Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Erin, this one is for you!

As I enjoy the sounds of family in the next room, I wonder how it is
that we can consistently fail to conclude our adventures on this blog.
The only consistent thing is inconsistency.

Erin B, everyone is proud of your A+, particularly in a class with
such a progressive bent.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Rain in Spain falls mainly in Galicia

When last we posted, we were about to add my dad to our hiking fellowship. He made it 3 and a half days on the pace we were setting before blisters and a snail´s pace forced him to sacrifice his chances of finishing so we could finish. He got to rest and relax and be a tourist while the rest of us pushed on.

A few days ago, with Dad still with us, we passed through some beautiful hills before arriving in Galicia, the "Pacific Northwest" of Spain, though of course it´s the Atlantic Northwest. Just like Oregon and Washington, Galicia likes to dump rain and we´ve been hiking in on and off rain for two days with two days left to hike. It´s raining right now, and that´s why I´m procrastinating with a post.

A few highlights:
- We sat in the oldest church associated with the Camino in O Cebreiro. It was built in the 800´s! It´s probably the oldest church I´ve been to, and I´ve been to Jerusalem!

- Every day we take several breaks for cafe con leche and other tasty delights.

- We tried pulpo a gallego, that is, octopus. Maybe not so much a highlight...

- We´ve had a few good conversations with other pilgrims, but it is hard to make friends when there are language barriers and when there are soooo many other pilgrims. Last night, a 65 year-old woman from Germany who is walking alone, regaled us with tales and philosphy at dinner. We laughed a lot :)

We´ll see you all real soon!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Astorga to Foncebadon

Mom joined us today and she kicked our butts. We spent 30 minutes today trying to make up 100 yards on her at one point. I couldn´t make myself go any faster.

Today we lived the life of a PCT thru-hiker´s dream...hike into town, eat, hike into another town, eat. It has been determined there will be no weight left behind in Spain :(

Dad has made it to Madrid (an achievement, believe me) and will meet us in Ponferrada tomorrow.

Tonight we´re staying in a nice hostel in Foncebadon, a formerly abandoned village slightly revived for the pilgrims. Mom splurged for a private room so none of us would have to suffer the indignity of bunking with hiker trash (you know, those people we were last year, and will be again tomorrow when mom bunks down with dad instead of us). Foncebadon is the last town before the highest point on the entire camino which, unfortunately, is only about 5,000 feet. Once upon a time it was a thriving Maragato village (please investigate on Wikipedia, but basically, it´s a distinct cultural group). When we climb over the top of the hill in the morning, we enter el Bierzo, which is/was home to an entirely different culture. Silly!

Finally, tomorrow I´m looking forward to a knee-breaking downhill session and seeing a 12th century castle built by the Knights Templar. I anticipate a clue to solving the Da Vinci code will be found in the artwork of this castle.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Leon to Astorga

We made it! We left Leon yesterday after a long day of travel, and on our second day of hiking, we hiked our first 30 (kilometers that is!!). Stayed the night at a charming hostel in Villar de Mazarife and rolled into Astorga today at 3 p.m. after putting in 19 miles, where we met Steve´s mom. She was delayed in New York, so didn´t hike the first leg with us. Steve´s dad will meet us two days from now. The three of us head out tomorrow for our first real hills.

The Camino is waaay different from the PCT. 1) There´s no wilderness (which is not surprising when you´re hiking town to town). 2) Everyone is older than us (or most everyone). 3) Lots of road walking. Also, people speak Spanish.

But we are having fun and enjoying the countryside and small towns along the way. Very charming!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Watch out Spain...

Here come LandShark & Caterpillar! We are celebrating the one year
anniversary of finishing the PCT by hiking 200 miles of the Camino de
Santiago in northern Spain. And the best part, we're dragging mama and
papa LandShark with us!

We will have limited to no Internet, so this could be our only post.
It feels good to have the packs on again!

Adios amigos!

