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5 Books, 1 Review! Gibb’s Publishing Outdoors Books for Kids!

What a deal you all get today!  Not just ONE review, but FIVE reviews all rolled into one, for free.  Best deal around, no doubt.  We are going to be looking at books published by Gibbs Smith ( in the Children’s Activity genre.  Simply presented, interesting and valuable information comes in an easily packed soft cover book at a very reasonable price ($9.99 MSRP).  I consider these books a great resource for beginners (kid or adult), scouting troops,and outdoor lovers.

So let’s take a look.

Starting off we have Cooking on a Stick by Linda White.  She begins with fire safety and how to build a fire specifically for cooking (meaning while a fire can get going quickly, achieving a  cooking fire takes about 30 minutes).  I didn’t know there was a difference at a young age and while you can cook over a rip-roaring fire, you’ll mostly end up with charred food.  Good for marshmallows, but not stew. Following these two items is a list of cooking equipment and a “how to” on making a coat hanger into a “cooking stick”.  First aid is also covered which, is always a good idea.

The rest of the book is basically a cook book-or recipe book-which covers a myriad of items ranging from biscuit mix to pizza.  A really nice variety andPhoto8af nothing too complicated to discourage those just starting out.  Cooking with pouches, sticks, and grates are presented but I love that the author also included snacks and trail food (read-”no cooking necessary”).  Because waiting 30 just to start cooking can make you hungry, so included are some trail-mix like recipes to keep that hunger at bay. They are also great on the trail or by the lake.

Similarly,  we have Cooking in a Can– by Linda White.  Leading off again with the basics of fire safety (which can’t be reiterated enough for kids and adults I think), Ms. White also recommends having an adult start fires.  Good tip in my opinion. Also covered is the importance of a first aid kit and planning and packing appropriately.Photo9ag

Ms. White also offers a few “crafts” to the reader.  One is a jeans apron  and another is for a sweatshirt wood carrier.  These are simple, but useful activities that can be done ahead of time or on the campsite (making the apron requires sewing, so if you plan this for the campsite, you’ll need a sewing kit).

Following this are the meat and potatoes (pardon the pun) of the different methods of outdoor cooking with recipes that sound fun and yummy.  Each recipe gives the type of meal (main dish, side dish, snack, etc.), how it can be cooked (can, coals, solar cooker, etc) and how many it serves.  The solar oven needs to be made ahead of time so it also counts, in my opinion, as a craft.

I think that the hot rock cooking (page 45) is really neat and no doubt the kids will get a kick out of it as well.  Just make sure that if meat is being cooked, check to make sure it is completely cooked. Raw chicken is gross and can make you very sick.  Pit cooked food is really easy (though time consuming) and it works great.  Personally, I’ve cooked a ham (which took ALL DAY) and bread in this manner.  As long as the food is completely covered in aluminum so dirt doesn’t get into your food, it’s like having an oven on site.

The recipes included are easy enough for the first-time camp chef and each recipe also suggests alternate methods for cooking.  So if you don’t want to cook your camp meal in a can, it also recommends using a grill or stove.

Next, we look at Sleeping in a Sack by Linda White.  This book covers most of the basics of camping without great amounts of detail and stresses the need for adult supervision.  Topics covered include: choosing gear, planning your trip, setting up, packing and activities.

Photo33aaMaking a camp clean up kit (page 17) is a great idea that combines clean up with a pre-camping project.  Making a towel carrier for each campers bathing/grooming items is a fantastic idea.  And? Mom and/or Dad won’t have to carry all the gear to and from the bath house.  Believe me, after doing this for a few years, it gets tedious.  I’m definitely doing this for this year’s outing! Also covered-the dreaded (by me) pit toilet.  Good to know how to do, but I advise a campsite with a real facility. Running water is so nice; and I mean faucet and tap, not babbling brook.

The brown bag breakfast makes a repeat appearance in “Camp Chow” and a few others follow with funny names, but I’m not sure how many kids who will be willing to eat stew with rutabaga.  But, like I always say; “Add what you like, leave out what you don’t.”

Camp skills covers basic knots, sharpening a pocket knife, staying found, first aid and other activities to keep you occupied; if you can stay awake past sundown from all that fresh air. The book finishes with a brief segment on “green camping”.  Making sure you leave the camp in better condition than you found it and other earth-friendly ways to camp are mentioned.

This book contains plenty of information presented in a format simple enough for a new camper or someone teaching first time campers.

