Friday, September 26, 2008

My Personal Quest: The perfect backpack

For years now, I've been searching for the perfect backpack. If there are any vices that Melody and I share, it would have to be bags. We have far too many backpacks, carry-on bags, suitcases, drag name it. Part of it is our job...the military means that you travel a lot. And, you tend to have specialized luggage such as duffel bags, rucksacks, helmet bags, aviator kit bags, smaller "assault packs", among others. I have at least one one of each, and own pretty much all of the requisite equipment to go to the field, including a helmet. In fact, I really don't have to go to get anything issued, as I have everything I need. Of course, since the last time I spent any time in the field, a lot of the equipment has, maybe I do need new stuff. Hmmm...something to think about.

I also have several different civilian models of backpack. Big ones for camping, medium ones that I used for traveling, specialized travel backpacks, smaller day-packs, and "in-between" sizes that barely fit in the overhead compartment.

For me, the ultimate pack is one that I could use as a carry on that is large enough to travel for several weeks. Much of that comes from just paring down to the essentials, and using what Tim Ferriss calls the "buy it there" mentality.

Essential Features

  • Lots of pockets (inside and out)
  • Compartmentalization (separate top and bottom sections)
  • External compression straps
  • Attachment points for additional straps
  • Water bottle pockets
  • Hip belt with pockets (for snacks, camera, iPod, etc)
  • "Security pocket" with key clip
  • Metal tab zippers that you can lock
  • Hydration bladder compatible
There were a couple of guys who traveled around the world for about 9 months with pretty much just one small-ish backpack each (a 28L Deuter if I recall). They cut their load by buying some pretty high quality and expensive things that were multi-use. They also culled their lives and sold everything they owned on EBay before they left to raise cash for the trip. A bit extreme perhaps for a family man to do...I'm pretty sure Melody would object. Still, it was interesting to see how they did it. Check them out at They're back now, and have been for a couple of months, but their archives are there, and it's interesting to see how they went about preparing for the trip.

So, have I found the perfect pack? Sort's a quest I really don't want to complete, as most of the fun is in the search itself. I have come pretty close. Here are my favorites (so far).

London Bridge Trading Company Medical Assault Pack:
Lots of pockets
Lockable tabs
Black color
Mesh back pocket
Zippered inside pockets (good security)
Central compartment is somewhat small, especially if using all the pockets inside
Shoulder straps don't fit too well
No functional waist belt
Poor load distribution
Military styling not ideal for traveling in foreign lands (invites suspicion)

Mizuno Diamante 25L:
Top Load
Two compartment
Good distribution of pockets (inside top flap, outside top flap, front, waist belt)
Excellent cushioning on straps
Excellent weight distribution

Too small to be a "one bag" bag
Lower pocket difficult to access when fully loaded

Karrimor Trail 35L:
Front load
Two compartment
Good pocket distribution including semi-concealed security pocket
Two pockets on waist belt
Decent cushioning on straps
Decent load distribution
Good size for carry-on
Karrimor (I've always wanted one, but hard to find in the US...)

Green color looks quasi-military
Separator between compartments is closed with a drawstring (lacks support for heavy loads)
Velcro fasteners on waist belt pockets (zippers are more secure)

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Melody is pregnant, but won't let me take any good pictures of her. So, here is one I took in Singapore at one of the Hindu temples in town. Imagine my surprise when I saw my very own wife portrayed as a goddess (I think). It looks just like her, though.

I keep asking her to put on a sari and carry some bananas on her head, and her only reply is to look at me like I have a lobster growing out of my forehead. I suppose I can understand that.

But, that's what Photoshop is for!

Decker Creek

We spent another weekend at our adopted getaway spot, the Decker Creek Bed and Breakfast and Biscuits. This was our second visit, and we took a couple of days of leave to enjoy it at a more leisurely pace this time.

It's just outside Austin, and about an hour and a half away. The proprietors, Pat and Byron Rathbun, have two cabins on over 50 acres of rolling Texas bottom land, complete with creek, woods, and fields. The comfortable cabins are nicely appointed, and have all the amenities for a weekend away, including gourmet, homemade dog biscuits, which Oji adores. We humans adore the huge, country breakfasts, sitting on the porch after waking up with a steaming cup of coffee and good book, and the opportunities to wander the woods on the several miles of trails that are available. We have yet to even set foot in Austin proper.

On Friday, we meandered our way up to Enchanted Rock, sort of the Texas equivalent of Stone Mountain, Georgia, but without the Confederate heroes carved into the side or the laser light show and fireworks. It has been kept deliberately as a semi-wild area, and, judging from all the different types of animal poop Oji and I saw, it's pretty wild.

