Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Tale of True Valor

The Boy Scout Canoe Trip 

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip
That started from this tropic port
Aboard this tiny ship.

This is a tale of an excursion which could have ended badly, but didn’t, because true valor, positive mental attitude, a special ethical code, and the Boy Scout motto prevailed. 

The Scout troop started out cheerfully at 6:00 a.m. on a rainy morning.  There were 19 people present; 14 youths, 4 adults, and one half youth/half adult – my son, who would reach his 18th birthday during the trip. None of them knew what was in store for them.

Equipped with their Positive Mental Attitude, the group drove north into the dark and foreboding wilderness.   By 11:00 a.m. they put in the Allegheny River somewhere south of Erie, PA.  They had eight canoes and two kayaks, and since it was my kid’s birthday that week, he got to use one of the kayaks.  But he made the fateful decision to tie his duffel bag into the canoe which was piloted by the least experienced scouts in the troop. 

I’ll let the birthday boy tell it in his own words:

The First Day
It rained on and off the whole day, and gusts of wind impeded our progress.  We arrived at the island we were scheduled to stay on at about 6:00 p.m., only to find that the entire site was ankle deep in mud.  We determined to set off for a point farther down the island, but we found that the rainstorm the previous night had dramatically increased the current around the island.  The inexperienced scouts in the canoe attempted to anchor themselves on a tree branch, but flipped their canoe over – that was the canoe with my gear in it.  At the same time, I accidentally dropped my paddle, then swamped my kayak when grabbing a tree branch.  I dragged my kayak over to the island and emerged, sopping wet, from the river.  Later on, I found out that another canoe and kayak had also flipped, and that the first canoe to flip, which had my gear in it, had disappeared downriver while the scouts in it swam to shore. 

Thus we landed at our campsite, scattered at various points along the shore, with three boats swamped, one boat missing, our propane stove at the bottom of the river, three of us without any gear at all, and dinnertime fast approaching. 

Ah, but all was not lost.  All scouts and leaders were accounted for, and safe.  The scoutmaster, following the Boy Scout Motto “Be Prepared,” had stuck an extra ‘Pocket Rocket’ one-burner stove in his bag.  The cooking pots were in my son’s kayak, which had not disappeared.  The scouts dined that night on a hot meal of chicken alfredo, followed by cookies. 

Soldiering on, the Scouts got space cleared for tents.  The adults, in a show of true valor, loaned their sleeping bags and dry clothes to the gearless boys. There were no extra sleeping pads, so my son slept on a bed of life jackets, with a garbage bag as a pillow.

The next morning, my son’s birthday, the day began with sunshine and a hot breakfast.  Despite the lost gear, a Positive Mental Attitude prevailed as the scouts set off down the river in search of the missing canoe.  The birthday boy reports:

A couple miles down the river, we had just about the biggest stroke of luck we could have imagined.  We had expected to find the canoe stuck on a tree or a rock, like one of the paddles we lost, but instead we were flagged down by a family who had seen our canoe floating upside-down past their house at 9 o’clock the previous night, towed it in with their kayak, called 911, posted about it on Facebook, and were drying our stuff out on their porch.  I was able to recover most of my gear; I only lost a pair of pants and a t-shirt, and my books of campfire stories were completely dry, as well as my sleeping bag and pillow. 

I think there must be a special ethical code among people who live along a river bank.  The code says that if you see an upside-down canoe floating in the river, you investigate.  Apparently these people feared the worst, and risked going out in the swift river current to find out what they could. Once they got the canoe on shore, they looked through the stuff for identification, reported their find to the police, put my son’s cell phone in a bag of rice, and did all the other things he said.  

I have to point out that my son had followed the Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared” when he packed his stuff, and that’s why his ‘campfire stories’ books and sleeping bag were utterly dry.  The ‘campfire stories’ are books by Bil Lepp, five-time winner of the West Virginia State Liars' Contest.  We first heard him live at a local storytelling festival.  He is the best live entertainment I have ever encountered.  (Actually, he’s the best entertainment dead or alive.)  Those Bil Lepp books have been to every Scout campout my son has ever been on, and my son is known as the campfire story-reader.  It’s amazing grace indeed that the books once were lost (down the river) but now are found.

