Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Because it's there

As we were climbing Mount St. Helens five years ago, a ranger passed us on the way up, swinging her trekking poles jauntily and barely breathing hard. Yes, she joked, getting up is optional. Getting down is mandatory.
Prophetic words, as it turned out.

I was reminded of those words on Saturday. Jeff and I decided to hike a trail over at Smith Rock that we have been wanting to do all year. We needed to get out of the house and into nature, distract ourselves from present problems, so we headed out in the mid-morning. Our goal was Misery Ridge Trail, a four-mile moderate trail that zigzags over the rock right by the bridge over Crooked River, then swings around by the river. After looking at the map, I decided we should walk in the opposite direction than that suggested, so that I could climb up the steeper-and-no-doubt-rockier part of the trail and down the zigzag stairs. I have a phobia about walking down gravelly surfaces, you see.
So we crossed the bridge and turned left, along the River Trail that you can see across the river in this photo.

You can see the zigzag stairs that we didn't take in the top left corner of this photo, just below the sheer rock surface. This is looking to the right of the bridge.

It was a gorgeous day on Saturday, warm with a slight breeze, and a haze in the air that made long distances hard to see. There are over a thousand climbing routes in this state park, and hundreds of climbers were out taking advantage of the day, the canyon walls echoing with their shouts.

The trail along the river was easy and picturesque.

We enjoyed looking at the climbers, without any inkling of envy.
We are not that adventurous, my honey and me.
Look carefully at the photos, because some of the climbers are hard to see.

I took this photo looking back along the river behind us. When I was editing photos from the day, I couldn't resist adding some contrast and saturation to this shot. The scenery in Central Oregon is spectacular, but I do miss the colours that we enjoy further west. It looks magical, doesn't it?

I get some strange looks when I hike out here. Because it is generally hot and sunny (until winter, when it is cold and sunny) I usually wear cool, comfortable cotton, which pleases me but doesn't look like your average Columbia-garbed trail denizen. I am sure other hikers think I am some poor old lady who has no idea what she is doing.

We imagined how amazing it would be to live above such a view.

Spot the climber.

In the centre of the picture is monkey-face.

After a couple of miles, the trail forked. To the right, and uphill, was the Mesa Verde trail, so up we went. I was pretty sure this would take us over the top.
Do you see the silhouettes of the two climbers?

The view was awesome. This is looking across the river towards Crooked River Ranch. We had climbed out of the canyon at this point and were well above the other side.

We passed a sign that pointed up and said "Very difficult".
Well, we thought, we don't want to do anything very difficult, so we stayed on the trail, which was not in itself particularly easy.
We walked and walked and walked, passing Monkey Face, which had a few climbers on it.

These piles of stones were under an overhanging piece of rock. I always wonder who starts stuff like this.

After a while, I said to Jeff, this sure feels like more than four miles, and we aren't even in sight of anything that looks like a summit yet. But no one we asked as we passed them seemed to know any more than we did.

Finally, the trail headed back down to the river. It was my least favourite kind of trail, covered in loose rock and very dodgy to descend, even with my trusty trekking poles.

Then we reached a sign that said "Summit Trail", so we breathed a sigh of relief and headed up it.

It felt like several miles long, especially when it started to zigzag up the side of the mountain. Halfway up, we asked a gal who was coming up behind if she had hiked it before. She had, many times. How far is it, we asked. Oh, about eight miles, she said. Turns out, we should have taken the "very difficult" route, which would have taken us over the Misery Ridge Trail. We had inadvertently done the long loop.
Of course.
However, the views were magnificent, even with the haze.

Remember this post when I threatened to hike the zigzag some day?
We had to descend using this very road. It is called Burma Road, and I will be happy if I never walk it again.
It was steep, rocky, and hot.
The centre left of this photo shows a small section of it, and it is readily apparent in the next one, cutting straight down the side of the mountain. It is over a mile long. When we reached the bottom, there was still about a mile to go to reach the bridge. I was fairly unhappy by this time, as all of the ascending and descending had given me a good-sized blister on my little toe.

I was very glad to get back to the car, but after I stopped complaining I was glad that we accomplished the long hike.
Next time, we plan to do Misery Ridge as suggested in the hiking guides!
Wanna come too?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Grilled cheese on steroids

My mum always told me that I loved cheese as a toddler. By the time my working memory kicks in, I had eschewed cheese as a nasty piece of food. I don't remember when I started eating it again, but it may have had something to do with my discovery of pizza when I was about eighteen. From then on, melted cheese became a regular part of my culinary vocabulary, but never again have I eaten cheese in the raw.

A few years into marriage and with three children, I visited a friend who lived in Eugene. She made grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. I still wasn't that much into cheese, but, to be polite, I tried it and liked it. "Cheese on toast", as I had known it growing up, meant sliced cheese on an open piece of bread and grilled in the oven, and this was how I always fixed it for Jeff and the kids. Grilled cheese in a frying pan, with two pieces of bread and buttered on the outside, somehow made it much more delightful, so it became part of my dinner repertoire. It was almost always paired with a can or two of Campbell's tomato soup, made with milk, of course. 
And there it stayed for almost thirty years. Sometimes with ham as well as cheese, and, lately, with mustard for Jeff. 
I have been trying to embrace my inner condiment child.
I am lying.
I will never eat condiments, but I am trying to be more open to the concept for Jeff's sake.
Jeff loves condiments.

