Sunday, April 30, 2006

I love it when a plan comes together.

My all time favorite, true-life adventure story is Kon Tiki. Could there ever be a cooler adventure that spending months on a small raft crossing the Pacific?!

I decided to find out.
Begining

More to come...

Adventure! Excitment! Full-Blown Insanity!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Six-wheeling through the woods.

We had a great time today going on a bike tour of Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center. They were celebrating the grand opening of it's new, dedicated bike trail with a big hoopla of VIPs, free food, live music, a video crew, and reps from REI passing out free bandanas and trees. This celebration was also to celebrate Earth Day. It was kind of ironic then that we needed to drive BOTH our SUV's to this event. Our bicycles and Miniwether's buggy filled Missewether's Honda Pilot, so Miniwether and I had to drive there behind her in my RAV4. Nothing says "Save the Planet" like driving two SUV's twenty-five miles to go for a bike ride.

Anyway, we skipped all the talky-eaty stuff and just went for the guided bicycle tour. Turns out after all their promotions and advertisments of the event only one lady and the three of us showed up to actually ride the new trail. I think the park people were kind of disappointed. On the plus side, they had us ride our bikes back and forth through the begining of the trail while videotaping us for some Houston Parks commercial. Cool! baby, I'm going to be a STAR!!!

And then were were off for the real ride.
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Or in Miniwether's case, off for a nice buggy ride with a bag full of snacks, a sippy cup, and Fledgewing the Dragon.
Buggy

The new bike path was only a mile long so after we finished it our guide (Ranger Anita) led us down other trails to show us neat things in the park. We'd peddle along through lovely shade then stop somewhere to watch butterflies circle in the sun or to gorge ourselves on wild blackberries. We really like wild blackberries.
buggy2

At another spot we stopped to watch a still-smoldering forest fire. The fire had started somehow six days ago but hadn't turned into the ranging inferno most people visulize. It was slowly clearing out overground underbrush which is a good thing. The park people were keeping an eye on it but the plan was to let it burn.
fire

Parts of Jesse H. Jones park are ancient cypress swamp and they've built boardwalks through them. Red Slider turtles and banded water snakes were swiming everywhere! It was really cool!
bandedsnake

boardwalk

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swamp2

After the ride we headed back to the the park's Nature Center. This is a great place for anyone who likes lots of live snakes and dead animals. There were all sorts of skulls, bones, skins, and even different animal scats encased in clear epoxy.
naturecenter

Better still, they had sixteen cases with live examples of interesting (venomous!) Texas snakes. Miniwether thought the water moccasin was very pretty.
watermoccasin

We were finally able to pull Miniwether away from the snakes with a promise of lunch. We peddled over to the picnic area and I fired up my popcan stove to cook my famous "couscous with anchovy paste".
popstove popstove3

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By the time lunch was over Miniwether was falling asleep where she sat. We loaded the bikes into our SUV's (I keep laughing about that!) and headed home. As usual on our adventures, Miniwether fell asleep as soon as her tush hit her carseat.

What a great day.

Note: The new bike trail at Jesse H. Jones Park is open for riding every day during their normal hours. All the park's other trails are open to bicycling every Sunday morning. We'll be heading back for more riding! Um, and we'll be getting a bike rack for the Honda.

Adventure! Excitement! Peddling!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Stained!

It's blackberry season!!!! Every evening this week we've been cruising various patches of wild blackberries. We like to pretend we are getting exersize as we bicycle from patch to patch stuffing our faces with the sweet, staining fruit.

Look for blackberries in undeveloped areas on hillsides that receive full sun. They grow close to the ground on canes loaded with sharp stickers, so you need to wear long pants and good shoes. Uh, also keep an eye out for snakes and fire ant mounds. You'll most likely see red ones first. They'll need a few more days before they are ripe. The best (sweetest) ones are dull-black berries with the big, swollen globules. At this stage they'll fall off the vines with just a gentle tug. Blackberries grow wild all over the United States but their ripening times will be staggered as you move from South up to North.