To get there, you have to drive through an area that has multiple signs for "loose cattle." We figured that was because there were no fences around, rather than some commentary on the local cow morals. We did indeed see some out for a wander and some contented cud-munching.

We got to the rock around four PM, and since Melody is great with child, Oji and I went off to climb while she videoed us from down below. It was pretty steep, and left us winded, but we were able to get to the top in only about 15 minutes. Lest we leave Melody alone for too long in the gift shop, Oji and I didn't linger much at the summit. We stayed long enough to get our picture taken, and then headed on down. She only had time to buy two T-shirts.

The view was gorgeous from up there, with the Texas Hill Country spreading out as far as the eye could see. It was a great day for a climb, a pleasant high-80s kind of day, sunny with puffy clouds floating by, and just enough breeze to allow the sweat to cool you off from your exertions. I brought some water for both of us, and upon reaching the top, we spent a few minutes drinking and catching our breath before heading back down.

After we got back, we all piled into the Jeep, and headed back to Llano to grab some famous Cooper's Bar B Que, which we put in a cooler, and drove back to the B&B&B to eat it. "No Dogs," said the sign outside the restaurant.
We can tell when we're not welcome.

The chow was great, and was washed down with some Lone Star beer, the "National Beer of Texas." It was good. Very good.

Saturday, we just relaxed around the cabin and surrounding property. Oji and I saw an armadillo, a rabbit, and possibly a turkey while wandering the property, and overall, we had a wonderfully restful day.

If you're ever headed for Austin, be sure to check out the Decker Creek B&B&B as an option for your stay. You won't be disappointed. Just call ahead early, as it is booked nearly continuously months out. But, it's worth it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Great Old Spice Slogan

"If your grandfather didn't wear it, you wouldn't exist."

How true...My Dad had some that I think he got from his Dad.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Oji Tails

I got an email from my old friend LT, one of our regulars, calling for more stories about Oji. So, in an attempt to indulge her, here we go.

Oji Goes to the Country. We decided to take a weekend for ourselves about a month ago, and headed up the road toward Austin. Melody had Googled around for a while to find a dog-friendly getaway, so we were going to spend the weekend at the Decker Creek Bed and Breakfast and Biscuits. It's a nice little place run by Pat and Byron Rathbun who have 50 acres or so of woods, fields and creek as well as two cute cabins that they rent out.

We drove up there after work one Friday night, getting there at about 9 PM (it took us a while to get on the road...Heaven help us once we have a child in a couple of months. We'll never get anywhere). We met up with Pat and Byron, got the key to the cabin, and drove through the woods to get there. As soon as we'd moved everything inside, I took Oji out to the fenced in back yard, keeping him on the leash so I could make sure that the fence did indeed look secure. I walked the perimeter with him, and, satisfied, I let him off the leash and went back inside.

A few minutes later, I went out to call him back inside. I could hear him walking around up the hill, but couldn't see him. The jingle of his collar got louder as I could hear him coming down, but still, I couldn't pinpoint his location. Jingle jingle...jingle sounded like it was off to the left, by the fence. Then, I saw a shadow walk by. Outside. The. Fence.

In my stocking feet, I ducked back inside, grabbed my shoes, a flashlight and the leash, and headed out the front door. Now, I couldn't see or hear him, and I thought to myself, "Great. Black dog. Dark, moonless night. 50 acres of unfamiliar woods. This is perfect." It took about 15 minutes before I was able to figure out where he was, and then another 10 to get close enough to get the leash on him. We still need to work a bit more on the "Come" command.

So, the next morning, we decided to take him with us to breakfast. Pat and Byron had encouraged us the night before, because they have a couple of dogs as well. So, we did. And not 10 seconds after having been let in to their beautiful house complete with antique breakfast table, Oji went and marked the table leg. I apologized profusely, and cleaned it up with paper towels. They were very understanding. This of course is not the first time Oji has introduced himself this way, as I'm sure loyal readers will remember our trip to the dog park. We're not trying to encourage such behavior.

Later on that afternoon, Oji and I went for a walk around the premises, and made a wrong turn, ending up on the neighbor's property where there were some horses. I'm pretty sure that Oji has never seen horses before, and he was fascinated by them, and they by him.

We had a nice walk, though, and were thoroughly pooped by the time we returned. We both had a big drink and a nap.

