Dispatches from Amber’s Toybox

Matt told me Wednesday he had gotten me a present. He wouldn’t tell me what it was. Thursday he told me he couldn’t help himself, and had to play with it a little bit. He’d been mentioning seeing some double-barrel shotguns lately, including a .410 that he thought I’d like. After the text Thursday afternoon, I assumed my present was a gun.  I got home Thursday night, and it was a different kind of point and shoot.



It takes beautiful pictures. Now I won’t have to futz with my camera phone (slow to load, grainy, no detail, no zoom). It takes panorama shots and video, and has incredible zoom. It also has a manual mode that I’ll be attempting to figure out so I can have some semblance of photography skill. I’ll be using it this weekend up north.

Our Ugly Old Canoe.

I’m not sure how much I’ve ever talked about it. Our canoe. It’s old. It’s ugly. And it leaks. I know I’ve uploaded a couple pictures of fish in the bottom of it, in pools of water.

Matt's little pike.

You can see the water under him.

You can see the water under him.

Last weekend, Brother’s friend observed that not only was paddling it like steering a semi truck, but “we also appear to be taking on water?”. We assured him that yeah, that was perfectly normal. Nights up north where we left it partially beached, we’d return to it and have to dump it out before me pushed off. Matt did buy it for $60 from a guy on Craigslist. That guy had repaired the hull with a piece of aluminum and some Bondo (not kidding). Watching Brother’s Friend paddle it around trying to pick up fallen ducks, I realized why we got all those funny looks. Thing is ugly.

Our ugly old canoe in the shelter we put up for Ditch Boat.

Our ugly old canoe in the shelter we put up for Ditch Boat.

Well, Matt’s planning on taking 3-5 people with him tomorrow for the duck opener. At least two guys from his office, and at least two I know of from the Janesville office. Our jon boat can hold 3 grown men, max, if we’re also hauling guns and decoys. So, the canoe is going with. But we both felt bad about sticking some poor fools in our leaky, tippy canoe for their first time duck hunting. Matt’s been meaning to fix the leak all summer, but doing it from the outside would mean sanding off all the paint, scraping off all the Bondo, removing that piece of aluminum, and starting fresh. He slapped on a BandAid for the time being. For permanent if it works out.

SAMSUNGHe laid fiberglass all down the middle, where the cracks were. It’s been drying under Ditch Boat’s shelter for the last few days. It’s been dry and relatively warm, with very low humidity. So, hopefully we now have a more watertight canoe for the newbs to use, and for us to have. It’s still pretty ugly, though.



Home made wine and duck decoys.

I have off Wednesday and Thursday of this week. Given how much I’ve been working this summer, I planned to get a ton of things done during this downtime. Duck season starts Saturday, and deer is ongoing. If I don’t do it now, it will never get done.

So. I spent my Wednesday chipping away at my (still growing) to-do list. I picked up around the back yard- dog poo, lawn furniture, sticks, dog toys, dying flowers, the works. I mowed, front and back. I treated the lawn for bugs and fleas, bathed the dogs, scrubbed the bath tub and bathroom. Plus, doing laundry, washing dishes, and making a short run to the grocery store. I have more to get done Thursday (organizing the hunting room, cleaning under the bed, going through my closet/dresser, running to Goodwill, cleaning Matt’s truck). By the time I was hungry, it was about 6pm. I was going to make myself a nice dinner, and enjoy a glass of wine.


Yeah, that’s my homebrew. It’s good. This particular bottle didn’t really carbonate. There’s the tiniest suggestion of fizz to it, which isn’t all that bad, really. It reminds me of a nice pinot noir. I’m no sommelier, though, to be going on about tannins and floral notes, though. So, I made a pretty tame dinner of acorn squash and chicken, and had a very healthily poured glass of wine.

Matt came home in the middle of it, and decided to start getting his decoys set up for the duck opener. So, my livingroom, my nice clean livingroom (albeit in need of a few passes of the vacuum), is populated with a flock of artificial waterfowl.


At least they’re all nicely rigged now, and won’t tangle horribly like last year. I have to work Saturday and Sunday morning, but Matt’s plan is to take a couple of the other recruiters with him, to get out in the field for a day, shooting. They do spend entirely too much time cooped up in the office.



