Tuesday, May 31, 2016


One of the plaques at the entrance to Memorial Park in Thurmont, MD.

This past weekend, for many, was a three day weekend filled with cookouts, trips to the beach and the official start of summer. But for many others this past weekend marks a time for solitude and remembrance for those servicemen and women who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. 
Monument at Memorial Park in Thurmont.
As with many other holidays in America, we have forgotten the real meaning behind why we even have the holiday. I think had we kept the original name, Decoration Day, more people might realize what this day is supposed to signify. It is not a day to honor our veterans (Veteran’s Day) or a day to honor our men and women who are actively serving (Armed Force’s Day). It is a day to honor those who have served and paid for our freedom with their blood by laying flowers on their graves. At least that’s what I used to think until yesterday.
Thurmont scouting units presenting the colors.
Each Memorial Day the American Legion in my small town pays its own tribute to those fallen brothers and sisters. The scouts and the Legion place flags upon their graves and hold a solemn memorial service at our town’s Memorial Park. It’s a sobering affect each year as the number of veterans paying tribute slowly dwindles.
Ryley and I in front of the Korean Conflict Memorial.
After the flag raising and wreath laying ceremony at Memorial Park Ryley and I posed for a picture in front of the Korean Conflict Memorial, as my father is a veteran of that conflict. I noticed another scout leader in front of the Vietnam Conflict Memorial with his son. He was explaining how his father had served in Vietnam but was lucky enough to make it home alive. He went on to relay how he had recently passed away due, in large part, to complications from Agent Orange.
The original Memorial at Memorial Park, for our town's WWI heroes.
Then it hit me. Even though this man had not given his life while in Vietnam, he surely had given the rest of his life living with the effects from the war. Just because he managed to live out a full life doesn’t mean his sacrifice was any less. I am sure he endured pain and suffering because of his exposure to Agent Orange. Nor does it mean that any other veteran, whether injured during battle or with PTSD, hasn’t sacrificed more than they had to for our freedom. Maybe Memorial Day needs to be something more than what it was intended to be after all. Maybe we should start recognizing those who have sacrificed all, or part, of themselves for our freedom. In doing so perhaps we can change this from a three-day weekend of partying into what it truly ought to be; a day to recognize and appreciate all those that have sacrificed to give us the freedoms we hold so dear. Until then keep taking your kids outdoors… 
Words cannot thank them enough.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Outdoor Research Bug Bivy: Test Drive

My Outdoor Research Buy Bivy sure came in handy!
So this past weekend saw me fishing on the banks of the Potomac River with the Boy Scouts. As I mentioned I had the pleasure of staying at Lions Camp Merrick. The camp was not the traditional “summer camp” experience I was used to. The camp actually has cabins with bathrooms, electricity, bunk beds and air-conditioning. I wouldn’t need any of my camping gear at all!
One of the many cabins at Camp Merrick.
About five minutes after I unpacked the minimal equipment I would be using, sleeping bag and pillow, I came to the realization that I was WRONG. Although the camp had cabins with all the amenities I could wish for (like an electrical outlet to charge my phone) I forgot I was camping with a bunch of kids. Before I had even arrived someone must have left the door and windows wide open in my cabin because the interior was infested with mosquitoes!

Honestly mosquitoes hadn’t really crossed my mind as something I would need to worry about while at Lions Camp Merrick. I hadn’t even realized, because of all the rain and cold temperatures we had been having, that mosquitoes were even out. Luckily for me I had planning our upcoming trip for summer camp and ordered Ryley and me some pretty awesome bug nets. I ended up putting mine to the test a little earlier than expected!
A picture of the bivy laid out on the ground.
Now to be fair my review of this product is limited to just one night’s use, in a cabin. I plan on doing a more in depth review once I get back from summer camp. A good 7 days being abused by scouts should give me enough time to form an educated opinion.
A close up on the pole as well as the bathtub floor.
Specifications: Features No-see-um mesh and Hydroseal bathtub floor. It weighs in at 16 ounces and comes with Outdoor Research's "Infinite Guarantee."