Moving on, Lawson Drinkard offers us, Fishing in a Brook, which covers where to fish (docks, surf, ponds, lakes), equipment, bait, and how to tie knots for hooks.  Baiting the hook for different types of bait is a good idea so you don’t lose wind up just feeding the fish all day.

Casting styles are covered as is when and why to use them.  “Lawn fishing” encourages practice (without a hook thank you) and can be turned into a game even non-fishers can enjoy.Photo21n  Photo24qWhere to find fish taught me why I was probably the most unsuccessful fisher as a youngster.  I think I did everything wrong.  Mr. Drinkard suggests that landing your hook in the sun isn’t going to gain much as the fish like shade better.  One really neat tip offered is to wear polarized sun glasses to see the fish more easily underwater.

Finishing up is a small list of common fish that includes colorful pictures, where the fish usually can be found, what type of bait to use, and I supposemost importantly, what to do after catching a fish.  Release, eat or photographing the fish are suggested.

I like that while the book does mention the “cleaning and scaling”, it directs the reader to get a helper who has done those tasks before. Good idea, since I still have a bit of trouble with the gutting part.  Cooking the fish is mentioned, but not covered in detail.  A few methods are offered though, if the reader wants to try his or her hand.Photo23p

Photo30xFinally, we come to Trekking on a Trail by Linda White.  Even though most of you know I love to cook, I am going to go ahead and say this was my favorite book.

Packing for climate and location, staying found, and how to pack without weighing yourself (or your child) down are some of the topics covered in this easy to read, simply presented book. Starting out with this book as a reference guide could lead to a very pleasant first experience, which will hopefully lead to a lifetime love of hiking.  Also included is the importance of stretching before hiking to lessen the chance for injury and sore muscles afterward.

Photo7aeFirst aid is also covered, as well as the necessity of being able to identify poisonous plants (ivy and sumac as well as ingestible poisons such as berries) so you can avoid them.  Some common animals and the tracks they leave are included in a two page spread.  I thought this was fascinating because it included a picture of the animal with the tracks pictured along side for identification.  This can be a great way to introduce tracking safely.  I know I’d be terrified to come across a bear when I thought I was tracking a fox.

This book is really quite full of useful information for just having over 63 pages.  For someone just starting out, not just kids, this book is a great resource and I highly recommend it.

These five books are really a great resource and a good starting point for a novice to the outdoors.  In addition to the colorful presentation, the subject matter is presented simply to educate without overloading the reader.  Stressing the need for an adult helper is mentioned in every book and I believe that with the right supervision and these books, you can just about guarantee a good time.

As seen in the Woods Monkey Gear Review Column of Issue #15 of Self Reliance Illustrated!

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Fisherman Eyewear Skipjack and Buzz Review

Over the past few weeks I have been testing two pair of glasses from Fisherman Eyewear, a company with 40 years’ experience making polarized glasses for fisherman and anglers.  They sent out a pair of their Skipjack and Buzz glasses for review and I tried them out on the road and in the stream.

The Skipjack is a traditional aviator style and uses a double bridged frame with spring hinges. It’s available in there variations: matte frost frames with gray lenses, matte brown tortoise with brown lenses and matte black with black mirrored lenses. The Buzz has a bit sleeker, more modern styling and has four variations available: matte brown tortoise with red mirror lenses, matte frost frames with blue mirror lenses, matte green with green mirror lenses and matte black with silver mirror lenses. The lenses on all of the Fisherman Eyewear lenses are made of a durable 1mm thick acrylic and polarized with 100% UV A and B ray protection. MSRP on the Skipjack is only $19.99 to $24.95 depending on style whereas the Buzz is $29.95 for all versions. Both models come with a drawstring pouch to protect the lenses from scratches. For testing I received a set of the Skipjack’s in the tortoise frame with brown lenses and a set of the Buzz with black frame and silver mirror lenses.

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I took both the Skipjack and Buzz glasses fishing to a local creek on an overcast and warm day last week. The creek is filled with moss colored rocks that can be tricky to navigate without felt shoed wading boots. The rocks become even more technical if you don’t have a good pair of polarized glasses.  The brown amber lenses of the Skipjack seemed to penetrate the glare more effectively than the dark silver lenses of the Buzz at first. When the sun broke through the clouds as the day warmed I found the dark lenses removed the glare of the water very well making the rocks beneath the surface visible.