My first fish ever caught on the lakes in Madison

So, after busting part of the engine on the riverbottom a couple days ago, we’ve fixed the shear pin and been out a couple more times.  We trolled for muskie and pike yesterday (Wednesday- I’m writing this Thursday night). I caught the little bluegill you see above while waiting for Matt to untangle the trolling lines.

It was a gorgeous day out on the water, even though we didn’t get any big fish. Lot of sailboats out, and the sunset was lovely.



We deliberated Wednesday night about where to try next. Monona is an A1 muskie lake- not a lot of them, but the ones in there are trophy sized. Lake Wingra is A-2- smaller, but more numerous. I voted for Wingra, since we’d never been. We drove through town to the launch off Monroe street. It was another gorgeous day. We started on the west end of this weedy little lake, and were on panfish almost immediately.


Your blogger has looked better.


Matt’s pumpkinseed


Most of the lake was like this.

We had a good variety of fish. Umpteen bluegill for each of us. I had a black crappie and Matt had a little perch and a bass. None of the muskie we were after, but it was still a lot of fun. We headed home to run a couple errands and begin packing for this camping trip.


Matt got himself a lay out blind for goose.

Naturally that included a trip to Gander. I don’t want to talk about how much Matt spent there, but it was good to get one of the layout blinds out of the way, at least. Then we came home, and I began a cooking and baking bonanza. We have a large batch of chocolate chip cookies, a plum cake, a double batch of pancake batter, two pasta salads, a container of cooked couscous, prepped dry oatmeal, and a couple different snacks and sides.

We’re stopping over by Matt’s brother in Appleton first. He has a buddy who can take us out salmon fishing (!) Saturday. I drew up a big grocery list to get us to next Thursday, and we’re going to get everything up in Appleton or Green Bay to save us a few days of keeping everything on ice. So, depending on when we have access to internet/electricity, it could be a week or so until I put up anything else. Or maybe not! If I find some wifi or whatever.

Dispatches from Matt’s Toybox: The 20 Foot Boat in a Ditch Edition.

Yesterday I made that quick note about how we were rushing out to go look at a boat, right? Well, it turned into a minor adventure.

Matt had found this boat listed in the free section on Craigslist, and was immediately Very Excited. He contacted the person listing it, and she said they still had it. He asked some pretty basic questions about it- does it float? (dunno) Does it have a motor? (yes but it needs a carburetor) Is it on a trailer? (er, no it’s sitting in a ditch in our yard). Wait, what? At this point I became highly skeptical (not that I wasn’t already).

As soon as he hung up the phone, Matt sprang into action. He apparently had someone with a truck and a flatbed trailer ready and waiting for his call. He called this kid up, and let him know to meet us at Matt’s office on the other side of town. I hurriedly typed up that quick little blurb yesterday, and we hustled out the door and over to the west side of town. We met up with the guy with the truck, and headed out west of Madison to Arena.

Arena’s pretty tiny, but the house where the boat resided was on the opposite edge of town from us. We were slowly driving down the street, “Uh, guys, I think I see it”, I said.  We pulled up on the side of the road, and got out.

As you can see, Matt's thrilled.

As you can see, Matt’s thrilled.

The owner came out as we pulled up to say hi, and honestly, I think she wanted to see how these yahoos were going to get this boat out of a ditch in her yard.

The way they had acquired this boat, you see, was that someone was driving past their house late last summer while they sat on their front deck. He stopped his truck and the trailer, and asked them if they wanted the boat he was pulling, as he didn’t want it and no longer had a use for it. She said no, but her husband said yes (sounds about right). The guy backed it in, untied everything, and pulled forward, letting the boat slide right off. Apparently, he got himself stuck in the process, and someone had to come along and pull his two wheel drive truck out.

The people we were getting this from had planned on gutting and renovating this boat. When they started on it, it was apparently outdated and in rough shape.

Now it's in even rougher shape.

Now it’s in even rougher shape.

But time had just gotten away from them, and they wanted it gone. The hull looked to be in good shape, and I’m no stranger to reupholstery. Nor are we strangers to renovating- Matt renovated most of this house, and I was around for the kitchen portion of it. His dream has been to pick up a cheap old boat, anyhow, and re-do it.

Now, though, the problem was getting this thing out of their yard. It’s a 20 foot boat. We had a 14 foot trailer with us. Matt assumed we could at least get it onto the trailer canted to the side, and carefully secure it. Then we would slowly tow it back to Madison. But he still hadn’t tackled how to get this thing out of the ditch and two feet off the ground onto the trailer. There was much brainstorming, a lot of pacing back and forth, and a good deal of me alternately thanking and apologizing to the the woman and her two sons watching this whole ordeal. I appreciated her wise cracks, though I don’t know if Matt did.

