I am still alive and well, but it would be hard to tell that lately from my blog. I have been busy, and I have not taken very many pictures. I guess it would be fair to say that my camera drives this blog. It would also be fair to say that this blog drives my camera.

Fall has peaked and ebbed here. I was able to catch some of it, but not nearly as much as I wanted to.

Ripe hawthorns (Crataegus spp)

Ripe hawthorns (Crataegus spp)

Sandogardy Pond

Sandogardy Pond

American beech (Fagus grandifolia)

American beech (Fagus grandifolia)

Northfield Town Forest

Northfield Town Forest

The colors here were a lot more vivid in real life. They got better when I switch the camera’s white balance setting to “cloudy” vs “automatic.” It’s probably still on cloudy, as that’s not something I usually think to check.

At the beginning of this month the Pathfinders collected food for the needy. Last week our Church’s Community Services director came in and we helped her sort and store it. We also packed up a couple of boxes for people who requested them. I handed my camera to one of the kids, and he took several shots for me including this one.

Packing a box

Packing a box

I think he did a great job.

That was the same day we did the President’s Challenge Fitness Test. That includes five events – the mile, the shuttle run, V-sit and reach, curl-ups, and push-ups. I always participate in the test with the kids because I think it sets a good example. My own challenge to them was that I would give a dollar to any kid who could beat me in the mile. I also told them that if they wanted to beat me, they would have to run the entire mile, because that’s what I was going to do. I figured I’d be out six or seven bucks, but that motivator only cost me one dollar. I wish it had cost me fifteen. Maybe if the motivator was “whoever is less sore than me tomorrow” it would have.

The day before all that we had our annual induction service. It served as our church service, and I had a ton of work to do to get ready for that. It went pretty smoothly except that I had double-booked one of the parts to two kids. I also forgot to alert the person who had signed up to be the scripture reader that day ahead of time. Sigh.

David played in two more chess tournaments since I last wrote. One was a “quick” tournament where the players had 20 minutes per game. He placed second in that one. The other was a “standard” tournament – his first. In a standard tournament each player gets more than 60 minutes (they had 65 unless I am mistaken). As a result of that tourny, he now has a provisional standard rating – 1843. That’s pretty good. It’s the best rating in his local chess club, and I think he said the 11th best in New Hampshire.

On the heels of all this, we are going to go camping this weekend. I bought all the groceries tonight. I still haven’t packed my things (and Beth has not yet finished packing). Tomorrow I will buy the last few remaining items (such as ice).

The weather is supposed to cooperate, so hopefully I won’t have to dry tents while Sandy blows through New England.

Saturday the Pathfinders fanned out over a neighborhood in South Concord distributing empty grocery bags with notes stapled to them. The note was an appeal for them to donate non-perishables for the needy.

Then on Sunday after our Pathfinder meeting we went back to that neighborhood to collect the donations. It was a pretty decent haul.

Food Drive

Food Drive

Not everyone was able to join us in the afternoon, so this photo shows only about half the kids in the club.

I am back from the NNEC Pathfinder Fall Camporee, and sufficiently recovered now that I can type without falling over from exhaustion.

Executive summary: it was a huge success.

We arrived Friday evening about an hour later than I had intended. One of the kids was running late, and I didn’t think to force her onto the “late train” until it was too late. The “late train” is the vehicle that leaves last to pick up the kids who can’t get out of school early, and I know there was one seat available there. I got as far as calling the late train conductor and reserving a seat, and then calling the parent of the kid who was late. But by then she was within minutes of arriving, so we just waited.

It was pouring rain when we arrived. Luckily, our camp site had a lean-to on it, so we were able to pitch our little tents in the dry and then move them out into the rain and stake them down. I love using little tents, and I will add this to my long list of reasons why.

