Thursday, December 17, 2009

Training Awards

I've been putting together a list of all the training that the BSA provides. Some of the training is required, while some is optional. When I finish the list, I'll post it here, but I've got a little ways to go still.

The interesting thing to me in working on it was how few leaders in LDS troops actually do any of it, including the mandatory training. It's mandatory, folks. It would be scary to do an audit and see how many LDS troops are out of compliance. A lot of it is online now, so 'no time in my busy schedule' no longer applies as an excuse.

There are several knots for adults for completing training and for running the troop according to that training. I know a lot of leaders aren't interested in earning awards themselves, but working on these knots helps get you doing what you should be doing anyway. Get yourself and your boys trained, have some Courts of Honor, go on several campouts, be a merit badge counselor, go to roundtable, and hold a yearly planning meeting. Why would you be doing anything else but this?

I like earning awards so the boys know that I'm working on something, not just telling them what to do all the time, but there is a larger purpose. The adult awards are there for the same reason the boys have awards. They provide a path to follow to develop oneself into a better leader.

Fill out the paperwork, and get an award yourself at the next Court of Honor for running the troop like it should be run. If you're not doing what you need to get the awards, there is a major problem, and you need to get your troop in order (starting with yourself).

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Food Drive

Last Sunday a food drive was announced for this Saturday (today). I hadn't heard anything about there being a food drive, so my first thought was that the scouts would be the ones picking up the food.

I later forgot all about it until the 11 year old leader asked me if we needed help with the food drive. I said that as far as I knew we didn't, because we weren't in charge of it. I figured I'd ask the Bishop on Tuesday what the details were just in case, however.

I forgot to ask him.

Friday (yesterday) about noon, I got an email from him asking if we were ready for it. I told him that we would be ready for it, but that until that point, no one had told us anything about it. Occasionally other groups like the Varsities or Elders will be in charge of this kind of project, but deep down inside I knew it was probably us.

So we called all our boys late last night, most of which said they'd be there. Two of them came. We really didn't need much more than that, since there was very little to pick up, due to the lack of advertising. There were no fliers and no multiple weeks of announcements building up to it, not to mention a plethora of other food and supply drives by various community organizations recently that is probably stretching thin the supply of cans of nonperishable food that people bought and then realized they don't like and are thus willing to donate.

I didn't get the final count, since I consolidated the food from my truck into my ASM's truck, and he was going to take it to the food bank, but we probably had about 75 cans or boxes of food, plus a 25 pound bag of flour.

Not bad for a last minute service project.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


We had an Eagle Court of Honor recently for Alex, one of my Scouts. They are always nice to have. I was especially happy that the family didn't arrange to have a live eagle there like another family had last year.

I know that it is a pretty rare occasion to have someone actually earn the Eagle award, but from the number of people I know who are Eagles, it seems like it should be more common. That's okay, though. It's nice to have something that really takes sustained effort over several years to complete. Of course, everyone has stories of Scouts whose mom really earned their Eagle for them or whose Advancement Committee passed them along too easily, but even with a few Paper Eagles floating around, it's still a big accomplishment. That said, some of the best leaders I know topped out at Life. There is more to being a good person than being an Eagle Scout, but it's generally a pretty good sign that someone is a hard worker.

Like I said, I haven't seen very many of these awarded. Part of the reason is that I've moved around a little. I had worked hard to really motivate my first group of Scouts, and they were on fire. They had rank advancements and merit badges like crazy. Then they turned 14 and moved on to Varsity Scouts. That's the point in time where it gets harder to motivate them to work on advancement. They are often active and excited about the program still, just that they get stuck on the hard required merit badges that they've been putting off. I had a bit of a surprise when I had to repeat the process again with my next group, but now I know to expect it.

Having moved to a new ward and being switched around a little between Scouts and Varsities, I've never really had a boy earn his Eagle who I really felt like I had that big of a role in helping him get there. Most of my beginning Scouts either fizzled out when they got older or did eventually earn their Eagle under a different leader. I've also had the opposite a couple times, where one of my boys earned their Eagle but for whom I was made a leader over just as he was wrapping things up.

I've been trying to figure out where Alex fits in. I've been his Scoutmaster the entire time he's been in. In LDS troops, the Scoutmaster doesn't work a ton with the 11 year olds, although I think we should do more with them. A lot of 11 year old Scout leaders don't actually realize they are an ASM to the SM in the ward. They are discouraged from having many activities together, and the 11 year olds are limited on the number of campouts they can go on. That said, Alex actually came and worked on several of the required merit badges we were doing together, even though he was still in the 11 year old patrol. So I did work with him more his first year than I have most 11 year olds. And I've been with him for almost two years since he turned 12. He's almost 14 now. Alex's dad used to be SM, and his mom has worked a lot with Cub Scouts. So, as it should be, he worked on a lot of merit badges on his own, since his parents knew what they were doing.

Of course I helped with things, being the Scoutmaster, but not much more than any of my other Scouts who didn't have parents to help keep them motivated and get the rest of it done. So is seeing Alex earn his Eagle while I was working with him simply representative of all the boys I've worked with who haven't finished their Eagle?

