Want to know how forgetful I can be?

There is always so much chaos going on around me that my mind never rests.  A mind that never rests often forgets some of the little details and sometimes even the bigger ones too. 

I am often asking myself “Where did I put it”.  

“It” can be keys, wallet, watch, iPod, cellular phone, etc. (my spouse, children and co-workers can all attest to my forgetfulness).  Case in point – a little conversation I had with myself (in case you did not know, a mind that never rests often has conversations with itself) just yesterday. 

Oooooo… Hey FOF, it's almost August.  That means I have to remember to file my 2011 MN Property Tax refund...   Hey, wait a minute…  Did I ever get around to mailing in my 2010 MN Property Tax Refund??

(Sounds of paperwork and file folders being shuffled around)

You didn’t!!  You fool – what is wrong with you??   Do you realize you just “forgot” about claiming a refund worth several hundred dollars?? 

(Sounds of some frantic internet searching – mixed with several frustrated sighs)

Well, it’s not looking good.  How could you have possibly forgotten to claim that refund.  You realize that you just cost your family over three hundre…  Wait… What’s that??  Click that link there?? 

(Sounds of a HUGE sigh of relief)

Thankfully, Minnesota is a very weird place at times.  Our 2010 MN Property Tax refund is mailed the same year that our 2011 Income tax returns are filed (only later in the year (August).  I was relieved to discover that they also allow for a one year “grace period” before no longer accepting returns. 

That means that my 2010 Property Tax Return / Refund – which should have been mailed in by Aug. 15, 2011 is still acceptable (due to the 1 year grace period) until Aug. 15, 2012 – about three weeks out.

Talk about making it just under the wire!! 

Wait… I have a year grace period??  That means I have PLENTY of time to get that 2011 Property Tax Return turned in! 

Don’t worry, I won’t forget!

Minnesota River Canoe/Camping Trip

It’s been twenty two years (give or take) since I last spent time in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and it has been eight years since my last camping trip (taken with Best Bud Ed) to the Voyagers National Park (adjacent to the BWCA).  For many years prior to that, my annual trip to the BWCA for was the highlight of my year, and something I looked forward to on the bus ride home from the current year’s trip.

Needless to say, I was LONG overdue for a canoe trip! 

Lucky for me, this year the boys’ Scout Troop decided to make a three day canoe trip along the Minnesota River!  This was PERFECT in many ways.  First, I have wanted to canoe the Minnesota River for a long time, and last year’s accusation has had a Minnesota River trip on the forefront of my mind.  Secondly, I have not had a real “outing” with the Troop (other than summer camp) since the campout to Ft. Ridgley in 2010 (which was “cabin camping”) or the College of Wilderness Knowledge in 2008 (which was rustic tent camping).  Third, I had all the days off from work!! 

Unfortunately, it was also less than perfect in another way.  I had some pre-existing plans for that weekend.  A long time friend was getting married.  Towards the tail end of the planning for the canoe trip, it became apparent that an added chaperone would be beneficial – and after speaking to the VERY UNDERSTANDING couple two days before their wedding, I was assured that they understood my desire to adjust my weekend plans and to help chaperone the canoe trip instead!  Joe & Laura, you guys are the BEST!  Thanks a ton!        

Like I said, I was LONG overdue for this trip!

After two days of planning, preparing, and packing – #3 of 5 and I headed out to meet the rest of the Troop!  Once the troop was gathered we headed out to our first destination – The Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area.  There we set up camp for the night.   

Basecamp Basecamp

Once we finished setting up camp it was time to break out “Cracker Barrel” (Cracker Barrel is an after dinner snack – usually cheese, meats and crackers, but “Cracker Barrel” can mean all kinds of things).  On tonight’s Cracker Barrel Menu was dutch oven Angel Food Cake with fresh strawberries!! 

Well, as luck would have it, we forgot the dutch oven and instead tried to improvise (as any good Scout would do) and we tried to fry up some Angel Food patties in our mess kits.  The results were mixed.  There was some that got a little burned, and a few that were a little under done, but by in large – almost everyone had some amount of angel food cake that turned out great! 

Angel Food patties cooked over a campfire Angel Food with strawberries cooked over a campfire

After “Cracker Barrel” the scouts cracked up a deck of cards and begged the Scoutmaster to play “Up and Down the River”.  We played a series of 8 up and 8 down (sixteen hands).  By the end of this long game our fire had gone out and it was time to hit the sack for some shuteye!

