Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Camp Cooking #2: Jalapeno Poppers

I love spicy foods - and if they're quick and fun and easy to throw on the grill, it's even better!  From the Camp Kitchen, here's recipe #2 - Grilled Jalapeno Poppers!

First, gather the ingredients:

Cream Cheese
Tooth Picks, a sharp knife, and tongs
First up, wash your peppers (I know, that's a given).  Then, slice each one in half length-wise and core out your seeds, making it into a little boat.  I try to leave the stems in tact so that you have something to grasp when you're devouring them.

Next up, slather in the cream cheese.  Honestly, the best version of these is made with pineapple cream cheese - you can buy it premade, but if you want to go a step further, take plain cream cheese and mix in a can of (drained) crushed pineapple. Trust me, the sweet-spicy combo is amazing!
This step takes both hands (sorry, no in-process photo).  Take a single piece of bacon and wrap it around the cream-cheese-jalapeno-boat and secure with toothpicks.  I recommend soaking the toothpicks in water first (while you're prepping everything else) so that they don't burn when you put them on the grill.   We prefer turkey bacon, as it cuts down on a lot of the fat but still gives a great taste.  Maple or smoked bacon is another great flavor enhancer here, too.
And now - grill!!  Give them about 5 minutes on one side, then use your tongs to flip them over - give another 4-5 minutes there.  Remember, if you're using pork bacon, you want to ensure the bacon is fully cooked before consuming.  (BTW - I tried this with skewers once before - 4 poppers on 1 rod - but they don't turn so well.  RDB said: why mess with a good thing?)
Once the bacon has a lovely set of grill marks, and the cream cheese is bubbly and hot, pull them off the grill and enjoy!  These are a great appetizer, or a wonderful light main course - which ever way you serve them - they sure won't last for long!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Park (P)review: Caddo Lake State Park - Karnack, TX

Park (P)review
We haven't camped here yet, but I've driven around and checked it out!

Caddo Lake State Park

*Swampy, boggy, Spanish moss, cypress trees - gorgeous!
*Texas' only naturally made lake
*Canoe rentals and boat tours
*Easy access to east Texas and Shreveport, LA
*Electric and Water Sites:
     Squirrel Haven: sites 40, 43, and 44
     Woodpecker Hollow: sites 20, 21, 23, and 24
     (Armadillo Run was closed for maintenance when I visited)
*Beware the big hill.  I mean BIG. HILL.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Tips & Tricks #3: Camping is for the Dogs!

Because he might lick you to death.

By now, I'm sure you've figured out, we love camping - with our Pup.  I won't say it hasn't been challenging - from having to plan for his meals (he's on a raw diet) and all the looks you get from people who mistakenly think that he's aggressive, and having to figure out what to do with him while you're trying to set up and break down (come to find out - he likes to curl up in the driver's seat... and occasionally honk the horn!)  It can be tryinga t times, but I think any dog owner will tell you that the love and loyalty that a dog gives makes all the extra work worth while.

So, a few things that we do, or bring, to make the dog days of camping a bit more fun:

Notice the reflective collar - it's the first thing I grab out of the camper, as we're heading out, and change Diesel into.  Not only is it reflective, it's bright orange, and even lights up with a detachable rechargeable battery pack.  I was looking for something with high visibility for our deer-like dog while camping.  There's no mistaking him for wildlife when he's got his camping necklace on!

Attached to the collar are his dog tags - one that has all of his important, constant info engraved on it (name, our phone number, his rabies tag number, Harris Co. licence number, microchip and vet phone numbers) and another tag that is temporary. It has our check-in and -out dates on one side and the camp site number on the other.  I use a permanent marker and the metal-ringed paper tags (find them at the office supply store).  They've lasted through rain, dirt, and some chewing.  Good enough for a weekend trip - in case he gets loose, I want people to very quickly be able to return him to us.

And hopefully, we won't ever have to worry about him getting loose, because we use a trolley system to keep him in the campsite.  The red steel cable in the pic above attaches to another steel cable that runs between two posts we drive into the ground (or in this case, one post and one perfectly placed tree).  The trolley gives him the ability to have some space to roam around in, but be securely within the boundaries of our site.  Keep in mind, different campgrounds have different rules about dogs-on-leash and driving posts in the ground.  Most TX State Parks require no more than a 6' lead, but we've not had any problem with this system.  We make sure Diesel is well inside the boundaries of our site - and that there's plenty of space between him and the road.