After the blackberries are gone mulberries will come into season. They are probably my favorite berry, but I haven't found any mulberry trees in the neighborhood. There's several up where we camped last weekend, but that's a bit of a drive even for these best berries on Earth.

Adventure! Peddling! Berries!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Blocked!!

Someone in Tennessee doesn't like me.

Adventure! Excitement! Censorship!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

And into the woods we went!

It was a thing of beauty. No wasted space, no blocked visibility. Seven years of bagging groceries prepared me for this moment. I spent another minute admiring my packing job then shut the rear hatch on the Honda with a contented sigh. I had everything I needed to insure my family would have a great time on their first full-fledged camping trip in the wilderness.

Well, everything but the roll of paper towels, the hotdog/marshmallow roasting sticks, dish soap, and batteries for the tent's ceiling fan. Unfortunately, I didn't realize this until much later.

We were off to spend a night on the shores of Lake Charlotte. The campgrounds there are brand new, stunningly beautiful, and pretty much still a secret. You need a special permit to camp there, but you'll have to ask me really nicely about how to get it. It isn't easy and the process keeps the riff-raff out (in theory).
evening1

History

It's an hour's drive through some of Houston's nastiest, smelliest places before you break out into the wilds. The last bridge gives you an unobstructed view of miles of lakes, channels, swamps, and forests before dropping you into this Heaven east of Houston. Someday when I learn to steer the SUV with my teeth I'll get a picture from this bridge. It is stunning. A few miles further and we were deep into this wild place. Missewether lost some of her trepidition as we pulled up to the picnic area overlooking the lake. Besides, she had a manly outdoorsman like me to take care of her every need.

me
Gratuitous sexy shot of me.

Veggies burgers were grilled, chips were munched, brownies were devoured. Misseswether kicked back in my hammock while Miniwether and I explored the shore and swamps.

morning
Gratuitous cutey shot of Miniwether.

swamp
Another shot of Minwether exploring the swamps.

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Channels run hither and yon through the swamps. Bring your GPS!

evening2
Cypress sentinals at sunset.

middens
Native Americans had lived on the shore of Lake Charlotte for centuries eating the bountiful fish, crabs, cayfish, plants, and clams found here. The shore is littered with huge piles of clam shell middens left behind by these natives. In some places the layer of shells is three feet deep with giant cypress and cedars growing out of them.

After returning from the swamps it was time to set up our camp. We found a nice spot back away from a cliff overlooking the water. A stiff breeze was blowing across the lake into our camp which helped keep the mosquitoes away. I loved the sound of the wind. It made the trees roar and the waves crash. It had been far too long since I'd slept with those sounds. When I mentioned it to Misseswether the next morning her reply revealed the size of the job still ahead of me. She really disliked the noise of the wind through the trees and the crashing waves. To cope with it she pretended it was the soothing sound of traffic...

Oh well.

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She quickly got the portaprivy up, followed by the tent. Once night fell the privy was moved inside the tent. Hey, whatever it takes..

cutting
Meanwhile, I built a fire and began roasting potatoes. In this shot I was splitting wood by batoning it with my kukhri and a club. This technique is great for turning big log into small sticks, freeing up dry wood from the center of wet wood, and laying open one's shin to the bone (or, uh, so I'm told...)

While the potatoes baked I searched for the hotdog cooking forks. And looked, and looked, and looked.

Uh-oh.

But never fear, I'm an experienced woodsman! I quickly placed two large logs parallel to one another about six inches apart a little ways away from the fire. Then I shoveled several scoops of red hot coals from the fire between these logs. The logs would support the frying pan over the coals and the air would soon be filled with the great smell of hotdogs being fried in a mess o' onions. I just needed to coat the outside of the frying pan with some dish soap to make cleaning off the soot a peice of cake.

Dish soap, dish soap, where the heck was my dish soap!

