November Campout -- Another Activity

We had a great camping trip this weekend. The Varsity Team that that has been integrated with us for the last several months cut the cord this time and we went to two separate locations. I think this was a good step for both groups. While we're both a bit smaller, we each had to take some steps to stand on our own. I can't speak for the Varsity Scouts, but the Boy Scouts certainly rose to the challenge.

In addition to enjoying the beautiful scenery at Maple Lake (and some good food -- mmmm, scotch egs make a great breakfast), we also worked on a pair of unity building activities as part of my woodbadge ticket.

The first one was a group sharing thing, as we sat around the campfire I asked each person to share a favorite scout memory. While I was interested in the answers, my bigger desire was to get everyone talking and opening up a bit about scouting and things they each enjoyed.

A bit later, we went around the fire again. This time, each scout was asked to talk about a point of the Scout Law and what it meant to him. We went around the fire a couple of times to complete all twelve points. It was interesting to hear them talk about some pretty deep topics. Neal, my Assistant Scoutmaster, and I asked leading questions when the discussion seemed to flounder. I think it was a good experience for all of us.

We also did a physical exercise. We had each boy sit in a circle, facing outwards. Then they linked elbows and stood up. It took a bit of work for them to get organised and standing, but they did it.

As we drove down and out of Payson canyon, we held a short self assessment on our recent activities, and set some goal for improvement in December. This is a great way to close out a camping trip.


Great Western Trail Reports

Sometimes people ask my why I think the Order of the Arrow is an important adjunct to the Boy Scout program. There are a lot of reasons, but the biggest is that the OA provides additional opportunities for scouts to grow and learn.

Most of these opportunities come from participation in the chapter and lodge by arrowmen. Some of them are open to all scouts though. A great example of this is the Utah National Parks' Great Western Trail award. There are a number of ways to earn this ward, but all of them involve writing a 150 word report about your experience backpacking and doing service on the trail.

Getting out onto the trail is a good thing, working on a service project approved by the wilderness management agency is even better. Imagine the impact of going out and doing all of that, then coming home and writing about it to cement the ideas, memories, and insights in your mind.

Here are some excerpts from what my scouts wrote in their reports about our experiences on the trail:

Many things made me want to go on the trek. [Another scout] said it was going to be awesome. I also love to camp. And it would just be a good experience to look back on.

[I had] lots of fun backpacking with the scouts. [I liked] the big meadow where we spent both nights, it was fun. ... [Now I want to do] more, better service projects and more activities to help the community. I want to go on other parts of the Great Western Trail.

[I felt] like my service was appreciated. It makes me want to treat [the trail] with more respect than I have been doing before. ... [When I hike on other trails], I will feel much more grateful for those men, women, and children that gave up their time to make it look better and keep it clean.

I remember [our service] was hard work but the payoff was great, it was good to help the trail. It improved my outlook on [service] because of the satisfaction of doing it.

I remember cutting off all the branches on the trail hanging over and how fun it was to cut down a really big one. Ranger Polly taught us ... what to cut down and how to be safe with the [tools].

It made me see that just doing service does not mean it has to be boring, it can be really fun and cool. It made me feel good that someone ... noticed what we did.
I'm really glad that the OA put together a program that let my scouts get a better picture of what they can do ... not just in terms of backpacking and camping, but in terms of service and responsibility.


More Wood Badge Thoughts (including ticket ideas)

After attending a pack meeting last night to support my wife and her wold den, and looking forward to a PLC meeting and troop meeting tonight, I find myself thinking about Wood Badge. I can't tell you how worthwhile I think the training is, but I can share with you what President Dahlquist (the LDS General Young Mens' President) said about it:

[P]repare yourselves constantly for your calling with the young men of the Aaronic Priesthood by getting properly trained for your calling. ... We encourage you to become appropriately trained so you can make the best of this wonderful resource to the priesthood. If you are new (or even if you have been in your calling for some time), yet have never been appropriately trained, go to www.scouting.org and begin your training now, online. Begin with Fast Start training, then basic and leader specific training, and then Wood Badge. ...

