Food, Glorious Food

Early on in our trip planning, it was suggested by some that the Boy Scouts would seek out any American fast food they could find in London.

The food situation was one of my biggest fears, right after one of the kids getting run over by a black cab.

You take a group of teens thousands of miles across the ocean to a foreign land, and then spend your breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Subway, McDonald’s, and Pizza Hut.

No thanks, I can eat that back home.

I told them how it was going to be. We would seek out British food at British restaurants and at least try to sample the traditional dishes of the country, whether they liked it or not.

Why travel if you refuse to try something new?

But still, I worried that there would be a rebellion within the group at the first sight of blood pudding or haggis.

I also worried about finding pubs and restaurants that would not only accommodate a large group, but serve decent food (tourist trap cafes are everywhere in London).

In the end, I don’t know why I was so worried, because one of the biggest successes of our trip was the food.

In fact, if you ask most of the boys what they remember most about England, it would be the food on their plates.

They ate bangers and mash, Yorkshire pudding, Cornish pasty, bacon butty, chicken curry, Cumberland sausage, fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, full English breakfast, and…

Yes, they ate blood pudding and haggis.

And liked it!

Everywhere we went, in London and up north in Newcastle and along the Hadrian’s Wall Path, the food was not only amazing, but warmly received by the boys.

When we talk about the trip now, the nightly stops along the trail are marked by the memories of the meals we ate.

I’ve even heard that a few of them came home and Googled recipes for British pub food.

Here are some pictures of the glorious food that the Scouts of Troop 3 enjoyed during their epic hike on the Hadrian’s Wall Path. You can see that they were well fed.

Bangers and Mash

Camera 2014 930-001Fish and Chips

Camera 2014 1072-001Yorkshire pudding, with parsnips, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, green beans, chicken, ham, sausage, and beef

Camera 2014 1629-001A demolished Shepherd’s Pie

Camera 2014 1800-001Duck with plum sauce

IMG_0224-001Indian Thali platter, with chicken curry, chutney, dal, raita, papadum, and chapatti

IMG_0369-001Full English Breakfast

IMG_0387-001Blood Pudding and Haggis

IMG_0568-001Nando’s African-Portuguese chicken

Where’s the Fun in Fundraising?

I need $20,000.

Who doesn’t?

I’ve been trying to raise it as part of a fundraising campaign for the past 10 months. This is something I have no experience with, so it’s been interesting, to say the least.

Sometime about a year ago, I was attending my son’s Scout meeting when the parents began to talk about the need for some sort of high adventure trip for the older boys.

For some reason, people looked at me. Why, I don’t know. I’m not an outdoorsy person, and I’ve never been on a “high adventure.”

This is what I told them. And then I hesitantly followed with the word, “However…”

Because, in fact, I had been on an adventure of sorts, and very recently. As some readers may recall, back in the summer of 2010 I set out for a very long walk across England. It was a charity walk, raising money for the Joseph Salmon Trust. Good fun for a good cause.

I hadn’t really thought of it as being something a bunch of Boy Scouts from Idaho would do. But once I started talking about it, I could see a bunch of parents becoming very interested. Once the boys heard about it, well, that was it. There was no way I was going to get out of walking that wall again.

Which is funny, because at first I wasn’t too keen on several aspects of a return trip to Hadrian’s Wall country. The biggest was the cost. But the thought was that by setting a date for two years in the future, there would be plenty of time for all participants to raise the money through Boy Scout fundraisers.

The other thing I wasn’t looking forward to was getting back in shape for an 84-mile walk. But it’s good for me. Having a goal gets me to the gym.

However, I quickly learned that the only thing I really had to fear was the fundraising. As I said, I’ve never done this before.

And it’s hard. Annoyingly, unpleasantly, frustratingly hard.

We’ve sold popcorn, honey, and BBQ dry rub. We’ve had car washes and pancake breakfasts. There have been yard clean-ups and chili feeds. And all of that just in the first year.

I’ve learned a few things about fundraising. First, working for the money is so much easier than trying to sell stuff for the money. I’d much rather haul dirt in a wheelbarrow than stand in front of a store pleading with people to buy a bag of caramel popcorn.

Second, I’ve learned that you can easily get burned out on fundraising. Two years of doing it is a year too much.

But we’ll keep marching on. Because the boys are more than eager to make the trip, to visit the birthplace of Scouting, and to walk the path of the ancient Roman Centurions.

When I do stop and ask myself why there’s no “fun” in fundraising, I think about these boys who are looking forward to the adventure. It’s one that most of them would not have a chance to do otherwise.

Some of these kids have never even been out of the state of Idaho before, let alone on the other side of the world. It will be a life-changing trip for them. I try to remember that when I’m arranging yet another table sale or calling around to see who needs their yard weeded.

By the way, anyone want to buy some lovely creamed honey or tasty BBQ dry rub? Need some dirt moved? How about a nice plate of all-you-can-eat pancakes and sausage?

Hey, I’m trying.