Once inside the camper, we use a collapsible crate.  Diesel is crate trained at home, so he's very comfortable going in and laying down in his 'house.'  We bring the same blankets that he has in his crate at home so they smell like him and are familiar.  One gets placed over the top of the crate to make a 'cave' and the other is tossed inside for him to lay on - he's happy as can be to just lie in there and sleep.  This crate lives in the camper, folded down compactly and on the bunk end.  Since we don't need the extra bunk for sleeping and we use it for storage while we camp - it's become Diesel's bunk at this point, too!

We carry a box that's specifically for Diesel stuff - and this one goes with us on trips that aren't just camping trips, so it doesn't stay in the camper.  Let's see, there's a set of bowls, the trolley system I was talking about earlier, a small bottle of dog shampoo, some of his favorite treats (freeze dried salmon), the markers and tags from earlier, spare poop bags, a training snap (in the bowl), a spare leash, harness, and collar, and his dogie first aid kit (small white bag).  It contains the following:
  • Instant ice pack
  • Two sizes of sterile pads
  • Tape (same stuff the vet gives us to post his ears)
  • Triple antibiotic ointment
  • Fine point sharp scissors
  • Quick Blood Stopper (styptic powder)
  • Q-tips
  • Alcohol swabs
  • Benedryl (1mg/10lbs)
  • Ace bandage (in case we need to muzzle him)
It was also suggested that we take along a pair of pliers (in case of encounters with a porcupine or cactus) which we already have in the tool set in the camper, and also hydrogen peroxide (to induce vomiting) and I've got that in my Poison Ivy First Aid Kit.

So, that's our Diesel dog stuff.  Any other suggestions?

Diesel telling me how much he
 looooves to go camping!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Park (P)review: Atlanta State Park - Atlanta, TX

Park (P)review
We haven't camped here yet, but I've driven around and checked it out!

Atlanta State Park

*This park was by far, one of my favorites to drive thru.
*Lots of winding hills, tall shaded pine trees, and it was actually cool the first weekend of August!
*Electric and Water Sites:
     Wilkins Creek: (these sites were huge!) 30, 32, 34, 36, 40 and 42  - all pull thrus.
     White Oak Ridge: site 46, sites 51 and 52 had amazing views of the lake from the point of a rock cliff
     Knights Bluff: sites 11 & 12 would be good for a group, 4 and 8 solo, but the parking pads are small

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Grandpa's "Scrap Wood Art"

Grandpa, Grandma (with bunny ears), me and RDB

I had always known that camping ran in my blood.  Dad was an Eagle Scout, his parents had property they called "the campsite", and we lived waaaay out in the middle of nowhere so growing up felt like one big outdoor adventure. It was only natural that when RDB and I started camping that I wanted to share our adventures with Grandma and Grandpa - the old fashioned way, of course - through snail mail.  I started printing out a few photos from each trip, jotting down a few thoughts, and sending it along to them.  It's been quite a number of years since they've been camping but I knew they still love and enjoyed it.

Grandpa's always been a tinkerer; for a good portion of the early years of his retirement, he helped build houses for Habitat for Humanity.  I have a number of wooden pieces from my childhood that he manufactured: a bear shaped crayon holder with my name on it, a baseball bat/ball/glove holder from when I played in Little League, two end tables that have moved with me to every home I've ever lived in.  About a month into our camping I came home to a box in the mail from Grandpa. I was delighted and thrilled by what I found inside - a 3 page hand-written letter and some of what he calls 'scrap wood art.' 

"I have been into a little bit of everything over the years," he wrote. "What I'm sending along will need some of your desire for color and assembly.  It is plywood, so it will need finishing for sealing. That is your decision to make."

Hanging on a tree at our first '12 camp out at Lake Livingston

I wish I had taken a photo of it before I painted and assembled the pieces together - but I was too anxious to complete this project, and send back to him a photo of the finished work.  He had made our family camping sign.  I was giddy with delight!!

"We appreciate the prints you sent of your Rockwood & truck - it is a great way to go.  Your Grandma, your father and aunts sure enjoyed the 'Apache' fold out we had. Your Dad used a cot and his Scout bed-roll under one of the slide out beds.

One trip into Northern Wisc. we had a 3am visit from a black bear that wiped the chuck boxes off the picnic log table even though they were tied to the table with Nylon Shroud cord out of a parachute. We had left a small dish of ham fryings in the cabinets to use for egg frying  in the morning rather than in the cooler locked in the car trunk.

Well, my scribbling is catching up with me. Love you both very much.  Happy Camping and stay in touch."

Monday, October 15, 2012

That Ain't Stock #3 - More Misc Mods!

For those of you who loved the first ones, here we go with the next set of Misc Mods!!

Our version of Camp Driveway.  Gotta fight for space!

