Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Just Discovered Walk Oakland Map & Guide

Stumbled across this while searching for more info on some of the Oakland neighborhoods that I walk through. Its really cool - shows the public stairways and paths as well as the streets. It also color codes the streets to show degree of steepness. 4th edition came out in Sept 2009.

It is published by the Oakland Department of Public Works and is widely available in Oakland including the bicycle store and bookstores in Montclair village in my area. I suggest buying it locally, but if you are keyboard bound, the earlier edition is in Amazon Walk Oakland! Map & Guide. I love that this map is available, but I have learned that some of the paths and stairs are what once was, and have fallen into disrepair. I was walking down one street that I have walked many times. The map said there was a stairway cutting from this street to the one below. I didn't see anything, but asked a couple of young women who were walking down the street behind me. One of them said, "Oh, I used to take them all the time to school, they are right over there". When we looked, no stairs remained, but there was a steep muddy path that still went through.

It shows paths going through areas I have always wondered about, for example, it shows a trail up to Skyline Blvd from the North Oakland Sports Center. That was enough to prompt me to go out there a couple of times, once to follow the trail showing clearly on the map, and then another time, this time with a GPS, to figure out where the trail actually went.

Both of this trips will be subjects of later blog posts.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Avoiding Starvation aka Simple Rice Cooker Recipes for an eighteen year old

When I was eighteen, I found myself on a fire crew with three other guys, in the fire crew quarters with cots, a stove, and some pots and pans. There was a tiny market nearby, but the nearest full service grocery store was at least 150 miles and four hours away. I came from a traditional family with a full time mom, who did all the cooking. I had some dish washing skills, but zero culinary ability. The other guys were a little better, not much, but I didn't starve. I learned how to shred potatoes, mix with eggs and fry. Pour a lot of catsup on the result and it was pretty tasty, at least to an eighteen year old. Later that summer, a tourist hit a deer on the highway. We heard about it, went out and butchered the deer, and that was our meat for the rest of the summer. (There was a freezer in the bunkhouse).

I have progressed since that time, spending some time around good cooks, and this time, paying attention. Still, there is the frequent need for quick easy meals that don't need much tending, since we are busy doing other things. The rice cooker is one of my ways of preparing quick one pot meals.

Now I have a chance to pass on some tips to my granddaughter, who is where I was, some fifty five years ago. Out on her own, and not a whole lot of practice feeding herself and her roommate. I don't know the cooking skills of the roommate, but I do remember that when I had roommates, taking turns was the way things worked.
On that note, to the rice cooker. Get one of the small ones, that do from four to ten cups. They come with a plastic rice measure. Fill that not quite to the top with rice. I like brown better, because it takes longer to cook - about 40 minutes. White is ok. It will take about 15 minutes. In either case, put in two full measures of water, put the lid on, and push the cook lever down, to start the rice.

Now the meat should go in. If you have frozen leftovers of any meat, cut in bite sized pieces, frozen in two person servings, they can go in now. Instead, you can take two precooked sausages and slice them up, and dump them in. Another meat we use frequently is the precooked, peppered 4oz salmon packets you find in the meat section.

About 15 minutes before you expect the rice to be done, put in vegetables, also in bite sized pieces. I frequently use broccoli. If you do, peel the stems, and slice them in little rounds, and break up the heads.

Summary, rice, water, meat, 15 min before finish, veggies.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Oakland Hills Walk 4 - Heaven Hill and Pacific Railroad Loop 3.5 miles

HH&PRR is about half way along this loop if you start at Lodge and Hemlock, but it is one of the highlights. I'll talk more about it and later.

One of our frequent hikes is north along Skyline to Sibley, and from there onto regional park trails. In Jan 2008 there were severe storms, and a slide blocked Skyline Blvd to all traffic, including pedestrians. In searching for an alternate way to Sibley and Huckleberry, I discovered the HH&PRR route, though didn't have a name for it at the time. The weather was still wet and stormy, so I took the closest surface I could find to the slide, and followed it north, at each intersection, choosing the rightmost (eastern) street, as that kept me closest to Skyline Blvd. It is about half through shaded small residential streets, and then climbs along undeveloped parkland (where I frequently see turkeys). That parkland is on the left. The right is steep and lightly developed, but for sale signs are posted, and some large houses are underway. The return is along Skyline Blvd, now repaired, back to the starting point.

Starting from Hemlock and Lodge we go clockwise down to Snake, cross to Thornhill, and then a sharp right on Wild Currant. We can look north across Thornhill canyon and see the high point of our loop.

Watch for metal creatures on rooftops.

