Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Folk Art or Insanity - Patrol Flags

The troop has been trying to re-align the patrols for a couple of months now.  But it's been tough because balance in the patrols seems to be a moving target.  The leadership's philosphy is to try and group the scouts by age rather than rank.  Although most scouts within an age group are more or less the same rank.  This allows the scouts to kind of mature and advance at the same rate.  And like ages are buddies outside of scouts. 

The problem is that we have one patrol whose members consistantly show up for meetings and camping trips, and three patrols that don't.  Add into the mix that April/May is cross-over season (when Webelos age out of cub scouts and cross-over into boy scouts) and the leaders keep erasing and writing names on the troop roster. 

So, we formed up patrols and let the boys come up with their own flags and cheers.  Below is what we got.  I think some of these boys will be doing time either in prison or a mental institution. 

The Pudge did the majority of this flag.  The patrol is mostly 14- 15 year olds.
The Honeybadgers originally wanted to be called "The Border Patrol".  This was the shoulder patch.  I liked it but it was nixed by the scoutmaster as possibly having racial overtones.  Another troop did there own version of the border patrol that got them into some trouble.  So I agreed with the scoutmaster on this even though we're in friggin' New Jersey, 400 miles from the nearest border - which is Canada.  Besides, BSA is already in enough trouble these days concerning political correctness.
This is the Flaming Dragons patrol.  Mostly 13 year olds.

This is the Raging Ravens.  They started the patrol as 11 year olds, but are now mostly 12 - 13 year olds.

This is the newest patrol, the Wolverines.  They are 11 - 12 year olds.  The new cross-over Webelos will enter this patrol.

But, as it turns out, we won't have any cross-overs this year.  The crop from the two Packs we support had a total of 5 cross-overs.  And they all went to another troop.  Part of me feels slighted - the other part feels...relief.  Now we have to get ready for our next camping trip - Gettysburg.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Weeknight Dinner - Pepper Steak

La Diva Cucina (former contestant on The Taste - Bwahahaha...sorry, I couldn't help myself) did a blog  a couple of weeks ago on a Meat and Potatoes Challenge that she undertook.  I mentioned to her that I was going to make my own meat and potatoes dish (actually meat and rice) and that maybe I'd post on it.  So here it is.

The Mrs. insists on doing most of the food shopping because she doesn't trust me to buy healthy food.  I like desserts and snacks - sue me.  Last weekend she came home with a London Broil (on sale).  Probably the most difficult (for me) cut of meat to work with because it always comes out tough.  I do have a soy-based marinade that works pretty good, but I have to know a day in advance that I'm going to make it and I'm getting a little bored with it. 

Those of you who know how I cook know that I usually don't know what I'm making until I get home from work - and then I have like 45 minutes to throw it together.  So knowing I had the London Broil in the fridge, I did some recipe searching in advance of "steak night".  One other thing that is new to the nightmare that is my life - I need to get everything approved by The Mrs. ahead of time because of her fickle and bland taste in food.  The last time I strayed off this path, I made a dish with a cream based sauce that she refused to eat ("don't you know cream and cheese upsets my stomach?" ... "no?  I didn't?") and she didn't talk to me for several days.  Lesson learned.

I did some research and found Maria's Pepper Steak recipe on AllRecipe.com.  It sounded good, had good reviews and there were no ingredients on The Mrs.' no-fly list.  All I needed was her approval, which I received. *ding ding ding ding ding - winner!*

This recipe is pretty straight forward.  I noted several reviewers said that it could be salty or thin, so I kept that in mind as I prepped and cooked.  Also, I added a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce.  After I had it all in the pan, the smell was very vinegary.  I tasted it and it did taste salty, so I added a couple of tablespoons of sugar.  And the sauce wasn't reducing and thickening as much as I wanted, so I added a tablespoon of cornstarch (mixed in a little water) and that thickened it up nicely.  What do you think?

