Thursday, March 30, 2017

National Parks 3

   Just a few hours from Seattle, North Cascades National Park is, surprisingly, one of the least visited parks in the system. Just over 21,000 people enter its boundaries each year.  It is full of rugged mountains that make up part of the North Cascade range. If you want to see glaciers in the lower 48 states, this is your park. Over 300 glaciers can be found tucked into the mountains of North Cascade. One reason the park receives so little visitation is due to the amount of snow it receives, since the mountains are located just a few hours from the coast, the maritime climate dumps copious amounts of snow onto the slopes.  This makes road travel difficult into the park to to snow removal and road closures.
   Peak visitation times for this park are from June to September. The park is divided into 2 units, the north and south units. Erosion from glaciers has cut the mountains into steep, jagged peaks, which make it a very beautiful place to photograph. The park contains the most glaciers of any U.S. park outside of Alaska and one third of all glaciers found in the lower 48 states are within it. Most popular with backpackers and mountain climbers, the mountains in the park are still rising, and average 4,000 to 6,000 feet in altitude above the surrounding terrain. The park is home to over 75 different animals and over 200 birds pass through it or use it for a breeding range.

   On the complete opposite end of the the map (and spectrum), Dry Tortugas National Park can be found. About 70 miles west of Key West, in the Gulf of Mexico, this isolated park can only be reached by boat or plane. Most reach its boundaries by charter ferry, seaplanes, or private boats. Since less than 1% of its area is dry ground, most visitors come to this area for swimming, snorkeling, and diving. At a size of just over 100 square miles, most of the park is open water with several small islands.

   One of the major tourist attractions here is Fort Jefferson. Built and used in the 19th century, it's one of the largest remaining forts that you can visit. Here, you can find the park headquarters, campgrond, and visitor center. It's location was used due to the fact that it is found along one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. During the civil war, union ships used the fort to blockade southern ships from reaching their supply points. It was abandoned by the Army in 1874.

Hopefully, someday I'll be able to reach both of these remote parks. It will definitely take a great deal of time, effort, and money to make this happen.

Monday, March 27, 2017

National Parks pt. 2

The next two least visited national parks, Isle Royale and Kobuk Valley, don't get any easier visitation-wise.

  Isle Royale NP is a narrow, 40 mile long island in Lake Superior. The only way to reach it is by a ferry boat. You'll need to have reservations for camping here, otherwise you can't stay the night. The main draw for this park is it's fragile ecosystem, hiking, and remoteness. Amazingly, the island supports a population of wolves and moose. Scientists think they arrived by crossing over the frozen lake, since it's 20 miles from the closest mainland. Hikers and scientists have long visited the park to study the predator/prey relationship of wolves and moose, since they are isolated from outside pressure.

   Kobuk Valley NP is in, you guessed it, Alaska. Located next to it's neighbor Gates of the Arctic, this park has no roads. Flying in by charter plane is the main way hikers access it's lands. The size of Delaware, Kobuk Valley is famous for it's great sand dunes and Caribou herds. These sand dunes were deposited after the last major glaciers retreated during the last ice age. Located 25 miles above the Artic Circle, Dogsledding is also a popular way to tour the park.

National Parks pt. 1

As a big fan of the outdoors, I love visiting National Parks. I've been fortunate enough to visit 14 of these amazing places. That sounds like a lot, until you realize our country currently has 59 of them. I thought I'd spend some time talking about 10 amazing parks you and I will most likely never visit. Hopefully I'll get to all of them, but these 10 will truly be difficult to reach for one reason or another.
I'll start with the two least visited national parks in the U.S.

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, and Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, are located Alaska. Alaska has 8 national parks, second only to California (9).  The most visited national park in the U.S., Great Smoky Mountain N.P., had over 11 million visitors last year. In contrast both these parks had a combined visitation of approximately 24,000.

Gates of the Arctic is a vast park covering the north central part of Alaska. In addition to it's ultra-remote location there is a good reason why it's so sparsely visited. There are no roads or infrastructure inside the park. That's right, no bathrooms, showers, electricity or really even people for the most part to be found here. You either have to charter a small plane to drop you off or hike into the park.  Here you'll find vast untouched wilderness and the beautiful Brooks Mountain range, Kobuk River, and spruce forests. Major animals in this area include, bear, caribou, moose, river otters, wolves, and eagles.

Mt. Redoubt
Lake Clark National Park also has no roads or infrastructure, so reaching this park is another considerable challenge. It can only be reached by boat or small aircraft. However, this park includes features not found in any other Alaska Parks: three mountain ranges collide here,coastal rainforests and alpine tundra, as well as lakes and glaciers. The park contains 2 volcanoes, Mt. Redoubt, and Mt. Iliamna. Mt. Redoubt erupted recently (1989 and 2009). Because of so much variety in geography within the park, nearly all of Alaska's animal, from Salmon to wolverine, can be found here. 

