Monday, March 31, 2008

The loss of my soul

I have walked
along the World's Edge
and breathed
it's thin wind

I have laid under
the desert night
and watched
as Orion the Hunter chased the great bull
amongst a field of a billion billon stars

I have returned from World's End
weeping
because there are no words

No way to capture

No way to leave

No way to stay

No way to tell you what fire burned me
At World's End.

But, I'll try...


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More to come.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Weekend of the Mind.

Of course, the occasional power tool came into play too...

It was a weekend spent making stuff here at the Wetherhold. Young minds, irrigation systems and a plywood cover for the truck...

Young mind blossoms: Sure, there was the usual egg-heavy "He Has Risen!" joy, but the long weekend started off with a special party for Miniwether on Thursday. After a year's work using The Reading Lesson she has finished the 444-page book of lessons and now reads at the level of a second grader. Not bad for a four-and-a-half year old! Way back at the beginning we asked her what would be incentive for her to reach this point. She said going to Chuck E. Cheese for pizza and games. Then for the last year she's bugged Misseswether at least once a day for a reading lesson so as to get her trip to CEC...

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Let's party like only the literate can!

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Four-wheeling through the masses.

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It's all about the ride.

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Even Mambowether likes to be behind the wheel.

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And ride some more.

Moving water: Friday found me installing a dripline irrigation system in my garden. It took a bit of thought to plumb everything together so I decided to add it to this 'weekend of the mind" post. We've been harvesting peas for the last two weeks and the beans are now about six inches tall. Yummy times are a-comin'

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Tubing the water.

Rain water goes into the barrels, through a series of valves and out to my garden. I ran out of the small "t-connectors" so I still have work to do but water does flow to the planted sections of the garden. The rest will be done later.

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Another view of my garden.

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The loquats will be ripe soon.

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The fig tree will take a another year or two. Oh well.

Particle board meets steel: Clark and I are heading out on a Big Bend backpacking trip soon, which means Red Rider will be left unattended on the US/Mexican border for a few days. In order to secure our basecamp equipment I made a bed cover for my truck. I think it turned out quite nice. Even Misseswether said she was supised at how well it turned out and that I never needed her to bandage me. Circular saw, drill, Dremel tool and angle-grinder with a massive cut-off wheel shaped wood and steel into fortress of security. I hope.

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Ratcheting tie-down straps hold the cover in place and a steel cable locks it while preventing the opening of the tailgate. I'm hoping it'll also improve my fuel economy for the 600+ miles drive out to Big Bend.

Adventure! Excitement! Making!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Everyone mostly made it back...

Well, sure, if you want to do it the *easy* way.
-Gonzo the Great

I was pretty sure it'd be hard. In fact, I knew it'd be hard. But I was also pretty sure it'd be a lot of fun and everyone would make it home intact.

Hey, two out of three ain't bad.

In my defense, it wasn't my idea and I was a little mislead as to what to expect. And thankfully the blood soaked leg with the gaping wound that I was wrapping in gauze didn't belong to one of my kids.

So, let's move back a bit. It all started with Clark suggesting we do a family camping trip...
Doodily-doo! Doodily-doo! Doodily-doo!(Merriwether makes wavy "flash-back" motions with his hands.)
Clark: Hey Merriwether, let's go camping at my brother-in-law's deer lease and practice primitive skills! Let's also bring our families and invite several others, too!
Merriwether: Sounds great, let's go! What's it like at the lease?
Clark: 25,000 acres of pine woods. We'll probably have to carry all our stuff to the campsite.
Merriwether: Hmm, I better pack light if I'm going to carry everything to the camp. Not a problem, You know I'm a minimalist when I go camping. Having Miniwether and Mambowether along shouldn't require to much more gear.
Misseswether: You realize I have class on Saturday and Sunday. I can't go along, you'll have to take care of the kids in the woods all by yourself.
Merriwether: No problem. I'll bring some extra granola bars.


