Sorry, end of the year nonsense going on

Trying to finish a Journey project, Bronze Award, plan an end of the year party, and possibly a bridging ceremony and one last campout.  And that’s just for Girl Scouts . . . will post more during the summer.

What Apps do YOU use for Girl Scouts?

These are three of my favorites for camping, and one that looks promising:
Audubon OwlsAudubon Owls – This is the only one I have, but based on this one, I would recommend any of the Audubon Field Guides. It has great pictures, lots of details, territory maps, multiple recordings of each species of owl, and fun quizzes and puzzles. Love this one!

Campfire Songs – I LOVE this app! It has hundreds of songs and variations. Since I was not a Girl Scout when I was a little girl, I am still learning all the traditional songs that the leaders love to sing at our Council wide events. This app helps!

Knots Guide Free – I am not really great at knots yet. I got really excited one weekend, because I remembered how to do a clove hitch without having to read up on it, and I used it at the right time. This app is for all the other knots I DON’T know!

Trees – I just got this app, and haven’t gotten a chance to give it a shot. If it helps me out in the field so to speak, I will probably buy the paid version to get more species of trees. Where we camp there are about a dozen different kinds of oak and pine!

Diversity training from ten year olds

I was listening to a piece on NPR regarding a new blog project, Code Switch. It is going to be discussing race and how we talk about it, among other things. As usual, my mind started drifting and crunching what I was listening to, and I started thinking about the ways I think and speak about race, and how I have thought and spoken in the past.  I was born in the 70s, and grew up in the 80s, in the suburbs of Houston, Texas.

And I am white.

I mean, White.  I have never been Caucasian, except on government forms.  I have never been Anglo.  Unlike my parents, I was never really a Gringo, even when we lived in South America, because I was too busy being “bebé”.  I can’t pass for anything but White, as I wear my grandmother’s Irish parentage pretty clearly with translucent pale skin, an abundance of freckles, and hair that started strawberry blonde and ended, as my husband once told me, as raspberry brown.

And for me, that is where the race discussion has always ended.  If you grew up as a White girl in the South, but the DEEP South, in the 80s; then that is where the conversation ended.  “I am White.”  We were told that everyone was the same, so we shouldn’t point out differences.  It’s not nice.  It’s not polite.  It’s not true.  What was communicated to me, on a much deeper level, was that we still had to pay for the sins of our forebears who we never met.  For slavery, for the ludicrousness that was “separate, but equal”, for the invention of a thousand ways to say “you’re not White, so you’re not good enough”.  Pointing out that someone was not White was equated with being a racist in my mind.  The weight of hundreds of years of racial inequality was pushed onto the shoulders of an elementary school child.

And it still paralyzes my speech.

And I know that by now, you are wondering – “What the heck does this have to do with Girl Scouts? I mean, nice story and all, but seriously what does this have to do with my Troop?”  Because today’s kids are different.  They are so amazingly, unbelievably different.

My troop is teaching me how to talk about race.

They don’t realize it, and they wouldn’t believe it if I told them.  My daughter has the advantage of going to a school far more balanced than any of the schools I went to, and of having a Girl Scout Troop that has girls whose parents are from India and Pakistan, girls whose parents are African American and Hispanic, girls who are blonde and blue eyed, and girls who belong to almost every major religion on the planet – not just the mega church down the street.

It has always seemed like the kids who weren’t White were allowed to talk about race beyond a single word.  In the 80s, the conversation in the African American community over the relative darkness of a person’s skin was such an intense discussion that it even became a huge part of movies.  But now the girls in my Troop who would have been called Black in my day, say that that is a negative word and would like to be called African American, and the South Asian girls freely use the adjective “brown” to describe themselves, and my daughter is not scowled at when she joins in the conversation and uses the same words.

As I would have been.  Or at least, I felt I would have been.

We have to talk about diversity in our group – HAVE to.  We have girls who are Christian, who are Muslim, who are Hindu, who are still searching.  We have girls who are athletes and girls accepted into the Gifted and Talented Academy.  We have cheerleaders and hikers and video game nuts and artists and girls who are just really really good at being a friend.  So we have to talk about diversity when we discuss camping meals, and when we talk about when we are going to do activities (Sunday mornings are out, but so are Friday nights for similar reason).

I have to talk about race to the parents, as well.  My childhood taught me that I don’t get to decide what race another person is.  Only that person gets to decide that (or their parents, in the case of my Troop).

