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Virtual GenCon 2014

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Fleur-de-lis Blue and Gold Dinner Table Decoration

In place before our Blue and Gold dinner. There are actually 2 different decorations in this photo, someone forgot to take a picture of just the wooden shape in place.

In place before our Blue and Gold dinner. There are actually 2 different decorations in this photo, someone forgot to take a picture of just the wooden shape in place.

While most Cub Scout Blue and Gold dinners are over for the year, I wanted to share this decoration idea before any more time passed. I made these last year for our Blue and Gold dinner, but they are sturdy enough to be used year after year.

I purchased a small 2′ x 2′ sheet of 1/2″ plywood (birch I believe).  Using the tablesaw I cut that sheet into 9 squares of just under 8″ This created enough boards to make 4 of the decorations, with one extra square in case I made a mistake. I’m not an expert wood worker, or I might have purchased a full sheet of the plywood so I could have cut even more of them, but as I have a small Cub Scout den, 4 allowed each Scout to paint 1 of the decorations.

The stages of my process.   Starting at top left: Blank, template, template glued to blank, partially cut, and finished cut.

The stages of my process. Starting at top left: Blank, template, template glued to blank, partially cut, and finished cut.

I found this Fleur-de-lis template online and printed it out scaled so it would fit on the plywood squares. I cut a little bit off the bottom of the template so there would be a flat section where the wooden shape would connect to the base. You can find more elaborate Fleur-de-lis designs online, but I wanted to keep the design simple.

Using some spray adhesive I glued the templates to 4 of the boards and then cut the shapes out on a bandsaw. After cutting them out, I used sandpaper to smooth out the shapes, and then pre-drilled holes in the center of the bases, and in the bottom of the shapes so I could connect them with screws after the Scouts painted them.

Paint job finished, and ready for display.

Paint job finished, and ready for display.

To keep it from taking too long, the Scouts used 1″ foam brushes to paint the shapes using some inexpensive acrylic craft paints purchased at the craft store.

Additional notes:

1) If I do this again, I might use glue and pegs made from a wooden dowel to connect the shapes to the base. Because I used a single screw to connect them, they tend to spin a bit during handling.

2) I used a table saw and bandsaw to cut the wood, I’m sure you could use other types of saws to do the cutting. In fact, with older Scouts you might even let the boys cut the shapes out themselves using a coping saw.

3) You could also use a Forstner bit to drill holes partially through the bases and make a place for a small tea light candle on each side of the shape.

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The Wizard Battle – Lego Set 79005

If you follow me on Twitter you’ve probably seen me talk about Lego bricks and Lego sets, but I haven’t posted much here in the blog about them.  As a kid I had a huge box of Lego bricks to build with. I don’t know how many pieces I had, but in my mind the box they came in was about a 10-12″ cube. I know the box could potentially have held thousands of bricks, though the box only seemed about half full, so I’m guessing I had around 700 bricks with which to litter the play room.


Last year I picked up a small Lord of the Rings set called The Wizard Battle (Set 79005) and I think it does a great job of showing some of the things that make Lego bricks fun to build with, and shows off the quality of their bricks.

The Eye of Sauron at the front of the model spins when you turn a piece on the back of Sarumon’s throne. While they may produce similar mechanics in other sets, this was the first set I purchased with this style of motion. Because of the tight specifications of Lego bricks, the piece turns smoothly and easily.

This set also included several unusual pieces. Even as a relatively new collector of Lego bricks, the globes jumped out at me as something unique. I don’t think I’ve gotten them in any other sets I purchased. And there are several other round and curved pieces that don’t seem to show up frequently.


For me, the only con to this set, and it is a small one, is the minifigs. I already had Gandalf from another set and something about them just feels bland to me. I’d might have preferred a set that included a couple of dwarves, but then it wouldn’t have been a Wizard’s battle.

Hard to do anything except recommend buying almost every Lego set, don’t know that I’ve bought any yet that I was horribly disappointed about, but I do enjoy some sets more than others, and this is one of the better sets I’ve purchased.

Safe travels,


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No Words

That is the phrase that keeps coming to mind this week. No Words.

One of my son’s classmates died this weekend after being involved in a car crash, and I have No Words.

No Words of wisdom for my son to help him understand why this happened.

No Words for a mother who will never again feel her son’s arms wrapped around her.

No Words to make sense of the senseless.

And then I realize that I must have words.

I must have them now.

Not words of wisdom or comfort, but of loving and caring.

Words for my family and my friends.


There is probably more to be added. When I opened the page to write this post, I hadn’t planned on starting something resembling a poem. Though I wanted to express the confusion in my mind. The need, the desire to help my son make sense of losing someone his own age, to make sense for myself of why someone so young is now dead. Of course it makes no sense and so my mind turns instead to mistakes I’ve made, to every time I’ve spoken too harshly to my kids, or my wife. And so I remind myself to try to be better, to be sure I create more joy than regret in my life.

Godspeed, Zach.

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Day is Done

Day Is Done

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Recipe: Tater Tot Breakfast Casserole

My first serving.

My first serving.

