Off the Pan, Into the Fire

My journey through the realm of raising our sons...

Monday, June 18, 2018

Farewell Boris, farewell...

My dog Boris, speaker from the fence, protector of the realm, and friend extraordinaire is gone. He was a gentle soul that loved to play, lick faces, and chew shoestrings off of shoes. He was by my side when I went camping, got divorced, or was simply relaxing in the yard.

Liam was a year and a half when Boris invaded. He quickly learned that Liam was boss and allowed Liam to crawl, push, and take his food. He would just look at Liam, then me as if to say, "can you get this boy away from me?" More than once, Boris would take down one of the kids and grab their shoe with his massive set of teeth, and drag them across the floor. He once took Galen's shoe mid-stride as they both ran through the backyard. Boris wanted to be chased. He wanted to play. When it was all said and done, he would give a gentle tongue lick as a kiss.

Boris spent his last week camping. He sat on a warm, sunny beach. He drank from a cold, sparkling, wild stream. He ate some bacon and hamburger. He walked through wooded trails and smelled the furry creatures of the forest. And he spent four nights curled up, sleeping by my side.

He was a magnificent dog, a loyal friend, and a sweetheart. No longer will I awaken to find him peering down at me, no longer will he sit and watch TV with me, no longer will he bow to play. He gave me almost ten years of memories, joy and friendship. He was a good dog and will be missed. Good bye Boris, Alipe Ridge Boris of Jubulani.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

last camping of the year

The kids love Minnesota's North Shore, and it's easy to see why. The shoreline is a rugged expression of erosion and water. Waterfalls can be found every few miles out of Duluth all the way up to the Canadian border. We have already camped and explored Gooseberry Falls (twice) and Tettegouche, for this trip I decided to go farther north to Cascade Rive State Park. It's about seven miles from Grand Marais and another forty or so to Canada.

Our arrival mimicked several of our last camping trips; the afternoon was damp, cool, and threatening rain. So, before exploration we set up the campsite. The kids are becoming quite adept at putting up the tent and arranging sleeping bags and pads while I set up the kitchen. There is an occasional bit of yelling as Galen directs Liam, but it usually works out.

At the edge of the tent pad was a small fairy castle/stick structure from a previous visitor. Galen took it upon himself to rebuild it and enlarge. One cannot let a fairy castle be left unkempt...

After the tent was up and a cursory fix to the fairy castle we were off to the lake. The afternoon clouds and wind were bound to make the lake a bit menacing, we were not disappointed. Everything was wet, waves were crashing, thankfully they were small. It was easy to see how Mother Nature makes sand and river stones. The waves crashed over and over, water pushed back-n-forth, rocks moved and struck up against one another. At times the kids were mesmerized and simply watch the activity.

That night's campfire was welcomed, and so was dinner. Waves could occasionally be heard as we drifted off to sleep.

The next was was time for river and waterfall exploration. And for this, I must digress. The day before, my billy-goat children bounded across the wet shoreline. Sometimes they slipped, sometimes they jumped, and quite often got wet. But that was playing not more than a couple of feet above the water. The crashing waves, the possibility of rip current had my watching their moves. Now, while on our river exploration, they were standing on cliff edge of wet polished rock at times fifty feet above a roaring river. It seems I can't take them camping without getting my heart racing from one thing or another...

We survived, I survived. There were no slips or falls - at least towards the river gorge. As for riverside and along the forest paths.....

All told, this was an excellent place to spend the last camping trip of the summer. We ate campfire food, ate s'mores, gazed upon natural beauty, and gazed upon stars. Goodbye summer, may fall and winter be as beautiful.

Saturday, September 09, 2017


I am a sucker for celestial events. There was a Sunday night many decades ago that had Randy and me driving from Temecula, to Mount Palomar, down to the Salton Sea, and finally back to Temecula to get a glimpse of a meteor shower. Our respective partners weren't so enthused, especially with the return home just in time to get ready for work. Clouds were our nemesis. Seems that the entirety of southern California was covered and no meteors were to be seen.

