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A Greener Christmas
I've noticed a lot of Greener ads on TV the past week or so. The hybrid cars are becoming more common on the streets. The price of oil keeps setting new records. Cutting our energy consumption is no longer something to think about doing some day - it's something to actually do now.

I always put up my Christmas lights the week after Thanksgiving. That means they burn for over a month. I use C7 lights - incandescent lights that are smaller than C9s. I'm one of the few left in my neighborhood that has not switched to LED Christmas lights and it's about time I made the switch too.

I grew up with these C7 lights and they just always seemed more 'real' to me than LED lights. But, with the recent advancements in technology, the LEDs are pretty cool.

LED lights have about a 50,000 hour life compared to 2,000 for incandescents - yes, I get tired of replacing a handful of lights every year.

LED lights use about 90% LESS energy than incandescents. That means the extra large electricity bill that comes in January will be a thing of the past. Instead of an extra $100 it would just be an extra $10.

LEDs are more durable too - they're plastic shells instead of glass. Also, they are literally cool, cool enough to touch.

So, what's on my Christmas list? Besides a new pair of Scout Socks, it's new strings of LED lights.

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Posted: 22:39 11-11-2007 254
Webelos Recruiting
In our community, we have a handful of Boy Scout Troops and a handful of Cub Scout Packs. The membership in any single pack or troop fluctuates year to year. Across the board, numbers stay fairly even, but there are spikes in individual units which often cause some concern.

Some years, a troop will get a bumper crop of new scouts because there are a few younger brothers in Webelos that are definitely going to that troop and they wind up pulling more new scouts along with them. Other years, the same thing will happen to a different troop.

This year, it seems like competition between troops is at a very high level. Our troop is in the situation of having a few younger brothers moving up so we're not too concerned about bringing in enough scouts. But, that doesn't mean we aren't pulling, pushing, and prodding Webelos to continue on.

The scouts in our troop have scheduled events so they could invite Webelos along. And, they've done this to help the Webelos fulfill their Arrow of Light requirements, rather than actively recruiting them. I think that makes a big difference in the amount of fun and pressure that exists. We had a handful of Webelos join us at the district Camporee. We had a very fun Scoutorama last weekend. And, next month, they decided to invite some Webelos to go skiing.

Last night, the troop had a table at an event specifically devoted to recruiting Webelos. One of the local Packs invites all the troops to have a table in a local church. Then, they invite all the Webelos from every pack to come and meet each troop. It's a terrific event where Webelos get to see each troop. The troops have little activities trying to impress the Webelos. Many of the troops have developed traditional activities - one has rubber band guns, one has a board game, and we have a wheel of fortune. I had a great time because I just sat and watched all night. The scouts talked to Webelos and parents and never got a question they needed me to help with.

I would highly recommend that you consider organizing such an event in your community - it will give you good press and really help with the Webelos transition. Getting Webelos to go on to Boy Scouts is the goal, not so much which troop they join.

Scout On
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Posted: 12:32 11-09-2007 253
What's It?
I just wanted to pass on an idea that worked well for me. The name of the game is What's It?

I've collected a number of strange items over the years that are not easily recognizable, especially to younger folks that maybe have never listened to an LP or seen a record needle. You probably have similar things collecting dust in the attic, on the shelf, or in the garage.

Take an object to a troop meeting.
Allow each patrol 30 seconds to inspect the item.
Give everyone 2 minutes to come up with an explanation or use for the item.
The patrol leader or representative of each patrol comes up front and gives a 1 minute or less presentation on what the item should be used for, according to his patrol.
Unbiased judges determine which patrol gave the best or most convincing presentation. Not necessarily the correct use of the item wins.

We've done this a half dozen times over the past year or so and the scouts enjoy it. It is a bit of silly competition but more importantly it inspires creativity and gives the opportunity to speak in front of the group. By recognizing the presentation rather than the correct use, most of the scouts doing the speaking put in their best effort.

Scout On
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Posted: 17:27 11-07-2007 252
Elections and Citizenship
Tomorrow is election day. This is a great opportunity to emphasize the rights and responsibilities of being a citizen in our country. With the three Eagle required citizenship merit badges, discussing local, national, and global impacts of casting our votes is a good exercise. Webelos also have a Citizen activity badge.

If your scouts haven't seen how voting is handled in your area, tomorrow would be a good time to take a couple scouts while you cast your ballot. With the advancements in technology, each time I go and vote it seems something has changed. Last time, we punched holes in cards but a computer read and verified the card before the vote was officially cast. I'm looking forward to seeing what's new this time.

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Posted: 13:06 11-05-2007 251
Hunting Season
This weekend was deer hunting opener in Minnesota. Quite a few of the scouts from the troop went out with their dads. The news said that 70% of the deer taken will be harvested in the first 4 days of the season - that's a lot of shooting.