After Action Report:  When The Mrs. came home from work, she immediately commented on the vinegar smell.  I started to get nervous.  But it was too late to do anything else but serve it (over rice).  This tasted great!  The steak could have been a little more tender (I may cook it a little longer next time) but the flavor was outstanding.  It had a slight sweetness, tangy from the Worcestershire sauce and not too vinegary or salty at all.  The Pudge had seconds.  And The Mrs. really seemed to like it.  Unbelievable!  This is a keeper.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

There's Gold in Them There Hills - the Klondike Derby

 Every other year, the troop participates in a council wide event called the Klondike Derby.  Most councils in the cold regions of the US (and Canada) hold some version of this race.  It's held at the same scout reservation as the Highland Games.  And as in years past, we only go for the Saturday events, rather than camping the entire weekend (26 January).  A lot of troops do camp, but I'll bet they were sorry they did this year. More on that later. 

The Klondike Derby is an homage to the dog sledders of the Iditarod and the Klondike Gold Rush.  Each patrol (and we had 2 this year) has a dog sled with tow rope for the "dogs" to pull the sled.  The troop is given a list of gear needed for each sled as well as a general idea of the events that the scouts will be participating in.   There were seven events this year, and each patrol would participate in three of them - but wouldn't know which ones until the day of the event.  The patrols compete in groups of three (two patrols from other troops) and are awarded "gold nuggets" by each event organizer at their discretion.  They take into account teamwork, sportsmanship and skill in awarding the nuggets.  The nuggets are weighed at the end of the event to determine the winners.  First, second and third in each group, so everyone is a winner.  And to really torment the scouts, the nuggets are gold wrapped candy. 

We spent the last few meetings honing scout skills such as knot tying, fire building and first aid.  The sleds were built years ago and are in very good shape.

Because we weren't camping, we had to travel down to the camp on Friday night for a pre-event meeting.  And of course, there was a small snow storm.  We ended up getting a couple of inches that night with the temperature in the teens.  Me, the scoutmaster, Simple J and the Pudge drove down (on some icy roads) to attend the meeting.  Fortunately, it's only about a ten mile ride.  And it was cold.  I felt sorry for those poor bastards at the meeting that were camping. 

We gathered the boys at our church bright and early at 7:00AM on Saturday morning.  It was a balmy 15 degrees.  Opening ceremonies started at 8:00AM at the camp.  There were probably two dozen or so sleds entered in the event.
As soon as we arrived at camp, the boys got the sleds out of the van and started puling it over to the parade field.  This was sled #2 with a lot of our younger scouts.
This was sled #1 with the Pudge (he's the one with the white ski tag on his chest) and the more senior scouts (including Simple J on the far right).

I followed the Pudge's patrol around for the day.  Their first event was the frozen lake crossing.  They had to use materials they packed (rope, staves, etc.) to build a rig that would allow them to take their sled across the "frozen lake" (tarp) with out the sled touching the lake.  The scouts were allow to walk on the lake but it wouldn't support the sled and the scouts at the same time.  They ended up rigging a line between two trees.

The first station was the frozen lake crossing exercise.
Their second event was archery.  Although they all love archery, what made this tough was they had to take their gloves off to shoot.  They did really well in this event.
The second station was the archery range.  That's the Pudge shooting.  He put his first arrow over the dirt backstop. 
The third and final event was the shepherd's sling (think David and Goliath).  They had 30 minutes to sling as many small super balls as they could at a stack of cups.  They received points for each cup they knocked down.  Pretty simple, right?  Two other patrols were in the gaming area the same time as our patrol, and between them they knocked down 4 cups.  But our patrol had a secret weapon - Simple J.  He is a tall, awkward boy that can barely walk, but he knocked down over 20 cups.  It was a good day for him.
The third station was the shepherd's sling.  The camp has a wooden "Fort Apache" type fort and this event was inside the fort.  I'm on the upper level looking down into the fort. 
Here's the fort from the outside (courtesy of the Southern New Jersey Council site).
Lunch Time!  Every scout (and leader) that participates in the Klondike is required to bring a can of soup (tomato or broth based) with them.  All of the cans are dumped into two large pots for the "Commissioner's Soup".  Scouts bring up their cups/bowls/thermal mugs and get their choice of soup - as much as they want.  It's surprisingly good - when you've been standing out in 20 degree weather for 5 hours. 