He gave me the Mentor pin, which comes with the Mother and Father pins. It was funny as the Committee Chairman and I were helping him and his parents present each other with their awards, and as I explained what the Mentor pin was for, I heard his dad whispering to him to give it to me. Alex is pretty quiet and reserved, so he just sort of took the pin and didn't do anything, not having been coached beforehand about what he was supposed to do with it. So I just moved on. I wasn't about to stand there and hold out my hand for him to give it back to me, especially if he had someone else in mind to give it to. I was pretty sure he didn't have anyone else in mind. I didn't even know there was such a pin when I got my Eagle. In fact, after seeing one awarded when I was a leader, I went back through my box of Scouting stuff and pulled out my Eagle award case. Lo and behold, there was a Mentor pin sitting in there that I never knew about and thus never gave to anyone. I wonder if one of my Scout leaders was there at my Court of Honor hoping I'd give him the Mentor pin that I didn't know was there.

After the whole thing was over, when everyone was eating delicious Sam's Club cake, he came over to me and said, "Hey Smyth" and tossed the pin to me without really saying anything else. It was totally Alex. It was all that needed to be said. I wouldn't have expected anything else from him. At the same time, it just makes it all the more weird.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Our Cookies

Last week we made some cookies at my ASM's house to bring to people who were helping with our camp fundraiser. His wife was listening to us make cookies in the kitchen and got worried that we were messing up the recipe. She came in when we were almost done with the first batch and gave us some pointers. She then proceeded to mix up the second batch of cookies for us.

It was her kitchen and recipe and ingredients. But it was our cookies. It's unfortunate when adults are so worried about the boys failing at something that they do it for them. The way I look at it, if we have to do it for them, we have failed.

By the way, both batches of cookies were delicious. Other than the different type of chips we mixed in the two batches, you couldn't tell the difference even though the first ones were mixed up wrong.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Not if I can help it

Last year, the teachers and priests in our ward had been planning a cooking/recipe/food night, where people would bring food, share recipes, and most importantly, eat. I happened to be out in the hall when someone was talking about it, and I mentioned that we'd be happy to join in with them as well. The Bishop was close by and stated something about how they didn't think to invite us, since we'd probably be working on a merit badge that night. My reply was that we would be working on a merit badge that night...Cooking, and that we'd be glad to join them.

How quickly some people forget that there are over 120 merit badges out there. When in doubt, I always assume that no matter the activity someone wants to do, there is likely a merit badge for it. Studying history, surfing the Internet, fixing cars, starting a business, attending a concert, wakeboarding, going to the dentist, and giving your dog a bath are all disparate activities with a common link in that they can all be done as part of various merit badges. Even the ubiquitous standby basketball can be justified within the realm of the Sports merit badge.

For the last couple years, we've had a combined activity where each class makes a church-related video that we watch all together. The guys who had driven the activity in the past have now graduated, but as I had hoped, it was on the table again this year. I am happy to spend several weeks putting our video together all in the name of the Cinematography merit badge, since it's something that I've enjoyed learning more about.

We spent this last week brainstorming, coming up with several funny and interesting ideas about costumes, storylines, and soundtracks for our feature. Then a few days later, we heard the bad news that the activity was a no-go. Between lack of interest from the teachers and priests and outright rebellion from the laurels, not to mention a leaf raking service project we were asked to do, the video night was doomed.

Unfortunately for everybody else, when the deacons and I get excited about something, we find a way to do it anyway. So the plan is to let them cancel/postpone the activity in favor of raking leaves, and wait a couple months until it is our turn to be in charge of the combined activity. Now instead of having everyone film the movies beforehand, the filming will be the activity.

We'll give everyone a video camera, a random bucket of props, a scripture story, and 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, we get back together to watch the videos and have some popcorn. The benefit this way is that the playing field is leveled, given the limits on time, equipment, and storyline.

Of course, instead of spending just two or three weeks on our video like we originally would have, we will now spend two or three months covertly putting it together. I hope that the boys will really come up with something great to tie everyone else's scripture stories together. Part of the motivation, besides just the fun of it, will come from convincing the boys that we're doing this activity to stick it to the people who wanted to cancel it. It often takes some kind of competition to motivate the boys to really be creative and stay focused on something.

I know that as much as we were looking forward to the activity before, my ASM and I are really getting excited now.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I hear often from some of my family or friends who have been minimally involved in Scouts that they think all the little songs, skits, and cheers are ultra-lame. Whenever I try to explain their purpose, the response is just, "Oh, well there's the big Scouter, blah, blah, blah." That, my friends, is called an ad hominem logical fallacy, which means that they don't take my argument seriously because it comes from me instead of analyzing the actual merits of the argument.

The thing is, I don't particularly get that excited about all the cheers and cheesy songs myself. However, when you go to camp and the staff teaches the Scouts a bunch of new silly songs, you will inevitably catch the boys singing the songs later, whether the next day or even months later. They stick, because the boys enjoy them. Scouters don't do silly cheers and songs because they enjoy them but because the boys enjoy them. It's all about the boys.

