Grandpa Jones – The Banjo Am The Instrument For Me

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God how my daughter used to dance to this song when she was a toddler. There’s just something so infectiously happy and accomplished about his playing & singing in this track –the audible little laugh he gives in the last verse, the charming expressions on his face as he sings– it really struck a chord with Addie.

Now I’m old and feeble, grand children by the score,
Every night they set upon my knee,
That’s when I scoot ’em over just to make a little room,
Cause the banjo am the instrument for me.

Applepalooza 2013

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Raw Materials
Toots, Cal, and Charlie
Driveway Wildmen
A small portion of the finished product


More a press prototype than functioning device. Five or six dudes always standing around it, re-engineering…
A late appearance by haloed Wy’east

Fresh basil tofu stir fry

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Spicy Fresh Basil Tofu Stir Fry
Spicy Fresh Basil Tofu Stir Fry

I had a pound of fried Than Son tofu from Uwajimaya in my fridge at risk of becoming un-fresh, a basil plant in need of debushing, and a son demanding something stir-fried on the double. A quick scan of available tofu fresh basil stir fry recipes revealed this gem, which I adapted for our purposes. The original includes a mess of greens in lieu of the carrots & green beans I had on hand, which also sounds good.

Spicy Fresh Basil Tofu Stir Fry


  • 500-750g fried ‘restaurant style’ tofu (or an equivalent amount of fresh firm pressed, cut into 1.5″ cubes, and fried in hot peanut oil until golden & crisp)
  • 1 tbsp peanut oil
  • 2 large red chilies, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 tbsp ginger, minced
  • 200g carrot, sliced
  • 200g green beans, trimmed
  • .5 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 c. light soy sauce
  • 1/2 c. vegetable stock
  • 1/4 c. Mirin
  • 1 c. basil leaves, chopped
  • cooked brown rice Note: I use Gen-Ji-Mai Quick Cooking Nutri-Whole Grain Premium Brown Rice b/c it doesn’t send my Type 1 Diabetic daughter’s blood glucose through the roof.


  1. Steam the carrots and green beans 5m.
  2. Heat a large cast-iron skillet (or non stick frying pan or large wok) over high heat. Add 1/2 tablespoon of oil and the fried tofu and cook just 3-4 minutes or until becomes golden. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  3. Add 1/2 tablespoon of oil, chili, garlic, ginger and pepper and cook for 1-2 minutes. Return the tofu to the pan and add the carrots & green beans; stir fry until up-to-temperature.
  4. Add the soy sauce, stock and wine. Cook another 2-3 minutes. Note: Add a little ( .5 tsp) corn starch if the sauce takes too long to thicken.
  5. Top with the basil and serve over brown rice.

Serves 4.


  1. 1 c. Gen-Ji-Mai Quick Cooking Nutri-Whole Grain Premium Brown Rice (2*.25c uncooked is 2*.5 cooked) 70g CHO; 4g fiber; 2g total fat; 6g protein
  2. 250g fried tofu 25g CHO; 0g fiber; 18g total fat; 31g protein
  3. 1/16 c. Mirin 3.5g CHO; 0g fiber; 0g total fat; 0g protein
  4. 1/8 c. vegetable stock .5g CHO; .5g fiber; 0g total fat; 0g protein
  5. 1/16 c. soy sauce 0g CHO; 0g fiber; 0g fat; 2g protein
  6. 50g carrot 4g CHO; 1.5g fiber; 0g fat; .5g protein
  7. 50g green beans 3.5 g CHO;  1.5g fiber; 0g fat; .5g protein
  8. 106g CHO;   7.5G fiber;   20g total fat;   40g protein

Independence Lake :: July 2013

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Independence Lake 2013, a set on Flickr.

Got snowed out of North Lake by at least a month. Guys with gaiters and poles were coming back down daunted. We however were undaunted by the inattainability of our ultimate goal. Giant ice-slides were slid, smoke-dried clothing was worn to bed, dogs were chased (and chastised). Everyone came home tired; happy.

Rufus & Addie

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It’s funny to me how much Rufus loves the kids: how he leaps to honor their calls. Addie threw the tennis ball for him yesterday until I thought his little heart would burst. Even the soles of his little feet were hot!

All early worries about his spirit were entirely premature. The joy he takes in living his life couldn’t be more evident than on this sweet, happy, tired face.

