Sunday, July 27, 2008

Stop the Blood, Cover the Hole, Help the Pain

Being an adventurer means I end up with assorted cuts, broken bones, dislocations, burns, bites, infections, and the occasional poisoning. Luckily, I've been a First Responder at work for the last four years. The monthly first aid classes for this position have taught me a vital lesson:

I'm not a doctor.

Well, okay I am a doctor, but not the medical type.

I run with a lot of "Preparedness" types. Most of them have first aid kits that would cause envy in third-world hospitals (I've been to third-world hospitals, they are terrifying). These guys and gals have everything from airway tubes to suturing kits (I couldn't think of a medical item that began with "z", I figured "s" was far enough down the alphabet to get the point across, but I digress).

So, with my extensive experience and training what do I carry? Mostly gauze and bandages. I can stop the blood and cover the wound, which covers most of what I'm likely to encounter. I don't have the training to stick a pen in someone's throat (at least not to help the person, heh heh heh).

Here is the first aid kit I keep in my pack when hiking/canoeing/kayaking. In addition to this kit I also have a smaller one with bandaids, moleskin, and antiseptic wipes in my pocket at all times.

Sawyer Products hunting/fishing first aid kit in a waterproof bag.

Kit opened up. It has the original components plus some others. The bottle of nasal spray in the center left is actually for use as a wound flush. It is a sterile saline solution that costs pennies compared to regular saline flush solutions.

Left side of pouch:
Top row is several large plastic bags, eyeglass repair kit, 1st aid booklet, mechanical pencil, tweezers, 1.5oz bottle of nasal saline spray for flushing wounds.
Second row is maxipad and a 3"x3" sterile pad
Third row is a small plastic bag with medicines (aspirin, rehydration salt tablets, benadryl, burn cream, hydrocortisone cream, iodines wipes, and cold medicine), second plastic bag holds assorted bandaids, third plastic bag holds assorted larger adhesive bandages and a sterile eye pad.

Right side of pouch:
Ace bandage, Waterproof tape, rolled gauze, maxipads

Since taking these pictures I've added several rolls of Kerlix Bandages for improved blood-stopping/wound-covering ability.

In the case of broken bones or other things where immobilization of the patient is required I can jury-rig from the materials around me. Carrying Sam Splints seems to be definite overkill.

Hey, it was either this post or one about playing Candyland with Miniwether this afternoon (I won the first two times, then lost by just three squares the final game. I would have won that one too if I hadn't been caught in one of Lord Licorice's sticky traps!)

Uh, but I digress.

Peace be with you.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Merriwether: Spare Husband

I guess it's no suprise that I'm well recognized in my neighborhood. This is probably why no one called the cops as I walked down the sidewalk at 10:30pm yesterday carrying a pitchfork in one hand, a 5-gallon bucket in the other and a flashlight strapped to my head.

My mission: to save a lady in distress.

She had been taking the garbage out when she discovered a large, dead thing in her bushes. It had been dead for a few days.

In the hot Texas sun.

Her husband was out of town so she did what every other woman does when her husband is out of town. She called me.


So now I'm walking down the street looking like a deranged farmer, off to save a lady from something big and dead.

And VERY stinky.

And somewhat...wet.


It took some doing but I was able to free it from behind the bushes and drop it into the 5-gallon bucket which I had lined with a heavy-duty garbage bag. I tied up the bag, tossed it in the garbage can, saluted the lady with my pitchfork, and strolled briskly home.

I really didn't want her to see me throw up.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

And On the 166th Week Merriwether Rested...

Of course by rested I mean:
1. Was out until 2:30am Saturday Morning with the guys.
2. Then up at 7:04am that morning to get the girls.
3. And spent the next FIVE HOURS flinging them down the Slip-n-Slide.
4. Then put Mambo down for a nap so I could work with Miniwether on her knife-handling skills (she loves her knife training!).
5. Followed by watching "Mulan" twice in a row.
6. After which we went to a neighbor boy's 5th birthday party
7. Where a margarita machine was set up to keep the parents entertained.
8. Margaritas, hot dogs, and birthday cake ROCK!
9. Suddenly it was Sunday morning.
10. I was up at 7:10am, fed the girls breakfast and took them to church, sans Misseswether.
11. Got back from church, made lunch for the entire family, played with the girls, did some gardening, then sent everyone to bed for an mid-afternoon nap.
12. All that's left is to make gumbo for supper (with okra fresh from my garden sliced up by Miniiwether!), watch Mulan again, and make sure everyone is happy. Monday morning will be here soon and I have a busy week ahead of me. I'm glad this was a slow weekend.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

More Protein

The next time I ask, "Whatcha doing?" lie, okay?
-My neighbor on Saturday

Big, juicy grubs found under a rotting stump.