I can see you!, and you, and you...

Ok, starting with the Lone Ranger: we needed extension mirrors. A big thanks to O'Riely for having what I needed on the first stop!  They're a little clunky to put on (as to be expected, I guess) but they do the job.  WARNING: be careful when you go through the What-A-Burger drive thru with these puppies - I almost lost the driver's side one!

Battery operated, Velcro'd on.

We've done a few late-night set ups coming into camp after dark, and anticipate we'll do more as we camp on into the winter months.  I realized on our trip to Lake Livingston that the back of the truck is pretty dark - especially with the utility cap on it.  So, a trip to Wal-Mart and a $12 under counter /LED light later, and viola! Let there be light!

Speaking of Velcro....
Next up, we move on to a few camper mods. Now, for those of you who flip axles and re-do water pumps and all the technical stuff, I apologize! I know my way around a power drill but am totally inept when it comes to those kind of projects.  Now, give me a zip-tie or Velcro and I can rock your world!  And, hey, I'm not afraid to remove the jump seats from a truck if the need arises.
Yep, more Velcro.
I've got a set of Coleman LED string lanterns (my Tacky Lights) that fit perfectly across the awning and had been using zipties to secure them every time we set them up.  Hello, Velcro! It makes it a lot easier to get them up (and down) using the quick strips - you can get them at WalMart, 6 in a pack for a few bucks.  I use them on our SHW Gizmos, too. We pull all the slack to one side and then bundle it up.  The Gizmos stay on the camper permanently, so this keeps us from having to deal with tangled cords.

./`./`./` Here we go, Steelers! Here we go! ./`./`./` What can I say? I left Dallas not knowing the difference between a 'first down' and a 'down comforter' and started dating a guy from Pittsburgh. Now Black and Gold runs through my veins (I have family that say he brainwashed me.)  I ordered the Steelers mini-pennants online and used black and yellow gold felt to make the extras.  A quick run through the sewing machine and ta-dah! I've got spirit, yes I do, I 've got spirit, how 'bout you!  The extra ribbon on the ends just ties to the SHW Gizmo straps.
So, for those of you whom I just gave a headache to with my team-enthused-mod, let me offer you a cold one.  And on the chance that it's not a twisty-top beverage, I've got a mod to suit your tastes!  I attached this vintage looking bottle opener to the outside of the camper, on the front under the bunk end.  We keep the beverage cooler outside, typically under the front bunk end, so this was the logical place to attach this little trinket.

Moving inside the camper for this next one - I modified a mod.  A lot of campers out on the forums (hi ya'll!) have done a hard wire shelf that hangs off the bar across the end of the bunks.  I liked that.  RDB didn't - he has to sleep on the inside.  So, I came up with a compromise (More like, I installed this when he wasn't looking and hoped he'd be ok with it)   I bought an over-the-door shoe holder and cut it down to fit (just two rows of pockets) and then used zip-ties to attach it to the bunk end support.  Now we've got a place for all the little stuff that collects on the countertops and drives me crazy.  And, since it's soft mesh, it stays attached and simply folds in with the rail and lays on the mattress.

Out to the camp kitchen - I installed a cheap (read: less than $2 at Target) paper towel holder on the stove that can be inside or out.  The front edge was the only place were I could get the screws lined up nicely, but it does get a little in the way of where you're standing while you're cooking.  It's a little thing for the ease of having the towels right at hand. NOTE: They do tend to catch the wind here (see the photo) so placing the last one on the roll under the lighter I keep in the little tray, keeps the paper towels from flying away!

Of course, now that we've got such an awesome custom camper, everybody's gonna want to take it home with them, so, we had to get a security system put in. 

Until next time - may the sun shine brightly on you, and may it only rain during the week!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Relaxing Weekend at the Lake

Ahhhhhhhhhhh, camping. *sigh*

We left out Friday afternoon when RDB got in from work.  Getting into the fray of the north Houston traffic is not the best way to start the weekend, but it's a necessary evil. And am I ever so glad that RDB does a lot of our driving.  I had stopped off at an auto parts store and picked up extension mirrors for the truck - he said they helped out immensely.
We arrived at Lake Livingston after dark (I have a feeling most of our trips are going to start this way - winter camping calls for short days).  I checked in with the Ranger, and found out there were 3 camping groups that were on site this weekend - including a contingent of over 40 boy scouts! We were supposed to be camping with the Southeast Texas Pop-Up Camper's Club, but that group outing fell through.  Oh well - we were still going camping regardless!