Hits: To say the bivy is light weight is an understatement. Since the top part is made up of mesh it’s understandable as to why this is so light. The mesh also makes it airy and lets all the light in. Another positive is the bathtub floor. Not only does it keep the water and wetness out, as a sealed system, it also keeps the bugs out! That was always my one complaint about regular bug nets at summer camp. The insects would inevitably find their way up under the net and into my sleeping area. With this bivy that issue is completely eliminated.

Misses: Unless you are able to use guy-lines it has a tendency to not stay off of your skin. This poses a problem because the insects can then bite through the netting. However with two pieces of rope, tied to the existing loops on the bivy, this issue is eliminated. The only other thing that was an issue for me was getting in and out of the bivy. The zipper it located at the top, or head, of the bivy. You literally have to slide your way into it. To be fair I was not using it how it was designed. I was using it on top of a mattress in a bunk bed. So getting into the bivy was very difficult. I can see this also being an issue once we get to summer camp because we sleep on Army cots.

Ideal for: Minimalist hikers/campers as well as scouts. Works well in dry hot conditions but I can see how this would also work very well while using a tarp.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Rain, rain go away!

My view for the weekend.
Rain. That’s what it has been doing every day for the past two weeks. Rain. It makes for horrible camping. It makes for horrible fishing. It makes a horrible mess. But, we don’t let that stop us. As Scouts and Scouters we learn to be prepared. We learn to endure. As our boys so proudly proclaim “If it’s rainin’ we’re trainin’, if it’s snowin’ we’re goin’!” With that in mind I headed down to Nanjemoy, MD this past weekend for one part training, one part fishing and one part brotherhood.
Lions Camp Merrick.
Lions Camp Merrick was the site for my BSA Certified Angling Instructor course and is located on the banks of the Potomac River. During the summer the Lions Club runs the camp for children with special needs. We were allowed to use the camp this weekend because the local Boy Scout District, Zekiah, was hosting their annual Ordeal weekend for the Order of the Arrow (OA). The OA is the National Honor Society for Boy Scouts.
Jacob with a nice blue catfish.
The camp features a fishing pier as well as “beach” access to the Potomac. Upon arrival the river was the color of chocolate milk from all the recent rains. After getting unpacked and settled in I headed down to the pier to see if any of the scouts were having success. For most of the evening the caught white perch but just after 9:00 one scout, Jacob, was able to hook into a pretty decent size blue catfish. I stayed up nearly half the night, after everyone else went to bed, continuing to catch and release the white perch.
My San Juan Worm. Now I just needed a bottle of tequila.
The next morning we were up early to start our instruction. Throughout the day we attended classroom trainings, received hands on instruction on how to fly-fish and even how to tie flies.  I even managed to fit in a walk/jog, in my new Altra Instinct 3.5, along the river where I scored some sea glass! I didn’t do too badly on tying my San Juan Worm either but I struggled with my casting. Before the night was over though the rain struck again. But just as quickly as the rain and wind had come, they left taking the warm temperatures with them.

Just a small fraction of the sea glass I collected.
That meant only one thing, time to go fishing. Unlike the previous evening the white perch hadn’t decided to show up just yet. So we all cast out our lines with either cut bait or earth worms. As luck would have it I nailed a nice blue catfish on the cut bait and about an hour later pulled in a tiny bluecat on an earth worm. That’s when everything went downhill. I attempted to de-hook the small catfish with my bare hands. That turned out to be a painful lesson for me to learn as the small pectoral fins from the catfish sunk themselves into the side of my hand.
Me and my bluecat.
So the next time the sun comes out take your fishing pole and some bait and head out to the river in search of some catfish. You won't regret it. Just make sure you don't get yourself stuck like I did. Until then keep taking your kids outdoors...

Friday, May 6, 2016

Altra Instinct 3.5: First Impression

My new Altra Instinct 3.5 shoes.
As the old adage goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”. My first impression of my new Altra Instinct 3.5?