The boys taking a well deserved rest at lunch time.

One of the small ponds on the reservation.  I thought it unusual that so many ducks were in the water.

Oh My God!  Someone save those poor ducks!  Relax, they're just decoys.

See, the ducks are fine.
After lunch, the boys practiced their wood cutting skills by sawing logs with two-man saws and log splitting with hatchets and axes.  The wood was used for the evening bond fire, which we did not attend.

Then came the final activity of the day - the Iditarod Race.  This is a sled race from the lower parking lot up to the parade field.  It's about a 1/2 mile with about a 40 foot elevation change.  The boys raced in groups of 3.  Sled #1 (the Pudge's) race looked like a scene from Ben Hur or Gladiator.  Their sled runner got caught with another sled, and that sled flipped over, dumping all of it's gear.  One of the other sled's boys got hooked on the side rail of sled #1 and he was dragged several feet.  Fortunately, no one got hurt and sled#1 won the heat.  Sled #2 came in second in their heat.

The boys resting up for the dreaded Iditarod Race.

The boys of sled #1 (on the right) sprinting from the start of the Iditarod race.  I'm actually backpeddling as I'm taking this picture because they came at me so fast.
All said and done, after the nuggets were weighed, both Sled #1 and Sled #2 came away with 2nd place finishes.  A fine effort on a really cold day.  The boys took consolation in the fact that they were going home and the 1st place teams were camping out that night.  The temperature topped out at 27 degrees!

The Pudge and I couldn't stay for the awards ceremony because The Mrs bought tickets to see Heart down in Atlantic City that night.  I got home, showered (and thawed - my feet were frozen) and off we went to AC (no ticket for the Pudge).  And I'm glad we saw the concert.  We had good seats and Ann Wilson sounded great.  They encored with Led Zeppelin's Black Dog and that was a great song to end on.  I slept pretty good by the time we got home - at midnight.  A long day in the Yukon!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Uncle Henry...Delivers

You may recall a while back that I told you about my life growing up and living next to Uncle Henry and Aunt Pat. After he and Aunt Pat passed away, their property was sold to a developer who tore down the studio and gardens and subdivided the property into 5 parcels that have houses on them today.  Just prior to the sale, my sister L (who was closest of all of us to Uncle Henry) scavenged some of the artwork that Uncle Henry liked to make and display on the outbuildings on the property.  She has some of these still, but a bunch of items ended up in my mother's garage.  Well, when my mother passed five years ago, I cleaned out the garage and took some of these items to my house, where they have been languishing for years. 

So in early December, I stumbled (literally) over a sign that was from Uncle Henry's property.  He had a long, winding front walk that led up to the front door of the house, which they never used (or answered), so delivery people often got confused.  So Uncle Henry made a sign out of scrap wood that he hand carved, painted and attached to a post at the front door to send them to the back of the house.  This sign is at least 40 - 50 years old (probably older) and I can still see it (in my mind) along the walk. 

So I thought this would be a cool Christmas gift to give to L.  I knew she would immediately recognise it although she probably thought it was lost  forever.  Having been outside in the weather for decades, it was in rough shape.  So I cleaned and lightly sanded it first.  Then I put some metal straps on the back to hold it together and keep it from splitting any more.  Then I got some black, oil based stain and painted the bulk of the sign.  I had taken it up to the local Ace Hardware and they made the recommendation on the paint.  I next got some white and red acrylic paint from the local AC Moore and painted the lettering and arrow.  This took several coats and some tweaking with the black stain to get the lettering and arrow edges as clean as I could.  It probably took me longer to paint this then it did for Uncle Henry to carve it.  Finally, I added a hanger wire on the back so that L could hang it on the wall in her house.  This wouldn't last outside again.

