Camping Gifts for Dad

sillyband tentIt’s the season of shopping and you may be wondering what your family will get you. If you don’t think of something reasonable, soon, you’ll end up with more emblems of your favorite, losing, sports team, probably on a pillowcase or license plate holder.

Or, maybe you’re out of ideas for your husband, and he pretends he already has everything he needs.

Either way, dads never have everything they need. They always need more camping stuff. Dads are responsible for teaching their family to survive and enjoy the outdoors (see here). This requires lots of gear, including different variations of the same tools and equipment.

Assuming that the bigger, more expensive items (e.g., tent, sleeping bags and pads, hiking packs) are either out of the budget or already taken care of, here are my top ten most important pieces of camping gear for under $50:

  1. Knife/multitool
  2. Camp stove
  3. Hatchet
  4. Headlamp
  5. Things for lighting fires
  6. Mess kit/cook set
  7. Ropes and cords
  8. Gear box
  9. First aid kit
  10. Camping chair

Because they’re so basic, most of these items have a pretty low “that’s not the one I wanted” factor – variations across brand/make/model are minimal.

If you have to choose between them, I recommend the hatchet – it’s guaranteed to increase the toughness and ruggedness of whoever wields it.

For more gear ideas, see here.

How to Build a Lego Clock

The holiday spirit is already wearing off. The tree and decorations are down, and there are no more parties, treats, or tasty meals to distract us from the inevitable – the onslaught of cold. We need a project. And since my ideas are mostly limited to things that should probably take place outdoors, such as wrestling, hitting things with sticks, and lighting things on fire, I’m looking to the internet for inspiration.

A quick image search for “lego creations” reveals that nearly everything on this earth has been reproduced at some point in Lego form, from Mount Rushmore to the Sydney Opera House, a time-traveling Delorean with functional flux capacitor to a full-scale vehicle with a 5-star safety rating. The problem is, we don’t have the time or brick supply that these masterpieces require.

Believe it or not, there is a scarcity of instructions online for building your own analog Lego clock! Turns out it’s a simple and inexpensive project, great for a Saturday morning indoors.


  1. Clock movement kit, found cheap online or at a local craft store. I got mine at Michael’s for $6.
  2. Good assortment of Lego plates and other flat bricks.


  1. lego clock baseThe moving part of the clock movement takes up precisely one dot – pretty slick, but this forced the dimensions of the base to be odd, 13 x 13, since I wanted it symmetrical. With only a mediocre assortment of plates and flat pieces, I was constrained to a smallish, gray clock base.
  2. lego clock backThere’s a small nut and washer which thread onto the front of the clock and which cinch it onto the rest of the movement. As a result, you don’t need any support on the backside, so long as the face is relatively small and light.
  3. lego clock completedAgain, working with odd dimensions made it hard to center things. The number plates here are 4 x 5 and 5 x 4. Next time I’ll make things even by giving the movement a 2 x 2 space on front, rather than 1 x 1.
  4. Finally, the hands – the white pieces are superglued onto the flimsy metal hands that came with the clock kit. I had to tweak the hour hand downward so they wouldn’t collide. The second hand wasn’t strong enough to support a Lego piece, so I settled for a single dot and just twisted off the rest of the hand.

The best part is the kids can destroy and rebuild, with some help, as often as they like – change the colors, give it a medieval theme, use Harry Potter pieces, whatever.

Let me know how yours turns out.

Homemade Gifts from Dad: Lego Picture Frame version 2.0

My son was momentarily very impressed by Lego picture frame version 1, but his first question was “can I break it?” Version 2.0 should last at least a day.

Lego picture frame
Version 2.0

Really, the Lego picture frame isn’t for kids. It belongs in a hipster’s retro-decor kitchen or bathroom, next to their abstract Super Mario artwork. A permanent Lego creation defeats the purpose of Legos. Like any construction toys, they’re made to be destroyed and rebuilt, over and over. And just as I’ve passed my Legos on to my children, they will pass them on to theirs, and so proceeds the Lego circle of life, the generations of Legos.

My buddy Tim-o recently told me that our planet has more Legos than people. Apparently (link), a few other species could be outnumbered as well:

More than 400 billion Lego bricks have been produced since 1958. There are about 62 Lego bricks per person of the Earth’s population.

That seems wrong, both statistically and morally. People are starving, right? Fifty Lego bricks aren’t going to do them any good, unless they’re the edible ones, but those are just candy. We need nutritious Legos.

They are an excellent toy, and brilliantly mass-marketed, but to be honest, and to destroy the chances that they ever sponsor my blog, I admit that I prefer not to support the endless production of more Legos. I also prefer the basic extensible blocks to the newfangled specialty pieces that have limited use. Call me old-fashioned.

As the ultimate homemade gift from dad I recommend getting some bulk pieces online (Craigslist usually has a hundred or so postings), building a sweet ship or castle, and leaving it under the tree, or outside their bedroom door.

Homemade Gifts from Dad: Lego Picture Frame

My frugality knows no bounds. OK, it knows a few. I don’t reuse floss and I never divide a baby wipe more than once. Half a wipe is my limit. Thirds? No way.

I’m not an Ebenezer, but I do raise my right eyebrow at the commercialism of the holidays. Thoughtful homemade gifts get major bonus points. Almost as priceless are thrift store treasures.

My first attempt at a hand crafted gift is a Lego picture frame. It took 20 minutes to build, and the geometry worked out nicely. Who knew that a 3 x 5 photo would fit perfectly in a 13 x 18 dot Lego grid? It was meant to be. Some flat rectangles as the base, an inner border of thin 1 x 4 and 1 x 6 pieces, and the photo is held in place by the bricks on the front.

A Lego picture frame… brilliant. I have no idea who to give it to. My son would destroy it to make a lava boat robot gun ship. My wife would put it on her nightstand, and once my son found it he’d destroy it to make a laser flier digger booster mobile 3D.