Lake Clark NP

Missouri Wall Art

the back
In addition to the pallet flag I created, I decided to do another project with the leftover picket pieces I had. Since they were already sanded, I decided to do an outline of the state of Missouri with the pickets. I used this website to help build my example.  The process was pretty simple, given I had access to a few extra tools.

paper outline
First, I went online and found a pdf copy of our state's outline (for example). There are tons of these available via a quick Google search.  Next, I saved a pdf copy of the outline and tried printing in on card stock paper. The problem I kept running into was trying to enlarge the image enough so that I could make a bigger project than what would fit on an 8.5x11" sheet of paper. I found the solution by using Microsoft Paint to enlarge the image and then print it. Honestly this was the most time consuming part. Getting the right size was crucial.

   I printed the enlarged image on card stock, cut it out, and then taped it together to make a stencil. Using the stencil, I traced it onto the pickets. Next, I used my cheapo handheld jigsaw to slowly cut each picket into the shape of the state outline. After cutting all the pieces, I tacked some 1.5 inch furring strips from Lowe's (seriously, they're only $1.50 for an 8 foot section) on the back to hold them in place and made sure to add wood glue before finishing nailing them so they would hold firmly. After the glue dried, I stained it with some wood stain and let it dry. I think it turned out great!
after staining

Getting Creative

I decided to help out our pod for the upcoming school fundraiser by getting creative. After attending my son's fundraiser at Webster, I noticed that the items with the most bids seemed to be homemade. I decided to put my woodworking skills to use in the garage. Lately, I've noticed it's been very popular to repurpose old pallet wood. I had access to some old fence pickets, so I decided to make some wall art.
   Yes, I did spend a fair amount of time looking at ideas on Pinterest. I'll admit, It's not the first time I've ever surfed that site. There are some great lesson plans and interventions that teachers post there as well. I decided to create my first project by doing an american flag with the pickets. Here are some of the pictures that helped me along the way.

First, I separated the pickets from the wood railing. I chopped off the pointed ends with my miter saw, and then sanded them nearly bare with a belt sander. Make sure you use a low grit (50) to really get down past the soft wood. I did this to make the contrast between the painted and unpainted wood in the example photos.

 After sanding, I took my finish nailer and tacked some 1x3 boards to the back to hold the pickets in place. I then measured and taped off sections of the boards to make the 13 stripes. I then painted the untaped sections with red paint samples I got from Lowe's, and then measured and taped off the section that I would paint blue. After painting my stripes, I removed the taped sections to expose the bare wood I'd use in place of white stripes. I then painted the blue section. I didn't really have a measurement in mind for the blue section, so I just eyeballed what I thought looked similar to the American flag. Afterwards, I used some foam sanding pads to score the paint to give it that distressed look.

Finally, instead of making a stencil for the stars, I bought some rusted tin stars online and tacked them into place. I think it turned out pretty well. I'm anxious to see how many people bid on it at the auction.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Random News

 Here's a good story. Middle School teacher David Yancey has been trying to connect his students to learning in his Social Studies class in new ways. He noted that students he taught often found the lessons and material boring, so he decided to use music and rapping to engage them.  To quote an article from "Students have always hated social studies since the dawn of time," Yancey told NBC News in an email. "I realized that students almost choose to be disconnected from the material. In an attempt to bridge the gap, I chose to ask my mentoring group 'What songs are in right now?'"

 According to the article, once the students got over the inital laughter, they really started to connect with the material. Yancey posts the lyrics on his overhead for students to follow along with him during his raps. He takes the most currently popular songs and changes the lyrics to fit the lesson he's teaching. For me the coolest thing about this story is that it coincidentally takes place in one of my former school districts, Rockdale County Public Schools in Conyers, GA. I taught in that district for 4 years before we moved away. It is a challenging area to teach in, so bravo to this teacher for finding a better way!

Read about it here.


Miri turned 3 this week. She's adorable. I'm lucky to be her uncle. Everyone should have a Miri around.

    We traveled to Kansas City on Saturday for niece day. First we stopped in DeSoto to see Emma, our 2 week-old niece. Alex was smitten. He loves holding babies. By far, he spent the most time holding her out of the four of us. It's funny now that I don't have any babies in the house, I don't know how to tell how old a baby is, aside from the newborns.  I asked one mom if her son was 8 months old, and he was actually twice that age.

   Later, we headed over to my brother's house for Miri's birthday party. She loved the balance bike we gave her. Having no daughters, It's kind of nice having 10 nieces. They are like the daughters that I'll never have, now that we no longer plan on having any more kids. I got to spend some good time hanging out with my brother and several of his friends that I haven't seen in years. We ate Joe's KC for lunch with Emma's parents and my brother cooked ribs in the smoker for dinner. Barbecue is right up there with coffee for me. I could never be a vegetarian.