Friday, August 14, 2009


Memories of Albania
As our two weeks in Albania draw to a close, the following are my memories to share.
Along Side Ministries
Mark and Ruthie have achieved amazing things in their 15+ years in Albania.  The church in Erseke is a great center for people to worship and is well attended on Sundays by a good cross section of the Erseke community.  During the week the church is a center for youth activities including various games for children of various ages and volleyball for the older children.  The camp in Erseke is also a great achievement and has become a destination for religious and non- religious groups to spend a week or two for their programs.  In addition Along Side Ministries has a mountain property that is currently used as a camping area for religious and non-religious groups.  I believe everyone of the PCLG group that traveled to Erseke (the "Group") has helped Mark and Ruthie further their mission in Albania.  I know that I personally had a great time and grew from the experience.
The Country and its history and religious background
For several decades Albania, a country with over three million inhabitants, was closed to the outside world under a communist dictator who seemed to have a fear of the outside and a paranoia that the outside world would invade Albania.  During this time over 700,000 bunkers ("pill boxesD) of terribly ugly design and various sizes and appearance were built throughout the country.  This had to take several hundred millions of dollars out of the economy.  Now the younger people say "Why was this not put into roads and infrastructure that would help us be a great tourist designation for Europeans?"  Eventually communism fell and the country opened up, and the communist party became the socialist party so the old leadership continued for a time.  Then in the mid 1990s a series of pyramid investment schemes started up and about three years later imploded.  A couple years of lawlessness followed with random killings before a more conservative government took over. 
During the communist era all religion was banned and all churches were destroyed except for a few churches or mosques of architectural significance.  These were converted and used for governmental purposes, but were converted back to religious use some time after communism fell.  During the decades of communist rule most people with a religious training died out so when communism fell, there was a religious vacuum.  Today the country has most religions represented at least to some extent.  Generally there are Protestant, Orthodox, Catho lic and Moslem religions in the country, although the Moslems are of a sect that other Shiite or Sunni Moslems oppose and persecute.
Today the living standard varies from subsistence farming in much of the countryside to a fairly good standard of living for those few people with their own business or those working for the government.
The People
I can only say that the Albanian people that I met were some of the most friendly, wholesome people I have ever met in my numerous travels.  Of course the people in the Erseke church were friendly and open, and when they spoke some English, wonderful to talk to and they gave much of what I am putting in this file.  I took numerous walks (at least a couple every day), and the people on the street were very friendly and open – we were only separated by my inability to speak Albanian and their inability most often to speak English.  I had picked up enough Albanian to say good morning or good day and this almost always was greeted with a friendly reply and a smile.
I developed sympathy for the elderly as they were victims of the fall of communism.  They were either born into the communist system or spent most of their life under the system, so when communism fell they lost whatever entitlements they h ad under the system.  That coupled with the pyramid schemes that enticed them to risk their minimal assets often left them with minimal resources to live on.
This is a pleasant, totally safe community near the Albanian - Greek border.  It is small even by Albanian standards with a delightful rolling countryside and view of the mountains.  It is what I would call a bucolic setting and a great place to raise a family.  Also the weather was wonderfully mild, and especially a welcomed relief from the much hotter and uncomfortable weather of Greece.  There is a beautiful red poppy that grows in the countryside along with some other flowering plants.
There are some negatives: People do litter and one can see much evidence of this traveling around the country.  Also grafitti is alive and well in Erseke, and often appears to be done during political campaigns.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Doorman

I felt a large presence as I walked in the front door tonight, so I
got a flashlight. This is the black widow that was hanging a foot from
my door. Can you see his red belly reflecting in the light? Scary!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

We'll end with something pretty.

This is Luke. He's our American friend who we've been hanging out with
this week. It's generally agreed that this nineteen year-old from
Minneapolis is eye candy for all the ladies, Albanian and American.

He's also a nice guy.

I am going up to the mountains today for the rest of our trip and will
be out of contact during that time. I got a little sick last night,
bit I'm feeling better and ready to go camping! Kaiser is going up
with me today, everyone else is coming tomorrow.

