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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.

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Stay Safe in Your Camp Kitchen

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When I’m not writing about Scouting, I often write about health. Recently, however, I’ve been writing about sickness–specifically the sickness caused by antimicrobial resistance, a huge (and hugely under-reported) problem around the world. According to one report, drug-resistant bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites kill 700,000 deaths each year around the world.

This week, as I was reading about all the many places bacteria like Acinetobacter baumannii can hide, I had a flashback to my time as a Scout and the plywood patrol box surface on which we cut up raw chicken and formed hamburger patties. Between doing that and having a sketchy mastery of hand-washing, I’m surprised we didn’t all get violently ill on every outing.

I trust that your troop is a little more conscious of sanitation and food safety than we were back in the day. If not, now’s a good time to get smart.

The BSA’s summer 2017 Health and Safety newsletter offers some helpful information. Among the key reminders you’ll find there:

  • Keep it cold (below 40 degrees), which could mean freezing meat at home or using it all at a campout’s first couple of meals.
  • Keep it clean, which means washing your hands thoroughly before, during, and after cooking and avoiding cross-contamination.
  • Cook it thoroughly, not until you think it’s done (or you’re too hungry to wait any longer). That really means using a digital food thermometer instead of relying on meat color. (You can find these online for $10 or so, although my favorite thermometer, the ThermoPro ChefAlarm, runs a little over $50.)

And while you’re shopping for a digital food thermometer, toss a cutting board in your shopping cart. After all, you don’t know what has been on that patrol box lid–and what might still be there!

For more food safety tips, visit www.eatright.org/resources/homefoodsafety and www.fsis.usda.gov


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

Rules and Damned Rules

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Once upon a time, some officious official told Scouting founder Robert Baden-Powell that an idea he’d suggested was against the rules. “Damn the rules!” B-P said. “Call it an experiment!”

I love that story, partly because it hints at B-P’s character but mostly because it illustrates a fundamental truth of Scouting. Even a century removed from its founding, Scouting is still a work in progress. What works for one troop in one community won’t work at all for another troop in another community–or even for the same troop in the same community after a little time has passed.

That’s why I always worry when officious volunteers talk about “the rules.” Now, I’m not talking about the policies found in the Guide to Safe Scouting or the Guide to Advancement; those we must and should follow. I’m talking about the rules Scouters make up along the way, Like saying a Scout must serve as patrol leader before running for senior patrol leader. Or requiring that a Scout must show up in full uniform, complete with dress shoes, for a board of review. Those might be good guidelines, but they shouldn’t be codified as rules.

Part of the challenge is making it clear when you’re quoting a rule and when you’re offering a suggestion. In The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, for example, I talk about the “Rule of Thirds,” which says a Scout should earn a third of his way to camp through fundraising, a third of his way through spending his own money, and a third of his way through cash infusions from the Bank of Mom and Dad. A similar rule related to advancement says a Scout should earn a third of his merit badges at summer camp or advancement events, a third from counselors within the troop, and a third from counselors outside the troop. I like both those guidelines and think most Scouts would benefit from following them. However, I would never seek to enforce them like I would enforce Youth Protection rules. They’re really rules of thumb, not rules of law.

What kinds of rules does your troop have? Do people get rules and rules of thumb confused? Do they prevent you from viewing Scouting as the experiment it continues to be? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

One More Time–Building Connections at Eagle Courts of Honor

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When I first became Scoutmaster, our troop had a neat tradition: the reception at each Eagle court of honor was hosted by the previous recipient’s family. The troop paid for the cake, punch, etc., but that family took care of ordering everything, serving, and cleaning up afterwards.

Using this system relieved the troop leaders and current recipient’s family of some work, but more importantly, it served as a bridge from one Eagle to the next and kept previous Eagles involved in the troop—at least in a small way.

Now, I have to say this scheme didn’t always work perfectly; occasionally, for example, a family would quickly disengage from the troop after their son became an Eagle Scout at 17 years, 11 months, and 29 days. But it worked well enough that we kept it going for years.

Consider establishing a similar tradition in your troop. But don’t limit yourself to the reception. Perhaps the previous honoree could serve as master of ceremonies or as part of the honor guard. Perhaps he could deliver the Eagle charge. (Think how powerful the charge could be when presented by a young man who comes back from college for the occasion.) Perhaps all past Eagles from the troop could sit up on stage in an Eagles’ nest. Whatever you decide to do, find a way to get your previous Eagles involved. After all, the Eagle Scout trail never ends.


For more great ideas, check out my ebook, Showtime: 45 Top Tips from EagleBook.com and The Eagle Court of Honor Book; it costs just $2.99 and is available for immediate download from both EagleBook.com and Amazon.com.