It poured all night and was raining when we woke up. I got everyone up at 6:00am and got the breakfast crew started on breakfast. Even with an early start like that, it still took forever to get breakfast ready. I am still trying to figure that one out. I think I am going to try to recruit a cook for the camporees. Most of the other clubs do this, and I understand that things go much more smoothly that way. I will still have the kids cook when we’re having a club campout and I am in control of the scheduling though, because they need to know how to do that. It’s just that I don’t think they need to learn that skill when we’ve got a ticking clock racing us.

We made it to flag raising on time, and three kids from our club raised the American flag. Then we had Sabbath School and church in a pavilion. During one of those service, the refugee girls from our club presented a song in Kirundi – the language of Burundi. It was very well received, and they did a great job.

About the time church was over, it finally quit raining. Then we had lunch. Mike Ortel, the president of our conference ate with us, and I enjoyed chatting with him. He’s a great guy. We also had Kurt Amos over for lunch. He’s a new area coordinator with our conference, and he was running this camporee. I really like him too. He was unable to stay for lunch though, as it was once again taking the kids an eternity to get the food ready, and since Kurt was running the camporee, he was unable to stay long enough to eat. I hope he found food somewhere.

By the time the kids finished eating, it was already time for the afternoon activities to begin. They had not yet washed their dishes, so I made the executive decision to send them along anyhow, and I did their dishes for them. David offered to stay behind and help me, and I very much appreciated that.

When we finished the dishes, we had the choice of finding our group in the activity rotations, or just relaxing a bit. We decided to relax, so we kicked back for half an hour and chatted. Then we caught up with our group as they finished the last two rotations.

Then it was time for a supper of grilled cheese, which seemed to go a lot smoother than the previous two meals. Maybe that’s because grilled cheese is so easy to make. Also, my friends Robbie and Coral were cooking for the Portsmouth club and had way too much soup. They gave us about two gallons of it, and it was delicious. That saved us from having to open our canned tomato soup (we’ll use it on the next campout).

We went to the evening program, the highlight of which is always a talent show (well – without awards or judging). David had written a skit (including lots of easy-to-learn parts for the kids). It was mocking an infomercial advertising “Stench-B-Gone” a fictitious deodorant. His skit was hands down the best one presented. If there had been awards and judging, this would have won.

We went to bed after that, and got up early Sunday to get ready to work the hurricane relief project I had lined up for the conference. Somehow, breakfast was ready in record time and we were ready to go when we needed to go.

Paul, David, myself, and two teen boys from my club drove up there together and checked in at the Chamber of Commerce where we met Sarah Shippee, who was our contact. She took us down to the park and explained what needed to be done.

I had intended to take lots of pictures while we worked, but found that if I did that, I couldn’t get much work done. It’s hard to shovel mud or pick up debris with a camera bag slung over the shoulder. I did get a few shots though.

Tennis Court

Tennis Court

This is the tennis court where the bulk of our work was done. We had about 90 Pathfinders there. The court was covered with mud about two inches deep, and we shoveled all that out. We also cleared the debris from the fence. The water line went up about 8 feet on the fence.

Two of my girls (one being Beth)

Two of my girls (one being Beth)

Here are two girls from my club (one of them being my daughter, Beth) picking up sticks, leaves, and trash all embedded in the fence and caked on with mud. We did this for a while when Paul decided that having 90 people in this one spot was not terribly effective. He asked me to take a group to the other park Sarah had shown us and work on that. I think it was a brilliant move, as there was a lot of crowding in the tennis court and its surrounding area.

Here is the trash we removed from the other park.

Debris pile

Debris pile

There must have been a hundred miles of yarn in that debris. My guess is that a low-lying yarn store was just upstream. We also found a lot of fire wood. I found that particularly heart-breaking, thinking about some guy diligently cutting, splitting, and stacking firewood to warm his house this winter, only to have it all swept away in one night. We stacked the firewood in a separate pile. I hope somebody picked it up and will use it, even though we only found a small pile. Still it might have been enough wood to heat a house for a week.

Around 11:30 we headed back to the tennis courts. A lot of people from Wilmington stopped and thanked us. Some honked and waved, so we waved back.

A thankful resident with her two kids, Harry Sabnani, and Sarah Shippee

A thankful resident with her two kids, Harry Sabnani, and Sarah Shippee

The lady on the left in this photo walked to the site with her two kids. She is a resident of the area and was just beside herself with joy that we were there. She cried and everything. The guy in the middle is Harry Sabnani, our conference Youth Director. Paul answers to him. The woman on the right is Sarah Shippee who arranged the project for us. She was fantastic too.

By lunch time we had finished clearing debris from the park as well the tennis courts. It was an amazing difference, and I failed to capture that difference with my camera. Sorry about that!

Some people from Home Depot had set up a free barbeque and invited our group to come and eat all the food we wanted. Little did they realize that most of our group was vegetarian, and that eating pork is against our religion. But they also had sodas, cupcakes, cookies, and bottled water which the kids gleefully accepted.

I talked with some of the people there while the kids ate cookies. He wanted to know who we are, so I gave him a briefing. He thanked us several times for coming out, and I thanked him for feeding us cookies.

Then we all headed back to Molly Stark State Park where we had been camping. We had our closing ceremonies, broke camp, piled in the car and ate a sack lunch on the way home.

I heard several people tell me that they thought this was the best camporee they had ever been on (in spite of the rain). I was absolutely thrilled that we were able to serve that community. I think it would have been a crime for us to camp in the middle of a disaster zone and do nothing more than roast marshmallows.

When I got home I had six wet tents to pitch, but I just tossed them onto the deck too exhausted to do anything about them. I pitched them this evening though, and when they are dry, I will take them down again.

I am still pretty tired! And now I need to go down to the basement and see if I can figure out why the washing machine doesn’t spin. :-/

Today I led the Pathfinders back into the neighborhood where we distributed bags for the food drive yesterday. Some streets gave a lot, and some gave very little. I don’t know what the difference is. It didn’t seem to be related to their affluence.

Collecting the bags took about an hour, and then everyone hauled them back to the church. I had set up several tables and put signs on them. The first three or four tables had no signs, and that’s where all the food was placed. Behind those I had two tables labelled “Canned Food” and “Dry Food.” Then behind those were tables labelled “Canned Fruit,” “Canned Vegetables,” “Canned Beans/Chili,” etc. I had one group of kids moving the stuff off the first wave of tables onto the second, and two more groups to further sort them onto the tables in the back. Then we took the bags and loaded the food into them.

You might be surprised at how much Jello we got. I know I was.

I went back to the food closet, but it didn’t look to me like there was enough room back there for all the food we had collected. I decided we would wait on shuffling it back there until I can get a hold of Sharon, our Community Services Director.

Afterwards, we had some popcorn, fruit, and animal crackers, and then we started our regular Pathfinder meeting. Eating during the meeting was a mistake, as the kids left crumbs everywhere. So we had to vacuum before we did much of anything else, otherwise, we’d have had ground-in-crumbs all over the floor.

I taught the Disaster Response honor tonight, since that’s what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and also, we had a bunch of food to sort. We used the technique I learned at the seminar last weekend, and that worked out pretty well. I’m fairly convinced that we could mount a respectable, smooth-running donations collection point if we ever need to. We weren’t numbering stuff, but that would be a pretty small leap from what we did do. All in all, I’d say it went very well.

After potluck today, the Pathfinders made 80 PB&J sandwiches. Luckily, Jessica had the foresight to suggest we put down a paper table cloth before opening the jelly. It was a mess when all was said and done.

I about went into a panic there for a few minutes though. Va and I had driven separately, so she could leave early. I had forgotten to get the paper sacks and plastic baggies out of her trunk before she left. I knew we didn’t have enough, which is why I bought them. But Va had taken them out and piled them in with the rest of the lunch-making supplies. Whew! We ended up using all of them, so now I don’t have to worry about forgetting them again.

We took the lunches over to Friendly’s Kitchen, and the people who run that place were very happy to see us (and the food). They figure it will last about two days. We’ll be back again in March to do this again.

Today after work I went to Sam’s Club and bought 8 loaves of bread, two jars of peanut butter, four (smaller) jars of jelly, 90 servings of peanut butter crackers, 60 servings of cookies, 80 boxes of juice, and 72 servings of apple sauce. The Pathfinders will turn all this into sack lunches tomorrow after church, and I will deliver them to Friendly’s Kitchen. They, in turn, will distribute them to the homeless in Concord.

From Sam’s club I went straight to the church (which is next door) and unloaded it all. I had the thought that I should find a plastic tub to keep the bread in – just in case we have a church mouse or two. So I went looking for one. The first place I checked was the Pathfinder closet. It had a tiny plastic tub containing (gasp!) sandwich baggies.

I forgot to buy sandwich baggies or paper sacks. We prolly had enough baggies to make 80 meals (that was my goal), but no way did we have enough paper bags. Not finding any empty tubs that were large enough to hold 8 loaves of bread, I gave up, hopped in the car and drove to Walmart, where I bought a 100 baggies and 100 paper sacks. Then I came home.

When I got out of the car, I grabbed my jacket, laptop, baggies, lunch sacks, and a box of popcorn I bought from some Cub Scouts at Sam’s Club. First thing I did was pop the baggies & lunch sacks into the trunk of Va’s car so I wouldn’t forget to bring them to church tomorrow. Penny came out to greet me, but I was too close to the door when she saw me, so she wouldn’t come out. Instead, she “submitted” on the door mat. I handed the popcorn and laptop to Jonathan and put my jacket on top of Va’s trunk. I asked Beth to take my coat in for me, and she did. Then I grabbed the welcome mat dragged it to the front of the house and hosed it off. Then I hung it on the deck to drip dry.

When I finally got in the house, I was wondering what ever happened to those baggies and lunch sacks. After all, I needed to put them in Va’s car so I wouldn’t forget them. But I couldn’t find them. I almost convinced myself that I had abandoned my purchase at Walmart. And that’s when I got to slap my forehead. Duh. Early onset dementia anyone? That would be me!

I am some kind of tired tonight. Yesterday after church (and after potluck), the Pathfinders implemented phase one of our annual food drive, which is the bag distribution phase. First we stapled letters to 300 plastic grocery bags. Then we piled into cars and fanned out over a neighborhood in Concord (having previously divided it up into eight territories). Most of the teams were done by 4:00, but the one Jonathan was on was still going strong. That’s because Dirk (a PF staff member) had taken probably half the grocery bags – or at least a third of them. I called and found out where they were, and took my team over to help them finish up (so I could go home!)

That brings us to today, which is my son David’s 15th birthday. I had picked out two t-shirts that I was pretty sure he’d like, and I was spot on! Both came from the Dinosaur Comics website. The first shirt is from panel two (the art for this strip is the same for every episode). It has some blank space at the top where he can write something in if he’d like. He was having a hard time deciding, when I suggested he use a water-soluble marker. That way, he could change it every time he washed it. The other shirt has the words “Failure is just success rounded down”, with T-Rex saying “Oh well!” David loved both shirts.

We went to Applebees for his birthday lunch, and then had to hustle off to finish phase two of the food drive, which is picking up the food. That went prett well too. We got a LOT of food. We’ll be packaging it up into boxes for five or six families, and putting the rest in the church’s food pantry (which is also for the poor).

Then we cooked some spaghetti at the church, ate it, and brought out a cake for David. After cake… meeting time!

We worked on the animal tracking honor, and that was a lot of fun. We have not finished it, but we got a good start. I need to go out and cast some chipmunk and frog tracks. I’ve got the tracks – I’ve just never cast them before. I also forgot to bring my great blue heron cast, so I’ll bring that next week.

We’re working on a new drill routine. This time we will set it to the song “I’m Gonna Sing” which is sort of a medley including “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, “This Train is Bound for Glory”, and “When the Saints Come Marching In.” It went pretty well for the first night, but it’s still very much under development.