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On the value of living off the grid…

If even only for a few short days, living off the grid is quite liberating and reminds us all of what life was before the internet, email and the iPhone. It allows us to reconnect with our real social network, face-to-face, to practice the long lost art of the “conversation”.

Starting a fire and staring longingly into it is an innate joy that is bred into every human being since we first discovered it 800,000 years ago. Every grown man has a story about how he first discovered fire as a boy, and every grown man has a story about the very first (and subsequently the very last) time a fire grew out of control way too quickly. The old fashioned camp out is our opportunity to regale each other with such stories and laugh out loud truthfully without having to use acronyms or emoticons.

This past weekend, I had the luxury of spending the weekend with my son camping in the wilderness among his Cub Scout Den mates and their parents. Yes, I did just use “luxury” and “camping” in the same sentence. No, it wasn’t a mistake. With all the activities we schedule for our selves – baseball, soccer, homework, office work, house work, volunteering – a weekend with nothing to do but hang around a camp fire with friends is truly a luxury.

30 minutes before I reached my final destination of “Memorial Park” just outside the sleepy little town of Loma Mar, CA, my usually reliable Verizon signal went from five solid dots (or full bars for all you non-apple-ios7 folks) to the dreaded “No Service” message. Dread quickly gave way to tranquility as I continued down the shady tree lined highway at the maximum speed of 25 MPH. I was officially off the grid for the next two days.
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Upon arriving to the park, I realized I didn’t have the $12.00 entrance fee (I haven’t seen cash since my wedding day) and was forced to use my cunning wiles to charm my way past the guard house sans payment. Successfully talking my way through, I found we were the first ones there and, as the old adage goes, the early bird gets the worm.
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After claiming one of the best spots for our tent, Mason and I quickly turned our focus to more important things – food! Our dinner menu consisted of grilled New York Strip Streaks, Corn on the Cob and Cast-Iron Pan Sauteed Brocolette (an interesting, subtly sweet mix between chinese brocolli and traditional brocolli with a hint of asparagus).
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We had our dinner wrapped up and were working on making dessert well before another soul showed up. It was fun to be able to partake in an activity with Mason that didn’t involve my having to scream at him to slide into second, or to open up his stance a half step. We decided that there were only two acceptable ways to finish off a night in the wood – a dutch over dessert or S’Mores. Since we were waiting for the marshmallows and chocolate to arrive, we opted for an “Apple Dump Cake”.

Step 1: Open four cans of apple pie filling. You can also choose your favorite pie filling, or go the healthy route by using freshly sliced apples. Also, I have a 14 quart dutch oven, which is roughly the size of a small volkswagon so please adjust your quantities as needed. (Please note the “No High Fructose Corn Syrup” band on the cans, because the number two ingredient was “Corn Syrup”. Gotta love those sneaky marketing folks!)
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Step 2: Dump contents of cans into the dutch oven. You may want to line the oven with foil. I choose not to as my oven is well seasoned, and I find serving the cake difficult when I have to scrape around the foil sheet.
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Step 3: Dump (hence the name of the cake) two boxes of yellow cake mix evenly on top of the pie filling. No mixing is required. You can use any flavor of cake, but I find that the standard yellow works best.
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Step 4: Slice two sticks of butter into 1/4″ pats. Distribute evenly over the surface of the cake mix.
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Step 5: Cover the dutch oven and place over coals. Add coals to lid and bake for about an hour, turning the lid and the oven a quarter turn every 15 minutes. Now, many purists will tell you that there’s a specific number of coals you must have on the bottom and a specific number for the top, but, frankly, I’m more of a wing it type of guy. If you’re so inclined, you can google it and discover that you should probably use about 10 coals on the bottom and about 15 on the top. But like I said, my oven is 14 quarts, and you should adjust as needed.
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After about forty-five minutes, I like to take a peek to see where the cake is in terms of doneness.
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When the cake is golden and all the white powder has been cooked through, take a spoon to it and see if it’s cooked. You’ll know it when you see it.

Step 6: Serve and enjoy! She won’t win any baking contests, but, boy, is she a delicious piece of cake!
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The dump cake was a big hit, even though it was a tad on the sweet side. If I had the wherewithal to deal with it, I would have peeled and sliced fresh apples, added a hint of sugar and cinnamon, and left it at that. Regardless, it was still delicious and even more so the next day.