My attempt to have the kids witness the great eclipse of  2017 was almost, but not quite, as shrouded. The weather report leading up to the event was bothersome. Seems that a large portion of the midwest was going to have some cloud cover. There was the possibility of opening through the clouds, but one just couldn't predict these things. This trip too, was defined by clouds plus some rain, lightning and thunder.

We left for Rosecrans Airport at St. Joseph, MO the day before. What should of been a six hour trip took over seven and there wasn't even traffic, just construction. That was warning number one. We arrived on a sweltering Sunday afternoon. We suffered through the afternoon, fixed dinner, walked about the other campers and hit the sleeping bags for the evening among the other eclipse hopefuls.

We woke up to a cool, cloudy morning. I thought this might be the day my kids would begin drinking coffee. But nope, hot chocolate was the drink of choice.

I brought along eclipse glasses and some cardboard parts to build a pinhole viewer. After waking up Galen proceeded to constructive the viewer for the big event.

The news was reporting storms and clouds throughout the day, not good for eclipse viewing. Hmmm. But there wasn't anywhere to go. If we had headed way out west two days before, fine. But on the day of the celestial line up, we were where we were gonna be.

Initial contact was not to be seen. It wasn't until about 10% coverage did the clouds thin out for viewing. At this pointy we didn't need the eclipse-glasses. With them, one saw nothing. Without them, one could easily view a shiny object being consumed by the moon. Way cool. The sun peaked in and out of the clouds several times, each showing a bit more black.

This repeated off and on up to the totality. We missed the diamond ring and the initial plunge into darkness. At least from direct viewing, but of course it still got dark. The ring of sunset around the site was eerie and beautiful. The sunset to the north and south was colorful. But to the east and west, inline with the cloud front, it was simply dark.

And then the clouds thinned. There it was, the ring of fire, we could view the eclipse. We were one of about 700 campers, and another 15,000 viewers around the airport. When the ring of fire popped through the clouds the entire crowd erupt in a cheer. I got goosebumps.

Galen flittered about like a butterfly cycling between laughing and shouting. Liam walked about and looked up - smiling. They both stated it was fun, cool, and worth the trip. As the days and months pass, I hope to probe their memories. We'll see if I created any eclipse chasers.

For myself, I do not recollect much of the experience. It was disappointing, yet it wasn't. The event was a reminder of our insignificance. It was a majestic reminder of physics that drive the universe and our existence. And it was beautiful.

We streamed out of the airport and joined thousands of drivers flooding the freeway. The six hour drive that took seven the day before, took us over ten and one half to get home. But for the immensity of the traffic, it was calm. There wasn't honking, rude shuffles to get a spot, and I saw no accidents. The awe and calm of the eclipse carried over to the drive home.

Monday, September 04, 2017

canoe and tower

St. Croix State Park is Minnesota's largest state park, but you wouldn't know it during our visit. The main campground have almost 300 spots, during our stay there were maybe seven or eight in the tent section and another five in the RV. It was quiet, beautifully so.

Our first afternoon was limited, set-up the site and do some hiking. We walked along the St. Croix River, visited the education center, and walked down to an old C.C.C. site. While we were out & about we came across an older gentlemen driving an electric scooter yelling for help. He had run out of battery during his trail-trip'n and needed to get back to his camper & electrical supply. We pushed a bit, he'd try his battery and get another 20 feet, repeat, repeat, repeat. When we got to his camper he treated us to his pics from his trip to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Africa.

Add another place to the wish list.

The primary reason I took us to this state park was the canoeing. Turns out the state park's canoe services are closed Monday through Wednesday. Damn. But just outside and across the river in Danbury, WI is a canoe service. They took us upriver a few miles and we lackadaisically floated down to the take-out point. The St. Croix river is not damned and, because of it's lack of industry, not polluted. It is a great river to canoe and has multiple canoe camp sites. The kids liked this portion of our trip.

The park also has a one hundred foot fire tower. We visited twice, once in the morning and again that same day for sunset. The morning view was surreal, the distant forest falling in and out of view as the fog shifted about. The evening was clearer, but the sunrise was hidden by clouds. Both times I was nervous of the indifference shown by my children to steep staircase. One would think they were oblivious to the danger posed by a trip or stumble.

