfect time for us to go. Up until now we had been pretty secure in the fact that the weather had been unusually warm and dry this year.

So far…

Now the forecast began to look more and more ominous. We kept sending  texts and facebook messages to each other. “Are we still on for this?” “Rain or shine?”  (Apparently nobody wanted to be the first woman to throw in the towel.)

So there we were at the trailhead with Gordon, the Park Ranger.  He looked a little dubious, but he was also very interested in the process of loading three llamas for a three day hike on the Ohlone Wilderness Trail.

And it is quite a process, although my friend Emily has it down to a science. She has led pack llama excursions for about 25 years. The most important thing is to distribute the load evenly on the animal’s back, so we carried along a handy hanging scale to weigh the packs when we were loading them. As little as a pound of uneven weight can be uncomfortable for a llama.

Each llama can carry about 75 pounds. That’s the nice thing about llama-packing. You can bring a lot of luxury stuff you can’t take on a regular backpack trip.  We had bagels, lox and cream cheese for breakfast. Our dinner was fresh chicken and vegetables one night and shrimp with Cajun beans and rice another night.  No dehydrated soup mix. And the llamas do most of the work while we just stroll along carrying our personal things in light day packs.

The two younger llamas, Inca and Patches, carried most of the load. Seventeen-year-old Josh helped out a little, but the old herd boss has worked hard on dozens of pack trips over the years, and this trip was mostly to give him a fun outing in his old age. Llamas are very social, and they’re great team players, so Emily and Kathy also hoped the old gentleman would be a good teaching influence on young Inca, who had never been out on the trail before.

We hooked the three llamas together in a string, with Josh in the lead, and started up the trail.

Take note of the word, UP.

Looking at the topographic map – although I didn’t really know much about topographic maps – we knew there would be lots of ups and downs. Strangely, it seemed that there were more ups than downs. The Ohlone Trail is 28 miles long, with over 8000 feet of elevation gain/loss. Our hike would cover only 15 miles, but with all the elevation you could wish for.
Robin’s dad was the park ranger years ago, and it was he who actually laid out the Ohlone trail. Trudging up some of those perpendicular slopes, we had some choice comments for him. Apparently the man did not believe in switchbacks!

In my last blog I talked about how Robin, as the park ranger’s daughter, lived in a wilderness cabin when she was a little girl. They had no electricity and her mother cooked on a wood stove. They lived a rugged and adventurous life, and Robin said that the lives of her friends in the city seemed sort of flat by comparison.

“Well, there will be nothing flat about this trip,” we assured her. “The Lord has a sense of humor!”  We trekked up and down the hills, ignoring the spattering raindrops, and tried not to think about the thunderstorms in the forecast.

My friends’ red, blue and yellow ponchos billowed brightly in the breeze. I didn’t have a poncho, but I was perfectly dry and comfortable in John’s hunting rain gear. How I appreciated it — especially his warm down vest — although I know I looked a lot like the Michelin man.

The first day we had scattered showers and a little wind. It wasn’t bad walking weather until around 4 pm, when it began to pour.  We knew we wouldn’t make it three more miles to the designated camp site, so we decided to set up the tent on a wide part of the trail, and take shelter just until the rain let up.

We sat in the tent laughing and changing into dry socks and rummaging for something to eat.  We had just set up the little back-pack stove in the vestibule of the tent to boil some water, when we saw the last thing we expected to see – two men walking up to the tent.

The men were drenched and distressed, and asked us if we had passed a woman on the trail.  They had been searching for her for hours and their cell phone battery was now dead. We told them we hadn’t seen another human being all day.

We got out our map and figured out our location, and Emily gave them her cell phone to call the Park Service and 911. We also invited them to pray with us, that their companion would be found, and that she would be unhurt.  They seemed to be caught off guard by the idea of praying, but they were willing to join us. By then the water was boiling, so we made dinner and shared it with them.

Finally, it was getting dark when the Park Ranger arrived.  He told us we should stay camped where we were, and he told the men to return down the trail to the place they had camped earlier in the day. The park personnel would search for the missing woman.  He said he didn’t want any more people getting lost on such a night.

