Aug 17

Okay, so for our family vacation this summer, the family and I spent a few days in Denver.  I know, a Denver vacation doesn’t really sound like too big of a deal, and it really wasn’t, but you do what you can afford.  Couldn’t really even afford that, but whatever.  Money isn’t important (or so I keep being told and am trying to believe… kind of like in the tooth fairy).  Anywho, we did some fun things and we did some lame things, but that’s all beside the point.

We went to my new favorite grocery store in the entire world: H Mart.  For anyone not familiar with H Mart, it is a chain (apparently) of grocery stores that specializes in Asian foods.  They have all kinds of cool seaweeds snacks and tons of Pocky. There are aisles full of Oriental canned goods and weird fruits and vegetables.  There are meats from animals that I thought were extinct.  There are cuts of meat that I didn’t know exist cut from animals I am familiar with.  There were frozen and fresh (in tanks in the store) fish that were all amazingly priced (as in “move over Walmart, your prices are too high”).  If I lived in Denver, I would be making weekly trips to this store.  But I don’t live in Denver, so we just bought what would fit in our small cooler for the trip home.

We bought some seaweed snacks and some mahi mahi and some tuna and some shark and some swordfish and some preserved duck eggs (which may be the topic of another post) and some green tea Oreos and some dried shrimp and some clams and some midodock    ***screech***   back that up, what was that?  Midodock.  Yep, had no idea what it was either at the time we purchased it, but it was right beside the frozen clams and it was cheap, so I figured it was going to be good.  I figured I could always Google it later.

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MIDODOCK photo 20140817_213031_zpsovipcpfl.jpg

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So later, I Googled it, because the wimps in my family refuse to eat something if they don’t know what that something is.  I just figured I’d roll them in cornmeal and deep fat fry them.  Nothing can be bad when breaded and fried, right?  Well, Google didn’t help my cause.  There were only three websites that had any reference to midodock, and none of them were in English.  The first one Google helped with a little bit of translation, and I got the following:

“midodock is conch it?  Who ate it?  Not good?”

To which the reply was:

“Afraid to fry.”

Well, crap!  You see, even though this might have caused a bit of hesitation for me, I still would have fried it up and fed it to my family.  The problem is, the wife and the teenager both have access to Google and both of them did the same search I did.  I was going to need more info.

The second link provided by Google was even less helpful to my cause of getting this stuff eaten.  It was another site with Chinese writing that Google tried to help with the translation of.  This site got even scarier, and weirder, because one person was asking what midodock is and people are saying maybe conch and then it turns to tumors and it ends with midodock potentially being conch long tumors.  What in the hell is a conch long tumor?!?  Then this weird site goes into another person saying that he or she knows what it is and will tell the original poster what it is for some buns?  And then the original poster says that he or she paid the coins?  Then the person who apparently knows what it is says that he or she isn’t a rabbit spread eagle and he or she didn’t receive the coins… and by this time I’m leaving the site to Google conch long tumors which results in another dead end and I’m cursing Google’s ability to translate anything and I know I’m never going to be able to talk my family into eating conch long tumors!  But maybe the family won’t make this discovery.

About this time, the teenager says, “Uh, Dad, the midodock is conch tumors.”

And the wife says, “It can’t be healthy eating tumors.”

And the tween says, “I’m not eating tumors.”

And I figure I’ve just blown a couple of bucks on something that is going to sit in the freezer for a few months before the wife throws it out, because the third site Google gave as an option in its search results on “midodock” was some kind of PDF Korean magazine that Google wasn’t even going to attempt to translate for me… and I don’t read Korean…

Crap!

So I stick the midodock in the freezer and start scheming ways to feed it to the family without them knowing what I’m feeding them.

The weekend after we get back to Nebraska from our Denver “vacation”, we go to the tween’s favorite Chinese restaurant for his birthday meal.  While we’re there, I ask the owner, Bob (who is actually from China and I don’t think his real name is Bob, but I’m guessing his real name is impossible to pronounce so he just goes by Bob because, I don’t know, he thinks he looks kind of like a Bob, I guess) if he has ever heard of midodock.  Bob looks at me kind of confused and says he doesn’t.  So I give Bob a short rundown of the trip to H Mart and the purchase of the midodock and the Google results that led us to believe that midodock may actually be conch long tumors (whatever those are) and I didn’t understand how a market could sell tumors to eat and I kind of implied that this was all Bob’s fault because, you know, he’s Asian.

So Bob puts up his finger in a “give me a second, I may have an answer for you” kind of way, and he disappears.  Bob comes back with his wife, who I’m just going to call “Mrs. Bob”, because I don’t know her name.

“My wife might know”, says Bob.

So, I repeat the whole H Mart, Google, long tumor story.  Mrs. Bob doesn’t know what midodock is either, but she says she can find out.  She has me write “midodock” down, along with my phone number, and she tells me she will give me a call when she finds out.  I thank Mrs. Bob, and I thank Bob.  We then leave, and I figure I’m never going to hear from Mrs. Bob and that she and Bob are back at the restaurant laughing at the dumb white guy buying stuff at H Mart when he doesn’t know what it is…

Within a half hour, my phone rings.  It’s Mrs. Bob, and she talked to someone (in her family, I’m assuming), and she knows what midodock is.  According to Mrs. Bob, midodock are conch.  They come in small, black shells and are very hard to get out of the shell.  She says her family boils them and then adds them to stuff like stir fry.  She tells me that they used toothpicks to dig the meat out of the shell.

I thank Mrs. Bob from the bottom of my heart, and I inform the family of Mrs. Bob’s revelation.  They are all put at ease and it looks like we will be having fried midodock in the near future.

How do we know we can trust Mrs. Bob?  Well, we eat at her restaurant relatively often (for us) and I don’t believe she would steer us into something unsafe.  Plus, I trust Mrs. Bob a crap-ton more than I trust Google’s ability to translate Chinese.

So, since there are like next to no Google search results for midodock, I’m hoping that this little post will be beneficial to anyone who has purchased some midodock at H Mart and they want to figure out what exactly it is that they bought!  Trust Mrs. Bob, it’s nothing more than conch.  There are no long tumors involved… and if you have any information that points to something else… PLEASE LET ME KNOW!

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May 11

How does one go about planning for the future?  I’ve tried doing some planning, but it all seems like such a waste of time. Things never work out the way you want them to, and life always gets thrown into the mix and screws everything up… like stupid “fix-it” tickets that you have 5 days to get taken care of that involve probably hundreds of dollars worth of electrical work on your vehicle that you can’t afford… stinking Scottsbluff police…

Planning small things isn’t such a big deal.  Planning a birthday party or a weekend trip or something like that is pretty doable.  I’m talking about the major plans like retirement or future career direction or where you would like to live.  I know that there are people who successfully plan for such things; I’m just not one of them.  There are those who say it is all in God’s hands and to trust in God.  I don’t disagree about the God’s hands part, but I don’t think God is going to pay my mortgage.  I don’t think God is going to make sure my electricity doesn’t get shut off because I quit my job.  God doesn’t take care of “fix-it” tickets… although I’m hoping some prayers for a certain police officer getting a random plague of locusts will go answered.  God has never led me to believe that I can just quit my job and lead the life I would like.  If this life didn’t contain vast amounts of major suckage, why would we turn our eyes toward heaven?

I tried to plan for my future by going to college.  I went to college, I got good grades, and I got a job. I wanted to make a lot of money, but I have never made a lot of money.  The only reason I went to college was to get a job that pays a lot of money.

Period.

I will never have a job that pays a lot of money.  Different people have different definitions for “lot of money”.  I have mine, and I will never see it (and it probably isn’t as much as you may be thinking).  In hindsight, I would not have focused on money.  In hindsight, I would have focused on doing something that utilizes my inherent talents and skills… something like… uh… okay, so I don’t have any inherent talents and skills.  Planning sucks.

I’ve tried planning for various other things, including retirement.  Retirement planning is kind of a joke.  If you don’t start enforcing a plan right when you get in the workforce, it’s too late.  I know there are people who are able to do it later in life and find some success… but those people are either making more money than me or are willing to sacrifice more than me.  I don’t have a big issue sacrificing, but while my kids are still around the house, I am willing to sacrifice less.  Kids are expensive.  Worth it?  Of course.  But expensive none the less.

Recently, I was talking with a couple of friends at a high school soccer game and we started talking about life after all of the kids are out of the house.  Interestingly enough, one of the friends said she and her husband plan on traveling around the country after the kids are gone.  You know, just kind of moving from town to town, getting jobs that pay enough just to get by.  The other friend said he and his wife plan on doing something similar, but more of a retirement-type thing.  Get out and see the world.  This point is probably where I made my mistake.  I started thinking and planning which are two things I don’t do very well, especially together.

