Thursday, July 31, 2008

Scoutmaster Mike: I Got "Beaded" On Tuesday !!!

Back in January of 2007, I made a commitment to my Young Men's President that I would go through and complete Wood Badge training for the Boy Scouts of America. For those unfamiliar with it, Wood Badge is the highest level of direct training that a leader in the BSA can receive. When you complete Wood Badge, you are considered a "Ph.D. in Scouting".

I signed up for the course, waited eight months for it to begin, went through the process of "on the hill" instruction, then completed five large projects of use to my troop, other units, or council. When I was at Camp Oljato last week, I delivered the last of my ticket items to the camp staff, a large sign that displayed the Philmont Grace (I actually made three of them, but since we were attending Camp Oljato for Summer Camp, I decided that I wanted to make the presentation in person.

Presenting my final item (Philmont Grace plaque) to Camp Oljato Camp Staff

On Tuesday evening, we held our Troop's Homecoming Court of Honor, and in conjunction with that, my Scoutmaster from my course, my Senior Patrol Leader, my Troop Guide, my Patrol Leader, and some other friends that are Wood Badge recipients came out to honor me and my completing my deliverables for Wood Badge.

Jim Fuller, WE3-55-07 course Scoutmaster, opens the Wood Badge portion of the Court of Honor.

Carmen Fuller, WE3-55-07 Senior Patrol Leader, presents me with my Wood Badge Beads.

Keith Blackey, Redwood District Chairman, presents me with my MacLaren Tartan.

Don Larson, WE3-55-07 Troop Guide for the Buffalo Patrol, presents me with my certificate of completion for the Wood Badge course.

No Buffalo Patrol member's beading is complete without donning the famous 'Royal Order of Water Buffalo's" Grand Poohbah cap (LOL!)

It was a great experience and one I will treasure always. What was also nice was that Chris (i.e. the aforementioned Young Men's President) was also able to participate in the ceremony; it felt good to have him be part of it, considering he was the final push I needed to get in and finally do it.

To other scout leaders out there, if you have ever considered doing Wood Badge, I would strongly encourage you to do so. It's a great Scout training, to be sure, but it's also a tremendous *life* training, too. There's so much that is applicable to everyday living that I's dare say one could not help improving their personal lives immeasurably for having gone through it.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ego Over Matter 2008: Week 8: Scout Camp Post-Mortem Edition

One week, 7500 feet of elevation climb, lots of walking, service, various projects, and sleeping away from my own bed for seven days… just another week in Paradise (LOL!).

This morning’s weigh-in had me at 201 pounds. That translates to no movement on the scale… and I couldn’t be happier, at least for this week :). My goal was just to get through this week with no injuries, no hurt feelings, and no calls home to parents to pick up boys for bad behavior (which would *not* have been trivial, considering we were 240 miles away from home).

For those who have followed this adventure of mine through this time, you’ll remember that my goal was to get myself back to ‘fighting weight” to bring my boys to Scout Camp this year, and frankly, I’m glad I did. The camp the boys chose this year was Camp Oljato, which is one of three camps located on Lake Huntington (about 70 miles East of Madera and Fresno, between Yosemite and Sequoia Natl. Monument). Entry to the camp is by boat only, so it helped to be economical with what was brought, and the fact that bears are in the area required all food items be locked up at the main dining hall in a second story bear box only accessible by ladder. Our camp site was the farthest west of all the areas, about 1200 feet away from the dining hall… needless to say, this kept snacking to a minimum, as every trip from the campsite to the dining hall and back resulted in a half mile walk. Meals were adequate if not stunning, but hey, I don’t really expect culinary excellence of a high order at a Scout Camp. I’ve had better, but I’ve also had far worse. The fact that getting more food in the dining hall meant that you had to wait in a really long line (300 people up at camp all told this past week) also made me choose the salad bar over the main steam tables many, many times. In short, I worked hard, I walked a *lot*, I ate well, and I came back at a dead even weight from when I left. That’s a good feeling. Now if I can get it to translate to my daily life the rest of the time, that would be awesome (LOL!).