I was thinking about this tonight because I just got home from a high school football game. The game was a good one, other than being a little bit cold. As I listened to some of the cheers that the cheerleaders performed, I began asking myself who in the world makes up these stupid cheers. I've been to a lot of college games recently, but it's been a long time since I went to a high school game.

Suddenly, the connection was made. I could clearly feel the uncomfortable feeling that many people have doing or watching some silly song and dance. I also watched the student section during several of the little ditties as the whole student body joined in dancing, chanting, and singing with them. It wasn't much different than the cheesy stuff we sing at Scouts, and it was for kids about the same age as my Scouts, yet to most people there it didn't seem weird. In the context, both make sense, but it can be hard to commit yourself to the context.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


We had one of our troop alumni, Matt, attend camp for a couple days. He came up for two reasons. The most obvious reason was to participate with us on our hike day. One day at the camp we attended is dedicated to going on one of several hikes into some beautiful wilderness area. It's a highlight for many. It's dreaded by some, if they're not prepared or not in shape. But that's another post.

I'll get to the less obvious reason Matt came up to camp shortly.

First I wanted to foray briefly into a book I read recently, On My Honor by Jay Mechling. It's a really interesting book. Mechling creates a fictional summer camp based on actual events that happened on his visits to a certain troop's summer camp over a period of several decades. He delves into all kinds of deep topics regarding human behavior and why boys and leaders do the things they do at camp. The author was a Scout himself and while he honors the BSA, he doesn't pull any punches in his analysis and assessment either.

I don't want to go too much into the main themes of his behavioral studies, but rather mention a few interesting things from the book. The first is the length of the camp. This particular troop would go to camp for three weeks! The first week, while dads and older scouts set up the camp, the troop goes on a 50 mile backpacking trip. They then spend two weeks at the main camp, earning merit badges and participating in all kinds of fun activities. I'm not sure I could handle three weeks. 5-6 days seems to generally be plenty. They also have 4-5 patrols, up to 50 boys in the troop, which you would never see in an LDS troop.

While reading the book, I looked back on my own experience both as a boy and as a leader. While some things in the book were different from how I experienced them, many things were eerily similar, even comparing an LDS to a non-LDS troop.

Thinking about Matt's second reason for attending camp made me think of another tradition in Mechling's book. The adults had their own stash of treats, including alcohol, in their campsite where the boys were not allowed to go. When troop alumni would come to visit, they would bring beer and various snacks to share at the adult campsite.

Drinking alcohol on any BSA event is questionable but absolutely out of place with an LDS troop, so I'm happy that Matt didn't come up to camp to get drunk. :) But one of the big reasons Matt came up to camp was so that he could bring chips and salsa and not share them with the younger boys. Only adults could eat them. And he could. Because he was now an adult. He drove four hours each way over terrible roads into the mountains so he could hike and eat chips that the boys were not allowed to eat.

Matt's mom is Sister Smyth's visiting teacher, so for two months in a row, his mom told my wife all sorts of stories about camp. Well, to clarify, she told all the same stories in both her July and August visits. I'm afraid her visits aren't doing anything to help Sister Smyth understand or appreciate Scouting.

She told Sister Smyth about Matt's chips. I didn't need to hear her story since I was there to witness it in person as I was eating chips with Matt when my ASM's son, who is one of the younger boys in the troop and also about the nicest, most helpful kid you could find, came to get a chip. Matt had his glorious moment of denying the young scout a chip. My ASM wasn't very appreciative of the slight, but he did eat some chips and salsa anyway. Matt's mom made a point of talking about how these chips were a tradition in the troop. Matt had been denied chips and salsa for years and upon coming of age could now partake and help to pass on the tradition.



Is it still a tradition if we didn't do it last year? Matt's dad came up to camp with us last year and didn't bring chips. I had never heard of it before, and if someone did tell me about it, it didn't make enough of an impression on me that I remembered it or actually did it. I don't plan on doing it next year. Am I wrong for throwing away 10 years' worth of tradition?

Giving the boys letters from their parents telling them how much their family appreciates them...great tradition. Requiring everyone who doesn't have the Environmental Science MB to take that class at camp...indispensable tradition. Having the boys plan the menus and cook our own food...I have some great cooking techniques and recipes now from watching 13 year olds carry out their assignment to be in charge of a meal because of this tradition.

Not sharing my treats with the boys even though a lot of them are pretty generous with sharing the treats they bring with everyone else...not really a tradition that interests me much.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Camp Wrap-up

We ended up having a good camp this year. Like I've said before, it's always stressful getting ready for camp, but in the end it always turns out fine. I felt strangely prepared for this camp, which is weird, because we actually left more things home that we needed than we usually do.

We had the most boys ever this year, which is a good way to follow last year, which was the fewest I ever had attend a week-long camp. We had a boy come who doesn't turn 12 for a few more months, plus another boy who had just moved out of our ward.

I had been worried about bringing our own food and dealing with the camp bear boxes. I absolutely refuse to do a cafeteria unless that is the only option at a particular camp. Last year we did the commissary, where the camp provides you food and you cook it. I disliked the commissary, like I knew I would, so we decided to bring our own this year. The bear boxes were plenty large to fit all our food, which had been my main concern, so that ended up working out fine.