Which brings us to "MERRIWETHER'S TIPS FOR CAMPING WITH CHILDREN"

1. If all your gear, food, tent, etc fits on a "Radio Flyer" type wagon, YOU HAVEN"T BROUGHT ENOUGH STUFF!
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True, when any of the other families needed some vital piece of equipment they came to me knowing I'd have it. On the other hand, my kids were constantly mooching food from the other parents. Apparently warm water and Uncle Ben's Ready to Serve Rice Dishes mixed with a can of chicken chunks can't hold a candle to Polish sausages roasted over the fire, ice cold juice boxes, fresh fruit, and Doritos. It seems "haul everything through the woods to the campsite" meant "haul ass down logging trails in Red Rider and assorted other trucks/SUV's until we find a nice clearing for everyone's tents". Truth be told, it was a lot of fun getting Red Rider muddy, but I probably could have packed more stuff. For instance...

2. If you are going to spend several days in the woods bring lots and lots of spare socks. Multiple other changes clothes might also be a good idea.
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Miniwether LOVED riding the ATV with Shot Cop or Shot Cop's girlfriend. Miniwether managed to talk Shot Cop's girlfriend into believing that I was fine with them racing through puddles throwing up mud all over themselves. Miniwether LOVED that best of all.

Well, I do want my girls to love the outdoors. Meanwhile, in an attempt to mimic her big sister Mambowether took off her shoes and jumped in another mud puddle. She thought that was the second-best part of the trip. *Sigh* Luckily, Misseswether had talked me into bringing a roll of paper towels along, so I was kind of able to wipe them off...some.

3. Make sure you have something filling your kids can eat as soon as you get to the campsite. Something you have to heat up first does not meet this requirement. We got to the campsite about 11am and everyone began setting up tents and such. I knew my girls would be hungry soon so rather than set up my tent I began heating up some chili for their lunch. I figured once they were fed they'd be more likely to be happy and play while I set up camp. Ninety minutes (too be expounded upon next) and one disaster later I was trying to get cranky girls to eat funny tasting chili. Meanwhile the other families were feasting on sandwichs, chips, fruit, and ice cold drinks. This scenerio repeated itself (sans disaster) several times over the weekend.

4. When Freezer Bag Cooking it's best to get the water boiling, turn off the heat, then place the freezer bag of food in the hot water. This is especially important if you didn't bring much food with you. Now, I've done freezer bag cooking a lot when I'm out by myself and I've never had a problem with leaving the water boiling over the fire while it cooked. However, this time the bag of chili must have been touching the bottom of the pot and it ended up melting through. When I went to pull out the bag all the chili poured out the hole into the several quarts of water. This was not good, in fact it was a disaster (as mentioned earlier). I didn't have enough food to throw this out and make new stuff. True, I could have begged food from the other families, but I didn't think that'd be a good way to start the trip.

I ended up scooping out some of the water, added half of the pita bread (which I had originally planned on using as edible bowls during other meals) and added my one spare bag of Zataran's ready to serve jambalya to try and soak up some of the water. Then I tried boiling off the remaining large amount of excess water. Thankfully the girls ate a fair amount of the resulting crap, at least enough to recharge their batteries.

5. Don't really on Mother Nature to supply all the kid's entertainment. My girls LOVE being outside. Mambowether throws a fit if we don't go for a walk every night after supper. Most Saturday mornings find us exploring one or another of the local nature preserves. They love playing on sandbars, chasing butterflies, splashing in streams, etc... But eventually even they grow tired of sticks and want to play with something garishly colored and made of plastic. Luckily, the Valkrie (Lone Star C's wife) keeps a bag of random toys and books in their SUV for their 2-yr old son (who is just one week older than Mambowether!). Mambowether took great comfort in the green plastic shovel and the book "Goodnight, Gorilla" which she has a copy of at home. Bring toys. It seems so wrong to bring plastic toys into the woods, but do it anyway. A few of their favorite books does wonders, too.

6. Juice boxes are vital to keeping young kids hydrated out in the wild. Hydrated kids are happy kids. I brought 2.5 gallon and 7 gallon Aquatainers of water along to drink. They sat in the sun. The sun was warm. The water became warm. The girs didn't want to drink warm water. The girls started getting dehydrated. Misses Clark gave the girls ice cold juices boxes from their giant, ice-filled cooler. The girls became hydrated. The girls became happy. Merriwether felt like a loser.