Retirement has always been very important to me (just not important enough to completely quit living in the here and now, which seems to pretty much be what it takes at my income level).  I hate working.  I hate the way life is laid out.  I hate the fact that you spend most of your waking hours working at a job in order to pay for everything.  Call me lazy, call me whatever you want, but I hate working.  Now, I helped a young man with his Eagle Scout project a couple of weeks ago and it was actual physical work.  I didn’t mind it at all.  In fact, I enjoyed myself.  I do various household and community projects. I volunteer for BSA and at my church.  I do stuff, and I don’t hate doing stuff that involves “work”.  So I don’t really think I’m lazy.  I just hate working for a paycheck.  I understand that there are lots of people out there who would love to have a job and I can hear the tiny chorus of voices saying, “Be thankful you have a job!”  I didn’t say that I’m not thankful I have a job… but I still hate working for a paycheck.  Thus, retirement has always been like a stupid dangling carrot that urges me to get out of bed every morning.  I really don’t think I will ever be able to retire… at least not fully:

  • I started too late.
  • I dipped into those funds at one point for something I probably shouldn’t have.
  • I can’t contribute as much as I would like at this point.
  • Most success that the stock market has seen recently has eluded me.

Okay, so working until I die is sounding more and more like the reality of my situation.

That sucks.

That really, really sucks.

So, back to the conversation I had with my friends at the soccer game that involved the thinking and the planning.  As long as I’m going to have to work up until my death, I want to travel and see stuff and try to get a little enjoyment out of the whole situation.  The wife and I have discussed it and she agrees that, once the boys are out of school, selling much of our belongings and going transient sounds like a doable plan.  You know, move up to Estes Park for a year and work at the shops up there.  Spend a summer working in Yellowstone…. or maybe a year or two.  Spend a year or two working in Key West!  Just travel… and get little jobs with little responsibility and little stress in places we would really like to live!  Try out different areas.  Make enough to pay the monthly bills.  Retirement isn’t an option, so why stress about it?  See the US (or maybe even the world) and just get by.

When I mentioned the “goat farm” idea to the wife, she was less than enthusiastic.  The whole “see the country” plan she seems to be on board with.  And in a mere 9 years, both of the boys will be out of high school… so although it is a little further away than I would like, it’s not an eternity.  I don’t wish my children’s childhoods away, but they are slipping by without any prompting from me.  Might as well have something to look forward to at the horrible time when the nest is empty.

The problem now rests with the fact that I am planning for the future.  Whenever I plan for the future, stuff seems to get in the way.  Therefore, stuff will probably get in the way of the plan to travel once the kids are on their own.  It’s like I’ve jinxed myself by thinking about it!

Damn it!

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Dec 28

Since finding myself living in Nebraska, I’ve felt a touch of compassionate empathy for those poor folks involved in the tourism industry in Nebraska.  I mean, we are a world in search of adventure.  Nebraska is no grand adventure.

Life is actually usually pretty boring, if we sit back and think about it.  I remember, after going to see the latest installment in the Spider-Man big screen adaptation behemoth, my teen-aged son saying to me, “Man, being Spider-Man would be cool, huh?  I mean, after watching Spider-Man, real life seems kind of boring.”   Yes, boy, I thought, real life seems kind of boring.  And he is a teenager.  Just wait until you are an adult, with bills and responsibilities and a job, which if you are like 70% (and I believe this percentage may be a little low) of the population, you will hate. That’s why people get lost in television series about zombies and movie franchises about vampires and book series about young wizards, that’s why people get all tied up in “a galaxy far, far away” — because real life is boring.  That’s why grown men and women lose themselves in the utter ridiculousness of “sport fandom” — because our lives are pretty boring, so we need to live vicariously through people who we view as having “exciting lives.”  So, when we go to spend our hard-earned and hard-saved  vacation money (or rack up credit card bills we have no intention of actually paying off in our lifetimes), we are searching for some relaxation, some adventure, and getting away from our boring lives. Why would anyone in his or her right mind search out wind, allergens, the smell of feedlots, and the miles and miles of mind-numbing cornfields of Nebraska as a place to spend their vacation dollars?  Nebraska is a place you pass through on your way to somewhere that has something to offer.   No one in his or her right mind…

My thoughts are often with those poor folks who have jobs that require the promotion of Nebraska as a tourist destination.  Talk about some of the hardest jobs in America.  I’m actually surprised that Dirty Jobs hasn’t featured Nebraska Tourism in its spotlight…

Mike Rowe walks into the State Tourism office in Lincoln.  He is immediately greeted by a weary young woman who welcomes him with a weak, sweaty handshake.

Mike: Well, this looks like an office job.  It can’t be that bad.

Woman: Yeah, it’s an office job.

Mike: So, what do you guys and gals do here?

Woman: We try to convince people to spend their vacation dollars in Nebraska.

Mike (rolling up his sleeves): Well, Nebraska can’t be that bad.  What are some of the things in the state that people would want to come see?

Woman: … Kool-Aid was invented here…

Mike: Okay, that’s a start.  And we have a museum for that?

Woman: Well, no.  There is a display for Kool-Aid in a museum in Hastings, but no stand-alone museum.

Mike: … okay… what else we got!

Woman: We have corn, and cows.  Growing is big here.  We grow corn and meat and beans and stuff.

Mike (hamming it up, winking at the camera): How about pot?  Could we promote pot?  Some states are legalizing it!

Woman: The state is about 99.7% Republican…

Mike (coughing): … okay… uh… celebrities?  Any living celebrities people would want to visit the home towns of?

Woman: … Larry the Cable Guy…

Mike (tearing off his microphone and yelling at his producer): Nebraska?  Who in the hells idea was this?  They are FIRED!  We are out of here…

Woman (weeping): … Oh please, God, don’t leave me!  Are you hiring… anything… somebody has to wash the crap off your clothes after you crawl out of the sewers… I’ll do that…

Okay, Nebraska tourism might be too much for even Dirty Jobs.

Now, with Nebraska tourism being on my mind more than not, I am constantly looking for ways to help those poor folks involved in the industry.  So, when I came across a small article in the local Star-Herald newspaper, my grand plan began to formulate.  Nebraska might not be the logical choice for people in their right minds… but what about nutjobs and whackos?  We might be the place for those folks, and there are a lot of those folks… and they have money too.

The article in the Star-Herald was about a vampire in Serbia.  Now, you may be asking yourself why a small newspaper in Scottsbluff, Nebraska is carrying a story about a vampire in Serbia.  Well, it’s Nebraska.  Not much happens here, but there are pages to fill.  Now, from what I could glean from the story, the locals don’t really believe there is a vampire on the loose in Serbia.  The locals are just playing up the sensational story for — you guessed it — potential tourism dollars.  The residents of Zarozje, Serbia, want the nutjobs and the whackos to come spend their hard-earned vacation money in search of the elusive vampire.  This will probably work.  People go to Transylvania because of Dracula.  People visit the Loch Ness in hopes of spying the monster.  Weirdos and psychos head to the Pacific Northwest with the intend of snapping a picture of Bigfoot.  Now, if only the good folks of Nebraska had something freakish going for them… other than the freakishly boring everyday stuff…

Now, I’m thumbing through another edition of the Star-Herald and I see a piece on Stephen King giving a speech at the University of Massachusetts… and the Golden Tourism plan is devised for the great state of Nebraska!

Stephen King has used Nebraska in a few of his stories.  Children of the Corn takes place in and around the fictitious town of Gatlin, which would be somewhere in the western part of the state near the real-life Hemingford.  The real-life Hemingford is the namesake for Stephen King’s Hemingford Home, which was the residence of  Abigail Freeman in The Stand.  Hemingford Home is also where Wilfred James killed and was haunted by his wife in 1922.  Stephen King doesn’t seem to have a problem imagining strange things transpiring in Nebraska.  We should SELL THAT!  Screw vampires!  Screw hairy guys with big feet!  We’re talking killer children in the cornfields!  All of a sudden, those stupid cornfields seem to be more than a source for allergy issues.  Guys murder their wifes and bury them in old wells around here, folks: come and SEE IT!  Come to Nebraska and try not to get caught up in the ultimate battle between good and evil!  Try to keep your SOUL!

Oh man, this is tourism gold.  I mean, you walk into the local Walmart at an hour of any given day and about half of the dudes walking around look like they could have potentially buried their wives in wells.  Nebraska could be the freak-out capital of the world.  Farmers could have mazes going through their cornfields and hire some of the local illegals to chase tourist with machetes.  There could be bloody body parts scattered along the trails. The whole state could become like the worlds largest haunted house!  People would come from near and far to be freaked-out in Nebraska.  Oh sure, the new breed of tourist this campaign would bring in might not be the most mentally sound of people, but money all burns the same, right?