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When fly fishing and wading it is much easier to traverse the water when you can get past the glare that sits on the surface of the water.   I feel that both of these glasses did a good job in that regard.  I would recommend them for fishing.   I have gone through several glasses in the recent years due to wear and tear through a season. Affordability is key and I felt these glasses to be of better quality then the cheap pairs I bought in the past and the price on them is fair. They function like a pair of 100 dollar glasses but at a much better price.

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The fit on both pairs was good. I have a medium size frame to small frame depending on the make. I have had glasses that have fallen off my face when pulling a fish out of the water. These glasses gave a nice snug fit and would not slip in the trickiest of situations.   They have a sturdy build, so I was not afraid to be a bit rough with them.


I also used these glasses while driving. The brown amber lens frames are great for dawn and dusk visibility and the dark silver lenses work great in those bright sunny days. I also liked the way they look. I couldn’t really find anything I don’t like about them. If you have a fat head they might be a bit tight. Otherwise I liked this opportunity to review them. I would recommend Fisherman Eyewear to my fishing buddies and I will be adding these to my fishing gear for the upcoming steelhead season.

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The New Trailside Cookbook, by Kevin Callan and Margaret Howard

Lucky me!  I have another great book to review.  This time we’re jumping into The New Trailside Cookbook, by Kevin Callan and Margaret Howard (Firefly Books).  From the start this cook book had me “oohing and aahing” over the recipes and tips.  With 100 recipes inside, this book has offerings sure to please even the most diverse palates at camp.

The book starts off with a brief reminder about the three most important things when camping: breakfast, lunch and dinner! (This is a cookbook review, after all) While the other parts of the trip are fun and exciting, you need to fuel your body.  Along with the numerous recipes, other  chapters cover topics such as: dehydrating food (for use at camp ), camp stoves, and  how to shop and pack for your adventure.  A “living off the land” section is also included for those who are edible plant and berry savvy.  The book is presented in a well thought out order that begins with breakfast and ends with (woo hoo!) mixed drinks.  I thought this was a great idea, beginning the book with breakfast (the first meal of the day) and ending with drinks (the last hoorah before getting some much needed rest).  Other books are surely presented in this manner, but along with the ordering, the recipes inspire the camp chef to stretch his or her culinary repertoire perhaps beyond their usual offerings.

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Many of the recipes included in the book have two components.  Prep work that can be done at home such as dehydrating, combining dry ingredients, and precooking beans and lentils along with steps while at camp.  This makes many of the recipes more easily prepared once at camp.  Another bonus is that you can plan your menu in advance and have one less thing to think about (or worry about) when you are enjoying yourself outdoors.  One note about the recipes: some ingredients are preceded with a water drop symbol.  I had a heck of a time trying to figure out what that water drop meant, as it wasn’t referenced in the beginning of the the chapters with recipes. The description (which indicates the ingredient can be brought to camp dehydrated) was on the inside cover page.  I thought this should have been placed in the beginning chapter that started the recipes.

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Now that I’ve mentioned dehydrating, I am going to tell you that the chapter dedicated to dehydrating food (Chapter 6) is fabulous!  It covers fruit, beans, dairy (yes, dairy), meat and even sauces.  How to prep food for dehydrating and how to tell when it’s “done”  and why dehydrating is a great option when camping. I’ll spoil the last bit.  In addition to the weight reduction dehydrated food brings, it also almost eliminates the problem of bacteria forming.  Nobody wants to be sick “out there”.  Sure coolers are fine for most short trips, but if you’re going for a week, you’ll spend a bunch running for ice all the time to make sure nothing spoils.  Plus who wants to trek in and out of the camp to go to the store?

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If you aren’t into dehydrating, fear not!  There is a section for the “weekend gourmet” (Chapter 13) which covers meals that can be kept cold in a cooler for a short weekend journey.  This is a great addition, in my opinion, because some of these recipes sound delicious. (Raisin french toast with spiced orange maple blueberry sauce, anyone?  YES please!!)  Looking on there is even a small section for those of you hard-core cold weather campers.  While I don’t understand the need to try to get hypothermia, I’m sure many love winter camping.  Have fun-I’ll be in my snuggie.

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I have to say that Kevin Callan and Margaret Howard have certainly done a fabulous job in this well thought out offering to the camp chef’s collection.  I also want to mention that this book (191 pages) is small enough to pack for your trip.  Another bonus, since I really hate transcribing recipes to travel with!  Take note, though, as it isn’t plastic bound and is susceptible to the elements!