Goals For the Rest of the School Year

1.  Remember why I became a teacher. Every day.

2. Listen more than I talk.

3.  Conference with kids weekly. Let them know what I see and why it matters.

4. Keep reminding kids that It's about the journey, not the destination.

5.  Make more time for my kids at home.

6. Take time every day to just live in the moment.

7. Work hard. If you keep teaching the same ways and students keep making the same mistakes, who is the one not learning?

8.  Take less work home.

9. Listen to my co-workers.

10. Stock up on prescription-strength allergy medicine.

First Round Exit

    Growing up in Kansas, basketball is a big deal. KU runs the state when it comes to basketball. The Jayhawks have 5 titles and run the Big 12 from November to March. Being an alumnus of Kansas State, my wife and I will take any basketball-related victory that comes our way. We've made strides since I was in college. Back then, we were just downright bad at hoops. Losing by 10 was cause for celebration.
     This season, I took a day off to attend the KU vs K-State game in Manhattan. My brother and brother in-law went with me and we had a great time. As usual, we lost to KU again. This season began with my team starting off 12-1. The second half of the season resulted in an epic collapse. At our low point, we were needing to win our last 3 conference games to make consideration for the NCAA Tournament. We used that fuel to lose to the the worst team in the conference, Oklahoma, by 30 points. 
   Fans have been clamoring all season for Bruce Weber, our head coach, to be fired. In 5 years, he's made it to the tournament twice, but nothing for the past few seasons. Luckily, we had some big wins in the Big 12 tournament, enough to get us a spot for the play-in game for March Madness. We won but ended up losing in the first round to Cincinnati. You can imagine what happened next. "Fire Bruce," is now back on regular rotation around sports talk stations in Kansas. I can't imagine what that would be like. As fans, it's fun to fantasize about having a big time job that makes you a millionaire, but I can't imagine what it would be like for a whole entire state to hope you lose your job.  I think he'll keep his job at least one more year. My advice: beating KU would be a good start.

Stormy Weather

   After the hike, we drove to Jasper, Arkansas, which is about 15 miles away. The boys skipped rocks along the Little Buffalo river and played at the playground of a local park. We ran to the grocery store to grab a few things for dinner that night, and then headed back to the campground. When we got there, the wind was howling so hard that two of the stakes on the rainfly of my tent had ripped out the ground. I fixed the tent and then got dinner ready. We made a fire as evening turned into night. Luckily we were so tired that evening from hiking that we made it to bed by 8pm. We didn't miss much, as the wind basically drove us inside the tent anyway.

    Around 10pm I woke up to the sound of thunder. I had assumed it would rain at some point since the forecast was a 50% chance of rain. What I really noticed was the constant pounding of the wind on the campground. Throughout the night, I kept checking the tent to make sure the stakes were holding in the soft ground. It started to slowly rain off and on, but the wind stayed constant. The thunder and lighting really started to pick up after midnight. I know this because I don't think I slept for more than 5 minutes at a time. I kept worrying that my kids were going to wake up and freak out, but they were too darn tired to even notice.
     3AM was the worst. It was around that time that I heard trees starting to crack and break. Luckily for us, our tent was located in the open, away from the tree line. We were still 30 yards from the woods, so it was definitely possible to get whacked by a fallen limb or log. Suddenly I heard a huge crash not far from me. I grabbed my headlamp and looked out the tent. The campers next to me were right next to where the sound emanated from.  I looked out praying that they were okay. Luckily their tent was intact. In the morning, I met up with the guy from the camp next to ours. Right behind his camp was a shattered oak treek. The trunk had broken about 7 feet up the tree. The rest of the tree crashed through the surrounding canopy and landed along the riverbed. Had it fallen the opposite direction, it would have landed right in their camp, if not on their tent.

Next time we're staying at a Holiday Inn Express.

Lost Valley

I decided to take the boys hiking on Lost Valley Trail, which is just a few miles down the road from our campground. It's a relatively short trail at 4 miles round trip. Simply hike two miles in and head back to the trailhead. Lost Valley is probably the most popular hiking trail in the Ozarks, and for good reason. It's got lots of beautiful and interesting rock formations, waterfalls, and caves, and it's a relatively flat and easy hike.

   Parking at the trailhead was crowded, but we managed to find a spot. We took off by crossing a small stream and then heading north up the valley. The first mile and a half is pretty much flat and easy. Along the route we got to the first bluff with a waterfall draining into a large swimming hole. They boys and I hiked up through the waterfall and catacombs and back onto the trail towards Eden Falls. Eden falls has an upper and lower section. After checking out the lower section, we hiked up to the upper falls and found a small cave where the stream runs out. The boys and I hiked and crawled through the cave to find a waterfall running out of the back. After hiking back to the trailhead, we found a beautiful meadow to wander around in the sun. It was a great day.