We gave the men some granola bars, and Emily actually insisted that they take her cell phone and an extra battery. (We had been kind of chuckling about the fact that Kathy’s expensive “smart phone” didn’t have reception at all on the trip and Emily’s and my dumb ones worked pretty well off and on.)

She gave them her address so they could mail it back to her. “But it’s only a $50 phone,” she told us. “If they don’t mail it back, it’s no big thing.”

For the remainder of our time on the trail we thought about the lost woman and prayed for her when we thought about her.  In a happy postscript I’m delighted to say that Emily got her phone back the Tuesday after our hike. The man mailed it with a very gracious letter telling us that their hiking companion was safe and how much they had appreciated the phone, the food and the prayers.

No, it was not a flat adventure.

One night it was so windy I really was afraid the tent would blow away.  The side of it was flapping so wildly it was coming down and hitting my face with wet smacks. I lay there praying and trying to remember where I had stashed my glasses. As I pictured all of us stumbling around lost and blind on the storm-tossed mountain, I called to mind every scripture I ever read about the Lord’s deliverance.

The next morning dawned glorious! It was blue-skied and bright, with magnificent cloud shadows on every slope.  We saw mist hanging in the hollows of valleys, and enchanted vistas we would never have seen if it hadn’t been for the rain.

Then that afternoon the sky darkened and it began to hail. Hailstones the size of peas piled up on the llamas’ backs as we walked dismally along. After some time of walking, we decided to set up the tent and wait it out.  Sure enough, after a couple of hours and a nice nap, the weather cleared and we were able to pack up and hike to the next designated camping area.

By the third day both pairs of my shoes were thoroughly soaked. I learned the trick of lining them with plastic bags to keep my last pair of socks dry. By that time the storm had spent itself, and the day was stunningly beautiful.  But we were so tired! We trudged along singing every song we could think of to keep our spirits up for that last mile. At Del Valle, our husbands would be waiting to pick us up and take us back to a nice flat life with electricity and bathtubs full of steaming hot water.



Not a Flat Adventure – Part 1

Newspaper photo of Robin and a llama on the opening hike of the Ohlone Trail, May 15, 1987

Robin’s dad laid out the Ohlone Wilderness Trail 25 years ago, and a very young Robin – along with my friend Emily and her llamas – were part of the group that made the first hike to open it.  So you can imagine that I was thrilled to be part of The Fellowship of the Four  who planned an “anniversary hike” on the trail this spring!

Robin, who is now a biology teacher in Southern California, was excited to return to her roots and hike in the land of her childhood.  Emily and Kathy have llamas, and looked forward to the hike as a training experience for one of their new young animals. I just felt privileged to be included for any reason.

At the ranger station, on the morning we began our trek, Robin was as giddy as a little girl! She and her family used to live here…and she played in that creek…and the old green barn hadn’t changed a bit (except now it was a visitors’ center, which happened to be closed that day) We walked along the water looking for the remnants of an old bridge. Robin told us about sitting and watching out the window of the ranger station as a violent storm washed the bridge away years ago.

left to right: Robin, Emily, Kathy and Andrena at the trailhead with "Josh"

Her dad, David Lewton, was Park Ranger for The East Bay Regional Park District, and the family made their home in a rustic cabin, deep in the park.  They didn’t have electricity, and although they had running water in the house, they didn’t have a flush toilet. Her mom cooked on a wood stove, or sometimes with propane gas.It was the life they chose, and Robin says that even as a child, she knew she had benefits that could never be purchased with such modern amenities as electricity or television.

She told us about going to school each day in the modern world, and then returning home to her adventurous real life in the wilderness park.

She said sometimes she spent the night with friends in town, and their lives seemed sort of flat. It was never really dark because there were always street lights, and little lights on the appliances in the home.  It was never really completely quiet.  And when she woke up in the morning it was always the same temperature – never hot and never cold. It was nice enough, she admitted, but just sort of flat.

I think the Lord must have been grinning during the weeks we were planning our trip.  We set it up for Easter break since Robin is a teacher. We’d had a remarkably mild, dry winter and spring, and we felt confident that the lovely weather would continue.  Little did we know that our three day hike would be during the biggest rain and wind and hail storm to hit California this year.  It would definitely not be a flat adventure!  (To be continued.)


