We apologize for the recent sparseness of new posts. We thought we’d have more time after getting through camp week, but family life, as usual, found other ways to keep us running.

If you’ve been reading us for a while, you might have noticed that may of our posts come out fairly early in the morning, when Mr. Family Trivium wakes up and gets a chance to distill the previous day’s family research and fill in any gaps. To do this on a regular basis requires getting to bed at a reasonable time and getting good sleep. As Independence Day approaches, people in our neighborhood are beginning to celebrate, and keeping us all from soundly falling and staying asleep. Yes, it is fireworks season. defines a firework as “a combustible or explosive device for producing a striking display of light or a loud noise, used for signaling or as part of a celebration.” It is a compounding of “fire” and “work” first used between 1550 and 1560.

Over at, Jennie Cohen has written an article: Fireworks’ Vibrant History. Cohen dates the earliest fireworks to about 200 B.C, when the Chinese discovered that roasting bamboo caused its air pockets to explode, and, hopefully, ward off evil spirits. It was not until somewhere between 600 and 900 A.D. that Chinese alchemists would develop gunpowder, which we’ll look at in more depth in a future post. Gunpowder was stuffed into bamboo shoots and thrown into a fire to produce a loud blast, again with the hopes of chasing off evil spirits. What we think of today as the firework was born.

From the beginning of this post, you may get the impression that we don’t like fireworks. This isn’t true. We like having fun. We simply like having fun responsibly. In our last mead post, on cyser, we advocated drinking adult beverages responsibly – for example: when you are not about to get behind the wheel of a car. While setting off loud fireworks when your neighbors are in bed, trying to rest for the next day of work, might not have the same immediate consequences as drinking and driving, it is just plain rude and driving when fatigued can be dangerous. After bedtime, go ahead and go crazy with sparklers, snakes, smoke bombs, non-whistling fountains, ground blossoms, etc. That won’t offend us.

We like all of these displays. We like the loud stuff (okay, not too loud) during appropriate hours (we’ve had experience working night shift and know some people sleep during the day and we expect, and know how, to cope with noises when bedtime is daytime). We really like the awesome displays put on by professionals. There are several in our area. We’re hard-pressed to pick our favorite firework, but we’d love to hear about yours in the comments.


Texas Toast

In our post on French toast, we mentioned that we made it using Texas toast. Are we confused yet?

At, Texas toast is described as a type of bread which “is pre-sliced to about twice the width of a normal slice of packaged bread for a sandwich.” Generally, it isn’t sold toasted, but fresh, like a normal loaf of sandwich bread.

The article indicates that Texas toast may have been first offered in 1941, in Beaumont, Texas, but acknowledges that it could certainly have been around before that. Perhaps this was when it was first called “Texas toast.”

Not being huge bread fans, we really do only use Texas toast for making French toast. It stands up well to being dredged through the batter when compared to regular sliced sandwich bread. We’ve tried both. We’d love to hear, in the comments, about your favorite recipe using Texas toast.


This month, at summer camp, some members of the Family Trivium household had several chances to try various shooting sports. Though we have already talked about the atlatl, the first shooting sport that we had a chance to try was rifle marksmanship.

We turned to, where rifle is defined as “a shoulder firearm with spiral grooves cut in the inner surface of the gun barrel to give the bullet a rotatory motion and thus a more precise trajectory.” First used between 1745 and 1755, it comes from Low German “rīfeln” or “to grove.” Indeed, the rifle offered more precise shooting over the 50-Caliber muzzle loader that we tried later in the week, but that is an entirely different story.

Most of the groups at camp were Boy Scout troops, jump starting work on merit badges. As a youth, Mr. Family Trivium was a Boy Scout and earned quite a few merit badges at camp, though it was a different camp. Among them was Rifle Shooting. Despite years without practice, and having aging eyes, Mr. Family Trivium can still achieve the shooting qualifications for this merit badge badge: put five shots inside an area that can be covered with a Quarter Dollar and do it five times.

Perhaps they just have better rifles these days. Perhaps not. According to veteran Scout leaders, Rifle Shooting is one of the merit badges which Boy Scouts are most likely to not complete by the end of a week of camp, and it is usually the shooting qualification which holds them back. Some take the class two or three times before completion and some never finish. It seems that in Boy Scouts, while failure may not be encouraged, success isn’t guaranteed.


Last week, we covered the last of the items on the Boy Scout and The Mountaineers classic lists of Ten Essentials. The Mountaineers updated list consolidated other items, leaving room for its item 10: emergency shelter. There are many options to fill this spot. Here, we will look at the tarp.