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With an MSRP of just under 20 dollars, this book is a great addition to your camping gear.  Actually, this book is a great addition to your collection of cookbooks to use at home as well.  I’ve made a few of the recipes and they are really tasty and have creative twists on old standards that are sure to liven up a camp meal.

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Emergency Survival Overnight Course

My girlfriend used to think that I was crazy for overstuffing my backpack every time we would head out for a hike or paddling trip.  To me, a knife, tarp, space blanket, stainless steel cup, 2 water bottles, various fire starters, one hundred feet of cordage, compass, whistle, rain jacket and extra snacks are the bare essentials.  She would say things like; “it’s too warm for that coat”, “there’s not a cloud in the sky so I’m not bringing that raincoat”, or “It’s only a three miles hike so we don’t need all that stuff”.  However, if she is going to hike, fish, or paddle with me, she is going to take all these “extra” things.

Last January‘s newspaper headlines told of a U.S. Air Force Veteran and his two sons who died while hiking in Missouri. I wanted to be shocked when I heard that this father was an experienced hiker and outdoorsman, however I wasn’t. The fact is that most of us outdoors lovers are ill prepared for that slight chance that the unexpected may happen.  I spent four years in the Air Force, so I know this man had some formal training. However, he was ill prepared for the rapid weather change that would take his and his two sons’ lives that evening.  They started their hike on a sunny sixty degree day and their light jackets and fleece pullovers didn’t protect them from the cold heavy rain that came that evening in Missouri.  My heart goes out to their family, but we must learn from this tragedy.

When things go bad, it happens fast. We cannot rely on others to save us all the time. We must be prepared for the “what ifs” and not only have the gear to help us through the rough times, but we need the knowledge on how to use it.  That is why I signed my girlfriend and myself up for an Emergency Overnight Survival Course.  I have taken a few outdoor survival courses before, so I knew who to call. Kevin Estela of Estela Wilderness Education is an expert outdoor survival instructor. He has even been featured in several T.V. shows and magazines. There is no better instructor than Kevin to teach how to spend an unexpected night in the forests of New England. After all, he lives right here in Connecticut and his Emergency Overnight Survival Course was to be held just over the border in Massachusetts.


We signed up a little over a month before the course date and took the last two spots. We received great communication and a very specific packing list. The course was purposely held in late winter early spring as the weather can be very unpredictable.  A week before the course, we saw temperatures as high as 55F, but just a few days before,  mother nature dumped about 18 inches of snow all over  the area we would be camping.  The course is designed to provide participants with the knowledge and skills to make it through an unpredictable night out in the elements so the snow seemed fitting.

We arrived at the schools property on a Friday evening.   The drive onto the property was beautiful, but difficult. We saw where a large area was cleared for cars to park, but we decided to drive our Jeep on the snow covered road to the cabin where the course was to be held.  We made it about a quarter of a mile until we were blocked by a Chevy Suburban that was stuck in the snow. Just ahead of the Suburban were two more 4×4’s that could go no further on this narrow mountain road.  This was obviously where we would park for the night. Kevin Estela provided a sled to pull our gear the rest of the way to the cabin.  It wasn’t quite dark so we had a beautiful hike through the snow. Kevin greeted us and made introductions. Those who had arrived so far included retired police officers from South New Jersey and New York,  a nurse from Western New York, a contractor from Vermont as well as my girlfriend and myself.  Of course my dog Woody was along for the trip as well. That night we sat around the campfire telling stories and eating great food that was provided by Kevin.  We talked and laughed till well after dark. Then we all said our goodnights and went to bed in the heated cabin dreaming of the day of instruction that awaited us.


We awoke at about 7am and the temperature was just below freezing outside. Kevin let us know that in one hour we were going to meet up by the field where the trucks were for the start of our course.  Six more people showed up by the time we arrived at the field, Kevin introduced everyone and started with his instruction. He spoke very eloquently and it was no surprise to anyone to learn that he was a high school teacher by trade. He was born to teach and his passion for learning and sharing knowledge was present in every word. He explained how the number one priority when in the elements is “shelter”.

After explaining the different types of shelters to the students it was time to start making them. We all constructed different types of Shelters as a group with Kevin’s instruction. We made a massive quinzee shelter utilizing all the snow we had. That was easily the favorite all though a lot of work. We learned the pros and cons of each.  After “shelter”, we talked about the importance of hydrating and how to find, collect, and purify water.  For Lunch we had an amazing shrimp boil complete with sausage, potatoes and corn.  After lunch we learned how to construct different types of fires with different modern methods of ignition.  Kevin then brought out a box of gear from Adventure Medical Kits. The box contained Emergency heat sheets and single and two person emergency bivy sacks.  We were taught how to use each one and then every student was raffled an item from the box!  Each person was given an emergency whistle as well.


