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We're Famous
For 15 minutes, or a couple pages in Boys' Life at least, Troop 479 gets to be famous.

At our troop meeting last night where we went sledding at a local park rather than meet at the normal place, one scout ran up saying, "Did you see it? Did you see it?"
He was waving his Boys' Life magazine that had just arrived in the mail today and had an article about the troop's winter campout last winter. The guys crowded around, "Hey, that's me!", "Here's you, Matt!"

We had just returned from this year's winter campout on Sunday so it was nicely fitting to have the article arrive the next day. This year, it was -20 with windchill down to -35 so we got a bunch of Zero Hero awards unlike last year when it dipped almost to zero but not quite.

This short, safe introduction to extreme cold weather camping is a great learning experience. When a tin cup or metal spoon instantly sticks to your lips, you learn to use plastic. Scouts learn that bananas are not practical cold weather food when they see one frozen rock-hard and are unable to eat it. There is no simple chore in frigid weather - every task is a challenge.

In case you didn't know, you can submit your troop's upcoming adventure as a story idea at Boys Life

Scout On
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Posted: 8:34 01-27-2009 390
LNT in Brazil

Fortaleza, Brazil is a big city in a warm climate and has many poor people and lots of trash around. Many of them are too busy surviving to worry about the natural environment, much like large cities in our country.

There was a natural area in the city close to where we were staying so we took a walk through it one day.
As soon as we stepped off the paved road onto the dirt trail, it was like a completely different world - nearly what I would expect a jungle to be like.

I was very excited to see this sign along the trail. It describes how long trash takes to decompose and is nearly identical to the Leave No Trace materials I use when teaching at home! (Click on the image to see a larger version)


We saw crabs in the mudflats, teaming fish, lizards, monkeys, birds, and thick foliage that completely masked out the surrounding city.

There were also signs warning against campfires, staying on the trail, and this one about observing animals from a distance.

This was one of the many highlights of my trip. Minimizing impact isn't just a USA-specific ethic - it is a global one.

Scout On
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Posted: 9:28 01-10-2009 389
Fun First Aid
Making a personal first aid kit is a 2nd Class rank requirement that can be a fun activity. Every year, I show scouts that I have my kit and tell them I take it with me everywhere. I also give each of them a CPR mask and gloves from the Red Cross to start their kit.
This little kit is the basis for an extremely valuable part of Scouting - that of being prepared for medical emergencies as well as small injuries.
It's fortunate that I do take my little kit with me, even on family vacations. Last week, we used many bandaids for scrapes and scratches on the beach and around town.

But, that little kit is really just for the simple cuts and scrapes. When something bigger happens, you need to rely more on your ability to improvise with what is on hand and know the basic First Aid Response steps for various situations.

The basic skills introduced in the early ranks are built on in various merit badges, such as First Aid, Emergency Prep, and Lifesaving. Additional training available to scouts for Babysitting, CPR, and Wilderness First Aid expand on skills that ready a person for many situations. We really do need this sort of training to help ensure a safe scouting program, but it can get boring if not applicable to the scout. Making it relevant through examples, stories, and hands-on experience is crucial. I'm always looking for new examples, preferably not my own.

While playing in the waves in Brazil, my wife was unceremoniously smashed into the sandy bottom by a very impressive reminder of the power of nature. She came up with blood on her forehead and her hand on her neck, complaining that it hurt.
OK, right now, if you have some first aid training, you're probably thinking 'immobilize!' The problem was that those waves weren't just stopping until we could casually stroll on up the beach. They continued to knock her around, so getting her out of the water fast was the first task. Once we were in a safe spot, then we tended to her neck.
Turns out she just tweaked the neck muscles and the forehead was just skin scraped away. But, it was a good lesson that first aid can't happen until the scene is safe.

When I'm presenting WFAB sessions or doing first aid with scouts, it's more fun and interesting to stage scenarios. I could say, "Pretend this is a cut and show me how to treat it." Or, I could get a package of ketchup from Arby's and my pocketknife and pretend to be cut. Or, even make some easy fake wounds to use often.

Making the serious skills fun to learn is the trick. Maybe "Build it and they will come" could be "Make it fun and they will learn". This is what the Instructors in our troop hear from me over and over, through my words, and hopefully through my example when I'm doing the teaching.

