Sunday, February 12, 2017

Cookie Chaos (Who am I kidding, my life is always like this)

There's something that happens during cookie season, if you're a scout leader, a cookie coordinator for your troop, and even sometimes if you are a cookie mom with inventory on hand. You go a little crazy. And I don't mean the cookie sales crazy that you see as an innocent bystander. I mean the internal "I'm trying to keep it together while constantly tallying and subtracting and balancing bank deposits and inventory and cookie supply and demand information in my head." I've already gotten there, on day two of cookie sales, when usually I don't get there until a couple of weeks in. I am disturbed. My brain won't shut off. The house has long ago fallen apart, and I just need to clear my head.

Blogging, is the way to clear your head. I don't get to do it much anymore, but this morning, on Sunday, I decided I would just sit down and dump my brain, pour my heart out, and feel much lighter.

I realized that I needed my laptop, which was in the van, in the locked-up-like-a-fortress garage, and that I wasn't dressed. I tried to get dressed, which became a huge chore. My jeans are all dirty. Like so dirty I won't tell you how many times I have worn my favorite one pair of jeans without washing them. Nope. Won't say. Can't tell. So I gathered all the jeans up to wash a load, at which time I realized I needed to throw in the new boy scout uniform pants of M's. I use the term "new" lightly. I am trying to be money conscious (always) and so instead of dumping the ridiculously outrageous $24 on a pair of blue pants, I found a pair on ebay for $10. M doesn't like jeans and has been begging me to buy him uniform pants because they are more like khakis and less rigid. Sometimes jeans make him freak out with the rubbing on the skin and the rawness on the waist. So I found the $10 pair on ebay. Then they arrived. Then I saw that the seller did not disclose the poorly hemmed bottoms, and the fact that they were 4" shorter than any average. They were also really washworn and not nearly as new blue as the photo showed. I spent the morning watching M in the tub while I used the seam ripper to tear out the hems and then discovered that even if they are now long enough, they have been worn and faded enough to have two very white-ish horizontal lines across the legs where the hems were folded. Ugh. In the process of getting these pants ready for the wash I thought I would open A's new swimsuits. I never buy Justice clothes. They are too much for me and I usually have a great friend (two actually) who sell used Justice clothes at a price I can handle, and then I don't have to shop. But I saw an advertisement for a cute swimsuit that's right up A's alley, and I thought, I will get that as her "good swimsuit" for this spring. So I ended up ordering two suits and a rashguard that matches both. She has a used Justice suit that was a size 12 and it surprisingly fit her perfectly. It's the only justice suit she has, she normally wears a 6/7 in suits and I thought we might finally get into an 8 this summer. She's slim. But since the Justice suit I have is a 12, of course I ordered all size 12's from Jutice. They swam on her. We were both so sad. I wanted to return them and exchange then for an 8, but of course they are "online only items" and the return form is just a return form, not an exchange form. And I call Justice and they "don't process returns" but would be happy to make my life a living hell by placing a whole new order where, you know, I pay them again with my unlimited funds and then later on (you know like two months from now when they get through their "processing time" i can have my original money back. Good times. I may lost it just a bit and tell the woman on the phone that if she can't process a return I don't want their junk and I will just send it back. Yeah. This is because I am supposed to be blogging by now but I haven't even gotten dressed.

I package up the RETURN and take the load of jeans and boy scout pants down to wash. At which time I am interrupted by kids who want to talk about Spirit Week. Which starts tomorrow. Because on Friday when I picked them up from school, M gets into the van and says "I can't wait to see all the costumes you are going to sew this weekend for us" and I think he is confused because HALLOWEEN IS NINE MONTHS AWAY and I swear I thought I got a year before I have to do that again. Then a paper is thrust at me with excitement and I see that on top of the TWO cookie booths we are running this weekend, the birthday party, and the Girl Scout meeting to prepare for World Thinking Day, we now have Super Hero Day, Disney Day, Mismatch and Crazy Hair Day, School Spirit Day, and Blast to the past day. I digress. (That's the moral of the story, you see.)