Even if the water I had brought had been cold the girls wouldn't have drunk nearly enough of it to avoid the beginnings of dehydration. I hate juice boxes. Misseswether hates juice boxes. But the girls need to stay hydrated out in the wilds so we'll start bringing juice boxes.

7. Keep a close eye on a nine year old boy with a Bowie knife. If the nine year old boy comes to you a few minutes later and asks for a bandaid followed by the statement, "I might need two" you suddenly have a situation on your hands. Lone Star C was the lucky adult the boy found first (his parents were out on the ATV's). I got called over as soon as Lone Star C saw the damage. It was pretty ugly. The boy had been trying to chop a nub off a branch he had planned to use as a sausage-cooking stick. He had swung the knife really hard, it glanced off the nub and laid open his leg. This is where we started.

Luckily I carry a pretty extensive first aid kit in Red Rider. By extensive I mean "filled with tons of guaze rolls, assorted bandaids, and not much else". I've received many hours of first aid training at work where I am a First Responder. This has taught me that the best thing I can do for an injured person is stop the bleeding, wrap the injury with gauze, and wait for/get them to real paramedics/doctors.

The cut was ugly and deep but free of any dirt or mud. I didn't even flush the wound, I just wrapped it in layer after layer of guaze, then Lone Star and I carried him to his bedroll and had him lay down. His mom returned from riding ATV's about an hour later, heard what happend, unwrapped the bandage, and lost it for a moment. I was afraid she'd throw up or pass out. She did recover quite quickly and gave me permission to flush out the wound and bandage it up again. Then thanks to Clark's gps unit they were able to rush to a nearby hospital emergency room where they sat for the next seven hours. The boy ended up with four stitches, but they were put in just for comsetic reasons. The wound looked really big and bad, but all he had actually done was shave a strip of skin 1/2 inch wide, 3 inches long but less than 1/4 inch deep off his leg. It would have been fine without the stitches but it would have left an ugly (or cool looking, depending on your point of view) scar.

8. Read the food labels carefully before purchase! I somehow managed to grab sugar-free instant oatmeal at Walmart. It made yesterday's chili taste good. Meanwhile the other families were cooking up omlets, pancakes, bacon, etc for breakfast on Sunday morning.

My kids are turning into excellent moochers. While this is a handy survival skill it does bring great shame down upon me...

So there you have my list of failures. Hopefully you can learn from it. still, I seemed to have done okay in the eyes of my children. Miniwether has been talking no-stop about how much fun she had and how she wants to do it again real soon. Mambowether doesn't burst into tears when I say the word "tent" or "camping" and this evening she wanted to pretend to be my backpack. I'm guessing she didn't have a miserable time. If anything, she's been even more affectionate towards me since the trip. I think this is beacause I spent almost an hour down on my knees playing with her in a patch of sand. We used sticks to draw stuff, she LOVED it when I'd draw a heart. Whenever I drew one she'd give me a hug.

I drew lots of hearts for her.

Thinking back, that was one of the few times I had spent time totally devoted to her doing what she wanted. Miniwether was playing with the other girls so I could stay focused completely on Mambo. It was awesome.

9. Figure out some way to clean your kids up before you get home to mommy. Misseswether sent me off with two beautiful, clean, darling little girls. I returned with two muddy, ragged, dirty-faced, messy-haired, boogery-nosed street urchins. Misseswether was less than pleased by this.

Oh well. To be honest, they usually ended up pretty dirty whenever I play with them. I've just never had the chance to play with them for two days straight...

10, SUNSCREEN! It was still rather cool when we got there and no one thought to put on sunscreen. A few hours later people started turning red and there was a rush for the sunblock. Miniwether ended the weekend the kind of a lovely, dark roasted chicken sort of color but Mambowether was closer to red. Luckily I had kept her near me in the shade most of the time. Sidenote: when you rub sunblock on to gorgeous, curly red hair the hair straightens out and falls limp.

Okay and now some more pictures:

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There were five familes consisting of nine adults and eight kids (technically nine kids considering Misses Clark is seven months pregnant). And yes, campfires are a necesity even when it's sunny and 84F.