And I even have the new state slogan.  Screw “The Good Life”, because we don’t want to mislead people with false advertising.  Our new slogan would be:

Nebraska:  Something’s Just Not Quite Right…

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Aug 25

I always get jealous of my kids this time of year.  They are off to school and have all kinds of new stuff start in their lives.  New classes, new teachers, new sports, new friends.  Meanwhile, back at the ranch of adulthood, I still get up every morning and go do what I do every stinking day.  Nothing new, nothing exciting, nothing offering much of a reason to get out of stinking bed.

“Oh, wait,” says the tiny little voice of optimism that reaches out from the deep recesses of my small mind.  “Maybe you’ll make some new friends today!”

“Yeah,” I remind that stinking voice, “I work in tech support.  I may meet a new person who is all pissed off because his or her Internet isn’t working.  Sounds like fun.”

“Uh… well… they’ll be happy if you help them with their problem,” says the diminishing voice.

“Because I did what I am paid to do,” I replied. “They aren’t going to want to invite me and the family over for supper because I did my job.”

“… well… you, uh… sometimes, you’re coworkers are fun to be around,” squeaks the voice.

“Yeah, maybe today someone will come up with a new and exciting excuse to call in and not be able to come to work, and I can stress out (because everything stresses me out) trying to figure out how to reschedule stuff or make up for the work that coworker was supposed to do,” I tell the voice.

“You’re hopeless,” says the voice as it crawls back into the murk of my mind, hidden from all conscious thought… just where I like it.

Other than the weekends and the occasional scheduled vacation, I don’t find myself looking forward to too much during the course of any given day.  Sometimes, I’m gifted a sporting event or a musical performance in the evening that makes the latter-half of a work day go by a little quicker.  Usually, though, life is routine.  For the kids, their lives are pretty routine as well, but their routines change from year to year and from season to season.  Life as an adult can be… well… pretty mundane.  I’m pretty sure I’m not the only adult who feels this way.  I know this is one of the main reasons why I have changed jobs so many times: just to break up the mundane.  I also have a feeling this is why American Idol and Monday Night Football are so popular: most of us just don’t know how to find excitement in our lives, so we settle for the faux-excitement of vesting our emotions in the efforts of someone who is actually living what we perceive to be the excitement.  And for many of us, even most of the stuff we look forward to isn’t really so much about us as it is about our kids.  Going to a kid’s baseball game or a kid’s soccer tournament or a kid’s piano recital.  Once you’re old, you start to realize why people live vicariously through their children — because the life of an adult kinda sucks.  All the good stuff happens to the young.  Even the Bible agrees with me:

“Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
I find no pleasure in them’ ”— (Ecclesiastes 12-1)

Old age is the days of trouble when no pleasure is to be found.

So, in an effort to add something interesting to the monotony of adulthood, I decided this year to get myself a small game hunting license.  As a kid, I used to hunt all the time.  I grew up out in the country, and all of my friends lived in town, so I’d find myself on almost any given day out in the fields near our house shooting stuff.  I’d shoot rabbits and snakes and all kinds of critters.  As I grew older, I tried to shoot only things that could be utilized.  I’d kill jackrabbits and feed them to our dogs.  My blue healers loved fresh rabbit and weren’t quite fast enough to catch them on their own.  I’d kill cottontails and make my mom cook them (which happened about twice before she said “no more”), and then I learned to make the best rabbit jerky in the world.  I’d hunt sage grouse and pheasant and deer (all during the correct season, of course).  I enjoyed hunting, and I haven’t hunted since I moved to the No-Hunting-or-Trespassing capital of the United States — Nebraska.

I’ve scoped out a few of the extremely small public areas around the panhandle where hunting is allowed, and I plan on killing some stuff.  I plan on getting some rabbits and some squirrels and some doves and some crow and maybe even a pigeon or two and I’m going to eat them.  I got a smoker a couple of years ago for Father’s Day, and I’ve learned that EVERYTHING is good smoked.  Heck, if I run into any rattlesnakes or big old bull snakes, I may even throw them on the smoker.

The wife is, of course, disgusted with my plan, and the boys are terrified.  But, by golly, I’m gonna start filling our freezer with numerous small, rodent-like creatures.  I need to go back and re-hone my skills at being able to provide for my family with my own hands and some of the firearms collecting dust in the closet.  I need to reconnect with my primal self.  I need to prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse.

… I need to find something more exciting than the anticipation of Sunday’s new Robot Chicken episode to look forward to each week…

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Aug 02

Our final day in Omaha was capped with another night in the camper.  This was kind of sad, because we knew that our vacation was slowly coming to an end.

Day five was to be our shopping day, so we hitched up the camper, left Mahoney, and drove to a mall in Lincoln.  We ate lunch at the mall food court (so everyone could get what they wanted… my family all got Chinese and I got a gyro).  We spent a few hours doing some back-to-school shopping, and then we decided we better head for our next destination.

The plan was to camp at Johnson Lake south of Lexington, but they wouldn’t let me make a reservation because we were just staying for one night.  They only make reservations for two nights on the weekends, so I wanted to get there before dark in case we needed to hunt down another camping spot for the night.

We swung into Grand Island to search for some place for supper.  I spotted the billboard for USA Steak Buffet and remembered seeing that billboard on other visits to Grand Island.

“Hey, let’s go to USA Steak Buffet,” I said.

So, immediately, the oldest son starts looking at reviews on the wife’s smart phone.  Needless to say, the reviews aren’t good.

“Uh, Dad, the reviews suck,” said the boy.

“Oh, you can’t always trust the reviews,” I said, thinking about how a really crappy dining experience would make for a humorous addition to my blog.  “I think we should try it anyway.”

“Dad, look at these reviews,” said the boy.  So I looked:

A Google User reviewed 5 months ago

Overall 0 / 3
This place sucks. Way over priced. Found hairs in the food. Tiny steaks. Do not come here.

A Google User reviewed 11 months ago

Overall 0 / 3
Waaaaaay over priced for what you get. Steaks are small and chewy. Family of give can’t go without paying over 60 bucks. Everytime you back, the price goes up. No group rates either… All you get for a group of 10 or more is 10% gratuity added to your bill. Poor value.
Liked: Food
Disliked: Service, Atmosphere, Value
A Google User reviewed 4 months ago

Overall 0 / 3
Way over priced for a not so great buffet
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“Oh, come on,” I said, “that’s only three reviews.  If it was that bad, there would be more.”

“But, Dad, the one dude found a hair,” said the boy, and I knew I was fighting a losing battle.  There was no way I was going to be able to talk the entire family into eating crappy food just for the sake of my blog, so we pulled in beside Olive Garden.

Olive Garden is not even close to one of my favorite places to eat, but the wife loves it and the boys don’t mind it, so I thought we’d give it a shot.  There was, however, like a 40 minute wait to get in, so we turned right back around and headed to Buffalo Wild Wings across the parking lot.

There was no wait to get in at Buffalo Wild Wings, and there was no hair in our food.  I really don’t have anything interesting to write, but I’m almost positive that USA Steak Buffet would have given me something to complain about.  But, sometimes you have to take one for the team at the expense of something to bitch about in a blog.  Although… this was only the second time I had ever been to a Buffalo Wild Wings, and I can honestly state that they are the noisiest restaurants on the face of the planet.  Apparently they are where you are supposed to take people you don’t actually like and want to talk to, because carrying on a conversation in a Buffalo Wild Wings is nearly impossible… especially if you are old and can’t hear very well in the first place.  Also, who in the hell came up with the idea of frying a part of a chicken that used to be disposable (because it’s almost all fat and no meat), covering it with a spicy sauce, and charging caviar prices for it?  That person should be shot.  Seriously, the prices for chicken wings are absolutely dented!  I guess if I think about it long enough, I could come up with a bitch about most anything…

So we eat and we drive and we drive and we drive and, before you know it, it’s dark.  We turn off at Lexington and try to find this state park that we’ve never been to — in the dark.

“We are so screwed,” I informed the family.

“Why?” asked the wife.

“I bet we get there and they have no open spots,” I said.

“What makes you think that?” asked the wife.

“Because that’s just my luck,” I said.  “Then, we’ll be driving around in the dark trying to find some place to spend the night.”

“If worse comes to worst, we can always get a hotel,” says the wife.  “You need to try to see the bright side of things.”

“There won’t be any open hotel rooms and we’ll end up parked in a rest area,” I said.  “So we’ll crawl into the hot camper with no air conditioning.  Then, a serial killer who frequents rest areas will find us and he’ll be all It’s like Christmas, time to open the present.  Then he’ll tear off the camper door and shiv us all to death as we groggily try to figure out what in the hell is going on.  It’s gonna be horrible.”

“Please don’t talk like that in front of the boys,” said the wife.  I glanced at the boys, and they did look a little peaked.  “That is never going to happen.”

“Mommy…” said the youngest boy, tears welling up in his terrified eyes, “are we going to die tonight?”