I had gone to the store to buy the food late Saturday night. We had planned the menu with the boys a few weeks before. Time-wise, it just didn't work out to have all the boys come help do the shopping, but normally I have them do that with me. I spent about $200, checking out about 5 minutes before the Sabbath began. At church, I talked to another SM who had just bought the food for their troop. After he told me they spent $500 for about the same number of kids, I went back to the store about 1 a.m. Monday morning and bought another $100 worth of food. For about 15 people each day, we spent $20 per person. I just can't bring myself to pay $70 per person for the commissary and have so little control over what we get to eat. We eat much better for less than a third of the cost. I'm still kicking myself for not bringing our own food last year.

We had Dutch Oven pizza, chicken and rice, hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, Dutch Oven potatoes, quesadillas, nachos, pancakes, Dr. Pepper chicken, cobbler, s'mores, and more. There was plenty of food to go around. Some days we ate it all and some days we didn't, but there was always enough. A good trick is to bring a couple extra loaves of bread and PB&J material so if anyone doesn't like the planned meal, they can make themselves a sandwich.

Food aside, we did pretty well in terms of advancement. Most of the boys who didn't go last year worked on First Aid and Wilderness Survival in camp with one boy's dad who is a doctor, plus Environmental Science and a couple other badges. I always require that boys complete Environmental Science at camp if they come and don't have it yet. Most of the newer boys also got almost everything passed off towards their 1st class ranks. We'll have them all passed off soon. The boys who came with us last year to camp all earned 6 or 7 merit badges last year, and unfortunately most of them only got 1 or 2 this year and not much in the way of rank advancements. I'm not too worried about them, but I just feel bad I didn't push the older boys harder to get more done.

I didn't take a ton of time pushing them, since I was going to the BSA Lifeguard class. You really should have a Lifeguard if you do any water activities. I had done it 3 years ago at camp, so it was just expiring. I need to complete my CPR and First Aid certifications with the Red Cross, and then I'll be done. It's kind of weird how everybody gets Safety Afloat and Safe Swim Defense trained all the time, and one of the required items is a Lifeguard, yet nobody ever goes and gets Lifeguard trained. I think it's a fun class to do, even in the cold water. I also like it, because the boys see that I'm going to class and earning stuff just like they are. The downside is that while I'm in class, I can't be reminding the boys that they need to go to class.

We had 4 boys attempt the mile swim and 3 complete it. One was three-quarters done and going at a great pace when he got a cramp in his leg and had to stop. I was almost tempted to try it myself. I've been swimming for a triathlon I participated in recently, plus the Lifeguard class. I'm sure I could have done it. Maybe next year if we go to a camp with a warmer lake and I remember to bring my Speedo and goggles.

I had several dads come up for a couple days throughout the week, which is always nice to see. Later as I was thinking about it and talking with Sister Smyth about who came up, I noticed a pattern I hadn't ever noticed before. Having been to camp quite a few years in a row now, and thinking back on what dads came this year and other years, I haven't been able to think of any dad who came up to camp, whether for just a day or two or the whole week, who hadn't been a Scout leader. One of the dads, the former SM, had talked about how he didn't understand how a dad wouldn't want to come spend time with his son at camp. My dad never came to camp with me. I mean, we went camping as a family and on Fathers and Sons outings, but he never came on a BSA campout with me. I never expected him to. That's just my experience, so not a very large sample size, but a definite pattern repeated year after year.

Showers were kind of strange on this camp. Most, if not all, of the camps in our council have installed heated showers with individual stalls. Gone are the days of an open shower room with just cold water. In spite of the private, heated showers, it always seems hard to get the boys to take showers. Usually by the end of the week, you can tell who's been doing it and who hasn't. I normally end up showering a couple times during the week. Some of the camps with really nice lakes, however, aren't too bad, since you spend so much time in the water that you almost don't even need to shower. Almost.

So this year, the boys were almost obsessed over taking showers. We were supposed to sign up for 2 times for our troop to shower during the week. They complained that it wasn't going to be enough. I was pleasantly surprised. One of them actually refused to do the Polar Bear, which consists of sitting in a freezing cold stream for 10 seconds, since he wouldn't have time to shower after the Polar Bear before the next classes. Why he needed to shower after dipping into a stream for a few seconds, I don't know.

Since I was doing the Lifeguard class, I was in the water a lot, so I kept in pretty good shape in the smell department. On Wednesday, I was feeling the need, but it just so happened that something went wrong with the showers and they were not functional. I don't mind too much going a couple days, but pushing 3 days without a shower is not good. On Thursday, the shower was working again in the morning. All the boys went down and showered. Around noon, after my Lifeguard class, I headed over to warm myself up and clean off, but alas, the water was off again. Around dinnertime, some more of the boys went down and showered. I was helping with dinner, so didn't get down right away. That night after dinner, I headed down to try again. No water again. I was so confused. I even headed over to the lodge and asked someone about it, thinking that maybe the water did work; I just didn't know how to turn it on. Perhaps there were two shower houses, and I was going to the broken one. Nope. There was just one, and the girl confirmed that the water was out in the lodge as well. That night, I had a dream that I had gone to the showers and found this lever I had missed before and was able to get the hot water to flow. Friday always ends up being hectic, trying to wrap everything up and get ready to leave. I ended up going the whole week without showering until I got home. Again, I was in the water a lot and changed my clothes and put on deodorant often anyway, but even so, that's just not right.