Steel Creek it is!

   After debating, I decided we'd camp along the Buffalo River in Arkansas instead of heading to Onondaga Caves. I had planned to work in a STL trip with the boys after camping at Onondaga. I started making plans for us to hang out around Forest Park and hit the City Museum until my wife asked that we not have lots of fun without her since she had to work over spring break.  I wasn't going to spend my spring break in boss lady's dog house, and the Buffalo is awesome, so I wisely obliged.

    We decided to stay at Steel Creek Campground, which is about and hour and a half east of Springdale, next to the tiny village of Ponca. Steel creek is a very secluded a primitive campground for only tent campers. There is a horse camp on the other side of the campground. It sits along the Buffalo river with Roark Bluff towering about 100 feet overhead. The boys loved the views and playing in the river, but they were mad that I'd forgotten their fishing poles. We planned to stay for two nights. The first night was nice and calm, but mother nature had other plans for us on night #2.

Soccer Season

   This year, my five year old is starting his second season of soccer. He played last year and loved it. My oldest, who is my shy one, decided to stick to baseball this year. He's played soccer in the past, but is more content to run around on the field offering support to his teammates and observing the scrum rather than jumping into it.

   Not the case with my youngest.
   I'm really excited to watch him play. He loves challenging for the ball and trying to score goals. Granted, he's five, so I'm being careful to not get overly coachy and just let him enjoy being a kid. This past week, he had his first game, and it did not go down the way I had envisioned it.

   As the game started, it became clear pretty quickly that his coach and the opposing team's coach had absolutely no idea about the rules of soccer. After the initial kickoff, it was kind of like watching a slow train wreck. I quietly muttered to my wife " that shouldn't be a throw in," or, " that's not a goal kick". Each time I got the look and stern rebuff of " don't embarrass us." I had wanted to coach, even offered to coach, because the soccer club sent an email out to parents asking for help finding coaches. I had emailed them back offering my help, since I had done it in the past, and never got a reply. I was just about to call them or post on their facebook page when I got the phone call from my son's coach talking about his first practice. Ugh.

   I started noticing other parents squirming in their seats when a kick went out of bounds and the same team got the ball back. Once the teams lined up on the opposite sides of midfield for the second kickoff, my wife was firmly in my camp.

   Here comes the cherry on top...A girl on my son's team gets knocked down and comes up screaming and crying. The girl, obviously a little shaken up, looks and seems completely fine, but probably just needs a hug and mom or dad to kiss the owwie. Nope. She continues to scream (and I mean scream), and cry for at least a solid minute, right behind where I'm standing. I look back to make sure she's okay and her dad says, "She's kinda emotional." After screaming for a solid minute and a half about the owwie, I hear mom say " If you stop crying, I'll buy you a milkshake." I give my wife the side eye, and get it right back.  Little miss continues wailing until mom ups the milkshake size from a small to a medium, settles down, and calmly retakes her place on the sideline next to us.

Answer your emails people.

March Madness

Spring time is my favorite season. I love how everything turns green again after a long, hard stare at browns and greys. I also love the return to warmth (but not hot), backyard fires in the firepit, and longer daylight hours. I'm a big sports fan as well, and the NCAA Basketball Tournament just happens to fall during this time of year.

    March Madness is, In my opinion, the best sporting event in all of sports. I'm not a huge basketball fan in general. I think the NBA is so boring, and college hoops is definitely behind college football in terms of my interest level, but the NCAA Tournament is just incredible. You have 64(ish) teams all competing against one another for the right to be called the champion. It's something that never happens in football. There are way too many boring football bowl games, and the little guy never gets a chance to match skills against the powerhouse teams of the sport. It's always amazing to see the underdog beat the better team and watch they players and fans go crazy. It's the beauty of the tournament. One team who, if they played 10 times, would beat the other team 9 out of 10 games, goes down to the tiny school you've probably never heard of. I look forward to another round of exciting and upsetting games.