I had to move the stump so that Clark and I had more room to swing the machete. We could have used my hatchet instead of the machete, but I didn't want to get the hatchet all covered in blood.

Chicken blood, to be exact...

Raising chickens in the backyard is becoming more and more popular. Houston rules specifically state it's legal to raise chickens as long as the coop is more than 100 feet from your neighbor's house. Unfortunately, HOA regulations overrule raising chickens in the backyard, but they don't say anything about butchering them.

Or canning their yummy, yummy meat.

It was actually Clark's idea. He mentioned he wanted to learn how to butcher chicken. I happened to know how to butcher a chicken. Next thing we know we are pulling into my driveway with five young, live chickens. We could have picked up a live goat from the same place for $50, but decided against it.

There are lots of places on the web to learn how to butcher a chicken, so I'll just cover some of the more subtle tips that'll make it easier. Now, let's get some food!

Step 1: Removing the head.

I like looping a lark's head knot around the bird's neck. The other end of the string is tied to the chopping stump. Pulling on the legs of the chicken pulls the knot tight and stretches out the chicken's neck. Then "Whack!". To insure a human kill, I recommend practicing the "Whack!" on some large carrots first.

After removing the head the bird is going to start flapping quite vigorously. I like to stick the bird head (er, neck) down in a tall metal can used to ship hydrochloric acid. This contains the bird and allows it to bleed out. If you don't have hydrochloric acid shipping containers an upside-down traffic cone nailed to a sawhorse also works well. The main thing is to let the blood drain out.

Clark's first "Whack!" Yes, that is my backyard.

Misseswether's first "Whack!" A better dressed chicken killer I've never met.

Step 2: Plucking the bird.

Unfortunately, feathers aren't edible and so must be removed from the chicken. The easiest way to do this is to scald the chicken in hot water for a bit. The water should be heated to 140-170 degrees F. Hotter water will weaken the skin resulting in it tearing when you pull off the feathers. Cooler water doesn't do anything. Adding a good squirt of dishsoap to the water helps things a lot. It'll allow the hot water to get through the feathers to the skin much easier. Hold the chicken by the feet and submerge the feathery parts of the bird in the water for 10-25 seconds. Swish it around to get the water down to the skin where it'll open up the chicken's pores. This smells a bit.

Me and a naked chicken.

It's photo captions like that that get me all sorts of freaks coming to this blog.

Step 3: Removing the guts. You know what, just go here for the best write-up on gutting chicken you've ever see. No sense on me re-writing the wheel.

1st bird.jpg
Clark's first chicken.

Assorted eggs from inside the chicken.

The Clarkettes and Wethergirls were fascinated when I started pulling eggs out of the chicken. There was one already with a shell, and many others in assorted states of development. The girls also enjoyed seeing the heart, lungs, intestines and other organs they had heard about. If you have young children I highly recommend letting them watch while you harvest animals. It's a great learning experience. The girls ended up arguing over who got to hold the egg. Miniwether was very proud when she correctly identified the heart.

After butchering the birds were put on ice and Clark/Clarkettes took their leave. Meanwhile I started preps for the next step, canning my two birds.

Boiled and ready for deboning.

Canning chickens (or any meats) is easy. In fact I think it's easier than canning fruits/veggies. Meat must be canned under pressure and so according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP), you do not need to pre-sterilize your jars and lids. Canning is a great way of storing leftover meat or stuff bought in bulk on sale. The only caution is that you must follow the directions published by the NCHFP precisely. Botulism doesn't just make you sick, it can kill.

You can can a whole, raw chicken but I prefer to cook the chicken then take off all the meat. One pint jar of chicken meat is about the right size for one family meal in the Wether household. The birds we had just harvested were kind of scrawny and I was only able to get two and a half pints of meat from two birds. We normally get more meet leftover from a Sam's Club roasted chicken meal, but that's okay. You can't get fresh eggs from a Sam's Club roasted chicken, now can you?

The meat is packed tightly into the jar and broth is added. Leave the top 1.25" of the pre-washed jar empty. That space will be needed for the fluid to expand while it heats during the canning process. Run a rubber spatula around the inside between the meat and the jar to remove any trapped air then wipe down the outside of the jar with vineger. This removes any spilled grease from the jar. Be especially sure to remove any grease from the threads and mouth of the jar. Grease here will ruin your seal, leading to your death by botulism. Next, place the lid on the jar and screw the ring down hand-tight.