Oh well. Growls of hunger from my delicate ladies indicated I'd be better off scrubing the soot off later than delay cooking any longer. The pan went over the coals, the hotdogs and onions went in the pan, five minutes later we were stuffing our faces with a feast fit for a king, or at least Robin Hood (whose story has been horribly distorted. He wasn't stealing from the rich to give to the poor! In the original story he was stealing back from the king money collected by excessive taxation and returning this money to the people who had originally earned it! I can support that Robin Hood a lot more than the current populist incarnation. Um, but I digress.)

Misses- and Miniwether retreated to the tent while I cleaned up. Having no dish soap limited my cleaning to hungry ants followed by large amounts of boiling water. Hey, it works.

Night was falling and it was well past Miniwether's bedtime. I promised her I'd take her for a walk in the dark if afterwards she'd go right to sleep. I picked her up and carried her down to the lake shore where we stood and stared at the brilliant spray of stars. She was speechless in the dark under the stars snuggled in my arms. After a while we said goodnight to the moon, the waves, the stars and I carried her back to the tent thinking she'd quickly drift off to sleep. Misseswether was waiting for us to return so that I could turn on the ceiling fan. She was too short to reach it and needed my help.

It was at this point I had to admit to her that I had also forgotten to pack the batteries for the ceiling fan. She took the news much more gracefully than I had expected, thank God. I figured I'd be up all night long cooling her with a giant fan woven from strips of cedar bark, but luckily it had cooled down enough to be comfortable laying on top of the sleeping bags.

Through the tent's skylight stars would wink and blink as tree branches swayed in the wind. This turned out to be very fortuitous as Misseswether convinced Miniwether that these lights were tree fairies flaying around and they could be lured closer if she closed her eyes and laid motionless. This was necessary as Miniwether thought the queen-sized air matress we were on was wonderfully bouncy. Luckily, Misseswether's tale of fairies worked and Miniwether settled down into a deep slumber. She still bounced around, but at least she was doing it in her sleep. She ended half on/half off the matress but attempts to pull her completely back on resulted in much flailing. I ended up leaving her the way she wanted.

sleeping
Whatever works...

Morning came and I slipped out to begin breakfast. The fire had been put out the night before so I was cooking over my Coleman camp stove. This thing can run on either white gas or unleaded gas, but I had an adapter that allowed it to also run on propane. This is a very good thing to have in hurricane country.

Breakfast was sausage, eggs, and cheese on sesame-seed buns. Oatmeal was also available, but unneeded as we filled up on the much less healthy fare. Calories consumed in the woods are immediately burned off so one's diet can consist of stuff normally forbidden. At least that's my theory.

After that it was time to pack the camp. Soon the Honda was filled up and nothing was left out but some chips and fruit. We went hiking for a while through the woods, along the shore, and into the swamps then returned to nibble some lunch. Miniwether didn't want to leave but was too tired to put up a fight. I carried her to the SUV and buckled her in. She was asleep before we made it out of the campground. Misseswether glanced back at her girl, then reached over and squeezed my knee. I think that meant I had succeeded in making the camping trip fun. I can't wait to go back!

Adventure! Family! Woods!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

My birthday is coming up.

In case anyone is interested...

Adventure! Excitement! Unbreakable!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

It doesn't hurt, they are my family.

I have fond memories of watching wrestling on tv thirty years ago. This was before the rock-n-roll sexcapades that infect it now. Back then the commercials featured polka music or Ginsu Knives. Mean Gene Okerland was the annoucer for matches involving such stars as Jesse 'the Body" Ventura, George "The Animal" Steele, and the uber-bad-guy, Hulk Hogan. Many a Saturday afternoon was spent watching these fellows bouncing around the mat, driving knees into spleens, and generally pummeling each other into pulpy masses.

These old memories raced through my head as Miniwether kicked me in the face in response to a groan I had let loose after Misseswether had driven her knee into my kidney. It was almost 4am and for the last six hours I had been punched, bounced, kneed, elbowed, and poked non-stop.
threecampers

They look sweet and harmless don't they? Don't let them fool you. Miniwether must have steel-reenforced heels and I swear Misseswether files her elbows into stilleto points. Both of them flail about in their sleep. Me? More than one person has commented on my Vampire-like sleeping habits: flat on my back, feet together, arms crossed over my chest, absolutely motionless until morning. The girls? I think they dream about kick-boxing.