Spring Break

   I'm definitely excited for spring break. This has been a great year thus far with our sixth grade team, but like everyone, you need a good break to get away from everyone and everything from time to time. It's nice to just be able to turn your brain off a bit and relax. Enjoying the outdoors is something I love doing, so I plan to take advantage of my break by spending time with my kids outside. One thing I've learned after living in several different places across the United States is that I'm not a hot weather person. I hate hot weather, so now is definitely the time to enjoy some outdoor activity.
   Right now the plan is to either go camping at Onondaga State Park, or head south to the Buffalo River in Arkansas. Last year the kids and I had a great time checking out the caves in Meramec State Park, and I've heard that Onondaga is bigger and better. As a kid, I spent a lot of weekends climbing in the Ozarks along the Buffalo. After we moved away, it was a place I really missed and wanted to return to. Now that we've moved back to the midwest, I definitely want my kids to experience it. We'll also be heading to the grandparents' for a night or two. My hometown has a giant park that my kids love visiting. I grew up pretty lucky to have good outdoor areas close by.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Indoor Camping

   If you're looking for a new hobby, I have an exciting new experience to share with you. It's called indoor camping. Have you ever wanted to camp next to a hot smoky fire without the usual outdoor nuisances (bugs, wind, rain, and cold)? It's actually quite simple to accomplish. I tried it out just this morning!

   Indoor camping is relatively easy provided you have the right elements in play. First, and most important, is to have either a fireplace or wood burning stove. I have a wood burning stove, which is an added plus as you can harness the entire smoke output of your fire in a very small area. Next, you'll need very high winds to force the smoke back down your chimney pipe and into an indoor area. Finally, you need some good seasoned wood for optimal smoke.

   My experiment began early this morning. After running a nice hot fire throughout the night in my stove under calm winds, I woke up to notice a bed of hot coals still glowing behind the glass stove door. I decided in order to keep the house heated through the day while I was at work, I'd add 2 logs to the coals. I'd done this many times before, and even though the idea of a fire slowly burning in an empty home is a bit unnerving, I've always had good luck doing this.

   What I failed to realize is that since building the fire the evening before, the weather outside had evolved from a calm but rainy night into a gusty nightmare of winds reminiscent of a small tropical storm. Shortly after adding the wood, my indoor camping adventure began. I was in the kitchen getting breakfast ready for my kids when I noticed the overwhelming smell of campfire surrounding me. I returned to the living room to find a billowing indoor cloud of campfire smoke coming out of the vents of my wood stove. HOW EXCITING! I wasn't expecting this new hobby to reveal itself on a Monday morning, but I felt the adrenaline surging threw me as I attempted to expel the smoke out the front and back doors that I left wide open on a 38 degree morning.

   My wife gave me a puzzled look and exclaimed, "What's going on???" She was obviously not as into indoor camping as I was. She then said, "I'll take the kids to school for you" seeing how busy and engrossed I was in my new hobby as I ran from the front to the back of the rooms trying to keep the doors open. I was excited about my new hobby, but unfortunately the timing for this attempt was not optimal considering I was supposed to be driving to work at the moment. As much as I love camping, I was not dressed adequately for the event in my slacks, cardigan work sweater, and dress shoes. Unfortunately they all reeked of smoke as I had to take wet hand towels, grab flaming logs from the wood stove, and run to my backyard fire pit to extinguish them. Even though I was having an incredible time, I needed to get to work (I know, super bummed).

   I was sooo disappointed that I had to open every door and turn on every fan to remove as much smoke as possible in the shortest amount of time. I wanted to keep camping. Even more disappointing was the fact that I had to change out of my camp clothes, take a quick shower to remove as much smoke from my beard and hair as possible, and then dress back into civilian attire.
Luckily, I made it to school before the first bell rang. I had a great new story and hobby to share with my peers. When I arrived home this afternoon, the overwhelming aroma of fire greeted me at the door, bringing back all those fond memories of my newest hobby, indoor camping.

Little Ones

   This week we welcomed a new member to the family. My wife’s sister and her husband had their first child, a girl, named Emma. We are all pretty excited since she’s the youngest of my wife’s siblings and has been wanting to join the parenthood club. On the Emmot side of the family there are already 9 grandkids. We have two boys and my brother in law and his wife have 7 (yes, 7) kids (6 girls, 1 very outnumbered boy).
   We’re headed to Kansas City to visit them in the hospital. Before I had kids, holding babies used to freak me out. Not because I didn’t like kids, but because newborns are so small and helpless. It was always my worst fear that one would slip through my hands or that I’d do a terrible job keeping that little head supported. I don’t know if I held a newborn before I held my first child. 

   Now…it’s no big deal. My youngest son absolutely loves babies and wants to hold every little baby he sees. He’s five, so he’s not exactly well versed in the fine motor dept. yet, but I don’t mind helping him as long as we have a comfy couch with armrests. It’s great holding a baby again now that my kids are bigger, especially since I get to give them back when they start crying. I love my kids, but I knew the second my youngest was born that our family was complete and  we’d left the delivery wing of the hospital for the last time. Having 2 kids is the best ever. They love each other so much and are the best of friends. We also really enjoy not being outnumbered.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Deep Thoughts

   I grew up watching Saturday Night Live. It's an absolute train wreck now, but some of my fondest TV memories were of Hans and Franz, the church lady, Mr. Robinson, Wayne and Garth, and Bass-o-matic. I don't know if I ever laughed harder than when I heard some really great Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey. There were always snoozers, but every 3rd or 4th thought was pure magic. To this day, I still get online and read one now and then. It's a quick and easy way to put a smile on your face. And now...Deep Thoughts, by Jack Handey. 

