Time to thump the bibles…if you can pay for it.

School is OUT! At least around here. With school being out that means it’s time for a southern staple, Vacation Bible School.

I will explain this phenomenon for those of you from parts of the country that are not afflicted with this Sunday spectacle called “church”. You see, in the South, some take the opportunity that summer vacation offers to put children in a week-long day camp. It’s a lot like school, with no buses, and religion is allowed.

The children have fun activities and the church gets to teach kids more about whatever branch of Christianity they like. The parents have one more week of sanity before the kids are turned back over to them for a week of fun and eight weeks of complaining about being “bored”.

Some of my repressed memories of this event from youth surface from time to time. I remember Camp Lystra on Lake Wateree (real original name there…) near Camden, South Carolina. It was a lakeside campground owned by the church, complete with a large “mess hall”, docks for fishing, and a wooded area. Part of the weeklong competition was building a hut in the woods out of natural materials. Sort of like the housing on Survivor, without all the cameras and scripts to memorize. Best hut wins…ummm, I don’t remember, I guess we got to sacrifice the goat or something. Maybe not, Christians don’t do that any more… religion went all soft around the fourteenth century, until they started burning women at the stake.

Back to Camp Lystra; I remember fishing. I remember the hut building, and running around in the woods. I also remember boring speeches in front of the lower-case t by the water’s edge, and no air conditioning. When I was a kid, the thing I remembered was that it was just bible school. I learned a few things too, including that if you hook yourself with a fish hook and your friends remove it without too much injury that you don’t have to go get a tetanus shot if you don’t tell your parents.

Now the bible schools all have “themes”. It might be Alaska, or Aviation, or Midwestern, or any other mass-produced national bible school program. It’s no longer something the church has to put together and run. There are cut-outs and pin-ups and full lesson plans. Give any person that volunteers a manual, and send them to teach lesson 15.

My own daughter goes to Vacation Bible School (VBS) each year, not because I participate in any major religion (although Buddhism sounds better every year) but because grandma DOES. Grandma is like the church version of those scrubbing bubbles. She handles the religion thing, so I don’t have to. She also knows that if she doesn’t, the closest thing my child will get to religion is praying for a good grade when test time comes around. Since the kid is proving herself well off in the brains department, she might not have to worry about that. If there’s one thing any god is probably not concerned with, it’s your grade on a fourth grade math quiz, so I really think it’s just up to you and studying.

The thing about Vacation Bible School, is it is free. Drive kid to church. Drop kid off. Wait several hours, pick kid up. Praise kid for macaroni pictures, popsicle-stick crafts, and in my case, not drowning sister in the lake. No cost involved for the parents.

Until I saw this:

Okay, standard stuff…

We got our “super hero” theme… we have our location, dates, times, and…

Ten bucks for the first kid? Five bucks for every other kid?

What the Duck? My first thought was this was to cover some kind of cost. Volunteer time? Food? Materials? But then I thought deeper, and my cynical self kicked in. It has taken years for me to develop my cynical, negative side, and I think it’s just about up to par. Why would a church, especially a HUGE church that also runs a private school, charge for bible school?

Isn’t bible school all about getting people to come to church that might not otherwise do it? Sunday school is boring. Church is worse, but turn the event into a week of FREE day care, and even the most anti-churchy parents may think “hey, this stuff is a pretty good idea!”

So what’s the dilly-o? A few ideas spring to mind:

1. It makes sure you are going to come to the whole thing. Odds are, if you pay for it, your kid will be there in the beginning and stay until the Friday program. They aren’t just going to “not show up” the first day, and they aren’t going to stop coming after day three.

2. It ensures only those who really want the kids to be there, are going to come. Sort of like #1. But with an emphasis on keeping registration to manageable levels. After all, parents will jump at the chance for free baby sitting. That’s how a lot of them view public school, any way.