Hope you all have a lovely week!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Jaji's garden

As promised, here's a picture of Jaji's garden. The church office
building is the two story building on the right.

In my first Albanian language lesson, I learned, or tried to learn,
the 36 letters of the Albanian alphabet. Jaji is technically spelled
"Xhaxhi" and while the letter "gj" also seems to make a j sound, the
Albanians insist it is a different sound entirely. The "j" makes a y
sound like in "your."

At the end of the lesson, they made me read sentences by sounding out
words. This proved embarrassing of course, mostly because Tejuta said
I pronounced every word like I was very excited and had a lot to say,
but couldn't get my words out fast enough. It was a spot on
description, actually.

Today we'll be going on a hike up to a restored orthodox church.
Also, we should load our truck for the mountains so tomorrow morning
isn't crazy busy.

More Dust

To keep you from knowing the horror of the dusty storage areas, here's
a pleasant picture of Erin from our coffee break at Don Cafe this
afternoon. Three double-espressos and two sodas=$3.50. We love
Albania. Did I say this already?

Anyway, here's the best story of the day. Erin and Kaiser had to clean
out a tool closet filled with dust, rat poo, and rat poison.
Eventually, I replaced Erin in this job. Kaiser found an old pouch of
rat poison and walked out of the closet pretending to eat from the
pouch of poison. Arnold and Simon freaked out and tried to grab it out
of his hands yelling, "yo, yo, yo!!!" This, in Albanian, is "no, no,

Kaiser said he did it as part of an ongoing lesson to convince our
fifteen year-old bosses that Americans should not be left alone for
more than five minutes at a time.

Also, tonight Erin got hugged by an 11 year-old boy we know from
church volleyball. This was poor behavior in Albanian. But we laughed
about it.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Kitchen View

We live in a big house with two kitchens. The Stoscher house is big
because it was originally purchased to be an orphanage. The orphanage
didn't work out so it serves as family and guest quarters. The photo here
is from the downstairs kitchen where we gather for meals and where I
make the coffee every morning.

Look closely and you can see the family gardens of each property.
Albanians are amazing gardeners, and they need to be because of the
vast quantities of tomato and cucumber salad served.

Across the street, adjacent to the church, is a massive plot kept by
the savagely impressive "Jaji". Jaji means uncle, but that's what
everyone calls him. To his friends, he might be Jajka. Jaji also works
at camp and has been working harder than all of us despite being older
than Sam (maybe) and much shorter than Erin. I'll take a picture of
the garden and Jaji.

Today felt like more breaks than work as we waited for instruction.
Then we were asked to sweep in the attic. Even after wetting down the
concrete I kicked up so much dust I was reflecting on the disastrous
health consequences I might be incurring in the future by sweeping.

This afternoon we lost to Albania 2-1 in volleyball. I had to pick
George and Schroeder up off the court because they broke down into
tears after the emotional last game. Sam was so upset he kicked the
ball over the fence. Erin swore like a sailor and Kaiser just stood
there. What else is new?

We did actually lose. We reacted differently, of course.

Tonight we went back to camp and sang "I've got peace like a river,"
"if you're happy and you know it," and "lord I lift your name on high"
in Albanian, among other songs. The words change, but the hand motions
stay the same.

On our way back, Schroeder apologized for his tearful outburst by
buying us ice cream sundaes. Total cost for five sundaes with mixed
fruit? Five dollars. We love Albania.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


Until 2 weeks ago, I hadn't played volleyball in several years.
Volleyball was my main sport in high school and college, and when I
played on the beach in Santa Cruz two weeks back, I realized how much
I missed it.

Then God provided a camp where I'd get to play an hour a day for a
week on a low net against less capable opponents. It makes my
extremely rusty skills look good.

Even Sam and George are getting into the volleyball games, while
Kaiser and Schroeder have become monsters on the court. No surprise,
Kaiser likes to trash talk. But the kids do, too.

