A Slight Change in Early Camping Plans

Good friends recently found out, to their disappointment, that their son would need to attend summer school for one middle-school class. Since they both work, they wondered if I could pick him up at 11:00 a.m. each morning and give him a lift home for three weeks in June (they both work full-time). Of course, I said “sure”—I can relate since I spent a few weeks re-enjoying Chemistry class one summer during my high school days! 🙂

However, my plans to begin camping 5 hours away from home during a couple of those weeks would need to be put on hold, obviously. Instead, I’ve been looking for a campground much closer to home so I could still camp and pick him up from school. I went to investigate Bertha Brock Park near Ionia today. I think it will be a great substitute for one or two outings.

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It’s just 40 miles from home, so in a couple hours I’d have my “UBER” duties completed daily. It’s a small county park, just 20 rustic sites, each with a fire ring and picnic table. Just the kind of camp I’m looking for.

The sites are large and have plenty of wooded area between them. Just how I like things. I found some sites not suitable for a tent, not level at all, but I’ll still have at least ten of the sites to choose from.

Now that the weather is warming up, I hope to be out in the woods in a couple weeks!

Homemade Jerky

I love jerky, but I certainly don’t love paying exorbitant prices for it! You can pay $20 per pound and more for packaged, store-bought jerky. Unbelievable!

I’ve made jerky before, but it has been quite some time. Since I was craving the stuff, I decided to dive in and make a batch using my Excalibur dehydrator. I went to my old standby—AllRecipes.com—and soon found a jerky recipe that sounded great: Sweet, Hot, and Spicy!  

I ran to the grocery store to pick up a few items I don’t usually have on hand, like pineapple juice, Liquid Smoke, and Terriyaki Sauce, along with a nice, lean 1-1/2 pound top round sirloin steak. Returning home, I tossed the beef into the freezer and began mixing up the marinade according to instructions…it smelled wonderful.

I gave the beef two hours in the freezer to firm up and make slicing much easier—an appreciated tip from an All Recipes reviewer. I cut the meat against the grain into 3/16″ slices and tossed it into a gallon-size ziplock bag, followed by the marinade. I mixed it all together well and placed the bag into the refrigerator to do it’s magic overnight.

By mid-morning the next day the meat had been marinading 18 hours, which I thought would give it plenty of time to soak the flavor into the beef. Using a colander, I drained the liquid off the meat, then spread the cut strips out on paper towels to remove as much liquid as possible.

The pound and one-half of steak strips were placed on three dehydrator trays, being careful to leave space between the pieces, as shown below, for better drying. Thankfully, I placed the dehydrator in the basement during the drying process, since the wonderful aroma of the marinade filled the basement, rather than the kitchen and living room!

After 5-1/2 hours at about 160 degrees, I felt the beef was dried properly, so I turned off the dehydrator and removed the trays of jerky to cool. After a few minutes, a taste test was performed and the jerky passed with flying colors (see photo, below).

After further review—it’s important to eat enough to make a fair judgement 😉 —I’d say next time I’ll reduce the “sweet” ingredients a bit, while increasing the hot and spicy flavors some. Also, I must be honest in reporting I could have taken the jerky out of the dehydrator a half-hour sooner. It’s still very good, but just a bit too dry in my opinion.

I vacuum-sealed about one-third of the batch, placed another third in a zip-lock bag and that in a Mason jar with cover seal, then put the balance in the freezer to see how that comes out in a month or so. All in all, I’m quite pleased with the results and will now have jerky to enjoy for a few weeks or so.

 

Scouting Campgrounds

Yesterday, 4/12, my furry buddy, Abby, and I headed to the northeast corner of Michigan’s lower peninsula to scout out a few possible camping destinations for the summer. We were on the road a bit before 7:00 a.m. for the 4+ hour drive.

About a half hour after exiting I-75 at Wolverine, we went through the little town of Onaway and another short 15 minutes brought us to the only named waterfall in Michigan’s lower peninsula: Ocqueoc Falls. The park was actually closed, but no gates were in place to keep us out so we drove in to check things out—the only vehicle in the lot.