Our visit was peaceful. The days were damp, cloudy, and without bugs. The evenings were cool, mostly clear and filled with stars. I want to return and canoe some more of the river. We'll see, for now it is a pleasant memory.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Grand Canyon roadtrip mini - Liam rebounds

When I planned our desert South West summer vacation, I knew it would be hot. But June's desert heat was something I was familiar with. June has low humidity, the dry heat. And outside of asphalt and dark rock, it will cool down at night to let one get some sleep. What I had not planned on was the high pressure system stuck over the area bringing temperatures 10 to 15 degrees higher than normal.

We coped, we adapted. We wore hats, wet bandannas around our necks or head, drank lots of water, and had salty snacks. We rested in shade and didn't push ourselves much in the heat of the day. Still, it was hot.

I have already written of the impact that altitude and heat had on Liam. After a night's sleep at Great Sand Dunes, he woke up feeling much better - yet still low energy. We were careful for the next week, not pushing him too hard. That was easy, it was hot. Many of the days we were subjected to heat above 105, but most nights it eventual dropped down to about 65.

Liam wasn't much of a hiker at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. At Zion, he had to be coaxed up the mile long asphalt trail to the Virgin River Narrows hike. But once we could walk in the water, he was zoom-boy all over again. The cool refreshing water and shade from the canyon walls made for a wonderful hike on a hot summer day.

And then we got to Bryce Canyon National Park. Our Grand Canyon visit was a top of canyon experience, we didn't hike down much, staying mostly along the rim. Zion was a bottom of canyon place, wandering around and looking up. With the Bryce Canyon rim being over 8,000 feet above sea level, Bryce is another top of canyon viewpoint. Liam still wasn't the gangbusters of a little man that I knew, but he was getting to where we needed him to be. Sometimes a bit slow, but he made it.

Galen and I wanted to walk the Bryce Canyon Rim Trail from Sunset, to Sunrise Point. It was supposed to be about a mile with little elevation change. That Liam resisted was expected, but then he surprised me by declaring he wanted to hike the Navajo Trail loop. This baffled me, the rim was to be easy, but he chose the hard. The park lists the trail as a moderate 1.3 miles, but it was 550 feet down, and of course, 550 back up. The elevation changes occur quickly, the trail has step sections with multiple switchbacks. Looking down, we could not see the bottom, just a dirt path into the maze of hoodoos. Maybe it was seeing hoodoos with Douglass Fir's peeking up. No matter, it was his idea, one that Galen and I were eager to experience.

It was hot. It was dusty. And it was beautiful. It was a bit strenuous for a couple of guys from the Minnesota flatlands. Yet here was the dude, walking through the canyon, slowly, but not complaining. He had the energy to terrify me at steep, slippy edges, teased about throwing items into the abyss, and finding ways to irritate his brother. And once again I had felt proud about one of my young'ens. Liam had a rough few days coping with heat and elevation. Yet here he was, seeing an awesome trail and challenging himself, and us, to hike it. He was better, he was back.

Grand Canyon road trip mini - Galen steps up

The boys and I went on a summer road trip, the primary destination being the North Rim of the Grand Canyon with multiple stops before, and after. Night one was at the Camp A Way RV park in Nebraska, night two was at Jackson Lake State Park in Colorado. On the third day we had stopped in Colorado Springs to meet up with Randy and his son Alex, they were going to join us camping at the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Chanhassen is about 1,000 feet above sea level. Our day two arrival at Jackson Lake State Park brought us up to about 4,500 feet above sea level. Day three took us from Jackson Lake, up through Denver and Colorado Springs, and then La Veta Pass at 9,413 feet above sea level before dropping back down and up again as we arrived at the park. Near as I can determine, the visitor center, base of the dunes, and the campground are over 8,200 feet above sea level.

And it was hot. The day before, at Jackson Lake, was in the 90s. The temperatures at the Dunes exceeded 95. Bone dry, yes, sweat just disappeared, but a hot day to be playing on a huge pile of sand.

So, why the geography and weather overview? We spent a couple of hours playing on the dunes and playing in Medano Creek. Our return to the campground was late, we were all tired and hungry. I was busy getting the campsite ready when Randy pointed out that Liam wasn't feeling well. There was work, play, and eating to be had and he was curled up in a camping chair. He complaining about aches and pains he would normally ignore. Near as I could figure, his body was still trying to adjust to the heat and altitude. He was out of wack and not acting like his playful self.