I found this recipe when looking for something to cook for Christmas morning. I usually prepare something that can be assembled the night before and baked in the morning leaving me free to watch the kids open their presents. I started with this recipe from BlogChef.net and made a few adjustments to suit my family’s tastes.


1 lb thick cut bacon

1 lb ground breakfast sausage

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

12 eggs

1 cup milk

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350, unless you are preparing in advance.

Cut bacon into 1″ strips and brown until crispy. Drain bacon on plate covered with paper towels. Put bacon into 9×13 baking dish.

Brown sausage in a bit of  the bacon grease, taking care to break up the sausage into small pieces. Drain sausage on plate covered with paper towels. You can use the same plate from the bacon, but may want to add some fresh paper towels. Add sausage to 9×13 baking dish, and stir around with the bacon, mixing the two evenly.

Combine eggs and milk in large bowl and add a bit of salt and pepper. Pour mixture into baking dish over the bacon and sausage. Sprinkle with 1/2 of the cheese.

At this stage you can cover and refrigerate if desired.

Place tater tots in a single layer in the baking dish and cover with foil.

Bake for 60 minutes, then remove foil and sprinkle with remainder of cheese and bake an additional 10 minutes.

Let cool for 10-15 minutes before slicing and serving.

The finished casserole. I didn't drain my sausage well enough when I made this one.

The finished casserole. I didn’t drain my sausage well enough when I made this one.

If you’d like you could chop and brown some onions and peppers and add to the egg mixture. Or replace the sausage with cubed ham. You could replace the bacon as well if you wish, but who would want to replace bacon with anything other than more bacon?? For those who like it a little spicier, a can of chopped jalepenos could be added to the eggs instead.

Any other things you’d add to the recipe? Leave ideas in the comments!

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2014 Goals

FireworksThe New Year starts today, but many of my goals remain the same. Some goals continue working on things I have been trying for years, others  are new, or perhaps new ways of looking at old goals. This list is in no particular order, except perhaps the order they’ve popped into my head.

1) Create. Writing, blogging, photography, woodworking, other crafts. Exactly what doesn’t matter, but I want to create more this year.

2) Organize. From physically cleaning and organizing, to doing a better job of keeping track of the schedule of events the family is involved in, I want to be more organized, and less chaotic. This also applies at work where I think better organization can help me be more productive.

3) Get Healthy. This is one of those ongoing things. I ended 2013 a bit lighter than I was when it began and with the new year I want to restart those efforts and lose at least 50 pounds this year.

4) Play. This covers everything from spending some time putting together a Lego set, or sitting at the dining room table playing a game with the kids to going to a park for a hike, or going to a museum, zoo, aquarium, etc.

5) Volunteer. Want to find a way to contribute a few hours each month to the community. I already act as a Cub Scout leader, but I would like to do a bit more and I believe it might be more meaningful if I do it separately from my Scouting duties.

Of course, I want to accomplish much more than this, but those are some broad goals. I’ll also be creating a spreadsheet with several hundred items to be accomplished based on these goals. For ‘Create’ I might set up 12 lines for 12 craft projects, and 52 lines to represent wanting to make weekly blog posts. For ‘Get Healthy’ I might include 5 separate lines each representing 10 pounds of weight loss. This helps me track progress on my goals as the year goes on.

Happy New Year to you! No matter what your resolutions or goals might be I hope you and your family have a safe and healthy year!

Safe travels,


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Camping Out!

Several tents, including our mansion in the middle, at the American Heritage Girls campsite.

Several tents, including our mansion in the middle, at the American Heritage Girls campsite.

Spent another weekend (mostly) off the grid. My wife and I joined our kids on a camping trip to Camp Boddie in Blounts Creek, North Carolina. The nights were cold, even freezing, but the daytime weather was beautiful and overall we enjoyed a wonderful weekend.

The entire family joined in this trip because it was a joint trip between my daughter’s American Heritage Girl troop and my son’s Boy Scout troop though the two groups camped in separate campsites. We arrived a bit before dark on Friday night, trying to get tents set up before daylight disappeared. Unfortunately we didn’t quite make it and so had to finish getting things ready by lantern-light.

Once the sun went down, the temperature dropped quickly. It was a cold night around a small fire, before crawling into the sleeping bags. With the temperatures so low, I kept myself snuggled deep under my sleeping bag, but I kept waking up, alternating between keeping my face under cover, and poking it out into the cool air until my nose got too cold to bear it any longer. Heard one or more owls hooting through the night as I woke up, and occasionally heard Maggie, the camp dog, barking and chasing animals away from the campsites.

Jane Marie working on her knife skills and fire building.

Jane Marie working on her knife skills and fire building.

Saturday was a series of outdoor skill classes run by the Boy Scouts for the American Heritage Girls. The Scouts taught sessions on: fire building, first aid, knife safety, trail signs, Leave No Trace, and orienteering. The American Heritage Girls troop is less than a year old, so most of them don’t have a lot of camping and outdoor experience, and so these skills were new to many of them.

