Our new Boy Scout

February 27, 2011

Five years ago, when Al was a Tiger Cub, I never expected him to make it all the way to earning his Arrow of Light. There were things he liked about Cub Scouts, but there were also so many challenges. There was always something new to learn or to do, and with his autism that was a challenge in and of itself. There were physical activities that he found difficult, outdoors activities that meant there were bugs flying around, group activities that meant cooperating with other boys.

Yet somehow he continued, year after year, until this afternoon he was awarded the Arrow of Light, and bridged over to Boy Scouts. He was warmly welcomed into Troop 167, one of the four troops that boys from his Webelos den chose for their continuing journey in Boy Scouts. He is happy and proud – as are we.

Alligator on wheels

January 24, 2011

We’ve just finished our fifth and final Cub Scout Pinewood Derby (Al will bridge over to Boy Scouts next month). Our alligator did the best, in terms of speed, of the five cars we’ve made over the years. But not well enough to win a trophy, much to Al’s disappointment.

It wasn’t slow enough to win “Safest Driver” either – an award added this year to recognize the slowest car in the race (no trophy, just a toy football and helmet donated by a local insurance office). (Amusingly, the award went to the winner of the Best of Show award – evidence that speed and good looks don’t necessarily go together – or that parents like me who lack the skill to make a fast car compensate by putting extra effort into appearance.)

Our alligator does have more personality than our previous cars, of course. And with Al’s help, he has joined the cast of characters who converse with Al and me (most of which are plush animals or puppets, but just about anything with two eyes and a mouth will do – and for that matter, a cyclops would no doubt be welcome also).

In the end, I think creativity and imagination count for a lot more than fast cars. But they don’t win a lot of trophies.

Camping, caves, and cake

October 24, 2010

Al and I returned late this morning from our first Boy Scout campout. I am happy to return to indoor plumbing, a real bed, and things to do besides watch boys play Baggo or make jokes about farting. I also am happy to say that Al did pretty well, though he found it difficult to deal with the lack of a fixed schedule – especially when it came to meals.

We both enjoyed the hike, during a nice rain-free stretch of a few hours yesterday afternoon. I was glad that some of the other Scouts helped him on the steeper parts of the trail, both because means he will feel welcome in their troop, and because I feel none too steady myself on a steep muddy trail covered with wet leaves. We both stayed on the ground while most of the boys climbed up to a cave, however.

I learned that modern Boy Scouts don’t cook everything over a fire. There was a camp stove to warm up pulled pork for sandwiches, and canned corn, and later to heat the spaghetti sauce and to boil water both for the spaghetti and to wash up afterwards. Cake, however, was cooked in a dutch oven covered with hot coals. Breakfast casserole was cooked the same way this morning.

In the zoo, at the park

July 31, 2010

At zoos, we try to bring nature up close where we can see it without getting out in it. At designated recreation areas, we go out into nature ourselves – but in an environment that is generally safe and has certain amenities close at hand. Al and I visited both the zoo today, together with our Cub Scout pack, and then stopped at a park where our Webelos den is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide bluebird boxes and monitor them.

Feeding Frenzy

Last year when we went to the zoo, it was a hot day, and many of the animals were too hot to come out from their shady shelter to pose for pictures. The fish and ducks never seem to have that problem, but they seemed especially full of energy this morning. Perhaps if we visited in the afternoon, they would have eaten their fill, but this morning they were fighting over each new handful of food pellets tossed their way.

A Kid feeding a kid

The goats were also eager to eat, including this little kid. I remember when I took Zach, as a toddler, to a petting zoo, that the goat was not satisfied with eating from Zach’s hand and decided to try Zach’s juice box as well. But today I had our water bottles safely in a backpack, so the goats had to be content with the food designated for them.

Lorikeet Landing

We always visit Lorikeet Landing on our way through the Australian Outback exhibit (where we see wallabies and emus), and we buy a small cup full of some kind of liquid food the lorikeets eat. Sometimes they come eagerly for the food, other times they have apparently had their fill and have to be coaxed to eat some more. Today they were evidently quite hungry.

