Boring Travelogue #1

In which Sara injures several ribs and milks the injury for all it’s worth, Mark is valiant, we walk 38 miles, drink a lot of tea, and discover over and over again that English cuisine is much better than it used to be.

IMG_1690On Thursday, June 27, we took a train from London to St. Bee’s, the start of our 191-mile walk from coast to coast, that is, from the Irish Sea to the North Sea. My first mistake, perhaps, was to allow myself a bit of smugness when I saw a couple on the train embarking on the same walk with medium-sized daypacks and gigantic suitcases, clearly having engaged one of the many baggage services that Mark and I have all along eschewed, opting instead for larger packs stuffed full with everything we need.

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Here we are with our packs at the very start of the journey.

However—however—I should have learned long ago not to be smug about anything. Our first night in St. Bee’s, after dropping off our packs at our B&B, putting on a layer of rain gear and tromping back into town for a delicious dinner, we walked up to St. Bee’s church, a wonderful historic place dating back to the tenth century, and in continuous use as a house of worship from then until now.

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We explored the church yard behind the church, where several headstones were decorated with the same distinctive, ancient cross I saw in a niche against the church building. In the back of the church year was a wall about chest high, over which my dear husband suggested we climb to get to the public footpath back to our B&B. There was a little ledge about the size of a banana half-way up the wall; he put one foot on the ledge, swung himself over and landed, gracefully as always, onto the other side. I followed, but my foot slipped off the mini-ledge. Had I been in better shape, I might have used that opportunity to do a handstand on the top of the stone wall. As it was, I came crashing down on it, landing squarely on the left side of my ribcage. (Ouch.) No more “hotel workouts” to supplement the walking, no more smugness about not paying someone to carry my bag, no more coughing or blowing my nose without a constant reminder of my own frailty.

Luckily, I wasn’t seriously hurt, and while sleeping has been a pain (literally), I am happiest when I’m hiking, and the hiking has been glorious, especially after the second day when I engaged the baggage service.

The first day we walked north along the coast about four miles, then inland toward Cleator, our first overnight on the walk. Along the way we stopped in a pub for tea and met a delightful father and daughter making the walk, and walked with them the next few miles.  After the dramatic climb up the coast from the beach at St. Bee’s, this first day was mostly flat, walking through fields and woods along stone fences and creeks, passing the occasional farmhouse. I don’t have a lot of photos from this day because, well, it was pouring rain.

Day Two was the shortest day of the whole 18-day walk; about five miles, including a dramatic up-and-down hill. We arrived in the village of Ennerdale Bridge in time to enjoy a late lunch at one local pub and then, a few hours later, an amazing dinner at another. (This is when we began to realize that English food is not what it used to be. In London, we ate mostly Indian, Caribbean, or Thai food, but here in the country, it’s all local, and good. Not a mushy pea in sight.)

IMG_1718By the time we get to Day Three, we’re coming to know the written voice of the author of our ever-handy Coast-to-Coast guidebook, whose maps strike fear and trembling in the heart of most walkers. The Zen koan for this day’s map: “The steep path is the right path.” We walked fourteen miles from Ennerdale Bridge into the heart of the Lake District, including an amazing climb up a “Beck,” or creek, onto a high windy (like 55 mph) ridge. During the climb I was grateful for every single lunge and every minute of cardio over the past few years!

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Day Four: Sunshine! And scenery that defies description, three-hundred and sixty degrees of it.  The word for the day is “crag.” As in “we just go over one more of these and then we descend down into the town.” There were a whole lot of these crags, but each one rewarded us with fabulous views and ever-increasing anticipation of the descent into Grasmere, the epicenter of the Lake District and the town of Wordsworth.

To be continued….

What is it about Seattle?

Almost twenty years ago I was at the east coast wedding of my dearest college friend. The family of her husband-to-be hosted a casually festive backyard barbecue, full of loads of cousins running around, generations of people I’d never met before. The groom’s brother-in-law had brought all the bread for the dinner across the country from Grand Central Bakery in Seattle. This was a nice touch that got through my jet-lag to warm my heart. And it gave me something to talk about in this extended family setting where I didn’t really know anyone. Our conversation went something like this:

Me:  Yum, I love Grand Central! I go there all the time in Portland.

Brother-in-law:  It’s from Seattle.