Thoughts on Garlic, Sun Dried Tomatoes and Olive Oil

There’s nothing like fresh garlic.  But sometimes – especially for soups and stews – it’s convenient and inexpensive to use the peeled cloves you can buy in a bulk package at places like Costco. I usually split the three-pound bag with my friend Emily, and I keep it stored in olive oil.

About 25 years ago I was part of the craze of making decorative bottles of flavored oils by putting garlic cloves and sprigs of rosemary and peppercorns in olive oil.  They looked lovely setting on the countertop, and the oil was yummy. As far as I know nobody died from eating it; but I gave a lot of them to people as gifts before I found out that garlic in olive oil at room temperature creates a perfect breeding ground for botulism.  (Ooops.)

**So make sure you keep this garlic olive oil in the refrigerator.

Garlic cloves can be safely stored in olive oil if you keep it cold and don’t make more than you can use in about a month.  And there are hundreds of tasty things to do with it! (You can also freeze it for several months if you make more than one jar.)

Place the garlic cloves into a small dry jar, and cover them with olive oil.  Be sure to cover the cloves completely. When the olive oil gets cold it will congeal or solidify, but it will melt almost immediately when you spoon it out to use. (Use a dry spoon to scoop out cloves)

Garlic oil is wonderful to brush on shrimp or asparagus or peppers for grilling, and the oil-soaked cloves of garlic go easily through a garlic press.  Or you can use them whole.

I also buy sun dried tomatoes that have been preserved in olive oil.  When I use some of the oil, I pour more fresh oil on top of the tomatoes in the jar.

Here is a delicious recipe John and I made last night on the spur of the moment. It took about 20 minutes from start to finish, and it was delicious!

Pasta with sun dried tomatoes and fresh veggies

½ lb pasta

8-10 mushrooms, sliced

6 fat green onions, chopped

About a cup of chopped fresh broccoli

1-2 tablespoon garlic oil

2 tablespoons sun dried tomatoes with olive oil

Freshly grated parmesan cheese

Salt and black pepper to taste

While the water is boiling and the pasta is cooking you have 15-20 minutes to slice the mushrooms, onion and broccoli and sauté them in the garlic oil.

Just before you remove it from the heat, stir in the sun dried tomatoes.

Drain the pasta when it’s aldente.

Stir in the sautéed veggies.

Top with freshly grated parmesan cheese.


The Ides of April

It was the soothsayer’s warning to Julius Caesar. “Beware the Ides of March!”  And sure enough, Caesar was stabbed to death in the Theatre of Pompey on that day. March 15th, 44 B.C.  The Ides of March.

But what do we know about The Ides of April? April 15th — that fateful day in the middle of this month!

Okay, to be accurate, I know April 15th  isn’t really “the Ides of April”. Ides comes from a Latin word that means “the middle”, so it seems as if  it should be. But the Ides is on the 15th only in the months of March, May, July and October.

In all the other months, the Ides is the 13th. Which makes absolutely no sense to me, since that would mean there are only 25 days in all those other months.  (If anyone has insight on this, I’d love to know how it works.)

So for now, apart from the fact that April 15th isn’t really “the Ides of April” — that TODAY is technically the Ides of April — it still makes an interesting conversation.

Beware the ides of April, 1865!

April 15th is the day President Lincoln died, after being shot in Ford’s Theater on the evening of the 14th. Recently I was reading “Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer” at the same time my friend Jennifer was reading “Killing Lincoln”.  We had fun comparing and discussing the two books.

Beware the ides Ides of April, 1912!

Probably by now everyone in the world knows that April 15th marks the hundred year anniversary of the sinking of the “unsinkable” Titanic.

But that doesn’t seem to have fazed my niece, Erin. She’s getting on board a cruise ship today – Friday the 13th– and she’s very excited to be at sea on April 15th.

And finally…Beware the Ides of April 2012.

The taxman cometh. April 15th is the deadline for filing Federal income tax returns.

Now for the good news!  April 15th is my son, David’s, birthday.

(As an interesting sideline:  April 15th became the tax deadline in 1955.  Prior to that it was March 1st, which is my other son, Matthew’s, birthday.)