Right on Glen Oak, and then down Sobrante. On the right side look for a steel footbridge leading to a dwelling. Under the bridge is a mass of green right now, no water to be seen. In the summer there is still a green band here, marking one of the few Oakland creeks that has not yet been trapped and piped. The first right hand street off of Sobrante is Thorndale, where you start up. On the way look for a three chair mini park on the left, where someone has taken about 100 sq feet of an undeveloped canyon lot, and setup and area where you can take a break. Once you stop seeing houses on the left, you are passing regional park land. Watch for turkeys from here on. Soon on the right you will see a railroad crossing sign, a small rail car, and a totem pole. This is the site of the former Heaven Hill & Pacific Railroad. There was a car stopped at the entrance as we walked by, the driver unlocking the chain blocking the driveway. He had lived there for 30+ years, and at one time had a small operating railroad. There is no longer a residence on the site, and it is probably slated for development.The current interest is his patented car of the future - sort of a motorcycle with outriggers.

Continue on up, taking a jog at Jewel Ct for a panoramic view of the bay. After that, up till you hit Elverton. There you have a choice - left to go up to Sibley for water and restrooms, or straight ahead on Elverton. Near the end of Elverton you walk along maybe 50 yards of the ugliest fence ever to slip through Oakland Planning Commission. I thought that there was a law that houses on these steep slopes were limited in how much they could obstruct the view - maybe these houses in high places had friends in high places. Shortly after that you join Skyline, walk south past Huckleberry, turn right on to Colton at the firestation and then right on Lodge back to the starting point.

For a preview of the walk, see the YouTube video:

Exploring Critical Mass a little further - Christmas Critical Mass

Just to set the scene, we have backpacking Santa - too heavy for the tree, so hanging on the first hook within reach. Beneath him, and within his gaze is Christmas Chaos. The gradual accumulation of wrapping paper, gifts to be wrapped, completed presents to go elsewhere, starts taking over the room. Out comes the card table for more space. Eventually the gifts are all in hand, the critical mass has been reached, and a flurry of wrapping begins. The chaos reduces to order again. We haven't hit that point this year, yet. Maybe critical mass wasn't the right analogy - better entropy, the tendency of things to drift towards total disorder?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pocket Critical Mass

I read Malcom Gladwell's Outliers recently, and enjoyed it immensely - went on to read Tipping Point. Now I propose that he write a third book titled "Critical Mass". As an example, I will relate my recent experience with "Pocket Critical Mass". You see on the right, my left pocket - car 1 keys, car 2 keys, comb, and handkerchief. Also, my spare battery and memory card case that I have started carrying since I began carrying the camera around.

The right pocket is simpler - billfold and phone.

The problem came as I recently added the battery & card case to my left pocket. Before that, there was no problem. I would reach in my pocket, grab the required item. Now the simple act of reaching for my car keys has Susan giving me the squinty eyed look as a fumble around for the right set of keys for about five minutes. You men I am sure, all know the meaning of the squinty eyed look.  That one simple object added to my pocket caused it to exceed critical retrieval mass, dooming location of the right set of keys on the first try.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Oakland Hills Walk 3 - Merriewood Steps - Figure 8 - 1.1 miles

This is longest stretch of interconnected steps that I know of in Oakland. About 400 steps and a climb/drop of two hundred plus feet in about a third of a mile. It makes a good workout, particularly when you do two steps at a time on the steep sections. These steps were restored in 2003, so they are in good shape.

View Oakland Hills - Merriewood Steps - the figure 8 in a larger map
Thirty to forty years ago, I lived on the top of Merriewood, and commuted to the city. A bus came down Upper Broadway Terrace and stopped right at Merriewood, so usually an easy trip down to Montclair Village and the express from there. However, one winter I had a different schedule, forcing me to catch the early express from Thornhill and Mountain, and the fast way down was the Merriewood stairs, in their unrestored condition. Broken steps, missing steps, fortunately the handrail was usually intact. That was a cold and wet winter, and there were several weeks where the steps were covered with ice. More than once my feet went out from under me and I was just hanging from the rail. Once I digitize all my old slides I may have a picture of those original steps. If so, will update this post.

Anyhow, the current walk I started at the bottom, at Thornhill and Merriewood. The steps initially go up steeply, but level for a while till the next pitch up to a little deadend street/driveway (Doncaster Place), and from there past a house which has integrated the steps landing into their entryway. Past that and then another climb. As you look up towards Valley View you see the steeply ascending stairs, but at the top just green hillside - no steps.

However, its not over yet. Go east on Valley View about 30 feet and you will see the final set of steps that go up to Merriewood. Go up these and right on Merriewood, unless....

If you really have to have more stairs, you can go left on Merriewood maybe five or six house lots, and you will see one more set of steps going up on the right to Abbott. If you take these and go straight till you hit Merriewood again. This is the brown alternate route on the Google Map.