She was really helpful, though, offering us a jack, boards to brace with, the whole nine yards throughout the brainstorming process. I was pretty un-helpful, though, as a bystander with a camera who didn’t even know if she wanted this hulk sitting in her yard. Eventually, we discovered that the trailer already had a ramp on it, stowed underneath, for hauling snowmobiles.


With the trailer positioned, Matt’s idea was beginning to take shape. We had brought ropes and ratchet straps, so he tied the rope to the boat, and tied the other end to their truck, which he had them pull in front of the truck we had. It seemed like a golden idea.


However, the rope was one of Matt’s old rock climbing ropes. The lady started to very slooooooowly pull with her truck. The rope went taut, and then tauter, and tauter still. The boat wasn’t moving. Climbing rope is made to stretch, not to pull; it’s meant even less to pull a large fiberglass boat out of a soft dirt ditch.

When he saw that a snapped rope and possible whip-like action was imminent, he pulled the younger of the two boys out of the way, and waved his arms to stop. He had to admit temporary defeat. The owners very graciously agreed to hang on to it for us. We were the only people to even come out to look at the boat, much less attempt to get it out of their yard. Matt has his heart set on getting that thing now, and he plans to attack again return on Friday with a trailer and chains. In the mean time, he’s looking frantically for an actual boat trailer for this thing. If he can’t find one, he’ll use a flat bed again, and we’ll have a boat sitting trailer-less in our yard, too.

While I was in the middle of writing this post, Matt stopped by on his way to the other side of town. Our little yard is getting quite cluttered, and the boat we already have still has a bum tire.

This is the side of our house. We can't get anything into the back yard.

This is the side of our house. We can’t get anything into the back yard.

I calmly explained that we are reaching the carrying capacity for stuff in the yard, and we need to think about either getting rid of some things for good, or packing up moveable objects before we look like hoarders or junk collectors. The prospect of getting rid of his things always makes him say “But they’re all still functional!”. He ended up admitted I was right, and agreed that something has to go or move.

I would still prefer a house on a bigger plot of land, on the edge of town, but that’s pretty expensive to do. Convincing Matt to simply not acquire things, specifically modes of transport, is an exercise in futility. I definitively vetoed renting a storage unit, as I hate the idea of paying for a place to store excess stuff.

An upside here, though, is that a boat this size would be able to go out on, say, Lake Michigan, and not feel as though it was about to be swamped. Depending on how quickly it got cleaned up (supposing we get it to the house and get a trailer for it in the first place), we wouldn’t need to charter a salmon fishing boat like I thought. For that, we would need rigs for salmon fishing. Matt’s toybox is a self-perpetuating beast.

Dispatches from Amber’s Toybox (Toolbox?)

Lady Turkey hunter

Lady Turkey hunter

Yesterday afternoon, Matt and I were wandering around the mall on the west side of town while he didn’t have anything concrete going on with work. We grabbed some coffee, and buzzed through the Dick’s Sporting Goods over there.

I’ve mentioned that I was in the market for a new shotgun. But here’s the thing- finding anything that actually fits me and is a reasonable price, especially in outdoor sporting equipment, is a real feat. It takes a lot of luck, honestly. Most of my hunting/outdoors gear is either large youth sizes (which means they are short and wide and still fit poorly), or are small men’s sizes (mostly too long). I am a pretty short, small person. I often wish I was a taller, bigger girl, cause it’d make this whole outfitting bit easier. And most womens’ gear that would fit is really quite expensive.

But I digress. Like I mentioned, last year I used a gun Matt already had. It was a fairly small, single break action 12 gauge shotgun. Size-wise, it worked, even if shooting it left me dazed for a second or two (I was raised around guns, but wasn’t allowed to shoot or touch my dad’s guns. Until meeting Matt I had no use for firearms, and to this day only am interested in hunting firearms). Well, after combing outdoors shops for a gun short enough for me, yesterday we found one.

Originally, a Remington youth model caught his eye. He asked the counter attendant to look at it. But then I noticed a Mossberg youth model on a higher shelf, for slightly cheaper. The Remington felt too long, but the Mossberg was pretty good, and had a stock that could be shortened. Plus it came in camouflage. Matt being a prodigious impulse buyer, he said “We’ll take it!”. Paperwork was filled out, and I happily waited while they ran a background check.