Besides hunter orange safety clothing, a good pair of hunting boots is the most important gear. The weather can be snowing, raining, or bitter cold and being able to track a deer through muck and brush is required. Sturdy, waterproof, warm boots can make a barely bearable day downright comfortable.

A new pair of boots could be a great gift. If you're like me, it's hard to think of things for others to get you for Christmas and birthday. If you play your cards right, the same boots you get for hunting can also be used as hiking boots.

We have 18 scouts heading to Philmont in June and new hiking boots for Christmas would be perfect for most of them.
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Posted: 8:37 11-05-2007 250
It's amazing how fortunate we have been with weather this year. Yet another practically perfect day for our annual Scoutorama yesterday. Cool, crisp fall air with sunny skies and a little breeze to blow the leafs around a bit.

The patrols set up 8 scout skill stations, each patrol hosting 1 or 2 stations depending on how many scouts attended. There were firestarting, wilderness survival, service project, bearmuda triangle, backpack packing, first aid, and cooking.

Two dozen Webelos from local packs went through the stations, gathering beads to exchange for prizes later in the Trading Post. These were mostly 5th graders with a few 4th graders. The cool thing was that we had visitors from 5 different packs - 2 packs that we've really had no interaction with before.

After a hot taco lunch, each patrol got a chance to lead the group in a wide-area or team game. We wrapped up by 3:00 for a 4-hour action-packed event. There wasn't much lag time at all.

This is the 3rd year the troop has put on this event. It was a bit easier this year and seemed to run more smoothly. As scoutmaster, I got to spend most of my time talking with parents and stayed away from the stations and games.

Scout On
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Posted: 13:34 11-04-2007 249
The Taming
I've spent quite a few hours over the past year reading some Baden-Powell writings and some early year Scoutmaster handbooks. As I read them, I can see my friends and me doing exactly what they describe - running through fields for no reason but to run, doing things our own way whether right or wrong, turning anything at all into a game. As I've reflected on these books and tried to use what I can from them to improve what our troop offers for the scouts, I've run into a tough realization over and over.

I can't help but notice that boys have been tamed. Given complete leeway to choose absolutely any activity for a troop meeting, we still sit in rows of chairs, have announcements, have instruction, and sit. We have no one tussling, rough-housing, even thumb wrestling. Nothing gets broken, no clothes get ripped. These scouts appear to prefer to sit and listen to someone talk than go outside and climb a tree. Even with direct prompting from me at the PLC meetings, an active game just isn't part of a meeting. I must be wrong. There must be something I'm missing.

When we're on campouts, if there is any free time, they sit. They don't run off and explore or get in trouble. They just sit and maybe work on some advancement.

It's almost like watching tamed bears. They do neat tricks, but you just know they should naturally be doing something else. It may be that our community, in general, is very driven to have kids excel. Since kindergarten, organized activities such as school, sports, music, and playgroups have dominated these boys' lives. Maybe they really don't know how to cut loose and have fun without a schedule and a goal. But, it's probably just that they are used to troop meetings being a certain way and they're in a rut.

So, now I'm at the 'lets try an experiment' point. And, that's what I'm planning for the next few months. I'm collecting a bunch of things my buddies and I used to do. Stuff like pitching pennies, pen guns, match rockets, hand slaps, tree climbing, rock skipping, whatever I can remember. At the next PLC, I'll ask the SPL if I could have a 10-15 minute chunk of time at the next 4 troop meetings for a Scoutmaster Challenge or some such thing.

Assuming the SPL agrees, then I'll get an Assistant Scoutmaster for each patrol and explain the plan to them. At the meeting, they'll each take a patrol and show them the activity and then step back and let the scouts play. I don't think we'll have competitions, but if the scouts move towards that, then great!

After a few meetings I'll know if this has become a part of the meeting that scouts look forward to or not. If it is, then I'll need to chat with the PLC about the experiment and how it's time for me to step back and they can start an SPL Challenge instead. Hopefully, that will be a good start to some brainstorming of active games to try. If that happens, it will be a good big step back towards FUN.

Scout On
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Posted: 16:11 11-02-2007 248
Shorter Days and New Hours
Anyone camping this first weekend in November? If you are, remember that you gain an extra hour of sleep on Saturday night with Daylight Savings ending at 2:00am Sunday morning.

Last night, we sat out front with our little screened in fire burning and handed out candy to the goblins, witches, and other urchins that ran past. I noticed it got dark around 6:00pm and the trick-or-treaters were complete by about 8:00. Oh, for the days of summer with light until 9:30 and blinking the sun out of my eyes before 6:00 in the morning.

I call the upcoming 4 months 'mushroom time' because we so seldom see any daylight when we drive to work in the dark, work inside all day, and then drive home in the dark. It also makes it a bit more challenging for scouting.