The rear of the sign.  The wooden brackets are original.  The metal brackets and hanger wire were added by me.  Note the wood burned deer in the background.  The Pudge has taken to wood burning since his last Boy Scout Summer Camp.  The sketch and wood burning were done by hand.

Here's the finished sign.  I hung it on my wall just for picture taking.

A close -up of the carving work.  It's kind of hard to see in the picture.

Another close-up.

And even closer still.
I gave this to L last week and she was very touched by it.  It will have a new home on a wall in her den.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Jersey Kill's Florida Christmas Vacation

Yeah, I know I haven't posted in a while... and not from a lack of priceless material, because there's always plenty of that to go around.  I've just been busy and in a pre/post-election sour mood. 

So The Mrs. got this idea in her head (I'm sure it was the voices) that the Kill family needed to travel (by air) on the worst travel week of the year to sunny Florida for a Christmas vacation. She booked the flights, rented a house and made arrangements to meet up with her childhood friend T and T's family, who flew in from Germany. All right - fine, I'll go to Florida for Christmas.  The first time in my life that I wasn't home for Christmas.  The Boy and his main squeeze "L" were home from school, so both of them, along with The Mrs., me and the Pudge took this trip. 

To start the trip off, on the day before the flight I got a 24-hour stomach virus (that apparently is all the rage now).  It hit me on Friday while I was in the office.  I ended up puking in a trash can.  Fortunately, I was fine by the time I got on the plane the next afternoon.  We flew Southwest through Nashville, and even though we were 45 minutes late taking off, the pilot made up most of the time, we made our connection and arrived in Tampa on time.  We had 6 bags checked and all arrived safely (and free on SouthWest - I like this airline).  Oh, this is priceless too.  The Mrs. packed a carry-on bag for me to...carry on...that was full of Christmas gifts that The Mrs. insisted on taking down so "the kids will have something to open on Christmas day".  Unbeknown to me, two of the gifts were nerf guns. So as I'm waiting for my bag to come out of the scanner, I hear the TSA agent call out "Gun check!", my friggin' jaw dropped.  I thought I was going to jail, or at the very least, that a body cavity search would be involved.  The TSA agent was very nice about it, unwrapped the two boxes, saw that they were hermetically sealed toys - and sent us on our way.

We rented an SUV and drove down to Anna Maria Island - a small barrier island southwest of St. Petersburg.  By the time we got the keys for the house from the realtor's drop box and found the right house (got it on the 2nd try - I hope we didn't scare the people down the street too badly), we were unloaded and in bed by midnight.

The house was nice.  Three bedrooms, 3 baths, kitchen and a heated pool.  It was on one of the main drags into the island, so there was a lot of traffic noise, but I tried to keep myself drunk enough that it didn't bother me.  We were only one block from a nice beach that had an outdoor cafe and bar.  But the weather, well that wasn't the Christmas-in-Florida weather we had in mind.  It only rained once, but it was pretty cold.  The 2 warmest days got into the low 70s, but with high winds.  I stood on the beach a couple of times with my feet in the 60 degree water, but that was it.  I never got the bathing suit out of the suitcase.  The kids swam in the pool twice, but the air was just too cold.

The Mrs., the Pudge, L, the Boy and me doing a Segway pitstop.
 We did a bunch of touristy things, the most interesting being a one hour Segway trip.  I've never ridden one of these things before, but after 10 minutes of instruction and practice, it was a lot of fun.  This was the highlight of the trip.

