The scout binder revisited

Sarah and I had a skype meeting yesterday, catching up on life and wedding planning and re-energizing our blogging batteries. It's been almost exactly three years since we started this Nest & Launch venture and we started reminiscing on our early days. Remember how we used to post every weekday for the first year? There's a lot of content back in those archive stacks so we thought it would be fun to revisit and update some of the posts each week in a Throwback Thursday kind of way.

One of the very first posts I wrote (three years ago tomorrow, funny enough) still brings a lot of people here daily via Pinterest and various other mysterious-but-much-appreciated-pssst-pass-it-along social platforms. (Welcome, pinners!)  It was based on some some sage advice from a friend. She said, as I wrote in the original post:

"Start a Scout Binder. Now. She lamented how difficult it had been to prepare the Eagle scout application because all of the little signed badge cards and badges and earned rank cards and other sundry items had long been shuffled to the back corners of random drawers and pockets. She had no idea that they would need those again. So they had to gather it all up and, in some cases, track down old scout leaders for dates and signatures (or do some things over) to get a complete application submitted."  

Three years later, Sam's 7/8 of the way through his Eagle Project and the end is in sight. He's collected books for a women's/family shelter and built bookcases to hold them. I'm really glad we did our scout binder;  it really was a friendly, brilliant hint and it worked so well for us...

So much for organized foresight and the illusion of control! Oh well. Sometimes you put systems and prevention tactics into place and still end up with not a patch nor card in hand. Because bestlaid plans and teenage boys. And moving. Maybe there should be a merit badge for that.

But there IS an app for that if you'd like to avoid our old school quandary and add a failsafe: The Scout App. (And apparently there's no equivalent for Girl Scouts besides an app for the handbook and a girl scout cookie finder. Get on that, Girl Scouts!)

Harrowing tales of adventure


I wouldn't necessarily say that it's easier to find things to do with my girls, but they will watch Steel Magnolias with me as many times as I want. And then we quote the movie together -- because we are Southern women and snarky-ness is embedded deep within our souls.

Lately, however, Parker and I have been having a great time watching a new-to-us series on Netflix called I Shouldn't Be Alive.  These human survival stories are all about fighting natural elements, persevering through hardship, and glorying in the triumph of the human spirit. Aside from being an interesting watch, they have sparked a number of conversations about what we would do in similar situations (which is a nice break from how we would prepare for the zombie apocalypse). Recently we've seen "Nightmare on the Mountain," which follows an 18-year-old boy who is attacked by a grizzly bear while hunting, and "Boys Adrift" -- an excruciating story of two teenage boys stuck at sea for six days in a tiny rowboat. The episodes do contain a bit of gore (okay, a lot in the case of the grizzly bear), and one of the boys in the boat contemplates suicide -- so exercise some caution with younger kids. But overall, they are good, clean fun. Well, fun and sorta stressful.

What about you guys? Any boy-ish shows you can recommend?

Parker also was really affected by Blackfish, a documentary on the captivity of killer whales. He swears he will never visit Seaworld (or a zoo) again.

On grief and villages

I am approximately 44 million miles away from where I want to be today. I would actually rather be on a couch in Idaho, sitting with my arm around the shoulders of my dear friend who just lost her husband yesterday to stupid, greedy pancreatic cancer. I would love to go honor our friendship in person and pay tribute to Tony's life well lived, the door opened and closed far too soon. 

Admittedly I was in that frame of mind when today I stumbled across a remarkable article about a Cincinnati school engaged in supporting and embracing a group of grieving teen boys. (Well, not stumbled, exactly. I found it via Longreads, which is such a great website and service, have you heard of it? They compile the best of longer articles published in magazines and online each week.)  I think that The Rules of Grieving: They Are Still Boys should be a must-read for social work students. Or, come to think of it, for any parent/neighbor/teacher/friend/human.

photo by Carrie Cochran via

photo by Carrie Cochran via

The article underlines the truth of the old adage "it takes a village to raise a child." For a while there the notion that it takes a village was diminished and appropriated for cheap political dithering. But, the fact is, it really does take a host of people to raise a child. Between the ages of 10 and 20 I think this is especially true. Teachers. Advisors. Friends and their parents. A collective of other supportive adults, nudging, applauding, and pointing the way to adulthood.