“Of course not,” said the wife, “you’re father is just an idiot tonight.”

So, we finally find the campground and they have an opening.  Lucky for us, ’cause I’m pretty sure there was a serial killer with our names on the dull blade of his near-blunt object waiting for us at a rest area.

We wake up the next day and I take the boys out geocaching for the morning while the wife enjoys a relaxing shower back at camp.  Geocaching is kind of geeky, but it is cheap fun, which is important when you are on a poor man’s camping vacation.  We find a few caches, and we head back to grab the wife and then drive into Lexington for lunch.

I had never really been through Lexington before, and I was a little shocked at the town.  There is literally a Mexican restaurant on every corner… and there are a lot of corners.  Before we got into town, we passed a Tyson foods processing plant, which I’m assuming is the employer in Lexington.  And apparently Tyson processing plants attract a lot of non-English speaking minorities.  In addition to the Mexican restaurants, we passed two Islamic centers… in Nebraska?!?  Who’d a thunk it?!?

So we settle on one of the Mexican places that has “buffet” in the window, ’cause we all like a good buffet (unless the reviews mention hair in the food, apparently).  On this whole trip, I really didn’t take any pictures for the blog because, well, I’m kind of an idiot.  However, Restaurant La Hacienda was so cool that I actually thought to get out my phone and snap a couple of pictures.
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See, Restaurant La Hacienda actually serves what I think is probably authentic Mexican food.  Scottsbluff touts it’s plethora of authentic Mexican restaurants, and people who move away always clamor about how they miss the authentic Mexican food in Scottsbluff.  Authentic in Scottsbluff means fried tacos.  A flour tortilla filled with beef taco meat and fried in fat to make the tortilla look like a corn taco shell like you buy at the store.  Then the cheese and lettuce and tomatoes are added, and that is authentic Mexican.  Don’t get me wrong, I love fried tacos (anything dripping with grease has got to be good, right?), I just don’t really imagine a lot of Mexicans in Mexico eating these on a regular basis.  I have a feeling fried tacos are a little more Tex Mex than they are Mexican…

So, anyway, at Restaurant La Hacienda, there was not a staff member (including our waitress) who spoke fluent English.  How awesome is that?  The small buffet was filled with things that were unrecognizable to me.  Different meats in sauces, for the most part, with the obligatory beans and rice.  The thing is, this wasn’t ground beef like in the fried tacos of Scottsbluff.  These were chunks of inexpensive meat filled with fat and gristle, but they were cooked for so long that the pieces of meat literally fell apart in my mouth.  An full of flavor?  Of course they were.  This is the kind of food I suspect the majority of Mexicans in Mexico eat — inexpensive, flavorful, fattening, and just down right delicious.

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This was soooo much better tasting than it looks...

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My favorite dish was the most bizarre (in American terms).  If was like strips of pork fat cooked on a tomatillo sauce. The fat reminded my of pork rinds (same flavor, but mushy instead of crispy).  It was absolutely to die for (and I’m sure my cholesterol levels after eating it had me near death).
And of course, there was flan for dessert.  There is nothing on this planet that is more heavenly than flan done right… and this flan was done right.
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The above tray was actually full until I came across it.  The Mexicans (I don’t think there was an English-speaking person in the place, staff or customer) looked at me like I was some kind of deranged, gluttonous gordo blanco… which I was.  The Cheesecake Factory can kiss Resaturant La Hacienda’s hiney!

So, after our fattening, delicious meal (if you’re ever in Lexington, check Restaurant La Hacienda out!), we headed back to Johnnson Lake, loaded up the camper, and headed for home.  We did a little more geocaching along the way.  We stopped in Ogallala so the family could get some supper (I had overdone it for lunch and didn’t need any further fuel for the machine… plus, good Mexican food gives one gas, and I was so full of gas, I had no room for more food).

Our final leg put us getting into Scottsbluff/Gering about 8:30 pm on day 6, and we had to get our dog from the boarding house before 9:00 pm, so we were right on track.  And then we get to the first set of railroad tracks in Gering… and we get stopped by a train.  The train passes, and we get to the first set of railroad tracks in Scottsbluff… and we get stopped by another train.  We get our beagle (who was intensely happy to see us :) ), and we head for our house… only to get stopped by one final stinking stupid train… and I was reminded of one of the many reasons I need to get out of this area once in awhile.  In fact, after the three back-to-back train delays, I was already ready for another vacation…

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Aug 01

After our fun-filled day at the Henry Doorly Zoo and the disaster at the Cheesecake Factory, we drove back to Mahoney State park and our camper for another good night of sleep.  So far, our family’s summer vacation was getting off with mixed reviews.  The wife and two boys were having a blast.  I was having a moderately good time, but the stupid apple cider incident at the Cheesecake Factory had left a bad taste in my mouth (which I’m sure a refill of apple cider would have washed away).

Day three of the vacation was designated as our day to spend in the state park.  Just a day to relax and maybe enjoy the park’s water park.  We actually slept in this day, which was nice.  After a late lunch at the camper, we donned our swimming attire and drove to the pool.

Mahoney State Park has a very nice water park/pool.  We actually spent most of the day there, and we all got a little sunburned.  There was a crowded wave pool, a kiddie area, a diving board and like three decent water slides.  All of the areas were fun, but I learned to hate people on tubes.  The wave pool was a blast when you weren’t dodging some idiot on a tube, and I can’t count the number of times I had some tubed jerkwad’s feet in my face.  Apparently, when you are on a tube, you don’t have to display common courtesy to anyone.  Everyone else is responsible for getting out of your way.  Guess I should have forked over a few bucks and rented a tube myself so I could have been a rude jerkwad.

After a cooling day at the pool, we retreated to the camper and enjoyed another camper meal.  In the evening, we played a round of mini golf (which is the only kind of golf non-rich people play).  Earlier in the day, a group of college-aged kids walked by our campsite with golf bags on their shoulders, obviously on there way to the driving range.

“There go the rich kids,” I snarled as they sauntered past.

“How do you know they are rich?” asked the wife.

“Because they’re carrying golf clubs,” I pointed out.

“They look like college kids, and they are camping, so I doubt they are rich,” said the wife.

“Yeah, whatever… it is obvious they have rich parents,” I said.

“How can you know that?” asked the wife.

“Because they play golf,” I stated.  Sometimes I just don’t understand the wife’s naiveté.

“And we’re camping, and we don’t golf, thus we are poor?” asks the wife.

“You’re starting to catch on,” I said, smiling with the knowledge that the wife was grasping a major life lesson.  Apparently, she rolls her eyes as she learns…

Another night in the camper was followed by our fourth day of vacation.  This day was another to be spent in Omaha.  After a light lunch at camp, we drove back in to Omaha and straight to Fun-Plex.  Fun-Plex is a small amusement park with both amusement park rides and a small water park.  It was so stinking hot that we tried to include some form of water activity on any day we actually spent a considerable amount of time outside.  Even the zoo had water misters placed conveniently throughout.

Fun-Plex was pretty okay.  We bumper boated and roller coasted and tilt-o-whirled and go carted before the heat started to get to us and we retreated to the water park.  The water was a little dirtier here than at Mahoney, and the waves in the wave pool weren’t quite as ferocious, but there were just as many little old men and fat ladies in tubes sticking their feet in my face.  Again, there were also slides, and a nice “lazy river” that was fun to swim in.

Two days in a bathing suit surrounded by young people in bathing suits made me realize something: I am old and fat… and I’m not too certain I was ever anything different!

I’ve always been a fatty, and I don’t remember ever hanging out with shapely people at a pool anywhere.  I think that’s because the shapely people all hang out with other shapely people, and they leave us fatties to ourselves.  It’s almost a form of discrimination, I think.  I’d see a bunch of shapely girls in bikinis walk by with a group of muscular young men, and then I’d see two fat kids walk by the other direction.  And it’s kind of funny, ’cause the skinny people are always looking around and laughing and talking, while the fat people pretty much just stare at the ground.  I would probably have other observations about how the skinny people discriminate against (and have more fun than) the fat people, but I spent a lot of time looking at the ground, so I’m sure I missed a lot.

Young people upset me.  Especially young, fit people.  Even my own kids are often the objects of my jealousy.  Both of my boys are relatively fit and healthy.  They are also pretty smart, and they aren’t ugly.  Because of their fitness and intelligence, I’m sure they will have an advantage in life that my ugly fat belly and ignorance didn’t permit.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I want the best for them.  I want them to be successful and happy with whatever they decide to do with their lives.  I just wish that I would have been given the advantages of fitness and good looks and intelligence (or at least one of them), but apparently God wanted to put some hurdles in front of me to develop some sort of character trait that I wouldn’t have found if things had been easier for me.  I’m sure God is now shaking His head as He realizes that I don’t learn from obstacles (I retreat like a Frenchman), but I think He’s still working with me….