The tale of the canoe trip took on a slightly biblical tone after that.  The birthday boy writes:

On the third day, the sun was shining, the river was high, and we saw that this was good.  The rest of the trip passed without incident, and we reached the end (at Tionesta) about 12:00.  We had a lunch of sandwiches, with dessert at a local ice cream store, and arrived home at 5:30 after the traditional pit stop at Sheetz.  I immediately showered, washed all my clothes, and went to my friend's graduation party.  I'm not sure if I actually liked this trip, but I will definitely remember it for the rest of my life.

- - - - -
When my son told us the story at dinner, I asked why a kayak is preferable to a canoe, and he explained, “It’s better to be in a kayak by yourself, so you don’t have to deal with another person, trying to get the hang of steering the canoe.”

Oldest Daughter said, “What’s to get the hang of?  Can’t you say something to each other so you can steer the canoe?”

Youngest Daughter said to her, “Boys’ mouths don’t function the way ours do.”

At the end of his story, my son summed it up: “I didn’t go swimming at all, except for unintentionally.”
- - - - -
Dear Reader, did you do anything this month that you did not intend to do?  

Sunday, June 23, 2013

On the Menu

A few weeks ago, my friends (the mothers of Youngest Daughter’s friends) and I sat around after a delightful picnic dinner, talking about some of the issues we face.  I thought that I was the only one who despaired over figuring out what to make for dinner, but found that my friends shared this same angst.  “I’m going to make a list of menus and just recycle them every two weeks.  I want to see if anyone in my family will notice,” my friend threatened.

I think that is a great idea, and it might even be the ways things went in the last half of the 20th century. 
            Monday = meatloaf
Tuesday = fish
Wednesday = spaghetti 
There is even a song about it.

This summer, I can’t implement this idea, because the dinner clientele in the Common Household is constantly shifting.  Will my Husband be here, or one state away moving his mother?  Will Oldest Daughter be here, or at work?  Will Youngest Daughter be here, or at band practice?  The menu shifts based on who will be here, because their food likes and dislikes need to be graphed out in a Venn diagram (diagram not provided due to author’s insufficient technical savvy).

My unemployed son seems to always be here for dinner. In an attempt to save my time and teach my Son some useful tasks, I asked him to make the entire dinner last Thursday.  I did the hard work of thinking up the menu: 

Salmon, baked or broiled
Corn bread or pasta
Salad or some other veg
Fruit (optional)
Dessert (optional)

This menu is basically the one meal that sits in the intersection of the Venn diagram: everybody likes all these things, except that Son won’t eat salad even if threatened with 6 weeks of extra chores. 

I also gave him these further instructions:
Make corn bread in afternoon.  Use the recipe on the container.
Start to cook salmon no later than 6 p.m.
Other than that, I thought he could figure out what to do.

At about 3 in the afternoon, he came in the office and said, “This has a recipe for ‘Easy Corn Bread.’  Where’s the recipe for ‘Extreme Corn Bread’?” 

I said, “Well, you could add cheese.”  Then thinking it would be best not to add extra calories, I said, “But just make regular corn bread.”

He pressed further. “Or how about ‘Nightmare Corn Bread’!?”

I said, “Please just make the recipe on the container.  I don’t want to have nightmares from the corn bread.”

About 15 minutes later, unable to concentrate, I came out of my office into the kitchen, and found this tower of ingredients.  He said, “See how boring it would be if I had a job?”

He has moved beyond Legos, but still likes to build things.
As an aside, note the calendar on the wall, chock-full of stuff to drive to, confirming Suburban Correspondent's cry of despair about June.

Untossed Salad

I forced him to make the salad, even though he won’t eat it, because I figured making salad is a good skill for making friends with girls.  But I had to instruct him every step of the way.  It’s like teaching a kid to tie shoes – at first it takes more parental time and effort to teach the skill than it would to just do it yourself, but in about a year that effort pays off, and the kid is tying his own shoes or making his own salads for girls.

Salmon, drizzled with maple syrup
For the salmon, I told him the correct temperature for baking.  Near the end of the cooking, I said, “And now you can put on it any sauce you want,” and pointed to some jarred sauces we have in the fridge.  “What do you want to use?”  He gave me his usual response:  “I dunno.”   Thinking fast, I suggested something I had not tried before.  “How about if you drizzle maple syrup on top?  And then a little salt and pepper.”  He did that, stuck it back in the oven for 5 more minutes.  It was delicious.

