Astronomy camp

Thank you, all, for suggesting try-its to me. I’m planning to hang onto that list and work through many of them!

I spent this past weekend at Astronomy Camp for Girl Scout leaders. Led by professors Don McCarthy and Larry Lebovsky of the University of Arizona astronomy department, along with an amazing group of other volunteers from both the astronomy department (including harvestar and aerhianna and from Sahuaro Girl Scout Council. There were 11 leaders there in all, from councils throughout the country. It was a terrific weekend–Learned new things, remembered things I already knew, and got lots and lots of good thoughts about how to teach and convey science to others. Basically, we spent the whole weekend surrounded by experts who were willing to answer any question we asked them–in the company of other folks who also enjoy asking question. It was fun.

We actually weren’t atop Mount Lemmon (as the link implies), but we did end the weekend atop Kitt Peak, visiting the large telescopes there after playing with the smaller ones back in the city. (All those ladders inside the older, larger telescopes; all those places and parts someone needed to be able to get to). Just after dark Sunday night, we stood shivering beside the UA’s 90 inch telescope, wind whistling outside, stars visible through the open panel in the observatory dome, taking turns viewing an image of Saturn so sharp we could see the shadow the planet cast on its own rings.

Cool stuff. There was lots more, of course, much of which I’m still processing. If you’re a Scout leader–or even (I think) a Scout volunteer in another role interested in bringing stronger science programs to your troop or council–I really recommend it. There’s even a NASA grant (part of the grant for the the infrared imager the UA is putting on board the James Web Space Telescope) that will cover your travel expenses and fly you out here.

If you’re not a Scout leader, you’ll have to pay your own way, but there are astronomy camps for other teens and adults, too. (Those, I’m believe, are held up by the telescopes on Mount Lemmon.)

A compassionate response

It turns out one of the slain at Virginia Tech was the husband of a Girl Scout leader and father of an 11-year-old Junior Scout. I realize, as I mourn for them, and for everyone at Virginia Tech, that Girl Scouting has become one of my communities, too.

But that’s not why I’m posting this. I’m posting it because I really found comfort in the National Girl Scouting CEO’s compassionate response, and I wanted to share it.

TO: Girl Scout Council Board Chairs and CEOs
From: Kathy Cloninger, Chief Executive Officer
Subject: Recent Tragedy at Virginia Tech University
Date: April 18, 2007

CEO Wendy Mellenthin, of Girl Scouts of Virginia Skyline Council, wrote to me with the sad news that Girl Scout troop leader Linda Granata lost her husband in the shootings at Virginia Tech University where he was a professor. The Granatas’ 11-year-old daughter is a Junior Girl Scout.

Our heart goes out to Linda and her family, and to all in our greater Girl Scout family who are touched by this senseless tragedy. National Board member Linda Foreman’s children, who attend Virginia Tech, are physically safe, as are all of the Campus Girl Scouts. But emotions are fragile today as we count our blessings, or mourn our own losses, or our friends’ losses.

“Make the world a better place”…what do these words mean to us now? We can’t stop those bullets. We can’t erase the anguish. It feels awful to be so helpless and vulnerable and full of anger and fear and disbelief. Yet we are not powerless. With the values we learn in Girl Scouting, there ARE things we CAN do. We can try, at every opportunity, to help all people appreciate each other. We can model sisterhood. We can reach out to troubled friends and be there for them. We can raise our collective voice and teach how to honor each others’ differences and seek common bonds. We can accept the hard task of throwing away hatred and striving for compassion. As individuals, and through our Girl Scout Movement, we can do these personal things to create a world where madness happens less and less.

To the Granata family, to Campus Girl Scouts at Virginia Tech, and to everyone around the country who is touched by this awful event, we hold out our hope for healing and for growing into a safer, friendlier, more understanding community in the hills of Virginia and all over the world.


In Brownie Girl Scouting, the badges are called try-its. The idea is that you don’t have to succeed at whatever you attempt for the badge; you just have to give all the requirements an honest try. I think the principle is a good one: that you want to get exposed to all sorts of things as a Brownie, but that it’s okay if you’re not brilliant at them all. You don’t have to love everything, you just have to try it; and maybe a few things will spark a deeper interest.

I found myself thinking about this today when I dropped in on my gym’s bellydancing class. I wanted to give it a try, and was glad I did; I liked it okay, but didn’t feel any deep consuming passion; and I may or may not go back to another class, but don’t feel like I need to.

It occurs to me that, after eight years as a Scout leader, it may be time to make time in my life for my try-its. To give myself permission to be a dabbler for a while, sampling this and that, but not taking on another consuming passion for a while. (Aside from the writing thing, which is as consuming as it gets.)

So suggest a thing you think it might be fun for me and others reading here to turn into try-its. Something that can be sampled in an evening or a day or a weekend. Bonus points for anything physical or outdoors (because writers have sedentary careers), but really, anything at all.

Or, tell me about something that you’re thinking of giving a try.


As many of you know, for the past eight years I’ve been a Girl Scout leader. I’ve only talked about the troop intermittently here, because I realized early on that even when small the girls were entitled to privacy about the details of their day to day lives. But Scouting has been a huge part of my life. One day, I’ll manage to put into coherent form all I’ve learned as a leader–at least as much as the girls have, perhaps because they’ve taught me things every step of the way.

But right now I’m posting because last weekend was our final field trip, an overnight spent at the Y horse camp north of town. Everyone was assigned a horse the first day, and we then groomed and saddled our horses before each ride–two trail rides and a lesson in the ring. Fun, tiring, energizing–the folks at the Y were great. And seeing the girls together one more time before their lives spin off into exciting and varied directions–the directions that are are the reasons most of them are leaving Scouting–was fabulous.

Those lives are going to be amazing. You’ll probably know all these girls eventually, even though I’ve never named them here, because one way or another, every one of them is going to change the world.

(As for the Peeps, the wood was damp enough that we built perhaps the worlds tiniest campfire–and worked for it, let me tell you!–but we did get just enough flame to roast marshmallows. The Peeps turned a lovely carmelized brown on the outside–maybe not as tasty as one might have hoped, but not bad. Not bad at all. And as junoxxiv says, you have to roast marshmallows over the campfire you have, not the campfire you want.)

S’more thoughts

It occurred to me today that if your Girl Scout troop is going on their very last camping trip ever (because it’s the troop’s very last year ever), it’s time to stop making s’mores with cheap chocolate.

It also occurred to me today that Peeps are marshmallows, and can thus probably be toasted over a campfire. This realization might not be quite so clearly for the general good as the previous realization, though.

Do you suppose Peeps and Ghirdardelli’s would mingle amicably on a graham cracker?