Paladini Potpie

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.

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The Mousetrap

With a post called The Mousetrap, you might think a booklover such as I would be leading into a book review or commentary on Agatha Christie’s famous mystery. But this is even better. 

I guess this is one of those stories that are told and retold, but I heard it for the first time a couple of weeks ago from Rev. Stanley Long, of South Bay Community Church, in Fremont.  It’s  thought provoking, and so cute that I smiled all day.

I won’t tell it exactly as Dr. Long did, but here’s the gist of it.

Little Mouse lived in a cozy condo in the wall of Farmer’s house. It was a good life and Little Mouse was well provided for.  He didn’t realize Farmer and his wife considered him to be a pest.  Until one day he peeked out his tiny mouse hole and saw them open a innocent looking Home Depot bag, and take out a mouse trap!  Little Mouse was aghast!

In a panic, he ran out into the farmyard where a chicken was industriously pecking at scratch.  “There’s a mousetrap in the house, there’s a mousetrap in the house!” he screamed.

The chicken stepped back apace and shook her head. “Mr. Mouse, I’m sorry for you, but this doesn’t affect my life, so I can’t be bothered by it.”  No doubt she was remembering her notorious ancestor, Chicken Little who had caused a similar stir in the barnyard some years back. And all for nothing.

Little Mouse scurried to the pigpen. Wringing his tail he poured out his torrent of fear. “There’s a mousetrap in the house!”

“Sorry Mouse,” the pig shrugged, “but there’s nothing I can do about it.”  She callously returned to slurping her slops.

Discouraged, Little Mouse approached the cow in the hope of help or advice. But the cow just stared straight ahead, chewed her cud, and pretended that she didn’t hear.

Is anybody there? Does anybody care? Little Mouse went back to the Farm House feeling very alone.  

That night, the very walls of his cozy condo shook when a loud snap reverberated through the house. The farmer’s wife rushed downstairs to see what was caught in the mousetrap.  

In the darkness, she didn’t realize that it was not the pesky little mouse, but the trap had caught the tail of a poisonous snake.  In the dimness she reached toward the sprung trap, and the very much alive snake bit her! No doubt the snake was feeling particularly venomous over the injury to his tail.

Little Mouse watched as Farmer rushed his wife to the hospital.

And he saw her when she came home a few days later. She still had a fever, but the hospital staff said she would recuperate more quickly at home with a little TLC and Fresh Chicken Soup.

Looking out his hole, Little Mouse watched the Farmer head to the chicken coop with his hatchet.  

Little Mouse watched day after day as Farmer’s wife continued to be ill. Friends and neighbors came to sit with her day and night. So many caring people – but Farmer had to feed them. 

So he butchered the pig.

In spite of all the tender loving care, and the good chicken soup, Farmer’s wife didn’t get well. She died.

And so many people came to the funeral that Farmer had to have the cow slaughtered to provide enough food for the mourners.  

The moral of the story is that we’re all connected. We might think, “It has nothing to do with me,” but we never know how the misfortune of someone else will affect our own lives.


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The Lady With The Dog

“Hello there!” The woman patted Simon on the head and chatted with him while I stood off to the side, curious. We were at the counter of my vet’s office. Simon and I had just paid for his shots and were getting ready to leave, when this smiling woman came in with a cat carrier on her arm. “Hello!” She finally turned to me. “I recognized your dog. You walk by my house every morning. I live in the house on such and such a street…”

We introduced ourselves and had a few moments of small talk. I’ve never read Chekhov’s “The Lady With The Dog” but that’s how I feel. The lady with the dog.
People may or may not recognize me, but they always know my dog. 

Simon and I walk three miles almost every morning. I mapped out a one-mile-loop and we do it three times. Fortunately I live within a mile of the only hills in Modesto, so it’s a great workout.

The mile includes some lovely, expensive homes; some rather run-down homes; and a stretch along the river that feels almost like countryside. I love to watch the changing seasons as we walk the same route every day.