I can’t say that I really got any extra work done, but now Son knows how to make an acceptable dinner.  At least I’ve been able to teach him one thing in life.  Everything else he learned from Scouts.  I am hoping to be able to tell you the story of their canoe trip.  Just as soon as I figure out what’s for dinner tomorrow.
Pale but tasty corn bread.  Regular, not Nightmare.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

George Washington in a canoe

Two posts ago, in the comments Kristy wondered if George Washington canoed in the Potomac, which made me wonder if Geo. Wash. canoed in the Allegheny, where our scouts canoed.  I decided to ask Google “Did Washington canoe the Allegheny River?” I got as far as “Did George Washington” and auto-fill-in gave me:

Did George Washington have any children
Did George Washington smoke weed
Did George Washington own any pets
Did George Washington own slaves

It turns out Mount Vernon is right on the Potomac River (I should have known that, eh?) so it’s likely that at some point he traveled on the Potomac by boat, if not by canoe.  Washington also traveled on the Allegheny, but by raft, in the middle of a freezing, snowy night.  He fell in, nearly froze, but managed to get onto an island.  He and his traveling companion waited until the next day, when the river was completely frozen over, and they could just walk across it.  It wouldn’t surprise me if G.W. smoked weed after that experience.

Following this great historical tradition, our scouts fell in the Allegheny, too, managed to get to shore, and then stayed overnight on an island.  It was quite windy that day, but it was not cold enough for the river to freeze.

I hope to tell you the full story soon, but there’s just too much going on.  Work projects, moving my MIL to assisted living, birthdays, ever and always transporting teenagers places. Add to that lack of a decent night’s sleep for many a night, and I’m just about done in.  Maybe I should smoke some weed, in keeping with historical tradition.  Except there isn’t any in Western Pennsylvania.  We just don’t do that sort of thing around here.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Found Things

In the past few days, I've found some unexpected things around the Common Household.

I found the missing textbook, under a pile of my son's school papers.  I suspect this book had not been used all year.  Youngest Daughter is grateful to get her $100 back.  I am grateful too, but can't help but think that I should have charged her a finder's fee.
$100 worth of text.

Later that afternoon, I found the lucky girl asleep on the sofa.  Oy, it's so exhausting getting up at 9  a.m. during summer vacation!

Exhausted teen.

Here is evidence that a great and wonderful thing is occurring: repair of our leaky ceiling.  When you are fixing the bathroom floor, where else are you going to put the toilet?
Bathtub: an excellent storage place for large items.

We spotted this loose dead branch in our big oak tree some time ago.  It came down early Thursday morning during the thunderstorm which did not, thankfully, turn into a derecho.  I'm just grateful the branch didn't hit anybody.
Whew.  Nobody hurt.

Today, while weed-whacking, I glanced into our abandoned strawberry patch / chipmunk gated retirement community.  I saw these delights.  They are small and seedy, but quite sweet and tasty.  A great find!
More dessert for attack rabbits and vicious chipmunks.

Some of the strawberry harvest.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Fine Scottish Mist

Never have I met a cheerier group of people at 5:30 a.m. in the pouring rain than the Boy Scouts.  This morning I dropped off my Son in those conditions for his final scouting trip – canoeing.  His scout leaders call a downpour a “fine Scottish mist.”  See, isn’t that cheery?!

I have to admit that I was relieved to hear they will be on the Allegheny River, not the Youghiogheny (“The Yuffayuffany, the river which is impossible to spell,” my mother calls it).  The Yough is mostly white water, while the length of the Allegheny the scouts will be on has only one little section of white water.

We had a thunderstorm during the night, but our weather is predicted to be horrendously awful later today, with a 5% chance of 70 mph winds, which, in every mother’s mind, equates to 5 x 70 = 350 mph winds.  I would appreciate your prayers today for the safety of those Scouts and other intrepid people who venture outdoors in such weather.  As for me, I already prayed, so I’m going back to bed.  Except I'm not, because I have to drive Oldest Daughter to work.

Here he is, putting in on the Potomac, several years ago, on a canoe trip with his cousins and uncles.  
Not afraid to get his feet wet.

Looks idyllic, eh?  No Scottish mist!