So the kids get told that their mother is offering no assistance for Spirit Week. It's every big kid for themselves. Their outfits have to be decided and laid out the night before. Mom isn't sewing, buying, or crafting ANYTHING (hear me, ANY. THING.) for Spirit Week. That's not very nice of me, is it. Not very spirited. But I grew up when Spirit Week was in high school and the participants were self sufficient enough to figure it out with minimal help from parents. I want my kids to start this self-sufficiency early, like they are starting Spirit Week early. I explain to them that they can create their own super hero! Won't it be fun! and M starts literally crying, and telling me that his teacher told him he has to be a boughten super hero and that it has to be a real one not a made up one (which I absolutely know isn't true, but he takes things very literally and is always concerned that he will be in trouble) and so eventually the tears get calmed and today we are tearing the house apart (more) to find costume pieces. We have one spiderman glove and one spidey suit. The mask is missing but I declare that *not my problem* because It's not my job to keep track of masks and the only real reason there is one glove and a suit is because of my attempts to organize and keep things in labeled bins (which means those two important pieces were in the costume tote where they were supposed to be.)
A Plays along beautifully and creates her own superhero, Called "Anime" pronounced AnnaMae.... who is a Japanese Anime Artist who can draw things and snap her fingers so that those things come to life. She finds an Indian/beaded/silkish gown from the Goodwill Halloween Costume buying spree, puts her hair in pigtails and sticks pencils in them, and takes paper and colored pencils in hand. I'm so proud of her own creativity and my lack of involvement that I go right down and put on a t-shirt and my clean pair of unflattering black fleece pants, my sweater slippers, and slip outside to the Fort-Knox Garage to get my laptop from the van. In my haste to finally get home last night, and out of my clothes and into my bed, I didn't pull the van up far enough in the garage so the back hatch is too close to the door so I can't open it to get the laptop out of the back, but eventually I get the laptop into the house and onto the sticky and overcrowded dining room table.

I open it, I log on to blogger, and I am READY! M comes out and says "are you hungry mom? I will make you some cereal" (So sweet is he. Always my helper. He loves me, this I know.) I tell him, "sure buddy, I would love some rice chex!" and I thank him and sit down. And he says "Hey mom, we are out of milk." So I have him just make his own cereal and I will run up to Caseys in a few minutes and get more milk. (you know, I was JUST out in the van. Seriously. JUST.)

"Anime" comes out in full costume, and suddenly wearing the pink pair of glasses that she *lost at school* two months ago, that I cleaned her locker and her desk and crawled under part of the dirty bleachers in the gym and looked in the smelly lost and found box and begged the office to look out for and posted on the school facebook page. They are ON HER FACE as if they never left, and she is a nonchalant about it as though I didn't just go on a month-long rampage looking for them. I just look at her incredulously and say "where did you get those glasses" and she responds with "I don't know, I just found them somewhere." Yeah.

All of this, and I haven't written a word. Then E tears himself away from Planes Fire and Rescue long enough to have an argument with me about why he wants to watch more music videos on You Tube, and then to ask for a snack (he hasn't had breakfast, we don't have milk) and he announces that he will eat pretzels for breakfast and I say "fine. Eat whatever. I don't care." and start to write.

THIS, Is why I never get to write. This is my life.

I love my life, I truly do. I am surrounded with people who love me, even if they also sometimes drive me entirely insane. We are healthy. We have a warm place to sleep, even if it's a disaster.

The laptop is surrounded by dirty dishes, the paint for the Little Free Library I haven't gotten to paint yet, the Mod Podge and supplies leftover from the Pinewood Derby car two or three weeks ago, Three opened cereal containers getting stale, a role of paper towels, an IH tractor, an open container of pretzels with a missing lid, a letter that my recent PAP came back clear, The offending list of Spirit Week activities on yellow paper, A hanger, and a bowl of slowly rotting blood oranges that my kids HAD to have and then REFUSED to eat. I look on the floor and I see a page of Christmas Stickers, a piece of aluminum foil, a non-winning scratch lotto ticket, a ring from a milk jug, a foil peeled back top from a to go butter container, a sprig of grape stems with no grapes attached, and a green top from a squeeze applesauce container, one child slipper, and a ziploc bag of markers.... all within two feet of my person. Where do I start? Who can I hire? How would I pay them?

Maybe I just need to eat some Girl Scout Cookies?