It’s completely residential, but I hardly ever speak to anyone because I hardly ever see anyone. A couple of times a week I see someone pulling out of their driveway and I always get a cheerful wave and a smile. On the rare times I see someone in their yard they smile and seem to know me. And they always greet my dog. One lady actually came out of her house one day to take a closer look, and comment about Simon’s new very short haircut. She said, “I almost didn’t recognize him.” (We had never before had a conversation.)

A few years ago there was a woman who walked by our house every single morning at 6:45. If I was in the yard, we said hello and exchanged pleasantries.  She was so faithful. I think she walked by our house every morning for three years. I didn’t know her at all, but I felt a warm feeling toward her because of her faithfulness.

Faithful. It occurs to me that that’s how people see me: “The lady with the dog – they walk by every morning.”

I like to think that my faithfulness in this small thing is making a tiny impact on the lives of people who see us walk by every day.

And it makes me long to be faithful in even bigger things.


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The Prodigal Crab

It was five A.M. I headed toward my magic chair for quiet time.  Pale first light came through the window, and there was a little shimmer from the aquarium.  Our new carpet felt wonderful on my bare feet.  And then I saw a small dark something on the carpet in the middle of the room. I reached to pick it up, rejoicing in how easy it is to keep this new carpet clean. 

The thing wriggled in my hand – something scaly or crusty! I screamed and threw it back onto the floor with some force!  I ran across the room to get a tissue to pick it up, and as I turned I saw that it was trying to scurry for cover. I had an awful idea what it was. Yesterday we had our regular yard spraying for fleas and assorted bugs, and I was pretty sure one of those horrible black oriental water bugs had sought refuge in our house. 

I shuddered as I headed toward the bathroom with the wadded up tissue. I’d give the creepy creature a one way cruise! Then I glanced down at the tissue and saw a small claw sticking out. A claw? I was dumfounded. I opened the tissue; and there was Arthur Fiedler, our cute little fiddler crab!  Somehow he had gotten out of the aquarium.

I ran into the kitchen and filled a drinking glass with water and dumped the little guy in.  There was no room for him to do his customary sideways shuffle, but he tried.  He ended up going around in circles. He seemed to be rehydrating. I was relieved to see lots of little bubbles coming from his nose or mouth or gills or whatever fiddler crabs breathe with. He was going to be okay.

But his fiddle claw had become detached and lay forlornly in the tissue. 

After a few minutes he seemed as if he’d like to be active if he wasn’t so confined.  I took him over to the aquarium and opened the top and gave him a gentle waterfall ride home.

Home. 

Why in the world had Arthur run away from home?  A fiddler crab the size of a nickel in a 60 gallon aquarium. Such freedom of wide open spaces! He has a lovely little fiberglass castle to live under, and a beautiful Greek Pavilion where he likes to hang out. Every morning abundant food rains down from heaven – so to speak. He has his friend, Nat King Crab, and eleven peaceful tropical fish for company. I hope they will still maintain peaceful relations with  the poor little clawless crab.  (I wonder if Fiddler crabs grow new claws?)

Consequences. 

There are always consequences when we are determined to be willful and go our own way.  We’ll hope Arthur’s claw grows back, and that he remembers the lesson of the dry brown carpet on the other side of the fence.

I’ve seen this parable before.  It’s the story of Gypsy, the dog in Vanuken’s A Severe Mercy.  I saw it with our desert tortoise, Shelly, who went through an escape artist stint. I’ve read about it in the Gospels and, alas, I’ve seen it in my own life. 

I’ve learned that there’s restoration, and there’s grace…but the bottom line is, there’s no place like home!

“Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  Psalm 37:3-4

Arthur Fiedler, in happier times, standing on the rock.


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Opening A Can of Worms

What’s red and green, male and female, and can easily eat half their body weight in garbage every day? Give up? A worm bin. Redworms are hermaphrodites – male and female. And they can eat a lot of garbage and they produce a lot of wonderful rich compost. What could be more green?