I was first up at 6:00am.  I had my tent cleaned and was ready to start breakfast before the next person was up.  On the menu this morning – Omelet in a bag.  Only we forgot the bags, so they became “western scrambled eggs” fried up with green peppers and onions (we forgot about the mushrooms we had packed along with us). 

After breakfast, motivating the scouts to get moving was a little challenging, but with the reminder that the sooner they finished cleaning the sooner we would be on the water – they eventually had everything cleaned and packed – and we headed out

Soon, we arrived at our entry point – Blakely, Minnesota.  While the other leaders arranged the vehicles at our destination point, I helped the scouts get their gear down from the parking area to the river’s edge, then load up their gear in the canoes. 

Ready to roll! Ready to roll!

Once the work was done, it was time for a little R and R.  Some of the boys went exploring, some of the boys hung around and visited, others found rocks and mud clumps to toss in the river. 

One “boy” even found a few moments to put his feet up and really start to appreciate what was about to begin!

Off tio do some exploring Visiting Appreciating what was about to begin The view from my seat

Entry point, in the water!


Before long, the other chaperones arrived and we slipped the canoes into the river and began our 19 mile journey home!

The weather forecast for the next two days – VERY hot and VERY humid. 

We would have to keep a close eye on the boys and make sure they stay HYDRATED*

(* A little foreshadowing)



The Scoutmaster and I cast lines out and “troll fished” the river as we canoed.  I caught NOTHING the whole weekend, but the Scoutmaster caught something that was a first for him (and the first time I saw one “in the wild”).

He had a strike on his line and as he reeled in his catch he announced he had a northern pike on the line – that was until he got it close enough to the canoe to realize that it was not a northern, it was a river Gar.

He pulled his canoe to shore and as I approached (camera in hand) the gar gave a big shake, unhooked himself, and splashed right back into the water.  Apparently he was a little camera shy and did not want to make his debut here on the The Life of a Father of Five!  

Before we knew it we had traveled roughly four miles and the boys were beginning to “share” the fact that they were hungry again.   Lunch time had arrived.  We watched for a good sand bar to pull off onto then started lunch.

Canoes parked on the sand bar digging a fire pit gathering wood cooking our lunch

Hot dogs, chili (chili dogs if you so desired), baked beans and potato chips.  I took this opportunity to show off my super special “Spiral Cut Hot Dog” technique

spiral cut hot dog spiral cut hot dog with chili on it 

Once lunch was complete, and clean up was finished it was time to let the boys blow off some steam.  A quick dip in the shallows of the sand bar proved to be just the prescription. 

swimming in the river on the sand bar The Father of Five

It was time to head back on to the water.  As we traveled the next eleven miles, we came upon several strange, but oddly beautiful (in their own way) sites. 

Wrecked Pontoon boat tangled in the deadfall old bridge abutment A colony of swallow nests



Just some of the things we came across was a battered and smashed pontoon boat, an old bridge abutment, and a colony of swallow nests.






Time for another water break.  By this time many of the boys water containers were empty and needing to be refilled from our potable water supply.  This was a heavy five gallon container and to do so while in a canoe on the river would not have been safe.  We pulled over and refilled everyone’s containers. 

water break water break

At mile 15 we floated up upon the perfect camping site.  It was a GIANT sand bar created by the convergence of a small creek and the Minnesota River.  The sand was clean, soft, and sturdy enough for camping on, and the creek proved to be a great place for the boys to play!  

the last canoe to arrive setting up campsetting up camp setting up campcooling off in the creek cooling off in the creek  

After setting up camp, and while the boys were cooling off by playing in the creek, the two Scoutmasters and myself prepared the special culinary surprise that the scoutmaster wanted to try.

Rouladen (link) - Rouladen is bacon, onions, mustard and pickles wrapped in thinly sliced beef  (or a variant is onions, pickles, and mustard wrapped in thinly sliced beef which is then wrapped in bacon (as seen below)). 

With no picnic table, seating or benches to work with, we improvised and created a camp kitchen out of our food bin, cooler, and an old tire that one of the scouts found on the sand bar. 

 camp kitchen (well, sort of) rouladen

The rouladen was very tasty, but unfortunately by the time I finished one of my two rouladen rolls the Scoutmaster (and several of the scouts) noticed that I was starting to look ill.  In all honesty I was feeling horrible.  I was beginning to succumb to the effects of some self inflected (yet accidental) dehydration.  I was trying to conserve the potable water we brought with us and so throughout the day I had gone a little too sparingly with the water. 