Some highlights from this week… a very successful camp for all of the boys. Out of eight boys attending, we bagged 25 merit badges (including two that were completed just before we left for camp), 6 rank advancements, and did enough while there to earn the Honor Troop award and have all of the kids and both adults that attended qualify for Tribe (many Scout camps have a set of goals that, if you complete them, qualify you as a member of the camp tribe; of course we decided to go for it :) ). My son Nick bagged the Environmental Science, Camping, Wilderness Survival and Climbing merit badges. He also sat for his Life Boards of Review with the camp staff at Oljato. He said this was the toughest Board of Review he’d ever been through; they grilled him for a full 45 minutes. He was very relieved when they said that he’d passed (for those not familiar with Scouting, the Life rank is the one just below Eagle Scout). Nick is just shy of turning twelve, and has only been in the Boy Scout program for fifteen months, so he’s come a long way in a short amount of time. The only thing separating him from his Eagle Scout award is three required merit badges (Citizenship in the Community, Personal Fitness and Personal Management), an Eagle Scout Service Project (he’s already got ideas as to what he wants to do) and a minimum of six months active tenure as a Life Scout. The thought that my kid could earn his Eagle at age twelve just totally blows my mind!

One other huge success and great revelation from my boys is that they almost to a man have decided there’s one activity that they really love and can’t seem to get enough of, and that’s Rock Climbing. I’m talking the full ropes and harnesses, cliff face kind of Rock Climbing. The Troop as a whole decided that they wanted to focus on Rock Climbing as a troop specialty… which means that their Scoutmaster now has a new hobby, whether he was looking for one or not (LOL!). Thus, Ego Over Matter now has a new element to it. I pledged to the boys that I would get certified in climbing so that I could lead expeditions with them, and now my diet and fitness has a whole new trajectory. I wonder how hard it is to become a proficient rock climber at 40 (LOL!).
So there it is, we made it home safe and sound, and now I have some new goals to aspire to, and yet even more reason to bring my weight down, my strength up, and keep a focus on staying in “fighting shape” for the long term. Wish me luck :).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Madd Money: Up Market? Buy! Down Market? Buy!

I'll not mince words, if you have invested any money this year, you are probably not seeing much in the way of returns. If you are like me and your primary investment is done through growth mutual funds, then you are also seeeing much in the way of negative returns in your portfolio. A lot of people are talking about selling, and getting out of their positions. Well, I'm no expert, and I have nothing other than personal instinct and history to look at, but I would say that, if you are truly investing for the future, you may well be glad that this current situation is happening.

I've adopted a philosophy of steady and regular contributions to vehicles like my 401K, ROTH IRA's and some 529 plans for my kids' education. These contributions happen during each pay period like clockwork. The only time that they stop is if our emergency fund has to be used and drops below our agreed to level (which is six months of our families expenses). So far, that has not happened, and to be frank, I hope it never does.

Whe the market is going down, it may be hard to justify continuing to buy into mutual funds or stock shares on the surface, but if you are talking about long term investing (meaning where the money will not be tapped for ten years or more) then right now is the *best* time to buy shares. Instead of looking at the market as though it is "down", I treat it as though it is "on sale". For most of us, when we se that something we desire is on sale, what do we do? We tend to stock up on it (pun intended). What do we do when stuff is really expensive? Typically, we tend to buy less of it or just do without it entirely. So why do we look at the stock market any differently? the reason is that greed and fear tend to drive us, and we end up becoming irrational with our investments (an by we, I'm saying "Me" in a big way; I've made this mistake in the past and regretted it).

The definition of purchasing regular and recurring lots of shares with the same dollar amount each time is called "dollar cost averaging" and it's a principle I do my best to always follow. I decided that timing the market was something that I would avoid doing, and that slow and steady investments into the vehicles I've chosen would be the best way to reach my goals. I have to remind myself that my time horizon is rather long (i.e. I'm planning to be investing over the next fifty years, if I live that long). Any money that I need to access in less than five years shouldn't be in the market at all, and any money I'll need betwen five and ten years should likewise be exposed to less risk. Beyond that, almost all of the ten year periods in the stock moarket's history have made money, and I think it's likely that those norms will continue (those norms also include every recession that we've been through and also including the Great Depression). Anyway, long story short, I'm planning to keep on my slow, boring approach as I go forward. It's not very sexy or glamorous. but then, I'm not doing this to be sexy or glamorous, I'm doing this so my family can be taken care of when I'm old and grey. Statistics point to this being one of the best ways to do that, so I'll heed the statistics :).

Monday, July 14, 2008

Ego Over Matter 2008: Week 6: Weigh In and Random Thoughts

OK, here we are at the six week mark. I said if I could hit 205 I’d be happy, and if I could hit 200, I’d be ecstatic. Is there something g between happy and ecstatic (LOL!)?