Addie & Rufus resting on the grass at Kerry Park; Seattle, WA :: Father's Day 2013
Addie & Rufus resting on the grass at Kerry Park; Seattle, WA :: Father’s Day 2013

Backpacking with kids in the Northwest

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Now that the hand of winter has settled on the land our hands get busy repairing & reconditioning our gear after a glorious summer afield. Though our hands are busy, our chins are free to wag.


First, my opinions are just those: opinions, based on a lifetime of personal experience. I’m sharing what has worked for me & my family, along with relevant observations. What’s going to work for you & your family is for you to say, based on your knowledge of your selves, tastes, and capabilities.

Charles Schultz' Pig-Pen, or a kid camping in Washington
Charles Schultz’ Pig-Pen, or a kid camping in Washington

If I have a hope for this document it is that someone on the fence about backpacking will shed their worries and shoulder their pack. As a teacher, I understand the power of demystification. Safe, healthy, successful camping trips don’t require huge investments in gear or ninja training, even with a handful of pending Pig-Pens in tow.

What age is right to start your kids backpacking?

This answer will vary from family to family and is dependent on several factors, among which are the experience/confidence of the parents, the temperament of the kids, the weather, your gear, and the hike itself. In our case, my son Cal did his first overnight backpacking trip with me & his sister Addie when he was only 4. His sister was 6.

At the end of the day you’re the one who makes the decision. IMO there’s no such thing as ‘too early.’ I’ve heard of parents taking their infants backpacking, using inverted adult down jackets as baby sleeping bags.

How much should I ask them to carry?

The standard rule of thumb is to pack 1/4 your adult body weight; 1/3 if you’re a likely combination of fit/experienced. In recognition of their developing bodies (and to avoid induced grousing) I limit my kids to 1/6 or 1/8. I’d rather hump the extra gear than spoil a good walk. It’s important to weigh your kids backpacks if only to be realistic about how much you’re asking them to carry. Ask them to step on a bathroom scale wearing it, then ask them to step on the bathroom scale not wearing, then subtract to find the difference.

On our first trip Cal carried only some toys/binoculars/safety gear (about 2 lb. total), while his sister carried her own backpacksleeping padsleeping bag, clothes, and water (about 8 lb. total). In fact, here’s a picture of them on their first backpacking trip. Not only is my four year old happily chugging along, he’s on point! This is along the PCT, just north of Chinook Pass on the way to Sheep Lake. Yes, his backpack was in fact a tiger.

Cal (4) on point :: PCT, just N of Chinook Pass; Summer 2010
Cal (4) on point :: PCT, just N of Chinook Pass; Summer 2010

What about gear?

Family Packs: Dad, Addie, Cal & Beastie :: Sheep Lake/Sourdough Gap 2012

Presuming the grown-ups have the basic kit handled (shelter, water, food, safety & the ‘Ten Essentials‘) each kid will need:

  • his/her own sleeping bag
  • a change of quick-dry clothing (e.g., nylon, polyester) including tops, bottoms, and underwear. Cotton clothing (e.g., jeans) once wet is hard to dry, which is at best uncomfortable and at worst increases the risk of hypothermia if temperatures drop. Allowing kids to become wet/uncomfortable in their clothes is a recipe for avoidable, induced grousing.
  • a good waterproof jacket & fleece jacket (unless the forecast is brutally clear, soaking rain/mist is possible in the Cascades: omit this equipment advisedly)
  • a pair of sturdy shoes and at least three pairs of fresh socks (until they learn where and where not to step). IMO thick-soled running-type shoes are OK if the pack load isn’t too great. Flat-soled shoes (e.g. Chuck Taylors) offer insufficient protection from the rough tread of mountain trails.

Some items I recommend, but which some might consider optional:

  • a small, bright LED flashlight & a safety whistle. for signaling purposes. We keep ours clipped securely into an outside pocket of their backpack, and covered the recognition of signals delivered in threes (e.g., three sharp blasts on a whistle, three pistol shots et al.) as distress calls.
  • a pair of sturdy Chaco- or Teva-style sandals or other light weight, synthetic footwear for your kids to change into once they reach camp.

If you DON’T have the basic adult backpacking gear or are a visitor, consider renting gear from a local source like REI. You can get everything you need, from boots to bags to backpacks. The main Seattle store has a substantial stock, as do some outlying stores in the area.