3. It keeps away parents who will only jump at free baby-sitting.

4. It keeps out the really dirt poor. Private schools have a reputation of being sort of snooty and elitist. Why would you want your snooty elitist kid to have to go to VBS with a bunch of commoners that only come to church once a week in June, and (oh the HORROR!) attend PUBLIC school? For a very poor person, having to drive back and forth to VBS ten times, and pay $25 for their brood to attend, may just be out of reach.

5. Or they could just be drumming up money for Lottie Moon. That lady must do a LOT of missionary work, people have been raising money for her forever.


So thump your bibles, bring your kids, and make some macaroni pictures. And have fun. Unfortunately, I don’t think they get to build huts anywhere in town, but they don’t have Steve pulling out fish hooks with rusty pliers down by the shoreline, either.


Woo Hoo! You go, decade old technology…

I’m on a plane…

I love my GPS. Back before everyone had one in their car that talks in a variety of voices, I had one with no frills. My first GPS was strictly a direction pointer, little more than a fancy compass. It didn’t even show streets, just direction and distance to whatever waypoint you happened to program into it. It was black and white LCD crystals, like watches in the 90’s. I intended to use it in my ultralight. Fast forward two years, and I bought a second one, because suddenly mapping GPS units were the new thing. It was about 2003, and I got the Magellan SporTrak Map. Still black and white screens, with the cool “indiglo” blue backlight, but now with maps and topographic displays.

The GPS has a whopping 4 Megabytes of internal memory! That’s enough for the streets and topographic information for maybe three or even four counties in South Carolina. Of course, I’m being silly… that’s really not that much now. Sucks for driving, but if you are on a week long hiking trip it’s plenty.

The problme I have, is it uses a serial port. Have you seen one of those recently? No? That’s because no one uses them anymore. Around 2006 they started disappearing in favor of USB holes. I bought a USB-to-Serial adapter back then, but its been so long since I tried to update the maps, I lost the driver. Oops.

So last month I went to Panthertown Valley in NC. I took the trusty GPS with me, and programmed in some geocaches. Between me screwing up the entries and the fact there was no topographic information on the thing, and no one in the group but me are into geocaching – I couldn’t find a single one. I also couldn’t download my track when I got home, so despite leaving the thing on for two days, I had nothing useful.

Determined not to have that happen again, I took advantage of being sick over the long weekend to work on it. I dug out my old cable, and tried in vain to find ANY identifying information on it. Nada, nothing. So I went shopping.

Thank you google.

When I typed in USB-to-Serial adapter, a few images popped up. One was my cable. It has a rather pronounced raised section on the bottom.

In fact, here it is.

Amazingly, Cables-to-go STILL sells the cable through a variety of retailers, and they have downloadable drivers for it right on their web site. Five minutes later I had Magellan’s software set up again, and it FOUND my GPS. It was hard to believe anything computer-related could be so easy. I figured I would be giving up around two in the morning, defeated and frustrated, my GPS “accidently” in the rinse cycle so I can get a new one.

But no, it worked. And it worked well, at that.

So – with that, I fired up its ancient interface, and downloaded my old list of routes. If you’ve ever entered points on a car GPS you know what a pain it can be to do several. Same with clearing them out. On the PC it’s a LOT easier to download them all, edit or delete, and upload the new list. The same goes for map regions. Draw a rectangle, name it, and upload to the GPS.

So – now I can plan another jaunt into the forest. I have several locations picked out, but I might just as well return to Panthertown. I know a little about the area now, it’s pretty close as wooded mountain locations go, and it was fun. Besides, with all the paths, you can walk a great distance and still not be more than a few hours’ walk from the car. My other idea is Standing Indian campground an the Appalachian Trail Loop – but thats an 18 mile commitment I’m not sure if I’m ready to make. I’m probably lazier and slower than some of the people telling me “Go for it! It’s only a three day hike!”

Yes, they make GPS units with full color screens. They make them with giant displays, electronic compasses, barometric altimeters, and gigabytes of memory that will hold street and topographic maps of the whole country. But there’s something to be said for simplicity, ease of use, and a GPS that can go over 14 hours on a set of AA batteries.