"To me, it’s always a good idea to always carry two sacks of something when you walk around. That way, if anybody says, “Hey, can you give me a hand?,” you can say, “Sorry, got these sacks.”

"It’s funny that pirates were always going around searching for treasure, and they never realized that the real treasure was the fond memories they were creating."

"Dad always thought laughter was the best medicine, which I guess is why several of us died of tuberculosis."

" I hope if dogs ever take over the world, and they chose a king, they don’t just go by size, because I bet there are some Chihuahuas with some good ideas."

"Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes."

"Children need encouragement. If a kid gets an answer right, tell him it was a lucky guess. That way he develops a good, lucky feeling."

"If you’re a cowboy and you’re dragging a guy behind your horse, I bet it would really make you mad if you looked back and the guy was reading a magazine."

"Maybe in order to understand mankind, we have to look at the word itself: “Mankind.” Basically, it’s made up of two separate words, mank and ind. What do these words mean? It’s a mystery, and that’s why so is mankind."

Tuesday, March 7, 2017


I read Sarah West's post tonight about creating good habits (eating healthier).  I definitely need to eat healthier and become more active and exercise,  but that is not a post for today.

   Her post got me thinking about some of my favorite habits.  If I had to pick a personal weakness, it'd have to be coffee. I'm not sure what my life would be like if I didn't have coffee. I'm guessing It would consist of 2 to 4 weeks of existential crisis followed by a return to life as normal. Since I like being nice to people,  I'll take a hard pass on that idea for the time being.  For the past few hours, I've been reveling in the joy of my newest coffee-related purchase.

    I don't know how many 36 year old men have ever driven home anxiously to pick up the box sitting on the doorstep containing their new stainless steel 6 cup pour over kettle, but I literally just wrote that sentence. You could say life has slowed considerably since my years backpacking around glaciers, and you'd be 100 percent correct.  The way I make coffee is probably different than most. I always seem to take something simple and purposely make it harder. Making coffee is simple. Scoop the grounds into the filter in the basket of the machine. Pour in the water. Press the button. OR for the digitally inclined... grab the plastic pod of coffee.Put it in the machine. Push the button. Hey, coffee!

    Here's my method: purchase beans (I'm fondest of the Ethiopian/Kenyan varietal) from my favorite roasterie in Madison, WI online. Get beans and store them in my vacuum sealed container. Remove beans from container as needed, measure them out by gram on my digital scale. Dependent on to the amount I'm brewing, apply my 14x multiplier of grams of beans/ grams of water ratio, and then measure the appropriate water addition.  Heat the water to 195-205 degrees (205+ extracts tannins, no bueno) and take a temp reading with my digital thermometer. As I'm heating the water, grind the beans in my conical burr grinder, rinse my paper filter, and then place it in my ceramic dripper. Add the ground beans to the filter, add 40-60 grams of heated water, wait for the bloom (seriously, don't ask) and then continue adding water while weighing the output on a digital scale. After about 3-5 minutes, I've added all the water I'll need, waited for the dripper to stop dripping, and be ready to drink my coffee. By the way, this nets me exactly one cup of coffee.

    Before the kettle, I'd heat the water in a pyrex glass in the microwave, or simmer it in a pot on the stove. The kettle is a game changer. It holds the temp so perfectly and it's spout is specifically designed for the pour over method. I don't know why I didn't get one sooner (actually I do,  and if you've read this far, you can figure out why). If that wasn't bad enough, lately I've been thinking about how it doesn't make much sense to continue buying freshly roasted beans when I can buy green ones much cheaper, and begin roasting them in the comfort of my own home. I'm just a few geeky contraptions away from this becoming a possibility. After a short learning curve, I'll almost have this whole operation down to a science!

   I brewed my wife some coffee the other day. She promptly added creamer, 2 packets of sugar, and told me it tasted "fine."

Monday, March 6, 2017


Today's post of "Off the beaten path" will highlight a spot a lot closer to home. One the best places for camping and outdoor recreation in Missouri is Meramec State Park. Located about 3 hours from Webb City off I-44, Meramec is a sprawling 7,000 acre park offering plenty of activities to is guests. Campers can find spots along the clear waters of the Meramec river running beneath towering limestone bluffs. There is plenty of great fishing and swimming along the river, and you can paddle along the waters in a canoe or kayak.

 If hiking is your thing, there are over 13 miles or wilderness trails available. The wilderness trail is an 8 mile loop with primitive camping spots along the route. If you're not a camper, there are furnished cabins and a hotel available to guests.