Count them throughout the article: the women who start the bereavement group. The anonymous parent who insists on making chocolate chip cookies for the group meetings. The teachers who come in, willing to show their vulnerability and share their own experiences, like this one:

photo by Carrie Cochran via

photo by Carrie Cochran via

"On this day, math teacher James Jewell sits at the table. Buckley and Munafo-Kanoza invite teachers to the group meetings to show the students that adults have grief to work through as well. They do it for another reason, too: It is a good reminder to the teachers that some kids might seem like they are having a hard day because, in fact, they are having a hard day.

Mr. Jewell is holding a pair of binoculars. He tells the students that he grew up with seven sisters, so he and his father were close. When he was about 13 or so, he would go trapping with his father to sell the skins for money. “We grew up rural,” he says to the astounded boys.

One morning, Mr. Jewell tells the group, his father mentioned, casually, how he wished he had a good pair of binoculars. So the boy saved his money from the skins, right up to the dime, and one day bought the best pair of binoculars at the local hunting shop. The store owner, Mr. Jewell remembered, offered to pay the tax on the binoculars since the boy didn’t know such a thing even existed.

Mr. Jewell’s father died when he was 19, and now he sat before the boys, in his 60s, telling the story, holding the binoculars, tears running down his checks. “These bring back a lot of fond memories for me,” he said. “I’m crying now, but these are really good memories.”

The boys sit mesmerized. An adult — a teacher, no less — sharing a story they could be telling themselves. And he remains so affected by the death of his father, who has been gone for so long. For the students sitting around the table, it feels like proof that what they are going through is real."

Here's to the village, yours and mine. We are each, after all, both recipients and contributors to it. As my mom used to say as she gathered up a meal to bring to someone who needed it, "it's just what we do for each other."

And I'll add this postscript today: I'm so glad to have been in that village with you, Tony. Thank you for blessing our family, literally and figuratively. We love you, friend.

Hey girl, raising boys?

Yesterday I read an interesting and frustrating article that got me thinking, among other things, about raising boys who appreciate and respect women.

Sam is the youngest child in our family, the only son of an only son. With two older sisters and a wealth of girl cousins, aunts, and friends, he's comfortably well versed in the concept of strong women and has a good example in his dad. I'm glad he isn't going to be one of those guys who just doesn't "get" women (fingers crossed, knock on wood).

It's also absolutely true that, much more than my daughters, Sam's love language is homemade food, clean laundry, and other acts of nurturing and homey-ness. Sure, he can (and does) make himself a sandwich but do you know what he really loves? Yes. When I make him a sandwich. It just speaks volumes of love to his soul.  Maybe it's because he's the youngest and has had his share of both chaos and youngest-child pampering? Or, I don't know, maybe it really is his Y chromosome? In any case, he loves being cared for (and really, who doesn't?). As his mother, I'm happy to convey these tokens of love. In fact, I love doing it. Is this a conundrum? Am I building expectations that will have my future daughter-in-law seething? Should I have him go make me a sandwich (see: Ryan Gosling)?

Whatever words feel applicable to you--enlightened? feminist? well-rounded? modern? compassionate?--I think we all hope to raise boys who don't assume they are the ones to be served without serving, those who don't presume to be the sole deciders in life, either at home or out and about in the world. Boys who don't participate in degrading conversations and commentary about girls and women (such discourse sadly on show in the linked article above). Boys who are not caught up in objectifying women and the disturbing "lad culture" of disdain that shows up particularly online but also throughout society. 

So how do we raise boys who respect, love, and value the opinions and contributions of both men and women, and who don't assume, on a very local level, that all of the nitty gritty cooking and cleaning and social arranging and gift buying and laundry will necessarily and definitively be done by the women in their lives simply because they are women?   

I think it's harder than it initially seems and the culture doesn't help us out much. Anna Quindlen said about raising boys in an interview last year, "Society is opposing you at every turn...When you have a daughter and you say to her, 'Look, things are not going to be fair for you. People might treat you in a certain way because you're female — might say this thing or that thing' — that's kind of easy. When you're saying to your boys, 'OK, there's a certain kind of privilege that comes along with being a white man and you should not take that' — that's a kind of craziness. That's asking them to be different from people — certainly different from the macho men who they might see on TV or hear around them. I just felt like the payoff ultimately was going to be so great. And as my one son says, about being a feminist boy, 'Chicks dig it.' And that's been his guiding principle" (on NPR's Fresh Air in 2012)

Fair enough. (See: Ryan Gosling.)

What do you think?

Ode to the twelve year old boy

PJ12 web.jpg

It's become somewhat of a tradition for me to write a paragraph or two (or more because I'm long-winded) at my kids' birthdays. I try to memorialize what they are like at that particular age, what has changed since the previous birthday, and even what I might want the grown-up version of them to know someday. Honestly, I probably do it more for me than for them. Heck, I can barely remember what I had for dinner two nights ago, so I figure I'd better start recording the glory years -- before I'm old and alone and free to eat the entire box of ice cream sandwiches sitting in freezer -- should I so choose.

