Category Archives: Activities and Vacations

We don’t post most of what we do together as a family, but what we do should land here.

Camping

This weekend we packed up the family for a short trip to the coast to test out the recently acquired pop-up trailer.  Not a lot to say other than whoever thought tin-foil dinners were a good idea in the sweltering heat of a South-Texas summer needs to have their head checked.  It’s bad enough cooking over a fire when it’s cool outside, but doing it at 95+ degrees in the coastal humidity sucks!  The worst part of the whole deal is that I don’t really have anyone to blame but myself.  I was the one that put together that part of the menu.  Even cooking with the smallest fire I could make was enough to make me wonder why anyone would settle this part of the country before air conditioning.

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Isaac went right to hitting trees with sticks, messing around with his new fixed-blade knife, and generally enjoying being dirty.  He also decided that the mustang grapes growing all over were fairly tasty and fun to play with.

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The heat didn’t stop Michael from making the most of an opportunity to throw stuff into the fire.  He must be a true boy at heart.  I’m not quite sure how it happened, but I think this picture captured the only time during the whole trip where we were able to convince him to wear something on his feet.

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Sydney made the most of things by dressing up in camouflage from head-to-toe.  I guess she figured she could hide from Michael and Isaac better that way.  Unfortunately for her, there weren’t any cute boys in the neighboring campsites.  Apparently we chose to camp in the geriatric ward.  Our kids were about the only ones around.

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If you look closely, you can see my favorite part of the trailer… the air conditioner on top.  It’s tough to keep up when it’s near 100 and humid, but the air conditioner managed to take the edge off and give us somewhere to seek relief from the oppressive heat.

Two days at the beach and we were sunburned enough to satisfy our vitamin D requirements for a while, but you won’t see pictures.  I forgot to bring the waterproof camera, and I have a poor track-record with cell phones and salt water.  You’ll just have to imagine Sydney, Isaac, and Michael playing in the bathwater-warm surf for hours on end while Liz and I enjoy doing nothing under a sun canopy.   I think we’ll have to go back again when it’s not so awful hot.  Maybe next time I’ll remember the waterproof camera.

Free Trailer

Last summer, Liz and I traveled back to the home country to spend time with our extended families.  Among the things we did there was take a weekend trip camping in an offshoot of the Rocky Mountains with my brothers and their popup/tent trailers.  Liz and I thought it might be fun and affordable enough for us to get one, and started looking around for a used one in our price-range.  As luck would have it, not long after we returned home from vacation a friend told us they had one we could take for free.

Free is my favorite price. Unfortunately, free is almost never free.  Besides, I don’t like feeling like I’m taking advantage of someone, so I offered to get an old (1947) tractor of theirs back up and running in exchange.  I re-wired the electrical to switch it from 6v to 12v, added all the other stuff necessary to create a charging system including fabricating an alternator mount, replaced a rusted-through exhaust manifold, and fixed a leaking radiator. Quite a lot of work, but in the end, it was mostly labor (and kinda fun at that), so I still felt like I had come out ahead.

Fast-forward almost a year, and Liz decides we need to go on a couple of shorter trips this summer.  One to the beach for a weekend, and one to somewhere up north about a day’s drive.  Both require either paying for hotel rooms, KOA Kabins, or fixing the trailer and taking it with us.  Being averse to spending lots of money on lodging when I have a partial solution waiting for me to deal with it, I finally got around to working on the trailer.  As a side note, I have a hard deadline about 2 weeks from the time of this writing.  When I committed to finishing the trailer, I expected about a day’s work in total.

I knew there was some water damage in the front cargo compartment, and the short door/step was coming apart.  I figured on a half-day to repair that along with a half day to clean out the dust, dirt, and wasp-nests that had accumulated over the course of the last couple of years would do it.  Because the whole thing smelled of dirt, and to get a better idea for what I was really getting into, I started by attempting to open the canopy and clean the inside.  Problem…  the crank that raises the roof was missing.  The previous owners didn’t know where it was either.  Good thing I have a pile of scrap, a grinder, and a cheap welder.  Two hours and a failed prototype later and I had fabricated a reasonable replica that functioned perfectly.   So much for just a half-day of work.