We could hear the rushing water as soon as we got out of our truck. A very short walk down the paved path from the parking area brought us to the falls…up close and personal. The water was running fast and cold, so much that Abby didn’t care to get in; I can’t say I blame her a bit!

Ocqueoc Falls

Folks are encouraged to jump right in and enjoy the falls, but with the temperature a brisk 42° when we visited yesterday, we chose to wait a couple months at least.

A small (15 sites) state forest campground is right across the road from the falls, so Abby and I walked through it. As with any Michigan State Forest Campground, it was rustic with vault toilets and a couple water pumps, but the sites made up for that giving campers very good-sized lots and ample space between camp sites…nice. Each site also has a fire pit and picnic table. By the way, the daily fee for camping at these State Forest Campgrounds is just $13; another point in their favor over a State Park camp fee, which can range from $22 to $34 in that area.

Ocqueoc Campground

See the campsite next to this one? No? Exactly!

We then drove 15 or so miles on east to the Lake Huron shore and the clean, quiet town of Rogers City. After a quick bite at the local Mickey Dee’s, we headed 6 miles up US-23 to P.H. Hoeft State Park.

As with most Michigan state parks, it offers electrical and water hook-ups, showers and flush toilets appreciated by thousands of RV campers filling Michigan campgrounds each summer. However, we found the 143 sites quite close to each other, side-to-side and back-to-back. Since our camping plans included a nice 6-person cabin-style tent, those amenities weren’t as important to us. I would much, much rather have the privacy and room found at a State Forest Campground—check back with me after a trip or two, however!  🙂

We headed back west to Onaway, then south on M-33 to visit a couple more campgrounds, all the State Forest variety:  Shoepac Lake (28 sites), Tomahawk Lake (26 sites), and Tomahawk Creek (47 sites). All three were within a very short drive off M-33. I was again impressed with the size of each camp and the privacy each site provided.

Right now, I’d say our first trip may be to Hoeft State Park to try out equipment with the assistance of comfortable amenities, but if all goes well I believe the State Forest Campgrounds are the way to go for our best experience. Time will tell.

We began the trip home at that point, but we did stop at both North and South Higgins Lake State Park Campgrounds. Unfortunately, they were both still closed for the season and gates kept us from going through the camp areas. Our long day concluded when we arrived back home at about 8:30.

Now, if Mother Nature would put nicer, warmer weather in place, we could get this show on the road!

A Wonderful St. Paddy’s Day Dinner

A couple days ago, I decided to cook a Corned Beef and Cabbage dinner in honor of the upcoming celebration of all things Irish. I prepare dinner a couple times each week and thought this would be a nice change of pace; I wasn’t disappointed.

Ol’ faithful AllRecipes.com provided a perfect (read: “easy for me”) recipe for me to use. To make it even easier, it was prepared in a slow cooker.

CB in the Crock Pot

I picked up a nice 2-1/2 pound package of corned beef, which included a packet of the proper spices. I prepared red potatoes, carrots, onion and added 6 ounces of a nice pale ale beer to the water. Since a number of recipe reviewers suggested cooking the cabbage separately, and since the small crock pot I used was full of other ingredients, I decided that is just what I would do later in the day. I covered the pot, set it to high for the first two hours, finishing the final six hours on the low setting.

When dinner time arrived, I steamed the cabbage and served it with the other vegetables:

The beef was sliced against the grain and served with a reviewer-suggested mayo and horseradish sauce I prepared on the side.

If I don’t say so myself, it was absolutely delicious! The beef was perfectly tender and moist, and all the veggies were just right.

I doubt this recipe will be forgotten until March 17, 2018…it’s much too fantastic (and easy) not to prepare once in a while throughout the year!

 

The Winds of March

A powerful low pressure system brought howling, damaging winds to Michigan yesterday…especially southwestern Michigan. The G.R. Ford International Airport registered a gust of 64 mph! This morning, close to 200,000 electric customers are still without power across the state and may not see it restored for another three days.

Here at my home, we lost power for about six hours. It first went down around 11:30 in the morning, came back after an hour or so—to tease us—only to go off again for five hours or so. It came back on around 7:30, shortly after darkness had fallen.