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Girl Scout Camp - From the Inside Looking Out

This is an expanded version of a Blog Post I recently wrote for Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois regarding my experiences at their STEW Overnight Leader Training event at Camp Dean in Big Rock. I hope you enjoy the unedited and original version. I enjoyed writing it so much that it ended up being three pages long 😬So I decided to post the full version on my own blog.


Camp Dean- STEW- From the Inside Looking Out

In 2016, My sister and I took my three kids to attend the Arbor Day Tree Planting event at Camp McCormick. I am a leader and girl scout mom from Girl Scouts of Central Illinois (GSCI), the council just south of GSNI. At the Arbor Day event, we were approached by smiling leaders who told us all about the Annual STEW Leader Training event at Camp Dean. The leaders were excited and enthusiastic. They had a neat display and handed me a great flier and a registration paper. I explained that I wasn’t from the GSNI Council, thinking that this event surely wouldn’t be available to me, and instead I was met with even MORE excitement, and a very inclusive invitation to come across council lines, AND BRING MY FRIENDS! I left Camp McCormick that day with a glowing, warm, happy feeling. I am sure many of you can relate to that, and understand “This is what it means to be a Girl Scout.”

I am a mom to three kids, then aged 8, 6, and 3. One Time in the last Ten years, had my husband and I been able to leave our kids for more than one night. I had never gone anywhere by myself since having kids… and I needed this. Desperately. I needed to go to Girl Scout Camp. My grandma’s saying “where there’s a will, there’s a way” motivated me, and I was going to find a way. I wouldn’t know anyone at the event. Not one person. But I had met those leaders at Camp McCormick who were all so excited to meet me, and I am not a shy person. I am a Girl Scout Leader, and in fact, a lifelong girl scout and a former leader’s daughter. This event was for me.

I made extensive plans to have someone else pick up my preschooler and my older kids from school. I coordinated who would watch them each day of the weekend. I put STEW on my calendar, ordered my STEW Tshirt, and chose my top class choices for the STEW Event. I chose Night Games, Girl emPOWERment, Look Ma No Pans!, Nature at Play, and Traditional Girl Scout Ceremonies. And I waited for September.
Camp Dean

I had never been to Camp Dean. Camp is about 1 hour and 15 minutes from my home. I set out on Friday (by myself! A Free Mom!) When I arrived at Camp I was so excited, I loaded my wagon and headed to Dean Lodge. There were no assigned sleeping arrangements, so I could choose if I preferred a cabin or a tent, and because I love to tent camp, I went for a tent. I found an open tent with only one bunk taken… and claimed a bunk
Friday Night at STEW. Crafts, Gorp Bar, New Friends, Night Games Class

Back at Dean Lodge, everyone was abuzz with laughter, chatting, and two of my favorite things, CRAFTS and GORP! There was a make your own GORP bar! I spent the evening chatting with ladies and making crafts, excited to find some crafts that I had seen on Pinterest but hadn’t had a chance to test out yet. I met a leader and class facilitator who owned a TOTE of glue guns, and I knew I was in the right place. I also met my tent buddy, who was also a leader and class facilitator. The first night I discovered leaders that enjoyed similar books and TV shows as I do. It was above all of my expectations already. I attended a Night Games class that taught us all about Games to play in the dark with our girls, from the famous Snipe Hunt, to more educational games like Night Eyes. There is nothing as refreshing as sleeping under the stars, and although it was cool at night in the fall, we had beautiful weather and I scooted my cot to the edge of the tent so I could stick my head out the front and look up at the sky. This was a peace and quiet, a back to nature, and a time with other strong women that I really needed as a busy mom and volunteer.
"Look Ma, No Pans!" and lunch with GSNI CEO Fiona Cummings
My Saturday STEW classes were amazing. I was getting to know people; leaders were excited to see someone from another council, to bounce ideas off each other, to make new friends. I was pleased to find my tent mate teaching my cooking class at lunch. I’ve done a LOT of campfire cooking, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was still so much I could learn, and that I wouldn’t feel like I was doing  the same things over again. We worked as a team, making meals in the unit house kitchen and cooking them over charcoal and wood. We made Chicken Quesadillas, Cucumbers and Garlic Hummus in Pitas, Tabouli, Refried Beans with Polenta, Chocolate Cake cooked in an orange rind, and banana boats. The food was amazing. I learned new skills and tips, for example… did you know you can buy premixed liquid cake batter in a zipper bag? Great for camp, just unzip and pour! And nonstick aluminum foil, where have you been all my life?