Yesterday, America beat Albania 2-1, and it was intense. This is six
tall adults vs six Albanian jrhi and high school kids. No one on the
Albanian team was taller than our shortest player. I'm glad they took
a game on us, but still can't believe it.

Old and New Roofs

This photo shows the difference between the new roof sections and what
they once looked like. Our attic is in the arched ceiling building.
The main building at camp (kitchen, dorms, large meeting room,
computer lab and office space) is maybe 80 yards long.

The building and land around the camp was originally purchased so the
church could serve 1000 Kosovar refugees that made Erseke a temporary
home during the crisis in the late 90's. When they found the right
building, the price tag was $15k and they didn't have that kind of
money so they said, "let's go home and pray about it." That night
Mark received a call from a church that had taken a special offering
for the Kosovo crisis and they wanted to give it to him. The offering
they'd raised was $15,000...

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Attic

Last night we learned a little more about our attic. Once upon a time,
all the top floors at camp had arched roofs. About six years ago,
money came in to redo a section of roof and remodel the top floor.
Then last year the next section of roof was completed. What we're
clearing out will become a new large meeting room, and it will also
become insulation for the floor of dorm rooms below, thus making the
bottom floor open in winter. That will allow for the number of
students in Bible school to nearly double, I think.

During the summer, "the camp" is a summer camp. During the school
year, it is a bible school for college students who want to study with
international students and do mission/ministry work in Albania. About
half the students are from Albania, the other half from all over the

As you can tell, we have a long way to go before the attic is cleared,
and God has to provide the money to do it, but trust me, the
difference is pretty sweet!

Our Taskmasters

Today was much the same as yesterday on the work front. We moved stuff
from here to there. Translating, helping, and generally telling us
what to do are (from right to left) Simon, Arnold and Cleo.

Simon is supposed to be the best English speaker but he's the quietest
of the three. This afternoon, I learned he is quite good at volleyball.

Arnold works non-stop and is the biggest jokester of the three. He
also takes Erin's stuff and carries it up the stairs for her. This is
not her choice. Arnold is my go to guy for "how do you say this?" type

Cleo is a slight, wiry little guy that makes me feel better about
wearing a baseball cap. I was worried I was sticking out because of my hat
(I forget that I tower over everyone just about everywhere), so when I
noticed him wearing a hat, I was relieved. Cleo is way stronger than
his size would suggest and I have learned this by lifting something up
to him. When he takes it, he looks less strained than I feel.

Our friends are seated at the far end of the outdoor pavilion where
campers eat and where George and Sam like to take breaks from the
sun. All three are in high school and go to church at Mark's church.
Simon and Cleo never seem to break a sweat, while Arnold is a regular
old Eli Burnham. That means he is an artesian spring.

Tomorrow we "get" to go make several runs to the dump. That should be
an adventure.

Monday, August 03, 2009

More Exhaustion

Today we began our work project which is really just clearing a huge attic and moving it 75 yards down the road to another attic. Eventually, this attic we're emptying will have the ceiling knocked out and the whole thing will be remodeled. I just asked George for an estimate on the size of the attic. He says 40x100 feet, and imagine a hot, dusty space that size filled, FILLED, with useful and not so useful stuff.

We moved desks, bunk beds and at least 100 doors. Not hard except when you have to lift all these things up 12 feet in the air over the banister and half if it goes up another flight of stairs. My height got me a permanent job as a door lifter and I don't know how long its been since my shoulders have felt so sore.

Soreness was relieved by a gyro we'd been dreaming about all morning. We got back from lunch and some kids had arrived for camp. Hours of soccer, basketball and volleyball ensued, and I was playing until I could barely stand anymore. I made many new 12 year old friends.

Around five o clock, I joined everyone else from our crew as they had all run out of juice already. We sat exhausted for an hour until dinner where I ate with 7 Albanians who couldn't speak a lick of English (unusual, actually). Kaiser, George and Schroeder all ate at tables that wafted laughter at my depressing table. I was ashamed for not being more entertaining and annoyed at them for winning the "other English speakers" lottery.