After opening the canopy, it became clear mice had decided to nest in there over one of the winters it was sitting and chewed several holes in the canopy and window screens.  Opening the canopy further revealed stitching on one of the seams that had dry-rotted and come apart.  My leather sewing kit would come in handy for that, even though hand-stitching several feet of heavy canvas didn’t sound like fun.  Patching and stitching the canopy chewed up a trip to the outdoor megastore and about six hours.  On to the door.

The door proved to be a much more difficult repair than I had figured.  The manufacturer had opted to forgo screws and bolts in favor of aluminum pop-rivets in an effort to cut both weight and cost.  I had to drill out and re-do over 50 of the little buggers just to get the door apart, not to mention the work involved in fixing the latch, straightening out the bent frame, reinforcing a couple areas, and getting it all back together.  What was supposed to take an hour took more like ten.

That done, I moved on to the interior.  A full day (12+hours) of scrubbing, sweeping, wiping, pressure-washing, canvas patching, and other general cleaning did wonders, but also revealed lots of additional things that needed attention.  Every cabinet door and drawer was falling apart, so I pulled out some glue and my trusty brad-nailer.  With their help and about three hours I had fixed the cabinetry.  There was also some critical bracing that was missing in the benches/beds that a trip to the scrap wood pile in the garage and some rough carpentry took care of.  The water pump in the sink was falling out of the hole because the particle board around the screws had disintegrated, but with a deadline looming, and no immediate need for that particular function,  I opted to leave it for another time.

Now that all the “easy” stuff was done, it was time to tackle the water damage in the front cargo area.  Originally, I thought I’d be able to get away with reinforcing the floor with some cheap OSB and replacing two panels on the sides, but after looking closer and pulling up the linoleum, it became clear I would have to completely disassemble, demolish, and re-build everything forward of where the forward bed pulled out.  By the time I was done pulling off the plastic and aluminum body panels and tearing up rotten OSB and particle board, there was nothing left but the frame.  The demolition alone took over three hours, another three hours to go to the hardware store and back, and another eight or so hours to re-build the cargo box and get the body panels back in place.

If you’re keeping track, that adds up to 44 hours so far, and I still have to hand-sew patches over about five or six holes in the screens, make sure the tires are road worthy, stitch up a couple holes in the upholstery, make sure the road-lights all work, and get it licensed.  When it’s all said and done, I’m probably looking at something like another 8-10 hours for a grand-total of about 52 hours.  Considering what I make when I’m being paid for my work, this free trailer is pretty expensive.  Good thing I have more time than unallocated money (and I don’t even have much time).    Assuming I can spend Monday on it, I should have it done in time for the first outing in a couple of weeks.

One bright-spot… the air conditioner works, and everywhere we have planned to stop has power at the campsites.  Yes… I have fallen far from my backwoods days camping with only what you could carry, but this is Texas in July.  I’ll accept the ribbing, and enjoy being able to sleep in something slightly cooler than a hot oven.

Sea World

Several years ago when we lived in Florida we would go to sea world pretty regularly.  I never really enjoyed the experience.  Between the three dollar bottles of water, the whiny kids who wouldn’t or couldn’t go on any of the fun rides, the expensive crappy food, and the outrageous parking I usually walked away feeling financially violated and irritated.

The last time we did anything of that sort was almost five years ago when we were in Florida. We’ve been in San Antonio for almost three years now, have had the option to go back to Sea World on complimentary passes for the whole time, and only just now managed to make time to go.  Recently, I went with my heels dug in and being dragged the whole way.  Michael was not going to let me forget the promise we had made some time ago that we would come here “later.”  When my sister and her family came to visit, making the pilgrimage to see Shamu while here, “later” became a more imminent requirement.  I could no longer get away with telling him we would come later, I had to be more specific.

Unfortunately, the dates we initially selected to go had all been rained (or more accurately flooded) out.  When Monday came and the forecast looked clear I was informed that I should put in leave and do the paperwork for the complimentary tickets for Tuesday.    While I was arranging tickets I did the unthinkable and ordered the all you can eat meal plan (at a substantial discount) and pre-paid parking. This unusual decision has turned out to be a blessing.  One of the things that tend to bother me the most when we do things like this is the almost endless string of over priced drinks, snacks, and bad food that end up as a necessity and trend towards doubling the cost of the ordeal.

