Back to the Land: Catching Fire

photo 1-3I flew too close to the sun. I tried to run before I could walk. After consulting The Art of Manliness blog, I found I should be making foil packet meals. My mom used to make these foil meals for us even when we weren’t camping. My brother called them foul meals. Gourmet or not, I was not going to be defeated by hamburger.

Armed with several recipes, Nate and I headed off to the local family-run market. On the menu was lemon pepper chicken and hamburger patties with cream of mushroom soup, onions, potatoes, and carrots. Why 2 meals? I figured if I could get a fire going enough to cook one, I’d better strike while the iron was hot, quite literally. Also, it doubled my chances that at least one would be edible.

I decided the curious metal cylinder that I’d put aside yesterday as a grill accoutrement too advanced for my skill level could actually help me. I stacked wood in it vertically, and put kerosene soaked newspaper trails through the holes leading to its center. Like lighting the olympic fire, I placed the torch in the lighter fluid haze, and poof! Instant fire. I dumped the flaming wood out into the bowl of the grill and removed the cylinder.

As I let my fire mellow and settle in, I went to pre-soften my potatoes and carrots by boiling them.

I read that I should let the fire die down and put my packets directly on the glowing coals. Since again, I’m operating with wood, not charcoal, I curiously never got glowing coals. I got really hot ash, which I decided was just fine. Well, turns out that’s messy when you try to flip. Luckily I had triple-wrapped my packets, so we were safe from straight-lining carcinogens.

I decided to re-stoke the fire and put the packets on the grill instead, manliness be damned. I gave the hamburgers 30 minutes and the chicken an hour.

I checked them, and realized I never flipped the chicken. But both were cooked through, with one side exhibiting faint notes of char. I’m not sure if the foil pot roast burgers were good or not, but there is immense satisfaction in eating something you cooked over an open flame in the middle of nowhere with no help. Nate ate most of his, but he’ll eat anything and in large quantities.

I was giddy with success, and I still had both eyebrows. Nate grabbed the supplies, and I reinserted the cylinder to get my fire going again for s’mores. I still had a few small flames, but I thought I needed more. Well, I guess the cylinder works best as a starter, not a re-starter. I managed to set the wooden handle on fire. Why would the handle be wooden? Well, it’s not anymore.

Anyhow. Next we’ll try foil fish with dill and lemon. That whole adventure took about 3 hours from start to finish, not including the shopping. And I didn’t have to hunt or field dress any of it.

I’ll leave you with a couple of observations about living in a 750 square foot house

1. You can live in a lot less space than you think you can provided you have a lot of hooks.

2. You cannot lose your cell phone in 750 sq. feet because everything is literally within your field of vision at all times.

3. Temperature control is accomplished with either one small space heater on, or alternatively one window open.


Back to the Land Part 1: Barbara Make Fire

I know the title implies that I have, in fact, ever been to the land. I guess I have, if only technically. My parents used to take us “camping,” which involved our pop-up Volkswagen camper van with the stove and sink and green and yellow plaid upholstery futons. From those experiences, I have taken the following lessons:

1. Make and eat your ham and cheese sandwich before selecting and eating your bag of Cheetos to keep your white bread pristine.

2. Get up early for first pickings from the mini cereal variety pack; last one gets the Special K.

So, I saw these 3 weeks in the north woods of Michigan with my 8 year-old as an opportunity to test my inner grit and commune with nature. Or, at least as blog fodder.

Day 1 was hectic dropping Gus off at camp, getting supplies, and settling in. We had frozen pizza. It wasn’t coal-fired, so I consider that roughing it.

Day 2 was lovely, so we spent most of it at sailing camp and at the beach. We had spaghetti. But, because my son wanted corn on the cob, and I only have 1 large pot, I boiled the corn and the pasta at the same time. If that’s not enterprising pioneer spirit, I don’t know what is.

Today I felt emboldened. It was rainy this morning and with a high of about 55. It was a good day for a fire. I have a grill, matches, and lighter fluid, but my hippie landlady frowns on charcoal. She lived out here for years in a yurt. I can manage hamburgers and s’mores, over a wood-burning fire, surely.