One of the best experiences I had was sharing a little spiritual experience with the boys and giving them letters from their parents during the overnight canoe trip. I hadn't ever done it before, but it's something my current troop has generally done, and I plan on continuing to do in the future. It worked out even better than I'd imagined. I highly recommend doing it one night, whether or not the camp has an overnight canoe option. You can just do it in camp, but I think doing it away across the lake provides a little more intimate, serene environment.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


To some people, even the mention of the word 'committee' strikes fear into their hearts. In my day job, committees are a mixed bag. They slow down processes, yet at the same time serve to provide job security; since everything moves at such a glacial pace, nobody ever loses their job.

To a Scoutmaster, the Troop Committee should be a time saver. Surely some places there are committees that get in the way of the SM. In my experience so far, Troop Committees in LDS troops are all but nonexistent, so they neither get in the way nor save any time. We have a chairman now, Brother McEvoy, but he's often out of town. He does an okay job if I stay on top of him, always telling him what he should be doing. The problem is that I can barely stay on top of a dozen kids that need me to tell them what they should be doing, let alone tell the committee chairman how to do his job as well.

So it's time to head off to camp, and Brother McEvoy is out of town as usual. I spent most of today and yesterday finishing paperwork, buying food, and arranging another vehicle for one of the dads who had something at work pop up and couldn't help transport us to camp.

I'll be buying a few more last minute things I forgot last night in about half an hour when the Sabbath is over, finishing packing my own things, getting a couple hours of sleep, and then heading out to camp. One of my paperwork things was to print off a current record of all the boys' advancement so I know where everybody is at. I thought Brother McEvoy was on top of keeping the computer up to date, but as I'm printing things off, I'm seeing quite a few things that I know boys have earned but are not in the computer. Grrrr...

As I was driving home yesterday from a family reunion (why I've scheduled family reunions in back to back weeks with Scout Camp two years in a row is another blog post), trying to get a bunch of last minute things worked out over the phone, I commented to Sister Smyth how it would be nice if I didn't have to arrange transportation, collect physicals and money, sign boys up for merit badge classes, buy the food, order the t-shirts, and all the other stuff that goes along with getting up to camp. She said, "Isn't that your job?" I guess our next FHE may have to be the online troop committee training. If the SM's wife doesn't understand the benefits of a well-oiled committee, I don't know how anyone else in the ward is going to.

Monday, July 13, 2009


I mentioned that we would be going on a backpacking trip, and the weather actually cooperated on this one. The most annoying weather-related incident was finding out as I filled out the tour permit that I needed to have some new hazardous weather training. Other than that, the weather was just about perfect. It was warm but overcast. We hiked four miles in, our destination a high mountain lake. I hadn't been backpacking with this group of Scouts, and I was pleasantly surprised at how prepared they were. Several of them learned important things about what to bring or not when backpacking but it wasn't too painful.

We actually had all our boys but three attend. We're an average size LDS troop, with nine boys. It's just enough that we could probably split into two patrols but that we don't have to. Three of the six boys who chose to come skipped baseball games to be there. One of the boys who chose not to come chose to play in his game. His dad is the coach and called me to tell me how broken up his son was that he couldn't come camp with us. I don't know if he really was sad or not, but life is all about choices, and I'll never get on anyone for choosing something good, given two good things to choose from.

The problem I do have is with the other two boys who didn't come. They claimed they had to do something for lacrosse, even though the lacrosse season ended several months ago. They actually wanted to stay for a neighborhood ping pong tournament. You know what, that's cool, too. The ping pong tournament is a big tradition run by one of their families. So go to the tournament. It's not like I don't know it's happening. But no, they lied, thinking that I would understand their missing the backpack trip for lacrosse but that I wouldn't understand if it was ping pong.

I've already told both of them multiple times that coming to activities or not is their choice. I don't get upset if they're not there. Yes, we miss them, but we can also get along without them. One of them keeps trying to fire me up, telling me he's not going to our week-long camp. I already have his deposit and physical, so I know he's going. But even if he wasn't, it doesn't rip me apart if he chooses to go to football practice instead.

They missed out on a great backpacking trip, not me. I was there, lying in my one man tent, miles from civilization, sipping ice cold water from a glacier-fed spring, staring up through the mesh roof at the stars above, wondering when the boys who were there would stop reading 'yo mama' slams off their iPod Touches and go to sleep already.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Wait a minute; this sounds like rock and/or roll.

I've always looked young, and so many other Scout leaders I know are a bit older than me, so I generally feel pretty young. I've had some experiences recently that have made me feel old, though. It doesn't have anything to do with the guy who called me Sir last week, but that didn't help either. It has to do with music, which has the power to amplify or cancel out emotions, depending on the situation.