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The area was very pretty and as I mentioned earlier, was covered with 25,000 acres of pine trees. We all spent a lot of time walking in the woods (some longer than others, but eventually they found their way back to camp).

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Primitive skills #14: Stalking sausages

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Some of the young campers. Yes, Clarkette-1 is holding a deer skull and a big feather.

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Hmm, a deer skull cell phone. That would be cool!

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Clarkette-2 just liked being outside. She didn't need dead animal parts to enjoy nature.

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However, Miniwether was really excited to get one of the deer's teeth and was really upset by mommy's reaction when Miniwether handed it to her after we got home.

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Ahh, all the kids were in bed. Break out the funky glowing orbs!

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Nasty, suger-free "Maple and Brown Sugar" instant oatmeal for breakfast.

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Clark and family getting ready to make bacon, eggs, pancakes, etc for their breakfast.

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Lone Star C, Valkrie, and their son Red Curl demonstarting why it is bad to have a tall person take their picture while facing directly into the sun.

Somehow, in spite of all the screw ups, we had a wonderful time. Hopefully we can do it again before the real hot weather arrives.

Adventure! Excitement! Family Camping!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Backyard Gardening in Houston

Sorry folks, it's a filler writings weekend. This time you are getting an article I wrote about gardening for our neighborhood newsletter:

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Anyone in the neighborhood with a mouth and a wallet is probably becoming acutely aware of rising food prices. Fuel costs for trucking in those red tomatoes and ripe cantaloupe tack on a surcharge that’s becoming harder and harder to pay. Here in Houston our growing season is twelve months long. With a little time and effort a person can replace a lot of their store-bought fare with fresh yummies straight from their backyard garden. Everything from asparagus to watermelons can be easily grown here, often using just a small amount of your backyard. In this article I’ll give you tips on what to plant, when to plant it, where to plant it, what to plant it in, and how to care for your plants so as to get the biggest yields.

So, what to plant? Well, what does your family like to eat?! Pretty much every type of vegetable can be grown here. However, to be a truly successful Houston gardener you can’t just go down to Walmart, buy a bunch of seeds and stick them in the ground. There are definite varieties of your favorite veggies that handle Houston better than others, the trick is to know which ones are optimal for here. Luckily, someone has already figured that out for you. Simply go to http://harris-tx.tamu.edu/hort/pubs/vegherb.htm and click on the “Vegetable Varieties for Harris County” link and you get a list of exactly which seeds will do best in Harris County. For instance, if you like okra you should get “Clemson Spineless”, “Cajun Delight”, “Emerald”, “Louisiana Green Velvet”, or “Silver Queen”. If the packet of seeds isn’t listed on that sheet, put them back on the shelf!

So, now you have the proper seeds for the area you can just stick them in the dirt and let them grow, right? Wrong! While you can grow vegetables all year round here, different plants thrive under different mixes of sun and temperature. Some plants thrive in the summer heat while others prefer the cooler summer and fall. To find out when you should plant your seeds I once again direct you to http://harris-tx.tamu.edu/hort/pubs/vegherb.htm and this time click on the “Vegetable Planting Calendar for Harris County” link. It brings up an easy to use calendar telling both ideal and marginal planting times for all your veggies.

The next step is figuring out where in your yard to plant your garden. A general rule of thumb is leafy and root plants such as lettuce, cabbage, collards greens, beets and radishes can tolerate light shade. More ‘full-bodied” plants like beans, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes require full sunlight to reach their full potential. Study your yard to figure out where the sun always shines and where shadows fall. Will your house or a tree cast cause too much shade? Remember also that the sun will be coming from a very different angle during the summer than during the winter. Take that into account if you as you pick a place (or places) for your garden. As usual, you can find more information at http://harris-tx.tamu.edu/hort/pubs/vegherb.htm, this time click on “Vegetable Gardening in Harris County”.

Now let’s discuss the dirty part of gardening, your soil. Most of the lots in our neighborhood had a layer of sand laid down over thick clay. This is not a good medium for growing most plants, especially vegetables. For a small fee Texas A&M will test your soil and tell you exactly what fertilizers, compost, lime and other additives you will need to add to make your yard soil productive. You’ll probably have to rent a rototiller to mix all these nutrients into your soil. This is a real pain.

