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.