Saturday evening consisted of a campfire near the waters of the Pamlico Sound. The evening started with a series of songs and skits. Some were educational, others fun, and some…well some were flat out silly. It was an hour for laughter and song, but when it was over, the evening’s activities took a more somber note as the two groups held a ceremony to retire two U.S. flags.

Steven Paul reading his troop's version of "I am Old Glory" while Jane Marie helps retire the flag in the background.

Steven Paul reading his troop’s version of “I am Old Glory” while Jane Marie helps retire the flag in the background.

While I’d heard about the Boy Scout flag retirements before, this was the first time I’d seen the ceremony. The ceremony impressed me, not only because my son and daughter both took part, but because this group of young people handled the transition wonderfully. The two groups were quiet and respectful during the ceremony and left the area in silent reflection.

Another campfire already burned back at the campsite, and so before bed there was time to roast a few marshmallows and make s’mores. Though cold, Saturday night temperatures didn’t get quite as cool as Friday night, and I slept beautifully.

Maggie, the camp mascot, keeping an eye on things during Sunday's religious service.

Maggie, the camp mascot, keeping an eye on things during Sunday’s religious service.

The AHG leader had to wake me up in time for a quick breakfast of fresh fruit and muffins. Breakfast was followed by another waterside ceremony; several of the American Heritage Girls held an interdenominational religious service, and then it was time to pack up and head home.

If you’d given me a choice on Friday, I might have backed out of the trip based on the weather forecast, but in the end the entire family had a great experience, one I am sure we will look back at with great warmth and fondness.

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An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on EarthDuring a 6 month stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS) Colonel Chris Hadfield used Twitter and other social media to share the wonder of life in space with millions stuck here on earth. While on the station he filmed himself doing things that would be ordinary here on Earth, but in zero gravity become difficult and can require great care to accomplish.  He also shared many pictures of the Earth as seen from space. Though he may not have planned, or expected it, with the help of his son, Col. Hadfield became in internet sensation, and now he has written a book.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything tells the story of how Col. Hadfield became an astronaut, the intense training the job requires, and his three trips into space. While telling these stories he shares the habits and thought processes that helped him become an astronaut and succeed as an astronaut.

While I was a little nervous about this self-help aspect of the book, it worked for two reasons. First, his stories are compelling. He reminds us how few people become astronauts, how much hard work it took him to get there, and how easy it would have been for him to fail several times in his career. Col. Hadfield decided he wanted to be an astronaut at a very young age, and recognized how important his own actions would be in reaching his goal, but even through all the hard work he never lost his sense of wonder and he manages to share that feeling with us.

The second reason the self-help aspect of the book works is that Col. Hadfield doesn’t seem to be preaching, or pushing a set of ideas and behaviors onto the reader. He tells what he did, how his thought processes worked. He leads by example through his experiences making it easier to absorb that advice while enjoying the stories of a life I dreamed of living when I was growing up.

Col. Hadfield playing guitar in the Cupola onboard the International Space Station (Credit: NASA)

Col. Hadfield playing guitar in the Cupola onboard the International Space Station (Credit: NASA)

I don’t know what video, or picture from Col. Hadfield I saw first. As someone who is active on social media, I just remember seeing more and more people retweeting the photos he posted from the ISS, and realizing I should start following him so I would see all the images sooner. I read his Tweets about life aboard the space station, and later his return to earth. Combined with other recent achievements in space exploration such as the Curiosity rover,  Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), and the Space X launches, I find myself interested in space and mankind’s exploration of space in a way that I haven’t been for a long time.

While I didn’t read this book hoping for some sort of life wisdom, there are several ideas I hope I can act on in my own life. I’m giving a copy to my son, I hope he can pick up some of the lessons and apply them as he’s growing up and deciding what he wants to do with his life.

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A Weekend Away

Though I didn’t plan it, a couple of weekends ago, I spent almost the entire weekend offline. Starting from the time I left work on Friday night, I went over 48 hours without reading email, checking Twitter, posting to Facebook, or surfing the web. The weekend was wonderful, and quite productive, and while I don’t necessarily want to do the same every weekend, it did remind me to try and find a better balance of online and offline activities.

While not complete, here are a few of the things I did:

Read “The Companions” by RA Salvatore nearly cover to cover.  I’d read a couple dozen pages before getting completely absorbed by the book Friday night, and then stayed up until after midnight on Saturday night to finish it up.

The Companions

Worked on a combination shaping form/display stand for an upcoming Cub Scout craft project.

Forms for Scout Woggles


Cut some PVC for a Cub Scout neckerchief slide project I’ve got coming up.

Lego Brick and Minifig Neckerchief Slide Project

Cut some parts for version 1 of my dice tower. I’ve got some other construction methods I may try out for making a dice tower, but this version comes from an inspiration online, though is perhaps a little more complicated than it needs to be.

Dice Tower Parts

Watched a spider catch a bug in its web. No picture with this one, I just sat and watched for about 15 minutes as it trapped and then wrapped up the bug.

Played Munchkin: Legends, and Tsuro with the kids, and my nephew.

Munchkin Legends


Found a turtle.

Turtle Power!

Wonder what I’ll do next weekend?