Sunday, April 29, 2012

Oh, How I Love to Go Up In a Swing.....

(c) 2012 by Tom King

Heavy duty homemade swing set.
Every school and every yard needs a swing set. I've posted plans for a swing set similar to one that I built for a day care center my wife and I ran out of our home in Texas. It's tough, creates a smaller footprint on the playground and allows you to play games like "Cut the Butter" without colliding into a support pole. It's all wood and can be built with basic carpentry tools (no welding).  They make great garden swings too and will make your wife happy. Women like swings a lot for some reason.  Something to do with romance, most likely.

"Me and Dad made this!"

At any rate, a nice swing in the backyard will win you some serious brownie points with the missus. Your kids will certainly enjoy them. They look nice and they show off your manly carpentry skills. This is a great father/son or mentoring project and the kids can really help with bolting things together, stirring up concrete in a wheelbarrow, digging and other stuff that may aggravate your arthritis. Also it gives the kid bragging rights for having help build the swings.

Just click on the link and it will take you to the plans and drawings.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Camping Genius: Making a Rope Ladder

Photo by Brian Black - ITS Tactical
Making a rope ladder to help folks climb a precipice or reach an animal blind is a really useful skill.  I found a really good how-to on "The Art of Manliness" weblog complete with pictures and a video. Check it out. You really want to learn how to do this. Knowing how to make a rope ladder, especially using this quick tie technique, will seriously kick up your "Outdoorsman" cred a bunch of notches.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Camping Genius - The Tin Can Billy

Cook over small fires with this rig.
All right guys, we talked about the bugout bag a week or so ago. If you get stuck somewhere and need a hot nourishing meal here's a quick recharge.  All you need is a can of beans, a pocket knife and bit of wire.

It's the hobo's friend - the tin can billy. A billy is nothing but a tin can with a wire loop to hang it from. I like to carry a small roll of lightweight wire for just such a purpose.  All you have to do is take the top off the can with your pocket knife can opener (I'm assuming you DO have a Swiss Army knife or similar clone). Next you poke a hole in the sides, string a loop in the top of the can and hang it from the end of a stick over the fire. (I'm assuming you can find and notch a stick and build a fire. If you've got a good Swiss Army knife, you should even have a spoon attachment on the knife to eat the beans with.

As to beans I recommend Bush's Vegetarian Baked Beans or a can of Ranch Style Beans. Both are kosher for Adventists and are also quite tasty. Check out this webpage for complete pictures and details for cooking with a tin can billy.

If you're taking out a youth group, have everyone bring different things in cans to cook and combine them to make meals cooked entirely with tin can billies.  Here's a sample menu for four to five campers.

Large can of beans
Large can of corn
Regular can of vege-links
Large can of peas (for something green)
Can of fruit pie filling
Package of shortcakes
Package hot dog buns

Heat all the canned stuff and eat it. You can roast the links over the fire on sticks or just heat them up in the can.  Warm the pie filling carefully and pour over the shortcakes for a pleasant fruity desert. If your guys have mess kits, they can simply line up the cans, take their share out and eat. It's an easy and educational camping supper.

People do not appreciate how useful cans are on a campout. Wash them out, fill them with water and set them in the sun.  At the end of the day you'll have warm water for hand and face-washing which, by the way, feels wonderfully good, I'm telling you.

Have a fun campout.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Pathfinder Fundraiser - Secrets of the Vege Corn Dog

by Tom King © 2012

Not as pretty as the frozen kind but incredibly delicious!
Corn dogs make a great Pathfinder or Youth Group fund-raiser. For that matter, they're just plain yummy for any youth party and an alternative to pizza that gets the kids involved. Here's what you need.

  1. Box of corn dog skewers – 1000 (they last for years)
  2. Large cans (20 count) of Vege-links, Linketts or Big Franks (charge more for the Big Franks)
  3. 1 Box of “complete” (add water only) pancake mix
  4. 1 Box Martha White Corn Meal Muffin Mix (no lard)
  5. Mixing bowl
  6. Wire Whisk
  7. Fry Daddy (2 or three is better if you have them)
  8. Gallon bottle(s) of Canola Oil (healthier and doesn't burn like olive oil)
  9. Paper towels
  10. Metal tongs (1 for each Fry Daddy)
  11. Bags of chips
  12. Paper plates
  13. Napkins
  14. The usual condiments

Step 1 – Work Area Prep
Clear a counter so the kids can each do their part of the process without falling over each other. The first station is wiener prep, followed by dipping, frying, plating and order delivery. Fill the Fry Daddy(s) with oil to about three-fourths and start them heating. This takes a while so do it first.