 

Mike Surbaugh on Girls in Scouting

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In between eating turkey, watching football, and reconnecting with family this week, I hope you’ll carve out a half-hour to watch a new video posted on the Bryan on Scouting blog. In it, Scouting Magazine Senior Editor Bryan Wendell interviews Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh about the upcoming inclusion of girls at the Cub Scout and Boy Scout levels.

Wendell doesn’t ask his own questions, however. Instead, he asks questions submitted by Scouts and Scouters from across the country (and beyond, in the case of a Lone Scout who lives in South Africa). The questions cover everything from how the decision was made to what uniforms will look like to whether advancement requirements will change. (You’ll also find information on a separate video I blogged about before in which Surbaugh talks more about the background behind this historic decision.)

I didn’t learn much I didn’t already know from the new video, but I was again impressed by the amount of thought that went into the decision. Assuming that same amount of thought goes into implementation, I think we’ll look back in a few years and say this was the best decision the BSA in generations.


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

When Service Projects Become a Problem

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Next Thursday is Thanksgiving Day. Aside from food, family, and football, this holiday is a time many people think of volunteering at a soup kitchen or other outreach program. The problem? That little word “many.” Charities that beg for volunteers on the fourth Thursday of April or October are overwhelmed with helpers on the fourth Thursday of November. As a recent USA today story explained, training new volunteers takes staff time–time that’s essentially wasted on one-time volunteers who show up on a day when they’re not even needed.

I don’t know of any Boy Scout troops that descend on their local homeless shelters on Thanksgiving Day, but I’ve seen plenty of examples of service projects where the costs to the recipients far outweigh the benefits. My wife used to work as a volunteer coordinator for a local nonprofit and often told stories of youth groups that not only did a poor job painting rooms but also left a mess for the staff to clean up.

As our troops plan service projects (including Eagle Scout projects), it’s easy to focus more on the benefits we will receive than the benefits we will provide. To be sure both projects are beneficial to both parties, ask the groups you’re supporting what they really need and what you can do to make the process go smoother for them–not for you.

And if you want your troop to volunteer at a homeless shelter, check their calendar for the fourth Thursday of January. I’ll bet they’ll have an opening.

Note: See my blog post on transformational service for more ideas.


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

A Great Source for Court of Honor Backdrops

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Courts of honor these days typically include a slideshow chronicling the honoree’s time in Scouting. That means setting up a projection screen, of course, a screen that will be blank during most of the ceremony.

Fortunately, it’s simple to create a slide like the one shown here that you can keep on the screen whenever you’re not showing a video or other images. And thanks to a growing number of websites that offer free, high-quality, royalty-free images, you can create a great-looking slide for zero dollars and without violating anyone’s copyright.

The bald-eagle image I’ve used here is from my new favorite site for free images, Pexels. Most, if not all, the images on the site are offered at with the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license, which means:

  • The pictures are free for both personal and commercial use.
  • You can modify, copy, and distribute the photos without limitation.
  • You don’t have to ask permission, credit the photographer, or link back to the source.

(There are a few restrictions, such as making sure a photo that shows a recognizable person doesn’t make that person appear in a bad light.)

Of course, once you’ve found an image you like, you’ll probably think of other ways to use it, such as on invitations or programs or on signs that help people find their way to the auditorium where the ceremony is being held.

Bonus tip: If you’re projecting a static image from a laptop for a long time, be sure to disable any popup notifications, screen savers, or energy-saving features that dim the screen after a short period of inactivity. Otherwise, your slide will draw plenty of attention–just not the kind you envisioned!


For more great ideas, check out my ebook, Showtime: 45 Top Tips from EagleBook.com and The Eagle Court of Honor Book; it costs just $2.99 and is available for immediate download from both EagleBook.com and Amazon.com.

A Tax-deductible Tropical Vacation? Sort Of

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How would you like to spend a week in the Florida Keys and write it off on your taxes? That–within important limitations–is a real possibility for Scout leaders.

Every January, the Florida Sea Base offers a series of volunteer training conferences that mirror those offered at other high adventure bases (including my beloved Philmont Training Center) and that offer the chance for a week in the sun at a time many of us are ready to escape the cold and snow of winter.

Most Sea Base conferences target district- and council-level volunteers, especially trainers and commissioners. But 2018’s schedule has a couple of offerings unit leaders may find interesting:

  • Strengthening Your Leadership Team (January 7-13)
  • The Mechanics of Training (January 14-20)

So where does that tax deduction come in? The IRS allows volunteers to deduct out-of-pocket expenses that are unreimbursed and directly related to their volunteer work. That would likely include your conference fee ($495) and travel expenses, but not any expenses incurred by your non-conference spouse (if he or she goes with you) or any recreational activities you participate in, such as a fishing excursion the day before you check in.

I talked about charitable deductions in a blog post a couple of years ago. I encourage you to read that but also to consult with your tax adviser, who–unlike me–is qualified to interpret IRS publications.


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.