I haven’t been able to run in them yet, but I did manage to wear them around all day yesterday. The shoes felt great on my feet. The FootShape™ toe box is a welcome relief and allows for ample room for my little piggies to move around. The shoes look well designed and are aesthetically pleasing to the eye. The toe box is slightly wider and less rounded than other shoes but that’s part of their charm. I am reminded of one of my favorite movies, Crazy People, in describing Volvo cars, “Yes they are boxy, but they’re safe.”

My only negative feedback so far on the Instinct 3.5 is the laces are too short for my tastes. I have fat fingers and find it difficult to double knot them. 

Other than that I love my new Altra’s. Once the wet weather rolls out here on the East Coast I plan to take them out for a spin. Until then keep taking your kids outdoors…

Thursday, May 5, 2016


It's time to unbox!

After a long wait my second Experticity #expertgear item has arrived! Check out my unboxing video below to find out what I got. Look out for my initial thoughts on this product within the next week and a more detailed review in June. Until then keep taking your kids outdoors…

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Taco Tuesday!

Made from fish I caught while testing #expertgear.
Last month I posted about two underutilized pieces of fish; the cheeks and the collar. I offered up quite a bit of info on how to cook the later so today I am going to concentrate on the former; fish cheeks. If you missed my post you can read it here.

One of the reasons I didn’t delve into much detail on how you can prepare fish cheeks is because most of the time you will only get a pair of them, as the limit on trophy striper is one. When the season opens up you can catch two fish, but those are usually smaller. That still isn’t very much meat and not near enough to make a full meal for the family. But if you are lucky enough to take your whole family out for the trip, or perhaps are on a boat where the other members don’t want the heads, then you are in business. I just happened to have both of those things occur on our trip last week. (If you missed that post check it out here.) I came home with seven large striper heads which meant 14 pieces of cheek meat and an overabundance (if there is such a thing) of collars. I will follow up with another post in the future on how I am going to prepare those collars. Until then keep taking your kids outdoors... (while we make fish tacos!)

1lb – 2lb Striped bass cheeks (you can substitute fillets if you can’t get cheeks)
2 limes
1 bunch fresh cilantro
1 cup plain greek yogurt
Salt and pepper
Bag of coleslaw mix (minus the dressing)
Package soft flour tortillas
Cheese (optional)

Well-seasoned cast iron skillet
Citrus zester

Blackened seasoned striper cheeks.
Place cheeks on a plate or platter and season liberally with blackened seafood seasoning. (I prefer to use J.O. Spice’s blackened seasoning which can be purchased here.) Set aside. 
Cilantro-line yogurt sauce and freshly chopped cilantro.
In the meantime turn your burner on medium and place your cast iron skillet on the stove. Place your cup of greek yogurt in a dish and begin to shred the zest of half a lime into it, stirring after you are done. Cut the lime in half and squeeze the juice from both halves into the yogurt as well. Stir. Chop up about a half of the cilantro and place half of that into the yogurt. Reserve the rest as a garnish. Add salt and pepper to taste. You can also add some blackened seasoning to the yogurt if desired. Set the yogurt aside to be used as a topping on the tacos. 
Cast Iron goodness.
By now your skillet should be nice and hot, take a tablespoon of butter and throw it into the skillet and coat the pan.
Striper cheeks in butter in cast iron skillet.
Now lay in some cheeks being careful to not overcrowd the pan. Sear the cheeks for a few minutes on each side (the time will depend on how thick the cheeks are). As they cook slice up the remaining lime into wedges to use on the tacos. Open the bag of coleslaw and use shredded cabbage and carrots as a topping as well. 
Fish cheek tacos!
Cook the remaining cheeks in the skillet, heat up your tortillas and dig in! 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Summertime fun