So, now I have a 20 gauge, pump action Mossberg with a 22 inch barrel, and a shortened stock. Matt tells me it’s far and above nicer than his first shotgun, and I believe him. But for around $340 after tax? I won’t complain. It came with two chokes, but we’ll be buying a full extended choke for turkey and waterfowl season.

I'll have something that fits and functions correctly, no caveats.

I’ll have something that fits and functions correctly, no caveats.

[featured image from Etsy seller popstock]

Dispatches from Matt’s Toybox

This month or whatever of having less to write about is going to be rough. And I’ve only had this thing going for, what, two months? Yeesh. So, in the midst of feeling guilty about not posting, and also taking all the ice fishing stuff out to store in the garage (and eventually cleaning out the garage), I decided to make a post before I forgot about Matt’s most recent Gander-spree.

We love all the sporting goods stores near us. Particularly Dick’s and Gander Mountain. The latter has their big Spring fishing sale on. It started last Saturday, and I believe it goes until maybe the 23rd of March? Anyhow. After the Fisheree, we went to Gander.

This all looked like significantly more when it was still in the packaging.

This all looked like significantly more when it was still in the packaging.

Those would be, clockwise from top, a new tacklebox (complete with plenty more lures), a shooting stick, a pack for fly fishing, a call bag, three new muskie lures, and a new fishing pole (that one’s actually for me). At least now we have just the one tackle box for open water, instead of the 2-3 we’d lug around last year. The shooting stick will come in handy when we have to hold absolutely still during turkey season. The fly bag is pretty self explanatory. The muskie lures- who knows if we’ll ever catch one, but those things are enormous. And the new rod and reel for me, well. If I hadn’t put that in the cart, he would have spent $350 on himself, and I would have only been able to sigh wistfully.

Huge muskie lures

Huge muskie lures

A clear case full of all new soft lures

A clear case full of all new soft lures

The cat is highly suspicious.

The cat is highly suspicious.

But there’s something here I’m forgetting. Something Matt has been giddy about buying ever since he first saw it on the shelf. Every time we go  to Gander, he touches them. He’s had it planned out to buy himself one for turkey season since last summer.




That’s right. A ghillie suit. He finally bought it, on sale. And he was so excited about it that we barely got it home before he put it on to try it out.

The dogs are all "WTF?"

The dogs are all “WTF?”

Our dogs were confused and also terrified. I would have been too, if suddenly Swamp Thing appeared in my front room and I didn’t have thumbs or language to convey my fear and confusion. This leads me to Play Outdoors’ first video.

You can sort of see the carnage from Matt’s shopping spree in the video. Some bonus images, too, while I cleaned our terrible, messy garage (one more thing set to rights in this house).

Most of the decoy collection.

Most of the decoy collection.

Drying hides- Mine is on the right, Matt's left. They will look much nicer once we finish them up.

Drying hides- Mine is on the right, Matt’s left. They will look much nicer once we finish them up.

Also, a final image of Swamp Thing standing in my house.

At least Swamp Thing is smiling.

At least Swamp Thing is smiling.








Looking Forward

I considered adding this onto the end of my last post, but figured a separate post was better for everything that I ended up thinking of. I plan to add a calendar widget with opening dates for some of the seasons around here. I want to have a little structure laid out for myself. We won’t have as many outdoor activities here in March, but I can write about a lot of what happened for us last year.

What we’re looking forward to:

  • We’re looking into doing some fly fishing near home on Black Earth Creek. (Trout opened last weekend)
  • We’re also hoping to make a weekend trip to a river near Racine, where lake trout and salmon spawn.
  • Matt wants to charter a boat to go out on Lake Michigan for salmon fishing. If we can get the required 5 or 6 people together, it comes out to about $100 per person.
  • Bowfishing. Seriously. Common Carp spawn in the spring, and there’s quite a few in the Madison chain. The Illinois Valley, where I grew up, is plagued by Asian/silver carp. Those things are fun to shoot, they spawn in spring as well, and I’m more than glad to rid my home area of them. There are also gar and bowfin not only in Madison’s Lakes, but in nearby Oconomowoc.
  • Catfishing up on Cherokee Marsh. Matt wants to catch a 30 pounder this year.
  • Aside from fishing, turkey season is coming up. We purchased second season spring permits, but our zone normally has thousands of leftover permits for the first season, which go up for sale at a great discount. This also means we need to find me a shotgun that is my size and can be choked down. Keep an eye out for posts as we learn to call turkeys. I have some video footage of our first attempts at diaphragm calling.
  • Repairing our boat trailer. What happened to it is an entirely separate, entertaining post, and I have about a month of posts to cover.
  • Finally getting our camper finished. I decided to refinish all the fabric surfaces in an old camper Matt found after a bad experience tent camping near home in Illinois while bowfishing for silver carp.
  • Finally processing all that deer meat and the hides.