While I grumbled at the cost of my “free” tickets when I ordered them yesterday, I haven’t had to pull more than fifteen dollars out off my wallet all day, and the pain of yesterday was over before we left the house.  I was able to buy four dollar bottles of water and Diet Coke with abandon all day, didn’t feel like force-feeding Michael when he declined to eat the food he ordered for lunch, and somehow didn’t feel quite as cheated when the ten dollar plate of something that was supposed to be Chinese beef and broccoli turned out to be almost inedible.  In reality I probably only saved a relatively small amount, but I felt better about it all day, and as a result I didn’t take it out on Liz or the kids.

Along the way, the kids all had a great time.  Sydney and Isaac both conquered their hesitations (I won’t publicly call it fear) to ride two of the most intimidating roller-coasters in San Antonio.  Michael was delighted by the dolphin show and slapstick clown humor that was part of the pre-show act as well as demonstrating a love for the wilder of the kid-friendly rides like the Shamu Express and distaste for the calmer ones like the ferris wheel.  Liz seemed to enjoy leading Michael through exploring the penguin house and other events while I shepherded the bigger kids through rides Liz didn’t feel like experiencing.  All in all, the day was a success.   And the best part of it all…  I don’t have to go back for another five years or so!

Making Mozzarella & Butter

Nippa, the milk machine, generally produces almost exactly the amount of milk we tend to drink every day as a family.  However, when one or more of us aren’t here, the milk can begin to pile up in the fridge.  Recently I spent several days out of town for work, and Sydney had spent a week at summer church camp.  That translated into a couple gallons that were threatening to go bad if we didn’t do something useful with them. To add to the problem, Liz had bought a half-gallon of cream from the dairy down the street, but had only used about half of it making Ice Cream and Creamy Tomato Soup.

Liz has been meaning to try making cheese for quite a while, and had even bought the rennet to do it with.  However, circumstances never aligned until this last Monday.  We decided to make cheese and butter for “Family Night.”   The kids each got a mason jar half-full of cream to shake while I used the opportunity to teach the science of cheese making (yes science… I’m quite the geek).  In the end, we ended up with a delicious ball of fresh mozzarella, ricotta, and braunkase (reduced carmelized whey).  All of it tasty and none of it from the store.  Nothing went to waste.

Just as luck would have it, we had run out of butter that day, and the butter we made got us through until the next in-town shopping trip where we could re-stock on grass-fed organic butter (man… that makes me sound like an uppity food snob, but there are good reasons for it).

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Food Faces

I’m not sure why, but Liz and the Kids keep seeing faces in our food.  Just for fun, I’ve decided to share a few that they’ve taken pictures of…

IMG_7711Happy hens make happy eggs apparently.  I don’t honestly know if these eggs were from our flock of backyard chickens or if they were from one of the last dozen or so we purchased at the local meat market before our buzzards started laying.   I think this is just before we started getting our own eggs.  The ones we’ve been getting have yolks so orange it would look unnatural if you weren’t used to seeing eggs from free-range chickens.

IMG_7245Say hello to pickle guy(so dubbed by our kids)…  Last fall we got invited to help glean a pickling cucumber field in the local area and came home with a 5-gallon bucket worth of cucumbers.  This was the first time I’d made pickles in about ten years, and they turned out great.  Along the way, we noticed one jar that had a little more personality than the others.

How’s that for a useless and trivial post?

Hiking With the Boys

Since we took a rather long break posting updates, I’ve decided to go back over old pictures and pull a few out to share.  A little over a year ago, I took the two boys and went hiking in a large natural area not far from where we were living at the time.  Michael, being two at the time, wasn’t much of a hiker, but had fun when we stopped and he could get down and play around.  DSCF0173 DSCF0183 DSCF0189 DSCF0184

Sydney’s Go-Kart Fun

Dad, Isaac, & Michael 

Good things come in threes, so I’ve been told.  So when we had spent a few days dealing with Michael getting hives and being up all night itching and Isaac cutting his finger bad enough that I had to glue him back together with Derma-Bond, Liz and I were holding our breath for something else.  It didn’t take long.

We were invited over to a friend’s 150 acre homestead for an easter-egg hunt, BBQ and bonfire.  The combination of food, fun, and fellowship is hard to resist, so I took the kids and off we went.  It was great fun with 2-seat go-kart rides, a hard-core egg-hunt, hot-dogs, hamburgers, and the best of friends.  As we were making our way to the clearing for the bonfire, one of our friend’s kids walked out of the woods bleeding from a cut on her nose and explaining that the others were much worse off.