It is much easier here to build a raised bed garden. A raised bed garden is simply a box approximately 12-18 inches deep which sits on top of your current soil and is filled with premixed, nutrient-rich dirt. The sides of the box can be made out of wood, stone, cinder blocks or even wine bottles stuck neck-down in the dirt. This box can be any length and width or even a funky shape as long as you can reach the center of it from outside the box. The soil can be purchased premixed from any of the local dirt sellers or you can buy the components and mix them yourself. I personally like a mixture that is 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 pearlite or vermiculite, and 1/3 compost, as recommended by Mel Bartholomew, author of “Square Foot Gardening” (www.squarefootgardening.com). With a raised bed you will know right from the beginning that your plants will have the nutrients, proper drainage, and weed-free soil they’ll need to thrive without all the back breaking labor involved in turning our soil into something in which things will actually grow. Once a year you just need to mix in some more compost and maybe a little more peat moss to keep the soil healthy and ready for plants.

Finally, how can we maximize our harvest. The two keys tips here are water well and patrol for pests! The Houston summer sun can dry plants out in a day or two, so check them every day. The best time to water your garden is early morning before going to work. This will prepare the plants for the day without leaving them wet at night. Being wet in the dark is prime conditions for fungus and other problems. A thick layer of mulch will also trap the moisture in the soil, reducing the need for watering. One other note, if possible collect rain water to use on your garden. Ordinary tap water is treated with chlorine which the plants don’t like. I collect rain run-off from my roof in three 55-gallon plastic barrels and they’ve supplied me with enough water to get my 140 square feet of gardens through every drought so far for the last five summers.

It’s easy to keep your garden watered, but keeping it pest free tougher. We have to contend with assorted bugs, birds, squirrels and possums, all of which love the food of your garden as much as you do. Examine your garden every day to make sure nothing is attacking it. Caterpillars and snails can strip your bean plants down to nubs in just two days if you aren’t alert. Many people like to use “organic” pesticides and recipes for many of these can be found on the internet web sites such as http://vegetablegardens.suite101.com/article.cfm/organic_pest_control_and_pesticide. personally, I find commercial products like Sevin give me the best results.

Against larger pests like birds and squirrels I’ve had to cover my strawberries and tomatoes with homemade chicken wire cages. This is cheap and very effective. I had tried hanging bells, aluminum pie pans, and rubber snakes around my precious fruits but those only scared the critters away for a few days. The local mocking birds are especially voracious eaters but since putting up the protective cages they haven’t stolen a single berry from me.

Let me finish by directing you to one more free resource, the Master Gardener community volunteers of Texas. These volunteers have been extensively trained by the Texas AgriLife Extension Services and they can answer any questions you may have. They can be reached by calling 281-855-5600 Mon-Fri from 9am-3pm or e-mail them at hcmga1@yahoo.com. Your tax dollars have paid for them so take advantage of their knowledge.

May your garden grow rich and green.


Adventure! Excitement! Filling With Food!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Miniwether and the Critters

You ever have one of those weekends that just rocked front to back? Man, that's what my last 48 hours has been like. It included three birthday parties (4, 5, & 35), a Nature Day celebration, Miniwether catching her first fish, and an afternoon spent hanging in the woods with the guys. Of course, I'm running on four hours of sleep coupled with two and a half pounds of birthday cake flowing through my veins, but hey, that's a small price to pay!

So, why Miniwether and the Critters? Well, this past Saturday was "Nature Day" at Jesse H. Jones Park. Pretty much every Houston area group that spends time in the outdoors, from the Audubon Society to the Woodlands Hiking Group was there with information and displays. The most wonderful Misseswether took Mambowether home from the first birthday party on Saturday so Miniwether and I could head straight over to the park. A short hayride took us squealing (well, Miniwether squealed, I made more of a manly "woo hoo" sort of cheer) up to the main event.

Enter the critters.