At about 4pm, Kevin brought all the students together and announced that there was just about 3 hours of sun left in the day.  The scenario is that we have now come to the realization that we are lost and will be spending the night. We all had to construct our own shelters with the skills we had learned earlier in the day.  The shelters were to be built in area within a shout of each other.  Kevin and his two helpers were around to assist anyone who needed it.   We all finished up at about sundown.   Kevin then called us down to the cabin and fed us a great dinner! He stresses the importance of calorie intake in these frigid temperatures. We stayed by the fire of the cabin until late, then he made sure all who wanted to sleep in their shelters were prepared.  Most of the students decided to give it a shot and Kevin went with all of us to our shelters. He slept out there with us for the night in nothing but an Adventure Medical Kits Bivy.  If any student got too cold they were escorted to the cabin to spend the rest of the night.  Come morning most made it all night in their shelter without retreating to the cabin. Some stayed up all night and other slept for an hour or two on and off. We all learned that survival was not comfortable and the cold can be quite the alarm clock. The point is we all survived.

We learned how to properly insulate ourselves from weather with both natural materials we found as well as simple things like a space blanket. It is a unique experience to sleep in a shelter that you yourself built.  It’s amazing how much warmer you stay inside your properly built and insulated shelter.


Once we were all up, we were treated to an amazing breakfast sandwich cooked up by Kevin consisting of fresh eggs, locally made cheddar cheese and a heavenly amount of Bacon!  After breakfast, it was time to clean up and gather our things. Then we all got a bonus lesson on vehicle recovery. Five vehicles had to be freed from the deep snow. We learned some neat tricks like using evergreen boughs under tires to gain traction. The best was the importance of being prepared, as shovels and tow straps worked wonders!   Once all vehicles were freed we met at the local country store for some fresh coffee and a recap of the great weekend. We all shared what we learned and what worked and of course what didn’t work.  My girlfriend had a great time and I loved watching her work on her shelter.

 I have taken many wilderness survival courses in the past, even a week long program that was instructed by Kevin Estela.  But I found this course helped to hone my skills and I definitely learned some new things.  I definitely feel more confident knowing that my girlfriend now has the knowledge and skill set to get by in case the unexpected happens.  Every participant took away a new found respect for the outdoors and a little more confidence in themselves for making it through a below freezing night with little more than the clothes on their back and the materials that nature provides.  Students also went home with some great memories, new friendships, and an Estela Wilderness Education Patch.

New England has so much outdoor beauty to offer, but also some of the most unpredictable weather in the country. It is my opinion, that if you spend any time in the outdoors you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to be prepared for the unexpected.

For more info on this course or others like it please visit or on Facebook at

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Hank Reinhardt’s Book of Knives: A Practical and Illustrated Guide to Knife Fighting

When most Woods Monkey readers use knives it’s for the relatively ‘tame’ stuff: survival, sports, camping, bushcraft, etc. Much like other tools (the best ones anyway) knives can be used for many things. Some of those things are not so tame.

Knife fighting conjures many images and feelings when mentioned amongst fans of knives in general.  It can be misinterpreted and misrepresented but it is always there. Since ancient man used a flint knife to survive a fight to the death these less…glamorous aspects have walked like a shadow lurking down through history.

Some would paint a romantic chivalrous picture with one foot in history and the other in pulp fiction, such as the stereotypical bowie knife fight of the western genre. Others would lead you down a path of martial systems of defense. With brutal efficiency and style they make it a speedy game of practiced tag with safety gear and ‘rules’.  Both make for an exciting spectacle. Both are not quite hitting the mark but are each close in some ways.

Hank Reinhardt’s Book of Knives helps bridge the gap between knowing and doing. Sadly Mr. Reinhardt passed on before the book could be published. Finished by his friends and coauthor the book is a fascinating read. The preface tells of Hank as recalled by friends and indeed many parts of the text continue this theme.  He was a character in every sense of the word, a real renaissance man in the truest form. From humble beginning he eventually became a respected authority on edged historical weapons and their use. He was a regular demonstrator of such and spoke and presented often at shows and conventions. He was well respected by well-respected people in the martial blade community. His book is a good afternoon read at camp, both entertaining and informative.