The other damper on the trip was - stomach virus.  The one I had went through the entire family.  The Boy had it for 2 days and I never saw someone puke and crap (a couple of times simultaneously) as much as he did.  But the Pudge got it in the most spectacular way imaginable.  Christmas day, we went to the Columbia Restaurant in Sarasota.  We had advanced reservations and it's a good thing we did.  It's a Cuban restaurant that's been there for 100 years and was frequented by Marylin Monroe and Joe DiMaggio back in the day when they were a couple.  The place easily holds 300 people - and it was packed.  There were 8 of us and it was a very nice dinner.  I finished paying the bill and we were about to leave when the Pudge came back from the bathroom, sat down on the bench seat between our table and the next table and proceeded to projectile vomit all over the floor.  I heard several ooohs and eeews as The Mrs. grabbed him and took the Pudge and everyone else, but me, out of the restaurant.  I apologized profusely to the waiter and people at the adjacent tables, reassuring them it was a stomach virus and not he food.  I then made a hasty retreat, going past the maĆ®tre d' station where the crowd had parted because of a second deposit that the Pudge left there on the floor (it was covered in linen napkins).  He threw up one more time after we got home - all over his bedroom floor.  The Boy woke up The Mrs. and me and then went back to retrive his sneekers, which a little splatter on them.  Didn't offer to help with the cleaning at all - typical.

The Mrs. and L got the virus too, but not near as bad as the boys.  The rest of the trip was uneventful...until we flew home...because it was USAir.  The direct flight left on time and arrived early and I thought, "this is great, I always have bad experiences with USAir".  Then we got down to baggage claim.  Everyone on the plane was waiting at the assigned carousel, only to be told by a porter that our luggage was 3 carousels down.  It's freaky how many times this has happened to me with USAir at Philadelphia.  No exaggeration - 75% of the time the bags will be on a carousel that is different from the one listed on the monitor.  And it will take a minimum of a half hour for the bags to get there - WORST BAGGAGE HANDLING PERIOD.  And this time around, 5 out of 6 bags were damaged.  That's over 80% of our bags damaged including L's brand new $400 designer one that she used for the first time (2 of 4 wheels were ripped off).  And they charged us $160 to boot.  So now we're fighting with USAir to repair or replace them, which included the Boy making a trip to the airport the next day to drop the empty bags there.

An interesting side note while we were in the baggage claim office.  A man came walking in carrying a rifle case - and he was pissed.  Gun cases are supposed to be hand carried and delivered to the owner in baggage claim.  He found his circling on one of the carousels where anyone could have grabbed it and walked out the door (there was no mistaking what it was).  And no one in the office, including a Philadelphia police officer, seemed to care.  "We'll make a note of it" was the answer he got.  I wonder how many times this has happened?  The Mrs. was so horrified that she called the airport the next day to report the incident.  Only to be told it was a USAir problem and she would have to call them.  She gave up after hearing that.

So there you have it, the misadventures of the Kill family on their own version of Christmas Vacation.  It's even money we'll do it again next year.

Addendum:  I've been sitting on this story for a couple of weeks in the hope of getting some pictures, but The Mrs.  has them on her camera and she hasn't downloaded them to the computer.  So I'm letting this story go with just the one picture.  Sue me!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Halloween - November 5th?

Well, enough about politics and the total destruction of the American way of life.  Let's talk about Halloween.

With New Jersey still feeling the sting from Hurricane Sandy, Governor Chris Christie moved (by official, executive, double-secret decree) Halloween to Monday, November 5th.  This worked out great for The Pudge and his buddies who work the annual haunted house.  They did their last haunted house on Saturday (November 3rd) and that freed them up to go trick-or-treating.  Even though it was pretty cold, they had a great time.  And I didn't have to go with them - which was a big plus.

Some of the boys you know from past blogs.  Simple J is the Detective, The Pudge is the Standing Ghost (you'll have to take my word on that) and Birch is on the far right (I'm not sure what he was supposed to be).

Supposedly, someone took a video of a stroll through this year's haunted house.  If I can find it, I'll post it.  It was really impressive this year.  They had a midget - for real.  

Monday, November 5, 2012

Haiku Monday - Cover

M_APs, GPS…d’oh!

A look up will save life or

Down river you go.

As a kid, I never read The New Yorker, but I read an awful lot of MAD.  What better way to marry the two together and show my disdain for all things cellular?

The original New Yorker Cover circa. March 29, 1976

Comparison between the original and the Mad cover.