We are gratified with the reports from the field that priesthood leaders, including stake presidents and their counselors, bishops and their counselors, and Young Men leaders on both stake and ward levels are beginning to take the importance of this training seriously. If you haven’t already, we encourage you to sign up now for the next Wood Badge course in your council.

I think that's a pretty clear message. So, what if you're already sold on Wood Badge, and you're just looking for some ticket ideas? I can't write your tickets for you, but I'd love to share some ideas.

If you're involved with Cub Scouts:
  • How well is your unit doing with Character Connections activities? Holding these frequently and doing a good job with them will help improve packs, dens, families, and individual cub scouts.
  • Is your unit using the activity belt loop and pin program to encourage the boys to learn about athletic and academic topics beyond their rank advancement requirements? Maybe you could host an activity pin Pow Wow.
  • It can be hard for some families to help their boys earn the Bobcat award. Developing a 'Bobcat Packet' with ideas and activities could be a good project.
If you work with Boy Scouts or a Varsity Team:
  • Could your unit do something to support cub scouts? What about putting on a Webelos Woods, or hosting a Wolf, Bear, or Webelos advancement Pow Wow? Help your boys learn to love serving as they help the cubs advance along the scouting trail.
  • Does your troop provide a solid outdoor program? Year round camping, earning the national campoing award (or stepping up to the next level if you've already earned it) or incorporating hiking into your program could all be worthwhile goals.
  • Do your scouts enjoy the benefits of the Order of the Arrow? You could hold unit elections, encourage involvement in your lodge or chapter, or get involved in the OA's Scoutreach Mentoring program.
  • You could promote NYLT attendance (or encourage previous attendees to help staff an NYLT session).
No matter what kind of scouting unit you serve in:
  • You could become a merit badge counselor.
  • You could encourage adult attendance at Roundtable and/or Wood Badge.
  • You could learn about the Scout Parents program and encourage its implementation in your unit and district.
These three lists aren't exhaustive (and I left our venturing, because I just don't know enough about it), but I hope they're helpful to someone who's looking for ticket ideas.


Parents' Night: Sep 2008

Last night, Troop 37 stretched themselves a little bit more. For the first time in several years, we held a parents night. 80% of our scouts were there, and all of their parents made it too. We even had a member of our chartering organization make it out.

Without having any real experience in running (or even attending) something like this, it was a big step for the boys to plan and conduct the meeting. I think they did awfully well though. Some things ran a bit long and others fell off the agenda, but we ended on time, provided some value to everyone who came, and enjoyed peach cobbler when it was over. I don't think you can ask for too much more than that.

I'm certain our next parents' night (in Mar 2009) will be better planned, better run, and better attended. I don't think I'll be any more proud of my scouts for the way they handle it or the things they talk about though.

The agenda our Senior Patrol Leader and I came up with looked like this:
  • Opening — prayer, pledge of allegiance, scout oath and law
  • Welcome the attendees
  • Review last 6 months activities — The boys ran this presentation, they focused more on the outdoor activities and less on weeknight stuff, next time I'd like to balance this better. We also ran too long, a rehearsal will probably help that next time.
  • Preview of the upcoming 6 months — I think better rehearsal, and more reliance on our program plan will help make this more useful next time. The boys did a good job though.
  • Scoutmaster's corner — I sprinted through six topics in six minutes. Hopefully it was as motivational as I wanted it to be, we'll see how many of our parents step up and get more involved.
  • Closing and refreshments — Our chartering organization representative gave us a closing prayer, and the boys served up the cobbler they made. I think we ended on a high note.
Next time, instead of a lecture format, I think it might be fun to run different stations presenting what we've done, what we're planning on doing, and how the parents can be more involved. Promoting Timberline is going to be another important goal in March.


Almost an Eagle

A friend from Wood Badge sent my wife and I an email today asking for our prayers on behalf of her son, who's rapidly running out of time to earn his Eagle Scout award. This is a topic that hits close to home since I was 'almost an Eagle'. Here's my response (I've left out our friend's name and her son's, since that's not really the point).

