As the tagline promises, I’ve created this blog as a repository for ideas related to writing, Scouting, and writing on Scouting. I talk about the books I sell at EagleBook.com, my other Scouting-related writing projects, and other items of interest. I hope you find the blog of interest. If you have ideas to share, just post a comment on the About page.

Invitations and the Multi-Scout Eagle Court of Honor



Several years ago, I went, gift in hand, to an Eagle court of honor for a young man from my church. When I arrived, I realized there was a second honoree—one for whom I would have brought a gift had I realized ahead of time. (I knew him slightly but not well enough to garner an invitation from him.)

For whatever reason, that troop had encouraged each family to create and send its own invitations. That doubled the work of designing and printing invitations, of course, and it also meant that some people received two invitations while others, like me, received one invitation but only half the information they needed.

A better approach, I think, is to create a single invitation that applies to all your honorees and then to let each family send out its own copies. While you might save a few stamps by consolidating invitation lists, it’s much simpler to let each family doing its own mailing–especially if you use your ordinary communication channels, not mailed invitations, to reach current troop families.

One advantage of having families send out their own invitations is that each Scout can include a personal note in the invitations he sends. In our troop, for example, we’ve had Scouts want any gifts to go to the agencies their service projects benefited. We’ve also had Scouts hold separate friends-and-family gatherings in their homes for out-of-town guests. Information like that can easily be slipped into invitation envelopes before mailing.

Invitations aren’t the most important part of a court of honor. They do, however, set the tone for better or worse. Try to make it better.


My Seven Favorite Things About the New Boy Scout Handbook



One year and nine months after I was asked to work on the 13th edition of the Boy Scout Handbook, the book is now a reality. It should be in a Scout Shop near you, and I hope you’ll pick up a copy soon if you haven’t already.

While some of the content has been carried over from the 12th edition, written by fellow Eagle Scout Robert Birkby, much of it is entirely new, as is the book’s design. (The 12th edition featured vintage graphics from all the previous editions, which worked well during the BSA’s Centennial Celebration but feels somewhat dated six years later.)

Now that the book is out, I thought I’d share my favorite features (not all of which I wrote!):

  1. The Chief Scout Executive’s letter (page 3), in which Mike Surbaugh explains how a chance encounter with the Boy Scout Handbook in elementary school launched his Scouting career. That story reminds me that we veterans sometimes forget how magical Scouting can seem to a new Scout.
  2. The STEM sidebars. In keeping with the BSA’s increasing emphasis on STEM, we’ve peppered the book with sidebars that illustrate the science, technology, engineering, and math behind what we already do in Scouting. I enjoyed learning and writing about topics like the technology behind sleeping bag ratings (page 278) and the math used in estimating wildlife populations (page 206).
  3. The practical camping techniques. I loved having the chance to add information I learned at Philmont about the “bearmuda triangle” (page 285) and the caterpillar technique for climbing big hills (page 250).
  4. The fun facts about nature we’ve added to the book. Since a book with national reach can’t possibly give Scouts much nature information that’s specific to their region–most National Audubon Society field guides are bigger than the Boy Scout Handbook–we’ve included tidbits that I hope will whet Scouts’ appetite for learning more. On page 195, they’ll learn about a tree that can live up to 5,000 years; on page 202, they’ll learn about an animal that travels just 55 yards an hour.
  5. The information on food safety in the cooking chapter, including a discussion of the difference between sell-by, best-before, and use-by dates (which many adults don’t understand). I’ve seen enough questionable cooking practices on campouts to know this and other food-safety information is definitely needed.
  6. The advancement sidebars throughout the book, which draw direct ties between what Scouts are reading and specific rank requirements and merit badges. I hope these sidebars will prompt Scouts to pursue merit badges they’ve never considered earning.
  7. My name on page 466. Okay, that probably only matters to me, but it still goes on the list!

By the way, Mike Surbaugh is not the only person whose life was changed by the Boy Scout Handbook. Nobel Prize winner E.O. Wilson, the father of biodiversity, credited his interest in science to the book. It’s fun to imagine how the new edition could impact the lives of today’s Scouts the way previous editions impacted Wilson, Surbaugh, and millions of other Scouts.

Eagle Courts of Honor: Stop Reinventing the Wheel



It’s amazing how much you forget from one court of honor to the next—especially if your troop only produces new Eagle Scouts every couple of years. To help her troop build a sort of institutional memory, an Eagle mom I met created a very useful tool: a pair of matching binders stuffed full of resources for planning Eagle courts of honor.