Two fought over the cup in Al’s hand, while two more perched on his shoulder, perhaps more politely waiting their turn. A fifth landed, but it was getting crowded and one of the other four flew away. Finally he asked me to get them off, which I did quite easily by taking the cup from his hand. I don’t mind having them on me, though I did object when one tried to nip my finger. And I definitely didn’t appreciate it when another lorikeet did his “business” on a fly-by over my T-shirt.

Since I don’t read the paper every day, I didn’t realize that the Army Corps of Engineers had closed the Shady Creek Recreation Area, along with five other recreation areas, due to rising floodwaters. So from the zoo we headed (after a lunch stop at Happy Joe’s) to Shady Creek, because it was our week to check out the bluebird boxes.

We were able to check five of the six boxes, and in most of them we found nests made by house wrens. As they are on our list of “naughty” birds that take over territory from bluebirds, we cleaned their nests out of the boxes – even the one with five eggs. The sixth box, however, was in a part of the campground that showed why the park was closed – though the geese seem to be enjoying the altered environment.

The rangers were busy raking and sweeping away debris on the dry side of the park, and once we stop having so much rain I’m sure they’ll be able to clean this side also. The picnic tables will be put back, and RV’s and people will again fill the park.

But for now, nature is dominating the area.

Three nights in the woods

July 22, 2010

 We went camping most summers when I was growing up. I loved being out in the woods, or near a lake – unless there were too many other campers nearby. I’ve always liked quiet and solitude, and I was happy just walking through the woods or sitting by the lake.

Going to Girl Scout camp was another matter. I had to share a cabin with girls I’d never met before, and a counselor who made us to do stupid things like try to find snipe at night. There were activities we had to do, and no chances to go alone anywhere. 

I was glad my younger son wanted to go to Cub Scout camp, since camping is such a big part of Boy Scouts. But I had little idea what Webelos resident camp would be like. I chose to be one of the pack parents accompanying the boys, since it would be my son’s first time at resident camp, and as best as I can remember, the last time he spent several days away from me was when he was still a toddler. (That’s one of the drawbacks of not having relatives nearby that he can spend the night with, to get used to sleeping away from home.)

As it turned out, we were the only ones from our pack who hadn’t brought our own tent, so we shared one of the camp’s tents. On the positive side, it was tall enough to walk in (at least down the middle), and we slept on cots which were quite comfortable (although rather narrow, which made it difficult to turn over without waking up). They did have a few drawbacks, however – no zipper to keep out insect (though, strictly speaking, the millipedes and daddy-long-legs that kept joining us aren’t actually insects), no mesh windows to let in light or breeze, and a few tiny holes whose presence became obvious when it rained.

A hundred and sixty boys, even spread over a fairly large area, can make it hard to find much quiet and solitude. But sometimes we got away by ourselves, especially when we took the nature trail (which unfortunately was very muddy from the recent rain).

Surprisingly, the best look we got at a special bit of nature was right in our campsite, about a foot from one of the tents. I hurried to take a picture of this luna moth, afraid it would fly off, but it surprised us by staying on the tree for well over an hour, holding onto the bark even when the breeze was blowing it sideways.

The boys’ favorite activity was swimming – even in the rain. (The parents sitting on the benches just outside the pool enclosure, huddled under umbrellas or in their rain ponchos, did not enjoy it so much.) Archery and BBs were also extremely popular, but Al chose to skip those in favor of handcrafts.

One highlight of camp was a visit from a zookeeper from Niabi Zoo (which we’ll visit a week from Saturday with our Cub Scout pack). She brought a variety of interesting animals, from an unusual species of parrot in which the male is bright green and the female is bright red and blue, to an animal I had never heard of before called the binturong. She also showed us one of the zoo’s penguins, and told us the surprising (to me) fact that most species of penguins live in climates similar to ours, rather than in the snow and ice of Antarctica.

I’m sure no penguin would have liked the hot muggy weather we’ve been having lately, though. I don’t know any humans who like it either. I was very glad today not to be at camp anymore, with the heat index well over 100. I don’t know what it was Tuesday, as I had no internet access, but it sure was hot and humid. Not as humid as it had been Monday, though – it rained on and off from midmorning Monday to midmorning Tuesday.

