Thursday, October 5, 2017

We read a Magic Tree House book. I'm not so sure about the series.

Sunset of the Sabertooth (Magic Tree House, #7)Sunset of the Sabertooth by Mary Pope Osborne

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Plot and character development are really week. Although, this is the seventh book in the series, what do I expect at this point? At least one of my children enjoyed reading this book. The other one just shrugs her shoulders. Although, she's seven years old, what do I expect at this point?

At the end of the day the kids did remember enough scenes from this book that depict more or less what we know about life during the ice age. Mostly they learn that life was dangerous and cold, that people hunted, played flutes and painted cave walls.

I'm not sure what I think about this series of books. They are short enough I might give one more a try before writing them off completely. There are just plenty of better books for kids this age. Though, probably not very many about the prehistoric age.

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Things that make me nervous about our trip to Tikal

Tikal_Guatemala_Templo_I_2008.jpgThis Friday Amanda and I celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary.  It took us a bit but we eventually decided we should go on a trip and to somewhere neither of us had been before.  I've always wanted to see ancient ruins and love Starwars.  Enter Tikal, one of the most famous Mayan sites and home to the rebel alliance's Yavin 4 base.

I don't travel much.  I don't like traveling much.  I don't even like thinking about travelling.  It’s not that I don't want to see exotic places and do interesting things around the world.  I just don't want to deal with any of the headache of getting there or any of the less than desireable things I might encounter along the way.

I'm pretty good at negative visualization, what some people probably call worrying.  I’ll call it being prepared, though it still feels an awful lot like worrying.  I guess it's how I deal with the unknown.  I can't predict the future but I can take what I know and think up the worst possible scenario.  Here's my list of things that are making me a bit nervous about our, I'm sure going to be really great, impending trip to Tikal.


I have a secret (I suppose now public) mild fear of flying.  I don't really have a problem once we are in the air.  I get that there is real actual physics holding us up.  I just don’t like the sensation of taking off or the several moments of negative visualization of all of the real actual physics that could take the plane down to the ground.  Its thoughts about these same physics that also make landing less than enjoyable for me.

We have four take offs and landing in the trip getting to Flores (the nearest airport to Tikal) alone.

People fly everyday, even in less industrialized countries, and most of the time nothing terrible happens.  The odds are good, at least.


Yeah sure I took some pills willfully giving myself this disease to prepare my body ahead of time.  But those pills are only 80% effective.  Either way I need to be careful to eat hot food and avoid the tap water.  Good news is if I get typhoid I should be in the states by the time I start feeling it.  Apparently it’s not that bad with treatment.  I still don’t want.  I might be quarantined on an island somewhere.

Being struck by lightning

flash-2515710_960_720.jpgThe forecast in both Flores and Tikal call for thunderstorms literally our entire trip.  I’m not terribly excited about climbing to the top of temples towering over rainforest canopy when there are lightning strikes all around.


In the years after Guatemala’s civil war it was pretty common for armed men to attack busses and other and other seemingly random acts of violence.  While by all accounts today Guatemala is a much safer place, especially around Flores and Tikal, it is still not the safest place in the world.  Guatemala City is among the 50 most dangerous cities in the world (although Baltimore and St. Louis have higher homicide rates than Guatemala City).  Most of this violence revolves around the drug trade.  So, as long as you avoid the city and the Mexican border, which we are, you should be safe.

Despite all these unknowns I am very excited to visit a place so different from mine.  All recent information I can find about travelling to Guatemala suggests that it is a beautiful country and is not terribly dangerous.  Also, I spend the vast majority of my time within walking distance of the very spot I was born.
There is a big world out there.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Book Report: Scouting for Boys

Some background

First off, I should explain why I, a grown man living in the United States in the early 21st century decided to read a book written to British boys at the beginning of the 20th.  A few times I told someone I was reading this book I got a queer look (or innuendo about what “scouting for boys” meant).  So here goes.

My oldest daughter had just started to be involved with Girl Scouts.  She had been to a few meetings and my wife and I were discussing whether she should really be involved with one more activity.  That’s probably the opposite of how things should go, but it is the sort of thing that happens more often than not in our house.

Anyway, this led me to reflect on my own experiences with Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.  While I didn’t last very long in Boy Scouts I realized that Cub Scouts was probably one of the most important things in my life at the time.  There were a lot of good memories from the kids in my Webelos group.  I was taught what it means to be a good citizen and was encouraged to develop a good character.  And, I learned a few skills I don’t think I could have learned any other way than going through a scouting program.
After hearing my wife report back from a Girl  Scout camping trip and other the other Girl Scout gatherings, it became clear to me that Girl Scouts is not very much like the Scouting programs we have for boys.  After reading the Daisy Handbook and looking at the Girl Scout website it looked like Girl Scouts is focused on STEM and nature experiences as well as developing good character and fiscal responsibility in girls.  These are noble goals to be sure.  However, they didn’t strike me as exactly what the Scouting movement was all about in the beginning.  This made me what to research the Scouting movement in general.