By dinnertime I was really starting to feel ill, and I knew what the problem was.  I refilled my water bottle, took it and my bedroll into a shady area.  There I began to slowly rehydrate myself and then laid down.  A little over an hour (one quart of water and a short nap) later I was starting to feel a little better.  At least well enough to get up and join the rest of the troop again.

#3 of 5 cooling off, floating down the creek a scout buried up to his neck in the sand evening approaching the sand bar campsite    

Some were swimming, some were playing in the sand, and others were building a fire.    

#3 of 5 floating down the creek on his back.

Another scout (face shrouded) was buried up to his neck in a hole that another scout dug after finding an old tire buried in the sand. 

The tire was an Atlas Plycron Cushionaire tubeless Large White Wall Tire 7.10x15 – it looked pretty old and after checking on-line it appears that was a common tire in the 1940’s.  I wonder how long it had been buried in this sandbar?    


Despite my nap, once 9pm rolled by, the day had gotten the best of me.  I said my goodnights and headed off to my tent where I fell asleep to the sounds of another rip-roaring game of “up and down the river”. 

I awoke the next morning at 5:45 am.  I quickly broke my tent, packed my gear, and packed my canoe while the rest of the troop still slept. 

There, I noticed a little something that got forgotten that night.  Cleaning up the camp kitchen!  Nope, not this time!  These boys needed to see this / and learn from this.  I left this mess for them to clean up.

How NOT to leave a camp kitchen overnight. How NOT to leave a camp kitchen overnight.

The boys (and the adults) were hot, tired, exhausted (and even one still feeling the effects of dehydration) so motivating them to clean up their tents, the camp kitchen mess from the night before, and breaking camp was not an easy thing to do.

Sand bar camp breakfast



Eventually, it was breakfast (which consisted of donuts and cantaloupe) that did the trick. 

Once camp was broken breakfast was eaten and cleaned up – it was time to slip the canoes back into the river and finish the remainder of the journey.





Almost before we knew it, we came upon the landmark that signified the end of our canoe trip.  We canoed up to, then under the Scott County Highway 9 / Carver County Highway 11 river bridge where, just on the other side, the boat landing was located.

Wait, is that it? THE BRIDGE!  Under the bridge (camera took photo a little too slow causing the wavy appearance in this photo) Unloading

I had a GREAT time (despite my bout with dehydration). 

It was great to get back into a canoe and head out camping again!  I remembered a number lessons I learned from my youth, and learned a few new lessons.  I feel I will be better prepared for the next canoe / camping trip! 

There was even talk of a future Isle Royale Hiking / Backpacking trip!!  That would be a first for me (hiking/backpacking camping trip), and something I’d be really interested in!!  

BSA Canoe Trip 2012

EveryTrail - Find the best hikes in California and beyond BSA Canoe Trip 2012 at EveryTrail

Spiral-Cut Hot Dogs

About a week ago while stumbling my way around the internet I came across a website that introduced me to a new concept.  Chow.com had an article and a video (seen below) on what they called “Spiral-cut hot dogs” 

I was completely mesmerized!  It’s all I thought about for the rest of the day. 

As I looked at my calendar I was saddened to see that dinner plans (including the fourth of July) had all but booked up our meal planning options on all my days off.  So I decided to experiment on these little culinary delicacies at lunchtime before heading back to work on my “Monday” (which was actually a Friday).

I cleaned the kitchen and as morning turned to afternoon I gathered the necessary equipment and got myself ready for the main event!!

spiral cut hot dogs - required supplies spiral cut hot dogs - "after the cut"

Cutting a spiral cut hot dog is a little trickier than the chow.com video would have you believe, but like the video says, hot dog meat is quite forgiving – so after a few dogs were cut, I started getting the hang of it.

Tip – if you choose to do this yourself – be sure to cut all the way down to the skewer – it seems a little weird at first but if you don’t the dog does not open up enough.  This also requires you to do your best skewering the dog as close to the center as you can. 

Also, the thickness of each spiral is crucial.  If you cut too thin there is not enough meat to hold the spiral together (see the upper most spiral cut hot dog in the photo above.  Just a little more than half way through you can see where the cuts were getting a little to thin – but if you cut it too thick you expose less of the dog innards to direct heat of the BBQ, negating the reason you are spiral cutting the dog to begin with.