A Grizzly Discovery

Storm Point Trail, Yellowstone

We’re back from a family vacation in Yellowstone National Park!

In the week leading up to our trip I’d grown nervous about the weather forecast, which had called for rain and thunderstorms. But the skies stayed mostly sunny while we were there.

And by “mostly sunny,” I mean that we’re all now sporting hot red sunburns on various parts of our bodies because we weren’t quite prepared for that big bright thing in the sky that has been hidden away for most of winter and spring.

The first sunburn of the year always signals the beginning of summer, so that’s one positive about it.

Yellowstone River

Our time in Yellowstone was great fun. The kids had been there before, but it was nine years ago and they don’t remember it. They’ll have a hard time forgetting this visit, as we explored almost every inch of the place from morning to night.

My son had a goal to spot every mammal known in the park. He almost did it too, getting up close and personal with a wolf, fox, marmot, pronghorn, and black bear, as well as the ever-present bison and elk.

We hiked miles and miles throughout the park, including the quite lovely 5.2-mile Fairy Falls Trail. If you visit Yellowstone, I highly recommend getting off the beaten path and away from the hordes of tourists.

Another cool trail, and a much shorter one, is the 2.3-mile Storm Point Trail, which leads you through open meadows to the shore of Lake Yellowstone, and then back through dense forest.

The area is a great place to find Yellowstone’s vaunted wildlife, especially Ursus arctos horribilis, more commonly known as the grizzly bear.

We didn’t really want to make a grizzly discovery on our hike, but the recently posted sign at the trailhead informed us that there was a good chance we would.

We went down the trail anyway. Bear spray in hand. Imagination on overload. It’s amazing how closely a shadowy, swaying fir tree can resemble an attacking mama grizzly! Multiply that tree by a thousand along the trail, and you can guess how much fun I had on the hike. I’m still shocked that I didn’t spray myself in the face at some point.

In the end, you have to realize that the danger from animals at Yellowstone is very small. There have been 5 or 6 bear fatalities in the park over the last decade. Out of 30 million visitors!

You should be more worried about getting smacked in the head by a German tourist with a 600mm lens trying to snap a photo of a chipmunk.

Actually, what I really should have been concerned about carrying around with me was not bear spray, but sun screen. Those burns will kill me before a grizzly does.

Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone

Ten Cool Things For Kids in Yellowstone National Park

Geothermal paradise of Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is the crown jewel of our National Park System. It was the first of its kind, and remains the most unique and diverse wilderness experience that you will find in this country.

It’s also an extremely cool place for kids.

But with almost 3500 square miles of lakes, geysers, canyons, and hot springs, there’s too much to see in one short stay. So, after three visits to Yellowstone, and consultation with my own children, I have compiled the following list of park sights and activities that will make your family trip an especially memorable one.

Ten Cool Things For Kids (and Grown-Ups) in Yellowstone National Park:

1. Dragon’s Mouth Spring

Dragon's Mouth Spring

How can you resist telling your kids that a dragon lives in a cave near a mud volcano? It doesn’t take much imagination to think that this cavern, with its growls and thumps, and spitting steam, might just hold a real dragon.

2. Fishing Cone

Fishing Cone Geyser at Yellowstone Lake

It’s probably just a tall tale, but the story goes that the early trappers and explorers would catch fish in Yellowstone Lake, swing them directly into the Fishing Cone geyser just off shore, and have a meal of boiled fish in just minutes. “Hook and cook,” they called it. Like the dragon cave, another cool sight that will fire up the imagination.

3. Old Faithful Inn

Old Faithful Inn

What kid won’t love the largest log hotel in the world? Just walk inside the 100-year-old Inn’s lobby, with its four stories of lodgepole pine balconies and 500-ton stone fireplace, and your kids might just want to sit for awhile. Preferably in one of the many handmade wood rocking chairs. Better yet, stay in one of the Inn’s rooms. Prices are reasonable, and the food in the dining room is first-class.

Read the rest of my “Ten Cool Things For Kids in Yellowstone” here.

Olympic Summer

I could tell the kids were ready for summer to be over. They were wandering aimlessly around the house, just begging for someone to sit them down at a desk and teach them something.

But we couldn’t let summer come to an end without our traditional August road trip. One last blast of vacation fun before hitting the books.

We set out for an old favorite, the Pacific Coast beaches of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, where the kids always love to build driftwood forts, dig in the sand, and explore the tidepools for sea creatures.

It’s a place to exercise the legs and clear the mind. If I ask my kids to go for a walk around the neighborhood, they’re good for a mile before the complaining starts. But on these vast expanses of sand? They’ll go 3 or 4 miles without even missing a skip.

I don’t know of anyone, of any age, who can’t help but be mesmerized by the beautiful beaches of the Olympic Peninsula. If you plan to go, check out the Kalaloch Beaches, Ruby Beach, and Rialto Beach. You can hit them all in one day, or just pick one and explore it to its fullest.

It’s a great place to ring out the summer and steel yourself for the coming season of books and calculators and reports.