After consulting a few YouTube videos, (yes, I have wifi – don’t judge, otherwise you wouldn’t be getting a blog) I was ready. The kindling outside had been soaked by last night’s rain, but there was a crate inside the door of 2×4 ends, twigs and wood bricks, as well as old newspaper.

I removed the grill, stacked the wood in a careful pyramid-ish shape, put the gloves on, doused the wood with lighter fluid and created a torch out of twisted up newspaper. Instant roaring goodness! Red hot success. I put the cover on to let my fire set and went in to make my patties.

When I came out, the fire was all but out. I repeated steps 1-5. Again, the fire died. I decided it wasn’t getting enough oxygen through the cover vents and left it off completely. I put the grate on and placed the patties lovingly atop. Everything seemed to be going ok until I went to flip them. Half of the patty stuck to the grill. It looked like my burger had been skinned alive. I was using 95% lean, after all. I tried the next. It was cooking too fast on the outside, but was completely raw inside. I had too much direct heat and was ending up with scorched nuggets of raw meat. I had char-tare bitlets – half jerky/half tartare. I had too much flame, but I couldn’t put the cover on for fear of losing the fire altogether.

In an effort to save the mission, I tried to picture the Burger King commercials. Isn’t this how they show it? A perfect patty gently tickled by fiery fingers? Mine were more like sun-scorched pieces of raccoon entrails after the vultures have moved on.

I moved to destroy-the-evidence mode lest anyone try to diagnose my failing and doubt my survivalist credibility. Though the Hybrid SUV in the driveway and the wetsuit on the clothesline might yet give me away.

I consulted Eric via phone, and he pointed out there are air vents in the bottom of the grill, which should also be open. I do know enough not to go out there and touch hot metal to open them now.  I also got impatient and probably didn’t let the fire die down to embers enough to create indirect heat. Got it.

Tomorrow, more hamburger meat and s’mores material and a bag of Cheetos just in case.

Texas Toast

Am I paranoid if someone is actually trying to kill me? The apocalypse is nigh, friends, and ground zero is my backyard.

Texas is becoming unlivable. Never mind its low rankings in education, high infant mortality rates, low percent of people who trust “facts” and the hellscape we call summer. No, no; now it’s personal. It’s bent on my destruction–trying to purge me from its borders.

First poisonous snakes slithered their way out of the creek and curled under bushes. So, we bought a laser-sighted BB gun, dispatched a few, and displayed their BB-riddled carcasses as warnings. Now they brazenly stretch themselves out on the patio asking if I feel lucky enough to make it to the grill, laughing at me through their little snake-y eye-slits, mocking my organic garlic spray, flimsy pooper scooper defense and my flip flopped feet.

Maybe it was my DEET-induced fog this morning that caused me to stand in a mound of fire ants for several minutes while the little bastards had their way with my ankles. Luckily I found I’m not allergic to fire ants, which can kill you in minutes if you are. They are indestructible, and they know it. I went bleeping nuts on their little poison sac posteriors with the jet spray nozzle, but they just scattered, re-swarmed and regarded me with their beady compound eyes as lunch. I retreated and re-applied my DEET.

I’m not sure which will get me first, the West Nile Virus bearing mosquitos or routine self-fumigation. I’m starting to think of Family Care Off as my signature scent.

They might seem harmless, but I’ve nearly run into oncoming traffic trying to shake one of those gigantic mesozoic grasshoppers loose from my yoga pants.

I do like those spiky lizards. I haven’t discovered their sinister plot to undo me yet.

Droughts, wildfires, and tornadoes – bah. Something wicked this way slithers/hops/flies, and its antennae are trained on you.Image

You Can’t Handle the Tooth

Dentist-hardwareI’m not much of a conspiracy theorist, but I want to know what double-life my dentist leads that he and his scrub-clad henchwomen can’t fit me in for a cleaning in the next 205 days. Are they hoping lack of dental care will result in a more interesting and meaty treatment option?

They can’t be that busy. I’ve never encountered anyone in the waiting room, and no more than 1-2 in the anti-gravity chairs at any given time.

I’m the patient that brushes and flosses. I don’t drink coffee or tea and have never touched a cigarette. Of all of the people’s mouths I know they have to look into, I’d think they’d want to bump me up a bit. I don’t bite and am not afraid of needles. I don’t have a sensitive gag reflex. I have a high tolerance for pain and don’t complain even when they put the Clydesdale-sized x-ray cardboard in.