Chapter one of the book details the historical background of the knife and its use in defense of oneself. It is short and to the point like much of Mr. Reinhardt’s fighting moves if anecdotes are any indication.

Well illustrated with example line drawings and pictures throughout, it sets the stage for the second chapter which looks at the cold unromantic reality of fighting with a knife. Strong narratives in Hanks own words about his experiences as a youth growing up in the 40’s and 50’s in the urban environment where everyone had a knife. To paraphrase the book, ‘when you get involved with a knife fight you are fighting for the rest of your life’.  The ramifications, wounds and legal turmoil of doing such goes on long after you or the other guy has finished the encounter. These matters are serious. Crippling wounds and disfigurement are extremely likely. It is jarring to get this sentiment out first and foremost when reading the text, but it makes the reader understand the gravity of the situation. Further chapters relate Mr. Reinhardt’s experience in regards to choosing a street knife and, concealment of such, and the wounds delivered by it. The text is thick with personal stories of actual experiences.

This may sound like a felons guide to ‘shanking’ someone but it reads more as a knowledgeable warrior imparting hard earned wisdom to help the average man protect himself.  The middle of the book contains various sections by people who knew Hank personally and professionally. These should not be skipped as they give a better rounded picture of the man writing this modern fight book.


The last half of the book is a grounded in a basics guide to choice of knife for use, basic techniques and training as well as mindset and physical fitness. All these aspects are related to each other in subtle ways that the text lays bare.

I would recommend this book to the average Woods Monkey reader as a good reality check.  If you are a ‘weekend warrior’ or ‘chairborne ranger’ this book could be the dash of cold water in the face you need to save you money, time and possibly your life. No doubt some of Woods Monkey’s readership are more familiar with close combat with a knife than most. This might help them gain insight into what has happened in their lives and what they can learn from their own experience when contrasted with that of Mr. Reinhardt.

By showing you the various attributes of knife fighting knives and their use you can also see when a certain knife design deviates from utility to fighting implement, to way past that into combat fantasy.


In highlighting historical proven designs ( such as the Kukri) the author allows the reader to better judge what previously untried knife might be useful to him in an outdoor setting. Prejudices of,  ‘I can’t use that tactical looking IMG 4140fthing at camp’ will give way to reasoned consideration. This will in turn lead you to an informed decision to try something new that might work better for you in your normal use for knives. If you are seeking insight to finding a no-nonsense blade it will help with that as well. That is bridging the gap between knowing and doing.

Hank Reinhardt’s Book of Knives is available online from Amazon or other retail brick and mortar booksellers for about $10.

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The Ocarina: Music for the Trail

Jeff’s Ocarina Epiphany

It was about five years ago that I started looking for a compact, rugged, musical instrument to play outdoors when camping. You can only carve so many spoons around the fire before you look for other interesting things to do. Ever since I watched Survivorman with Les Stroud I was always intrigued that he carried a harmonica into the woods a great many times. I heard that the harmonica was fun and Les looked like he enjoyed using his. Perhaps it was worth investigating,

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In my exploring of compact folk instruments for playing in the field or at camp I have tried quite a few: the harmonica, the Irish tin whistle, a Native American flute and even the ocarina. The ocarina was the second instrument I explored. It sounds like a high flute but with warmth and spirit greater than its small size would suggest.  I wanted to like the ocarina but could never quite get the hang of it until I managed to get a hold of two Focalink Ocarinas from Benjamin at Baryonyx Knife Co. Sometimes the right gear makes things click, or in this case, sing. I evaluated two Ocarinas. The 12 hole Straw Fire and the plastic soprano 12 hole ‘sweet potato’ model in lime green.

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The Straw Fire is a ceramic instrument that gets its name from its unique finishing process. The clay ocarina is placed in a container and fired with straw placed in with it. The combustion gives the instrument a rich brown hue and the straw leaves a unique organic design on the surface. No two are exactly alike. The final finished is then polished with an organic based lacquer. It would not look out of place in the wild and is quite esthetically pleasing to the eye. The Straw Fire is a ceramic piece but feels very solid and is definitely not a toy. A cloth padded carrying case is also included as well as a tutorial songbook.

According to their website it is in the key of C from A4 to F6 and can go down to A.  I am not as musically inclined as to understand all that, but luckily my wife and daughter, who are, were able to help me out. They were able to give more technical musical feedback about playing the ocarinas that I could not.