LED lights in the back of the truck.
Setting up in the dark presents it's challenges - and lighting was certainly one of them this trip.  We had a few handheld flashlights, but by the end of the trip we bought cap clip-on lights and a set of LEDs for the back of the truck - I had never realized how dark it gets back there! By the time we were done unpacking and setting up Friday night and dinner was ready, we were ready to crawl into bed!

Saturday morning we woke up to beautiful weather (and a chance to see our site for the first time). Nice big trees, plenty of space - but RDB noticed that it looked alot like the underbrush had been clear cut.  The unfortunate side to this meant that we got to see a lot more of our neighbors than we really wanted to. 

It's interesting camping with Diesel now that he's growing into a larger dog.  It's not so much 'Oh, what a cute puppy!" anymore.  He started the day off barking at the kids on bikes, but quickly learned that they were no threat, and stopped reacting when they came by.  One of the kids came back with a larger group of friends (and a Mom) and stopped at the end of our site: "That's a mean dog!" he said to his friends.  I was sitting on the ground by Diesel and replied back: "He's not a mean dog.  What makes you think he's mean?"  "He barked at me earlier." Hmm, teachable moment here.  "Well, he barks when he's afraid of new things - like your bike - or when he's excited and wants to play.  He barks when he's happy, too.  Just because he barks, doesn't make him a mean dog."  He's not mean, I thought, he's just misunderstood. In fact, let's just see this "mean" dog in action.....

Yeah, he photo-bombed me in the last one.  I just about died laughing when I saw it.  And, yes, he took my spot on the bed, too.  Tell you what, he was anything but a mean dog this weekend.  Too bad people have a prejudice about the breed.

RDB and I really just enjoyed a relaxing weekend.  I made french toast and sausage for breakfast, Campfire Queso and guac for lunch, Grilled Banana Pudding (post coming soon!) and Jalapeno Poppers.  It wasn't a weekend evolving around food, but other than that, all we did was rest and nap and sleep! Honestly, we were in bed by 8:30pm Saturday night!

We woke up Sunday morning to the sound of rain on canvas.  Ahhhhhhh, perfect! (and ahhh, crap - because we'd have to pack up wet).  I was surprised how emptied out the camp ground was by 9am - it was booked full Friday night, but we were the last of three families when I went out to get breakfast.  Does it make for a challenge when it's raining and you're camping? Sure. Does it mean a little more work when you get home? Yes.  But it is the most relaxing, calm, and serene thing in the world to sleep in with the rain gently pat-pat-pattering on the roof of the camper.  I wouldn't have missed it for all the dry socks in the world.

All packed up and ready for the next adventure.

We were in site 76 at Lake Livingston State Park.  It wouldn't have been my first choice, but it was the last of three sites available on Friday night - what with the camping clubs there.  It sure didn't feel crowded, though. No wait for the bathrooms, and for the most part, very quiet.  The Park Ranger came by just about every hour or so, but he never stopped to say any thing to us - just waved and drove on.  We'd love to go back earlier in the week to grab one of the lake front spots (50-71).

For more camping photos, go here.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Park (P)review: Mother Neff State Park - Moody, TX

Park (P)review
We haven't camped here yet, but I've driven around and checked it out!


*Texas' first, and smallest, State Park - the original grounds were only 6 acres.
*The park was devastated by massive flooding in 2007 - over 19' of water in the main camping grounds.
*The park ranger informed me that they've been granted a multi-million dollar budget to renovate the park and the now 400+ arces it holds.
*There's a cave/overhang down one of the trails in the park  (very easy flight of stairs to access it, I was in business formal walking down there).  It was once a burial ground for Native Americans.
*Not much privacy between the sites - most of the ground vegetation was lost in the flood.
*Didn't see any sites that really stood out one from another (2, 3, & 4 would be good for a group), but this is a sweet, small reminder of why it's so important to support our parks system, and how grateful we should be of those who have thought about conservation in the past.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Texas State Parks Pass

I'm what you could call: A Camping Nut.

Every chance I get driving around to various cities for work, I try to sneak in something camping oriented.  Maybe a trip to Cabella's or Outdoor World. Sometimes a walk thru the camping isles at the Tar-jay or Wally World.  But my favorite activity doesn't have to do with shopping (gasp!)  because with my Texas State Parks Pass, the shopping's already been done!

RDB and I decided we'd buy our pass when we traveled down to Goose Island last spring (Remember The Battle of San Mosquito? Yep, that trip).  Now that I can get into any Texas State Park for free just by showing the pass, I've started planning out my drives to hit as many as possible (like this week, for example, I hit 3 between San Antonio and Austin).  It gives me something to look forward to on what can be long and grueling road time, I can review the parks facilities for my Park (P)reviews every Friday, and I can scope out which campgrounds we want to head back to when camping season starts back up.