It must be a front for black ops. Think about it–an office no one would willingly wander into, all the “tools of persuasion” immediately at hand, shapeless scrubs concealing body armor and wire taps, and a reasonable shell for ordering and storing large amounts of toxic chemicals.

I know what game you’re up to T.S., DDS, and it ain’t golf.

Going to see a woman about a marimba…

securedownload-4I had my Sophie’s choice moment the other day — the moment you have to choose one child over another. Actually I chose neither child and opted for the expensive and breakable purchase.

When your child is “honored” with the invitation to play percussion in the band (there is a try-out and everything to make sure you feel sufficiently privileged) you automatically sign up for a number of expensive (and by the looks of them, noisy) items.

Early on we procured all of the necessary mallets, practice pads, and music stands. I’m proud to say they have not, as of this writing, been used as projectiles at humans or pets in the Milhizer household. But, we knew we were in for the expense of a practice marimba, which as far as I can tell is in the same species as a xylophone, just $1000 more. Practice marimbas, in case you are not up on the current cost of a marimba, will run you about $1500.

“Practice” is a misnomer. “Practice” implies something smaller and less expensive than the actual thing. There is no “practice” about this beast. It is the size of a small shetland pony. It is on wheels because of its size. And in the event of a zombie apocalypse, I have plans to fashion it into my getaway vehicle by attaching the leaf blower to the back. Come to think of it, I could have used it about 2 weeks ago when post-appendectomy, I seriously considered getting a walker with the tennis ball feet. Pushing around a marimba on wheels as an aid to standing would have made me look far less old, if no less ridiculous.

Last week about 12 pre-precussionists’ parents began the search for that elusive species, the used marimba. I was ready to buy the new one and save myself the trouble. Eric couldn’t understand why anyone would buy a new marimba. He posited that there is a law of conservation of marimbas (or is it marimbae?). No one keeps a practice marimba. You don’t see them in people’s houses, other than perhaps as a fancy drying rack. And I’ve never seen one at the curb on trash day. Therefore, if in any given year there are x number of entering 6th grade marimbists, there must be an equivalent number of exiting marimbists on the other end jettisoning x marimbas. Eric hinted I may not be up to the shopping challenge.

Resolute, I was crafty enough to find a used marimba in my own town at a reasonable price. I was there at the first opportunity, cash in hand. As I mentioned, the thing is huge and only comes apart into 3 enormous and inflexible parts. It actually doubles in size when deconstructed. It would not fit in the back of my car. I folded down one rear seat, promoting my 11-year-old to the front seat, invoking the “Marimba On Board” exclusion to the law that you must be 12 to ride shotgun.

Still no fit. I removed the car seat and folded down the other rear seat. I wasn’t going to have my 7 year-old sit up front too, I’m no monster. I was going to drive slowly and have him walk along side the car the 3 miles home in 90 degrees. “Officer, I could have put him in the car without a carseat. Would you have me do that? Clearly I have made the safer choice.”

Or I could have tied the marimba to the bumper and dragged it home on its wheels. But there is a little known clause in the law of the Conservation of Marimbas, which states: Harm no Marimba.

So there I stood with a marimba half hanging out of the back of my car, and no way to get it home; cursing and longing for the French Horn and all of its spittle accommodations. Finally the woman suggested she put it in her mini van (which she got to haul the marimba around. No one told me a mini van was a prerequisite for percussion. I guess I’m in for another $30k) and follow me home.

