Bonding over muddy boots and hot coffee

“When is this coffee going to be ready?” A slim man who kind of looks like a shaggier Tom Skerritt, paces around a damp picnic table at Camp Alpine. He is wearing the same beat up Jets t-shirt and gray sweat pants he always wore on those Sunday mornings as we prepared to break camp. Soon he would take the blue enamel coffee pot off of the propane burner and pour himself what would be the first of many cups of coffee he would drink that morning.

My old scoutmaster Lee wasn't tired, he just loved the taste of a hot cup of coffee on a cool fall morning. Or a frigid cold winter morning. You get the drift. To him it was part of the camp experience. And for me it was a rite of passage. At home my mother was, and is, an enthusiastic coffee drinker. But I never wanted to drink coffee at home. But I could picture myself, standing around in muddy boots with the men enjoying a cup of coffee with the crackle of last night’s fire still audible.

We had a rule back then, and still do now, that only adults are allowed to drink coffee on Troop outings.

Soon after my eighteenth birthday, our troop was at the annual Trailblazer District Wint-o-Ree. It was cold with a little bit of snow on the ground. I was, and am, an early riser at camp. When I woke up, Lee was already awake making his morning coffee. He told me to grab a camp cup. He poured me some coffee. He had milk and sugar on hand, because he drank his coffee regular, and apparently so did I. Now, that I use higher quality coffee like Folgers® Coffeehouse Blend, as opposed to whatever we had left over from the pancake breakfast, I skip the sugar so I can enjoy the smooth yet bold taste.

Without the distraction of the boys and the day's competition. We talked about a lot of things. What he expected of me as an Assistant Scoutmaster. That morning I got so many words of wisdom that #shouldbeonacoffeemug probably enough to fill an entire kitchen cabinet with coffee mugs. And then we just shot the breeze, until he made a loud proclamation that the entire cabin could hear, about when was breakfast going to start. After that day, when a future marine would be dragged underneath a sledge that was being pulled by his fellow scouts as he yelled at them not to stop till they passed the finish line, my morning cups of coffee were just part of camping. I wasn't getting words of wisdom on how to be an adult scouter.

As the years went by and I rose in the ranks of our troop’s hierarchy, I remember many times sitting by the fire talking to a newly minted Assistant Scoutmaster and passing along my “wisdom” over a cup of coffee. For some it went in one ear out the other. Others took it to heart. It was in those moments that scout leaders become friends. No longer kid and adult, but two adults talking as equals. Just I like I was that morning with Lee.

Flash forward a few years, and I am that Scoutmaster impatiently waiting for a pot of Folgers Coffeehouse Blend to percolate in that same coffee pot, as the scouts slept, in their tents, leantos or in the cabin. Coffee at camp was never about getting a buzz or cstaying awake, it was about savoring the flavors and the moments. Those quiet moments when you can hear a woodpecker in the distance, or see a few deer walk by, you look at them, and they look at you.

These were the times that camping is perfect, and despite being a few minutes away from “civilization” you can be one with nature. You, your thoughts, and a steamy cup of coffee in your mug.

For more information and ideas on ways to enjoy Folgers Coffeehouse Blend be sure to follow Folgers on Twitter and like them on Facebook

This is a sponsored post on behalf of J. M. Smucker Company. I received compensation for this post; however, all opinions stated are my own.


I let my kid quit Little League

I called my son into the living room and confirmed with him that it was what he really wanted. He said it was. So I hit send on a note to his baseball coach letting him know that the season was over for him. The team still has two games and the playoffs to go. But #42 would not be joining them anymore.

A few weeks back on a surprisingly chilly May evening the Plumbers were in a tight game. The boys 7 and 8 year olds (and some 6s who are technically 7) are one of the smaller teams. No behemoth 2nd graders, just a group of scrappy little guys. My son stood at the plate. Elbow up. Knees slightly bent. The other team's pitchers were wild already five of our guys had been hit. The bases were loaded. And the pitch came in. It was way inside, and smashed into my sons hand.

Like his teammates before him he collapsed down into a crying mess. His coach came running over from third base and tried to encourage him as he walked over to first base. He couldn't stay out there, they brought in a pinch runner and I came over to the dug out. He was inconsolable.

I was sure he'd be good to go by the next game. I got him some extra pads for his hands. A security blanket. We went to the batting cage and all seemed great. He was driving the ball with authority. At practice he was great. And then it was game day. He walked into the dugout and was in tears. He refused to play. Eventually he played half an inning of left field.

That would be the last time he saw the field. The next game he couldn't even make it into the dugout. And spent the entire game off the field playing with the little sister of one of his teammates.

I reached out to everyone I knew who might give me some advice. Dads with kids as young as 6 and some with kids almost out of high school. They all said, he'll be ready when he is ready. I didn't push it.

So after a rain-out and a few scheduling conflicts. We were going to get ready to play again. When I told him we were going to start to get ready. His face sunk.

I knew he was scared. I asked him if playing was making him unhappy. He said it was. Forcing him would just make him sad. He is six (and 3/4) he deserves to be happy. And me forcing him to play isn't doing that. I love watching him play. He has a wonderful and powerful swing the kind that is usually reserved for lefties. He is so willing to throw himself around to get a ball. We even got him catchers gear so he could try to be a catcher. And through coaching and practice. He can actually catch the ball well.

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I never got a chance to play little league, so it was important to me to see him play. That's why I never missed a game of corporate softball. It just became not right for him.

When I sent that email he was so relieved. We are still going to have catches in the back yard and the park. I'll still throw him batting practice. But he won't be on the team, at least not this year. And if that makes him happy. In happy with it too.


A tribute to a ranch, and a dad

Image result for stone cold steve austin

I have always been a fan of pro wrestling and in recent years I have become a fan of podcasts. And one of the podcasts that I listen to regularly fits into both of those interests it's The Steve Austin Show (both regular and unleashed). I was never the hugest Steve Austin fan but I really like how he tells a story and conducts an interview. I'm much more of a fan of his podcast than I was as a sports entertainer.

In a recent episode Steve was talking about selling his ranch in South Texas, the so-called Broken Skull Ranch. It soon evolved into the story of the man he calls dad. Ken Williams.

Steve Austin, was born Steve Anderson. But his parents split up and he and his brothers moved with their mom to a small town in Texas, where she met and eventually married an country western guitar playing insurance salesman named Ken Williams. He adopted her sons and they went on to have two more kids. Mr.Williams was (and still is) an avid hunter and outdoorsman. He found himself with three sons so he passed his love for the outdoors onto them. Because as Steve said that is what a dad does shares his passions with his kids.

The four Williams boys are all outdoorsy, not all of them hunt but that is only a part of what Mr.Williams past along. His daughter (and her kids) are talented singers and musicians. Another thing he passed along.

I was really taken aback, a big portion of this tribute to this ranch, was really a tribute to his dad. You could hear the pride in his voice when he spoke about his dads hunts on the ranch and the same routine he followed every day.

That ranch was not just a place for Stone Cold Steve Austin to hang out, do some hunting, drink some Broken Skull margaritas and drive around on his off road vehicles. It was about following a tradition that his dad gave to him. It was about a legacy.

Not a lot of men would step up and marry a divorced telephone operator with three kids. But Ken Williams was the kind of man who did. And that's why to this day he is so loved and revered by one of the most famous professional wrestlers of all time.


Putting a New USB Charger into my Home with the DIYZ® app

Disclosure: This post is in collaboration with the DIYZ® app. All opinions of apps and companies that help me complete DIY projects are my own.

If you are like me and my family, your home is filled with all sorts of gadgets, tablets, phones, speakers and portable video game systems (just to a name a few.) And all those gadgets need a place to charge. But, there are only so many ports on the cable box and I know I can never find enough charging cubes. So with the help of the DIYZ app, I did something about it.

My plan was to install a new electrical outlet that has two USB ports, which would add to our capabilities to keep all of our devices charged. I read the step-by-step instructions, watched the video several times, picked up my supplies, drank a large caffeinated beverage and was ready to go. Confession time; I am not handy. Not handy at all. Doing repairs around the house gives me anxiety. I worry I will mess things up beyond my own abilities and then I have to make a call to a friend, or worse, a professional. Also, working with electricity scares me. I could burn down my house or electrocute myself, or both! These options seemed pretty likely, but I liked the idea of charging my iPhone from an outlet in the wall, so I gave it my best shot.

I went into the basement and flipped off the circuit that corresponded with where I was going to do the install. Since all the lights were out, I used a battery powered lantern to show me the way. The step-by-step instructions were spot on, until I came to an instruction that looked nothing like my project. There weren't three wires and the outlet fixture wouldn't come out. I decided to use the video-chat feature and speak with one of the DIYZ Pro Advisors. He was super honest with me and suggested I use another outlet, since from how I described it, the outlet fixture was very old and may be difficult to remove. The last thing I wanted was difficult. So I cleaned up my work area and moved on to a spot with much better light and went to work. Once again, I cut the circuit and used the voltage tester. This was much better.

Sweat was rolling down my brow as I twisted the wires around new fixture. The white wire, which should not have been dangerous, was still making me worry. When I came to the black wire, I called my wife and put her on speaker, just in case something bad happened. Within a few minutes, everything was secured. I got the power back up and checked it out. My tablet started charging instantly. Wahoo! Nothing makes you feel more accomplished than conquering a fear.

In addition to being inept at home repairs, I don't really know my way under the hood of my car. Sure, I can add wiper fluid, or jump start a battery, but anything more advanced than that…not so much. Recently, one of my headlights burnt out, which is dangerous – especially when you have to drive at night to work. Luckily, the DIYZ app also shows you how to do minor car maintenance too! So, after buying a ten-dollar light bulb, it only took me five minutes to install it. Good as new. Without the app, I wouldn't have had the courage to do it myself.

I never felt talked down to watching the instructional videos. I also really liked that you could order recommended tools and materials through Amazon.

The DIYZ app really empowered me to do these simple DIY projects for myself. In the past I would hire a professional or let it go and pray that it wouldn't get any worse. During the process, I discovered that I can change an outlet, or a car headlight, but there are things that I can’t just fix. For example, the very old electrical system that is powering our home. I’ll still be saving that job for a professional!

The app is free to download for both Android and Apple iOS devices. Better yet, the video-chat feature is also free, but only for a limited time.


Dear administrators of my kids school ...

Today was the hottest day of the year so far. But for some reason my 8-year-old daughter had to wear her jacket all day long. Why? Because on this dress down day she wore a dress whose straps were too thin. Actually she was also wearing a tank top under that dress for "modesty", she was also wearing bike shorts underneath. Spaghetti straps are out of dress code. Really we are talking about an 8-year-old.

Are the spaghetti straps so distracting to a room full of 3rd graders? No. If she was dressed like a fidget spinner, the boys wouldn't be able to take their eyes off her, but rest assured she is not causing a distraction. It is utter nonsense. Guess what if what a little child is wearing is so distracting to the boys in her class well that is a problem with the way they were raised. And it's a problem that school's feel the need to legislate what kids can wear, well mostly legislate what girls are allowed to wear, there are pretty much no regulations for what a boy is not allowed to wear to school that doesn't apply to girls.

You have never met as nice and sweet little girl as my daughter. She  shares her snacks at lunch time to a fault. But she gets singled out because a puritanical rule that was written to prevent 13-year-old 8th graders from "distracting" their male classmates.

It's funny when people complain about the bullying problem at the school, it takes weeks and weeks for it to be addressed. When an entire class of kindergartens are not allowed to run around at recess it takes dozens of letters to the principal and teacher, and a near civil war amongst the parents in the class for anything to be done about it. But the seductiveness of a child must be stopped immediately.

The school is a Catholic school, so there are rules I get that. But this rule is terrible and the enforcement is terrible. It would have been cruel to make a child walk around in his socks because he was wearing purple sneakers instead of white or black ones. It was cruel to subject my daughter to this enforcement, a note home from the teacher would have sufficed.

My daughter is prone to overheating and had she passed out because she was forced to wear a jacket in school all day. My guess would be an attorney would be writing something about this incident not me.