Summer is fast approaching. The kids haven’t gotten out of school yet, but before long it will be in full swing and the start of a new academic year will be looming. For me summer has become synonymous with two things; the beach and scout camp!
Relaxing in the OBX.
My wife and I were lucky enough to tie the knot at the Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo, NC while vacationing in the Outer Banks. Since then we have been vacationing at the same place, during the same week, going on 12 years. It has become somewhat of a tradition for us and I hope it lasts well into our twilight years.
Troop 270 on their way to summer camp in Maine 2010.
For almost as long though, going on 8 years, I have been spending one week (or a little more) each summer attending Boy Scout (or Cub Scout) summer camp with one or more of my boys. It has become a special bonding time with them, away from electronics and distractions, having fun in the outdoors.
Patrick, Ben and Jacob about to eat lobsta in Maine.
Our summers of scout camp have taken us from Maine to North Carolina and many points in between. Along the way we have visited National Parks, eaten lobsta(er), zip lined, waterskied, canoed, fished and even climbed rock walls just to name a few.
Ben on top of Mt Baldy in Cimarron, NM.
As my kids have gotten older it has also become a time to watch them mature and blossom into young men. A few years ago my oldest son, Ben, took the trip of a lifetime (without me) out West on a month’s long journey that culminated in a 10 day backpacking trek at Philmont Scout Ranch.

But over the last few years I have been sticking to Cub Scout summer camp with Ryley. We have been a few different places but last year stands out as one of the best times I’ve had going to summer camp.