So, Technology from 2003, you go… My sportrak is still going strong, and barring a drop in the creek now that its older and has a few cracks, theres nothing that should keep it from going on for a few more years.

Evidently, I need a dog…

I was told recently that I need a dog.

Not by a family member, or a police officer for security, or from a neighbor, but by someone I don’t even know.

On a hiking message board there was a discussion about dogs and hiking, and I put in my opinion. I happened to mention that I’m not a fan of dogs in general.

A dog person responded, “He needs a dog!”

I was curious, why on earth would you tell someone, “you need a dog!” when that someone has just made it clear that “I don’t like dogs.”

What weird logic plays into such a statement? I don’t like something, therefore I need to commit to caring for it for ten or twelve years. What? Here’s another example:

wife: I don’t want Mexican food tonight.

husband: You know what we should eat tonight? Mexican!

See how ridiculous that seems? And why is it if you are not a dog person, you are automatically assumed to be a cat person? If fact I dislike both of them as pets. So given the logic of the “he needs a dog!” idiot, I should get both a dog and a cat, right?

What else does this work for?

I don’t like paneling. Should I pull down my Sheetrock and put up paneling? I guess I would get used to it.

I could guarantee I don’t like getting raped in prison. Should I serve six months and see if I change my mind?

What about owning a Chevy or Ford? Should I trade in my Honda? I do have a friend with a tow truck, I guess I could get used to owning an American car.

I don’t want anything to do with Cole Slaw. I don’t care who makes it. I don’t like it. Does this mean I should eat it with every meal until I like it?

No. I don’t want a dog.

This reminds me of a joke:
Three guys are on a long distance hike. They come across a camp site and one sees a beer bottle sticking out of some leaves. They agree to share. As one guy rubs the dirt off the bottle, a genii pops out. He grants them three wishes. The guy holding the bottle says, “we agreed to share, so each of us take one wish.”

The first guy says, “There’s no cell reception in these woods. I can’t call my wife, I can’t post any pictures on Facebook, and I can barely text. Send me somewhere I can get good reception!” *Poof*, he disappears.

The second guy says, “No one likes my dog around. I love my dog, but people scowl at me when he barks. They don’t want him in camp, and I’ve been told I should not bring him in the woods. I want to go somewhere he can run free and have fun.” *Poof* he disappears to a dog park somewhere.

The guy holding the bottle thinks a minute. The genii finally asks what he wants. He says, “Well, the guy with the cell phone is gone. The guy with the dog is gone. Can you just put the beer back in this bottle?”

A little humor…

How to tell you need to cut back on hiking, or just thinking about it.


On Friday, a coworker asks why you wore the same clothes all week. You didn’t notice.

You wake up, go to Wal-Mart, Lowes, and the DMV, all without showering or shaving.  (Of course, in Wal-Mart that’s not at all unusual)

On a long road trip, your spouse or kid announces they need to go to the bathroom. You pull over, hand them the orange trowel and tell them to “hit the brown blazed trail”.

You buy only small stuff at the grocery store. When you are chastised for not buying in volume, you explain the small stuff weighs so much less.

You experiment with trying to cook microwave-only single-serving meals in ways never intended by the manufacturer, often to disastrous results. Not everything will cook on a canister stove.

At every restaurant you visit, you check for packets of stuff like jelly, honey, non-dairy creamer, salt, sugar, ketchup, etc. for future meal planning.

Along with the above, you hide the packets provided to you, and ask for more.

When asked what you are doing with the alcohol stove on top of your range, you tell your spouse you are testing out a new backwoods meal idea. Your spouse laughs at you and orders Dominos.

Your family and coworkers are tired of hearing hiking stories.

You make a two hour round trip to the outfitters, spend $50 in gas, and $200, so you can shave an ounce and a half from your pack weight. Your hiking friends think this is a good investment in time and resources, except for the one guy who says if you spent $50 more, you could have cut out six more grams.