However, there was work to be done. It was getting dark and we had not eaten, nor was the campsite ready for bedtime. Randy and Alex were not campers and had no idea what needed to be done, or any idea how to help. This is how the story gets to Galen. I talked with him about Liam's condition and let him know we both needed his help. At that point he went from a typical devious brother to a helpful young man. While I focused on getting dinner prep'd and cooked, he went about completing the campsite setup with Alex as his helper. He was patient in his direction, coaxing new skills into Alex's mind. He also occasionally helped getting something for Liam such as a snack, water, and blanket.

Prior to that evening Galen and Liam had had their bickering moments, it can't be escaped when driving such distances, campsites to be erected and packed away. But not on this evening. He set aside the normal brotherly, pestering behavior and let his better side shine through. He stepped up to the needs of the moment and was a terrific young man.

I was impressed with his behavior. Yep, there were going to be moments over the next week that had me wishing I had a frying pan or jail cell. But not that evening. I had seen a glimpse of the man he will become, and I was proud.

I know, the pic isn't from Dunes...

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

double nickel

Yesterday was happy birthday to me, 55. I don't remember the details, but the 25 to 30 year old me thought that the future 50+ year old me would be different than how I turned out. The earlier me was ignorant of life, not serious about the future, and a bit carefree. Some of that has stuck with me over the years, tempered a bit by time. I don't claim to have the wisdom of life, I do appreciate it a bit more. Maybe that comes from having children, maybe from loss, maybe that comes from more memories. I watch the ways of my children and remember a bit of me from that age. Such innocence, such unabashed joy not yet tarnished with the realizations of failure, success, time and death. Of such things we gain wisdom, experience.

Now the 55 year old me wonders about the future me. What will I believe, how will I feel in 30+ years? How will that 85 year old me view this 55 year old me? I changed somewhere between 30 and 55, I am bound to change again by 85. Some basic tenets of me have remained over the years, they too, should be here in the future. That future me should be sprinkled with the joys of grandchildren, hell, in that amount of time maybe even a great-grand baby. It will also be bounded by more loss, one cannot grow old without losing the past; friends, enemies, abilities.

First of all, I hope to be an active, engaged 85 year old, let's begin with that. As for the rest, one day at a time...

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

back home again...

My kids travel well. We spent spring break visiting my parents. Getting there was a 10 1/2 hour drive and another 10 1/2 hours back. And I don't believe in backseat DVD players. The kids have been trained to travel using their own imagination and planning to get through the boring stretches. They brought some reading material, and MP3 players. There was also satellite radio's comedy channel! Yes, there were individual moments of stupidity, but no kid-to-kid arguing, fighting, or loudness. I was proud.

Living away from family is unfortunate, life without frequent interaction between the cousins, aunts, uncles, and grand's leaves a hole. This trip had a few initial cautious moments as they remembered each other, and then the mayhem started.

I think my sis's son, Drake, now hates me, I was the voice of no against video games. I'm a firm believer in play being face to face with eyes, ears, and hands, video games just get in the way of play. However, because of my "no," they had a couple of rousing rounds of tag, made some creative K'next structures, and told some awful jokes and stories. All in all, they had some well-needed bonding time.

Me? I got to drink some beer with Dad, and wine with Mom. When I got home I learned they had given up drinking at home for Lent. So, no sitting on the back porch, drinking wine, sharing stories. Instead we went to a local establishment for adult beverages. Not as much alcohol, but it was a satisfiying opportunity to check in, share updates, bitch and moan about whatever, and just plain enjoy each other's company. And I realized, yet again, that as I grow older, I appreciate them that much more

If there was one thing I could find to complain about, it was that I only had one breaded pork tenderloin. Last summer's trip I got three different, wonderful sandwiches of goodness! Indiana seems to have them on every street corner, yet in Minnesota, which is the nation's number three pork producer, it is damned near impossible to find a good BPT. I wonder if Minnesota eaters would support me opening a restaurant devoted to breaded pork tenderloins. Must be those Scandinavian roots, they can keep their lutefisk...