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My initial impression is that it’s a great little instrument. Gone were my previous problems of getting a good sound from an ocarina. I was able to get sharp clear notes from the first breath. My wife noted that there was no need for a special embouchure (adjusting your mouth to play the instrument) as you would need for playing a flute. The fingering was very similar to that of a tin whistle or a recorder.  If you know one of these instruments it will be easy for you to pick up the ocarina.  My testers also noted the smooth surface and tone hole edges which lend themselves to being comfortable to play for long periods. It was very easy for both of them to work out songs they already knew on other instruments and play them quite well on the Straw Fire. Soon we were passing it around playing various tunes ranging from the theme from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ to ‘Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee’.

The other model we evaluated was a small lime green plastic ‘sweet potato’ 12 hole soprano in C. This is lighter in weight and smaller in size compared to the larger ceramic models and includes the tutorial songbook as well as a neck cord. It is in the range key of A5 thru F7 and can go below C down to A. It has slightly different fingering than the Straw Fire but the included songbook has a chart showing the differences. This model does not come with a carrying case.

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The plastic Soprano is a higher pitch than the larger ceramic ocarina. It is comparable to the way a piccolo is higher than a flute. While it is made of bright lime colored plastic it also felt sturdy and would survive being dropped or lost.  This would be a good choice if you were looking for an instrument for kids to use. The higher tone may be very piercing for adult ears however. This factor just makes it all the better to play outdoors or at a campsite and its use as an emergency whistle for children should not go unnoticed. This model played just as easy as the Straw Fire in all respects.

Ocarinas themselves have been around in one form or another for the last 12,000 years or so. They have been used in the various songs from movies (‘The Good the Bad and the Ugly’) to popular video games (just Google ‘Ocarina of Time. I’ll wait.) and have been played all over the world. There has even been a big upsurge in their popularity as a pop culture instrument due to their being featured in several video games.

The Straw Fire model sells for about $55.00 and the plastic soprano for about $13 at Baryonyx Knife Co. and are both worth checking out if you’re looking for a portable instrument to take to the woods and trails on your next adventure.

Notes from Rebecca Stelzer

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The ocarina is an ancient flute-like wind instrument. It is over 12,000 years old and is a member of the woodwind family. The ocarina is an enclosed space that can have anywhere from four to twelve finger holes, the mouthpiece comes out from the body. It can be made out of plastic, wood, glass, clay, metal, and even sometimes even vegetables. The ocarinas made out of clay have the cleanest sound.

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The ocarina works when air enters through the wind way (mouthpiece) and bounces off the labium which, in turn, makes a sound. The sound flutters throughout the inside of the ocarina creating different pitches as you cover and uncover different holes.

When comparing the ocarina to the flute and recorder the ocarina is closer to the recorder, but has some similarities to the flute. The recorder and ocarina are pretty much played the same way by covering and uncovering holes. The ocarina is played more like you would hold a hamburger and the recorder is played more like a clarinet, but you’re still blowing directly into the instrument. They both have few pitches that can be played and can have the same amount of holes. Comparing it to the flute is ways different the flute can go 4 octaves, whereas the ocarina is only limited to a 12th. The three have two similarities between them. The recorder, flute, and ocarina are all woodwinds and are all played by covering and uncovering a hole in some way.

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When my friend’s dad saw my ocarina he shared his experience with the instrument. As a teen he liked to play recorders, kenas (Inca flute), mouth piano, and the ocarina. The ocarina was his favorite because it could fit in a pants or jacket pocket. He purchased a clay ocarina from the native Indians who came to their town. With his experience with other instruments he taught himself how to play the ocarina. It became one of his favorite memories because it was easy to play and very portable. He has replaced his ocarina many times due to the fact that he loved playing it and the uniqueness it has.

Even though the ocarina is over 12,000 years old, it has been featured in some of the present day video games such as Pokémon: The Rise of Dark Rai and a Nintendo 64 game The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

Check them out over at Baryonyx Knife Co.

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31 Days to Survival. A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness

I like learning new things.  Things that ultimately help me become more self sufficient and independent.  Not that I don’t love to push the “man work” on to my husband, but there are things I need to be able to do.  Like start a fire(Check out an article describing my first failure here), change a tire and tie a functional knot.  What if I didn’t have my handy-hubby and disaster struck?

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Would my survival instinct match up with my survival skills?  Right now, probably not, but after reading and putting to use the skills described in M.D. Creekmore’s book “31 Days to Survival. A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness” ( I know where I am competent, where I need practice and where I fail miserably and need help (and possibly an Eagle Scout or two).