So, after a fun yet somewhat degrading day at Fun-Plex, we let the youngest boy decide on what kind of restaurant to go to for supper.  The youngest loves Chinese and Mexican, but he settled on Mexican.  I found the closest decent-looking Mexican place and we ate.  I don’t remember the name of the place, but it was pretty typical.  We got chips and salsa, and the waiter was great at refilling our glasses.  I had some sort of fajita-type-stuff, and it was good.  Nothing out of this world (at least not enough to remember the name), but everyone seemed satisfied.  And I didn’t get screwed on the refills…

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Jul 31

As I last wrote, I was preparing for a wonderful week of vacation in and around Omaha, Nebraska.  The wife and I packed up the kids and our travel trailer and headed east.  We selected Omaha as our summer vacation destination for a myriad of reasons, all of which I touched on in my last post, but the major reason is: we’re poor and cheap.

The first thing I leaned about pulling a trailer to Omaha in an effort to save money on the old summer vacation is that pulling a trailer when gas is over $3.50 per gallon and you are lucky to be getting 8 miles per gallon is not really saving anyone anything.  The second thing I learned is that summer on any interstate is going mean many, many, many road construction delays.  So, yeah, our little drive, which should have taken around 7 hours, took more like 10.  Ten hours in a vehicle pulling a trailer with outside temperatures of well over 100 degrees F and two kids who love to terrorize each other whenever they get bored spells F-U-N!

So, our first day ends setting up camp (or  camper) in Mahoney State Park just outside Omaha.  Neat place, except it looks to me like making a reservation was kind of like inviting the State of Nebraska to gently screw us.  We made reservations to make sure we had a spot to camp, but the portion of the campground that was set aside for reservations was definitely the suckier part of the campground.  If we would have just showed up and grabbed a spot, we would have been in the shaded area next to the bathroom/shower house and we would have been able to pick up the WiFi.  Instead, we were in pretty much direct sunlight all day long and were like a quarter of a mile from the shower house (and nearest bathrooms).  Sure, we have a toilet in the camper, but there were no sewage hook-ups at this park, and a camper with a sewage storage tank full of poop and pee sitting out in the 105°F sun isn’t somewhere anyone could really spend a week. Needless to say, we spent a lot of time driving to the pooper on the other side of the campground… you know… where the WiFi and shade were.

So, after a decent night sleep, we drive into Omaha and head to the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.  The wife was there as a little girl, but none of the rest of us had ever been there.  Heard it was cool, so we thought we would check it out.  It was cool.  Best zoo I have ever been to… not that I’ve been to that many.  The Denver Zoo, a zoo in Memphis, and our local excuse for a zoo in Scottsbluff (which isn’t really too bad for a zoo in a town that is way to small to have a zoo).  The Omaha Zoo was (according to one of the volunteers that wouldn’t leave us alone) recently named the “best zoo in America”.  Apparently, Omaha’s Zoo is always in the top three, but this is the first time it has been named number one.  I don’t know what agency ranks the zoos or how credible the volunteer was, but I will admit that I don’t have a hard time believing that the Henry Doorly Zoo is the best zoo in the nation.

For lunch, we ate at one of the cafeterias in the zoo.  Overpriced burgers and fries, but not bad food.  The zoo took us pretty much the entire day to get through, and it was a lot of walking.  By the time we left, we were starving again, and I had special plans for supper.

My family members are big fans of iCarly, and there was an episode where the show kind of poked fun at the portion sizes at the Cheesecake Factory (although they gave it a different name).  Ever since that episode, we have wanted to try out a Cheesecake Factory, and Omaha happens to have one.  I didn’t tell the family where we were going, so when we pulled up, it was a surprise.  We were all excited.

We got seated and the waitress took our drink orders.  The oldest boy ordered a pop, and the wife asked if there were free refills on the strawberry lemonade.

“Oh, yeah, all the drinks have free refills,” said the waitress.

So, the youngest boy and the wife got the strawberry lemonades.  I, after hearing the waitress make her statement about all of the drinks coming with free refills, decide on the $3.50 glass of chilled spiced cider.  Usually, I would have just ordered a pop or an iced tea, but cold apple cider sounded kind of good.

The waitress brought the drinks, and the pop and lemonades are in these monster glasses.  My cider is in a much smaller glass, but I’m thinking “guess that means she’ll just have to refill it more often.”  The oldest boy and I finished off our drinks before the waitress returned to take our food orders (walking around the zoo all day in the heat makes a guy thirsty).  She asked the boy if he would like a refill to which he replied in the affirmative.  She then left.  She returned shortly with a new pop for the kid and… a glass of water for me.  She leaned over and whispered, “I thought you might like this.  The cider is the only thing we don’t have free refills on.”

What the…

So I’m going to be drinking freaking water with my Cheesecake Factory meal?  I must have had a look on my face that indicated to the wife my displeasure.

“Just order a pop or something,” said the wife.

“No, I’m good,” I pouted.

The waitress hurried away.

“Don’t get all pouty and ruin this for everyone,” said the wife.

“I’m not pouty,” I pouted.  “They already got my $3.50 for that little glass of apple juice.  They don’t need any more money for drinks from me.”

For your information, apple juice is the cheapest of the juices.  I have no research to back that up (because I’m incredibly lazy), but I’m pretty sure it’s true.  Whenever you buy a juice that is “100% juice”, it usually isn’t really 100% juice of the kind advertised on the label, especially if it has “cocktail” or “blend” in the title.  Usually, it is mostly apple juice with a hint of whatever kind of juice you think you are buying.  This is because apple juice is the cheapest juice they can add, yet they can still put “100% juice” on the label.  Yet, I gotta pay $3.50 for one tiny glass of cheap apple juice with no free refills!  Needless to say, my entire experience at the Cheesecake Factory was ruined at that particular moment.  I don’t even really remember what I ordered (some kind of burger I think) or if it was any good (but I know it would have been better with free refills on the cheap apple juice).

By the time the waitress had come around to take our dessert orders, I was so pissed that I skipped dessert entirely.  Everyone else ordered cheesecake (because that’s what you do at the Chesecake Factory, right?) and I just sat there being all kinds of pissed off.  Myself excluded, I think everyone enjoyed the Cheesecake Factory.  My youngest said it was the “best cheesecake ever”… and he doesn’t even like cheesecake… but I personally will never set foot in that particular chain again.  Screw me on the apple juice, will you…

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Jul 08

Okay, so the boy and I signed up for summer camp again this summer.  We missed last year due to our whole family going on a cruise and me not being a doctor or a lawyer or some other rich dude who can afford all kinds of frivolous vacation expenses.   In the past, the boy and I have attended Medicine Mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota and Camp Laramie Peak in Wyoming.  This summer, the troop had decided to go back to Camp Laramie Peak (CLP).  At first, I was a little hesitant, because last time we went wasn’t exactly a stellar, a-plus experience.  In fact, I blogged about it.

Now, I have written a couple of lengthy posts about scouting.  They are some of my most-“Googled” posts.   I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I love scouting.  I love the leaders, I love the kids, I love what we are trying to instill in the young men.  Between cub scouts and boy scouts, I have been an adult volunteer for around 8 years (and the last two years, I have been involved in both cubs and boy scouts).  Let’s remember that I am a cynical smart-ass and I make fun of stuff (myself included) whenever I write.  Every time I poke fun at BSA, I get some militant buttmunch who comments about what a horrible example I am, how I should quit scouting and pull my kids out, and how I’m just an all-around jerk with no business posting anything negative about scouting online.  To those with no sense of humor about scouting, please leave now.  I think you may have a more pleasant experience here.

So, I somewhat reluctantly agree to follow the troop to CLP to help with the scouts.  A short time before we’re ready to embark on this journey, the Scout Master approaches me.  He tells me that he has some work obligations, and because I have been with the troop for awhile, he wants me to serve as acting Scout Master while we are at CLP.

Crap.

Responsibility, paperwork, having to be the adult that wakes up early enough to get the boys up…

sigh

“I’d be honored,” I told him, and I actually think I felt my nose grow slightly longer.

I am not the kind of person who handles stress very well.  I don’t have a high-paying job with with a large amount of advancement opportunity because those kinds of jobs usually involve a large amount of stress.  If I deal with an upset customer on the phone, I usually handle it pretty well on the surface.  I can usually make the customer happy.  However, I have the knowledge that I will ultimately die of a massive heart attack while on the phone with one of these people because I get so stressed while talking to them.  Either an upset customer — or having to deal with employees under my direct command and their issues… management material I ain’t…  So, the inherent stress involved with being directly responsible for 20 scouts is not something I am really looking forward too, but I can’t imagine another leader that I am sure all of the boys of all ages will respond well to.  Kids like me (probably because I haven’t really grown up yet myself… going to have to do that one of these days).  Besides, there are a lot of other adults going with the troop, and I know there are a few of them who are going to be great assets with the boys.