   The highlight of the park is the over 40 mapped caves located on it's grounds. The biggest and best of these is Fisher Cave. For a small fee,  you can take a guided 1 hour tour through part of the cave. With the summertime temps in the mid 90's, I decided to bite the bullet and take my 4 and 7 year old sons into the cave which has 50 degree year round temps. I had 2 main worries before entering the cave 1) there are no lights inside the cave whatsoever, and you travel along using flashlights provided by your guide 2) 4 and 7 year old boys aren't known for efficiently managing themselves should the need for a "potty break" arise. My main concern was getting deep into the inside of the cave, watching my 7 year old freak out when he dropped his flashlight rendering it useless, while shifting my light over the corner to witness my 4 year old taking a pee break on a stalagmite.

   Luckily, none of that happened. My boys were champs. They bravely handled the dark cave and stayed calm. In actuality, due to the tight and cramped nature of caves, little kids are some of the best caving partners to have. They can walk upright while adults have to waddle and crawl through low passageways. Some of the highlights of the hike were finding cave salamanders hunting for bugs along streams. Our guide also pointed to ancient scrapes made along the walls by bears who used to hibernate in the cave hundreds of year ago. Sadly, there was rampant evidence of damage done by humans. Many stalactites and stalagmites were visibly broken. In one section of the cave, graffiti

from the early 1900's was still plainly visible. People would journey into the cave and write their names and dates along the walls.

I definitely recommend checking out Meramec if you are looking for a fun and inexpensive family getaway .

Off the Beaten Path 3

Most people would say that Hawaii, by definition, is off the beaten path due to its remote location. However, once you arrive in Hawaii, you'll quickly realize that a majority of the islands are teeming with residents and tourists. If you want to experience a busy island that still offers the chance to get away from the crowds, check out Maui, and specifically the Island village of Hana.
   Hana is found on the remote southeast corner of the island. The most popular way to get there from the more populated side of the island is by driving the famed "Hana Highway." It's only 52 miles long, but it'll take you close to 3 hours without stopping due to the numerous hairpin curves, one lane bridges, and people stopping to admire the incredible scenery. On your way here are a few great places to stop.


Twin Falls: Along the route. It's a great spot to pull over, hike the short trail, and go for a swim. It's one of the most famous of the many swimming holes along the Hana Highway.



 Wai'anapanapa State Park: The main draw here is the volcanic black rock beach. Please realize that this isn't sand, but tiny volcanic pebbles. It's rough but fun to walk around on. There is also a small cave that opens up into the ocean to check out. This isn't a great beach for relaxing or swimming honestly, as the winds channel some pretty serious waves into the coast. It picked me up and slammed me on the rocks as I was trying to wade onto shore.

After your drive, you'll arrive at the sleepy village of Hana. Since this is usually just a passing point for tourists, you get a glimpse of what a small native Hawaiian village unpolluted by mass tourism and beach hotels is like. Because it's on the opposite side of the giant Haleakala volcano, it is completely isolated from the rest of Maui. The mountain even blocks radio signals, meaning you'll only catch sounds and news from the big Island to the south. One scenic spot to check out in Hana is the secret red sand (Kaihalulu) beach. The red sand are the remnants of an ancient cinder cone of red lava.  

 If you have the time and patience, driving onward from Hana around the southern part of the island you can find the Palapala Ho'omau church and cemetary tucked away down a inconspicuous side road. This beautiful little cemetary overlooks the Pacific, and is the final resting place of Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator, who retired to Hana and spent his final years there. We literally spent a half hour driving down dirt road after dirt road hoping to find the cemetary, so patience is required. Just as we were about to give up, we found it. It was definitely worth the extra effort.

   Finally, you'll come the O'heo Gulch section of Haleakala National Park. This area contains spectacular waterfalls and swimming holes where you can relax, swim, or just take in the tropical beauty of the area. This section of the park contains the "seven sacred pools of O'heo." You can also take a 3 hour hike to the 400 foot Waimoku falls.

It's not an easy or inexpensive trip, but the trip to Hana, Maui is definitely worth it if you like traveling off the beaten path.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Off The Beaten Path 2

   The eclectic community of Polebridge,Montana stands at the Northwestern boundary of Glacier National Park.  If you are lucky enough to travel to Glacier (which I wrote about last year during S.O.L.) consider yourself already off the beaten path. However, you really do have to be willing to get a little lost to find Polebridge.

    At the western entrance to the park in West Glacier, you take a long, winding, gravel road north for 45 miles. You won't see any other towns or people, but you'll pass many mountain streams and wildflower meadows, with the opportunity to spot deer, elk, moose, or bear. The first time I went to Polebridge, I nearly missed it entirely. The community consists of around 100 residents, and only about half live there year-round. There is a small sign for the village off the gravel road that I zoomed past. If it wasn't for my buddy Ben riding shotgun, I likely would have kept going onward for miles before I realized my mistake.

