May 26, 2016

Backyard Camping - The Great American Backyard Experience!!!

Aaaah, the smell of burnt (I mean toasted) marshmallows over a campfire, fireflies dancing across the clear-blue sky, children gazing towards the stars hoping to catch a glimpse of an elusive falling star, and the neighbor from the house next door yelling to her children, "come inside it's time for bed..." Can that be right? Why yes it is! This weekend is the National Wildlife Federations Great American Campout.

On June 25, 2016 communities throughout the US, including backyards and non-traditional "campgrounds" are "pitching" in on the fun - Vist the NWF website to register your backyard event of check out area happenings.

Locally in Ann Arbor, families can experience the Great American Backyard Campout at the Leslie Science & Nature Center where kids of all ages to enjoy nature-based programs, tent space, campfires, dinner and breakfast, and much more!  It's all happening, June 25 at 4:00 p.m. - June 26 at 10:00 a.m. at the center, and costs only $50 for the entire family! Advanced pre-registration is required in person, over the phone at the Leslie Science and Nature Center website.

Whether in your own backyard, or at a local event, inspire your children and get them outdoors with a family campout. You WON'T regret it!

National Trails Day Hike

Scouts from Troop 446 (Saline), myself, a dog
and one Brownie hiked 6.2 miles in 2015
as part of the first Iron Belle Trail Hike.
June 4, 2016 is National Trails Hike Day and the country’s largest celebration of trails! Events will take place in every state across the country and will include hikes, biking and horseback rides, paddling trips, birdwatching, geocaching, gear demonstrations, stewardship projects and more. If you are interested, you should see what events are available in your area.

Ann Arbor Area Hiking Events:

Stewardship Work Day - Bird Hills Nature Area
Volunteer Work Day - County Farm Park
National Trails Day - Waterloo Recreation Area
Hike It Baby - Nichols Arboretum
National Trails Day Hike - West Lake Preserve

Last year, my scout troop participated in the inaugural Iron Belle Challenge hike which we are doing again this year. In fact, my son will be in the Ann Arbor area hiking with Boy Scout Troop 446 (Saline) while I am in Mackinaw City hiking the same trail at the same time with Girl Scout Troop 76032 (Belleville). How is that possibly you ask?

The Iron Belle Trail continuously runs from Belle Aisle to Ironwood Michigan (hence the name) and covers some of the more scenic parts of the state. Some of the trails even connect with parts of the larger North Country Trail. In 2015 scouts from around Michigan hiked over 14,000 miles on the trail on the same day in an attempt to hike the entire trail in one day! Scouts who participated received a special patch.

This year the hike will be bigger and better too and will be held on National Trails Hike Day. To participate in this hiking event, interested Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts should contact Raymond Rustem at 517-284-6070 or to participate.

May 24, 2016

Inexpensive Family Camping Weekends

As a child I loved to camp and did so often with the family. My kids now love to camp however it gets expensive and there is rarely anywhere nearby that we can camp reasonably. There is now a solution to that.

Huron-Clinton Metroparks camping is available to families and groups for as low as $30-40/night. Throughout the summer, May 1-mid October families can enjoy rustic camping at the The Lower Huron Metropark (off of I-94 and Haggerty Rd - exit 192) for only $20 a night (plus vehicle entry fee). Stony Creek is offering many family campout weekends too and many of the other Metroparks have dedicated camping areas and lodges available.

There is also an opportunity to participate at two Family Campout sessions at Rolling Hills through Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation on August 6-7 or August 13-14. We have participated in this program for several years and highly recommend it to friends. Set up your tent and enjoy the park or the water park, families can also enjoy the campfire, hikes, educational programs for the kids and breakfast the next morning! Find out more about the Rolling Hills Family campout here. Camping is only $7 per person too, which makes this a very affordable way to camp!

Another WCPR option is Family Camping at Independence Lake on September 10-11. Are you looking for a great opportunity to spend a night out under the stars with your family? Join us for the Independence Lake County Park Family Campout! You'll enjoy fun activities like zany crafts, relaxing fishing at the dock, intriguing nature programs, delicious s'mores, a sizzling campfire and a scrumptious pancake breakfast! You won't want to miss out on this spectacular event. Cost is $8/person.  Registration is open, please fax, mail or drop off the registration form to save your spot for this great event.  Email Hannah Cooley,, or call (734)449-4437 ex 201, for more details.

Canton also gets into the family camping experience with Family Camp Out and Movie Night on July 15-16  at Heritage Park (1010 S. Canton Center Rd., Canton 48188). Families are invited to set up around the amphitheater and enjoy a move at dusk. Beginning at 6:00 p.m., there will be plenty to do before the movie including games, activities and entertainment for the entire family. The cost is only $20 overnight camping fee or $5 per person to participate in the evenings activities (if not camping overnight). Dinner & concession items will be sold Friday evening. Canoeing on Friday and a pancake breakfast on Saturday morning will be available for a nominal fee. Tent set up begins at noon on Friday July, 15. RV’s and tents are both welcome.