Today’s weigh in had me at 202 pounds, which is two down from last week and eighteen down from the start of this crazy project. Plus I still have six days before I and a motley gang of eleven and twelve year olds leave for summer camp (one of that motley gang, of course being my own son). I will likely post something on Saturday to that effect. I’ve also decided that I like the feedback mechanism that this provides, and I’ve realized that the drama of losing it, while entertaining, isn’t nearly as important as the slightly less glamorous but much more important aspect of actually keeping it off. So y’all will still hear from me, just probably not as loud or as often, but I’m going to keep goals posted and I’m going to share my ups and downs on reaching each of them.

Two pound loss. All right, that’s what I’m talking about. Not too much to give me worries of catabolization, not too little to make me bummed I didn’t make it, just the right amount :). What makes this “just the right amount” cool is the fact that I had two fairly big parties this weekend. The first was a special Eagle Scout Court of Honor for three of the older guys in my Troop (I just recently took on the full time role as Scoutmaster, so I don’t get any credit for these boys being where they are today, but it’s my gig to throw them a party and throw it I did. I did my part by springing for the Hawaiian Barbecue chicken and rice (and oh, was it good!). One of the mom’s makes an *awesome* cake for each Eagle Court that we hold. Think I’m passing up on that action? Think again!!!

Last night we all gathered together in the old Danville homestead to celebrate my Dad’s birthday, so that meant another great dinner and another great cake. I controlled myself, but still, it felt nice after that kind of a weekend to ‘make weight”, so I’m pretty chipper this morning, to say the least.
Next week will be very interesting. I wonder what I’ll read when I come back home? Also, I wonder if some fun we’ll be having on this coming Friday Night will set me back any (LOL!). Oh well, guess we’ll just have to wait and see, huh?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Ego Over Matter 2008: Week 5: Weigh In and Random Thoughts

OK, so we are now at week five, and here's my numbers. This morning, I weighed in at 204 pounds, which is one pound down from last week and sixteen pounds down from the start. I guess I should have expected this at this point, but it's still a bit of a let down. Still five weeks and sixteen pounds is 3.2 pounds per week average. Still aggressive, ahead of target, but I can't help it, I get bummed when I can't get a full two pound drop at the minimum.

There's something very empowering and appearing about "making weight" each week. It tends to allow me enough short term focus to do what I have to to meet my goals. Dropping twenty or thirty pounds is often a bit scary to contemplate, but having that weekly two or three pounds (or on those weeks where one pound is all I can report) is an atainable enough goal that I tend to get excited about it. I also notice that there tends to be a weekly cycle. Some weeks feel like I live for Monday morning, as that's where everything comes out in the wash and I know what progress I've actually made. I also tend to like Monday morning because that's the one day that, after weigh-in, I loosen up a little and just drift for a day. From there, I tend to get a little more focused each day until the weekend, when I get hyper-focused leading into my next weigh-in. Then the cycle starts all over again.

I think part of my lower return this week was the three day weekend; it's hard to be super focused on a holiday weekend. It's even harder to stay focused when dinner on Saturday was in Japantown in San Francisco and a great meal of Unagi and Wakame Soba is staring you in the face (LOL!).

Ah well, my one pound weeks tend to be followed on with three pound weeks, so we'll see what next Monday has in store :).

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Scoutmaster Mike: Wood Badge Recollections, Part 2: The Redwood Challenge

As my boys were going through their first year of Boy Scouts, I realized that there were effectively two levels of training. There was the Troop leadership Training, which is the intro level training for a scout, and consists of a three page outline and job cards for each youth member. That’s the sum total of entry level training there is. The next step up is National Youth Leadership Training, which is a week long training course open to boys who are 14 years old or 13 ½ if they are 1st Class and the Senior Patrol Leader. I’ve read through the syllabus of this course, and it’s awesome! Still, I felt like saying “what are my boys going to do in the in-between years? There’s a lot of ground that gets covered between the ages of 11 and 13 ½. Isn’t there something that I can do that will help them get more leadership experience in between?

My answer was “yes” and the result was what has become known in my troop as “Redwood Challenge”. This is a combination of the Troop Leadership Training, elements of the older Junior Leader Training (JLT) that went out of circulation about five years ago, and some elements of National Youth Leadership Training that is available today.

So what is Redwood Challenge? It’s a metaphor for the idea that Redwoods are fast growing trees, but if they don’t get a good anchor in the soil, they can fall over easy in high winds and under stress. Likewise, our boys are at an age between 11 and 13 ½ when they are learning a lot and have a tremendous amount of potential, but they will also fall under stress if they do not get the chance to put their roots down deep. Thus, the idea behind Redwood is that there’s a course, there’s an action plan, and there’s a deliverable related to their specific jobs (does this sound a little bit like Wood badge? That’s intentional :) ).