Even though they weren’t needed for long, fortunately, it gave me a chance to get flashlights together and tested, put a couple small candles in place, and to get my two Dietz Little Wizard No. 1 oil lanterns up and running.

Dietz Lantern

I love these lanterns. I had not used them in a couple years, but I enjoyed them often during dark November nights at Deer Camp. Of course, I also look forward to using them when camping this summer.

When my phone’s charge dragged low during the afternoon, I also used my Limefuel LP200X external battery to recharge it. The pocket-size unit is about 6″x 3″ and is perfect for small electronics capable of being charged via USB cable.

All in all, we were extremely fortunate during a wickedly strong wind event. Lots of folks lost trees and had serious roof and other damage to their homes. I won’t complain a bit…it could have been much worse for us.

Camping is Amazingly Popular

So I’m browsing around my AllRecipes.com saved recipes for specific recipes that call for cooking in cast iron — I recently received my first cast iron skillet, thinking it would be a great addition to my camping equipment. Anyway, up pops a link to their “Camping” recipes and suggestions! Really?

I’ve camped. Yeah, it’s been over forty years…well, except for the time we rented a class C motor home for a week a couple years ago and drove to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to visit my wife’s aging and wonderful Aunt Ruth. My real camping days, though, were with my two boys and wife in the U.P., again, or in Colorado or Florida in either a tent or a pop-up tent/camper/trailer.

Most of those days when camping, we were living on a 40 acre farm. We raised hogs, rabbits, cared for a neighbors’ beef cattle, and milked three Nubian dairy goats. So, in a way our camping outings were an extension of our everyday lives.

Now though, some forty years later, all of our lives have changed drastically. Maybe that’s why I’m so looking forward to getting back to camping. Looking forward to an easy going, laid back “getting away from it all”. We’ll see. I can’t wait to give it a go and see if it lives up to my expectations.

My New/Old Camping Tool

One of the best activities while camping is enjoying a warm, blazing campfire. A bit of work is involved in preparing a fire though, especially cutting kindling and splitting wood. A good hatchet or camp axe makes that job much easier.

I just received the hatchet I ordered from The Avid Tent Camper, Frazier Douglass. If you have an interest in tent camping, as I do, check out his YouTube videos on all things tents and camping equipment, as well as his website. Here’s my new tool:

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She’s a beauty, don’t you agree? The Avid Tent Camper’s website has a section on hatchets and after doing a bit of research, I chose this one, manufactured by the Germantown Tool Works, in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Well, it used to be there…until 1919 when it was purchased and the name was changed to Griffith Tool Works! Once I found that out, it was easy to decide which hatchet I’d choose!

Now, I’m no blade/hatchet/axe aficionado, but after my research, I’m inclined to believe the head on this tool could well be over 100 years old! Frazier put a new handle on it, custom made a leather sheath for it, and gave it a nice, sharp edge to make it a terrific camping tool.

Now, c’mon Spring…push Ol’ Man Winter out of here so the camping can begin!

I’m Really Enjoying this Retirement Gig

It has been about eight months since I fully retired. Well, not “fully” actually. I still do occasional proofreading for a couple companies, but not very much, that’s for sure. It is enough to help keep this old mind sharp and bring in a few bucks now and then, though.

I’ve found there are a number of things to keep a guy busy. I’ve also found these things keep a guy busy because he can allow the time to do a particular task to expand to any amount of time he feels is necessary. How cool is that? I hear those moans out there. But let’s remember, I put over 50 years into the working life…don’t I deserve some special considerations during this “twilight” time?

Fortunately, I’ve found my special bond with my faithful companion, Abby…a four-year-old black as the ace of spades golden-doodle dog…is something I truly enjoy. Yes, I have conversations with her during each day while my wife is slaving at her full-time job, otherwise I believe I’d go whacko talking only to myself! After I say something truly amazing, or goofy, I love the way she looks at me and cocks her head at a 45 degree angle, as if to say, “are you nuts?”.