After dinner, we returned home to the Stoschers. And we've been lounging, but not sleeping, ever since.

I know I'm not explaining everything all that well, but perhaps the good reader can fill in the blanks...or ask questions.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

We made it, but we're tired!

The PCLG Albania team made it to Erseke, Albania about 24 hours ago
and we've been having fun/recovering ever since. We haven't done any
"official" work yet, but we did spend today playing with the Stoscher
kids and helping in the kitchen on preparation for a wedding. Ruthie
Stoscher was quite stressed today. It was hectic. We escaped to
playing four square when we could.

The picture shows Schroeder and Kaiser on the five (no make that
seven) hour drive from Thessaloniki, Greece to the homefront in Erseke.

I am tired and I told Jane I was going to sleep an hour ago. Shhh. In
the end, she told me to blog (sharing my phone with Sam is what really
took up the hour).

So in brief, our team is: Sam, George, Steve, Kaiser, Erin &
Schroeder. Oldest to youngest.

The Stoschers are: Mark & Ruthie, parents; Abby, Becca, Jamie &
Stephen, kids.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

An Afternoon with Friends

After the NBC studio tour at Rockefeller Center, we met up with Ralph,
Krissy and beautiful 9-month old Isadora, who we were meeting for the
first time. They took a train in from Pennsylvania to meet us for the
afternoon. It was great to see them after so long and wonderful to
finally meet Izzy - she is as adorable as the picture portrays.

We Love Our Morning Dunkin'

Erin is a little addicted.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Our Day In New York

We drank Dunkin Donuts coffee, rode a double decker bus, went shopping
in SoHo, roamed around Central Park, almost saw Robert Pattinson (and
stayed around an extra 20 minutes just to see if he would come back
out of the building), enjoyed a lovely dinner with Laura and her
charming boyfriend Andrew in Hell's Kitchen, and topped it all off
with a stroll through Times Square. This is us with the bright lights
of Times Square behind us.

All in all, an absolutely lovely day of being tourists!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Prego Menu

This is the food selection my pregnant co-worker just got out of the vending machine. Too good (and gross) not to share.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Why my Husband Continues to Amaze me

This is the bouquet he made for me out of the flowers in our garden.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Movie Review: Up

Three words - go see it.

Preferably in 3D. It's pretty darn amazing.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Last Bag of Mother's Ever?

Tony busts out the big guns for our evening of dinner and Yahtzee.
Mother's - we will miss you!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Mexico dinner

You can't see us (melissa,katy,evann,rachel,shannon and maddie)
because we're way in the back, but we're all at sergios on our way
back from Mexico. After an entire day of driving, you can imagine how
satisfied we are with Mexican cuisine. Although we are greatly
saddened that our mission has come to a close, this restaurant is a
reminder of all we have completed in dusty Tijuana. We are also quite
pleased by the prospect of clean, warm, running water: an incredible
Also I would like to share my favorite memory of the trip: yesterday,
jane and I (Melissa) got into an epic stucko duel. I'd have to say I
won because I got stucko on the back side of her overalls. Don't
worry, we have pictures. Although I have to say she got me pretty
good down the shirt.
P.S. Lima lentils soy and pinto navy northern and garbanZo kidneys and
frijolesI love beans woo woo woo
I love beans how bout you
Beans are an excellent source of protein
I love beans
When I eat beans I sit it in my own little cloud
Nobody comes to play with me in my little cloud
I don't know why maybe it's cuz I'm cuttin muffins
Doo doo doo (repeat)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Per Erin's request, we had to try a sandwich at Potbelly. As Steve
says, it is remarkably good.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Job interview

Before dinner with college buddies, I decided to interview at New York
avenue Presbyterian church. Not. Reading "Jesus for President" would
be particularly awkward two blocks from the White House.

Great Smithsonian Artifact or Greatest Smithsonian Artifact?