Scout On
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Posted: 22:16 01-08-2009 388
Fruit Basket
An apple a day keeps the doctor away - but it gets pretty boring eating an apple every day!

In Brazil, I was introduced to a plethora of fruits that I'd never tried - papaya, mango, cashew, and at least 3 others I can't write or pronounce. They were all wonderful, colorful, and tasty beyond belief. I didn't even know cashew had a fruit, and it tastes even better than the nut.

I'm used to apples, oranges, bananas, and grapes, with watermelon and cantalope added in season. They taste great, are healthy, and I know what to expect. But, just like having an apple a day gets boring, it can be monotonous cycling through the same small set of fruits month after month. By trying something new, I experience a unique flavor sensation. Sure, I might not care for some of the tastes, but I can only find out by trying.

Our troop has historically done a few campouts year after year - skiing, lock-in, kayaking, climbing, pioneering, okpik. The scouts enjoy them and annually add them to the calendar. But, I noticed that attendance appeared to be dropping on some of those 'common' events.

By adding a few new 'flavors' of outing in each calendar, the scouts have kept the events interesting and attendance has improved. The old favorites are good and healthy, but the new exotics add something different for the guys that "have been there and done that".

Now, we have a platter of enough different outings that a three-year cycle can have no repeats except summer camp. It's still up to the scouts to decide, but there's no excuse to do the same old thing - unless it's too much fun and tradition to miss.

Challenge scouts to come up with some new outing ideas and I bet your fruit basket will be overflowing with some wild choices.

Scout On
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Posted: 16:36 01-06-2009 387
Airlines - Do Your Best
I wish Delta would adopt the Cub Scout motto.

In the older Boy Scout lingo, DELTA means Developing Ethical Leaders Through Action. But, today I'm talking about Delta Airlines. I figured I should vent about this tonight at the end of a long day of catching up and be done with my whining for the whole year. :-)

It is amazing how unattached people can be to their jobs and the effort they make (or don't make) to fulfill their role. I was brought up to believe that whatever the task assigned to me, whether calling the plays or filling a waterbottle, I should do it as efficiently and thoroughly as I could. And, I still tackle tasks that way. When I have to shovel snow, I get it down to pavement or ice. When I vacuum, I get back in the corners where no one can see. I think the airline industry needs remedial training in task completion and ownership of duties.

Our family vacation to Brazil from Minnesota was a terrific experience with everything being great fun except for the problems with our air travel using Delta/Northwest. Our luggage was lost/delayed on the way there. The web page to check for luggage status never updated and even after we picked them up, listed our bags as at an 'unknown' location. The person that promised a call to let us know when they arrived didn't call. The people we talked to via phone said they would investigate and respond, but did not. And, on and on... We finally got our luggage at the airport 5 days late - we checked in person every 2 days.

Coming back to the USA, our luggage was again misplaced but did arrive the next day. I talked to one guy waiting in line to enter a claim and he said he was 6 for 6 on delayed luggage for the year with Delta. There are many people with much worse horror stories, like being stranded at O'Hare for 2 days, so I know our problems were not all that bad.

I understand there are lots of people flying and lots of bags moving around, but everyone else knows that too. The percentage of mixed up luggage is way too high. With all the technology we have, it just can't be that difficult to place Bag A on Airplane B. An automated system reading the barcodes on luggage tags should zip items lickety-split. And, we should have little scanners around the airport like the price checkers at Wal-Mart where you can read your luggage tag barcode and it tells you instantly where your item is. FedEx, UPS, and the like do it already.

I think the problem is that people get involved in the system. When a person that doesn't have pride in the work he is doing nor the self-respect to perform the task to his best ability takes on a task, then the system fails. If there is no incentive to get some luggage from here to there before the plane leaves, then it might not make it. Oh well.

This happens in any system, not just airline luggage. If a troop scribe doesn't think his notes from a PLC meeting help anyone, then he might get around to writing them down. If the patrol leader isn't going on a campout, he might not bother to make sure a menu is planned. If the scoutmaster's son finally made Eagle, he might not put much effort into guiding the other Life scouts on. Any of these can happen if the people involved don't have the mindset that doing your best is what you should do for every task.