As I developed the course, I decided I wanted to have a number of different themes run through the training. Trust, decision making skills, leadership and listening were emphasized. In addition, the idea that each boy was responsible for their own domain within the Troop.

When the day came for me to actually give the training, I had high hopes that this would be a fast paced, action packed and high participation event. Truth is, it was a mixed bag the first time out. The activities worked well, but then the discussion afterwards tended to drag a little bit. Lesson learned, one activity at a time, followed by reflection, then followed by another activity and reflection, etc. While the roundtable discussion we had was, I think, helpful, it went on too long and I could see the attention levels flagging a bit.

In addition, I realized that *I* was giving too much of the training, meaning the boys were sitting there listening to me too much of the time. For future training sessions, I will have the boys themselves give parts of the training, lead the activities and then I’ll just help out with the reflection potion.

Overall, I think the training turned out to be positive, and the boys now have the skills that they need to succeed in their respective positions, and this will become an ongoing process over time, where the training will be enhanced and refined as the boys grow and mature. This way, when the time comes for NYLT, they will be well prepared and ready to participate at a higher and more involved level. I’m looking forward to that :).

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Madd Money: Are You Better Off Now Than You Were Eight Years Ago?

On another blog that I read regularly (Frugal Dad) this question was posed under the title of a post called “Who’s Responsible For Your Misery Index? The question is “Are you better off now that you were eight years ago?”

What’s this meant to be? It’s of course aimed as a dig against George W. Bush. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a Republican...

“GASP! A ‘Mormon Democrat’?! Is there really such a thing?!”

Yes there is, and I happen to be one of them.

Still, party philosophy notwithstanding, I think this line of reasoning is a total crock! Honestly, how is a faceless bureaucracy like the U.S. Government responsible for me being better or worse off?

Just for fun, here’s some comparisons to eight years ago:

In July of 2000, my commute was 100 miles in a car round trip. In July of 2008, it’s 4 miles to a train station and back, and 13 miles along a BART rail.

In June of 2000, I had a mortgage payment that was roughly 25% of my take home pay for a given month. In July of 2008, I have a fully paid for house and no mortgage payment at all!

In July of 2000, I was struggling through the decision to go back to school and complete my Bachelors degree. In July of 2008, I have that degree and use it daily.

In July of 2000, I was a dad of two great kids. In July of 2008, I’m the dad of *three* great kids (our youngest was born in 2001).

In July of 2000, we had a house where most of the fittings and fixtures were fifty years old. In July of 2008, we have updated central A/C and heat, updated windows, improved insulation plus a remodeled kitchen and main bathroom, and we managed to do it all without borrowing a penny.

In short, those were all changes for the better that *I* and my family were able to make happen. The government has little to nothing to do with it. Now, to their credit, I can say thank you for the three months I had to make do with an unemployment check during 2002 while I was between jobs, but hey, that was my money paid into the system that provided it.

The other side to this question: if I was worse off than I was eight years ago, who would I really have to point the finger at? Truthfully, the finger has to get pointed at “me” first!

I could have decided not to go back to school

I could have decided not to change jobs because I felt the distance was just too much

I could have insisted that my wife work a job so that we could be the stereotypical two income family with the kids in day care (that’s not a dig at families that choose to do that, or more often than not, don’t have a choice but to do that, but for us, we decided to make do on just my income and have Christina be a full-time mom to our kids, and I don’t regret that decision one bit).

I could have sat on my butt when I got laid off the first time and moaned about how there was nothing out there, but instead I took a couple of years worth of tough reality and worked jobs that paid lower than I was used to so I could have the flexibility and freedom to go to school full time and finish my degree.

My choices of where I live are mine, where I work are mine, what I do with my time are mine, and where I place my kids in activities, spend my spare time, and worship on Sunday are exactly that, MINE! Thus, am I better off today than I was eight years ago?


Who do I have to thank for that? Myself, my family, my friends, my church and a few others along the way.

Who had little to nothing to do with that? The Government in Washington, D.C., and I hope and pray that we, as a people, do *NOT* start looking to the government to provide us happiness or well being. When we as a nation lose the sense that our well being and how “well off” we are is are own individual domains, this country will be in *BIG* trouble (IMHO!)!