Amidst such detritus as a 45 carat diamond, Lincoln's stovepipe hat,
and THE star-spangled banner, a portait hangs of incalculable value.
Digitally printed on vinyl, this masterpiece once hung on the set of
the Colbert Report. The huddled masses pass by in reverence.

Chili half smoke w/ everything

We are now several months closer to a heart attack following an
amazing lunch at this DC landmark. We have to walk around now to
finish our milkshakes as drinks/eats is verboten on the metro.


Did people in the Flintstones ever deal with a T. Rex? If not, why
not? Imagine the ratings gold! Perfect for May sweeps.

At least I can say I would create a heckuva hairball for all giant
reptiles that might dare eat me. That is some consolation.

In Memory of the Hike

A picture of food! This is the antipasto we had at dinner last night.
Steve must have thought we were still on the hike too, because he
ordered a large pizza for us on top of this. Crazy!

This morning we're having a quick cup of coffee before hitting the
Museum of Natural History. Pictures of dinosaurs coming soon...

Monday, March 09, 2009

Thank you Madame Speaker

We arrived to the nation's Capitol with much fanfare. The Speaker of
the House held a press conference letting the world know we had come
to DC. She's in that crowd somewhere.

Actually, it was slightly more important than that.

20 something hours

We should really call this a travel blog, because that's when it gets
most active. Jane and I are taking a short trip to DC this week (she's
never been there before), so expect updates over the next few days.
We're being tourists!

But first, it was a looong day before getting out of town...

2:00 am- Spring forward! Lose one hour of life.
6:45 am - Arise for carwash fundraiser for mission trip. Who's the
idiot who scheduled this on daylight savings day?
7:17 am - First kid arrives, 43 minutes early.
8:00 am - Setup and standing around begins. It seems remarkably cold
to be having a carwash.
9:00 am - Official start.
10:00am - Church begins. We have several cars lined up (fifty or so)
to wash in one hour.
11:10 am - We didn't think we'd make it through. The adults were
having a hard time motivating the kids. The kids were having a wet
time doing the work. It may have been hard, I don't know, I was too
busy being a taskmaster.
12:30 pm - Done. Go home.
1:00 pm - Erik, Jane, Brian G, and Steve nitpick through the
inefficiencies of the carwash at breakfast, failing to remember we
made more money than ever before (thank you PCLG).
2:45 pm - Brian G teaches Steve how to ride the 1978 Vespa Steve
bought with Jane's birthday money from Steve for a laptop. You snooze
you lose.
2:48 pm- Steve successfully rides around the PCLG parking lot (where
everyone in town learns to drive).
3:00 pm- We kick out Brian and Erik, we need to pack.
5:00 pm - Middle School. Jesus was walkin on the lake, Team
Mythbusters trivia (boys rule, girls continue to drool), sardines. Tom
came back after several weeks and the kids had words for him.
7:00 pm - Leave for SFO, driven by Brian H.
7:15 pm - In N Out. Don't leave CA without it.
8:10 pm - Airport arrival.
9:35 pm - Takeoff aboard the purple lit Virgin America flight (it's
like a disco in there!). 5 hours, no food... And pretty much no
sleeping either). Somewhere in there it turns into Monday.
5:00 am - W A-S-H I-N-G... T-O-N, baby, DC! Actually, Dulles
international Airport.
7:00 am - Hotel let's us check in super extra early. We finally sleep.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The original covenant

After a week and a half of constant rain, this rainbow extended out
from roof of the synagogue across the street. Out of the Hebrew
scriptures and structures comes the reminding rainbow that God isn't
going to flood us after all.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Happy President's Day

Today, we celebrated Washington and Lincoln's births with the Sons in
Retirement (SIRS) of Los Gatos, branch #141. Oddly, they meet in
Willow Glen.

For the low price of two free lunches, LandShark spoke about the PCT
adventure and showed off our favorite pictures. Caterpillar improvised
some closing remarks that really outshone the rest of what LandShark
had said. That's why I bring her along.

Thanks to Ed LaVeque for recruiting us to come today.