We’ve had our worm bin since 1997 when David – with lots of help and supervision – put it together for his second grade Science Fair project. It seemed like the perfect project for a boy who liked to play in the dirt, and loved to fish. And whose mom loved to garden and keep plants in the house.

And it was a great science fair project! It won a first place blue ribbon, and the worms took up permanent residence in the Paladini menagerie.

Of course nine-year-old David wasn’t much interested in continuing the upkeep of the project after he got his ribbon. Mercenary little dude! (In all fairness worms aren’t all that much fun to play with. They provide very little interaction.)

But his mother became a very enthusiastic wormkeeper. I think they are fascinating! With some ebb and flow, we have maintained a pretty healthy worm farm for about 14 years now. There were two times when the population was nearly wiped out – once from heat and another time, I think, from neglect. I had to call in new recruits from a local bait store.

I keep the bin just outside our back door, in a shady place. (They need to stay cool.) There really is no odor and it’s a convenient and interesting way to get rid of vegetable scraps and the mystery food that I find in little tupperware containers when I clean out the fridge.

John calls the worms my girls, although, as I mentioned earlier, they’re actually hermaphrodites. They have both male and female sex organs. I keep a container by the side of the sink where we collect food scraps to feed the worms. John will be helping me cut up some vegetables and he might indicate a pile of peelings or something and ask, “Does this go to the girls?”

The worms will eat fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and even the coffee filters. I don’t put citrus or spicy things into the bin and I don’t put any kind of meat scraps in. That would be where a decomposing odor would come from.

I can just feel the enthusiasm growing! You are dying to know how you too can have your very own worm bin, right?

This is how David did his project all those years ago.

He got a large Rubbermaid tub and poked holes in the bottom for drainage.

He shredded and moistened enough newspaper to fill the tub about half-way.

Then he added a thousand worms. That is one pound. We got them from The Bond Worm Farm in Ceres. Touring that cool worm warehouse was an interesting field trip associated with the project. (Today redworms can be ordered from any number of online suppliers.)

Then he added scraps of vegetables and peelings and apples cores, and set the bin aside. It’s as easy as that!

Every few days we added more veggie scraps, burying them under the paper. Then voilá! In about 6 weeks the worms had created a rich compost of castings. Yes, worm poop. But it looks a lot like dirt.

Maintaining it has really been pretty easy. Just bury the food scraps and add shredded paper from time to time. When the organic matter looks like good rich compost with no big chunks of vegetable scraps, I push it to one side of the bin and add more shredded paper and vegetable scraps to the empty side. (I just dump the contents of my office paper shredder into the worm bin.) Most of the worms will eventually move over to the side with new paper as the pickin’s get slim among the castings.

And I can scoop out the rich black compost to add to our garden or potted plants. Sometimes a few worms come along, but that’s all to the good.


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The Legend of BD and Other Aquatic Tales

             I stopped, startled. Out of the corner or my eye, I was sure I had seen something move!  But there was not supposed to be anything alive in there!  Scarcely daring to breathe, I looked more closely.  The room was dim, but as I bent my head in concentration I saw that I had not been mistaken. The bus tray was full of rocks and shells and other decorative objects from our aquarium, but there on top of a big brown rock lay a panting fish. He was flapping his tail in what I can only assume was an urgent SOS.

                     It was 1992, the last time we did a full blown disassembly of our big fish tank. We had emptied the tank and put the rocks and decorations into bus trays and set them on the washer in the laundry room more than 12 hours earlier. There was no more than an inch of residual water in the bottom of the tray. We had filled big buckets with water from the tank and carefully moved the fish to temporary quarters. Except for the lone stow-away, the little albino shark, who must have been hiding in one of the holes in a rock.

                        I carried the fish back to his kinfolk as quickly and carefully as I could, feeling somehow, dreadfully guilty.  I put him into the container and he swam off gratefully – sideways.