You get thirsty, and reach behind you for a water bottle, suddenly remembering there is no pack back there.  Same goes with the awkward head bend for the camelback tube.

You blow your nose on your sleeve, then suddenly remember you’re not in the woods, and the bandanna that usually hangs from your pack, isn’t there. The cashier at Best Buy looks disgusted.

You buy a new $1000 DSLR for the family to take pictures. But it stays on the shelf in favor of your $100 point and shoot, which has parts held on with tape and rubber bands, because it weighs 4 ounces and is always charged.

You wish the grocery store still bagged stuff in paper, so you could burn the bags when you get to the car, and not have to carry them any farther.

Someone in your family gets injured. Rather than spend twenty minutes looking in the kitchen drawer for the band aids, the bathroom cabinet for the neosporin, and the laundry room for the rubbing alcohol, you just grab the first aid kit from your pack.

You do the above too often, and wind up in the backwoods with Spongebob Band-Aids on your body, because the kit was the last thing you thought to resupply right before your four AM departure.

You blog about it.

At least it wasn’t a beauty pageant.

I’ve discovered a realm unlike most anything in the normal world. It’s an alternate universe one enters only by invitation, a place where things are not as they seem, minds are twisted, and the rules of ordinary society do not exist.

I’m talking, of course, about child dance recitals.

It could be worse, it could be child “beauty” pageants – where the winner is determined by how much she spends on fake hair, fake teeth, fake tans, fake photos, and clothes, not beauty by any stretch of the word.

I worked a dance recital over the weekend. I have a child in said recital, so working the event as staff gives me free access, and I earn back some of her tuition.

The first thing I learned is that being a dance parent severely limits your ability to read, at least during recital time. The teacher specifically says who is allowed in early: parents with advanced tickets only, and dance students. There are notes home for this. No, this does not include grandma, grandpa, and five brothers and sisters. Two parents and kid. Sorry, the rest of you can wait in the lobby for fifteen more minutes. Also; everyone but stage staff (lighting, sound, stage management, etc.) has to go in the front door. The signs on the doors SAY that. When the sign says “don’t knock on this door, go around front”, dance moms cannot read “don’t”. I think they see “Knock on this door OR go around front”.

Another odd thing about the general public – some prefer to stand. Why? I don’t know. 800 seats, and they want to stand behind the back rail at the farthest point from the stage, for an hour. Then they talk and lean over the rail, right over the heads of those in the back row. Its very disturbing and against the fire marshal’s rules. A typical conversation goes like this:

“Sir, you need to find a seat.” “Oh, I’m good.” “I mean, you can’t hang out here.” “Why not?” “Because you can’t, the fire marshal doesn’t like it.” “Why?” “Sir find a seat or leave.”

Excuses: I’m only going to be here a few minutes. I’m just waiting on my ____. Okay, I’ll sit down (makes no move to sit, but tries to hang out for five minutes). Fine, I’ll leave! (thank you, you paid already, as far as I’m concerned your duty here is done). I don’t like to sit. I’m trying to find my family (for twenty minutes? Liar.)

A candlelight ceremony.

Way back when I was young, my parents forced me into community torture sessions. It involved wasting half of a perfectly good weekend day,  wearing uncomfortable clothes and driving round trip for an hour. The holder of the session would feed us lousy stale bread, make us drink day-old grape juice, read to us about a magician and threaten us with further torture after death. Some people call this “church”. Church had one or two redeeming qualities. Seeing grandparents, often eating at the seafood place afterwards, and singing by candle light on the celebration of the winter solstice (unless the celebration was on Christmas eve or Christmas day, then it really sucked because all you wanted to do was play with presents, and you were once again screwed into the above-mentioned uncomfortable clothes/driving ceremony).