Rewind back 3 or 4 years, and I was running a couple of my Scouts to their houses to grab their books or something that they needed. On our way there in my truck, they were looking at some of my CDs, one of which was a Van Halen album, probably Balance. I asked them if they like Van Halen, and they replied that they had never heard of them. I was floored.

Fast forward a couple years, and I was relating the above experience to my ASM. He likes the same kind of music that I do, and neither of us like the crap that kids listen to these days. He just pointed out it's always like that. Every generation has different music that they like. It just made me stop and think that I was getting old. I'm out of touch with the current generation. I seriously hate the music, if you can call it that. But everything I can think of that's bad about it is pretty much the same thing you hear of any parent complaining about the music their kids listen to.

I really think that hip hop music is worse than what I listen to. Of course, really thinking about it, some of the songs I like are not entirely appropriate, but for some reason it seems different and not as bad. Maybe music is getting worse. Maybe it's not, but I can't judge, because I'm out of touch.

Anyway, fast forward to just recently on the way home from a campout. I had a kind of weird mix CD in my truck that someone had made, so one of the boys popped it in the CD player. It doesn't much matter the purpose of the CD, except that it had a song by The Manhattan Transfer on it. I'm not necessarily a big fan of them, but I appreciate their music and understand the style of it. During a part of the song, where they hold a note and slowly drop the pitch, one of the boys complained that 'those guys are really bad singers'. I assume it was because they couldn't hold the pitch steady, not realizing that they do it on purpose just because they can. I'm not totally sure. It was just another reminder of how old I am. While I'm not a big fan of The Manhattan Transfer, like I said, I appreciate their music much more than I do Jay-Z or Soulja Boy. The boys now either dislike or have never heard of the music I like or even marginally appreciate. And I don't think there's anything that anyone can do about it, except hope that whatever replaces hip-hop is something better. I'm not holding my breath.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Dr. Pepper Chicken

We had a campout this weekend. With as much rain as we've been having lately, we changed the scheduled backpack outing into a car camp. Next month we have a great backpacking trip on the schedule, so I don't feel too bad about it.

One benefit to car camping is that you can focus on playing games and cooking. With backpacking, you have to focus much more on the actual trip, making sure everyone has just the bare minimum of equipment so packs don't get too heavy. At the same time, you have to make sure you have everything you need, since you can't just drive back into town really quick to grab something you forgot.

Of course the boy, who complained last week that we only ever plan stuff and don't actually do anything, was there when we planned the campout and bought the food but had something more important come up and didn't come on the campout with us. He's the same one who wonders why he's never been called into any kind of leadership role. He's the second oldest in the troop, but only comes about half the time. He doesn't quite draw the connection between his flaky attendance and lack of what he would consider a prestigious position in the troop. We've been discussing making him a Patrol Leader or something that would give him a responsibility and see if it will motivate him to attend more.

The weather cooperated and dinner turned out pretty good. We did a fairly traditional Dutch Oven Potatoes recipe. The main course was Dr. Pepper Chicken. Basically, you mix a cup or two of Dr. Pepper or Pepsi with a bottle or two of barbecue sauce in a Dutch Oven. That's it for the sauce. Throw in a bunch of chicken breasts and let it boil away until done. With the Dr. Pepper mixed in, the chicken gets really tender without needing to be marinated beforehand. The other nice thing about it is that you can use cheap barbecue sauce. Normally I extremely dislike Kraft or store-brand barbecue sauces. I'll go cheap on a lot of things, but not on barbecue sauce. Adding Dr. Pepper turns any cheapo sauce into a gourmet sauce, plus you get to drink whatever is left over.

I supervised while the scouts cooked. It was fun to see them struggle with such simple tasks, partially because they just don't have the skills and partially because they didn't have all the equipment they needed. Sometimes I'll take more control and make sure we have everything we need and be really hands-on with the cooking. I'll always cook a really nice meal for the boys on the last day of our week-long summer camp, since they've been cooking all week long. But I also like letting the boys plan it all and forget certain things, since it helps them learn. If I always put all the equipment and supplies together myself, they likely won't remember what they need if I'm not there. If, on the other hand, they experience a campout without a nice knife and cutting board for preparing the chicken or cups to drink out of or plates to eat on or ketchup for their breakfast burritos, they'll remember for sure next time to put that stuff in.

This coming week's activity is going to be combined with all the Young Men. I'll be hooking up with a former Scoutmaster of our ward to do a Dutch Oven cooking demonstration. We haven't nailed down the menu yet, but it should be fun.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Testing the Scoutmaster

The soccer team of one of my daughters just had an end of season family picnic. We brought our dinner to the park and then played a little parents versus kids soccer game. It was a lot of fun.

The younger sister of one of my scouts is also on the team, so some of their family came. It was relatively peaceful until their ten year old brother decided he wanted to start harassing me. You SMs and ASMs all know what it's like. The kid just starts poking and prodding until he gets a reaction. You don't want to react, but you also don't want a bunch of grass stuffed down your shirt or smoke in your face or more than a couple small rocks or clumps of dirt thrown at you.