“Tarp” is an informal, shortened version of “tarpaulin,” which the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines as “a large piece of waterproof material (such as plastic or canvas) that is used to cover things and keep them dry.” “Tarpaulin” was first used around 1600 according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. It is a compounding of “tar” and “palling,” or “heavy cloth covering.” At the time, canvas was often coated in tar to make it waterproof.

While a tarp is one of many options for an emergency shelter, there are some campers, who swear by a tarp as their standard shelter, in place of a tent. The argument goes that a tarp is lighter than a tent and quicker to set up.

While we have camped out on nights where a tarp would have been an enjoyable experience, more often, we would have also needed to bring a bug net. Add in a ground cloth, which we always do, and you basically have a tent. In our area, what most people call camping season is bug season. For us, it’s almost always camping season, so perhaps on one of these cool weather camping trips we’ll finally get around to trying out simply sleeping under a tarp.

Returning to the definition of tarpaulin, it seems inappropriate to carry a heavy piece of tarred canvas as an emergency item in your daypack. It is. Even those blue polyethylene tarps, which are sold in the camping section at the Local Walmart, seem a little on the big & bulky side. They are. Modern purpose-built backpacking tarps are made from compact, lightweight materials which we’ll examine in upcoming posts. Until then, we hope you’ll find time to hit the trail to absorb some nature, but please be sure to take along your Ten Essentials.

French Toast

It’s the weekend and around our house, when time permits, our thoughts wander to decadent breakfasts. Things that go well with maple syrup and bacon. What doesn’t go well with bacon?

At camp last week, some of us had French toast sticks. As hungry people, that had been sleeping out in the heat and not needing to prepare our own breakfast before heading off to classes, we were grateful for it, even if there was no bacon and it needed to be soaked in syrup for a bit to soften enough to cut with a fork.

What is French toast? Is it even French?

According to, French toast is defined as “bread dipped in a batter of egg and milk and sautéed until brown, usually served with syrup or sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.” In the Family Trivium household, we add a dash of vanilla extract and cinnamon to the batter, but I’m sure we’re not the only chefs with that secret.

Mark Vogel has written an article over at indicating that the term “French toast” originated in 17th Century England, while the dish itself dates back to Roman times. Originally, the French referred to the dish as “pain a la Romaine” or “Roman bread.”

The Breakfast Courier explains that in contemporary France the dish is referred to as “pain perdue” or “lost bread.”

French bread goes stale and hard, or is “lost” quite quickly, but a few hundred years ago, poor French families had to use it up anyway. They soaked their stale bread in eggs and milk before frying, making it easier to chew.

If the bread at camp was was softened by being made into french toast, we can’t even imagine what it was like before. Certainly, the bread at the toaster-free bread, butter, and jelly bar was softer. Given the overall cost of attending camp, we can’t really complain, though we’ll certainly comment.

Our family recipe for French toast includes eggs (the best you can find), whole milk or heavy whipping cream (when we say decadent, we mean it), a dash of vanilla extract, and some cinnamon in the batter. While we could certainly be more gourmet, we simply dip Texas toast (oh, how confusing) in this batter before frying on the griddle. Once cooked, the slices of toast come off the griddle onto a plate with a couple of thick-cut slices of bacon. While still steaming hot, this dish is placed on the breakfast table next to a jug of genuine maple syrup.

We’d love to talk more about French toast, but we’ve just made ourselves really hungry and need to get cooking. Until next time, we hope you’ll enjoy some good food, fresh air and a moment of learning.


In our last post, we started talking about the navigation component of the Ten Essentials with an examination of the map. Item 10 on the Boy Scout list and item 1 The Mountaineers updated list, the map shares a spot with the compass, the subject of this post. The compass gets a slot to itself as item 2 on The Mountaineers classic list. defines the compass as “an instrument for determining directions, as by means of a freely rotating magnetized needle that indicates magnetic north.” The word is derived from Old French “compas” meaning “circle, radius, pair of compasses” around 1300 according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. Old French “compas” comes from “compasser” meaning “to go around, measure, divide equally” in the 12th Century. Old French “compasser” comes from Vulgar Latin “compassare” meaning “to pace out.” I.e. measure. A compass is equally divided into 360 degrees for the measurement of direction.

At camp last week, we really didn’t refer to the map very often because we were given a tour highlighting the areas where we were likely to need to go and because we stuck to established trails when on our own (with a buddy – more on this in a future post). We did, on occasion, refer to our compasses. A compass helped to get our bearings when camp staff would give us directions such as “go about 50 yards south of the administration building and you’ll find it.” With the help of a compass, we could look skyward and get an idea of the direction from which weather was moving in.


Item 10 on the Boy Scout version of the Ten Essentials list is the map and compass. In this post, we will look at the former, leaving the latter for a future post. On The Mountaineers classic list, the map earns its own spot as item 1 and on their updated list, item 1 is navigation and includes both map and compass.