Handling the dogs is also a little tricky.  I used BBQ tongs.  The dogs were quite floppy, and quite “frank-ly” (pun intended) I was afraid that the weight of the dog would “rip” the links apart when I tried to pick them up.  I chose to pick up the dogs using a “parallel” method instead of the typical “perpendicular” grab.  Fortunately, there were no “casualties”. 

spiral cut hot dogs - on the grill spiral cut hot dogs - after the grillin

As you can see, the (aesthetic) results were quite interesting.  Much like the Chow.com article states, they certainly are conversational pieces.

I was also pleased to see how well they fit in the bun.  I am used to hot dogs not fitting in the bun properly.  I have always found that I had to choose one of three options.  

a.) Have one bite of without any dog in it on each end of the hotdog – making for a bite of ketchup / mustard / onion soaked bun without any dog for the first and last bites or…

b.) Having perfect dog:bun ratio at the beginning of the dog eating experience with a large wad of ketchup / mustard / onion soaked bun at the end, or…

c.) Having a large wad of ketchup / mustard / onion soaked bun at the beginning, and ending the experience with a perfect dog:bun ratio

The spiral cut dog allows you to adjust the dog to fit whatever sized bun you have!  Also, as the video states with all those spirals cut into the dog, there are crevices all up and down the dog for your condiments to fill and/or drip through!  

This actually worked pretty well.  Typically I pile my condiments on top of my dog (in the bun) and then “turn” the dog while in the bun to spread the condiments around.  With the spiral cut dog, the ketchup and mustard (I was out of onions) found their way in and through the spirals. 

Overall, I was pretty impressed.  I am not a fan of “bologna dogs” (Oscar Meyer, Ballpark, etc) – I like my dogs a little a lot more “coarse ground”.  Coarse ground, natural casing.  Basically, the more bits of fur, teeth and bone in the dog, the better it is! 

Since more of the dog was directly exposed to the heat of the BBQ, more of it was seared.  This process made the Oscar Meyer dogs I had on hand taste much less like “bologna dogs” and (at least a little bit) more like the hot dogs I like.  In other words (at least for me) this improved the taste of the hot dogs we were eating.  I also found them a little less “messy” to eat.  The condiments really did stay in the bun and in the crevices of the dog!!

The results with the kids were mixed.  #2 of 5, #3 of 5 (and a friend he had spend the night) did not seem to care too much one way or the other (but it would take nothing less than a full alien invasion to “impress” these boys).  #4 of 5 and #5 of 5 found it quite interesting but I overheard them say that it was not worth the extra work (Work?  What work??  They were playing on the slip and slide while I cooked these things up!)  But, in the end they were quite excited to give them a try.   Unfortunately I suspect my (over the top) enthusiasm for the spiral cut dogs may have left the kids a little let down.

In the end I’d suggest anyone (especially with kids) give it a try – if for no other reason than to add a little variety to their lives!  I am not disappointed in the results, and to be honest with you -  my curiosity has been piqued! 

I am looking forward to some continued “spiral cut” experiments…  I want to see how it works on coarse ground hot dogs, bratwurst, polish sausage, kielbasa, and various other versions of “tube steaks” and with other condiments (like onions) and others that I don’t typically do not add (like relish, and sauerkraut). 

Grandpa’s Garden

For the past twelve years, I designated one of the back corners of my yard as a rock/dirt debris pile.  As I completed various landscaping projects I would dump the remaining dirt/sand/rock in a huge pile, turn my back and do my best to ignore it. 

About eight years ago (having grown tired of the “mound” in the back corner) I went out and bought several retaining wall stones.  I surrounded the mound, creating the shape of a “half moon”. 

My intent was to convert the mound into a flower garden. 

At various points over the past eight or so years I did plant some iris in the furthest back corner of the garden, some tulips along both back sides of the garden, put a bird bath in, and added a bird feeder on a shepherds hook hoping that each project would provide me the inspiration I needed to fully complete the transformation. 

But, as the old saying goes… “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. 

Over the past eight or so years the garden has continued it’s downward spiral.  It continued to be overgrown with weeds.  The tulip bulbs were covered with more debris and on their third year in the garden they never germinated.  The bird feeder has weathered and fallen off the hook into the weed bed where weeds have grown up through the feeder tangling it into a death grip.  The birdbath was left out one winter and the bowl cracked all the way through.  It was later removed from the pedestal and flipped over into the weeds.  It too became lost in the overgrown weeds, no longer visible.  The birdbath pedestal (hollow) has weeds growing up through it like a volcano!   I struggled to even get a shovel into the soil because of the thick net of roots.   