At the time, it didn't seem like not earning my Eagle was going to cost me very much. My car, my job, and girls seemed so much more important at the time. Now, over 20 years later, I have to laugh at the thought of the Dodge Omni I drove. I don't even list my job from the time on a resume. I can't think of the last time I thought of one of the girls I went to school with. On the other hand, there are several times a month that I wish I'd put in the effort needed to earn my Eagle Scout award.

Scouting taught me many things: how to hike and camp in good weather or bad, how to work with others and how to lead them, how to cook in a dutch oven, the list goes on and on. I have lots of great memories: backpacking through Philmont, canoeing in the Boundary Waters, camping with Scouts from all over Europe, singing camp songs with 20,000 scouts at a national jamboree — but the memory that comes to mind most often is that I didn't earn my Eagle.

I feel like I owe a huge debt to the Scout leaders how helped me along — and I feel like I let them all down by quitting when the end was in sight. I could have been an Eagle Scout, but I'm not and I only have myself to blame. I wish I could help scouts today learn from my mistake. I try to encourage my son, and the scouts in my troop to keep on going, to earn their merit badges, to plan and carry out an eagle project, and to earn their Eagle.

The eagle isn't just another rank or award — it's a symbol of what you can be, it's a starting point for a life of service, it's a mark of brotherhood with the many others who have 'stuck to it' and become better for it.

Praying for [your son] is the least I can do. If you think it will help, please let him know how important I think earning his eagle will be.

Tri-Council Varsity Challenge

Over this last weekend, my son and I went to the Tri-Council Varsity Challenge. He was the only member of his team that wanted to go, so I worked out a deal with another team. Mike would go with them and I'd come along as a second leader, only the backed out a couple of days before the trip. I wish both groups had gone, it was a great activity.

I got to meet an internet friend, Dave Muncey, face to face. We sat at the feet or Pres Burgess (1st Counselor in the LDS Young Men's Presidency) and were taught about the importance of Scouting and the Varsity Program. We had fun at the opening concert (Jon Schmidt and his son's band "Painting the Finish Line". And all that happened on the first night.

Things got more involved the second day. Saturday kicked off with a ~4,500 scout glag ceremony. After that, we moved on to a series of activities that highlighted the five areas of emphasis in the Varisty Program:
  • Advancement
  • High Adventure/Sports
  • Service
  • Special Programs and Events
  • Personal Development
Most of the activities were things that could be brought back into a unit and expanded on over the course of one or more meetings. It was really neat to see examples of things that could be mixed into a Varsity Team's schedule to add a bit more excitement.

If you weren't there, you missed out. I sure hope they do something similar next year, I'd love to go again -- only this time I'm going to do a better job selling it to the Varsity Teams I interact with.


Hiking on the Great Western Trail

The members of our troop have just one more requirement to finish to earn our Great Western Trail award (which is sponsored by our OA Lodge), writing a 150+ word report on our experience. In the interest of setting a good example, here's mine:

In June this year, we backpacked 20 miles on the Great Western Trail over three days. The preparation actually started in April. I contacted the Ranger District about doing service on the trail, we started doing shorter 'prep hikes', and I pre-hiked the trail with my son. While the hike was great, and working on the trail as a service project was great, I think the work before the hike made a bigger impact on me.

I feel like I let the boys down a bit because I did most of the coordination work with the Rangers. I really should have stepped back and helped Jonathan, our Senior Patrol Leader, take the lead on this. Facilitating a boy led troop is something I want to focus on during the next year.

The prep hikes were great. Hiking Rock canyon and two segments of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail helped the boys get ready for the backpacking trek physically and mentally, but also gave them additional experiences with hiking/biking trails in the area and let them try out some of the trail food that we were considering for the trek. I'm hoping we'll continue the practice of getting out as a troop to hike on a regular basis.

Pre-hiking the trail with my son was a great experience. We went several weeks before the real hike and hit more snow, sooner. On our pre-hike, we only crossed one other hiker. He was scouting the trail for an upcoming trail race. That really drove home the value of the service that we would be performing when we hiked the trail as a unit.

For me the hike itself was a step toward fulfilling a life-long dream. I've always wanted to hike on the 4 major North-South trails in the US: the Pacific Crest Trail, the Great Western Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Appalachian trail. This was my first experience on any of them. Each time we passed a Great Western Trail marker, I felt my heart beat a little faster knowing that I was really there. I hope all the scouts can start building their own list of dreams, then start accomplishing them.