As a toddler. David heard so many comments about this, that by the time he was two years old, he was proudly telling everybody that his birthday was on Tax Day.

And so, today, on the true “Ides of April”…IDE like to say bon voyage to Erin as she sets out on her cruise, and Happy Birthday to David!


Writing in a Book: a love story

I was leafing through a used book to sell in my online bookstore. It had a lot of underlining and notes in the margin. Hmmm…that meant I would have to describe this otherwise beautiful book only as “good”, rather than “very good”.

Sometimes messy writing and underlining completely destroys a good book. But sometimes intelligent, thought-provoking notes can make a good book even better.

I almost always make notes in my own books, but I hardly ever get rid of a book I have enjoyed enough to write in.

This train of thought took me to one of my favourite stories about writing in a book. I heard it years ago and I don’t know if it’s a true story. But I love it.  I hope you will too.

It was sometime during the days of the Second World War and Lieutenant John Jeffries was going to be shipped overseas for a long tour of duty. A few days before his departure he went to a used book store to pick up a few books to take with him. As he browsed the shelves, his choices were random and eclectic.

Several months later, thousands of miles from home and feeling very forlorn, John opened one of the books. It immediately captured his attention.  But what captured his attention even more, were the notes and underlines in the book. It seemed that the previous owner had been fascinated and interested in all the same parts as John himself. It was uncanny!  Reading on, John kept wishing he could have a conversation with the person who had marked in the book.

He flipped to the front of the book, and looked at the name and address carefully penned on a bookplate:  Catherine Abernathy, of such and such a street in Raleigh, New Jersey.

After some consideration, and feeling kind of silly and awkward, John wrote a letter to Catherine Abernathy in New Jersey. He explained that he had purchased the used book, and asked if she had written all the notes and underlined the passages in this book which bore her nameplate.

(Nothing ventured, nothing gained.)

Catherine wrote back in the affirmative. And so began a wonderful pen pal friendship.

For John, the dark days of the war were lightened with every letter from Catherine.  They talked deeply and thoroughly about every subject.  They agreed about most things, and had interesting, stimulating discussions about the things they did not.

John could hardly wait for his leave when hopefully he would have an opportunity to meet this amazing woman in person.

So far Catherine had refused to send him a photograph, saying she didn’t want looks to interfere with what seemed to be a very real and honest friendship.

Sometimes John considered Catherine’s point with instinctive nervousness. But he always pushed his discomfort aside, reminding himself that there are more important things than looks. Didn’t their letters prove how compatible they were in all the ways that really count? Did it really matter what Catherine looked like?

Finally, in May of 1945 John would be coming home! He and Catherine made arrangements to meet in Times Square. On such and such a day, she told him, she would be at the corner of Broadway and 7th Avenue. She would be there at noon, and he would know her because she would be carrying a book.

Lieutenant John Jeffries was only one of many handsome young servicemen basking in the glow of victory and bright sunshine that Sunday afternoon in late May. And wherever he looked, there were lots of pretty girls, ready to flirt with their heroes!

John was a little bewildered as he looked around, trying to catch sight of a girl or woman with a book. (He didn’t even know how old Catherine was!)

No books in sight – but plenty of smiles.

One of the cutest girls John had ever seen brushed up close to him and gave him a wink, and a smile.  “Hey soldier, goin’ my way?”

“Sorry,” John managed, “I’m meeting a friend.”  With some regret he watched the pretty blond flounce away with a swish of her sea green sundress, and a tap of dainty white sandals.

A few moments later he noticed a rather plain looking, middle aged woman sitting on a bench holding a book.  She had a nice face, but she was…well, rather squarish, and wearing what they call “sensible shoes”.

Reminding himself that looks are only skin deep, and reinforcing in his mind all the wonderful conversations they had shared in letters, John approached her. “Hello. Are you Catherine Abernathy?”  He held out his hand.

Squinting in the sunlight, the woman looked up at John through her wire-rimmed glasses. “I don’t exactly know what this is all about,” she giggled, holding the book out toward John, “but that blond woman in the green dress asked me to hold onto this book. She said if you come over and talk to me I should give you the book and ask you to meet her at that coffee shop there across the street.”