I was perusing Smitten Kitchen's recipes the other day. That girl knows how to ramp up a recipe like none other. And I happened to run across this recent recipe on grilled cheese. I filed it away in my culinary memory for future reference. When I arrived at the Ranch on Thursday, I was toting a loaf of potato rosemary bread that I found with the free bread at the Senior Centre. It occurred to me that it would make a mean grilled cheese sandwich, so I tried the technique, slightly altered to fit my needs.
I used Tillamook medium cheddar and the results were spectacular. We ate them for lunch and dinner on Friday and I am still dreaming about them.

If you want to try this, go to the Smitten Kitchen link, because I am lazy and didn't take enough photos she did it first. But here is a photo of the sandwiches before being flipped.

And, the finished product.
Butter and cheese on the outside might seem like overkill, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Try it. 
You'll like it.
Let me know what you think.

Keeping it real

Do you ever look at the outside trappings of someone's life and think how perfect it must be?

I tend to dwell on the positive parts of my life as I write for my own reminiscence and the entertainment and edification of my readers. It occurred to me that, if you don't know me well, my life might well appear to be one long party. So, I thought I should probably interject a dose of reality, just in case I am the cause of disillusionment with your own life. 

Sometimes, I feel completely undone. 
When we love, we are vulnerable to disappointment and heartbreak, and I have been hit with a lot of it lately. I am frequently weepy and could easily dissolve into a puddle of dismal if I gave into my tender side.
Instead, I put another brick in the wall and carry on.

I wrote the former lines a few weeks ago, not knowing what was around the corner. Wasn't sure whether I should actually post it.

We had a setback last week that is going to have financial and personal repercussions for some time to come. I hate to be mysterious, but it's not just my story to tell.

It's been a rough few days. Rougher than anything in a long time. For a while, I was in despair and didn't know what I should do. I thank those of you who have been aware of our plight, who have encouraged me and prayed for us both. We are regrouping and working on a new plan. It will be hard, but we will get through it, a little sadder and much wiser.

I know we are not the only people going through trials. I have always hated the saying that goes "I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet." I feel terrible for the man with no feet. With whom does he compare himself to feel better? So I don't compare my grief or trial to yours. All we can do is support each other and share our burdens when we can. I am so grateful for family and friends who love us and whom we love in return.

Jeff asks me how I can be cheerful.
I tell him I don't know.
I blame it on my dad.
And this.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Numbers seven, nine, and ten

Here, in no particular order, is a bundle of photos of the North Carolina grandchildren: Elsie, Gabe, and Victoria.
Annie doesn't stand for any nonsense and her children say "Yes, Ma'am" in the best southern tradition. They also frequent the "time out" corner quite regularly. One day, there happened to be a pink bag in the corner when G was sent there, with this result.

Victoria is colicky and cries a lot, but when she is happy she is most delightful. Nana spent many hours rocking and walking and playing with her. 

And sometimes falling asleep with her.

Annie and I took the kids shopping one morning. We left Jeff at home, because he hates shopping. Our first stop was an antiques and collectibles store that was closed, but had most of its inventory outside, so we had an impromptu photo shoot.

This is E's "photo face". You have to be tricky to get anything else from her. Which is funny, because my mum, her namesake, had a photo face too.

One hot afternoon, Annie set up the little pool and the older two had a blast. I love their expressions of pure delight.

Papa and I took the kids for several walks around the neighbourhood, giving Mommy some peace while she taught piano lessons. The kids usually ended up pushing their own strollers, in a sneaky effort of ours to wear them out.

Annie belongs to a co-op preschool with some other moms. Elsie looks forward to it all week.

Papa doing his part and keeping the baby quiet. This wee one will not sleep unless her thumb is firmly planted in her mouth.

Papa and E "played" Battleships one day. In reality, E filled every hole with pegs and then took them out and put them away in the right places. It took a long time!

E helped me make cookies, the lazy way, with a brownie mix.

Getting ready go play out in front of the house.

G hops on the riding lawn-mower every time he goes out to the garage.

E and I put this outfit together and we thought it was cool.
Mommy was not impressed.

V has the funniest expressions and her smile is so contagious.

Like most young moms today, Annie is on the go a lot. E usually sits in the back very quietly, staring into space.

G is also very good, although he does mess with the baby sometimes.
Look at that innocent expression. Butter wouldn't melt in his mouth!

And the babe is a car-seat riding tyrant. These are some of the few moments when she wasn't screaming like she was dying of some horrible pain.

E loves to read books with Papa, who behaved himself nicely and didn't mess with the plot.

And now this Nana is feeling quite bereft, not knowing how long it will be before we see these darlings again, but also grateful that we spent these few precious days with them and Annie. 

And that, dear reader, is the end of our traveling for a while. Hope you enjoyed the journey.