Don't let not owning a tent stop you, the last time we attended a Rolling Hills campout, two families brought their 10x10 easy up tents with bug netting and tarps to cover the sides at night! So whatever you do, pitch a tent in your back-yard or find a low cost camping option for your family. It will produce a lifetime of memories.

May 23, 2016

Memorial Day Weekend: Events, Parades and Ceremonies

This weekend is often thought of as the "official start to summer" kicking off with pool openings, BBQ's and family gatherings. It is important to remember though that it should also be a time of reflection and remembrance.

Luckily throughout Washtenaw County and the area, there are plenty of opportunities to experience events to help you do that. So save some gas money this holiday weekend and find something to do with the kids, right here at home. Honor the men and women of this great nation by attending one of the many Memorial Day ceremonies, processions and parades and then head out to experience the other free events happening. There will be plenty of fun for everyone!

Saturday, May 28:

Area Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts will gather at Highland Cemetery (943 N River St., Ypsilanti) to place flags on the graves of our fallen heroes starting at 10:00 a.m. Lunch is served to volunteers after flags have been placed.

Be sure to check out the Ypsilanti Symphony Orchestra's FREE concert in the park at 2:00 p.m. Bring your blanket and the family to enjoy patriotic music in the park.

Sunday, May 29:

The annual Memorial Day observance at Arborcrest Memorial Park (2521 Glazier Way, Ann Arbor) will start at 2:00 p.m. and lasts about an hour (rain or shine). Local dignitaries, the Washtenaw County Honor Guard, local Boy Scout troops and Miss Washtenaw are often in attendance.

Monday, May 30:

The Annual Ann Arbor Memorial Day Parade begins at 10:00 a.m. The parade begins at the intersection of Middleton and Frederick and winds along Frederick, Middleton, Bardstown, Windemere, and Barrister roads winding up in Glacier Park at Larchmont and Barrister. There will be a memorial ceremony in Glacier Park at the end of the parade.

Belleville: Sumpter Township Country Fest in Belleville May 27-30, 2016. There is also a parade in downtown Belleville at 10:00 a.m. starting at Cathedral and 2nd that will process down Main Street and conclude at the cemetery.

Chelsea: Parade at 10:00 a.m. The parade route heads south on Main St., east on Park St., north on East St. and east on Middle St., ending at Oak Grove Cemetery for a traditional ceremony honoring area veterans.

Dexter: The Dexter parade begins at 10:00 a.m. with a ceremony in Monument Park after the procession.

Milan: The annual memorial will begin at 9:00 a.m. at the Blue Star Memorial and Veteran's Wall of Honor in Wilson Memorial Park. The parade will commence following these ceremonies and process West on Main St. ending at the Marble Park Cemetery, where services will be held and dignitaries will speak, honoring our military veterans.  The public is encouraged to participate in this parade using a patriotic theme but please do not pass out candy.

Saline: The Memorial Day parade, hosted by the American Legion, begins at 10:00 a.m. on Bennett Street due to Construction!


The Yankee Air Museum always has something. On Saturday, May 28 participate in “Celebrate and Connect: Send a Million Letters to our Troops”starting at 10:00 am until 4:00 pm to support USO’s goal of collecting 1 million messages to share with those serving in the U.S. military worldwide. Then on Monday, May 30 from 9:00-11:00 a.m. participate in the annual program dedicated to honoring the military men and women who were killed serving the United States.

The Ypsilanti Memorial Day Procession begins at 9:00 a.m. (North Huron Street/Michigan Avenue) and ending at the Highland Cemetery for a ceremony. Includes veterans, Scouts, marching bands, Gold Star Mothers, and a 21-gun salute.

It is important that I also point out that there are many historic and beautiful war memorials throughout Washtenaw County to visit and honor our veterans. For a full list or War Memorial locations in Washtenaw County visit the Genealogical Society of Washtenaw County website.

If you have other Memorial Day observances to add to the post, please comment below. Watch for the weekend events round-up too for your other planning needs!

Life Lesson: In-tents Hornswaggling

It is not a secret that my family is a big scouting family. I was a scout, my brother was a scout and both parents were leaders. My dad's father was also a scout and long-time scoutmaster. That's one of the reasons why, when my son expressed an interest in scouting, I stepped up and said I would help, which meant I was the then den leader.  I have become very active with the kids, being a leader in the Girl Scout and Boy Scout program, and my leadership has extended beyond that as a facilitator to other adult scouters and so much more. I enjoy what I give and receive from being a leader, I know that my kids see value in my leadership (which means my own children as well as the many other youth that I mentor) and mostly I appreciate the skills that my kids have received as a result of their participation.