I've dealt very little with this particular boy, although I know he is very outgoing and playful, and he joins the troop later this year, so I figured it was a good time to start getting to know him. I was holding a baby and talking to him and a couple other people a little bit when he decided he wanted to start throwing grass at me. I made jokes about him getting grass on the baby and distracted him for a few minutes by having the baby give him five and other little tricks. As the clumps of grass got bigger, I started stiff-arming him to keep him away or grabbing his grass-filled hand with my one free hand and twisting it lightly behind his back.

He began to grow more determined to cover me in grass, and the party began to break up, so I decided I should leave. As I started grabbing handfuls of leftover food and garbage to take back to the car, he kept coming at me to throw more grass on me. I don't know if he just wanted to get one big clump on me and then leave, but I expect that he'd have kept coming with more. So I unscrewed the lid of my 2 quart water jug and he retreated. Every time I'd set the jug down and start picking up the rest of my stuff, he'd come at me again. So I hit him in the chest with an ice cube and chased him a little ways, splashing a small bit of icy water on him.

Again, as I returned to pick up my belongings, he came with more grass clippings, and I splashed more water on him. I had only a little bit of water left when I noticed another dad nearby leaning on a large 5 gallon jug. I asked if it had water in it still, and he replied that it did. I told him that we should pour it on him, thinking the boy would get smart and leave me alone. He didn't. The other dad said, "That's a decision only a Scoutmaster can make," which I thought was interesting, since I don't know how he would have known I was the SM. I think he could just tell by our interaction, that it was a classic SM dealing with a boy testing the boundaries. I replied that the decision had been made, and I grabbed him and held him while the other guy dumped a couple gallons of water and ice cubes on the boy.

He was surprised, to say the least. He found the boundary. His brother who was also there knowingly commented about how I had doused him at summer camp last year. He had also found the boundary. Hopefully by the time the younger one actually joins up with us, he'll remember to draw the line and leave me alone. My guess is that he'll have forgotten by then and will need to retest me. It's likely that the result will be the same.

A truck and a smile

My last post was supposed to be this post, but it kind of flowed out different than I expected it to. The one thing this post and my last one will have in common is a little bit of bagging on Young Women leaders.

As I mentioned before, the ladies are probably just a little bit better at making plans, having meetings to talk about their plans, and spending way too much time making curly little papers handouts to let everyone know what their plans are. While they do get a reputation of having their act together, they are generally less trained than the men and thus occasionally do some weird things. Maybe they don't need as much training, but the BSA has a lot of training available. Depending on the leadership in a ward or stake, when callings are extended to BSA positions, a new leader isn't necessarily always told that they need to attend training. Eventually most of us figure it out and do get at least minimal training. I wonder how much training the church would provide the men if the BSA didn't do so much for them.

One of the first and most common things that is stressed in training is safety. They drill many rules into your head. The biggest one of these is that you have to have at least two leaders and two boys to have an activity as part of the youth protection rules. A side note on this, a former assistant of mine, who was notorious for getting worked up if we had too many activities and campouts, went to one of the basic trainings. He got back, and I was excited to hear what he learned, since I've learned something important in all the training I've participated in. I was disappointed that instead of some great nugget of wisdom that could help us work better together, he learned that if you don't have at least two leaders, you should cancel an activity. The only thing he learned was a way to get out of an activity.

Anyway, after youth protection, one of the other most important and well-known rules is to never let scouts ride in the back of a truck or trailer. Everyone has to be in a seatbelt, inside the vehicle. You hear it all the time. I'm pretty sure it's on tour permit paperwork, for those of us who actually fill them out. You can't be a scout leader without knowing that you never put a scout in the back of your truck.

So the combined activity last week was a game of The Fugitive. Basically, the youth all had to get from a certain location a few blocks from the church to a park a few blocks on the other side of the church. The leaders had to catch them before they got to the park. I received a call from one of the young women in charge asking if I could bring my truck. What I understood is that I would have a bucket of water in the back that the leaders could use to refill their water guns, which they would use to shoot the fugitives they found.

When they started explaining all the rules, it was actually much different. Four of us, including myself, had trucks, and we were to drive around and shoot with water guns or yell the names of the youth we saw and then put them in the back of our trucks. They would then help us find more fugitives. Yikes. All the alarm bells started going off. The ladies were all calmly smiling and thinking about how fun the activity was going to be that they had put together. The men were nervously looking back and forth at each other, wondering if this was really happening. Were we actually going to have kids ride in the back of our trucks out in plain sight at an official activity? Was this approved by anyone? Did it need to be? Could it be? Every training we have ever had has always included 'no kids in the back of a truck'. I think we should have chased the youth on bikes or on foot, but it wasn't my activity.

The Bishop was there and didn't say anything, although he was noticeably uncomfortable. Since he didn't stop it, we proceeded. The activity ended up being fun, and no one was injured. At the end, I jokingly thanked the Bishop for approving such a wonderful activity. He just stood there with a knowing smile on his face, saying nothing. Yet at the same time, he said everything that needed to be said.