     As soon as you pull into Polebridge, you'll see the famous Polebridge Mercantile, a seasonal general store and the only place where you can find general sundries, shopping, and necessary goods for people doing their best to purposefully get lost. They bake amazing and gigantic cinnamon rolls in the morning. Don't expect wifi or phone service while you're in Polebridge, it ain't happening. The entire place is off the grid and runs solely on solar power or gas generators. There is one restaurant, the Northern Lights Saloon and Cafe, which is run by some of the friendliest people I've ever met. The night we ate there, they shut the place down early to watch the Perseid Meteor Showers, which just happened to coincide with our visit. The staff and local residents invited us to a bonfire to watch the meteor shower with them and swap                                                                                           campfire stories.

Looking into the rugged and undeveloped Northwest section the park from Polebridge
A view of the entire town and its solar panels
     If you like watching stars, I can't think of a better place to visit than Polebridge. Since it's completely off the grid, with no other artificial lighting around for dozens of miles, the stargazing is simply beyond compare. I met a professor of astronomy who drove from Mississippi to watch the Perseids because he claimed it was the darkest spot in the lower 48 states. If you're staying the night, check out the North Fork Hostel. It's the only place in town to rent a bed for the night, and mainly hosts backpackers heading into the North Fork section of Glacier. It's owned by park ranger, Oliver, who is an eccentric German fellow who has many stories to share if you have the time. If you're a fan of flushing toilets, electricity, or central air conditioning, I'd advise you to head back towards the park, but if you don't mind it, the hostel is a great place to rent a bunk for the night. In the morning, you'll wake up to the sounds of the North Fork of the Flathead river running directly behind the hostel. Follow the road into the rugged northwest corner of Glacier for incredible views and solitude.

Off the Beaten Path

  Today I wanted to highlight some of my favorite places I've visited that were "off the beaten path." I guess the criteria to fit this would be a destination that is either 1) relatively unknown or less visited compared to a counterpart, 2) difficult or requiring more work to get to, or 3) both. 

   One of my favorite places to visit is western North Carolina. I lived in the south for 5 years, and the WNC mountains were easily my favorite place to visit. A place that holds a special place in my heart is the Dupont State Forest, which is about 45 minutes southeast of Asheville, North Carolina. It consists of about 10,000 acres and is incredibly beautiful, with tons of waterfalls to visit and over one hundred miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. The great thing about Dupont being  tucked away in the Pisgah Mountains is that it sees far less traffic from tourists, who usually head down the road to the equally awesome Smoky Mountains. 

     Dupont is most known for it's waterfalls. It was a major filming destination for the movie, "Last of the Mohicans" starring Daniel Day Lewis.  The famous scene shot beneath the waterfall was filmed at Bridalveil Falls. Dupont was also where most of the outdoor scenes for the movie "The Hunger Games" were filmed.  The entire area was previously owned and donated by the Dupont chemical company for conservation. There are sections of the forest that are fenced off  where a former Dupont factory stood. 

    Even though the falls in Dupont are spectacular, I spent most of my time there mountain biking. The single track in Dupont is incredible and world renowned. Cycling enthusiasts travel from all parts of the country to ride the network. The Big Rock Trail is one of my favorite areas. It consists of huge sections of granite rock that you can ride for miles, with pristine views. I highly recommend visiting the area and surrounding forests if you like hiking, camping, and adventure!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Welcome Back!

   Today I start my second year doing the Slice of Life Challenge. It's been a busy year with lots of surprises, changes, and memories. I won't bore you with all the details, as I'm sure you could say the same about yourselves, so I'll just spend my time today going over some interesting,random, and funny facts I've learned in the past year.

1. There's a volcano (Kawah Injen) in Indonesia that spews blue lava. 

2. Disney's Pixar Studios turned 30 in 2016. 

3. Bubble wrap was initially designed to be used as wallpaper.

4. Last year, The dates 04/04/2016, 06/06/2016, 08/08/2016, 10/10/2016 and 12/12/2016 all fell on the same day — Monday.

5. Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the 20 dollar bill. 

6. In the past year, scientists figured out how to link robotic limbs with the part of the brain that controls intent to move, so people don't have to think about how they will move the limb, it will just happen. 

7. Ice Bucket Challenge donations were credited with helping to find a major gene linked to step closer to a cure. 

8. Last July, volunteers in India smashed a world record by planting 50 million just 24 hours. 

9. Child mortality rates continue to decline worldwide, and are down 53% since 1990.

10. After reading this post, you will not recognize that the the brain does not recognize the second 'the.'