An unexpected part of our lunch, and it turns out of STEW in general, was being joined by GSNI CEO Fiona Cummings. I’ve spent my whole life in scouting and I had never met a Girl Scout CEO. Fiona wasn’t just there. She didn’t just “drop by” camp. She was WITH us. She was camping with us, cooking with us, listening to us, and really sharing the experience with us. Fiona came to my lunch class and I was honored to talk with her, laugh and have fun. She is so approachable and fun, and truly listened to what leaders need and want.
Nature Abounds at Camp Dean

While at Camp Dean, I noticed a lot of fun things that I had never seen at the two Girl Scout camps I had been to in my lifetime. Gaga Ball. Large outdoor musical instruments made from PVC and Wood. The Mud Hole. Fiona explained to me that it was important to encourage leaders to bring their girls camping, and that GSNI could help leaders by providing activities that the girls can do that don’t require lots of planning and packing by leaders. We talked about just “being” at camp, and about how nice it was that leaders didn’t have to worry about planning and orchestrating an activity for every moment they are at camp. This really struck a chord with me, and gave me a new confidence to take my own girls to camp at the council level. Fiona also gave me a GSNI Big Book that day. I was pleased to spend time with her and to see her throughout the rest of my stay at Camp Dean.
Amazing Food, Beautiful Scenery, and Finally Understanding a Compass
STEW taught me how to use a Compass (first time in 30+ years that anyone had tried to teach me how to use one!) and we did a neat activity that we could do with our girls, placing a starting flag in the ground at our feet, following directions on a pre-printed card with our compass, and placing flags at various stopping points, that formed a shape of a heart or a square if we had followed directions correctly. The Traditional Ceremonies class was so helpful. I hadn’t received any leader training about planning ceremonies. The only thing I was drawing on were my memories of ceremonies from when I was a child (that was too long ago) and internet resources. I learned that there are red sashes and white gloves for flag ceremonies! I left with a new confidence for teaching ceremonies to my own troop, and ideas as to the resources that my own council might have, which I was previously unaware of. The Girl emPOWERment class was one of the hardest. It really dug deep at the self esteem issues that plaque our girls and women. I experienced and participated in an affirmation bath, which is one of the hardest things I have ever, ever done. There were a lot of tears flowing that day, but I left renewed. I’ve since taught my own troop Flag Ceremonies and Etiquette, Bridging Ceremonies, and also taken them overnight to a council camp.

Other leaders were taking classes in Crate Stacking, Creating PVC Camp Kitchens, Car Camping, Letterboxing, Knitting, Archery, Boating, Pie Iron Cooking, Vegan Cooking, and the highly coveted Dutch Oven Cooking (which I was told was taught by the queen of Dutch Ovens) There were even women learning to sew and quilt in the lodge, they made amazing fall leaf quilted wall hangings. Geocaching, Digital Photography, Camp Songs, Team Building Games. There was quite literally something for everyone, even an experienced scout or leader. STEW gave me new skills and, more importantly, renewed my confidence to teach these skills to my own girls.

Saturday Night Murder Mystery Theater and Ice Cream Bar

Saturday night was my very favorite at Camp. The STEW Team brought in a Murder Mystery Theater. I had not been that excited in a long time. It’s one of those things I have always wanted to try, and the consensus among other leaders was the same. Dean Lodge was a place of excitement and mystery. The Mystery Shop’s production of Chained Melody was a highlight of STEW. It was fun. It was challenging. It was TEAMWORK. We were divided into large teams that filled Camp Dean Lodge. I am proud to say that my team (with Chatter, Barb, Kendra, and Christa) Solved the Mystery Theater. Out of all those teams, our team WON! And that night I made even more new friends. Friends who I stay in touch with today and hope to see at STEW this fall. In Fact this year at STEW, I will be TEACHING a class on Girl Scout SWAPS. I hope to meet you there!