Failing to plan is planning to fail

People often think of Young Women leaders as having everything planned out and running perfectly, at least compared to Young Men and Scouting leaders. I would have to do a survey of some kind to tell for sure, but I'd almost guess the ladies would edge out the men on this one. I think they like sitting around talking more than the men do, so they have more meetings.

I don't always have everything planned out myself, but many times I'll have three to six months planned out. When I've planned out a whole years' worth of weekly activities, the plans change so much after a few months that it's not really worth going out that far. One of the biggest problems actually comes when you do plan way in advance and the Young Women come up with last minute things that throw your plans off. It always seems that when they are in charge of the combined activity, it's moved to a different week than normal, just because they can move it.

One Tuesday night a Young Women's leader made a comment about me not having a calendar when I mentioned that I didn't know a certain activity was coming up. I said that I did indeed have a calendar. She asked if it had anything on it. I happened to have a copy of it and showed her six months' worth of activities all listed out. She had no response to that.

So we've been struggling along a little the last few months, having finished our old calendar and not having made a new one. We finally have a solid three months planned out, and it feels so good. It really doesn't take too long to put together. I highly recommend it.

In my old ward, we would have all the boys get together and have an overnighter to plan for the coming year. We would meet all together to talk about combined things, then break out into our three classes to plan class activities and talk about summer camp ideas, and then get back together to go over what we came up with. We would play games every half an hour or so to keep everyone interested. It was great, because the boys were involved in choosing the activities and we coordinated with each other.

I haven't done as well at involving the boys in the planning in my current ward, because they're more ADHD in this ward than my last one. I mean, I've tried, but they end up just running around, not paying attention. One of these days, one of them will understand that when I ask them what they want to do, I really want them to tell me.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Why Camp?

One of my scouts doesn't particularly like so-called scouty stuff. He's much more into sports. The two are actually quite compatible (and not I'm not talking about just playing basketball in the gym every week). It makes more sense as you get into Varsities how sports really tie in, but there are plenty of merit badges and other activities that are very connected to sports even for the younger boys.

Anyway, a few months ago, we were talking about an upcoming campout, and this boy asked why we go on campouts. What's the purpose really? Who cares if we can sleep outdoors? Well, with as many boys as we have and with as many other things that we had going on right at that moment, his question kind of got lost, and I never got back to it. Every now and then it will pop back into my mind for a second but always when it's not a time we can talk about it.

Of course, there are many reasons we do so many outdoors activities: learning a love of nature, leaving behind parents and electronics, becoming self-reliant, practicing planning (and learning what happens if you fail to plan), getting away from the cares of the world and into a place where you can get in touch with God, and more. That's not to say those things always happen on every campout, but that's the goal.

So fast forward to this past week. I was talking with my wife about taking the family camping with some friends of ours. My friend and I had both enjoyed the Fathers and Sons Outing and thought we ought to get the rest of our families together and enjoy some nature together. My wife has never been a hard core camper. I'm lucky to get Sister Smyth out once a year, which is fine by me, since I get enough with the scouts. I feel bad for our kids who really enjoy it, though.

Usually she complains about how it takes so long to prepare, plan, go shopping, etc. I don't know what she's talking about. Throw the tent, sleeping bags, and Dutch Ovens in the van, stop by the grocery store to grab some chips, chicken, and barbecue sauce, and head up into the mountains. Give me an hour, and I'll be ready to go just about anywhere. If I'm really short on time, I can probably be ready for pretty much any car-camp in 20 minutes. On several occasions I have.

But this time the excuse was different. It wasn't about whether we could get ready on time, since I was giving her a weeks' notice. The problem that Sister Smyth brought up, which was a new one to me, was that she didn't like camping. Why not? Because once it hits about 8 p.m., it's too dark, and there's nothing to do. Now in the middle of the summer, that's probably stretching it, since you can usually see well past 9 o'clock. With the scouts, that's the perfect time to start playing Capture the Flag and other night games or else sit around the fire and talk.

Whether you play Mafia, roast s'mores, stare silently at the burning embers, share a spiritual thought, tell fart jokes, plan the hike for the next day, or do all of the above at the same time, that time is precious. Everyone is together. If you slip too far away from the campfire, you're in the cold and dark. If you get too close, you get smoke in your face. That is when the bonding happens. There is no agenda. There is no deadline. Everyone is equal sitting around the campfire.

The fact that there is nothing to do after 8 o'clock is precisely the reason we camp.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Two months and counting

In two months we head out to our week-long scout camp. So far it looks like we'll have a large number of boys attend. As always, someone will drop out at the last minute, and I'll have to figure out what to do about the money that was already paid for him to attend. It's always one of the ones that doesn't pay his deposit, but we pay for him anyway assuming he'll get it in.

This year I've handed all the money collection and camp registration over to the troop committee, like I've tried doing in the past. Hopefully this time it will stick, and I won't end up having to do most of it myself. I'm sure it's coming, though. Being a fully BSA-trained scoutmaster, I'm well aware of the way the committee should work. Being a Mormon scoutmaster, I'm well aware that I end up having to do all the work myself.