Finally, camp time arrives and we load up the cars and take off.  CLP is about 2 1/2 hours from Scottsbluff and the drive goes by quickly.  My car consists of my boy and two other scouts that are my boys age.  I’ll just call those boys Mada and Neb to protect their identities.  I have been dealing with these scouts for years now and we all get along splendidly.  I always crank up the stereo and blast some tunes when I have a car full of scouts.  They usually enjoy it.  On this trip, I got the Mumford and Sons blaring and I hear giggles from the backseat.

“What’s so funny?” I ask.

“What’s this crap?” says Neb.

“Yeah,” says Mada.  “Is this folk country or something?”

“It’s… it’s Mumford and Sons,” I say.  “It’s good stuff.”

“It’s Garbage and Sons,” says Neb.  “It sucks.”

I turn the stereo down, blinking back tears, and proceed onwards toward CLP.  It’s going to be a long week…

Our actual Scout Master did an excellent job of preparing all of the paperwork for check-in at camp, which made checking in once we arrived a snap.  We were guided through the camp to our campsite.  Every time we approached a sight, I could hear scouts mumbling, “this must be it,” or “maybe it’s this one.”  Needless to say, the sites we passed weren’t “it” or “this one.”  Our campsite was Pawnee, and it was about as far as you can get from the main activities of camp… it was always an uphill walk to get there.  I think our Scout Master requested a site on the outskirts of camp… because I think our Scout Master may actually be satan.  Old fat guys with high blood pressure and weak wills are not meant to walk long distances uphill — several times every day — for a week.

So we get settled in and start our camp schedule.  Up at 6am, flags at 7:45am, breakfast at 8am, merit badges at 9am… etc, etc, etc. Life at camp is supposed to be pretty predictable.   And for the most part, it was.  I had a really good group of scouts and parents.  Everyone seemed to get along.  I was very proud of the boys of all ages.  The older scouts included the younger scouts in most of their activities and fun was had by all.

I was duly impressed with the staff at CLP.  The food, although pretty much like a school lunch and very high in carbs (although not a single bagel was to be found :) ), was plentiful and none of it sucked (although I did hear some of the health freaks from Colorado make complaints like “I never eat like this — so much processed food — oh my — I’ll have to eat salad for a week after I get back to straighten out my digestive system…”, thing is, there was a salad bar served with every lunch and supper, but there was no gourmet lettuce on the bar, and Coloradans like to make themselves sound healthier than they really are…).   The counselors were all relatively knowledgeable and seemed to enjoy what they were doing.  The staff was, for the most part, friendly and willing to answer questions.  In other words, CLP this time around was a complete turn-around from when we attended in 2010.

One of the things I always find amusing at every boy scout camp I’ve been to with the troop is, no matter which camp we go to, there is always at least one cute girl serving on the staff who becomes a topic of discussion amongst the scouts.  We try to get the boys away from the normal things of this world and help them get closer to nature and developing outdoor skills, and they end up infatuating over girls, which is what a lot of them do as a normal thing in regular life.  At CLP, there were “the twins”.  The twins were two attractive, outdoorsy young women who most of the boys would go out of their way to get a gander at.  Mada in particular (one of the scouts who rode to camp with me) became very fond of the twins.  I don’t think Mada actually talked to either of the twins, but I think he had visions of dating one — if not both — of them at some point in the near future.

The week progressed nicely.  All of the scouts seemed to handle being away from home just fine, and everyone seemed to be having a good time.  Some of the boys weren’t showering quite as often as my nose would have liked, but that is just part of a week-long camp with boys.  By the time Thursday rolled around, everyone was in high spirits.  Thursday was the last day for the boys to complete any merit badges they were working on.  Friday, we had planned on taking the troop on a hike up the side of Black Mountain to the fire lookout post at the top.  It’s like a 3 mile hike uphill and it tests the younger scouts endurance.  By the time the scouts hike up, check out the awesome views from the lookout post, and stumble back down, everyone gets a good night sleep before packing up camp and heading home on Saturday.
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Spending a summer living here would be pretty cool...

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Now, we had heard that there was a forest fire in the area, but it was a long way from camp and was in no way a threat to us.  We all went about our scheduled business on Thursday.  The camp director informed us that his wife had given birth to their son the previous evening and he would be going to spend time with the newest member of his family.  He turned the reins of the camp over to one of the other staffers, and no one doubted her ability to get us through the remaining two days.

A couple of older scouts had no scheduled activities, so they decided to take a hike up Black Mountain just to say they did it twice at one camp.  Upon their return, they informed us that a new fire had started from a recent lightening strike and it may pose a threat to CLP.  Throughout the day, we were given bits and pieces of information about the nearby fire, and the stream of smoke pouring over Black Mountain grew in intensity throughout the day.  By evening, there was speculation that there may be an evacuation of the camp… just as a precaution.

Beside the Pawnee campsite, there was a hill that we figured would provide us with a cool view of the smoke coming over the mounatin.  All of the scouts and leaders took a short hike up the hill and were amazed by the ominous black cloud  that rolled right over the fire lookout at the top of the mountain.
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CLP Evacuation Smoke 2012

You can see a touch of the actual blue sky in the center. All of the dark is smoke coming over the mountain.

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Although the sky was filled with smoke, no one seemed to concerned.  You really couldn’t even smell the smoke, and the fire seemed so far away… until the sun went down.  As what little light that could be seen in the sky disappeared, the entire horizon over the top of the mountain glowed orange.  I didn’t get any pictures of the orange glow because, at this point, I am starting to freak out a little.

We have the entire troop return to the camp site.  By this time, it’s almost 10:00 pm and 10:00 is supposed to be lights out — everyone in their tents and down for the night.  Well, because of the eeriness of that orange glow, one of the other adults and I decide we’re going to make the long hike downhill to the office to see what the plans are.  We get to the dining hall and one of the staffers stops us.

“Can I help you?” she asks.

“Well, it’s lights-out and we were wondering if we should have the boys go to bed or what because the orange glow on the ridge is kind of freaky and I’d hate to have them get all comfortable just to wake them up to tell them we’re evacuating and that would probably freak them out more than if they just stayed up and …” I was settling well into freak-out mode before she stopped me.

“Listen,” the staffer said, “if and when… when (she looked me straight in the eyes)… we call for an evacuation, the fire bells will sound.  Keep the boys up and listen for the bells. ”

“Okeedokee,” I said, and we started the exhausting hike back up the hill.  We made it about 50 yards before another adult leader from another troop came running by.

“Did you hear?” he shouted.  “They are going to evacuate!  Get your boys ready to meet by the dining hall!”

Then he was gone.

Crap.

The other leader and I started to run — uphill — to our site.  The other leader, being in much better shape than me (it doesn’t take much) soon had the lead.

“Screw… this…,” I barely was able to emit between grasps of breath. “I’m… calling… someone…”

The other adult kept running while I pulled out my cell phone and dialed one of the leaders back at out campsite.  The smell of smoke that had been mysteriously absent earlier in the evening started to fill my nostrils.

“Yeah?” answered the adult back at camp.

“They… are… going… to… evacuate…” I stammered.

“What?” said the adult on the other end of the call.

I took a few deep breaths to try to catch mine, and I repeated the evacuation edict.

“What do you want us to do?”

Just then, the fire bells started ringing.

“Line all… line all… of… the boys… up…,” I stuttered while still trying to catch my breath, “and… wait… for… me…”

“Will do,” and the phone went dead.

I continued my brisk jog up the hill toward our campsite at the edge of the universe thinking about how much the real scout master must hate me for having chosen a site sooo far  from everything.  As I ran, I could feel my heart trying to beat its way out of my chest as my head felt like there was a balloon being inflated inside.

“I’m going to fall over dead of a stroke right here on this stinking trail,” I thought to myself… because talking to myself would have used too much precious breath, ” while I’m supposed to be helping a bunch of scouts to safety…”

When I finally stumbled into the campsite, the smoke was hanging heavy in the air, but there was a row of scouts and adults  diligently lined up in a single file line, ready to head out for the evacuation instructions.

“Alright, guys, ” I said as calmly as I could, “they are going to have us leave camp early because of the fire.  We are in no danger, they are just being overly cautious, which is a good thing, but I don’t want anyone to worry.  We are all going to be just fine, so stay calm and let’s make sure ever one is here.”

From  a nearby campsite, I could hear another adult leader screaming at his scouts, “Would you guys hurry up… there’s a fire coming and we need to meet at the dining hall to find out what we need to do to get out of here… HURRY UP… DO YOU ALL WANT TO DIE!!!

I glanced at my scouts to see if they had overheard the other adult with the other troop — their faces all remained calm, so I couldn’t tell.