My sin attending a cross-over of a
Cub Scout joining the Troop. 
My kids are good scouts. Most recently my son and his best friend built a Gaga Ball pit at their school - They did the research, ran the fundraising, picked out the materials and built the structure. Yes they had guidance from teachers and parents, but the thing is, they had an idea and ran with it. Someone asked my son if that was his Eagle Project. While it is Eagle worthy, he and his friend wanted to build it because they saw and need and "just wanted to." My son is often the first volunteer, he helps a local Cub Scout den as their Den Chief, has been working hard to work through rank advancement, was selected to be part of a troop that participates as the Governor's Honor Guard on Mackinac Island and was recently elected as Patrol Leader and selected to join the Order of the Arrow.

My daughter too is starting to see the value of leadership too. Most recently when she found out a local nature area needed some signage she decided to take on the project for her Bronze Award. She is a helpful scout, and an active scout who has repeatedly been a top seller and as a result is working on her own business of making and selling dog and cat treats.

My son is 12 and my daughter is 10.

I don't want to sound like I am bragging, even if I am a bit, but I mostly wanted to share all of this to illustrate that we are a strong scouting family. Yes, my kids might have gotten much of this from me regardless, but the values that scouting brings is important to us.  So why is this important to my blog post today? Scouting directly relates to a recent Life Lesson my son experience.

As a Boy Scout, my son does a lot of camping. As one of his Assistant Scoutmasters, I camp as well and LOVE the tent that I purchased for myself when we began the adventure. I have stayed warm, and dry on every campout we have been on, including the Klondike (February 2015) where we had record cold temperatures! Alps Mountaineering has not let me down. (I highly recommend their products and love the fact that they offer scouts a substantial discount through their label. (If you are a scout or scouter that does not already know about this, be sure to check it out!)

My son however has stayed in the tents that the troop has provided. As he will be participating in more non-troop activities through OA, staffing local events, etc. he has decided to get his own tent and upgrade the youth size hiking backpack I purchased used from him two years ago. Since a scout is "Thrifty" though, I suggested he look at all options for tents before buying.

As I was on Craigslist Saturday, I was pleased to see a Eureka "Scout" tent for sale for a very reasonable price. I showed my son. I suggested that since he was buying a new backpack, perhaps he should save his tent money a little longer. We reached out to the guy and arranged a meeting for the next day.

Typically I don't mind used equipment, in fact it can be a great way to try new equipment for a reasonable price. Besides, I knew he would likely need a backpacking tent in the future and the Eureka TL-4 would give him a great, high-quality, tent that would work in most seasons. Seemed like a solid win and the photos shared indicated the tent was in GREAT shape. Plus the guy was selling it at a very reasonably price that we could not pass up.

When we arrived at the designated meeting spot, the guy shook my son's hand and they exchanged pleasantries. Before we went, I suggested to my son that he would likely want to take the tent out of the bag and possibly even set it up before making the purchase. The seller however kept talking about his scouting experiences and even went so far as to say, "After we spoke yesterday I got several calls from people who were interested in my (Eureka) tent. They even tried telling me they'd pay more and that they would get it (the same day). I told them I was selling to a scout and couldn't let the kid down." He then went on to say that the tent looked exactly as pictured so my son (and I) took him at face value and did not open the tent. We even bought an additional sleeping mat that he was selling.

We did not set the tent up last night since we got home late, so today while my son was in school I
Spending the night in their
Wilderness Survival shelter
opted to set it up. I knew that the directions were missing but was able to download those. I knew the directions were missing at least. We specifically asked about the poles and were told they were in perfect shape and there were no stains, holes or rips in the tent. When setting up the tent though, I quickly realized that the poles were not in perfect shape, several had a good bend, then to make matters worse, I noticed some yellow staining (cigarette smoke?) across the white part of the tent and found that the tent was completely sticky in the inside as well as under the rain-fly. This means it was likely not properly stored and is not weather ready.

I am looking into solutions now, and have reached out to the manufacturer to see what Eureka recommends, but I am most dis-pleased that my 12-year old was taken advantage of. In a big way. The tent was misrepresented and the guy discouraged us from opening it, hinting instead that he should be trustworthy as he was also a scout. Sadly that is not the case.

My son is not home yet. Certainly I could let this be a life lesson about "look before you buy" or even "you get what you pay for." I feel strongly though, that this is likely a lesson in disappointment and that not everyone is trustworthy. I feel as much to blame as the guy who sold the tent to him since I should have insisted my son open the tent. As of right now he will be disappointed to not have a tent that he can use though and I am now searching for a solution that he can have when he attends his OA Ordeal, NYLT and other scout camping programs he is attending.

So what would you tell your child? How would you handle the inevitable disappointment?