We decided to head back up to Heritage Scout Reservation in Farmington, PA. Cub Scout camp is usually shorter than Boy Scout camp (Boy Scouts stay for a week and Cub Scouts stay between two to four days). So we decided as a group to stay at Ohiopyle State Park for the beginning of the week and attend summer camp for the last part of the week. It was the best decision we made.
Pack 270. I think the sign says it all.
Staying at Ohiopyle allowed us the ability to just camp and explore the surrounding area. We took the kids fishing at Laurel Hill Trout Farm, visited Fort Necessity National Battlefield, explored Laurel Caverns, and zip-lined and rode the natural water slide at Ohiopyle. Out of everything we did before summer camp I think the kids had the most fun fishing, zip-lining and riding the water slide.
Ryley's friend Tanner with his big brown trout.
It’s funny the things you take for granted in life. For me it’s doing things like hunting and fishing. When we arrived at Laurel Hill Trout Farm I hadn’t even expected that some of these kids had never caught a fish before. Well they were in for a surprise! I generally don’t like going to trout farms, trout ponds or any place that doesn’t offer some kind of skillful challenge. But this wasn’t about me, it was about our scouts and making sure they had a great time. And boy did they ever.
Ryley with his 16 trout and me without my $80.
It was pouring down rain and thus the necessity to find something fun for the kids to do. The tiny pond was stocked with hundreds of trout and at times you could cast in an empty hook and have a hit or two. We didn’t fish for long before the kids had their fill of catching fish. Well, let me be honest, most kids had their fill, others ran out of money and still others (my son) could have fished all day if I would have paid for it. It’s at this point that I must confess that I have created a monster. Ever since Ryley was in Field & Stream he has become super competitive when it comes to fishing. Add to that competitiveness that he has landed trophy sized striped bass and muskie at the age of nine and you can begin to understand why I have my hands full. One of his best friends ended up catching the biggest fish of the day, a nice brown trout. But instead of getting mad Ryley just decided that it was cool for his friend to have the biggest fish of the day, it just meant he had to catch the most. So sixteen fish later, and $80 less in my wallet, I had a happy son. The owners there are very nice and they let us take a tour of their small hatchery. I was impressed with their set up and the size of the fish we caught. Not wildies, but they had lots of fight in them! Success!
Yeah, that's a water slide. I promise.
Ryley getting ready to brave the water with the GoPro.
With the added rain we had all week long it was a bit difficult to let the kids go down the water slide. The stream that supplies the water slide was elevated and had a swift current. But the kids wouldn’t relent so we packed them up for the short trip to the bottom of the hill and let them play in the water. It is at this juncture I need to explain that up until we went to summer camp we weren’t technically on a scouting adventure. We were more or less just a bunch of friends camping and having a good time because some of the things we did while camping were definitely “non-scouting” type activities. Which leads me back to the waterslide. So we had a few adults do down the run and stage themselves at the lower half to catch the kids before they flushed out into the river (Yeah real safe isn’t it? Like I said we weren’t technically scouting at this point). The kids had a blast, turned into prunes and had to be drug away kicking and screaming. I considered that success number two!
Ryley, Matt and George about to test their boundaries.
On our last day in Ohiopyle we had a treat for the kids. We took them to the zip-line adventure park which had a zip-line and ropes course. When we arrived it was gorgeous; sunny and warm. We purchased our tickets but had to wait for our turn and let the kids walk around and explore town. Next thing we knew it was time for some zip-line fun and the kids got suited up in their helmets and harnesses and got on the course. Within minutes it started to drizzle. A few minutes after that it started to pour. Nothing fazed those kids. In fact I think they had more fun because of the rain. By the time they were done the rain had lessened and we had lunch in the local park. Looking back I think the rain was the best thing that could have happened to us. Not only did the kids seem to thrive in it, it soaked them to the bone and cleaned them up a whole lot! I don’t know about you but it’s definitely a difficult task to get nine and ten year olds to take a shower while camping. Success number three and we were only half way through the week!
Ryley doing what boys do at camp. Playing with knives and sticks to make then sharp.
Now, my love for scouting runs deep. I have been to some awesome summer camps, and Heritage has one of them, but while we were plagued with chilly rainy weather while at Ohiopyle we were not as lucky at scout camp. Oh it rained but it was the hot, sticky humid kind of rain. Nevertheless the kids still had an outstanding time at camp. I’m not much on going to summer camp to complete requirements for scout advancement.  I’m much of the opinion that summer camp is time for the boys to be, well, boys and to have fun and make memories and keep them wanting to come back every year (thus keeping them in scouts). If they can learn a thing of two at the same time, great, if not that's okay too.
Ryley pushing himself to new heights.
While at camp most of the kids cut “class” in order to run around and have fun or to head down to the lake to go fishing or swimming. The only “class” they went to on a regular basis was rock climbing. Heritage has a pretty cool rock wall for the kids to climb up. And it was with great pride that I saw out scouts push themselves past their comfort zone and go hired then they had ever gone before. Some didn’t make it to the top, but that’s okay. They gave it their all, overcame their fears, and made it as far as they could. Others struggled but pushed themselves past the point of exhaustion and managed to finally make it to the top. Ryley was in that category and I must say I was extremely impressed. Not only was I impressed with the physical achievement but with the mental achievement as well. He isn’t afraid of heights but is on the small side, stature wise, so his legs aren’t that long. The spaces on the rock wall, at times, were just too far apart. But he had the desire, drive and determination to get to the top and by the second day that’s exactly where he ended up.  Success number four.
Ryley showing off his archery skills.
A little sling shot never hurt anyone.

Granted that wasn’t all the fun they had. Like many other scouts they love to shoot things, from BB guns, to bows to sling shots. Heritage Scout Reservation had all three and in the evenings we couldn’t keep the kids away from shooting at something. But shooting sports aren’t really a “class” in my book. That’s just considered good old fun!
Ryley with Cubmaster Seiss and his 15 inch largemouth.
This year we will not be returning back to Heritage scout reservation. As much as I am looking forward to our week long camp, at Broad Creek Scout Reservation in Whiteford, MD, I am somewhat concerned that we just won’t be able to top last year. For one thing, we will be staying all week in camp, so we won’t get to do all those fun, non-scouting activities.  But also because this year it will just be Ryley and Matt since the older boys have moved on to Boy Scouts. I am sure we will have fun and make the most of the time we have there but there’s nothing like watching your son, literally, grow up right before your eyes. Until then keep taking your kids outdoors…