When the dance recital started, several announcements were made, including “please turn off cell phones and electronic equipment out of respect for the dancers and those around you.” Lights go dim, and poof… candle light ceremony. At least that’s what it looked like. A hundred cell phones, nintendos, ipads, kindles, and nooks can really light up a theatre. Do you have any idea how BRIGHT an ipad on full brightness is, in the dark? You can really light up an area with one. I don’t see why the people sitting beside the ipad addicts didn’t roll up their programs and give the offensive parties a good thrashing, like a dog when he pees on the rug. I’m going to suggest that next year.

Tasers for the public. A good idea…

Look, I know the dances are long and you don’t give a rat’s ass about anyone except your “special darling”, but when the lights are out stop reading and tweeting for two seconds and at let the people beside you enjoy the show without the glow of a thousand suns in their eyes. Most of the show takes place in lighting good enough to walk around by, even bright light. Twice there is darkness. Maybe ten minutes each time. I suspect these are the same people that pay twelve bucks to get into a movie, and text the whole time. Maybe the rule should be NO cell phones, kindles, ipads, etc.

Cameras. Holy Crap. sometimes I long for the days when you had to know what an f-stop was for, and what an ISO setting means, and how they both relate to shutter speed. Also, film was expensive. 24 exposures plus processing might wind up costing you fifty cents per picture. Today’s digital cameras essentially cost nothing per photo, except the ones you print. If you’re putting images online, you can share your prints for zero cost. Because of that, momtographers have come out of the woodwork, insistent on capturing every moment of the kid’s life.

He’s ready for a Dance Recital!

Don’t get me wrong, I like taking pictures of my kid and family and what have you, but I don’t think just because I have a nice camera, that I’m the dad equivalent of Anne Geddess, and I don’t feel the need to make a spectacle of myself in such a setting.

Its funny, the smaller the kids, the more cameras came up. I watched one woman take pictures of almost EVERY act. Someone should have sat her down front and put her on the payroll. Either she really likes kids, or she’s taking pictures for some child perv web site so the pedos don’t have to risk getting in trouble coming to the  dance to watch little kids in stretch pants.

My favorite momtographers are the ones with the giant full frame DSLR cameras, with long lenses and the external flash units. I saw a couple with one; seriously I’ve seen pros with less kit at a wedding, and the only seats left were towards the back. The guy said “We won’t be able to do anything with a camera from back here!” I’m thinking, dude, you have a 200mm lens and a flash big enough to initiate nuclear fusion. You could fade paint with that flash. What do you want to do, sit on the front row and take pictures of the girls’ pores?

Of course, the other extreme are the iphone/android users. Sitting in the back row and using your iphone as your only camera, with its little LED light ‘flash’ just isnt going to cut it. Come early, sit close.

Then there were the parents who couldn’t hear. Some can’t read, some can’t hear… the latter ones pulled out their video recorders. Plain as day at the start of the show: “No video recording is allowed”. You might get away with it on your iPhone. You might get away with it on your point and shoot or even your DSLR camera, because it looks like you are framing a picture. But after thirty seconds or so and your screen doesn’t go black like it does when you take a pic, I’m going to catch you and chide you in front of those around you.

But did you really think you could even TRY and get away with it with a Handicam? Seriously?

“I’m just recording my daughter’s act!”

Well, yeah, of course you are. Who wants to buy the DVD and watch two hours of other people’s kids to get to their daughter’s three minute act? But that’s what it costs, and they warned you, so tough. And adults are funny. They use the same excuse a six year old will use: “But look at all those other people with cell phone cameras!” Really? The old, “They are getting away with it, why can’t I?” excuse… it didn’t work when you were in kindergarten, you’re thirty-five, it’s not going to work now.

I even saw someone using a Sharp Viewcam. I didn’t have a clue those things even worked any more. And where do you find the special ni-cad batteries and 8mm tapes? Really lady, upgrade your stuff.

The Sharp Viewcam…. yeah I had one. In 1996.