Ah, the joys of camping with one's family... Though I'm not even sure if you could call it camping. When you are in a tent as large as a hotel suite, when you have your own portaprivy, when you kick back on a queen-sized air matress to watch DVD's, when the tent HAS A CEILING FAN it's hard to call the experience "camping".

big
Miniwether hangs out in the other room. You can just make out the edge of the ceiling fan at the top of the picture...

We were almost through our second night in the new tent and I have to say this beast had impressed me for family camping. I can stand up in it. It's superbly ventilated. It has a bathroom... It'll be great for camping up at RenFests and other places. As it was, we were just camping out in the backyard so instead of frogs and nightinggales we had the drone of traffic and landing airplanes. Well, I did anyway. Miniwether and Misseswether were sound asleep, protected from each other's nightly thrashing by the 6'5" wall known as me.
tent

It's all good though. Morning came with the sound of giggles and wrestling (but luckily no polka music). I escaped the ring and cooked up a batch of my Oatmeal French Toast and sausage patties which the girls quickly devoured. Breaking "camp" took a little longer than I liked, but it really is best to clean up the blood (kick to the face mentioned earlier...) before packing up the tent. Still, I'm thinking we'll go camping (actually in some woods somewhere!) once a month or so.

But next time I get the spare bedroom!

Adventure! Wrestling! Big big tent*!

*Note: This tent is SEVEN FEET shorter than the tent Misseswether had originally brought home. Yet it had all the amenities of a mid-priced hotel room. I can only imagine what all was in the other, larger tent!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

A weekend spent doing manly stuff!

Like weeding the flower beds, fertilizing the yard and putting down fire ant poison.

Anyone who says illegal immigrants are just doing the work Americans won't probably isn't married with a house in the suburbs.

I mean really, why put chemicals on a lawn just to make it need cutting more often? How dumb is that? Last year I took that philosophy to the next level and stopped watering the Great Green Beast. My plan worked great! The Texas sun quickly turned the yard a lovely shade of brown which I felt perfectly complimented the tan of our house.

Missewether didn't agree.

Neither did the homeowners association...

I have a letter to prove it. It had words like "property values", "obligations", and "legal" in it. Well, I'm assuming it did. All the others they send me do. On the plus side it didn't say anything about not droppng extra-large fireworks down into the storm sewers. It's so cool! All the manhole covers on the block hop up an inch or two...

Uh, then the neighbors come out and start using words like "police", "damages", "blowtorch to your" and, well, let's just say the last word is "censored".

No one ever mentions that all the raccoons have left. Our garbage is safe at night thanks to me and those wonderful people in the Chinese fireworks factory. Are we thanked? Nope. They just demand I haul around hoses every night after work and conduct biological warfare on the weekends. That second part wouldn't be quite so bad if they didn't hamstring me with their wussy rules of engagement. Apparently they don't feel "scorched Earth" is a valid gardening technique. They want the weeds killed? I can so do that. I even have a flame thrower (I named her "Licky")! They want the shrubs to survive? Uh, that requires a more delicate touch, not really my strong point...

Fire? DEFINATELY my strong point.

Adventure! Testosterone! April Fool's Day*!


*Editorwether would like it to be known that:
1. We have not received any letters from our home owner's association demanding Merriwether take better care of the lawn. While the lawn has suffered due to drought conditions these last two years the letters were actually requests to scrub some mildew off the north side of our house and to remove from our driveway some boulders he had purchased for a project**.
2. While the mortars fired into the storm sewers really did cause the manhole covers to hop, no raccoons had actually been seen in our neighborhood prior to this event.
3. Merriwether's flame thrower is not named "Licky"***

**Editorwether would like it known that the boulders were actually bought for landscaping purposes, not as ammo for a trebuchet.

***Merriwether states, "It is now."