After a little camaraderie with the rest of the Scout Den, Mason and I took a trip to brush our teeth (Yes, mom, we brushed our teeth!)
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Since we were in such close proximity to the wonderfully smelling urinal, we opted to skip the entire two minute cycle and bolted as soon as we felt our teeth were reasonably clean.

We retired to our tent where I cursed myself for forgetting my DSLR and tripod.
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The next morning, since we were still on our own for breakfast (communal meals were not scheduled until lunch), we decided to keep our gourmet menu theme with oven roasted breakfast potatoes (which I cooked the previous day and reheated at camp) and steak omelettes.
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The rest of the day was chockfull of scouting activities including a one-mile hike that took an hour (mostly because Mason was partially in charge), survival skills and fire making lessons. I spent most of the day contemplating the wisdom of teaching 10 year olds how to use pocket knives and start fires, but nonetheless, continued on with the lessons.

Dinner was your standard hot dogs and burgers fare, but being the gourmand that I am, found a way to make it a little extra special.
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If you’re unfamiliar with the benefits of the spiral cut hot dog, please take a moment to familiarize yourself with them by watching this short video clip:

We ended the night with a small gathering around the camp fire where we discussed the merits of the “fake product review“, little league politics, and the wisdom behind feeding kids marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate shortly before bedtime while in the woods.
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The next morning, we tore down camp and headed back onto the grid where I would be greeted with 47 text messages, 103 emails and 3 voicemails. But not before we had to make a brief stop for my car-sick-prone son.
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And, for those of you who contest my claim as “Father of the Year”, yes, I did take the time to photograph my son as he vomited along side the road before offering assistance.


On the Value of (good) Communication.

Since the days of the caveman, communication has been the cornerstone of survival and of success. Without good communication, prehistoric man could not effectively hunt the wooly mammoth. Without good communication, man would not have landed on the moon. And of course, the need for good communication gave birth to such innovations as the telephone, television and the Internet.
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Twenty years ago, when Amy and I first started dating, our communications plan was locked down tight – running 5 x 5. We had secret codes – how many of you remember 143 and ILY – and every wayward glance meant something different and was immediately understood. We wrote notes to each other and couldn’t wait until the end of class to pass them on. We called each other during the day and actually had conversations. Every special occasion was marked with a lengthy card signed “Olive Juice” (if you mouth it in the mirror, it will make sense).

Fast forward twenty years and four kids, and our communications plan is much different. It’s efficient. It consists of short bursts of information via stand-up meetings in the kitchen or text messages. Conversations usually pertain to pick ups, drop offs, menu plans, PTA or Scout meeting schedules or bank account related information. It’s a struggle to come home and remember to say hello, or to leave and say I love you. At times, it seems like our phones have more of a relationship than we do.

In fact, it makes me wonder whether or not our communication skills are broken. I have a co-worker that, quite literally, begins and ends each conversation she has with her significant other with “I love you!”. Be sure to notice the exclamation point. That was not added to embellish or to prove a point. It was added simply because she exclaims it to him each and every time. While on a plane today, the woman next to me signed off her phone conversation similarly. She followed up aforementioned conversation with a text simply saying “I love you”. Yes, I understand the inherent creepiness of the fact that I eavesdropped on both her phone call and her text, but I had been sitting on the plane for 30 minutes and I was getting terribly bored.

As I sat, waiting for the plane to finally begin taxiing, I philosophized the root of my communication problem. It was then that I realized that I did not have a problem. In fact, our communication was stronger than ever, in my opinion. It’s inevitable that relationships, and even people, must change. Or, rather, grow. Our interests have changed. Our priorities have been rearranged. I love Amy more today than I did twenty years ago, which is saying a great deal since I loved her with all my heart then. I don’t feel the need to scream it from the rooftops, or to verbalize my feelings every waking moment because I know she knows how I feel, and I know how she feels.

We are a lean, mean communicating machine. Our system is efficient and effective. For example, I came home last night and found a pot of boiling potatoes and carrots. I took over from where Amy left off and finished the dinner she had started. I asked her to pick me up some cash, but didn’t get a chance to confirm with her since she went out for the night and I had to get to bed for an early morning flight. When I woke up, I found a pile of cash on the coffee table in perfect denominations for business travel – singles for tipping, fives for coffee, and tens for lunch. And beyond the necessity of function, there’s always the warm and fuzzy parts too. On the days I need the encouraging, she’s always there to say the right thing, she’s always there to provide a supportive hug, with nothing to be said at all.