Finally – it was time to go home. Look, you wanted to stand at the back of the theatre for three hours. When the house lights come up, don’t hang around. In the parlance of youth, GTFO! Go home. The staff will be here long after you leave, but they can’t even start to leave until you all leave. So go, and make sure you have your stuff. Because all those ipads, cameras and everything else you left behind cause arguments when the staff is trying to decide who gets to keep your abandoned property.

Of course, I’ll be back next year. Despite the human oddities and atavistic throwbacks that attend these things, overall they are fun.

Cheraw state park…

Ive never spent much time at Cheraw State park, in the middle-of-nowhere, South Carolina. But its always there, and pretty close. I’ve heard a number of people spend time up there, so I decided to give their hiking trail a try. You see, today was “Confederate Memorial Day”, and I had the day off.

Not every state celebrates that particular holiday. It’s mostly a southern holiday, and not even all of those states let people off. In fact, only some people had off, there was still school, and the mail even came. It’s controversial, but hey, if any state should celebrate Confederate Memorial Day, South Carolina is it. After all, it is sort of our fault there were confederates to memorialize, anyway.

So I packed my crap in the Blue Beast, and went to Cheraw. The only problem with the trail, is that it’s all they way at the back, past the golf course. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s golf carts.Why play at all if you’re just going to ride everywhere, and not look when you cross the road?

But I got past the golfers, and I even honked in greeting to some of the guys teeing off.

At the far end of the park, I lugged my pack onto my back, and stepped off into the woods.Like much of this region of the state, the trail wound through either stands of pines with a barren, straw-covered landscape, or hardwoods. The hardwoods were buggier, as there was less wind and sun, but stuff was greener and more pleasing to look at.

The first 2 miles went by rather easily, and I found the lake. I stopped at the bench to eat lunch, and then headed back out.

I tried my hand at barefoot hiking, but only made it about a half mile or so before giving up. There was just too much pine detritus in and amongst the straw. I was concentrating so hard on what was below my feet, that I missed a turn and wound up backtracking a few hundred yards to the trail. So I put my shoes on, but not before I made this video. Sorry about the quality. I was alone, after all, and I don’t own a Steadicam.

I saw my first tick. Ewwww… nasty things. It was on my shoe when I was taking them off to go barefoot. I sprayed my legs with $3 of %99 DEET. I don’t know how effective it is at killing/removing ticks, but its greasy enough the little buggers would probably slide off.

Here are some of my pictures:

Stop stealing my food.

There was a discussion on one of the hiker boards I have been frequenting. “Have you ever had any of your stuff stolen?” Some people related tales of unfathomable sadness – returning to a peaceful camp site after a swim and having some of their stuff gone. The most lamentable scenario seemed to be being relieved of one’s food source. Yes, bears will tear open bags and drag off canisters, but sometimes fellow hikers will, as well. If you are three days from your car, being suddenly relieved of your only source of nourishment can be more than a distraction. It can be downright dangerous. We can live for many days without food, but we shouldn’t have to, especially when we are using over 4000 calories a day hiking.

So, people proposed all kinds of ideas. My favorite was quickly shot down: The booby trapped food. It reminded me of a story told to me by a professor. Picture this:

Someone kept stealing a man’s lunch from the office fridge. Sick of it, he decided to get a little revenge. His recipe for a revenge sandwich: Leave the half empty jar of mayo on the counter for two days with the top loose. Make a nice big ham sandwich with plenty of mayo. Bag it up and take it to work. Deposit in the office fridge. See who doesn’t come to work the next day because they are home sick as a dog. Revenge sometimes IS best served cold.

So, my idea was similar. What about the infamous laxative brownies? You find a guy five miles up the trail the next day who’s tearing off into the woods every few minutes, or some guy with a brown stain on his shorts, you might have your culprit. What about “lazy cakes”, those melatonin brownies that knock you out? Unwrap two, put them in a ziplock bag, and label it “moms brownies” or something similar. When you hear a group complaining they “can’t wake Bob up for anything!”, again, you may have your man.

I like the booby-trapped food idea. Simple, effective, and insidious.