I've been to a bunch, but have a bunch more to go!

Aside from getting into the parks without paying the entrance fees (that would have been over $120 for the ones I've already been to above), the Pass comes with benefits for us as a camping family, too.  Check this out:

"Camping Discounts- with the purchase of the primary Texas State Parks Pass, 4 discounted camping nights are held in the TxParks system. Discount is for 50% off the second night, when staying two or more nights in a campsite or regular screen shelter." -TPWD website

How cool is that? I've already booked our sites for the fall and winter, and we'll take advantage of another $40 in saving just by having the pass to discount our second night's stays.

But wait! There's more....

Not only is the entrance fee waived for me as the STPPass holder, it's waiver for whatever car load of people I happen to be traveling with (that can add up to quite a bit if you have a family and kids).  And it gets us 10% off anything we purchase in the Park Store.

So, why am I so sales-y about the Park Pass?  Because I love our Texas State Parks. And I love getting a good deal.  We've got over $180 worth of potential savings just from our $70 purchase of the Parks Pass.  And even if it didn't net out such an awesome financial benefit - it's an absolutely worth while cause.

If you're spending any time outdoors in Texas, its worth spending the month on this.

Park (P)review: Lake Murray State Park - Ardmore, OK

Park (P)review
We haven't camped here yet, but I've driven around and checked it out!


*This is a huge park system! I only had time to check out a one of the 15(!) park loops, and it was beautiful!
*The lake's water color is an amazing shade of light blue
*Buzzard's Roost Camping Loop: Sites 19, 20 and 22 have shade a a beautiful view of the water.
*ThePark Ranger suggested, in order of favorites/best loops:
     1 - Buzzard's Roost
     2 - Tipp's Point
     2.5 - Martin's Landing
     3 - Marietta Landing
Wishing this one wasn't 6 hours away.... or in Oklahoma, for that matter!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Shame, Shame, Shame

Pardon me, I need to rant for a moment.


noun: Preconceived opinion not based on reason or experience 

I'll be the first one to admit that I was prejudice.  Having never had any personal experience with them, I thought they were mean-spirited, easily agitated, and fierce.  Just their appearance gave the impression that they were bad, vicious, and violent.  All you have to do is mention their name and people suck in air, gasp, or get squeamish:


Picture courtesy: Randy W.

Yep, I had a "preconceived opinion not based on reason or experience" about the very breed of dog that is now such an integral part of my life.  Of my family.  (Please, note, I'm not one of those "the dog is my kid" people - but we have made Diesel a part of our everyday lives now, including our camping).

And that's what brings us to this rant.  I booked a site for this weekend, last minute, since we missed out on last weekend with the rain.  Just one night - and since I had wanted to visit Lake Texana earlier (such a lovely park!) I thought I'd give them call and book.

So, the booking was no problem.

Getting to reserve a specific site - no problem!

You guys allow dogs on-leash - no problem!

Well, until you read the fine print.  I received my confirmation email and get to the second to last paragraph, and find this:

Pet Policies:
PETS are to be kept quiet and secured by a leash of six (6') feet or less, OR confined. Pets may not be left unattended. Please clean up after them.  Pets other than seeing-eye dogs are NOT PERMITTED in the buildings.

AGGRESSIVE PET BREEDS such as Doberman, Rottweiler, Pit Bull or any mix of these breeds will not be allowed in any part of the Recreation Complex. If a pet demonstrates aggressive behavior, regardless of breed, it may be asked to leave the Complex.

(The emphasis, by the way, is all theirs.)

So, I called back within less than 10 minutes to cancel my reservation.  I get it, you don't.  You don't understand that just because a dog is, or looks like, a certain breed does not automatically make it a raving mad rabid lunatic of a creature that is hell bent on death and destruction.  You don't understand that it's more about the owner (and their choice to train and teach and nurture), than it is about the type of dog (or the nature of that dog).  You don't get it.  And I understand.

I expected that I would be refunded for the booking as I paid the deposit over the phone.  And they willingly did - minus a $5 cancellation fee.  I get penalized because of their lack of communication regarding breed specific restrictions? (I had asked if it was ok that I brought a dog along, they simply said, yes.)

So, here I am - ranting over $5, right?  No.  I'm ranting over the injustice of judging my dog simply by the breed type on his AKC registration.

Shame on them for being closed-minded.
Shame on them for being uneducated.
Shame on them for being prejudiced.

Shame, shame, shame.

Picture courtesy: Randy W.