Me:  I know, but there’s lots of them in Portland.

Brother-in-law: They started in Seattle.

Me:  The turkey-and-chutney-on-como is my favorite. And the ginger molasses cookies.

Brother-in-law: This bread is from the original store in Seattle. I go there every week.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this was a nice guy. And he’d gone to some trouble to bring a lot of this really great bread. I have the same kind of conversations with my Seattle cousins do the same thing. And I always go visit them, they never come visit me. It’s like the drive from Portland to Seattle is shorter and easier than the drive from Seattle to Portland. But what is it about Seattle and Portland? It’s a thing, a Portland-Seattle thing. Not a rivalry, exactly, but something. What do you think it is?

Day 5: Rituals of the Road

I periodically drive the 45 miles down I-5 from Portland to Salem and back again. Today was one of those days and I found myself cataloging all the things that make the trip better: a coffee to go, a bottle of water, music (Handel’s Messiah, for the 12th Day of Christmas), and a snack to look forward to on the way back. It turned out to be a long, long day, with not much more to say at the end than “and to all a good night,” but I’m curious: What are your rituals of the road?

“But mom! What’s JESUS!?”

Twelve years ago I enrolled my son into a lovely, if somewhat precious, alternative preschool in Southeast Portland. Twelve children and two wonderful teachers gathered some combination of two or three days each week from nine to noon to play outside (rain or shine), make art, make friends, play trains, eat snacks, and generally be about the business of transitioning from toddlerhood to kindergarten.

As the fall unfolded, the rains began, and we all looked toward the darker season, I learned that, as for the rest of us, December was going to be a busy month for preschoolers. They were promised a different special guest every week, giving presentations on Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and the winter solstice. I decided it might be fun for the kids to learn about Advent, the Christian tradition’s four-week countdown to Christmas. I would show them the Advent wreath, teach them how to make a simple one using greens from the school’s huge backyard, and talk about lighting the candles one by one as we wait for Jesus to be born, the same way many of the kids had waited for their baby brother or sister to be born.

Some humorous conversation ensued, in which the more experienced teacher had to interject the assurance that Jesus was not actually going to come to anyone’s house on Christmas Eve, at which point some of the kids began to focus on Santa, who most certainly was coming on Christmas Eve.

My three-year-old then made piped up to ask: “But mom: what’s Jesus?” I could’ve been mortified that the son of a church lady and aspiring clergy mom didn’t know who Jesus was, but really I thought it was hilarious. And a good question. How would you answer it?

What's your image of Jesus?

Quick: what’s the first image that comes into your mind when you hear the “J-word”? Chances are it’s the “Breck Jesus.” Jesus with the long blond hair, looking off into another world. For me, it’s different every day. Some days it’s the Che Guevara Jesus (bottom left in the picture). Some days it’s the National Geographic Jesus. Lots of times, the image of Jesus I most readily imagine is the icon from true old-time religion, called “Christ Pantocrator.”

Christ Pantocrator

Most of the people I know who are put off by Jesus don’t really know about the upstart guy that I try to follow, who was all about sharing food with friends and strangers, preaching about economic justice, and making food, health care, and hope available to everyone, regardless of their gender, socio-economic status, age, moral fiber, nationality, or religion. That’s what I think Jesus is.

And – bonus fun fact – there are tons of great stories about Jesus and food. What’s not to like?

The best strawberry shortcake ever

 When my son was little and in that maddeningly wonderful phase of never tiring of hearing the same book read over and over and over and over and over again, one of our favorites was “Cook-a-doodle-doo,” by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel, about the baking adventures of Big Brown Rooster, the great-grandson of the Little Red Hen. The story is filled with colorful characters all living and life lessons about community and cooperation, failure and redemption. These characters remind me of some of my friends and relations. There are also cooking lessons along the way, for the inquiring three- or four- or five-year-old mind. But the strawberry shortcake itself….to die for. The best ever.

I made that shortcake tonight, using the recipe from the back of the book. Simply delicious. I took it to our friends’ house, and she and I cleaned about 5 cups of strawberries to go on top, strawberries fresh from their weekend farm, real Oregon berries with bits of straw, still clinging on. They tasted like the sun and the mountains.

Even more delicious was the time with dear friends sharing good food and our own stories of the colorful characters in our lives.