Relocatables. We just moved into some new office space in what they call "Relocatables." Basically, that's a fancy (and according to my spell checker a made-up) word for "Trailer Park." We have ninetuplewide that is definitely something you'll want to stay away from during tornadoes. Especially since we have no chickens to hang on to (obscure David Brenner comedy act reference - "Did you ever notice that after some tornado out in the midwest, you can have an entire town destroyed, but the chickens are still wandering around as if nothing ever happened? You can just hear the cows saying, 'Tornado's coming!! Hang on to a chicken!!' ").

Anyhow, before I discovered the relocatable that I work in, I took the term to mean that which we find upon coming home has been relocated from its original location, like Melody's slippers which usually live in the bathroom, and we find under the television. Or, Oji's bed, which usually stays right by the foot of ours, but sometimes is found in the kitchen. We've also found our dog likes to relocate himself.

Like for instance just last night, while I was brushing my teeth. Normally, he is fascinated by bathroom activities. If you leave the door open, you get a spectator watching your every brush, floss, scrub or other type of body maintenance. It's a little bit weird. Last night, though, I looked down to where he normally sits in the doorway, and he was gone. I figured he'd gone out to see his Mom, still watching TV. When I came out, I saw a black bundle curled up on the bed, right next to my John McCain book and a load of clean laundry. It was our beloved beast, making himself comfortable. It was so cute, I couldn't be angry...instead, I took a photo with my cell phone.

Friday after work, I found him on the couch, and on our blue chair today. My previously non-dog-fan mother-in-law said, "Oh, just let him get up there. He's just trying to see what it's like!" This from a woman who was none to pleased that we were even getting a dog. Now, though, she's like the doting grandmother. Quite the transformation!

Oji's New Friend. Recently, Melody's cousin moved into town. It turns out that she was hired by our Veterinarian's office to be a third doctor there. We had no idea that she was coming, and she didn't know we were in town until her mom told her. It's been fun having some family nearby, though.

Along with Vicki came Rohan, her 2.5 lb Yorkie. The first time she came to our house, she brought him along. I took Oji outside to meet him in the street to try to minimize any Alpha Dog seemed to work pretty well, just like on that Cesar Milan's show. So now, Oji's got a little cousin. They get along fine so far. Oji at first didn't know what to make of this squirrel sized creature who was nibbling on his dinner, drinking his water, and sniffing his junk. After a time, they both loosened up a bit, and began playing chase around the house. Oji will paw at his smaller buddy, and Rohan will jump up and try to bite Oji's face. Friday night as we were eating, they were chasing each other around the dinner table. Rohan would hide beneath chairs where Oji had a hard time reaching him...they had us in stitches. We're glad that Oji's got a little friends to hang out with, as the only other doggy interaction is on walks or at school, and that mostly is him barking at the other students. We're so proud.

Actually, though, he has been doing pretty well at school. He was one of only 2 dogs (Fred the Puggle is the other) who were asked to continue their schooling at the intermediate level. So, we're going to continue for another 8 weeks. He's not perfect, and I don't dare let him off leash just yet, but we're getting better.

Craxtra. Routine dental care is difficult for dogs. To clean their teeth, they actually have to get put to sleep (anesthesia, not the Big Sleep...). So, lots of products are out there to try to minimize tartar buildup, ranging from toothpaste that tastes like meat, to chew toys, to "greenies" and our personal favorite, Hextra. Hextra is a rawhide-like substance that is impregnated with an antibiotic called CET. It's tough, and the chewing plus the CET stuff apparently works wonders to keep the dog's teeth nice and clean.

The way Oji reacts to his daily Hextra is really funny, and has made me call it "Craxtra" because it seems to be addicting. Oji gets a big doggy smile, and his tail starts wagging in excitement. Once he gets it, he savors it for a moment, and then runs into every room of the house tossing it up into the air and catching it in his teeth before settling in one place to gnaw away at it. Depending on the thickness, it can take him up to half an hour of ecstatic chewing before it's gone.

Oji is kind of like our "practice baby." Having a dog is definitely like having a kid with training wheels. You learn a lot when you have responsibility for another being that requires food, and potty breaks, and naps...even if that being has four legs and a fuzzy face. When you look down to see that fuzzy face staring up at you with the look that says "I love you! Take me out so I can pee all over the neighborhood!", your heart just melts with love. When he gets so excited because he recognizes that me putting on my walking shorts and socks, it's just too cute. He starts running back and forth before leading me to the door, looking over his shoulder with every step to make sure that I'm right behind. Adorable.

You also learn patience, as you stand in the rain with him trying to find just the right place to pee or make a poop.