Step 2 – Batter Prep
Mix 1 box of pancake mix with one box of corn meal muffin mix. Add water and stir until the batter is no longer lumpy, but not too thin. That's all there is to corn dog batter.

Step 3 – Wiener Prep
Open the cans of wieners and lay them out on a flat, absorbent surface to dry. A towel will work. If you get in a hurry, blot them dry with paper towels. The skin of the wiener has to be dry or the corn dog batter will not adhere. That's the big secret with corn dogs. Skewer the lightly dried wieners onto the corn dog sticks and set them in a bowl or casserole dish to be dipped.

Step 4 – Dipping the Dogs
Gently dip the wiener into the batter. Allow the excess to drip off and then quickly set the corn dog into the hot oil. The oil should roil around the corn dog or it's not hot enough and the corn dog will be greasy. Let the oil cook the batter a bit before adding another corn dog to the Fry Daddy. This prevents two dogs from sticking to each other.

Step 5 – Timing
Watch the dogs. I like to set them in in a specific order circling the fryer so I know which one has been in the longest. Watch for the skin to turn golden brown. Don't let it get too dark or the dogs won't be as tasty. You're looking for a crisp golden brown coating. Pull them out one by one as they get done. Lay them on a plate for the plating crew.

Step 6 – Plating
Have a separate person handle putting the dogs on a paper plate with a handful of chips and placing the order on the counter. Have your drinks ready at the order counter to add to the orders.

Step 7 – Sales
Don't get too far ahead with dog prep. The secret to deliciousness with corn dogs is to eat them right out of the fryer while they are still piping hot. You'll need a cash box with about $40 worth of ones in it. Sell things in increments of $1 to avoid having to deal with a lot of change. Most people will have fives and tens and after a while you should have enough in several denominations to handle anything that comes. Sales get fast with fresh hot corn dogs. We used to sell these at Family Night basketball games and such. You can always glom onto church socials that don't have food themes and pick up some Pathfinder cash.

Step 8 – Cleanup
Corn dogs are a big favorite and cleanup is pretty easy, especially if you do corn dog suppers every few weeks. Allow the Fry Daddies to cool and then cover them with their plastic lids. The oil stays fresh and ready to go for next time. Keep a few smaller cans of links so that as the sales taper off you don't wind up with a monster can of wieners left over. Watch the kids and see who's been avoiding helping with the prep and sales work and commandeer them to wipe down counters and put things away. Spread the labor and you don't burn out your best helpers.

We used to use the first fund-raiser to build our supplies so if something came up that was appropriate, we could buy a few bags of chips and some drinks and break out the corn dog supplies and make a few bucks. Drat ! All this talk about corn dogs has made me hungry. Guess what I'm making for supper tomorrow night!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Making A Bug Out Bag

by Tom King

A bugout bag should be carryable.

Also called a GOOD (Get Out Of Dodge) Bag or an Evac Bag, the Bug-Out Bag is a custom designed backpack full of stuff you'll need to survive for 72 hours in case of a disaster. These bags are not just for the Apocalypse anymore. Wherever you live, there are natural, political and social forces that can lead to your having to grab and go in a big hurry.

I used to live in Tornado Alley. I've lived where hurricanes periodically sweep through, where prairie or forest fires decimate millions of acres and floods inundate whole towns. Right now I'm living within 20 minutes of feeling the effects of an eruption of a volcano known as the most dangerous mountain in North America. You never know when you'll need to get out of town in a hurry.

Check out The Art of Manliness for a really good description of what to put in a bugout bag.  It's one of the better pieces on the subject I've ever seen. Make a version of this bag for every member of your household to keep you all going for 72 hours in an emergency. It's also a good Pathfinder project.

If you're the kind of person who likes to to go camping on impulse, there's a second article on impulse weekend road trips and campouts that's pretty good. too.  Check it out. My best friend Mark and I used to go camping with the following items.
  1. Sleeping bag and plastic tarp or plastic sheet
  2. Loaf of bread, pita bread or flour tortillas
  3. Jar of peanut butter mixed with honey
  4. Chocolate milk mix
  5. Canteen with a cup
  6. Beach ball deflated
  7. Pillow case to put everything in
  8. Disposable lighter
  9. Tang
  10. Pocketknife
  11. Hatchet
  12. 4 gallons of water
  13. Guitar and/or banjo
  14. 1947 Chevy
We used to throw a sleeping bag out on a rock somewhere to sleep (we had much better bags back then). If you blow up the beach ball about a third of the way and stuff it in a pillowcase, it makes a good pillow for sleeping on a rock. Mark was tone deaf, so he really didn't see the importance of the banjo.  The diet was satisfying if a little monotonous. For fun we'd throw in a can of Vege-links, some marshmallows, bananas  or a bunch of granola bars. 

