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kickin’ it at the inhome conference 2012

Last weekend, we made the trek again out to beautiful St. Charles, IL to take in the 2012 inHome Conference. As usual, it did not disappoint. We arrived early Thursday afternoon to register and get ready for all the conference had to offer–and I mean ALL it had to offer. Aidan refused to miss a single session, show, workshop, exhibitor booth, or social event. We did it all (and it was exhausting).

We arrived early enough to meet up with a few folks and hang by the pool (the outdoor pool, that is, in March). Unseasonably warm as it was, I’m not sure how the kids all braved the pool. Heck, it wasn’t that warm.

Later in the evening, the conference kicked off. As usual, things got a great start with the Thursday night Meet-and-Greet. Karen Ritter and family, hosts and MCs of this event, really know how to get kids and adults alike engaged in the fun. We played laugh-out-loud cooperative games, got reacquainted with old friends and broke the ice with new ones, went on scavenger hunts, and tried our luck at the raffle.

Friday was our first full day of sessions (and it was full). To start the day, we enjoyed the musical sensation known as AC Rock (an A Capella Rock-n-Roll group; I know, right.) They were cool. Aidan loved it. Of course, we had to hit their exhibit table to pick up one of their CDs.

A bit later in the day, we built Rube Goldberg machines at a session sponsored by The Chicago Tinkering School. Basically, they provided a bunch of “stuff” of all kinds–salvaged from all sorts of places–and the kids (and adults) worked together to make a complex, chain reaction machine to accomplish a simple task. Aidan absolutely loved this experience. He worked with his friends Claire and Kali, and together, they pulled it off–after a couple “gleeful calamities,” that is, but that’s where all the fun (and learning) is.

That same day, Aidan joined up with his fellow Earth Scouts to sell homemade doggie treats at the craft fair and “flea market” to raise money for the ASPCA to help fight puppy mills. (This was an activist mission the kids took on recently.) Tired yet? (I was.)

Still to come on Friday, we had the annual talent show, where Aidan tried his hand at standup comedy. I think he did just fine, and people laughed, but he was not satisfied with his performance. Throughout the rest of the conference, people came up to him and said, “Hey, you’re the ‘Moose-inator’,” which was his stage name for the show. Everyone was really supportive, but Aidan, as usual, is his own worst critic. (Still, I know he had fun.)

Ok, right about now, I was ready to pass out, but we still had the family dance ahead of us. Exhausted as we were, this really was a highlight. We danced our butts off. We all had so much fun gyrating uncontrollably off-the-beat. Very fun, indeed. Finally, the sweet call of sleep lured us back to our rooms and we crashed.

Saturday, we were up bright and early and hit it again. We learned about cryogenics with Mr. Freeze from Fermi National Laboratory. Aidan knitted without needles and made paper beads. He showed off his woodworking at the Imaginarium fair, tried his hand at felting, and took in another talent show (to support his friends). We went to dinner at our favorite local Thai restaurant and hung out afterward with friends at the arcade and ate some ice cream. Good good (but oh so busy) fun.

In the midst of all this excitement, I took in a small handful of adult sessions and really enjoyed meeting Nancy Sathre-Vogel (of familyonbikes.org). She and her family recently completed a 17,300 mile, 3 year bike journey from Alaska to Argentina. She’s got some inspirational and amazing stories to tell. It was really cool to hear them, just as it was cool (and did I say exhausting?) to enjoy another inHome Conference. See you next year.

earth scouts visit paws

Today our Earth Scouts group paid a visit to PAWS of Tinley Park. PAWS is a no-kill animal shelter dedicated to the protection of domestic animals. Our current Earth Scouts’ focus is to make a difference through participatory democracy–and through those means, together, we chose to focus our attention on animal welfare. Specifically, we are gearing up to take action against the unfortunate and cruel practice of puppy mills.

So, as a way of understanding the issue better and spending some time with the adorable creatures we are working to protect, we all took a trip over to PAWS. Susan at PAWS was most generous with her time. She guided us through a tour of their facility, talked to us about what they do, and let us spend some time with the animals. We all learned a lot–and just barely got out of there without adopting half the place.

The issue is a serious one, though. The problem of animal homelessness is on the rise. Lost, abandoned, and stray animals account for many of the residents at PAWS, but relinquished animals also make up a large number. Tough economic times sometimes means people can’t afford to keep their animal companions. Also, in this post holiday season, many of the animals come to the shelter as unwanted Christmas gifts. In April 2008, 49 dogs at the center of a puppy mill operation came to the PAWS animal shelter where they were cared for until offered for public adoption.

The 150 volunteers at PAWS give so generously of their time and energy to make such an important difference in the lives of the animals they care for–through providing foster homes, transporting animals for veterinary care, working shifts at the shelter itself, donating money and time for fundraising events, and so on. All of the Earth Scout kids want to lend a hand–to volunteer and work with the animals–but unfortunately volunteers need to be at least 14 years old. There are upcoming opportunities, though, to help out in fundraising events–skating parties, doggie washes, and other fun gatherings. Hopefully our scouts can lend a hand in these and other important ways.

Check out PAWS or your local no-kill shelter soon–especially if you are looking for a companion animal to love and provide a good home to. Put the puppy mills out of business! Don’t shop! Adopt.

chicagoland earth scouts go online

Recently I have taken on the new responsibility of assisting my beautiful wife with a project dear to her heart. She has been a facilitator for a youth group called Earth Scouts for the past four years now; recently her co-facilitator has stepped down, allowing me the opportunity to step up, and I am very excited to do so. Earth Scouts encourages boys and girls ages 3 to 103 years to become responsible global citizens empowered with the ability to make a difference in their local communities and throughout the world. Through education, activities, and service, our scouts promote The Earth Charter vision of a caring, sustainable and peaceful world.

We’ve got a very exciting year ahead of us. We’ll be focusing on the principle of participatory democracy, which is one of five Earth Scout principles. We’re just in the early stages of planning as a group, but we’ve already begun developing our group cooperation skills and the very challenging skill of consensus decision making (which is not easy, by any means, but well worth the effort).

Also, this year, we’ve just launched the new web site for our Earth Scouts group. This provides both an outward web presence for the group, but also a secure extranet for members to communicate and disseminate important information with one another. We believe that this can work well to further improve our effectiveness as a group.

By our next meeting, we’re hoping to decide as a group where we will be concentrating our efforts for the next six months or so. The idea is to work toward positive social change in an area of concern that we all share as a group. While doing this, we’ll be developing skills in the following six areas:

  1. Consensus Building—working together to make decisions where there are no losers and everyone’s voice is heard and respected in the decision making process.
  2. Cooperation—working together effectively to achieve a shared goal.
  3. Courage and Leadership—doing what you believe is right even when you are nervous or scared and helping others do that too.
  4. Power of Voice and Action—using our words and actions to effect change in the world.
  5. Civic Engagement—participating fully as an active citizen within our communities and our society.
  6. Advocacy—working publicly and effectively in support of yourself, important causes, and the rights of others.

I’m really excited to be a bigger part of all this. It’s so very cool and encouraging to see young people getting jazzed about getting really involved in their communities and working on issues that matter most to them–and to others in our world.

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