Roundtable Last Night

Okay, two posts in might be pushing it, but I hope you'll bear with me. I really wanted to write about both Wood Badge and Roundtable, and although the last post touched on Roundtable it was really about Wood Badge.

A while ago, I wrote about improving Roundtable. Last night, I took my first shot at improving things. I didn't get all of the things on my wish list done, but I think it was a good start. Here are the major points:
  • We started things off with a flag ceremony by Troop 188. Thanks for coming out to support us guys -- hopefully we'll pay you back with some extra enthusiasm and activities coming back into your unit.
  • I set up tables for each area in the district and asked people to sit in them. I wanted people to see who was or wasn't coming from their area. Sadly, the best attended area had only five people (from a possible 30 or so representing 7 troops). I told everyone we'd sit the same way next week and the best attending area would get a prize.
  • The first mini-presentation set the context for the night (focusing on Engineering and Pioneering). We discussed what resources were available to the troops to run a program on that theme: Merit Badge Pamphlets, Troop Program Features, and Troop Program Resources.
  • The second presentation started out with a discussion of a $7 mini-pioneering kit made from six 36" quarter-inch dowels (cut into 4 x 12", 12 x 8", and 36 x 6" lengths) and a ball of twine. The presenter had his troop measure, cut, and use it the night before and he said that they had a great time. Then he taught the attendees how to tie a square lashing and had them work on building miniature rafts. Everyone seemed to enjoy it.
  • Our third and final program feature was an index card bridge building contest. The attendees were split into two teams, and given five 4x6 index cards to build a bridge across an 8" wide chasm (between two stacks of books). They teams weren't allowed to use tape, glue, or other bindings, and weren't allowed to support the bridges from the bottom of the chasm. The winning team was able to stack 450 pennies on their bridge before it gave way!
  • We finished things off with a presentation by our Order of the Arrow Advisor. He discussed; what the OA is and how it can help individual scouts and units, our upcoming Ordeal, and unit elections. I think we ended up getting a couple of units to schedule elections. Good stuff for sure.
Maybe the best news of all was that there was some positive buzz circulating after Roundtable. My wife overheard people talking about it being fun and giving them ideas they could take back to there units and use right away. I was really happy to hear that, not only does it mean I was able to help those units but it should also mean we get some repeat attendees (if we can keep it up).

What do you think? I'd love to hear suggestions on how to keep improving our Roundtables (especially if you were there). I'd also love to hear what you're doing at your Rountable to make it fun and worthwhile for everyone.

A Wood Badge Ticket I Didn't Set

As I thought about my tickets I tried to concentrate on three main areas: self-improvement (where it would impact my troop), supporting the local OA chapter (1/3 of my scouts are in it), and improving my troop directly. One area that I didn't think about was in my new (well, sort of new) role as the District Boy Scout Roundtable Commissioner.

I'm kind of sorry I didn't think about creating a ticket about Roundtable. I know a lot of people set goals to go to Roundtable more often, but that's only part of the deal. Roundtables need people to go and get involved. If you're thinking about a ticket, consider doing something for your Roundtable. Take back some of your great Wood Badge training and put it to use.

Wouldn't it be great if a Wood Badger (or is that Gilwellian?) would teach a short class on using EDGE to tech scout skills? How about a short class on facilitating effective Patrol Leader Councils. If you don't teaching a class feels like too much of a stretch, what about leading reflections after the Roundtable to help improve it?

I think there are a lot of reasons to get involved with Roundtable, and a lot of ways to do so. Just pick one and make it a ticket. It will make an impact on you, your troop, and your whole district -- it just doesn't get much better than that.


New Woodgas Stove: A first look

When we returned home from our long weekend of visiting family in Phoenix (and the Grand Canyon on our trip home), we found that our new Woodgas Stove from Spenton LLC had arrived. Frankly, I was too beat from the drive to do anything about it then. On Tuesday night, my son and I unpacked it and gave it a try. I'll be writing a more detailed review later, but I wanted to get my first impressions out right away.