Parker actually turned twelve a little over a month ago. He was anxious to invoke the standard birthday fanfare -- breakfast in bed, gifts in the morning, Chick-fil-A lunch delivered TO the school, all topped off with a special birthday dinner. And yes, I realize that I've made this celebration primarily about food. That's the problem with traditions. You tend start them when you are young and your metabolism is a bit snappier. 

Parker is the fourth child in our family of four children, AND he's the only boy child. Some of my friends call him the heir apparent or the little prince. He does tend to get his way. But it's not because he's over-indulged (well, not relatively speaking). Instead, I'm likely to give this kid what he wants because he is so darn reasonable. And kind. And just sweet. He's really good at reading people. And he's empathetic. If I say 'no' he's most likely okay with that. If I ask him to, say, do the dishes, he'll usually respond with a cheerful, "Sure Mom!" I'm not making this up. I know it's weird. It must come from his father.

PJ1202 web.jpg

Here's something about my twelve year old boy -- he's super loud. It's not that he talks loudly or screams a lot, it's more that he is constantly engaged in the business of making noise. Like strange voices, or falsetto singing, or gun/car noises. Sometimes it's just an endless array of electronic-sounding blips and bleeps. Other times it's the same lyrics OVER and OVER again. After a few minutes of allowing the bleeping and singing and machine gunning to go on, I'll saying something like, "Parker! Seriously. It's enough." And he stops. And then approximately 27 seconds later . . . it starts up again. He doesn't even seem to notice. I asked him the other day if he inadvertently sang and made strange noises at school. He looked at me like I was crazy. that a no?

For Christmas this year, Sterling and I threw our typical penny-pinching caution to the proverbial winds and hooked Parker up with an Ipad Mini. Boy howdy does he love that thing. What was I thinking? 
Me: "Here kid. Here's another screen to add to the multiple screens in our house that are potentially damaging your eyesight, psyche, and physical mobility."
Him: "Thanks Mom!"
On the upside he has several games he plays with his Dad . . . so . . . Dad-time! When I think of him at age twelve, I should probably remember him in the morning before school, sitting up to the kitchen island, ipad next to him (easel-style), eating his breakfast. After school? Parker sitting up to the kitchen island, ipad next to him (easel-style), eating PopSecret Homestyle microwave popcorn completely buried in three cups of powdery Kraft parmesan cheese.


But fear not, oh ye screen regulators of the Internet! Directly after the snack, Parker practices his cello for 30 minutes. Everyday. He sets the timer on the microwave and starts his way through his practice pieces. At approximately 4-7 minute intevals, he screams in to whoever is in the kitchen to ask how much time he has left. I always find it quite disheartening to tell him, "26 minutes." And then, after multiple renditions of "Edelweiss," "Allegro," and "Perpetual Motion in D Major" . . . barring any lessons or practices, he goes outside to play. Around six I call him in for supper. My sister has encouraged me to simply stick my head out the door and shout, "Beav! Time for dinner!" I haven't tried that one yet.

Parker, my own personal version of the twelve year old boy, likes Adventure Time, and Psyche, and Lord of the Rings. He still plays with Legos, and knights, and air soft guns (of which I don't approve). His favorite food is ribs, and PW's Buttered Rosemary Rolls, fresh artichokes, and ice cream. He has several Snickers hidden in the freezer. I'd like to say he's a momma's boy, and while he is so, so sweet to me, I have to admit that he tends to favor his daddy. He follows his dad around the house, wrestling, watching semi-violent movies, teasing each other. He likes to camp, and hike, and get dirty. He likes to put on a navy suit on Sunday, often coming down in the same color tie as his dad.

PJdad web.jpg

Twelve years old is a tumble of little boy mixed up with the beginnings of manhood. It's pretend war in the cul-de-sac thrown in with middle school responsibilities. It's swimming all afternoon and learning to mow the grass. It's Saturday morning cartoons and Boy scout service projects. It's wearing shorts all through a Texas winter. And making silly putty in science lab. And eating nine tacos for dinner.

And for my boy, it's not being too big to tell his momma he loves her. Or write to his college sister that he misses her. Or declare that his pup is the best dog ever. It's a whole world opening before him. How very lucky that I get to watch.

Happy 12th son.