When my Troop was Daisies, we got a new girl whose parents were from India and Pakistan, the first in our Troop.  I had to ask her mom how to classify her (we are partnered with our local United Way, which means we are required to keep track of racial diversity), because on the forms I only get the choice of White, African American, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Hispanic.  Her mother told me that they often have this problem of classification.  They prefer to be known as South Asian when you have to have a non-religious, semi-geographical, group name.  But the forms don’t have this option.  So they choose either White or Asian, neither of which is right.

I have to have discussions with the girls who are mixed race, and find out which of the races their parents would like me to mark, because I can only mark one.  And it is a hard conversation to have with a mom who wants her daughter to identify with both of the rich cultures represented in her as fully as possible, to figure out some way to be both African American AND White, or African American AND Hispanic.  And that mom, who decided to marry the man she wanted to marry regardless of the taboo and who is constantly having that internal monologue of “how to I raise my children to be both”, has to understand that I love her daughter for who she is, for both sides of her, and for all the sides of her that are not related to her race.  But I have to reduce her to a number to be counted.  A number which defines her and insults her.

It was easier when I was a kid.  Everything – and everyone – was black and white.  But I think my girls are never going to get the same paralyzing fear of saying the wrong thing and coming across as a racist that I have.  And I think that maybe, by the time I am proudly giving them their Gold  Awards, neither will I.

Meal Plan: Cheesy Couscous

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Why YOU Will Like this Meal Plan

This is another of my troop’s favorite meals. It’s like making macaroni and cheese at camp (and I have yet to meet the child that doesn’t love mac and cheese), without giving them all the extra chemicals and coloring that come in that blue box. Other things I, as a leader, love about this recipe:

  • it makes a good lunch OR dinner;
  • it can be assembled ahead;
  • it contains mostly shelf stable ingredients, making it good for the last day of a campout;
  • it can be made in individual bags, and therefore modified individually;
  • it is FAST (my girls prefer to be doing stuff at camp rather than cooking for hours);
  • it can be made by Daisies with only a little help from adults (directing measuring and heating water);
  • it adds some whole wheat to a camp menu without freaking out the most “white bread only” girls in the troop.

How to Get Your Troop to Like This Meal Plan

The hardest thing is getting the troop to try something called “couscous”. You will likely have some girls who already have eaten couscous (my daughter had), but you are also likely to have girls who don’t eat anything new. ANYTHING. These are the girls you will have to explain exactly what couscous is: pasta. It might look like a grain – heck it is even put in the grain section of most grocery stores! – but it is actually teeny tiny balls of semolina pasta which merely needs rehydrating and heating. Once the girls wrap their heads around this fact, then describing this dish as “camping macaroni and cheese” makes it easy for them to try it. Bring a bowlful to a pre-camp meeting to let them try it – or actually teach them to make it at a meeting, if you have the facilities.

Make Cooking at Camp FUN

This recipe is not cooked in a way you would do in the average kitchen, which makes it something special for camp – like making S’mores at a fire circle. I found the original recipe on a site devoted to Trail Cooking and freezer bag cooking. Hikers and backpackers want to keep their gear as light and compact as possible. They also don’t want to waste fuel boiling pasta in water. Most backpacker meals (homemade or commercial) are made in thick reusable resealable bags: hot water is poured in the bag, the bag is then sealed and squooshed to mix contents, and finally the bag is stuck in a fleece bag to keep warm while the meal heats and rehydrates.

Since my troop is not the backpacker/hiker types yet, I use my big fleece blanket that I always bring to camp. I simply fold it so that all the individual bags will fit on it with a double layer of blanket on both top and bottom.

The Best Part

This is a “gateway” recipe. Once you can get your girls to demand it, you can start modifying it. I’m planning on getting my girls to try adding cooked broccoli to it next camping trip. We can boil the broccoli briefly (3 minutes) in the water you use to cook the couscous (this will add some vitamins to the couscous, maybe turn it a fun green color, but definitely be a lesson in using your resources wisely). Then add the broccoli to the couscous, maybe with some extra cheese (You like broccoli with cheese sauce, right? It’s like that, with pasta! *grins*). Maybe chop the broccoli so it mixes more thoroughly, or maybe leave it in big florets – I will need to ask the girls what they thing would taste better. Maybe leave some broccoli raw, and put it on the side with Ranch for the girls who think this sounds yucky.