Each binder includes the following:

  • A copy of The Eagle Court of Honor Book (of course!)
  • Actual invitations, programs, and scripts from past ceremonies (from her troop and others in the area)
  • Sample letters to dignitaries, along with names and addresses
  • A sample press release and the local newspaper’s contact information
  • A list of helpful websites
  • Information on Eagle Scout gifts from ScoutStuff.org
  • A CD of court of honor materials another Scouter developed

(By the way, pocketed dividers hold the items that can’t be hole-punched.)

The troop loans a binder to each family that’s planning a court of honor, and the mom said the feedback has been great. Even if your troop doesn’t put the honoree’s family in charge of court-of-honor planning, it makes sense to put together a similar binder for your troop.

Old Man Winter and Old Reliable



As I write this post, the mid-Atlantic states are still digging out from a historic snowstorm that dropped at least a foot of snow on communities from Kentucky to Virginia to New York. Not surprisingly, countless Scout outings over the weekend were cancelled as a result. (See my previous post for ideas about cancellation policies.)

In most cases I’m sure the decisions made sense–health and safety should always be our primary concern–but in other cases I’m just as sure the decisions were made in haste. Here in Louisville, for example, we only got a few inches of snow, half what was predicted. The roads were easily passable by Friday afternoon and dry by midday Saturday. My troop took its annual ski trip as scheduled and got to enjoy more real snow than usual in southern Ohio.

Are unnecessary cancellations–whether due to poor weather or poor planning–a big deal? I think they are. As Scouters, we are in constant competition with other activities that our Scouts could be participating in. The more we can convince them and, more importantly, their parents that we have our act together, the more we’ll become their activity of choice.

When I was Scoutmaster, I promised parents that we would stick to our published calendar if at all possible. That sometimes meant replacing one type of activity with another or turning a campout into an overnight at our meeting place, but that was better that moving an outing to another weekend and messing up people’s plans. We found that if we respected families’ schedules, they remained more committed to us.

What about your troop? How consistent is your calendar? What have you done when Mother Nature has rained on your parade? The comments section is open.

Guess Who’s Coming to the Eagle Court of Honor



Here’s a problem many Scout leaders would like to have: Where should you put a U.S. senator in your court of honor program? An Eagle Scout mom posed that question to me after she successfully recruited one of her state’s senators as a keynote speaker for her sons’ court of honor.

Someone had told this mom that getting a senator to attend a court of honor was impossible, but she wisely ignored that advice. Instead, she persisted in getting what she wanted for her sons.

So what do you want for your next court of honor? A special guest presenter? A certain sought-after location? A bald eagle on display? Start early, be flexible on dates, and refuse to take “no” for an answer, and you just might get your wish.

Do you like this tip? Find more great court of honor ideas in Showtime!: 45 Top Tips from EagleBook.com and The Eagle Court of Honor Book. It’s available now for immediate download at just $2.99.

Is Philmont in Your (Near) Future?


philmont (national geo)

One of Scouting’s persistent urban legends is that Philmont Scout Ranch always fills up–and so there’s no need to even enter the annual lottery for crew slots. The reality is that winning the Philmont lottery is much, much easier than winning the Powerball. And this year, you actually have a second chance to win.

As of this week, Philmont still has space for about 70 crews for this summer; you can see the complete list on the Philmont website. While five or six months is pretty tight timing for putting together (and paying for) a high-adventure trek, Philmont makes the process as easy as possible. The website is chockfull of helpful information, and the ranch provides most of the crew gear and food you will need.

I should also mention that my favorite part of the ranch, the Philmont Training Center, still has plenty of summer vacancies as well. I don’t think there’s better place on the planet to take adult leader training, as I’ve discussed in a previous blog post. And best of all, you don’t have to undertake a physical conditioning program to get ready for a PTC conference, where the steepest climb is up the steps to the dining hall!

Promises Made, Promises Kept



In the alternate universe that is college football, we stand at the end of one season and the beginning of another. Last season ended with the recent national championship game. Next season has already begun with the hot-and-heavy recruiting of a new class of freshmen athletes.

A big part of recruiting is making promises. Come to our school, a coach will say, and you’ll get to enjoy our great new practice facility … or be our starting quarterback … or win a national championship … or (insert your fantasy here). Great coaches make honest promises; shady ones make promises they don’t necessarily intend to keep.

So what’s the connection with Scouting? We’re in recruiting season as well, working hard to convince graduating Webelos Scouts that our troop is where they should spend the next seven years or so. It’s incumbent upon us to make some promises—honest ones, of course—to them and their parents. Before they sign on the dotted line, they need to understand what they can expect—and what will be expected of them.

If you’re not sure what to promise, re-read pages 7 and 8 of the new Boy Scout Handbook, which I was privileged to write. (You have bought a copy, haven’t you?) They highlight some of the experiences the Boy Scouts of America promises every new Scout. Use those promises as a starting point, then customize them for your particular troop.