Posts to look out for:

  • More dispatches from Matt’s toybox. Gander Mountain had a sale this past weekend on fishing equipment. He also bought some stuff related to turkey hunting. Maybe also a dispatch from my toybox. I’m in the market for a shotgun my size for turkey hunting, and also waterfowl when it comes around. 
  • Wild Food. Once we process that deer, we’ll have more than enough venison to cook. There’s catfish from last year in the freezer, and I may finally get adventurous enough to try to cook the fillets of silver Carp (it’s not supposed to taste too bad) as well as the coots we shot last year.
  • Possibly shooting practice? I’m a fair shot at stationary targets, but I need practice for waterfowl and turkey.

Mostly, I’m going to be happy to take the weekends for get some stuff in the Play Outdoors household set to rights. A lot of things around here are out of sorts, and I’ve been working around them for months. I’ll be glad to not have awkward work-arounds any more. This will also make outdoor adventures going forward a lot easier

Dispatches from Matt’s Toybox.

If I could say one thing concretely about Matt, it’s that he loves his toys. He loves his toys even more when he thinks they’ll help us when we’re having a bad run at whatever sport we’re doing. The other day, while pining after fish finders that run around $300 each, he found a deal on Cabela’s. An underwater camera for $100. Which is honestly a really good price.

Just like Christmas


It arrived today. Matt rushed home this afternoon to open it. So now we’ll be able to see down into 50 feet of water, since that’s how long the cable is.  And hopefully spot some fish. The same work buddy of his that recommended we try University Bay said he might be able to let us borrow his dad’s ice fish finder.

But while I’m telling stories, I should also share two or three of his other recent toy purchases. He got so excited when I decided to tell him I was thinking of documenting our adventures. He had some rather… ambitious ideas for all of this being such a tiny blog. He is really pumped for the day we can add video. And here is why:

Those aren't just sunglasses.

Those aren’t just sunglasses.

A picture of a camera

You saw correctly. He went and bought a helmet/handlebar/mini cam. And no. Those aren’t just sunglasses. They’re a sunglasses camera he found at Farm and Fleet. There hasn’t been much any action to capture while ice fishing, but if I decide to add video in the future, it would work really well with bowfishing and hunting. This is his version of compromise. I had to talk him down from immediately purchasing 3 cameras and tripods the day I created the blog.

I believe this brings our total to 79 decoys.

More decoys.

These are another steal at $12 per box, down from $25. Decoys are actually quite expensive, however necessary they may be for waterfowling. These are interesting because they’re very light weight foam shells, usable on both land and water. We had a nice sized set of field decoys originally. But last fall, on the opening day of duck season, we went out in the boat and left our field goose gear in our truck, planning to go out the next day. After we put the boat in the water and left, everything was stolen from the truck. On the ride home after finding out everything was taken, the axle on our boat trailer snapped. And we didn’t shoot any birds. It was a bad day. Luckily, within maybe two days, Matt found a guy up in Steven’s Point selling his decoys for a great price: $150 for a dozen over size, weighted decoys. Needless to say, I got off work early and was on the road. After hearing my story, the guy was generous enough to give me another 3 geese and one diver butt in the bargain. He was a really, really nice guy, and his 3 year old son was adorable.

With the addition of these decoys, we can finally try to hunt geese from a cornfield (our luck over water wasn’t spectacular). These also bring our decoy collection up to a respectable 79, between ducks and geese. I’ll have to take a picture of all our decoys on a day when it isn’t 13 degrees and windy. The bigger your decoy spread the more realistic it looks and the more likely birds are to land.

This all barely scratches the surface of Matt’s penchant for toys. Unfortunately, I’ve got little record of previous toybox dispatches. But look forward to plenty more.