If you didn't take that alternate, just go right on Merriewood and stay on it until Upper Broadway Terrace, where you turn right on Crown and loop back to Merriewood again. You could do this Crown loop either way. When I lived here, these were all small houses - maybe 20 to 40 years old, and nearly all had some remodeling. The different houses were known by their occupants, either recent or former. The doctor's house, brick and sturdy.

Peggy and Margaret's house, gradually deteriorating with its occupants. Chris and Kathy's house, quite a ways down off of Crown, John and Bonnie's house - he made skylights from scratch. Joe's house - best food and stiffest drinks on the block plus an endless supply of stories. Across Upper Broadway Terrace that big green house was the fireman's headquarters during the big Oakland fire. The fire was stopped there. It was one of the few on the west side of Upper Broadway Terrace to survive. The painter's house, known for the use of left over paint from house painting jobs. Over the years these small houses acquired character, as the quirks of the owners made themselves known. Now as I walk around, I notice that the square footage of the area has about tripled. The vacant lots now have buildings. The older homes have new additions. There are a few massive houses. The area still retains an individual character, but there are no longer household artifacts visible from the street. The things of interest are architectural. More fences, fewer yards visible.

After the Crown loop, you go back down Merriewood to the top of the stairs, but then just stay on Merriewood, walking downhill and keeping to the left at the next intersection. Imagine you are following the flow of water as it goes down the hill towards Thornhill. At the big five way intersection keep left. At the next one, Valley View, go right, downhill and then curve left on Merriewood till back at the starting point.

To preview the walk, see the 2 minute YouTube:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Oakland Hills Walk 2 - Rockridge BART Loop via Montclair Village Steps 9.5 miles

My GPS says 9.8 miles, my cleaned up Google track says 8.7 miles. Total ascent about 1040 feet. If you start near the top like I do, it is a nice stroll down through the hills and secluded streets to BART and then a fairly good workout back by Lake Temescal and up through the Thornhill Canyon. I look for one of a kinds and the sort of strange as I walk, and this route offers a few, mixed in with the ostentatious and conservative.

View Oakland Hills Walk 2 - to Rockridge BART in a larger map
Starting down from Hemlock St & Lodge Ct go a few blocks on busy Colton. Just before you turn left on Heartwood keep your eye open for the yard with the merry-go-round horse on the left.

For a while, retrace the Oakland Hills walk 1 down to Mountain Blvd and Montclair Village. On a weekday you will hear Montclair Elementary about three blocks away. Amble north on Mountain past the school and checkout the library a little later.
Now left on Thornhill and cross under highway 13, turning right on Estates drive. Some old classic houses here. One has the same rectangular corner stones that I saw on estates in France.

Follow Estates to Florence, then to Harbord. Keep looking and you will see a couple of different houses with carved bears, and later, a yard of gnomes.

Finally, Village Market, along Broadway Terrace pass the golf course, and right on Monroe into the Rockridge district. Monroe is a good place to find a parking spot for a short walk to BART. Cross Broadway, down to College and then north on College to BART.

Now the up starts - slowly at first, along streets paralleling highway 24 to Lake Temescal.

Go through the park, passing by restrooms at the south edge, and then left on Broadway Terrace. Under 13. You are right on the Hayward Fault at this moment. Cross Broadway Terrace and go up Glenwood Glade. This quiet redwood shaded street has some magnificent homes, some in good shape, some with their best days behind them. These homes abut Temescal Creek and are very close to the fault. We rejoin Mountain Blvd after a couple of jogs, and at the Thornhill intersection where we were earlier, turn east up Thornhill Blvd. You pass a small commercial area and turn right on Gouldin shortly before the Merriewood steps (a walk yet to be written up). Up to Aspinwall, Thornhill Dr to Snake. Cross Snake to Hemlock St, and up it to Hemlock and Lodge, our starting point.

For an armchair view of this walk, or a preview, watch the youtube video:

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Annual Red Beans and Rice weekend

It's pouring down rain outside. A few days ago it snowed. Wonderful aromas are floating around the house. I have this craving for a beer, but we have to go out to a party tonight, so I will have to defer the beer.

Each year around this time we have a Cajun theme Christmas party. I make a giant batch of red beans and rice on Saturday, Susan does a giant batch of jambalaya on Sunday, and I also make key lime pies on Saturday. Guests bring salads, appetizers, more desserts, vegan entrees, etc. Last tally was around 45 people arriving at our 1100+ sq foot house tomorrow evening. I think we have 22 places to sit down, maybe 25 if people sit on the edge of our bed and in Susan's office.