Jar of chicken meat ready for the pressure-canner (Thank you, Librarian!). Ironically, I slit my index finger pretty badly on a sharp chicken bone while removing the meat.

The jars go into the canner, then cold water is added up to the level recommended by the pressure-canner's owner's manual. You don't want to use hot water as that changes to whole time/heat/pressure dynamics you need to sterilize the meat. Start cool/end cool is a good rule of thumb for canning.

Jars loaded and ready to go.

Pressure cookers/canners can either control their internal pressure via a gauge or weights. I find the weight-style to be easier as they don't need to be calibrated. The NCHFP recommends you get the gauge of gauge-style pressure vessels sent off for calibration every year otherwise you'll die of botulism.

According to the NCHFP, precooked chicken meat off the bone needs to be canned at 10psi weighted pressure or 11 psi gauged pressure for 75 minutes. Note: the 75 minutes begins once your canner gets up to pressure. Check your owner's manual to learn how your pressure cooker indicates it's up to pressure. On the Innova pressure cooker I was using the weight begins "wobbling" due to controlled steam release.

The wobbling is very hard to see in a still photograph. The weight is the bell-shaped black and silver thing on the top center of the lid.

I set the pressure cooker up to go while I put the girls down for bed. By the time the last bedtime song was sung ("Mockingbird", if you are interested) the process was done. Missewether turned off the burner and we just let the pressure cooker sit cooling overnight. The next morning I popped the lid and took out the fruits of Saturday's labor.

Yummy, yummy chicken meat.

Really folks, this is a piece of cake. With the way food prices are going it's definitely something worth thinking about. The fact that the jars can be stored at room temperature is another benefit in these wild times.

Peace be with you.

Monday, July 07, 2008

A Mid-Summer Night's Dreamless

Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander everywhere.

-W. Shakespeare

The woods are not silent in the night. As I stared up at the dark canopy of leaves above me, as I stared at the stars and the fireflies dancing, all I could think was...


Whoever tells of the peaceful silence of the woods has probably never actually spent a night out amongst amorous tree frogs, love-sick cicadas, ten thousand crickets, a friggin owl that thinks it's Frank Sinatra, and a pack of yipping coyotes. Oh yeah, also add to that a beaver splashing around in the river below us and several wild hogs snuffling around out beyond the wall of kayaks we had built.

San Jacinto.jpg
Earlier, and peaceful.

Three day weekends means Merriwether heads into the borderlands. This time it was an over night kayak trip with Lone Star C and his wife, Valkrie. All the local river were very low. Spring Creek was only running at 14 cfs. To paddle it Spring Creek needs to be up around 150 cfs, though 400 cfs is much better (above 600 cfs it gets kind of dangerous, but very fun). Luckily, Spring Creek flows into Cypress Creek and Cypress Creek flows into the San Jacinto River. This section always has enough water in it to paddle comfortably.

We decided to launch from Jesse H. Jones Park on Cypress Creek, paddle the two miles or so to the San Jacinto river, then head upstream on the San Jacinto to a sandbar to camp out overnight. Due to circumstances beyond my control we didn't actually get to Jesse H. Jones park until after 6pm. The park ranger didn't want to let us launch that late in the evening but we talked him into it. I found out later that he chewed out Misseswether on her way out because we hadn't filed the officialcanoe/kayak paddle plan paperwork.

Oh well.

We were blissfully unaware of the grief Misseswether handled on our behalf (she is so awesome). We were already on the water lazily paddling through the beautiful forest. Golden sunlight, beautiful birds, jumping fish. You know, the Mother Nature the way people read about her. All "treasured moments" and "touchy-feely-indiginous-tribes-in-harmony-with-nature" sort of stuff.

It was great. Of course I have no pictures of this portion.

I was a little concerned about paddling against the San Jacinto's current but it wasn't an issue. The river, though deep, didn't seem to be moving at all. It took no effort to go against it. The only problem was we weren't finding any sandbars.

Much farther upstream beautiful, white sandbars stretch for miles along the banks of the San Jacinto. Not so many at this end though. The sun was going down and we were starting to get a little worried. We figured if it came down to it we could paddle in the dark, but it wasn't our first choice.

Lone Star C was the first to notice a funny looking spot on top of a 10' high river band. It was filled with trees, but there didn't seem to be any underbrush under them. He climbed up the bank to check it out. He disappeared for a minute, then returned and said that it was good.