The book starts with an introduction that mirrors the rest of the books contents in it’s no nonsense presentation, with emphasis on getting it done.  The following 31 chapters are presented in no particular order of importance but starts with the logical topic “Check your Skills”.  In this chapter alone, I realized I’m not even remotely familiar with 5 of the 15 skill sets Creekmore suggests the need to have mastered in case of disaster.  My grandfather always said, “Knowledge is power”.  Creekmore reiterates that statement and offers great advice, tips and skills to aid everyone from newly on board to veteran survivalist.  I would be one of those “newbies”.  I’m not sure that I think tomorrow is “TEOTWAWKI” (The End Of The World As We Know It), but it is always a good thing to gain knowledge and skills because you have them for life.

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Moving forward through the book, Creekmore points out that while the components of your kits, bags, arsenal, and pantry are important in your preparedness for an emergency, it is nothing without the knowledge of how to use it.  So make a survival binder and use it.  Practice what you know, and practice what you don’t know because if the time comes, you need to be ready.  Blogs and websites are usually free resources to outfit your binder, but books and magazines can be found inexpensively as well.  I like to use this strategy for all my newly acquired recipes so making one for skills (in case I can’t remember all the steps to making a water filter (day 18) isn’t so foreign a concept to me.

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In the following chapters, a comprehensive checklist is presented- one skill per day.  Now Creekmore states, and I agree, that some topics will take more than a day to complete, if you have no working knowledge of the subject of the day, to a quick check for the skills you already have completed or mastered.  I’ve been comfortable with first aid and CPR for the better part of 15 years so that day I skipped.  Box traps and small game snares?  I’m only familiar with those from Bugs Bunny cartoons.  Well, I’ll need to spend more than one day learning how to catch a “wascally wabbit”.

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Another plus to this book is that for days that require purchases (Day 9-Shopping for your year’s food supply; Day13-Let’s take a trip to the hardware store and Day 24-Take a trip to the gun shop), the author breaks items into categories that can fit budgets from, “Yuppie Survival Arsenal” (Day 24) to the less costly, “I don’t want to mess with whole wheat and have very little money, one person, one year food storage plan” (Day9).   It was really nice to see Creekmore address the notion that not everyone makes a six figure salary.  Also, mentioning options to make a substitution where needed, wanted or necessary. Peanut butter is a supply staple, but not if you are allergic to peanuts.  Almond butter can become your stand in.  The author is mindful that not everyone shares the same views and what one person likes, another may not. We all know from reading my previous reviews I love soybeans (you’ve read my other reviews right?) but I’m not so keen on Lima beans.  So he suggests swapping what you don’t like for something you do like because even if you think you’ll eat something you don’t like in an emergency, avoiding the situation all together is a better option.

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At prices ranging from $12-$18 online, I think this book contains a vast wealth of knowledge as well as primers on skills that are valuable to anyone, survivalist or not.  “31 Days to Survival Preparedness” is a well thought out, well written handbook for addressing the skills that might be necessary someday, but even if they aren’t, it is still handy (and cool) to be able to say, “Yeah, I know how to make a water filter”.  But I still stink at knot making.  Do yourself a favor and check it out.

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Flowfold Wallet Review

It never fails, just when I think I have all my outdoor gear needs covered Mother Nature comes along and proves me wrong.My leather wallet was soaked. It was the last day of my oldest son’s Webelo Scout Campout and it had been raining hard since two in the morning. Adding to the fun, the other Scout leader had forgotten to wake me when the gear trailer came by our campsite.

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The Book of Blacksmithing

So if you’re reading this, then chances are you have sat around a campfire cooking up a meal. It may have been something as simple as a mountain pie in a press, or as complex as a full 4 course meal for your whole campsite. And if you were in this position, you may have experienced what I refer to as Rule #2. This rule is on my list of life’s rules that I am trying to impart to my girls as truisms, to be remembered for all sorts of occasions. To be specific, Rule #2 states that ‘Hot metal looks like cold metal’.     IMG_9555A

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Let Them Paddle (Coming of age on the water) by Alan S. Kesselheim

The physical book itself: The cover was just enough water resistant to make it dry bag capable for a trip. The cover has a really intriguing picture with all the family members with their shirts off. (From their backs of course) Once you open it up you will find that the cover has a built in book mark extension. The binding was glued very well with no slack. There was no spreading of the hinge or gutter, even while folding back during the reading process.


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