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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.

A Luau of a Court of Honor

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Since the first edition of The Eagle Court of Honor Book back in 1996, I’ve recommended applying Outback Steakhouse’s “No Rules. Just Right.” Slogan to court-of-honor planning. Recently, I heard a great example of how that approach can turn a stuffy ceremony into a fun celebration.

When Sue Fiebig of Grand Rapids, Mich., asked her younger son what he wanted his court of honor to look like, he said he didn’t know—but that he didn’t want it to be a long, boring gabfest. So what did the family end up planning? A Hawaiian luau of sorts!

The setting was the park-like grounds of the local council service center. The decorations included tiki masks, shells, and other luau-themed items. The guests wore Hawaiian shirts and received leis as they arrived—the nicer ones being reserved for grandparents and other special guests.

Everyone enjoyed a taco bar, free time, and other outdoor games, interrupted only by a relatively brief ceremony (for which the Scouts and leaders donned their uniforms).

As the days get longer and warmer, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate a young man’s achievement of the Eagle Scout rank. It certainly beats a long, boring gabfest!

What unique twists on Eagle courts of honor have you seen? The comment section is open.

Money in the Bank

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On two different Philmont trips, our troop has faced unexpected financial difficulties. In one case, our gear was stolen in Denver the day before arriving at Philmont, and our leaders had to quickly resupply the crew at REI. In another case, plans to travel via Amtrak fell through, and we had to rent 15-passenger vans and arrange for drivers. Fortunately, we had plenty of cash reserves to take care of those surprises.

I occasionally hear people arguing that a Scout troop shouldn’t keep much money in the bank or that it should zero out its bank account every year. Otherwise, they say, you’re just hoarding money.

The truth is, however, that it’s okay—even advisable—to keep some money in the bank. That’s certainly true if you’re saving up for a major expense like a troop trailer or a high-adventure trip. But even if your troop isn’t planning big expenses, it’s still a good idea to maintain a rainy-day fund. As we learned on those two Philmont trips, it’s really a question of when—not if—you’ll need to dip into your reserves.

According to the American Institute of Philanthropy, “a reserve of less than three years is reasonable.” Or, to use more Scout-like language, it’s okay to be prepared.

What Shall We Tell the President?

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Here’s a question to ponder. If you knew a Cub Scout who was going to meet President Obama in the Oval Office, would you:

  1. Tell him how lucky he is to have that opportunity.
  2. Remind him to watch his manners.
  3. Suggest that he too could become president one day.
  4. Encourage him to tell the president to go to hell.

I raise this question because two Cub Scouts did get to meet the president recently as part of a youth delegation that presented him with the BSA’s Report to the Nation. When a photo of the event appeared on the Scouting magazine blog and Facebook page, a number of people who I assume are Scouters decided to vent their spleens with decidedly un-Scout-like comments. The prizewinner, in my opinion: “I wish that Cub Scout would have told Obamajad to go to [hell]. Lord knows Obama is against everything being a Cub Scout and Boy Scout stands for.”

So much for “A Scout is courteous”!

I totally get that many Americans don’t like President Obama–according to RealClearPolitics, 45.2 percent of Americans approve of his job performance while 49.8 percent disapprove–but the recent Scout visit wasn’t about this president; it was about the president. When a president meets with a bunch of Scouts or the winners of the Little League World Series, when he unveils his NCAA Tournament bracket, or when he leads the nation in mourning after some tragic event, he is acting more as the head of state than as the head of the government or the head of his party. You don’t have to love him to respect his office. (Perhaps we’d be better off if we were like those parliamentary democracies where the president is head of state and the prime minister is head of government.)

It’s also worth keeping in mind that every president since 1912 has served as honorary president of the BSA. That includes the first Eagle Scout president (Gerald Ford), the first president to resign from office in disgrace (Richard Nixon), and a host of other presidents that people either loved or hated depending on their politics. I think we should celebrate the fact that support for Scouting is a thread that runs through all their presidencies.

And one more thought. We as Scouters are called to teach our Scouts citizenship, not partisanship. Perhaps those of us who can’t tell the difference should go back and read the Citizenship in the Nation merit badge pamphlet.

Lest you think I’m an Obama partisan–and I’ve written before about why I keep my political leanings private–I’ll leave you with this comment from Thomas Kisner who is not:

Congratulations to the Scouts who earned this opportunity. For the record, I’m a very conservative Republican, and it is an honor to visit with the sitting President of the United States, no matter who is the current occupant of the office. Shame on all of you for suggesting otherwise. I’m not sure where you learned civics, but it wasn’t in the BSA.

Amen to that.