Still, it has always worked out. People move about, sit, stand and eat, cluster and in general have a good time. They come year after year, sometimes bringing friends, which accounts for the 45 this year. Some years we do double batches of everything. This year is definitely a triple batch year, thus the three pots on the stove. When they have cooked down a little more, I can strip the meat off the ham shanks and consolidate everything in one pot, I hope. So far not too many mishaps. It took three trips to the store as I discovered missing ingredients for the red beans. The plan was for four pies, but those four pies you see are pies five thru eight out of the oven. After the first 4 were ready I glanced at the expiration date on the key lime juice. 03/07/09 - bad. Also on the bottle, which has been sitting on our shelves for a year, was the notice: "Refrigerate after Purchase" - very bad. It had been on open shelves in the store and my brain must have originally read that as Refrigerate after Opening. So, the first set of pies looked good, smelled good, but we didn't want to be in suspense for 24 hours waiting to see if anyone developed food poisoning.

For now those first four pies are in the garage, which is as cold as a refrigerator at the moment. After the party, we will each have a small piece and see how we fare over the next 24 hours. On second thought, maybe just I will have a small piece. Someone has to drive me to the hospital. Final word - nobody tasted those first four.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Oakland Hills Walk 1 - Montclair Village Steps - Saroni Loop - 3.7 miles

View Oakland Walk 1 Saroni - Montclair Village Steps Loop in a larger map

When I got up this morning, there was a slight smattering of snow on the ground, but trust me, this route is usually a very pleasant walk.

Sometimes I need a walking workout and am pressed for time, so just go out of my door and do some neighborhood walks. It is hilly so you can get a good workout. The only caution is that it is all hard surface walking, so pay attention to your feet. If you keep walking after soles of the feet are feeling sore, you are asking for plantar fasciitis. Build up distance over a number of weeks.

For this walk I have marked the starting point near the point of highest elevation, and then you walk down for about half the time. There is also some parking space at the starting intersection. You are walking down through forested residential streets, a mix of small remodeled homes and more recent construction.

In the early 1800s this was all a Peralta Land Grant, and was covered with a vast redwood forest known as the San Antonio Redwoods. By 1860 the original forest was completely logged off. As you walk along you will see pine and cypress, even at least one palm, but few redwoods.

The route follows Saroni for a while, then south on Sayre, and then back on Saroni for a short distance until it runs into Shepherd Canyon road. At the bottom of Shepherd Canyon, the original Shepherd Creek runs buried in pipes beneath the street, but it still nourishes some large buckeye trees that grow in the canyon bottom. Shepherd Creek eventually escapes its confinement as it crosses the Hayward fault and highway 13, but also loses its name. From that point on it is known as Sausal Creek.

At that point you follow the Shepherd Canyon trail down the canyon towards Montclair Village. The trail follows the old right of way for the Oakland, Antioch and Eastern Railway, which used to run up the canyon and through a tunnel to Moraga and points east. This later became the Sacramento Northern Railway.

As you walk west towards Montclair, you will see the groomed trail curve to the right, while a crude trail curves to the left (to the corporation yard and the soccer field), and a well worn but unofficial trail goes straight ahead up a small hill. If you take the trail up the hill - at the top you will find a kid's dirt bike wonderland - clearly unauthorized, but giving hope that some of the current generation are free of helicopter parents. When going on down the hill to rejoin the groomed trail, be careful. There is loose dirt and pebbles, giving a ball bearing effect when dry. When wet, probably slippery.

Continuing towards Montclair, you cross the footbridge over Snake Road, and about 50 yards after that, see a paved trail on the west, going down to the parking garage in Montclair. Go around the left side of the garage and down to Mountain Blvd. At the intersection, you can leave the route go left to visit Noah's or Peets, then return and continue north on Mountain Blvd, finally passing Luckys and the B of A on the left. In a moment you will see the concrete abutments on each side of the road where the railroad used to cross. At the next crosswalk, just before Colton Blvd, the Montclair Village Steps are on the right, going up the hill between the buildings.

Go up the steps and at the street above (Magellan), jog a few feet to the right to find the start of the next set of steps and continue up to Gaspar, the end of the steps.

Walk up Gaspar to where it makes a T junction with Snake Road, taking a break at the small picnic bench if you want. Now you have a short distance up Snake - maybe 50 yards until the next intersection on the right. Snake is quite busy, so walk on the left side against the traffic and be quite cautious.

The next intersection is where Drake Drive and dead end Krohn Lane hit Snake. Cross Snake carefully and continue on Drake Drive until you hit Aztec Way going to the left. Go up Aztec noting the large stucco house to the right - at one time they had great Halloween decorations.

At the top of Aztec, turn left on Asilomar. You will walk past Balboa on the left. Shortly after that, checkout the view through the gated garden door in a long hedge, again on the left.

Continue on Asilomar until you see Saroni going right. Follow Saroni back to your starting point.

If you want to preview the walk, watch my YouTube video of it: