Monday, December 22, 2008

Stocking Stuffers

Here's an excerpt of my December 2007 Parting Line column from Game & Fish Publications:

Of all the holiday traditions, the one most advantageous to outdoorsmen is the stocking stuffer.
As a child waking up Christmas morning, I'd always eye the largest packages, hoping Santa had left them for me. As I became more involved in hunting, fishing and camping, I also became more educated in my greed.
It was still desirable to receive the occasional big, expensive gift such as a rifle, a bow, or a fly rod. But the stocking stuffers -- sthe smaller, less expensive gadgets and gear tucked in my Christmas stocking -- often proved to be the gifts that were handier, more likely to carried, and more often used.
Early on, a stocking stuffer competition developed with my brother Gary. Our sister Carol didn't enter into the rivalry. Each Christmas her stocking contained hair ties, bubble bath, combs, brushes, and other articles of primping, preening, and personal hygiene.
To guys who in adulthood would spend a week in deer camp each fall without showering, articles of personal hygiene in our stockings would have been useless, even insulting.
Gary, being older, had an initial advantage. While I was still receiving cartoon character candy dispensers in my stocking, he was unveiling such treasures as official Boy Scout pocket knives and waterproof match cases.
The inequities in the contents of our Christmas stockings as kids probably did irreparable harm to my fragile self-esteem. No matter. I had a lifetime to be vindictive and play catch-up.
"Don't bother wasting a match to light the fire," I told Gary back in camp one evening last fall. "I'll use my amazing new Magnum Sparky magnesium fire starter to scrape off a shower of sparks to get a lifesaving blaze going in seconds."
"Sounds like you're reading from the package again," Gary said. "Don't tell me, stocking stuffer, right?"
"Strange," I said. "I'm getting lots of sparks, but they're not catching."
"Move," he said. He squirted some charcoal lighter fluid on the logs and lit them with what appeared to be a magic wand.
"It's a Blaze Away long-stemmed butane lighter," he said with a superior smile. "It's also a stocking stuffer."
When we had a good bed of coals, we put meat on the grill and set out our cook pot.
"Here," I said. "Take one of my new stocking stuffer bandannas with the rare running deer pattern, fold it like so, and it becomes a handy pot holder."
"Is that the one you were blowing your nose with all day?" he said.
"Never mind, I'll do it. Ouch!"
"You'd better get the burn ointment from my stocking stuffer pocket-sized first-aid kit," Gary said. "I'll use my stocking stuffer universal pot handle that clamps easily on any pot or pan to move our supper around. These noodles are a bit bland, though."
"Solution," I said. I took something out of my stocking. "Salt and pepper shaker tops that fit securely on plastic 35mm film canisters."
"You brought your Christmas stocking on a hunting trip?" Gary asked.
"Dawn sewed on a shoulder strap, a reinforced belt loop, and a secure button flap," I said. "What better way to carry stocking stuffers than in the Christmas stocking itself? This way I can use it more than one day a year."
"Where did you find one in blaze orange?"
"I got it for Christmas, rolled up in my stocking," I said. "They come in camo too."
I started to sprinkle salt and pepper into the cook pot. The tops popped off into the pot, along with two 35mm film canisters full of salt and pepper.
"Don't worry," Gary said. "Here, scoop it out with my Kamp Kitchen pocket knife. I got it in my stocking last Christmas. It has a fold-out spoon, fork, knife and can-opener. Watch it though, the knife is pretty..."
"," he said. "I have bandages in that first-aid kit, too."
"We should have caught our supper down at the pond," I said. "I brought my lucky fishing lure, you know, the distressed minnow with the face that reminds me of old Mrs. Grendoon, my third-grade teacher? That lure is one of my favorite all-time stocking stuffers."
"How many fish have you caught with it?"
"None," I said, "but it's survived ten years and several thousand casts and I haven't lost it yet."
"We'd probably be better off with my Angler's Travel Pack," Gary said. "It has an assortment of hooks, sinkers, plastic crayfish and grubs and fits conveniently in either a Christmas stocking or the side pocket of a backpack."
"Sure, just throw money at the problem," I said. "It's more clever to find a bargain-priced solution in the true stocking stuffer tradition."
"First, Mrs. Grendoon was my third grade teacher, not yours," he said. "And it's not like you invented any of your stocking stuffers. You found them in your Christmas stocking. How clever is that?"
We continued the duel by bringing out a tiny sewing kit, headband flashlight holder, rifle scope lens covers, folding scissors, water purification tablets, magnetic-mount fiber optic sights, emergency blanket, and clip-on bubble compass.
"This is about the official Boy Scout knife and the waterproof match case, isn't it?" Gary asked.
"Santa always liked you best," I said.
"That was 40 years ago," he said. "You weren't old enought to play with knives and matches, not that you are now; you're still cutting and burning yourself. Think back. I ended up giving you that Boy Scout knife. I don't know what happened to the match case."
"I've got that too, big brother," I said, "in my stocking somewhere."