“We don’t need to overreact,” I tried to reassure them as that balloon in my head grew a couple of inches in size.   I counted the scouts… and came up with 19.

“Nineteen,” I said, calmly at first.  “There are only nineteen scouts here.  We’re supposed to have twenty.  Who are we missing?”

Everyone looked at one another and then back at me with blank faces.

“There are only nineteen scouts here… and we are supposed to have twenty.  NINETEEN IS NOT TWENTY… WHY ARE THERE ONLY NINETEEN INSTEAD OF TWENTY… WHO IS MISSING?”  The balloon in my skull felt like the Good Year blimp and my vision started to go all kinds of wacky, while I’m sure that my voice sounded like that of an 11-year-old girl.

One of the younger scouts at the front of the line looked at me and calmly stated, “Don’t you have a roster?”

Roster?  Why yes, we had a roster.  In fact, they made us have three copies of that stinking roster and I remembered thinking that was nothing more than overkill: two copies to the camp and one for the campsite.

We rounded up the roster and I performed roll call.  When we I got to the name that didn’t elicit a “here”, a tent was checked and a sleeping scout was roused.  Now we had twenty scouts and we headed to the dining hall for further instructions… all the way back down the hill.

A small group of leaders were taken inside the dining hall while the staff led the remaining adults and the scouts in some rousing campfire songs to keep their minds preoccupied.  The fill-in camp director calmly gave us our evacuation instructions, which consisted of tearing down our campsites, getting everyone to their rides, and getting everyone calmly and orderly the hell out of Dodge.  We were all to meet at Safeway in Wheatland, WY to make sure that everyone had made it out.  There would be available locations for us to safely sleep in Wheatland once we arrived.

We went back outside and calmly gathered our troops and headed all the way back uphill to our campsite, which we promptly tore down and loaded in our trailer.  Once loaded, we hiked all the way back down to the parking lot and loaded the boys in their appropriate vehicles.  As each vehicle left the parking lot, CLP staffers stopped the vehicle and took a tally of who was in the vehicle and compared it to one of the copies of the roster that we gave them.  We then started the caravan toward Wheatland.

For the journey to Wheatland, I chose Adele’s Set Fire to the Rain as our departure music.  No one seemed to mind.  As we traveled the dirt roads leading away from camp, the orange glow on the horizon gave us perspective on why we were leaving camp near midnight more than 24 hours early.  After Set Fire to the Rain, I selected Someone Like You as our evacuation music.  I noticed that Mada seemed especially upset during the Adele ballad of broken hearts and lost love.

We silently snaked along the roads all the way to the interstate and then into Wheatland.  We arrived in the Safeway parking lot only to stand in another line while our names were once again compared to yet another copy of the roster that we had turned into the camp.  We then assembled on the sidewalk next to Safeway and awaited further instructions.  Finally, one of the twins came over to us and let us know where the city park was where we could sleep for the night.  I glanced at Mada and saw the sorrow in his eyes as the twin walked away.

When we got back to the car, Neb whispered to me, “Please don’t play any more Adele.  It reminds Mada that he may never see the twins again.”

“Okay,” I smiled gently as I put the car in drive and cranked Adele on the stereo.

By the time we arrived at the park and got everyone either sleeping on tarps on the grass or in the cars, it was around 2:30am on Friday morning.  When we awoke a few hours later, we must have looked like a bunch of vagrants littering the park to all of the Wheatland residents walking around the park… and there were a lot of residents walking around the park.  Apparently, there isn’t much to do in Wheatland, WY but walk around the park on a Friday morning :)  We received some strange looks and a few questions… and a lot of “we’re glad you’re safe” and “welcome to Wheatland”.

The drive back to Scottsbluff was a cheery one.  Everyone seemed to be in a grand mood… even Mada.  I later asked him if he was still upset about his missed opportunity with the twins.

“It’s not a missed opportunity,” he explained,” just postponed.”

The whole ordeal from our adventure at CLP gave me some perspective on scouting and the important lessons scouting teaches:

  • “Be Prepared” is not only a motto, it is a way of life.
  • Rosters are good and you can never have too many.
  • Boy Scouts of America trains it’s people well.
  • Always have some Adele on hand.  You never know when it may come in useful.
  • Never — I repeat, NEVER — select a campsite as far away from everything as possible to try to teach some sort of lesson to the scouts.  You (or your designated substitute) may actually have their head explode (which I’m pretty sure mine almost did) in case of an emergency…
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Jan 24
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There will be random pictures of geeky tech nerd chicks throughout this post. Scientific studies prove men are more likely to read a blog post if there are pictures of sexy geek-chicks associated with it... or, at least I am more likely to read a blog post if there is a picture of a sexy geek-chick associated with it...

I used to be kind of a techie geek.  I liked the newest tech-toys and the hippest websites.  When I worked at Alltel, I was all about the newest, coolest phones.  I was one of the guys that the customers would come to so they could transfer all of their saved crap on their old phone to their new phone (because we didn’t have fancy machines that did that automatically), or set custom MP3 ringtones on phones that weren’t supposed to be able to have custom ringtones, or whatever other crap needed to be done that took a lot of time but didn’t generate any commission.  Also, friends and family, because I worked at a cell phone store, thought I was the be-all, end-all to tech greatness.  I liked being a go-to geek.  Then I started doing actual tech support, and everything changed.

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Nothing says geek like a Stormtrooper chick...

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I also used to love to read.  I loved being taken away to a life that actually contained adventure by having my imagination stoked by a master wordsmith.  Holding a book, turning the pages, feeling its heft in my hands, knowing that someone had taken months of their time creating this tale just for me… reading was awesome.  I always dreamed of being one of those wordsmiths, creating those tales just for that individual who chose to be carried away by my musings.  I dreamed of having a mass of paper bound together and full of my words with my name embossed on the cover underneath a catchy, deep title like: Whereas Whispers the Will of our Souls, or, Arnklot, Last of the Vampyre Clan of Tillystone. All dreams must come to an end.
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Supergirl wannabe... how nerdy is that?

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The wife used to be pretty technologically ignorant.  She was anti-smartphone because they were too “fancy”, and she didn’t feel she would ever use all of the “fancy” Internet features on a smartphone.  Still, I was able to convince her to go into a Droid, and she has never looked back.  Her next step was a Kindle.  I was actually against the Kindle (this was after I stopped working at Alltel, and technology had started to lose its appeal to me).

“Books are books, and they can’t be replaced by a stupid e-reader,” I would tell her.

“I still love books,” the wife would say, “it’s just nice to have a whole library in one easy-to-carry device.”

“That’s crap,” I would logically disagree.  “Kindles are stupid.  Only babies have Kindles!”

Whatever,” the wife would say, usually rolling her eyes.
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Glasses are uber-tech-geeky...

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So the wife got her a Kindle and started getting fancy electronic books.  They were much less expensive than the good old paper books, and she soon had a decent sized collection of crappy e-books on her Kindle.  I was disgusted.

I started to notice that more and more “experts” were predicting the slow demise of the paper book.  Digital books were predicted to be the wave of the future.  I disagreed.

“Who is going to take the time to write a book if they have to sell them on Amazon for 99¢?” I would inquire.

“There are writers out there who have become millionaires selling books on Amazon,” the wife would argue.  “These writer’s would have never even received an offer from a traditional publisher.”

“But, without a traditional publisher, how do you get a paper book made?” I asked.

“Well, they don’t have paper books made,” the wife said.  “They are all digital.”

“That’s stupid,” I would conclude.  “Only baby writers don’t have paper books.”

More eye rolling always followed.  The wife likes to roll her eyes.

Before I knew it, the wife was getting involved in all kinds of reading crap.  She got all wrapped up in Goodreads, and there she found new Facebook discussion groups and whatnot.  She learned more ways to get enjoyment out of her stupid Kindle.  She actually was fast becoming an expert on e-readers and e-books in general.

This past Christmas, both of my boys and the wife all got Kindle Fires.  Now, all three of them are supporting making authors struggle more by buying e-books instead of the good old traditional paper books.  How in the crap are you supposed to get a signed copy of an e-book?  You can’t, that’s how!  Stupid Kindle.  Stupid Amazon.  Stupid Nook.  Stupid Barnes & Noble (whose brick and mortar stores are on the verge of extinction thanks to stupid e-readers).

The wife was recently talking about how e-reader experts will probably be in pretty high demand in the near future.  Traditional bookstores, libraries, and even many businesses will have a need for an on-staff e-reader expert.  That sounds like a job I would like.  That seems like a job the wife has positioned herself for.  Stupid technology.  After dealing with tech crap all day at work, the last thing in the world I want to do is submerge myself in technology after hours.  I watch stupid scary movies or find some other mind-killing activity to help me get to sleep: things that in no way will help me transition into a fun job (if there is such a thing).
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All Orientals are tech-geeky, right?