The rest of the boys in our pack, quite undeterred by rain and mud, had a great time playing human foosball. The walled-in field has bars across it as a foosball table does, made of rope threaded through PVC pipes. The players have to hold onto the ropes while playing. As in foosball, they can move to the left and right, but they can’t let go of the rope. I didn’t get a picture of them when they finished the game, some of their clothes so soaked with mud I wondered if it would ever wash out. But I did take one rainy day picture, during a brief respite when I could take out my camera without getting it wet.

Hot dog and fries for dessert?

March 29, 2010

For our annual Cub Scout cake auction, I had suggested making a “pizza” cake like one of these. But my Cub Scout didn’t care for the idea. Instead we ended up taking a different faux food creation: hot dog and fries.

I discovered that mixing frosting to match the color of a hot dog is not easy, even after having cooked a batch of hot dogs for supper to use as models. I also learned that chocolate syrup is much more effective than brown food coloring gel at giving a brown hue to vanilla icing. (The instructions said to mix red and brown, but I figured chocolate icing would be too dark to start with.)

Relish was relatively easy, and my older son is enjoying the rest of the gummy worms. Mustard turned out pretty easy too – with the help of just a drop of chocolate syrup. Adding more red food coloring to the frosting left over from making my hot dog made a decent ketchup.

I did find myself wondering how my cake would compare nutritionally with its fast-food inspiration. I would think my version would be lower in fat and sodium, but of course higher in sugar. And while my hot dog lacks some of those chemicals that hot dogs are notorious for, Twinkies (yes, that’s what’s under the frosting and condiments) are known for their long shelf life (though it’s hardly as long as the urban legends say).

Kit Kat Kar

January 25, 2010

This year’s Pinewood Derby car, I decided, would have no fancy woodworking or add-on pieces. Just a simple rectangular shape, so we could put our time and effort into a good paint job. Trying to think of ordinary objects that were similar in shape to our block of wood, I thought of candy bars. Al liked the idea, so I gave him the choice of what candy bar to use as our model. As you can see, he chose Kit Kat.

I had been thinking of Snickers, myself, both because it’s my favorite, and because it’s tall and narrow. The dimensions of a Kit Kat bar just don’t fit the block of wood we had to work with. But I had given Al the choice. Then I remembered that at one time there was a variety of Kit Kat shaped more like a Snickers. I went on the internet looking for pictures, but the image of Kit Kat Chunky didn’t look enough like the Kit Kat bars that our Cub Scouts would be familiar with.

Finally I found an image of a Kit Kat Mini bar that I thought I could imitate pretty well. We worked together on sanding and painting the overall red color, then I tackled the writing. I gave up on trying to add detail such as the ® symbol next to the brand name. Even my fine tip marker couldn’t manage that small a detail – and even if my hand could manage it, I don’t think my eyes could. As it was, the painting I did challenged my ability to see the details of what I was doing.

But the results were worth it. The car is no speed demon (one Scout and his parents must be really good at making fast cars, because he won first place tonight for the third year in a row), but at least it came in second in two of three heats. And much to both my delight and Al’s, his fellow Scouts voted it Best in Show. Here is his reaction:

I was pretty amazed and happy when my car was Best in Show. I kept saying “Wow!” a lot. And then I said it again. And I was amazed – OK, I already mentioned that. Anyway, I’m pretty proud of myself. That’s the very first trophy I’ve ever gotten.

I’m proud of myself too. But now I’m trying to think of an idea for next year’s Pinewood Derby.

Time for a HALT

October 17, 2009

On a warm evening in mid-September, the idea of taking my son on an overnight campout at Loud Thunder sounded like an opportunity for fun and character-building. I left the choice up to him, but since he wanted to go, I signed us up. A month later, huddled in my sleeping bag and not quite shivering but not warm enough to get back to sleep, I couldn’t help asking myself if this was worth it.

It was our third HALT (Halloween at Loud Thunder), and I had tried to be prepared for the problems we had had on previous occasions. Make sure he packs his pajamas. Extra pants, extra socks, extra underwear. Hats and gloves – although it seemed an unneeded precaution on an October afternoon that was brisk but not so cold Al felt he needed to change from shorts (because the pants had been in the washer) to pants.