Baden-Powell_ggbain-39190_(cropped).pngThe Scouting movement began when Lord Robert Baden-Powell, after years of experience as a military scouting, wrote a small book on the subject called Aids to Scouting.  This quickly became popular with young boys as a means to learn scoutcraft and have a good bit of fun.  Adults started teaching the subject to young men and the movement grew quickly and organically.  The idea of young boys being taught military scouting apparently terrified B-P (as he’s affectionately referred in the scouting movement), he decided, after holding the first scout camp on Brownsea Island, to rewrite his book as a guide to being a  “peace scout” for boys.  Soon after girls wanted to be involved as well.  Scouting evolved over several decades and many organizations started including subjects outside of traditional scout craft (see selling cookies and after-school STEM programs.) to appeal to a more modern audience of young people..  Now most organizations around the world have co-ed scout troops.  So, groups like the Boy Scouts of America and Girls Scouts USA are the exception not the rule.

Seeing that internationally most scouting programs are co-ed peaked my interest.  I don’t see a lot of value in segregation and I think my daughters would be interested in getting outdoors, learning survival skills, tracking animals, etc.  I started looking for similar organizations for younger kids in the US.  There are a fair number of co-ed scout-like programs for children which are open to everyone regardless of gender identity, sexual preference, religion or lack of religion (all of which the BSA has an iffy history with at best).  While I’m sure most if not all of these are great organizations most of them did not seem “scouty” enough to me.

Enter the Baden-Powell Service Association (BPSA), they do not have any restrictions on membership, co-ed groups (as long as the adult leadership is co-ed as well) and a traditional scouting program.  They attempt to base everything on the original teachings and writings of Lord Baden-Powell as much as legally and logically possible.

On to the book

Since BPSA bases its program in large part on Scouting for Boys they have it available to download for free.  I’d been meaning to read this for a while.  I’ve heard it’s full of fun useful information to begin with, whether or not you are interested in Scouting.  Seeing as how my interest was suddenly peaked I couldn’t resist downloading the PDF and tearing through it.  Its pages did not disappoint.

Scouting for Boys covers a wide range of subjects.  Camping, tracking, pioneering and first aid all get long sections as well as citizenship, chivalry, the worldwide brotherhood of scouting and the British Empire.  The book also outlines the patrol system, court of honour, scout promise, law, motto and slogan.  All of these give scouts a chivalrous moral code and make Scouting the fraternal order that it is.

I found the patrol system and the court of honour particularly interesting.  Traditional scouting places a lot of the responsibility for leadership on the young people themselves.  In fact after reading some other scouting material from the 1940’s I discovered that essentially the (adult) troop master’s job was to train the patrol leaders and their seconds to earn their tenderfoot and other badges.  The patrol leaders were responsible for teaching and training all the others scouts.  Through the court of honour the patrol leaders also run the whole troop, with only guidance from the scoutmaster.  That’s not at all how I remember Boy Scouts being ran when I was a kid.  This is great for developing leadership in children, which is a skill not easily taught in school or most other activities.

Scouting is mostly intended to be learned through games.  Scouting for Boys suggests several games for patrol leaders to choose from with adult leaders acting as referees.  Some of these are pretty intense.  For example one game for teaching “sea scouting” called Whale Hunt involves two patrols of scouts rowing separate boats from opposite direction with the goal of harpooning a “whale” made from logs let loose in the middle.  The patrol that reaches the whale first harpoons it and starts rowing back to their side.  The other patrol tries to catch up with them to harpoon the whale to row it back their own side.  The result is some kind of crazy row boat tug-of-war which I imagine lasts quite a while and doesn't sound terribly safe.

In conclusion

There really is a lot of great content in this book and I would highly suggest it to anyone who is even mildly interested.  One thing to keep in mind however is that this book was originally written over 100 years ago.  As a result much of the  first aid suggested in the book is no longer recommended.  You really shouldn’t cut open and attempt to suck out the venom from a rattlesnake bite for example.  Also there is a lot of very imperialist colonial language.  Keep in mind that Lord Baden-Powell was a Lord in the British Empire, clearly someone with a fair amount of privilege.  Referring to local guides as “your native” just doesn’t quite sound right to my modern ears.  There are a few sections particularly about health where B-P makes native peoples out to be very ignorant.  At this same time however he clearly admires these same people for their abilities to live an outdoor life and all around good character using them as examples for scouts to look up to.

Traditional scouting sounds like a ton of fun.  Enough so that I’m seriously considering starting a BPSA group in The Dalles in the near future (my wife and I agreed I should wait at least until this step of the adoption process is finished).  Until then, I’ll be trying to live and act a lot more like a Boy Scout.