Consider investing in the following:

  • a roll of para-cord, available at REI or any outdoor store; handy for slinging your food cache.
  • some freeze-dried ice cream, also available at REI; because no kid can resist ‘astronaut ice cream’ and you’re going to need something to get them back to camp to wash up for dinner.

A few observations about camping with kids in the PNW:

Wear synthetic fibers (or wool)!
Wear synthetic fibers (or wool)!

Travel in the high country around here entails a certain enhanced risk of encountering other-than-dry weather. At times the weather you encounter is joyous. The clouds march downhill to an inversion: a warm, dry night in the making. At other times the clouds come in and just keep on coming.

A waterproof coat with a hood or a waterproof hat will go far to keeping individual kids warm and dry. In shoulder seasons or if any of your kids gets cold easily, adding a fleece under the waterproof layer transforms your kid into a Gibraltar of warmth. If the weather drives you into your tent for a spell a deck of cards or a pad of Mad Libs can wile away the odd stranded hour, or at least get kids still long enough to induce a storm-length afternoon nap. Don’t be shy about emerging from shelter after the worst of the rain has passed, though. Nature has a way of exhaling spicy, fragrant breath into freshly rain-washed air. Breathe deep and watch the world come back to life in its wake, from bees to birds to bugs.

The Pacific Northwest is bear country, which is not to say the trees are full of hungry bears. Rather, you’ll want to factor basic bear safety into your plans.

Don’t eat in your tent. Don’t store food in your tent. Use one of your kids’ small backpacks as a food cache. Tie a rock securely to one end of your para-cord, find a sturdy branch that’ll support the weight of your cache 15′ up and 3′ or so from the trunk of the tree, and make a game out of slinging the rock over the branch. Anything that smells like food –your dishes, your pet’s bowl, any snacks that might’ve ended up in random pockets, and of course your food supply– goes in the cache. Tie the cache securely to the free end, then hoist away. At this point you’ll undoubtedly be asked to cut the unneeded balance of your para-cord to give the kids so they can keep slinging rocks over branches. Cut away and watch them go.

Policing up & caching food also goes far to keeping chipmunks, squirrels, magpies, crows, and other opportunistic critters from raiding your camp.

Some ideas of places to go in the PNW for your first backpacking trip with kids.

  • Sheep Lake – Central Cascades
    • 2.5 flat or gently-sloping miles from the trailhead at Chinook Pass on WA Highway 410 to the fresh water and myriad pre-established campsites around Sheep Lake.
  • Summit Lake – Central Cascades
    • 3 miles; steep but Summit Lake itself is one of those curiously blue mountain lakes (like Crater Lake), surrounded by nodes of campsites and affording fantastic views of Mt. Rainier, located just two mountains over.
  • Independence & North Lakes – North Cascades
  • Lena Lake – Olympic Peninsula
    • An easy, popular trail to a gem of a lake. The hike up features a crossing of Lena Creek as it makes its way through a cavern beneath your feet. Several established campsites around the lake. Plenty of water.

Special Needs kids and backpacking

As an aside: my daughter Addie is a Type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetic. We have always approached her condition fearlessly, and approach backwoods life the same way.

Addie & Cal transiting a meadow
Addie & Cal transiting a meadow

Careful meal planning is inherent both in long backpacking trips and diabetes. We prepare small 15g (CHO) packages of her favorite GORP for maintenance, keep her diabetes kit in an insulated lumbar bag (including a Glucagon pen for emergencies), and make sure she drinks a lot of water / tests her blood sugar (BG) at regular intervals. She burns so much BG in the process of schlepping her bag/self up the trail and then playing around the campsite we’ve noticed her insulin use decreases dramatically: a win-win for everyone.

Again, the choices you make for your family are yours, but we determined that Addie’s diagnosis was not going to get in the way of her love of nature & outdoor fun. Standing here as I type, she says she hopes this part of the post helps another kid make it into the backcountry who might not have otherwise. As a parent –knowing how much it has meant to my kids to have access to the mountaintops and secret lakes of the PNW–I cannot but concur.

Smart, opportunistic corvids working on kids lunch boxes at John Hay Elementary

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Smart, opportunistic corvids working on kids lunch boxes at John Hay Elementary

Kids aren’t the only thing learning @ John Hay Elementary. Here neighborhood corvids are actively working to open the lunches of the kids in the portable classrooms.

I wonder: what does a crow sound like with a mouth full of peanut butter?