By the time we got to the Council Ring for the after-supper campfire, we were grateful for our hats and gloves. He was eager to crawl into a warm sleeping bag, but agreed to go first to the observatory. Even without the telescope, we could see far more stars than here in town (and here we no doubt see far more than in even a mid-size city). But with the telescope, we could see Jupiter, amazingly bright and white, and three of its moons.

Usually s’mores are too sweet for me (though I loved them when I was younger), but last night they were delicious – although Al did have trouble biting through the cold chocolate bar. When we returned to our very small dome tent (a neighboring Scouter was surprised that two of us could squeeze in there), moisture had condensed on the outside, and frozen. I was glad for the Hollofil 808 in my sleeping bag, and hoped my son’s would be warm enough.

Read the rest of this entry »

What does it mean to be “under God”?

October 6, 2009

I remember reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every day at the start of the school day at New Meadow Elementary School. After the pledge, we all sang “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” and I’m not sure how old I was before I realized that the third word was not “tizuvthee.” I really didn’t give much thought to the meaning of the words of either the pledge or the song. They were just part of the daily routine, like getting dressed or walking to school.

I’m pretty sure one teacher did make sure we knew what some of the big words meant. “Republic” was a word for our country. “Indivisible” meant that the country couldn’t be split up (which just reinforced my impression that the distinctions between different states were not very important). We probably talked about the meaning of “liberty” and “justice,” but I don’t remember any teacher ever saying a thing about the phrase “under God.”

I don’t know if that was because they were afraid to broach a subject that might generate complaints about church-state separation, or if they simply took it for granted that we knew what the phrase meant. They had all grown up when prayer and Bible reading were still common in public schools, and virtually everyone could be assumed to belong to some branch or other of the Judeo-Christian tradition. I imagine that most of the students, like me, also took it for granted. Whatever “under God” meant, it was, like being an American, simply part of how things were for ourselves and everyone we knew.

My 10-year-old son is growing up in a world that is different in many ways from the one I grew up in. But I get the idea that the Pledge of Allegiance is something he says every morning without thinking much about it, just as I did. As a part of earning his Webelos badge, we are starting to work on the Citizenship requirement, and one activity is reciting the Pledge and putting it in his own words. The first part is simple; the second has him at a loss what to say.

Read the rest of this entry »

National treasure

July 4, 2009

“National treasure” was the theme of our Cub Scout day camp this summer. As I am a member of the planning committee, I spent a good deal of time thinking about what kinds of national treasures to try to work into the camp program. National parks? Natural resources? Our flag? Our history? Our people?

Mostly we focused on nature and the national parks. I spent evenings coming up with clues, then ideas where to hide the clues, and more clues to point to those hiding places. Since I didn’t work with the Scouts directly during camp, and my own son was at College for Kids instead of camp, I never did hear how well some of my clues worked out.

I figured a yellow crayon and a stone should be a fairly easy reference to Yellowstone. That one was for the youngest group; the older boys had to figure out that a picture of a bald man’s head, a feather, and a quarter were clues to “bald eagle” (the only answer that wasn’t a national park). For Mount Rushmore, they got a picture of a mountain, and three coins: a penny, a nickel, and a quarter. I was going to include a dime, then someone pointed out that it had the head of the wrong Roosevelt.

The theme for today’s July 4 parade was “Stars and Stripes Forever.” At the last Cub Scout pack meeting, some of us expressed an interest in making a float for the parade, and I was wondering if there was a way to somehow show the history of the American flag. But I was too busy with day camp to work on it. So were other parents, I guess. The boys just walked next to a trailer pulled by an old (1945) tractor, handing out ice pops to the children along the route. (Another float in the parade did display the history of the flag.)

Today we celebrate one of our nation’s greatest treasures – the commitment to liberty embodied in the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration was at once an eloquent statement of values around which the new country would form, and a bold political action that set in motion the battle for America’s self-government. Googling for more information on this historic document, I was happy to find this website at the National Archives: The Declaration of Independence: Our National Treasure.

Read the rest of this entry »