Syd and her friends

I knew Syd had been hanging around this particular friend all night, and my fears were almost instantly confirmed that Syd was in the Kart and had suffered the worst of the injuries.  Apparently, the friend was driving for the first time and locked-up negotiating a curve, pegging the accelerator instead of the brake and running them head-long into a tree at top speed.  When I got there, Syd was on the ground with her leg elevated, holding pressure on a wounded shin.

The younger brother of the driver, a boy scout and object of Syd’s first and current crush, had found them and was already rendering first aid.  More on this in a bit…

All three who had been riding in the Kart needed help.  The driver had a cut on her nose and a fat lip, her little brother (who had been wedged in the middle) lacerated his knee all the way across but not particularly deeply and had a deep puncture wound in his calf, and Sydney was on the ground with who knows how bad of a cut on her shin.  In the end, the other two were stitched up on-site by the owner (a dentist with lots of practice stitching up faces and appendages on scouts).

You would think that in a group of scouts, scout masters, and generally well prepared people, we’d have a pair of scissors or a pocket knife.  However, you’d be wrong.  This was one of the VERY few times that I had nothing on me to cut with so I could cut away her pants and get a good look at the injury.  I feel so ashamed…  In the end though, it didn’t make much difference.  I could see bone and muscle through the hole in the pants, and that was enough to tell me we weren’t going to fix her up there.

We ended up in the emergency room, at night, on a holiday weekend, in the biggest trauma hospital in a large city.  If you ever believed the fast-paced world of the TV drama “ER,” you’ve obviously never been in a real hospital.  Nothing happens quickly, and unless you are dying, you get bumped further back in the queue every time a helicopter drops off another unlucky drunk driver or unresponsive bar-fight looser.  To complicate matters, as a teaching hospital, every interaction is repeated at least three times as the junior nursing student or resident does their thing, the senior nursing student or resident does theirs, and the attending physician or head nurse comes in to check the work of the others.  In our case, each level of review resulted in things being ratcheted up.

At first, the triage nurse (student) thought Syd would be sewn up in a matter of minutes and sent home.  That gradually progressed over the course of ten hours to admitting her for surgery, a course of antibiotics (because of the exposed bone), and 24 hours of post-surgery observation after the on-call orthopedic surgeon overruled the attending physician and orthopedic residents.

I should have known we were in trouble when every nurse and doctor in the ER had to come in and look at the injury to believe what they had been told.  Given that this is THE trauma center for over 100 miles in any direction, that says a lot.

Now…  back to the boy scout rescuer.  The funny thing about coming out of general anesthesia and being under the influence of narcotics is that people (and Syd in particular) are willing to tell you almost anything, and will likely volunteer things you never expected to hear.  We’ve known Syd has had a crush on this fine young man for quite a while (she admits it to us at least), so I didn’t see any point in pressing the matter while she was waking up.  However, she felt the need to share.

She was explaining to me how the young man found her and helped her elevate her leg and put direct pressure on it to control the bleeding.  All of which was quite pedestrian.  Then she offered up this tidbit between exclamations about how good the ice chips were:  As she was laying on the ground waiting for help and hoping she wouldn’t black out, she saw him come up to her and thought that this was going to be just like in the movies where the knight in shining armor comes to your rescue, you stay awake just long enough to see their face, then black out until waking up in the hospital after it’s all over.  Too bad it doesn’t work like in the movies.  Besides, even if it did, they’re both too young to follow the movies all the way to that celebrated kiss after the crisis is over.

Syd survived surgery where they fixed a torn tendon, torn muscle, cleaned up the wound, and closed it up.  Liz came to the hospital Sunday evening to spell me off after a marathon 4 days with a total of less than 6 hours of sleep (another long story), and I went home to get some sleep.  Unfortunately, sleep came too late for me.  My immune system must have been compromised, because I picked up a raging case of Montezuma’s revenge in the ER that has been haunting me for over 5 days now.

At this point, Syd’s home and learning to function in a knee immobilizer, Liz is back to her normal routine, and I’m still dealing with fallout from my time in the ER.

The fun never stops… does it?

For those of you who don’t mind gore,  here’s a link to a picture of the wound:  It ain’t pretty, so if you don’t want to see it, stop now.

Syd’s Leg