Avoiding Courts of Foolery

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I’m writing this post just after April Fools Day, the highlight of the year for practical jokers the world over. In recent years, April 1 gags have gone beyond whoopie cushions and prank phone calls to include elaborate hoaxes planned months in advance by major companies, websites, and media outlets. For example, the Scouting magazine blog this year offered “breaking news” that merit badges will soon double in size.

Online pranks are fun to follow because you can see people’s reactions in the comments. Some people play along, helping make a prank seem legitimate; others cry uncle when they realize they’ve been had. (My favorite comment on the merit-badge hoax: “I promised myself that none of these would catch me off guard today. I made it to 9 a.m. Doh.”)

Unfortunately, some people take offense at April Fools Day gags, demonstrating the truth of what Erma Bombeck once said: “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”

People planning Eagle Scout courts of honor should keep those words in mind. It’s fun to have people share anecdotes about the honoree–as long as those anecdotes don’t cross the line between humor and hurt. If your next ceremony will include anecdotes–and especially if you plan to offer an open-mic opportunity–be sure someone previews the speakers’ comments. Remember that you’re planning a court of honor, not a court of foolery.

Good Gear for Less Green

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Walk into a high-end outdoor retailer, and you can quickly forget the ninth point of the Scout Law (“A Scout is thrifty,” in case you’ve forgotten!). Gear from companies like Marmot, Mountain Hardwear, and The North Face can put a big dent in your troop budget, especially if (for example) you’re trying to buy tents for a new patrol.

Some Scouters avoid sticker shock by buying cheap gear at a discount store, but that can mean leaky bathtub floors, inadequate windows, and rain covers the size of a pocket handkerchief.

So what’s a thrifty Scouter to do? One great option is to visit Hiker Direct (formerly Scout Direct), a 15-year-old online retailer that caters to the Scouting market and sells gear from ALPS Mountaineering, Browning Camping, and other manufacturers.

Here’s a comparison of current prices for the ALPS Mountaineering Meramac 4 tent:

  • Retail: $149.99
  • REI: $99.73
  • Amazon: $99.51
  • Hiker Direct: $80.84

And that’s a regular catalog item. Close-out items and salesman samples can be even cheaper (although quantities are very limited).

You must register to shop at Hiker Direct, but that process is easy. You can pay with a credit card for regular orders but must use a check for sales items.

You won’t find a lot of product details on the Hiker Direct website, so you may need to do a little reverse showrooming by researching products at Amazon.com and then buy at Hiker Direct. (Oh the irony!) That’s a little extra work that can lead to a lot of extra savings.

What strategies do you use to reduce equipment costs? Post your comments below.

George Santayana’s Eagle Court of Honor

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Okay, George Santayana wasn’t an Eagle Scout. (Growing up in Spain in the 19th century made that impossible!) But he did have something important to say that relates to Eagle Scout courts of honor: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Everyone who plans a court of honor should bear these words in mind.

What do I mean? As much as I advocate making every court of honor unique, the reality is that some elements and speakers will carry over from one ceremony to the next. That means it’s important to remember what didn’t work last time so you don’t repeat those mistakes this time.

A friend who recently planned his son’s Eagle court of honor figured out an easy way to do this. He and his son watched a video of the troop’s last court of honor, taking notes about things like long-winded speakers and issues with staging. The lessons they learned helped them create a ceremony that avoided those mistakes (and, probably inevitably, created a few more for future Scouts to learn from).

How have you overcome past mistakes in planning courts of honor? Post your comments below.

Creative Calendaring in Scout Troops

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Spring is officially here, a perfect time to go camping and a perfectly terrible time to schedule camping trips. Between spring break, Easter weekend, Mothers Day, and Memorial Day, it can be hard to find free weekends to go to the woods. It’s not the smartest career move for a Scoutmaster to take a bunch of boys camping on the one weekend when most moms want their sons at home, clean, and stuffed into nice clothes for church or a Mothers Day brunch.

(And that doesn’t even include local festivities like the Kentucky Derby, which many folks in my neck of the woods assume is a national holiday!)

 

But celebrations like Mothers Day don’t have to become Scouting black holes. For example, my troop once held an Eagle court of honor on the day before Mothers Day. It didn’t interfere with other festivities, yet it let our three honorees that day give their moms the perfect Mothers Day gift: an Eagle Scout mother’s pin.

 

This kind of flexible scheduling is becoming increasingly important in Scouting. As kids’ schedules get more and more packed with school and sports activities, we Scouters have to become more and more creative in scheduling activities.

 

In The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, I discuss several ways to break the Friday-night-to-Sunday-afternoon outing pattern. One of the best is to exploit dead periods like Thanksgiving weekend, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and three-day weekends created by teacher in-service days—periods that other youth programs tend to avoid. With a little creative thinking, you can even do a Scouting activity on Mothers Day weekend and still keep your job as Scoutmaster!