The only thing that has survived was the iris (and even this year they have taken a noticeable “hit” as the weeds encroached into their area). 

The weeds in the garden have grown so dense and thick that little I have done to try and kill them off has worked.  Over the past three years the most effort I have done to tame the weeds in this flowerbed was to take a weed whip and cut them all off at the ground.  Unfortunately, they would quickly grow back up. 

A disastrous garden A disastrous garden

The photos above are from AFTER we started working on the garden.  I had not thought to get some “before” photos.  It’s hard to tell, but the weeds stand about four feet tall.  You can see the bird bath (removed from the garden), the shepherds hook (sans the bird feeder) – but the bird feeder is still entangled in all the weeds.  The iris is in there somewhere too…  This garden is deceiving.  It looks smaller than it really is.        

I have suspected that my dad (who is a amateur garden expert) has shuddered each and every time he saw this disaster area in my back yard.  Over the past few years he has mentioned that he wanted to come over and help get the garden established, but our schedules have never really meshed enough to make it happen.

Earlier this year my dad brought over a number of tomato plants for us.  The vegetable garden was already full so my dad and I cleaned a small corner of the half moon garden and planted the tomatoes.    

This was just what my dad needed to push him over the edge.

On what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year, my dad showed up (unannounced) to work on the garden.  Well, “unannounced” to me.  He called while I was running an errand.  #2 of 5 (who answered the phone and took the message) failed to tell me until the doorbell rang with my dad and his gardening tools at the front door.

Grandpa gettin' started on the diggingDad told me not to worry – that he was going to just putter away in the garden and that I did not need to help him.  Well, I was not willing to let my dad toil away in my garden (on the hottest day of the year) alone, so I changed into my garden clothes, filled a thermos with ice water and headed out. 

We got the garden tools out and started working.

Once we hit the half way point we debated “calling it a day” but after a quick break under the shade of a tree with some cool water to refresh us, we decided to complete what we started.

3/4 of the way done!Here in this photo you can see the tomatoes we planted a week or so before (far left corner).

Yup, they are still there!!  There in the back of the garden (center) you can see the iris!

THERE IT IS!!  See the bird feeder??  Rescued from it’s all but neglected and forgotten grave.   

And in the far right of the photo you can see that we are still not complete.  The last 1/4 of the garden is still saturated with weeds.

Once we had the garden completely weeded my dad broke out some weed block that brought to put down and we started spreading some cypress mulch that he also brought.

Second bag of mulch down, and geraniums in the pot After the first bag of mulch End of day one.  Second bag of mulch down, and geraniums in the pot End of day one.  Second bag of mulch down, and geraniums in the pot

Thanks dad!


Dad had only brought a couple of bags of mulch (underestimating the size of the garden from his own memory) so after a very long, very hot day (were we were both starting to feel dizzy) we decided to call it a day. 

We cleaned up our mess, and dad took the birdfeeder with him promising to return it in a “refurbished” condition – but not before he had me scrounge up a pot he could plant some geraniums that he brought over.




laying more mulch down



First update: 

Several days after we de-weeded the garden, dad brought out four more bags of cypress mulch. 

Dad and I laid the mulch while #4 of 5 and #5 of 5 watered to tomatoes, geranium and iris. 




Second update: 

Yesterday (The 4th of July) Dad returned the remodeled bird feeder and we hung it back out on the Sheppard's hook.  Here are some shots of the bird feeder as it looks now (sorry, no before photos). 

remodeled bird feeder remodeled bird feeder

Left:  Here is what is left of the iris.. They used to take up twice as much space as they do now.  The weeds choked them out. 

Right:  Ice damage on a bird feeder.  As you can see, it’s cracked in a complete circle around (twice) around the base.  It’s a total loss. 

lonely iris ice damage to a bird bath

Left:  Tomatoes are starting to grow like gangbusters!

Right:  Here is the garden – as it looks today (July 5th).  A VAST improvement over what it looked like just a few days ago.

tomatoes growing like gangbusters the garden as it is today

Dad, I can not thank you enough.  Although it nearly killed us on that first day – the garden looks SO MUCH BETTER! It’s so nice looking in the back yard and instead of seeing a chore, seeing something that is so much closer to it’s potential!  Had you not “forced” the issue, that garden would still look as bad as it did a week ago. 

Thank you for all your help!

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