After you get them warmed up to the idea that couscous is just pasta, and a great pasta to bring to camp – the sky is the limit! Couscous makes great cold salads (cook a double batch for dinner, save half for lunch with chopped tomatoes and mozzarella balls [bocconcini] and Italian seasoning), use it instead of spaghetti with red sauce or pesto, use it instead of rice. There are a lot of great sounding couscous recipes at Trail Cooking.
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Cheesy Couscous

adapted from Trail Cooking
serves 1 adult, this scales perfectly although you might want to adjust portion sizes depending on the age of your girls (half it for Daisies and Brownies)
1/4 c. regular couscous
1/4 c. whole wheat couscous
1 T. dry milk
1/4 t. salt
1 stick cheddar cheese (or 1 oz. shredded)
1 c. water

  1. The first 4 ingredients can be assembled in quart sized freezer bags (1 per person). Keep the cheese in the cooler until you are ready to cook. When you are ready to cook, start heating water in a couple of pots over a stove or fire.
  2. Meanwhile, have the girls cut (with a butter knife if young) cheese sticks into a very small dice and add to bags, or measure shredded cheese into bags (1 oz. = 1/4 c.). Label any that are different (no dairy, no cheese, seasonings added, etc.)
  3. When the water is almost to a boil (bubbles start appearing on the bottom of the pot), start measuring out one cup portions, and adding to the bags. This is for adults to do until the girls are much older. Then make sure the bag is sealed WELL and pass to a girl to squoosh until everything is mixed, and tuck into the blanket.  At this point, you will be sure you misread the recipe and added WAY too much water.  You didn’t.  It will look like a very thin soup.  The couscous will soak it up.  I promise (look at the pic of this stage on the bottom of this post).
  4. Once all of the bags are wrapped in the blanket, let them sit for 15 minutes to let the couscous hydrate, and the cheese melt. Use this time to get salad stuff ready, or whatever fruit or veggie you are serving with the couscous.

Feel free to spice this up! Add garlic powder, chili powder, dried minced onions, and maybe even some beef bouillon for taco couscous. Use mozarella, and add Italian seasoning, maybe some chopped pepperoni (turkey is healthier and more acceptable than pork or mystery meat) for pizza couscous. Leave out the cheese, and add raisins, nuts, and curry powder for a more traditional couscous.

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In the pictures, I made a taco flavored batch using half wheat, half tricolored couscous. I only made 1/4 c. (dry), and as you can see, it fluffed up to easily a cup of pasta – a good side dish portion for an adult, or a meal for a Kindergardener. For seasonings, I used 1/2 t. chili powder, 1/8 t. garlic powder, 1/4 t. beef bouillon (no salt needed because of this), 1/2 t. dried minced onion, and 1 oz. sharp cheddar cheese. I recommend it! Also, it would be good to add some diced fresh bell pepper, black olives, and cooked pinto beans for a more complete meal. Although that might only work for more sophisticated palates. :)

Troop T-shirts, IDs, and More

A couple of weekends ago, my Council held is Spring Training event up at camp. I had been approached to be Trainer in Charge for two sessions called “Troop T-shirts, IDs, and More”, which freaked me out because I have only been training for less than a year at the time they asked, and am […]

Beta Testing for Council

I don’t know about your Council, but mine is going through a major upheaval. Since the end of last year, various Service Units around town have been told they are merging. We are going from 150ish Service Units to 57 “Communities”. And the staff are all reapplying for their jobs. And every single form and handout and training outline is going to have to be updated (I have seen some forms that still don’t include Ambassadors on them as an option). Final rollout should be the beginning of next schoolyear.

So for the next year, we will be beta testing.

Le sigh. Nobody is really excited by this change. But I’ve noticed that Girl Scouts tend to make some kind of major change every few years. Well, in my experience, anyway. I have only been involved in GS for 6 years, and in that period Daisies went from one year to two, Journeys got introduced, and the Handbooks got overhauled.

My Service Unit is a very strong one, with one out of every three girls at the elementary school level in one of our troops. We have great volunteers, great girls, great retention rates, and great community involvement. But I am looking forward to the change. I am hoping to help implement some changes to benefit the new Community.

I would like to see a big all Community Thinking Day Event, with all Older Girl Troops hosting a Country Table for the benefit of the younger girls. I would also like to see a Scout Fair showing off what the girls have done the previous year in the month before Rally Night(s), with a display for every Gold, Silver, and Bronze Award earned and a display for every trip taken and a display for camping memories and a booth for every level with a badge activity for that level.

Of course, the problem is that I am the SU Fall Product Manager. And I’m a newbie in the neighborhood and in the Service Unit. We’ll see how the beta test rolls out.

Fantastic Resource for Leaders

Okay, so I found this via Pinterest, and all I can say is that I wish MY Council had something like this!! The Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin River Valleys offer their leaders Meeting Plans geared towards finishing a Journey in two meetings plus a Take Action Project – and they have lots of suggestions for those, too! They also have Meeting Plans for other badges, although from what I have noticed, these are less fully fleshed than the Journeys. I have only explored the Juniors and Cadettes levels, and can say that most of the Junior badges have 1 sample Meeting Plan, but most Cadette badges do not. I imagine, they started with Daisies and worked their way up, so the older girls’ plans are coming. And of course, many of these plans come from their volunteers.