                           We cleaned the tank, put in a new filter system, replaced the rocks and flora and all the little homey touches that fish love.  Now it was time to put the fish back. I could just imagine their joy at the freedom of restored space and light!  Even the little rescued fish swam joyfully across the four foot expanse – sideways.  We could not help laughing.  We came to the conclusion that he had suffered Brain Damage from lack of oxygen since he lived out of water for so long. Matthew decided we should call him BD.

                           BD lived in the tank for many years.  He frolicked and ate and joined in all the fishy games, swimming all over the tank – always swimming on his side.  When he wasn’t swimming on his side he lay on his side on the bottom of the aquarium.

                           So yesterday, in preparation for our carpet installation we took the aquarium apart, and talked about all the memories it holds. I’ve had it for almost 30 years – a gift from my brother, Stuart, even before we John and I were married.  We used to have it setting on a pair of nautical looking ammunition boxes. 

                            When we were dating, John and I often sat on my couch with the lights dim, watching the fish. My room-mate said we were courting by fishlight instead of firelight.

                          When Monica was a toddler she started pulling herself up to look at the fishies. John had nightmares about her pulling the aquarium over on herself, so he built a solid cabinet, which just happens to include a ledge which serves as a hand hold for little fingers.  Every little one who comes to our house wants to stand and look at the fishies

                         We remembered the fun mosaic project we did with Matthew when we made backdrop with broken scraps of mirror grouted to a board.

                         As we were fishing the fish out of the tank we remembered Grandpa Tinfoil, a very large tinfoil barb we had years ago. One day David noticed that he seemed to have grown a handlebar moustache. On closer inspection we saw that “moustache” was the tail of a much smaller fish Grandpa had eaten!  (We subsequently put Grandpa up for adoption at Tropical Haven.)

                      And so this morning, as we await the arrival of the carpet man, the empty aquarium is on the front porch.  The fish have been transferred to temporary shelters – all accounted for this time.  And our bathtub is full of fish tank equipment, bus trays of rocks and 5-gallon buckets of water from the tank. This is not the strangest thing our bath tub has ever held.  There was the 150 pound bear in the bathtub. But that’s another story.  Right now I have to go help move furniture.


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The Story of the Pastor and the Cat

                 My cousin, Debbi Evans, sent me this story yesterday after reading my post about LoAmmi. I’ve heard it before but it always makes me smile.  I don’t know whether or not it’s true…but it could be! 

                 A pastor had a kitten that climbed up a tree in his backyard, and then was afraid to come down. The pastor coaxed, offered warm milk, etc.

                 The kitty would not come down. The tree was not sturdy enough to climb, so the pastor decided that if he tied a rope to his car and pulled it until the tree bent down, he could then reach up and get the kitten.

                 That’s what he did, all the while checking his progress in the car. He  figured if he went just a little bit further, the tree would be bent sufficiently for him to reach the kitten… But as he moved the car a little further forward, the rope broke.

The tree went “boing!” and the kitten instantly sailed through the air – out of sight.

                   The pastor felt terrible. He walked all over the neighborhood asking people if they’d seen a little kitten. No. Nobody had seen a stray kitten. So he prayed, “Lord, I just commit this kitten to your keeping,” and went on about his business.

                 A few days later he was at the grocery store, and met one of his church members. He happened to look into her shopping cart and was amazed to see cat food. This woman was a cat hater and everyone knew it, so he asked her, “Why are you buying cat food when you hate cats so much?”

                The woman neplied, “You won’t believe this, Pastor,” and then told him how her little girl had been begging her for a cat, but she kept refusing. Then a few days earlier the child had started  begging again. So the mom finally told her little girl, “Well, if God gives you a cat, I’ll let you keep it.” She told the pastor, “I watched my child go out in the yard, get on her knees, and ask God for a cat. And really, Pastor, you won’t believe this, but I saw it with my own eyes. A kitten suddenly came flying out of the blue sky, with its paws outspread, and landed right in front of her.”

Thanks for a fun story, Debbi!