But, it's all worth it. I just wonder though, if I'm this bad with a dog, how will I be with the fruits of my own loins? We'll find out in December...Do they make Hextra pacifiers?

Close Encounter with Steven Tyler

I forgot to mention that, while I was waiting to board my flight from Rapid City to Denver when heading home, I watched some poor guy getting the "special" TSA treatment with the full bag search and body wand. He looked vaguely familiar, and must have had quite a lot of metal in various places on his body, as it took a long time for him to get finished. He was sort of scruffy looking, and I initially just chalked it up to him being another Sturgis attendee. Then, as he was walking out of security, having quite patiently endured the scrutiny, I realized who he was. It was Steven Tyler of Aerosmith fame. Pretty neat to see a real celebrity, especially in such a small town (though much, much larger at Sturgis time).

Behold. The Humble Toilet Seat as Art!

More than just a place to perch your toilet kit while fishing for your razor, the toilet seat has been elevated to an art form right here in San Antonio, TX.

I put up an article on the Everywhere site...check it out here.

Rapid City South Dakota

Last month, we had the unfortunate need to travel for a funeral. My paternal Grandfather died at age 95. He was an accomplished PhD Biochemist and a pretty incredible guy. While the occasion was sad, it was a good chance to catch up with some family I'd not seen in a long, long time.

My Father and Sister and I all made our way to Rapid City, South Dakota on the 5th of August. While in Chicago, my Sister ran into my Aunt Carolyn and Cousin Jeff. Within 30 minutes of them arriving to Rapid City, my Father joined us, and we all headed into town to check into the hotel.

Just after we checked in, my Aunt Marylin came to lead us over to the hospice home where Grandpa was staying, just barely hanging on. He looked very weak, and with three of his four kids there, was able to rouse himself a little bit. We aren't sure if he really was aware of our presence, but he seemed to be.

The next morning, we went back to the home to find that he had passed away about a half-hour earlier. We're grateful that we'd seen him one last time the day before.

During funeral preparations, we learned a lot about our Grandfather, and my Dad and Aunts had a good time reminiscing about growing up during the 1950s. Stuff like how, when my Grandfather decided that he wanted to modernize the house, he and my Dad went up on the roof, and, using hand saws, sawed off the overhanging eaves. At one point, my Pop was filling his arms with boards to bring back to the top of the roof, when he began to lose his balance and teeter two stories above the backyard. Grandpa was too far away to grab him, and watched terrified as he almost fell. At the last second, Dad was able to fling himself forward and stay on the roof. Grandpa told him, "We won't tell your Mother about that."

After this was completed, Grandpa decided that the garage wasn't in the right place and that it really ought to be a two car garage. So, he detached it from the foundation, made a new foundation closer to the house, and hooked up a block and tackle to the old Packard, and hauled it on rollers, "Hebrew slaves building the Pyramids"-style, onto the new site. Then, back up on the roof with a hand saw to saw the entire building in half along the apex, pull the two halves apart to make it two-car sized, and then use the pieces formerly known as eaves to fill in the gap. There was pretty much nothing that he didn't think he could do, and he got a lot of satisfaction from creating something functional (though perhaps not always something aesthetic).

We did have some time to do a bit of sightseeing, and got up to Dinosaur Park, on a hill overlooking the small city. This is what I remember from my visits as a young boy...huge prehistoric beasts menacing the town. South Dakota is known for its preponderance of fossils, so I guess it makes sense. The beasts were also good for some classic photos. The impalement. The panicked "Oh No! It's going to eat me!!" shot. And of course, my body builder cousin about to take care of business with the recalcitrant Apatasaurus. Good stuff. Award winning photos, for certain. I will say, though, the Tyranosaurus rex was not terribly intimidating. Something about his goofy grin just makes it difficult to take him very seriously.

The last day, just before we had to go to the airport, we drove about 30 minutes outside of town to Mt. Rushmore for breakfast. The food was mediocre (the Park Service should stick to servicing parks), but you couldn't beat the view outside the window. And, no one fell off a bench and cracked their head this time, like my little brother did some 20+ years ago (the last time we were there).

We also had the chance to peripherally take part in the huge Sturgis Rally going on simultaneous to our visit. We seemed to be the only visitors in town that weren't decked out in leather pants and T-shirts sporting Harley Davidson logos. Though, it did give me the idea that if we ever have a son, we should name him Harley, so he would be "Harley, David's son." Surprisingly, that got vetoed.

So, while the reason for the trip was sad, it was overall a good opportunity. We got to see Grandpa one last time, say our goodbyes, and spend some quality, though difficult, time with family.