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Rehabilitated possom. Okay not to be harsh, but I have to wonder a bit about people who spent money nursing injured possoms, raccoons, squirrels, etc back to health. I mean, it's a very kind thing to do, but it's not like the world is running out of these particular beasts. The lady maning the booth seemed very sweet and sincere, so I just kept my mouth shut. Plus Miniwether thought the possum was pretty cool and nice to pet. Truthfully, it was kind of a cute beastie.

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Now this is more my style, a baby alligator! Miniwether was a little cautious at first but after a bit she tried to get the conservation officer to let her hold it. Alas, insurance issues prevented this and so Miniwether had to content herself with just stroking its sides. The gator seemed to like it.

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On to the Texas bull snake. Miniwether shocked the lady holding it when she asked if it was venomous. The lady was suprised that Miniwether had such a word in her vocabulary and asked where she learned it. Miniwether replied matter-of-factly, "Daddy takes me on lots of adventures and teaches me stuff.". Oh man did I puff up with pride!

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Miniwether and the zookeeper had a long talk about his ball python (any inappropriate comments will be met with very heavy firepower!). He was very patient as Miniwether asked , "Could the python eat a rabbit? Could it eat an alligator? Could it eat a cow?" and so on until she had asked about every animal she could think of. The zookeeper was great as he explain why or why not the python would eat the animal she listed. Miniwether now knows a full-grown cow is too big but the python can dislocate it's jaw so that it could eat a goat. She thought that was pretty cool and asked to see it. Luckily, I'm pretty much used to the look the zookeeper gave me at that point.

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The saltmarsh tank was Miniwether's most favorite spot. We spent over half an hour there as she caught hermit crabs and blue crabs. She has always had a special fondness for hermit crabs (you should see her imitation of one, it's hysterical!) but the blue crabs scared her a little at first. Soon though she had mastered grabbing them from behind. The conservation officer at the tank taught her how to tell male blue crabs from females. The pincers on the female are orange and she has a big, circular disk on her belly. The male blue crabs have blue claws and on there belly is a mark which looks like, er...the Washington Monument. Yeah, that's what the shape is...

Now I've talked to Miniwether a lot about fishing but hadn't taken her yet. We both became excited when we saw they had a Kid Fish pond. I explained the proper way to fish with a cane pole then we went at it. Miniwether did great but the fish weren't very hungry that late in the day. Luckily one of the guys in charge managed to catch a fish and passed his pole over to Miniwether.

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Fishing

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Caught!

Miniwether was estatic when she pulled the fish in. She wasn't the least bit afraid of the big catfish and grabbed it to keep it from flopping around, then released it back into the water after it was unhooked. She's going to be a great fisher!

Yep, I'm still beaming! Sure this all took place in a metal tank stocked with catfish, but she had all the mechanics down. I think that was the most still I've seen her stand all weekend. She kept the right tnesion on the line and jibbled the bait just tiny amount to get the fish's attention. She loved it.

She slept in the car on the way home, had a snack then it was off to another birthday party for actor-neighbor-friend of ours. Their house was filled with other friends/neighbors and all the children (five boys/seven girls all under ten). It was a wonderful madhouse of beer, juice boxes, Cajun food, and more birthday cake. We left at 10:30pm but the party went on until almost 2:30am, which, in our neighborhood is a pretty early time to break up. The main reason was we all were going to another neighbor's party Sunday morning. They'll be moving away soon so we all had to shower their daughter one more time with gifts and love. In return we got more cake!

Now, as much as I love my family the stresses of work have been very high lately and Misseswether knew this. Sunday afternoon I Clark and I were going to take our assorted daughters to meet up with other members of the Piney Woods Primitive Skills group to show a Canadian visitor the wilds of Spring Creek. This is when Misseswether stepped up in a burst of incredible (but not suprising) wonderfulness offered to watch all four girls so Clark and I could hang with the guys unencumbered with a young mass of double-x chromosomes underfoot. Note to readers: I have the absolutely best wife in the world!!!

So, Sunday afternoon was spent around a campfire along Spring Creek shooting the bull with Clark, Doc, and "Mike of the Woods". Mike's an ex-Canadian military man big into wilderness survival. We compared knives, scars and tall-tales while watching the wood burn and the water flow by...

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Mike, Doc, and Clark.

Damn, my life rocks!

Adventure! Excitement! Critters!