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I don’t really read much anymore.  I used to read because I thought reading might be a good way to improve my writing skills.  Now, I have given up on my dream being a writer.  I won’t have my name embossed on the cover of a stinking Kindle, and nobody is going to let me sign their stupid Nook.  Selling e-books for 99¢ isn’t going to lead to a full-time gig (… at least not with any of the hogwash I would end up writing), and who in his or her right mind would write seriously just for fun (I have this stinking blog for that).

Technology kills dreams.  Technology erodes real human contact.  Technology is destroying the world.  My wife is now the technology expert in our house.  And although I work with stupid Internet technology all day, I am thankful that, technologically, I’m an idiot…

Normally, I would end my post here with this profound thought, but I’m feeling kind of bad.  Here I have written a kind of stupid post (yeah, so what’s new?) and interlaced it with attractive women with a more-than-necessary amount of skin showing for the sole purpose of getting guys to stay on my site longer and increase my stats.  I may be a little geekier than I let on.  This is not fair to the women who visit my blog: the wife and my sister.  In order to make amends, I offer the following for the ladies:

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ooh la la, can anyone say "hottie"?

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Beefcake City!

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Finally, that Oriental-thing goes both ways, doesn't it, ladies? :)

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Oct 28

The time of year is upon us for some pretty cool seasonal food. I grew a few things this summer, and it always kind of sucks to have to wait for the fall stuff until… well… fall. I did well with buttercup squash and pumpkins. I only planted one pumpkin plant, and it only grew 4 pumpkins, but I think I’m set on pumpkin for awhile…

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A beagle and her pumpkins

Our old beagle has a spot in every room that she calls her own. In this room, pumpkins invaded her space. She was pissed.

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Now, I like pumpkin pie as much as the next dude.  Three of the four pumpkins we grew are in the picture above.  The two that are a darker orange color weigh over 100# each.  The lighter-orange pumpkin weighs slightly over 80#, and one more pumpkin not pictured weighed in at over 40#.  That’s over 320# of pumpkin… how much pie can a fellow eat?!?  Although one or two of these may end up wasted as jack-o-lanterns, this is way too much food to not find some different ways to eat pumpkin.  Deciding to try out the smallest (40#!) pumpkin first, I decided on a pumpkin soup and some pumpkin butter.  The pumpkin soup was okay, but the butter rocked, so I thought I would share my recipe and experience.

The first thing we did was to split the pumpkin, gut it, and bake it.

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40# pumpkin

Don't throw them seeds away! Clean 'em, soak them in salt water overnight, and roast them in the oven at 300 degrees or so for a couple of hours. Awesome snackin'!

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I cut a bit of it off raw to make the pumpkin soup, but the rest of it went in the over at 350° for about an hour.  Remember, this was a BIG pumpkin… I had to do 2 shifts to cook the entire thing.  I made the pumpkin soup while the pumpkin baked :)

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Baked pumpkin

The whole house smelled like Thanksgiving... in early October. It was awesome :)

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Once it was nice and soft, I removed it carefully from the oven and drained of the juices (there were a ton of juice cooked out of this sucker).  Then, I got out a knife to start removing the flesh from the shell.  Of course, being a dude, I like my knives big and sharp.

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Big knife

Big knives mean you get 'er done quicker, right?

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The big knife was, of course, a mistake.  Almost every time I get together with a knife in the kitchen, someone gets cut.  And seeing as how no one will enter the kitchen if I am holding a knife, it’s always me.

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Stupid knife

I always seem to cut little bits from the exact same place on my finger... every time. One of these times, it's just going to refuse to grow back.

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So, with my finger hurting, I soldier on and remove the pumpkin flesh.  It all goes into a bowl and I mash it up.  Now, as you can imagine, I got me a ton of pumpkin meat… way more than I’m going to need to make a little bit of pumpkin butter.  The nice thing about pumpkin is it freezes really well.  So, I decide I’m going to make about 8 cups of pumpkin puree into pumpkin butter, so I blended and set aside 8 cups.

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Pumpkin puree

I decided to use 8 cups because... uh... that's the biggest measuring thingie I had.

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I freeze the rest of the flesh just mashed.

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Mashed pumpkin

Nothing quite as appetizing as mashed pumpkin...

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I froze it mashed instead of pureed in case I came across a recipe where the pumpkin needed to have a little more substance… but I’m guessing it’s mostly going to go in soup, more butter, and some pies.  But, it’s easy enough to blend it after it thaws.

To freeze it, I just filled quart freezer bags with 4 cups of mash.

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Uh... Yeah... More pumpkin

Yummy... er... well, someday it will be.

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A neat way to get the air out is to stick a straw into the bag and suck as you seal it up.

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Pumpkin shake

Nothing like having your teenage son walk into the kitchen, spy you sucking on a bag of pumpkin, roll his eyes, and, without saying a word, turn right back around and leave.

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Okay, I’m getting close to ending the freezing of the pumpkin.  Of course, my hands are all slimed up with pumpkin.  I wash my hands and realize…

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Uh oh

Uh... this doesn't look right...

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… something is missing.  I know I had a bandage on my freshly cut finger.  I know it hasn’t been off that finger for very long.  I know I didn’t have it when I went to wash my hands.  For crying out loud, where could it be?

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Uh... Yeah... More pumpkin

... oh yeah...

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Oh no.  I had a pretty strong suspicion I knew where the bandage was.  See, the masher did a decent job of mashing the pumpkins, but every once in awhile, there was a piece the masher didn’t get.  I’d just stick my hand in that goop and mush it with my hands.  So, I went “fishing”.

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Fishing

Yeah, it feels as creepy as it looks.

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It didn’t take long until I found what I was looking for.

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The big catch

Strangely enough, I didn't end up reusing the bandage.

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Yeah, I just tossed it… the bandage, that is.  I’m not going to waste good pumpkin.  I just marked the package extra special so I knew which one not to eat myself.

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Special batch

That one's going into pumpkin bread to give away during the holidays :)

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Finally, I finished getting all of the extra pumpkin and was ready to start in on the pumpkin butter.

Following is what you will need to make a batch of pumpkin butter.  I actually made a double batch.  However, I went the slow cooker route to cook the butter (cause there is no stirring or watching or any of that crap) and I quickly realized that my concoction was a little much for a standard slow cooker.

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Full

Yeah... little full...

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It was a little messy.  If you want to double the recipe, do so at your own risk :)

* 4 cups pumpkin puree

* 1 cup brown sugar

* 1/2 cup white sugar

* 3/4 cup apple juice

* 1 Tbs vanilla

* 1/4 tsp allspice

* 1/4 tsp ground cloves

* 1/4 tsp ground ginger

* 1/2 tsp nutmeg

* 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

* 1 Tbs lime juice

That’s it.  Mix it all together and throw it in the slow cooker.  I cooked the double batch for about 12 hours overnight on high in the slow cooker.  A smaller batch probably won’t take quite as long.  Make sure you tilt the lid on the cooker so that a lot of the the moisture cooks off.

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Full lid

Tilt it, or crack it. I wrote "crack"... hahaha!

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You want your pumpkin butter to be nice and thick… you know, so that sticks to the back of a spoon.  You want it spreadable.  I love that word: spreadable. Sounds kind of sexy, doesn’t it?  Sweet and spreadable.

While I’m getting prepared to cook this overnight, the wife says to me, “Uh, that slow cooker looks a little full,”

“Yeah,” I say, “I want lots of butter.”

“You realize that is going to make a mess, right,” the wife says.

“Don’t worry,” I say.  “I’ll clean it up.”

Well, you see, I have this little habit of saying I’ll clean stuff up and then, for some reason, I never really clean it up.  Or rather, I don’t clean it up fast enough for the wife and she ends up cleaning it up herself.  Long story short, the wife doesn’t let me cook my pumpkin butter in the kitchen.  I am relegated to complete my cooking project in the basement.

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My cooking space... apparently...

For some reason, seems like a lot of my cooking projects end up here...

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After about 12 hours, my slow cooker full of goodness…

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Full

This is going to be SO much pumpkin butter!

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…had reduced to the perfect consistency.  Too bad so much of it was water.

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Messy much?

Okay... so it was a little messy.

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All that work and I get a couple of jars of pumpkin butter.

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Pumpkin butter

Not much... but it sure is good.

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I was trying to decide if I wanted to process the butter by canning to make it last longer (which isn’t apparently recommended), but I decided that it wasn’t going to take long for the family to go through what I had made.  I stuck one jar in the fridge for now and one jar in the freezer for later.  The hardest part was preparing the pumpkin.  The rest was a cake walk.  It sure is good… and I have the reassurance that if I want to make more, I’ve got plenty of pumpkin to make that happen.

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I can always make more...

How much pumpkin butter can one family eat?

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Now, I just need to figure out what I am going to do with my squash…

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Squash

Besides baking it, what do you do with this crap...?

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