Very, very good.

Cows and pigs had rooted up a section of the forest, leaving nothing but sand, trees, and the ocasional piles of poop. It looked nicer than many man-made campsites I've seen.

San Jacinto Camp.jpg
Our camp along the San Jacinto.

San Jacinto Netting.jpg
My apartment had VERY thin walls and Mother Nature was a noisy neighbor.

The freshness of the poop suggested the cows were close and could return, so we used the kayaks to build a wall around most of the camp and built a fire at the open end. Sausages were cooked, whiskey-7Ups were drank, fireflies were chased, and tales of past adventures were told long into the night. Sometime after midnight we went to our tents and settled in for a peaceful sleep in the woods.

Three hours later I was considering hunting down every friggin tree frog in the woods and strangling them with my bare hands (which is actually kind of tough as they are small little buggers. Sure, crushing them would be easy, but to actually strangle one takes care and precision. Uh, but I digress.)

Of course, it was more than just the damn frogs, it was also all the other woodland party animals. Coyotes were probably the second most annoying creature. Sure, there's something primitive and magical about hearing coyotes yip and howl, but after three hours of it 30 yards from your head it gets kind of old. Cool, but really old.

I would have though the coyotes would have scared the pigs away but I could hear them digging around on the other side of our camp away from the coyotes. Lots of pigs.

The last time I looked at my watch it was past 3:30am. It was a hair after 6am when the splashing of beavers woke me up. Valkire had already been awake for an hour after having a dream about being attacked by a bear, Lone Star C also awoke to the canadensis alarm clock. Fish were still jumping so he decided to try and catch us some breakfast.

San Jacinto Breakfast.jpg
Bass, much better than June Bugs for breakfast.

We ended up having oatmeal and granola bars for breakfast. Oh well.

Climbing back up to the bank we discovered the possibility of upgrading to bacon. Two feral pigs were rooting in the woods just outside our Kayakian Wall of Safety.

San Jacinto pig.jpg
Trust me, it's a pig.

They ran off at the sound of my camera. Bummer, because they looked like the perfect size for roasting.

San Jacinto pig2.jpg
Another pig a bit farther upstream. We saw lots of pigs on this trip.

Camp was broke and the kayaks were back in the water by 8am. We paddled upstream for another hour before finding the first sandbar. Unfortunately, others had been there before us and had left it a mess. There were beer cans, food wrappers, and the remains of fireworks all over it. People can be real jerkwads at times.

We left that sandbar and continued upstream. Another ten minutes brought us to another sandbar. This one was very high and it took some climbing to get up to its top, but it was definately worth it. There were a few very old ATV tracks, but otherwise it was pristine. Oh, except for the occasional cow patty. We poked around this sandbar for a while before heading back to the river. By then it was 10am. At 12:30pm Misseswether was going to pick us up at Edgewater Park.

We had been heading downstream when I picked up the hitchhiker. She was just too gorgeous to leave stranded in the river.

San Jacinto hitchhiker.jpg
A thing of beauty.

Apparently Lone Star C didn't find her nearly as pretty when I tossed her without warning into his kayak. Yeah, sometimes I can be a little impetuous. Sidenote: the spider was already dead when I found it floating in the river. Freaked you out a bit though, didn't I?

Wait a minute, that means there are still live, giant spiders out there. They may have even crawled over me while I slept...

Oh, crap.

Happy thoughts! Happy thoughts! Fireflies, rainbows and ice cream sandwiches!

Okay, much better now.

We had easy paddle back down the San Jacinto and landed at the park at 11:30am. Another great adventure was done.

San Jacinto end.jpg
Passing under hwy. 59 just southof Kingwood, Texas. Yes, unfortunately the water really was that color.

So, what did Merriwether learn?
1. if you are looking for a great but quick over night (or day) paddle close to Houston but all the river seem dry, fear not for there's always water from Jesse H. Jones park down to the San Jacinto. Then you can paddle for hours up the San Jac before hitting shallow water.

2. Current gasoline prices are forcing power boats and jet skis off Texas rivers. This is nice if you are a kayaker or canoeist. Not so nice if you are in the power boat industry.

3. Coleman self-inflating pads are cheap because they suck.

4. If Mother Nature is your neighbor you might consider ear plugs. She parties all night long!

5. Misseswether is totally awesome! She drove through Houston traffic with a big, multi-kayak hauling trailer attached to her Honda Pilot for the first time and she did it with only Mini and Mambo as her copilots.

Peace be with you.