All aboard

One summer a handful of years ago, the stars happened to align spectacularly. My cousin was getting married in California but, with work and camp schedules restricting the rest of the family, Sam (then 11) and I were the only ones able to attend.  We joked about taking the train.  Ha, ha, ha! Boston to LA. That would be so... And then, wide-eyed, we looked at each other, looked at the calendar, looked at the map and realized that we really could take the train across the country.

Boston train station

Boston train station

I booked an overnight train (with sitting up seats) for the first leg from Boston to Chicago. We spent about 8 hours in Chicago (a post for another day) and then boarded a sleeping car for the next leg from Chicago to LA. Mel, the dining car host, would announce our seating time in his game show voice three times a day. We ate on white linen tablecloths in the dining car, read our stacks of books, played endless games of Scrabble, slept on our pull-out bunks to the gentle rock of the train, and hung out in the observation car with its wide walls of windows.

2010 july train scene rain.jpg

The views out those windows! From New England’s green tree tunnels to New Mexico’s barren beauty to California’s slow return back to green, we bore witness to the country’s sea-to-shining-seas acreage and seams. (Come on, everyone sing in chorus: This land was made for you and me…) Of course it wasn’t all fabulous vistas, though. At times it was like traveling across America’s backyard--abandoned cars and trash heaps and all—which was its own kind of fascinating.

The magic of spending that stretch of time with Sam was especially vivid for me, knowing that he would soon leave boyhood behind for the oversized shoes of teenhood.

2010 july read sam.jpg

 Those days--suspended as they were in time and between home and destination, the Atlantic and Pacific, childhood and other--were breathtaking on so many levels. Reverent, even.  I remember a lump in my throat as we crossed to California, my travel buddy reading in the seat across from me. I wasn’t ready for it to end. But then, I never am.

Arrived! Santa Monica Pier

Arrived! Santa Monica Pier

Some of our favorite things about the train adventure:

  1. The train station architecture at each stop
  2. Beautiful vistas and wildlife as you cross the nation’s backyard
  3. Reading and games and relaxation and napping
  4. The pace (and limited internet connection gets everyone off devices)
  5. The dining car and white linen service
  6. Daydreaming while looking out of the windows
  7. One-on-one time
  8. Sleeping cars and the gentle rock of the train as it travels over the rails
  9. The sound of the train whistle
  10. No big security rigmarole, no driving fatigue

p.s. It doesn't have to be a cross-country trip (the stars really did impossibly align for this time). Just a day trip or an overnighter would be a terrific way to spend some undivided time together. If you’re considering venturing on the train (and I really think you won’t regret it), watch for another post soon with nitty gritty info & hints for train travel.

Scout binder

My husband grew up doing Boy Scouts with a group of a dozen or more boys in his neighborhood.  The momentum of that many squirrelly but focused boys pursuing scouting (not to mention the longsuffering and encouraging moms who nudged them along) meant that just about every last one became an Eagle Scout. Almost from the moment Sam was born, I think G has pictured him in a scout uniform and looked forward to the dad-son bonding era of scouting ahead.  

I, on the other hand, was a complete novice to this whole scouting thing. My two brothers had chosen other pursuits about midway through their teen years and so scouting wasn't as much a part of my household growing up. To help make up for my complete ignorance, when Sam was getting ready to start I asked around for hints from friends who had boys already in scouts.

One friend gave me this sage advice: Start a Scout Binder. Now. She lamented how difficult it had been to prepare the Eagle scout application because all of the little signed badge cards and badges and earned rank cards and other sundry items had long been shuffled to the back corners of random drawers and pockets. She had no idea that they would need those again. So they had to gather it all up and, in some cases, track down old scout leaders for dates and signatures (or do some things over) to get a complete application submitted. 

And so the Scout Binder was born.

NL scout binder 4.jpg

It's just a thick (3-4 inch) binder with different types of page covers: some full page for slipping in certificates, some pocketed (the ones for baseball cards work really well for badge cards and badges), and a big velcro-flapped one at the end for odds and ends. 

NL scout binder 2.jpg

Whenever he brings something home from scouts, we just tuck it into the binder. (Or, in other words, whenever I run across one of those little cards that he's thrown on the counter or floor or left in his pockets, I cajole Sam into putting it in the binder.)  

It's not rocket science, I know. It's a binder. But it's helped to know that, while I might not know where any of my camera chargers are and we all somehow have only rogue single socks but no pairs, we know where our scout badges are sleeping at night. And that's at least one thing we won't have to worry about down the line.

How did the scout binder do, three years later? Update here.