I suppose lots of Cub Scouts and Den Leaders don't really think that much about the Cub Scout motto when they memorize and recite it. But, it's really one of the most important things anyone can learn. If I do my best, I can't really do much more than that.

Well, I feel better now.
Scout On
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Posted: 23:17 01-04-2009 385
I'm Baaack
To my mom and that other person that checks this blog - I'm back from vacation!

My family returned last night (actually early this morning) from our once-in-a-lifetime trip to Brazil for Christmas and New Year's. I expect I'll be sharing thoughts and memories of the trip here for the next few days to get it out of my system, but it was basicaly a fabulous experience! A few quick blips:

I'm spending today working through Boy Scout Trail emails and other tasks that went undone. I hope you had a nice holiday and are ready for a great 99th year of Scouting in 2009.

Scout On
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Posted: 10:58 01-04-2009 384
Patch Trivia
I was asked which patches, medals, and awards from a Cub Scout uniform can be displayed on a Boy Scout uniform.

Here's my list - any additions or deletions?

There are different service star backings for Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, so the scout could wear two stars when he's in Boy Scouts.
There are small metal pins that can be placed on the religious emblem knot to indicate it was earned as a Cub Scout, Webelos Scout, Boy Scout, or Venturer.

Scout On
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Posted: 16:18 12-18-2008 383
Trek Tracking
Spot Messenger Google Earth

Here's the perfect item to add to your troop's equipment list if you do any backpacking, hiking, canoeing, or other high adventure activities - well that should be ALL of you, right? It's the SPOT Messenger satellite tracker and emergency beacon. Our troop owns one and it has been great!

This little unit is a one-way communication device with four outputs:

Parents of scouts on adventure treks appreciate keeping tabs on our progress while backpacking. The automatic tracking feature allows families to virtually follow us across the country. They just go to a web page and instantly see where we are now.

On our trek through Philmont this summer, we took our SPOT Messenger on its first hardcore test trek. I carried the unit on the top of my backpack the entire 85 miles and recorded every step of the way.

All the parents back home could take a look at our progress any time and our location was automatically updated every 10 minutes.

I've integrated the SPOT tracking, Google Earth, and our own photo album to create an interactive trek - more interesting than a simple photo album. Take a peek at our Philmont Trek with SPOT Messenger - you need Google Earth installed to view the .kmz file it links to.

I have noticed that SPOTs have a $50 rebate going on now so they are $99. There is also an annual service charge which includes an account on their website, the tracking feature, and emergency response insurance.

Next summer, we'll be using our SPOT on our Sea2Sky trek to the Pacific coast as well as our weekend campouts. Having it along for emergencies is good all the time, but whenever we cover a distance by foot, bike, or boat, it's a nice stress reducer for the parents at home.

Scout On
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Posted: 19:13 12-17-2008 382
Visiting with Seniors
A baker's dozen of scouts visited with seniors at a local assisted care facility this past week. What a great time for generations to interact, fulfilling the 'Associate with Adults' method of Scouting.
The scouts and seniors played bingo and chatted for about 90 minutes.

This has become an unofficial annual tradition for the troop, having done it for 5 years now. Every year, the scouts have totally positive feedback about how fun it is to call out the bingo numbers and how interesting it is to hear stories from 'old people'. And that is said in awe rather than lack of respect.

Why not contact a local senior center or care facility in your community and do a patrol or troop good turn? You won't be sorry. It just takes time and caring, nothing more - and the rewards are great.

Scout On
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Posted: 21:57 12-16-2008 381
Prepared for Everything?
When we talk about being prepared and getting ready for treks and campouts, the newer scouts (and their parents) will sometimes ask HOW prepared scouts need to be, always in regards to gear and clothing. It's a great question and the answer depends on how much discomfort the scout is willing to endure. We don't need to be prepared for Everything, but definitely for most things we're likely to encounter.

I've yet to meet a scout that overpacks. In the mind of many a scout, a toothbrush, change of underwear, and food are all that's needed for a weekend campout - and the toothbrush and underwear are just for show. These scouts believe they are willing to endure any hardship because they feel nothing is going to go wrong. It won't rain, get too cold, too hot, too buggy, or too dirty. On the front end, they have no hardship at all because they have the bare minimum of items - but they are doomed to misery sooner or later, usually sooner.