I am definitely looking at using the sample plans when my girls become Cadettes to plan a Journey in a weekend.

Going for Bronze – an idea

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My girls are second year Juniors, and are about to get rolling on their Bronze Award. So far, here’s their plan. They want to make boxes of goodies to give to new pet parents after they adopt a cat or dog from a local animal shelter. We have talked about it in vague terms so far (our first hardcore planning meeting is tomorrow), but we have discussed putting the following into the boxes:

  • canned food (which we have already collected at an event we hosted)
  • collars (although due to the large variations in size, I think I might suggest tags instead
  • toys (dog toys, cat toys)
  • treats, not homemade because we don’t know how fast they will be used
  • coupons
  • information on local vets
  • pet care information
  • anything else we can get donated in quantity

We also will be decorating the boxes, so they look festive, and so volunteers at the shelter can distinguish between cat boxes and dog boxes.

It’s a fun spin on Birthday Boxes for girls who want to help animals.

Meal Plan: Spaghetti

Noodles

One of the easiest and most versatile recipes for camp is Spaghetti. If you have access to a real stove (dorm style camping), cook the noodles at camp. If you don’t – cook them at home, lightly oil them (so you don’t have a block of spaghetti), and bag them. Bring in your cooler. Or wait an hour for the water to boil 2 pounds of noodles to come to a boil over a fire or propane stove.

Sauce

Now, get some serious nutrition into your girls. Don’t buy a jar of spaghetti sauce – especially if you can’t pronounce the ingredient list. Buy canned crushed tomatoes and tomato paste, and season with Italian herbs, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Even Brownies can help make this sauce from “scratch”. When the girls are older and more adventurous, add sauteeing bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms to the recipe. Or add some shredded carrots or zucchini when they aren’t looking. Or add some spinach leaves – call it basil. :)

For a troop of 12 girls with 2-4 chaperones, you will need about 30 oz. of crushed tomatoes and 12 oz. of tomato paste. Thin with water to desired thickness.

Meat?

For meat eaters of all kinds, heat a package of frozen turkey meatballs in a frypan by themselves. But if the vegetarians went home early, you can heat them up in the sauce, so they soak up the yummy flavor.

Serve With

If you are cooking over a fire, toast up some garlic bread wrapped in super strength foil. Definitely serve salad – you would be surprised how girls go for a salad. For a dozen girls and chaperones, I usually get one bag of salad, a cucumber, some carrots, and cherry tomatoes. Italian and Ranch dressing. Or if you are only going to get one, Ranch. We usually have it salad bar style at the table, so each girl gets what they like. I don’t press them to eat some of everything, but I tell them I expect them to eat at least one serving of veggies – and that’s in the sauce, but I don’t tell them that! My pickiest will grab a few baby carrots and some ranch, while the rest will get a full salad.

Food for All at Camp

One of the first things you notice about my troop is the diversity.  It is both wonderful and a challenge to learn about all of the various cultures represented by these young girls.  When we were First Year Daisies, fully half of my troop was blonde and blue eyed.  These days, I only have one blonde, but I have an entire rainbow – and I love them all.

But the meal decisions – OY!  A few girls are vegetarian, or semi-vegetarian.  Several are omnivorous.  Many do not eat pork.  One has a peanut allergy.  A few are so picky it is hard to get anything in them.

In our Council’s Troop Camper training, we are told that if a girl in your troop has dietary restrictions or allergies, then that girl should probably bring her own food.  I think that if your troop is fairly homogenous, and you only have one girl that stands out in this way (i.e., ONE vegetarian in a troop of meat eaters, ONE girl who keeps kosher in a troop of bacon lovers, etc.) – then this solution makes sense.  But too often, troops are full of a blend of girls, such as mine, which range from one end of the food spectrum to the other.

As a result, I have come up with several different meal plans that ALL of my girls love. Some are indulgent to make everyone happy(hot dog days are fun for the girls, but it involves buying 3 different packs for my troop!), some are meat optional, and some are purely vegetarian.  I plan on sharing a bunch of these.

None of my girls are vegan, and I can’t imagine having a vegan in my troop.  If any recipes or meal plans seem like they would be vegan, I will tag them as such.  But I’m not an expert, and my label reading is more about which type of gelatin is in my marshmallows and whether there is high fructose corn syrup in my juiceboxes.