Friday, December 12, 2008

Owen the Destroyer

A couple of years ago my wife Dawn brought home a surprise for my son Sean's birthday.
"Here hold onto him for a minute," she said and handed me an eight-week old Golden Retriever.
The pup looked up at me with scared little eyes and
proceeded to poop all over me. In one way or another,
literally or figuratively, he has been pooping all over me
ever since.
I wanted to name him Ruger, after one of my favorite firearms, but Sean opted for Owen, after the English soccer star Michael Owen. Yes, that's the tail end of a poodle on the left side of the photo, but please, only one embarrassing story at a time.
Early on I knew there were going to be problems. Window screens, for one, was a concept Owen couldn't fathom. He went through them to go in and out as if they weren't there.
We closed the downstairs windows his first summer and suffered through the heat. One day we left him in the house while we went out to do some errands. When we got home there he was in the driveway to greet us. He had gone through a screen again -- this time through a bedroom window on the second floor. He had only a scratch on his snout to show for it. So then we closed all of the windows. Like the proverbial Big Bad Wolf, he huffed, puffed, pushed and prodded and took out the whole window casing.
Doors were a bit more of a challenge for him. He's scratched and clawed them and on a couple of occasions tried to tunnel under them. He was successful only in tearing out several hundreds of dollars of carpeting in the process.
If you didn't keep him otherwise occupied, he'd find something he just had to chew to pieces. The house siding and moulding, garden hoses, pens and pencils, table legs, my daughter Stephanie's stuffed animals, everything was included in his comprehensive taste-testing experiment. Oh, we gave him plenty of chew toys of his own. Plastic, rubber, rope, rawhide, nothing could withstand his determination to shred them all. The result has been a house littered with bits and pieces of one half of all the doggy chew toys we have ever given him. What happened to the other half, you ask? He swallowed them, of course. I have to say that has ultimately made for a more colorful lawn and a much more interesting chore when I take shovel and poop bucket in hand to clean up the yard.
Poop, slobber and enough shed dog hair to clog several vacuum cleaners, yes Owen has certainly blessed our lives. I guess if you add up all of the extra work, annoyance and property damage, he's no worse than an other member of the family, except of course that he's the only member of the family who pees on my car tires. My wife and daughter are quick to come to his defense.
"He got into the trash again? Oh, don't yell at him. It's just a misunderstanding. He doesn't know any better."
"Muddy dog foot prints all through the house? Never mind those. Just make sure you take off your shoes at the door? We're trying to keep this house clean."
I look at him now and I don't see the scared eyes of a pup. I see a cold, calculating adversary scheming to drive me to a complete nervous breakdown.
"Go ahead put on that sad puppy face," I tell him. "I'm not buying any of it. No, forget about it. No way. Oh, all right. Let me get my jacket. We'll go for a walk and talk about it."

Monday, December 8, 2008

Catch a deer?

Did you ever notice that if you mention you've been hunting to any non-hunter, the polite response will always be, "Did you catch a deer?" It's as if the person has such refined sensibilities that he can't bring himself to say, "Did you shoot a deer?" My reply is usually, "No, I didn't catch a deer. I don't know what it is, but I just can't seem to run that fast anymore."

Second book?

I'm thinking of putting together a second collection of my outdoor humor columns and I'm wondering if there is any interest in such a book. The response to my first book, "My Brushes With Death And Other Outdoor Blunders, A Family Man's Guide To Hunting And Fishing Woe" was mostly positive. That book gathered 50 of my favorite magazine columns originally published by Game & Fish Publications (New York Game & Fish, Pennsylvania Game & Fish, etc.). It's available through or at www.