The bottom line is this – no matter how you communicate, no matter how others around you communicate, whatever system works for you, works for you. It’s the communication equivalent of “it is what it is”. And so long as you can wake up each and every morning without a single doubt in your mind that you’re waking up next to the person you should be waking up next to, then I’d say you’ve found success. Continue reading On the Value of (good) Communication.

On the value of Boy Scouting

Two months ago, my oldest son, Jacob, came home from Camp Chawanakee, a BSA run summer camp where he learned such life skills as cooking, astronomy, fishing, and outdoor safety.  He was giddy, exclaiming “I can cook an omelette, dad!”

Fast forward to my kitchen this morning where I happen upon an excited Jacob making omelettes for the family.  Like any good chef, he had taken the time to organize his mise en place – diced onions, cheese, ham, scrambled eggs.  Trying to be a supportive father, I chime in from the sideline with “Son, if you’re making an omelette, you’re not going to want to put raw white onions in.  You’ll have to sautee them quickly first.”

Shortly there after, I noticed he wasn’t quite scrambling the eggs, as much as he was stirring them vigorously.  So, I say – “Jake, let me show you how to scramble eggs”.

Followed by “Your pan is on high, you’re going to want to bring that down to at least Medium”.

Then “You’re going to need some type of oil or butter to keep the eggs from sticking.”

After which I had to show him how to actually fold the omelette.

The end product, of course, being an omelette that I very nearly made myself, with a side of my sarcasm.  “What exactly, son, did they teach you at that camp?”


On the Value of Family Vacations.

As many of you may know, Disney has a very special place in my heart and holds a very personal meaning to me.  Disney reminds me, as it must for many of you, of my childhood – of better times, of care-free days.  It’s a feeling I long to instill in my own children and when I dream of taking them to the happiest place on Earth, I picture us frolicking through meadows of wild flowers, dancing hand in hand as we sing through the various lands.  I imagine a dapper looking group of young men in straw hats tap dancing up to us to give us a freshly picked daisy as bluebirds circle above.

As it turns out, the reality of waking up at 4:00 am, traveling 6 hours on a plane without entertainment (Thank you American Airlines, for ushering in a new era of the “golden age of air travel”!), and 90% humidity looks less like the sound of music and more like this:

 Of course, it wasn’t all bad.  In fact, there were quite a few highlights.

There was the “Disney’s Magical Express” service which
came with the luxury of not having to deal with luggage…

Because it showed up in your hotel room, seemingly by magic!

There was the look on the kids’ faces when they saw the hotel room for the first time…

There was the broken fridge – which, at first, was a terrible inconvenience…

But eventually resulted in room upgrades to the family suites!

There was James, our private Chauffeur for a couple of days…

There was the time we tried our very first “Butter Beers” in
“The Wizarding World of Harry Potter”…


There was our trip through Hogwarts…

There was the 90 degree climb on Universal’s “Rip Ride Rock’it”…

There was the really good dining experience we had in “Morocco”

There was the time the kids pretended to be Japanese Anime characters while, appropriately enough, standing in the “Japan” area of Epcot…

There was the time we ran into friends from the kids’ karate dojo and they all performed the “Heian Shodan” while standing in the “China” area of Epcot…

There was our trip back in time where both Clair and Paige each tore off a parental arm…

There was the dinner we had at the 50’s Prime Time Cafe…

There was swimming at the “Nemo” pool which had underwater speakers blasting Top 40 music through the water.  There was also the “Cozy Cone” swimming pool…

There was our meal at “Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano” which was a little pricey, but was delicious and came with VIP Preferred Seating at the Fantasmic show!  These seats were close enough to feel some serious heat, and without the hour-long wait in line!

There was the Dole Pineapple float I searched high and
low for, and waiting 20 minutes in line for…

Then, of course, there was the five-story building filled
with every video game you’ve ever wanted to play…
IMG_7021Every Yin must have its Yang, every Yogi, it’s Boo-Boo…
So here are a few not-so-pleasant occurences…



Plantar Fasciitis…

and a Lost Duffy Bear…

When all was said and done, The Floro Clan (+1) had a fabulously Magical time in Orlando.  I’m pretty sure we won’t be back for many year to come but, for now, we’ve had our fill.

One of these days, I’ll get around to updating that “Tips and Tricks” section with some advice for East-Bound folks, but for now, you’ll have to settle for the Photo Gallery entries.