Tomorrow, I'll show you how to use a nifty homemade cooking tool that every hobo should know about.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Make Your Own Tug-of-War Rope

There used to be whole industries around making ropes for sailing vessels. Many of these ropes were made by hand. For a really cool Pathfinder project, make a big fat hawser of a tug-of-war rope. For that matter you can make rope in a variety of sizes for a rope bridge or for lashing together other camping structures.

It's fun and if you can get a good deal on binder twine, you can make quite a lot of rope for a fraction of the cost of buying it down at the hardware store.

Click on this link to see how it's done.

Homemade rope-making machine

Monday, April 9, 2012

Fixing Sticky Piano Keys

...with fear and trepidation
Every church has one - an elderly piano someone donated that sounds okay, but has several sticky keys. I ran across this problem with my wife's inherited spinnet a few years ago. I looked everywhere on the Internet, but piano guys were NOT talking. I understand why. It is, after all, their living.

But, if your church group has a piano with a problem and really can't afford to shell out the bucks to have the keys unstuck because it's not one of those "key" pianos, there's no need to let the piano go to waste.

If you are careful, keep track of what you're doing and have average fix-it guy skills, it's really not that hard to do. The problem is 99% of the time simple swelling of the keys due to moisture. Pianos don't like outside walls, for instance and that can cause the problem.

First, check the piano for obvious broken keys. You probably want to hire a piano guy for that. If, however, you just have a swelling problem, here's how to fix it with simple tools.  I've written a second article on the subject that also includes pictures. Let me know how it comes out for you.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Your All Purpose Game Bag

Games should help teach kids to work together as a team, to be sportsmanlike and to create and obey rules. Making up a game or adapting an existing one to meet the needs of the players is a tremendously educational enterprise. I know. I'm a therapeutic recreation specialist with decades of experience using games and activities to address social, behavioral and psychological problems in kids and young adults.

I learned a long time ago that if you want to get kids into active sports, you need to dress up the game a bit.  Somehow, the trappings of organized sports are attractive to kids, even if they're only playing a pickup game. It's why basketball games so often become "shirts and skins". It's a crude way to simulate uniforms.

One of the easiest ways to dress up your ball field is to mark the boundary lines. It makes volleball, baseball, flag football and soccer much easier to referee and the kids really like the feel of it. 

Commercial line markers run from $100 to $5,000 apiece, but you can cobble together a perfectly adequate chalk line marker out of some plywood, screen wire, a pipe, bolts and some heavy-duty staples.  The instructions for making and assembling a homemade line marker are here. 

You can toss a sack of marble dust or lime in your camping trailer with your homemade marker and gin up a ball field anywhere there's an open field. Be careful with the lime. It's a shade corrosive and will burn your eyes if you get it in them. It's good for the grass, though. 

All you need now is your trusty game bag. You should definitely make your own. I highly recommend getting your hands on a big canvas duffle bag and filling it with your standard "game kit"

Include things like:
  1. Softballs
  2. Softball bats
  3. A few baseball gloves
  4. Volleyball
  5. Volleyball net
  6. Football
  7. A dozen identical single color XL t-shirts (2 dozen is more fun because then you can outfit both sides)
  8. Stack of frisbees (for impromptu Frisbee golf)
  9. Clipboard and yellow legal pad with attached pen or pencil
  10. Kickball
  11. 4 rubber or vinyl squares for bases
  12. 6 yellow bandanas
  13. Basketball
  14. Soccer ball
  15. 4 orange flags on sharpened broom handles or light aluminum or steel poles
  16. Rubber mallet
  17. 50 foot tape measure
  18. 100 feet of twine
  19. 4 wooden stakes
  20. 4 Acme Thunderer whistles
  21. 3 uninflated beachballs
  22. 2 - 8" to 12" rubber rings
  23. 6 batons (wooden broom handle sized sticks, 6 to 8 inches long
  24. Hand ball pump and inflation needles
  25. Tug of war rope (3/4" diameter by 10 feet long minimum
If you can think of anything else you carry around in your game bag that ought to go in here, please give us your suggestions below in the comments section below.  In later blogs, I'll be talking about what to do with the various items in the game bag. I'll be adding some blogs about simplified instant games you can create from the stuff in the game bag. Not all of them are strictly sports. Some of the games will be cooperative games or really oddball games that level the playing field for the players. If you create a new game that no one knows how to play yet, then everyone's skill level at playing that game is pretty much the same. It also gives the kids a shot at learning to make rules so that the game is more fun. If you want kids to learn to obey rules, give them a shot at creating some rules for themselves.
I'll keep the game bag list on this page and add to it if others come up with some stuff I've forgotten.  Let me give you one example of what to do with the junk in the game bag. Of course some things are obvious, but some not so. 