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At times, Abby just seems to be thinking, “WTF?

Now, Abby and I are making plans to do something special once in a while as soon as the weather breaks.

Thirty-plus years ago, while my two sons were less than teenagers, we really enjoyed camping—first with a tent, then with a pop-up camper/trailer—from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, we made a special vacation journey every summer.

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At the foot of the Maroon Bells mountain peaks near Aspen, Colorado, circa 1980. No, we didn’t climb them, but it was a fantastic trip! 

Now, with this retired time on my hands, I am being pulled back into an occasional time available for camping again. Actually, I believe it will be fantastic, from a timing point of view. My wife works full time from Monday through Friday, so why not camp a bit over those weekdays when the campgrounds are the least busy? Perfect!

So, my emergency Bug-Out Kit is being converted into a camping supply kit, quite easily actually. In fact, these camp outings will be terrific times to put those bug-out plans to the test. I’ve always thought, if the SHTF (Shit Hits The Fan) I’d head north. That’s why I always keep at least a half tank of gasoline in the tank of my truck; I can always get to my son’s place near Traverse City on that much gas. Now, following his recommendation, I’m looking at camping in northeast Michigan, on the shores of Lake Huron, hoping to find it beautiful yet less crowded than the “Gold Coast” of west Michigan.

So yeah, I am enjoying this retired lifestyle that enables me to do things I would have never even briefly considered while working. Stay tuned…camping reports are forthcoming!

Retired, and the livin’ is…

About four weeks ago, I finally pulled the plug on the workaday life. Oh, I make myself available for the occasional proofreading of a document or work on a small database or two, but my days for heading to the office daily are now officially behind me.

And, know what? It’s not easy!

Oh, I can hear the screams of “yeah, just give me a crack at that life!” or “what, are you nuts?” from all of you still hard at the daily grind, but it’s true. Other than a daily mile or two walk with my dog, Abby, mowing the lawn weekly, and making an entry in my daily journal (via a great app, Day One), each day I find myself wondering, “well, what shall I do today?”

The first few days it was nice to sit in my recliner and catch up on reading a novel, play a game of Scrabble against my iPad, try my luck at FreeCell or attempt to correctly group words in the Red Herring app word game, but folks…that gets old and boring very quickly. Finally, I’m beginning to expand my horizon and look into doing tasks that will have a payback of some sort: what needs cleaning, fixing, or trashing? What can I make for dinner tonight? Is there a long-lost relative or friend that I should contact? When did I last create a blog entry—HA!

Well, it’s only been a month and let’s face it, this is one of life’s major changes, so I need to give it time. I’m sure a routine of sorts will materialize soon enough.

Finally: Let me be clear, I highly recommend retired life to those of you still working in that direction!

 

At L-O-N-G Last, it is cut

After more than two months of living with only the Roku Streamer and Sling, and the other available free channel/sites, I finally have cut the TV cable. It has been a fine changeover; I’ve watched college football on ESPN or ESPN2, thanks to SlingTV, and enjoyed a number of HGTV shows, too, but the cable boxes have sat idle all this time.

Yesterday, I called my dear friends at Comcast and asked about the best deal available if I were to discontinue TV cable service and stick with only the internet service. Amazingly, they were not in a position to haggle. Can you believe it?!!? So, bottom line results, with the Comcast change of a reduction in twenty bucks a month (I’m no longer on the advantageous “Double Play” plan, after all) and subscribing to SlingTV for twenty bucks a month (so I get ESPN for college football, HGTV, TLC, History Channel and more)…we break even!

Still, I feel that we are more in control of the situation. I get what I want, and more, for the same price as before. I’m not paying for channels that I don’t care about. I have what we want and don’t have to wonder why we’re paying for channels we’ll never watch. That’s a good thing, in my estimation.

So now, with winter upon us, we have to decide whether to just run down the street to the Redbox kiosk for a movie occasionally, or should we subscribe to Netflix, Amazon, Hulu or another service (for $8 – $10 bucks a month)  to watch movies and programs while we’re huddled in for those cold, dark nights.

Overall, I’m very pleased. Long term, we’ll see.