The thing has now taken up residence in my office. It comes in handy. When I think a conference call has gone on too long, I give the ding-ding-dong universal signal to wrap it up. My youngest has already told me he wants to play the pan flute. Look out Zamfir! I can definitely fit that in my car.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

studio-etiquette-nose-pickingI’ve recently started to question a catalogue of things I assumed to be true because my mother told me so, and lo, they were delivered unto us on stone tablets by Saint Emily (Post) herself. I took them as understood by everyone to be the only things holding us back from savagery. But recently I’m not so sure everyone lives under the same code. Their blatant disregard seems to signal the end of civilization. Top no-nos listed in the order of grievous offense and what circle of hell they send you to automatically:

  1. Cash as a gift. Gift cards are a gateway drug. (I still don’t do this. You will get a ceramic soup tureen in the shape of a swan for your wedding. Sell it on eBay if you want cash.)
  2. Poor grammar or punctuation
  3. Speaking of or asking about money
  4. Returning a gift
  5. Taking a gift to a wedding
  6. Having a gift table–that would be presumptuous
  7. Sending Thank You note with the words “Thank You” on the outside. Duh!
  8. Failure to send a handwritten thank you note within 2 weeks
  9. Piercing your ears. (This one came from my grandmother, and I’m less clear on the details but I do recall the word “strumpet” was involved.)
  10. Spitting
  11. Cigarettes
  12. Toothpicks
  13. Gum
  14. Fingernail biting
  15. Basically anything in your mouth other than food
  16. Call Waiting
  17. Failure to wear a slip
  18. Ordering a hamburger in an ethnic restaurant
  19. Tattoos
  20. White shoes (slightly lower on the list than tattoos because, well, you can take them off)
  21. A hairbrush anywhere other than the bathroom
  22. Any talk or mention of body parts or functions uncloaked in adorable euphemisms
  23. Curses stronger than “Mercy Maud!” or referring to someone as a “Blankety-blank”
  24. Using the first name of someone a generation or more older than you
  25. Failure to use your turn signal

Does anyone else hold these truths to be self-evident? You can imagine how, living under this code, I walk around disgusted and offended the majority of the time. I’m just saying I might have come by my snoot honestly.

Rage Against the Perspiration?

A tale as old as time…boy meets girl, boy likes girl, boy applies oddly-named body scent, and boy gets girl.

Or that’s the way Unilever sees it. After all, they have “been helping boy get girl since 1983.” I was a girl to be gotten post-1983, and all I had was Drakkar Noir foisted on me.

I sent Eric out the Sunday before school starts for our biggest grocery shopping day of the year. We hunker down with all manners of packable foodstuffs. Since Gus is 10 and in the 5th grade, I thought it was time for some personal hygiene items. He is about as far from puberty (I just mistyped that and got autocorrected to “puppetry”!) as he is from puppetry (it works). But still, good to get in the habit as a pre-emptive strike.

Eric, ever the marketer, comes home with Axe “Anarchy” stick. I guess “Fascism” was a little overpowering. I’m afraid to open it, lest I be assaulted by a British punk band.

So I was curious what the array of choices were in the Axe deodorant stick line and consulted the website. “Twist” I get, and perhaps “Clix”, and maybe even “Dark Temptation” and “Excite” for the 6th grade and up crowd. But “Kilo” and “Phoenix”? I get a visual of Tubbs and Crockett jumping off an exploding boat in international waters. Ok, I kind of get it now.

Axe is first of all, overpowering. I think it’s the 21st century version of the club over the head and dragging the girl by the hair to the cave. Eric pre-screened and strangely “Anarchy” was the least abusive to the olfactory senses. And it had the bonus of being a vocabulary word he and Gus had discussed that very day. “Learning first!” is our motto.

Next I checked out the link on “Responsible Use” thinking I was in for a lesson on moderation and appropriate body parts. It was a video on huffing and igniting! Let me be clear, against huffing and igniting Axe. Holy Suburban Bubble Buster! It would have never occurred to me, but I am now wise to the urban underbelly of hygiene product abuse. I feel like I’ve just watched “The Wire” and need to take my vocabulary street. Word.

Anyway, when you aren’t huffing Axe, it can be applied to the body to draw the female like a moth to a smelly flame. And not just any girl, it only works on the one you want, with some  sort of laser-like properties. That part was less clear. There were graphs and scientific data available, I’m sure.

Problem is, Gus is 10, and describes girls as “all giggly and concerned about their hair.” True that. I worry about a dormant girl-catching magnetron, however. If unused, does it turn on the owner? “Boy, 10, Combusts on the 108 Bus!” I see an opportunity for another Responsible Use PSA. Even worse, what if it does work on that brainy, cute girl who doesn’t giggle and is into Minecraft, Mozart, and Math? Utterly whack.