Take the yellow bandanas. 

Yellow bandanas make great penalty flags. You can use them as flags for marking "holes" in Frisbee golf. They come in handy for sweaty foreheads and clean ones are useful in first-aid for stopping bleeding, putting an arm in a sling or holding a gauze pad or ice pack over an eye. Later on I'll do a whole blog on the usefulness of the trusty bandana.

Like the bandana, everything in your bag has multiple uses. Volleyball can be played with a variety of objects and in ways you might not have thought of. Baseball has tons of variations as does football and the fields they are played on.

For now, make yourself a game bag and give it a workout at your next church or youth group picnic. You'll be a hero to the kids and their parents will rise up and call you blessed because the kids will be so tired, they'll sleep all the way home in the car.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Manly Cooking - Vegetarian Barbecue

For you new Adventist guys, the good news is, you don't have to throw away your barbecue grill. Besides, if you are an Adventist guy, you need to know how to make manly Adventist food -- and it don't come any manlier than barbecue.

Vege-meat does not always lend itself well to barbecuing. There are some vege-barbecue concoctions that you can heat up in the microwave. While tasty, these don't do much on the grill except seep between the grates and make a colorful charcoal dusted mess. If you feel the need to fire up the barbie, however, you can always throw some of those Morning Star Farms Grillers on and cook them over charcoal. That gives them a nice smoky flavor that makes a vegeburger stand up and cheer.

For from-scratch burger recipes like the Georgeburger, you may want to lightly cook the burgers in a frying pan first, so they hold together better on the grill.  Vegeburger tends to seep down through the spaces between the grill if you're not careful. 

Vegetarian hot dogs fare far better on the grill. I'm a Vege-link guy myself, but ate a lot of Linketts in my time without any harm coming to me. Big Franks aren't bad either and a lot of vegetarian barbecuers swear by them There are lots of things you can do with a vegetarian hot dog. They are particularly good for outdoor get-togethers and Pathfinder outings. Both Worthington and Loma Linda are part of the same company now and they do sell both Big Franks and Linketts in the giant Pathfinder campout size.

It's all about timing with hot dogs. The trick with vegetarian hot dogs is to keep them moving. Roll them around on the grill so they get the nice striping effect, don't leave them too long. Vege-dogs don't plump like the meat kind. Over cook them and they shrivel (not a nice effect). 

The real secret to on-the-grill stuff like hot dogs and burgers is the barbecue sauce.  My two personal store-bought preferences are KC Masterpiece and Bulls-Eye.  I have, however, come up with my own barbecue sauce recipe. It really impressed my Sweet Baboo with my manliness that I now have my own personal homemade barbecue sauce recipe. The way I came up with it was, I ran out of barbecue sauce one night and had to come up with something. I found two likely recipes, but didn't have the full ingredients for either one, so I combined them. Now, my non-vegetarian brother-in-law insists on my homemade sauce over any other kind we buy. 

Finally, spend some effort on the bread. Whole wheat hot dog and hamburger buns are out there and I think they are better at setting off the flavor of vege-meats, especially the barbecued kind. Just my own opinion, but give it a try.  My favorite vege-meal is to make up a batch of my wheat bread dough and make burger buns out of them. The bread is every bit as good as the stuff you put in it. It is a taste treat not to be missed, even if it's a bit more work to make your own bread. (Think bread machine here. )

If you are stuck inside and just want a terrific barbecue meal, here's a recipe for Barbecue Tender-Bits that is my absolute all-time favorite vegetarian meal. It's guaranteed to impress folk with your manly cooking skills.

Remember, your kitchen should have manly kitchen machines and tools in it. The lines of responsibility are a bit fuzzier in Adventist households and if you're going to be in the kitchen anyway, get yourself some nice butch kitchen tools like a bread machine, Kitchen-Aid mixer and some big manly knives and sharpening tools.

I've got a knife I use on almost everything - a wicked looking thing that's old and battered with an ugly wooden handle.. My wife tried to throw it away several times, but I kept rescuing it. She's finally come to tolerate my ugly, but very effective knife in amongst her more attractive knives as some sort of mental aberration of mine. You have to stand your ground on some things or they'll have you wearing their frilly aprons in the kitchen on the grounds that "they work just fine and nobody will care how you look".

And we'd hate to see it come to that.