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I rarely rave about products or even remember to mention when they live up to their press.  We tend to jump into negative reviews and rant and rave when things don't go right, so I thought I would try and balance with a few pleasant surprises on the product front.  Agree or disagree, let me know what you think.

1.  Crocs shoes.  Okay, mock them if you will.  Ugly American shoes.  Barely fit to take the dog for a walk.  But listen, if you want shoes you can stand around your muddy, boozy music festivals; if you want shoes that you can wear right into the diciest of camp showers; or if you want something that cushions you as though you are walking on an inch of rubber flooring at every step, these are just the thing.  I see tons of people wearing their best at music festivals, food festivals, or other "camp" style events and one thing is for certain, they are nearly always ruined by the end of the trip.  You cannot ruin Crocs.  Bare for the summer, fur lined for colder days, they slip right on and suit your every need.  Crocs.  I've been won over.

2.  Sentry Plus dog protection.  So Jaco is a city dog.  He is fascinated when he sees wildlife, including the little insects that can inhabit a brick dwelling in the city -  a spider or two, an occasional centipede, and of course, some flies in the summer after we open the fire escape to the outside world.  We've never had him in an area where there are real pests and thus have never had to "protect" him.  He is now getting an opportunity to spend much more time outside in suburbia and there are critters we've never dealt with in the past.  His face was a misery of gnats.  The flies kept landing on his tail.  And mosquitos?  Well, they were biting us, so I can only assume they were dogging him as well.  

I hate chemicals and really avoid them for children and dogs.  But enough is enough - Jaco wasn't having any fun.  A trip to a new pet store in Yorkville and a talk with some of the friendliest young employees (everyone in Yorkville is so darn friendly, it is unnatural), we settled on Sentry for Toy breeds.  I got the smallest allotment, a three month supply, and cracked open the first tube.  A line of Sentry from his neck to mid back and the effect was nearly immediate.  No sickness, no lethargy, no bad side effects at all - and most importantly, no more face gnats!  Well done Sentry.

3.  Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven.  Made forever down in Tennessee, this line of Cast Iron cooking implements is made to last a lifetime.  The 12 inch Dutch Oven is a great substitute if you find yourself away from the gym and need something to lift.  Biceps builder if you will. And that was my first concern, the difficulty in managing the weight, both over the fire and on the bus.  I have long been in love with my 9 inch cast iron skillet for taste and health reasons (cooking in iron actually adds iron to your food!).  This is a whole new level in weight and cooking training.  They sell their lid lifters and handle grabbers for hoisting the thing out of the fire.  So far we've made do with a stick.  Patrick's general philosophy of life revolves around using or having a stick.

The ability to drop this into the embers with a load of meat, vegetables, herbs and liquids makes cooking for a large crew so convenient.  Baking is accomplished by placing embers underneath as well as on top.  I am looking forward to trying home made apple sauce and some Tsimmes for Rosh Hashanah. I made my first camp style biscuits and gravy with this method!  I have a lot of further experimenting to do, but I'm ready to give Lodge my cooking love.  If you know people who love camping or at least outdoor cooking, this makes a wonderful "Made In the USA" gift!

4.  Ozark Trail Camping Gear.  We've tried out a couple of their pieces of camping gear so far and for the cost they are terrific.  Screen 13 x 9 foot room fits a picnic table and some lighting.  Weatherbeaters do what they say and stay dry in some significant rain!  Very roomy but light weight and easy to assemble.  Now, they look like they could be damaged in high winds or if a critter really wanted to tear through…but so far, so good.  

5.  Don't laugh.  Don't' you dare laugh at my Gopher II  Due to an old and painful hip injury combined with a certain clumsiness, nearly every thing I touch lands on the ground while being nearly impossible for me to bend down and retrieve.  It is tortuous for my family and friends to watch me trying to pick up coins and business cards off the ground. I was a bit skeptical when Patrick came back with this Gopher II thingamajig.  Now though… Picking up laundry? Zing.  When I knock the coffee filters off the shelf?  Pow.  Purse spilled and all the coins and cards spread everywhere?  Bazoom!  The Gopher II does the work!  Now when do I get my late night television infomercial? 

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