The stove is fairly small, and certainly lighter than our current coleman setup. If you've got to pack your fuel with you you'll quickly add the weight back though — of course, you won't have to pack spent fuel cartridges back out either.

After reading the directions, we gathered up some fuel:
  • a napkin and a half stick of fatwood to get things started
  • 2 fruitwood sticks about the size of my thumb cut into 3-4 inch lengths
  • 2 fruitwood stick about an inch in diameter cut into 3-4 inch lengths
I tucked the napkin and fatwood into the combustion chamber of the stove and lit it, then added the fruitwood chunks. Once they were all burning well (about 2 minutes), I attached the battery pack and set the fan to high.

Within a minute, the amount of smoke had been reduced to almost nothing. At that point, we put a pot of cold water on to boil. Even with this small amount of fuel we were able to boil 3 cups of cold water (the amount my son and I usually use for a dinner) in about 6 minutes.

The stove continued to burn for another 15 minutes or so. We could have easily heated up more water for a drink or dishwater, or we could have turned the fan to low and used the stove to warm our hands.

All in all, we had a good first experience, and are looking forward to using our new stove 'in the field', maybe even this weekend.


Camp Stoves

During the good weather months, we try to avoid 'car camping'. Backpacking, or at least camping somewhere that we have to walk some distance from the car help us to feel like we're more outdoors. This means we don't do much dutch oven cooking except in the winter or on special occasions. Instead we use camp stoves and focus more on backpacking style food.

One of the books that has really helped us is 'Pack Light and Eat Heavy' by Bill McCartney. Unfortunately it's out of print and harder to find. I'll try to write up some of the recipes here, but without the other information in the book, they're of limited value. Bill's key premises are that:
  1. you can eat a variety of food on the trail without undue difficulty or added weight

  2. you can 'build your own' backpacking meals easily and cheaply instead of relying on expensive selections from vendors

  3. you can prepare good meals without doing more cooking than boiling water

When we're completely in this mode, we use a Coleman 1 burner stove. This isn't the lightest or smallest stove available, but it's sturdy and reliable (I've even used it in cold weather, I just need to take a fuel bottle to bed with me) -- it was economical too, since my Assistant Scoutmaster and I both have one. If you're not planning on doing too much backpacking with it, this is a pretty decent stove to start with.

If we're not camping too far from our vehicle, we might plan meals that don't go so well on the single burner (like pancakes and bacon, ummm). In this case, we might step up to a Coleman 2 burner stove. Again, this is one that we already had access to (it's part of my family's emergency storage). It's served us well for everything from New Scout Patrol trips to cooking up some rainbow trout we caught at Strawberry Reservoir.

Of course, if you're serious about getting light for a back packing trip, neither of these is the right answer for you. I'm looking into some alternatives ... we'll see where that journey takes me.

Pictures from Camp

I could have done a much better job of taking and posting pictures from our various camping trips. I've created some albums over at facebook, and thought Maybe I should share them here.

In May of 2007, we went to Topaz Mountain with Troop 757 (we camp with them several times a year). It's a pretty nice area out in the Utah deseret, and allows mining of topaz crystals with hand held tools. The boys enjoy beating on rocks with hammers and chisels, clambering around on the face of the hill, and exploring some of the badlands in the vicinity. Here's a link to the album: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=50477&l=fb91a&id=678427115

In June of this year, we did a 21 mile backpacking trek along the Great Western Trail. Along the way, we put in 2-3 hours of service, cutting back branches and vines that had grown out onto the trail (and in one case cutting and removing a log that had fallen across the trail). Two highlights of the trip (for me at least) were having a short snowball fight in June, and getting thanked for our efforts by a mountain biker who said he could really tell the difference between the trail we cleared and the other one he'd ridden that morning. Here's a link to the album for this trip: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=50484&l=24392&id=678427115


Notes on aug 19 2008

I was able to make some good progress last night and this morning -- not on Wood Badge tickets, but on important stuff nonetheless.