When winter camping, it's important to keep the short daylight hours in mind when scheduling a day's activities. In the cold, food is more difficult to cook and there is less light to work with. Maybe dinner should be moved to 4:30 from 6:00. Moving Lights Out an hour or so earlier also seems to work pretty well since it's been dark for 4 hours already.

Scout On
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Posted: 12:03 11-01-2007 247
Alzheimer's Awareness Month
Even Scouters get old. As we age, our bodies run into problems, whether it's arthritis, weight, or even memory laps. The physical ailments and challenges are often obvious and a scouter needs to evaluate his/her effectiveness in each aspect of scouting. Maybe those extra 50 pounds mean I can't do Philmont or my bum knee means I can't do the 50-miler any longer.
Some diseases are more difficult to identify and accept. If a scouter providing safety for a crew forgets the route or becomes confused, there may be disastrous results. It's important that we as leaders maintain our abilities and accept our limitations.

The Alzheimer's Foundation of America (AFA) is spearheading a nation-wide drive over the month of November to promote early detection of Alzheimer's disease and related illnesses.

National Memory Screening Day is November 13, 2007. It is held annually in November and was started in 2003. November is recognized as National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month.

This screening day provides free confidential memory screenings for anyone concerned about memory loss or feel they may be at risk due to family history. A memory screening is a good first step towards early detection and appropriate intervention for memory illnesses.

If you have a relative for whom you are concerned, or want to get yourself checked out, consider finding a memory screening location near you. Sites can be found at which is the web site for the national memory screening day.

The AFA has some recommended tips for successful aging which are intended to help slow or prevent the loss of brain cells. A healthy mind, body, and spirit are key and can be aided by a healthy diet, limiting alcohol, exercising, relaxing, socializing, and managing stress.

Both seeking a cure for the disease and ensuring quality care for sufferers of Alzheimer's are important work done by the AFA. Please consider a contribution to the AFA to support their work.

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Posted: 11:37 11-01-2007 246
New Dutch Oven
Our troop hosted a pack of Webelos at the camporee earlier this month and their Cubmaster insisted on giving us some money. I said "no", he said "yes". I said "No", he said "Yes". I said "NO", he said "YES". Since he's a lawyer, I gave up. :-)

Anyway, I wanted to do something special with the money and the scouts have started to get more interested in dutch oven cooking, so I looked around.

Lodge has a Lewis & Clark Commemorative dutch oven out. It's an 8qt. 12inch - that means it's deeper than normal so it works great for a roast.

If you want to take advantage of my legwork, the cheapest place I found this oven was at (I never heard of them either) and it was significantly cheaper than Lodge, REI, and other places. I was a bit nervous ordering it, but it arrived today and it is perfect! They also have the BSA Logo dutch oven and lots of others.

So, this weekend at the Scoutorama, the visiting Webelos be cooking doughnuts and chocolate chip cookies in our D.O.s - and if that doesn't convince them to join the troop, nothing will!

Scout On
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Posted: 15:44 10-30-2007 245
It seems like forever that there has been a 'MYSCOUTING' link on that just goes to a "Coming Soon" page. It was going to be here in August, then September, now its October.

But, the page has finally changed! You can now access MYSCOUTING and register. Enter your email, BSA ID info, and password to create an account for yourself. You receive a confirmation email and clicking the embedded link activates your account.

That's when you get to see the MYSCOUTING menu - "E-Learning", "ReChartering", and "Advancement" - "Tour Permits" are not available yet. You'll need special codes from your council to use the ReChartering and Advancement areas.

The MYSCOUTING area really needs a lot of work. Right now, its just an entry page to a handful of non-integrated tools, each one needed a separate login with no navigational integration between them. But, at least it's moving along and we're inching closer to usable online tools to reduce the work of our precious fellow volunteers.

Scout On
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Posted: 9:16 10-27-2007 244
Kid Nation
Have you watched Kid Nation on TV yet? My youngest son and I have been studying it for the past few weeks and find it interesting.

The concept is that 40 kids aged 8 to 15 are out at a ghost town that failed, attempting to build a city with no adults. (I have no idea what parents would have their 8 year old go out on his/her own for 40 days.) They've got a few kids that have good leadership skills, a few ringers that I think were coached to be irritants, and then a lot that you never hear from.

It's getting boring now that we know every show will have a contest, a town meeting where some homesick kids might decide to go home, and one kid will get a $20,000 gold star. Other than that, it's a whole lot of bickering, squabbling, and basic self-serving child behavior - imagine that. :-)

We are kind of rooting for Mike who is a Tenderfoot scout and was one of the leaders. He got voted off the town council last week so maybe he'll get a gold star soon.

There are a few snippets that would make good clips to use in a Troop Leader Training session on leadership styles that work and don't work.

Scout On
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Posted: 0:12 10-25-2007 243
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