On the other hand, helpful parents heap the hardship on the scout at the front end in anticipation of every improbable thing that might go wrong. Three pairs of pants, just in case; Two extra hats, just in case; another pair of shoes, just in case; a gallon size bug spray, just in case. The poor scout is doomed to misery before he takes his first step out the door.

Somewhere in between is the balance we seek. Based on the expected and probable weather, the activities to be performed, and the length of the trip, a minimial amount of gear can be determined. This becomes a recommended packing list and is used as a starting point. This gear list is adjusted as a scout becomes more adept at knowing what has been used on past trips and what can be improvised in improbable situations.

The Scout Outdoor Essentials is the core that should never be cut. In addition to those basic items, the weather makes the biggest demand on what gear to take.
Having checked the weather forecast, a seasoned scout sees the expected low temp is 55F and probability of rain is 30% so he gambles and leaves a heavier fleece at home knowing his poly undershirt, light sweater, and hooded raincoat will be ok. If it drops to 45F and rains all weekend, he recognizes he might be cold but not in danger.
On that same outing, a new scout might show up with a duffle bag bigger than the scout, packed with two fleeces, two sweatshirts, two pants, gloves, and mittens, but only a rain poncho. And, he'll wind up still being cold and miserable because he gets wet.

We don't expect scouts to be prepared for everything. A good scout plans ahead and prepares for what is most likely to happen, gets ready to improvise for what might happen, and doesn't waste time on what is highly unlikely to happen. The best way we can help new scouts pack adequately is to provide a simple packing list and the instruction that it is a starting point they can modify as they see fit.

Scout On
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Posted: 16:27 12-15-2008 380
Scout Gift Ideas

I've noticed a few of the items from Guyot Designs showing up on camping trips since we began using their Squishy Bowls last year. By the way, I really love my squishy bowl and it's holding up great!
One of the coolest items (that I'd never buy for myself, so it would have to be a gift) is their Firefly - a lid for your water bottle with a built-in light. It turns your bottle into a very cool nightlight/lantern.
It makes an excellent alternative to a campfire in your Leave No Trace situations and is just a bunch of fun. A scout in the troop has one and we actually have used it for a 'campfire' in a cabin and in no-campfire areas.



Our troop has had a rash of Life scouts over the past year and four of them are making Eagle in 2008. I've always enjoyed whittling on wood on our campouts so I started making personal fire pistons for those scouts reaching Eagle. I'm almost finished with my own son's gift! Now I've got to get started on one more kit here before Christmas so it's ready for the next court of honor.
More than just an interesting way to make fire from nothing but air, the wood just feels nice and warm once its carved, smoothed, and oiled. You can find wood kits for scouts at Wildersol.com along with other firestarting items.



Another classic fire starting method is Flint & Steel. Lots of scouts like to make sparks with those little strikers that are great for making a shower of sparks. That's a great way to learn how to create fire, but moving up to using a steel & flint gives more challenge. Creating the spark, catching it in duff, and coaxing it to a flame is a great confidence builder for the successful scout.
Some Eagle scout brothers sell a very nice flint & steel set that includes rock, steel, charcloth, oakum, and instructions all in a nice tin.
Visit Kris, Russ, and Ben at ScoutSkills.com


And, hey, if you want to browse awhile, you can always go to ScoutStuff.org and check out the BSA Monopoly game, B-P jigsaw puzzle, or official scout harmonica.

Scout On




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Posted: 12:43 12-11-2008 379
Moosejaw
The new Moosejaw catalog arrived today. Moosejaw is an outdoor clothing/gear company, something like REI, LL Bean, Patagonia, and friends. But, they are the FUNNIEST guys around!
You really should go to the Moosejaw website and sign up for their catalog. It's more entertaining than Boys' Life and you have to look all over every page for bits of humor.
The models in this new catalog are getting various sludgy foods dumped on them - like baked beans, cream corn, chocolate pudding. Now, I haven't looked at every page yet but I expect there may be some humor somewhere in it that isn't really suitable for the whole family, but I've not found it yet.

If you actually want to buy something, I'm sure they'll sell you stuff too.

Scout On
PS: Welcome to December - only 23 days to buy, buy, buy.
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Posted: 23:41 12-01-2008 378
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