First up was as the Boy Scout Roundtable Commissioner. I've got calls out to our supporting units for September (late, sorry) and October. I've really been studying the Boy Scout Roundtable Planning Guide and I'm convinced we can do a better job of making this meeting more fun and effective. One thing I'm driving for is moving away from the monolithic lecture format that we've been in since I've been going to Roundtable. For the next two months, I'm shooting for 3-4 presentations/activities led by different leaders and separated by songs or run-ons. I'd like to add a contest or skit at each meeting as well. What kinds of activities do you enjoy at your roundtables?

I also got myself registered for the Commissioner College training this weekend down in Richland, UT. As a new commissioner, I'm feeling a bit unprepared. I sure hope this training will help me figure out what I should be doing and how I should be doing it.

Finally, I've also been working with my OA chapter about an Ordeal in October. It looks like things are coming together. I've contacted the couple of people that had been asking about it.
Now I need to get it (and other scouting activities) onto my google calendar.


Blind Walk ... Not So Much

Well, my planned for 'Blind Walk' on our camping/canoeing trip didn't come to pass. Kevin (my co-wood badger and assistant scoutmaster) had also put together a unity building activity, and since it fit in better with the canoeing we went with it. It was nice to run the activity, see the boys reactions to it, and then spend some time in a retrospection/processing phase afterwards.

I also helped my wife work on one of her wood badge tickets this weekend. She's putting together a promotional video, with short interviews of attendees, so I went in front of the camera on Sunday. She's also planning on getting some scouts into the video mix, to help cement the idea that we're going to wood badge as an investment in building better boys.


Wood Badge Ticket Report Aug 15 2008

I've made some progress on all five of my Wood Badge tickets:
  • One ticket is to create and distribute media to help recruit OA Arrowmen at BYU for the Lakota Chapter where my son and I serve. I've got some ideas for flyers and a poster, and have found two people on facebook that are interested in helping out (and have given me great ideas about where I can post things to get the most people seeing them).
  • Another ticket is to create a Timberline (NYLT) recruiting presentation for my troop and other troops in my district. Last night at roundtable, I spent some time talking to the district committee member who's putting together a local Timberline session for next year.
  • My third ticket is to run some unity building activities at 75% of our campouts over the next year. We're headed out tonight to go camping and canoeing, and I'm planning on helping the boys do a couple of blind walks -- I' better not forget to bring some bandanas.
  • My fourth ticket is to complete the requirements for the Personal Fitness merit badge before my next birthday. This week, I've been getting up early each morning to exercise. Monday I'll start the periodic measurements required by the merit badge.
  • My fifth ticket is to become a certified Leave No Trainer. I've signed up for the October class the council is doing. So far, three other members of my woodbadge troop have signed up as well. It'll be a reunion of sorts.


Back from Wood Badge

Well, I'm back from Wood Badge, the second of three scouting activities I'm involved in over the course of three weeks, and I'm really feeling fired up about scouting and my calling to serve as scoutmaster. As part of my Wood Badge experience, I'm working on five tickets (goals to improve myself and benefit the scouts I work with in my various capacities). I won't go into a lot of detail about my tickets now, but I'm sure I'll be posting more about them as time goes by. Hopefully I'll be posting more here about; my experiences as the scoutmaster of troop 37, my continuing Wood Badge experiences, and related topics.

The Wood Badge course was a great experience for me. If you're on the fence about attending one, please hop of the fence and sign up, you won't regret it.


The Church Historian's Press

This sounds pretty cool. I just saw an announcement that the LDS Church is starting “The Church Historian’s Press”, which will publish “works related to the Church’s origin and growth.” The’re initial project will be the 25-30 volume The Joseph Smith Papers.

The Church Historian, Elder Jensen, said that the new imprint and it’s first project “underscore the great value the Church has always placed on its history. This is an invitation for anyone interested in the history of the Church to read the foundational documents related to its beginning and development.”

The announcement also mentions that the Joseph Smith Papers project has been endorsed by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, which is a significant vote of confidence in the project. Professor Harry S. Stout of the project’s advisory board said:

“Receiving this endorsement is important. It conveys the Commission?s conclusion that the staff and procedures of The Joseph Smith Papers meet the NHPRC’s rigorous scholarly standards for transcription and annotation and that the edition will be accurate and professional.”

Sounds like good stuff is happening. I can’t wait to see the fruits of this new endeavor.