At, a map is defined as “a representation, usually on a flat surface, as of the features of an area of the earth or a portion of the heavens, showing them in their respective forms, sizes, and relationships according to some convention of representation.” Per the Online Etymology Dictionary, “map” originates in the 1520s as a shortened form of late 14th Century Middle English “mapemounde” or “map of the world” and Middle French “mappe” which is a shortening of Old French “mapemonde.” The English and French terms come from Medieval Latin “mappa mundi” or “map of the world.”

It is true that part of the Family Trivium household spent last week at camp with a minimally representative map of the camp, but nonetheless, we had a map, stuck to established trails, and, as far as we know, out of about 200 youth and half as many adults/staff, not one person became lost.

Mr. Family Trivium has always been enamored with maps. Perhaps it was his childhood spent in Scouting. Perhaps it was reading so much National Geographic, with all of their beautiful cartographic inserts. Perhaps it was his many classes on geography.

On the other hand, he may have taken so much geography because of how maps so eloquently describe place. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then perhaps a map is worth a million. Through universally understandable symbols, maps instantly break language barriers and communicate place to all observers.

There just might be a map-loving geographer in each of us. Take kids to the zoo or a theme park. Get one map for each of them, because it you don’t, they’ll surely fight over it. It’s an innate human desire to have some idea where we’re going.


Last week, we ended up taking a break due to a really busy schedule and a lack of access to the grid. Some members of the Family Trivium household spent the week at camp. During the day, classes were attended and, at night, we slept in tents, in sleeping bags, which were both carried in backpacks. We learned so much, and as we distill all the information, we’ll share much more in upcoming posts.

One of the more memorable experiences was learning how to use the atlatl. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the atlatl as “a device for throwing a spear or dart that consists of a rod or board with a projection (as a hook) at the rear end to hold the weapon in place until released.” It originates from Nahuatl (Aztec) “ahtlatl” in 1871 according to the Online Etymology dictionary.

While there were members of our group who attended an archery class all week, on one morning, all of us participated in a group archery shoot. There were only six stations, so while the archers were taking their turn with bow and arrow, the rest of us had the opportunity to try out various atlatls. Our target was a tire in the field adjacent to the archery range. None of us hit the target, but we all had a blast.


In our last post, we talked sunglasses – sun protection for your eyes. In the Boy Scout list and both of The Mountaineers lists of Ten Essentials , sun protection covers sunglasses and the topic of this post: sunscreen – sun protection for your skin.

According to, sunscreen is defined as “a substance formulated to prevent sunburn, skin cancers, and other conditions caused by excessive exposure to the sun, usually by absorbing and reflecting ultraviolet radiation.” The first usage of the word, as a compounding of “sun” and “screen” dates to 1738, but to 1954 as a lotion according the Online Etymology Dictionary.

We do quite a bit of our outings with long sleeves and long pants – in the winter to combat the cold and wind, in the summer to combat bugs and plants with various irritants. Despite this fact, we still always carry at least a small tube of sunscreen. Even mostly covered by clothing, on a cloudy day, with low sun angles, there is still the potential for sun exposure on the face, neck, and ears. If it’s warm enough the hands, and perhaps arms are exposed as well. If there is snow cover and it’s sunny, there is a real double-dose of sun exposure as it is reflected back up at you from below.


Item 9 on the Boy Scout list and item 2 on the The Mountaineers updated list of Ten Essentials is Sun protection. The Mountaineers classic list provides item 3 as simply Sunglasses and sunscreen. Sun protection  is a broad category and today, we look at the first of many items in it. defines sunglasses as “eyeglasses with colored or tinted lenses that protect the eyes from the glare of sunlight.” A compounding of “sun” and “glasses,” the word originated between 1800 and 1810.

While, it seems like the best days to be out in the wild are the sunniest, there will be times when the sky is dark and cloudy, which can still be beautiful. There will be dark nights sitting around the campfire. These are times when sunglasses are unneeded. For these times, as part of our FamilyTrivium sun protection system, each of us incorporates a sunglasses case. With a Velcro belt loop and clip, the affordable, but flexible Outdoor Products model is available for a couple of dollars at Walmart stores in our area. These protect our sunglasses from being damaged by other items in our packs.

When it comes to sunglasses, a pair of $5 polarized fishing sunglasses from Walmart are better than none. The ones with copper colored lenses are actually pretty good for driving in a variety of weather conditions. The smoke colored lenses are preferable in the bright sun and can help you spot things (fish) below the surface of the water that you might not see otherwise. Perhaps the boldest allure of inexpensive sunglasses is for those that tend to loose them. That said, there’ nothing wrong with a nice pair of sunglasses if they’re within your budget.