Another thing I can’t say enough about…. The food at Camp Dean. There was an ice cream bar, a Taco Nacho Bar, Fresh Baked scones and fresh fruit for breakfast (yogurt and berries and granola!) Everything was delicious. (Kudos to Julie Schmale!)

Sunday’s Date Was September 11th. We started the day by cleaning up our campsites and helping close down the buildings around camp. I learned how to clean composting latrines! We were able to choose teams that we wanted to join as part of the National Day of Service. My group went with Camp Dean Ranger Guy to clean out a storage shed on the camp premises. We organized lifejackets, bunk mattresses, cooking utensils, and many other camp items in the large storage shed to make room for a truck that needed to be parked inside for the coming winter. We got rid of things that were no longer needed and swept the concrete floor. Then we helped Ranger Guy to setup the PA System for the upcoming Scouts Own Flag Ceremony and skit, where we honored those who fell on 9-11. It was another emotional time at camp.
Cleaning the Shed During National Day of Service at Camp Dean's STEW Leader Training Camporee 2016

As a leader and a girl scout mom, I often watch camp through the eyes of my 9 year old daughter. When I pick her up from camp, it seems like she has grown inches each year, and she has stories to tell for hours. I like to pick her up all by myself, without her siblings present, so that we can have a few hours after camp to just chat about all the excitement that happened. Until Camp Dean, I hadn’t truly been an overnight camper at Girl Scout Camp since 1983. When picking my daughter up from summer camp, we get to talk about the fun times at camp, and sometimes the hard times at camp. Maybe disappointment from an activity they were going to do but didn’t happen (weather or heat perhaps.) or maybe an interaction with a new friend that didn’t go as well as we hoped. Maybe there was a bee sting, or a fall, or bug spray in the eyes. The way you felt when you were really scared to get into that canoe but you found out that you LOVE canoeing! Or that time your whole unit got caught in the rain and had to run back to the unit house and sit on the floor soaking wet to have hot dogs for supper when you knew all the girls closer to the Lodge were having something better.
Girl Scout Camp... Then and Now...

Time after time, we have discussed how even things that didn’t seem to go “just right” at camp, become memories, and sometimes very funny ones. Sometimes we meet a new friend because of circumstances that we didn’t see coming. Sometimes we get over our fears or realize new strengths that we didn’t know we had. There might be tears at camp, and much joy. Camp can be an emotional place, and each time I feel that we come back changed. Maybe we ARE a little taller and maybe our smile IS a bit broader. Camp Dean and STEW gave me that feeling from the inside-out, for the first time since 1983. I wasn’t just seeing it though my daughter’s eyes. I was remembering my own camp experiences, looking back at my camp memories, and adding to them. Even the hard memories from 1983- when Brownies couldn’t go down the Camp Mudslide, there was pepper in my scrambled eggs, I went “In” the “Out” Door in the Food Hall, and there was a snake under my cot that required the Ranger’s attention.

GSCI Troop Leader
GSCI Service Unit Event Registrar
Lifelong Girl Scout and Leader’s Daughter

Footnote:  My family was very happy to see me when I got home from camp. My kids had lots of questions about what I did, who I met, and where I slept. I was as excited as my 9 year old daughter gets after camp, and I told them all about it. I also ripped off my bandana (Camp Hair, Don’t Care) and begged to take a very long, very hot shower. I was pleasantly surprised to see that all of my children not only survived, but my husband really stepped up his game and his confidence with the kids over that weekend. Ever since spending a weekend away, his ability to do things for the kids magically increased. While I was away, he took them to Walmart, out to breakfast, and many other fun things were done. I was pleased. The big kids each owned their own Pokemon shirt when I returned. They were very pleased. The smallest one was wearing his big brother’s clothes…. But they were all happy, healthy, and excited to see mom. I think the weekend alone with daddy was good for everyone (Daddy too!) and I know the weekend at Camp was amazing for me. I can’t wait for 2017’s STEW Event. Hope local leaders will consider joining us!

 **I can't determine the exact year I attended Girl Scout Camp at Camp Tapawingo as a Brownie. I believe I was 5 or 6, and It may have been 1984 or 1985. I was just guessing dates.

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