Buying cups and a Major League Baseball preview

A few weeks ago we signed our son up for this season of little league. It will be his third season, first was t-ball, then last year was coach pitch and now player pitch. The league commissioner guy, told me he needed to wear grey baseball pants and wear cleats. He asked if we had our own bat or helmet. We had a bat (which I hope is Little League approved) and were looking at helmets. Then I asked "does he need to wear a cup?" And the guy looked at me like I was asking "do fish like water". So yes he needed a cup.

I drive back home wondering who sells cups for 6 year olds. Apparently everyone does. From the old sumo styled ones, to boxer briefs with a pouch to pocketed briefs there were a world of options. My best friend who has a 9 year old (a true grizzled veteran of little league) gave me some sage advice as to what to get, and another piece of invaluable advice, buy which ever cleats are cheapest (since they are going to grow out of them quickly).

After a few sick days, the little guy was ready to head out of the house. So we went to the local sporting goods store and searched. The baseball pants were right there and then we went searching for the right cup. I told them that a cup was there to protect his penis, he replied just like the helmet protects my head. Sure. He picked out a blue one. It was for adults 135-170 pounds. I said that might be too big. I found the peewee sizes and showed him some options. He eventually went with a brief (probably because he's used to wearing briefs). I worried, would they be comfortable. Would it hurt when he ran in them. Mostly I just wanted to make sure he's well protected.

As we walked over to the shoe section. He asked if it would hurt to get hit with a baseball in the cup area. I was honest and said yes, a little, but a lot less than without a cup. He was ok with that. And seemed ready to take the field with his teammates.

Oh right since it's right before opening day here is my official and totally unbiased MLB preview.

New York Mets make it back to the World Series, and regular season MVP Yoenis Cespedes and the aces lead the Mets to their third World Championship.


the old home away from home

I first walked into the Scout Office at St. Matthias in 1981 as a 7 year old Cub Scout. This past week I may have walked out of it for the last time. It was sad. But my son was there and he got to see the basement where until this past week Troop 327 stored its gear.

The building we were told was in the process of being sold and we were being given a new storage space down the block. Accidentally we found out that it had been sold and spent a Friday meeting cleaning out the basement. With four adults, 6 Boy Scouts and a Tiger Cub, we made pretty quick work of it. And our new space is not ideal but it will work and it's still tidy (at least for right now).

For the past several years we were just using the basement of the corner building on Woodward and Catalpa, and we had most of our meetings in the school itself. We had grown too large for that room to be an effective place to have meetings. But as we cleaned I remembered a lot of good times in that building.

Lively junior leader meetings after scout Sunday, when an adult voice was never heard. Building a robot that "marched" with us in the Memorial Day parade. As a staging area for massive Scouting for Food Drives. Hanging out with the other junior leaders in the back room while Mr. Dowd took the little kids on his famous leaf identification hike around the block. 

The place that was a staging area for camping trips all over the tri-state area, for trips to Washington DC, Boston, Gettysburg and beyond. Was not ours anymore. The place where a future naval officer and future army national guard recruiter would go crashing through the plate glass window as we were packing to go to the University of Connecticut. That place is still there, but its only ours in our memories.

As we cleared, me and our current scoutmaster reminisced in vague terms about being scouts in that building. The thoughts of the time when we were senior enough to be the crew gathering the equipment out of the basement before camping. We moved some of our artifacts, the giant sign said Troop 327 and has an image of a lone scout starting a small fire at a campsite in the shadows of an idyllic mountain. And of course our Worlds Fair totem pole, which one day will become part of a collection of Boy Scout memorabilia.

That room was home every Friday night for years and years. And now it will be something else. Might it be an artisan mayonnaise place? Or another coffee shop? Who knows, but it won't be the scout office anymore, it won't be home.


My reading journal - Monday 3/27

Norse Mythology
  Neil Gaiman

 One of the interesting characters in this book is Thor. He is the god of Thunder and son of the main God Odin. He is impetuous and not very mature. While he is a great and powerful warrior his father is not sure that he is ready to lead Asgard as king.