Monday, December 5, 2011

Putting the Merit in Merit Badges

HALLIE EPHRON: First, here's a baby who's who. Were we adorable or what?

Winners are ... Ann Oxford and Edith Maxwell, for coming closest. (Email me your mailing addresses, please, prizes are on the way to you! hallie "at" hallieephron dot com.)

Moving on... A lot of us were, once upon a time, Girl Scouts. I was, briefly. But it seemed like while Boy Scouts got to do neat things like go camping and race around in homemade "soapbox" cars, all we ever got to do was weave potholders. It was like in sports--the boys played baseball and basketball while we girls lined up for throw and catch or learned to duck in dodge ball. It was wonderful training for life.

So I was happy to hear that the Girl Scouts have updated their merit badges. There are still badges for Cook, Athlete, and Naturalist. Cookie badges have survived, of course.

But the Fashion, Fitness and Makeup badge is out. The Science Of Style badge is in (girls explore use of nanotechnology in fabrics and the chemistry of sunscreens). Orienteering is out and Geocaching is in. There are badges now for Digital Movie Maker. Screenwriter. Website Designer. Locavore. Comic Artist. Car Care. Savvy Shopper.

I was fine with all this albeit tumultuous change until I got to the Science of Happiness badge. Apparently girls earn it by working for a month on strategies based on the research of psychologist/author Martin Seligman ("Authentic Happiness" and "Flourish").

I can't put my finger on exactly why this one gave me pause and Savvy Shopper didn't. I'd be all for the Science of Resilience, but happiness?? It reminded me that we were always told that whatever else we did, we were supposed to SMILE. (Remember: "I've got something in my pocket that belongs across my face... It's a good old Brownie smile!")

Were you a Girl Scout, and did you earn badges? How'd it work out for you? And what about all this change?

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Good grief..I've got something in my pocket that belongs across my face? We could have had a field day with that in my Brooklyn neighborhood.

I went to exactly one Brownie meeting as a kid. I thought we were going to look for arrowheads (there were Indians in Brooklyn...) but instead we made beanbags. What the heck was a beanbag for? I didn't join another group until Sisters in Crime.

Savvy shopper? And this is judged how?

RHYS BOWEN: I was a Girl Guide in England and I loved the camping and outdoor cooking (even if we got rained out on my first camping trip). Being an over achiever I got all kinds of badges first aid, child care, hiking etc but none of being happy. We had a good group of girls and we laughed and had fun. Good experience for me.

JAN BROGAN: My mother discouraged me from becoming a Brownie, saying "do you really want to wear that ugly uniform?" I think maybe she didn't want to buy the uniform or get asked to lead a troop. And then years later, I found out that SHE had been a GIRL SCOUT.

But the truth is, I'm not big on practical skills so I think it would have been a bust anyway. The shopping bothers me more than the happiness, especially since they have to research the psychological component and probably because it is absent those practical skills that I lack.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I was a Brownie and a Girl Scout, and I still remember how ugly I felt in those horrible brown, then green, uniforms. (Campfire Girls were cooler AND had cute uniforms.) And I don't remember ever doing anything that I enjoyed (argghh, those woven potholders! The trauma!)

I think it sounds much more fun these days (and hopefully they've improved the uniforms.) I hope Savvy Shopper teaches things like budgeting and not being taken in by advertising gimmicks (um, Black Friday?), and having read a bit about Martin Seligman's book, I don't think the Happiness philosophy is "put on a smile no matter what" but rather learning strategies for life-long emotional health that don't depend on things or relationships--both huge pitfalls for women since we tend to put our worth in things outside ourselves. I say go Girl Scouts!

LUCY BURDETTE: I agree with Deb about the Happiness philosophy, though I'd love to hear what the Brooklyn kids have in their pockets!

I was a huge girl scout and a rabid badge collector (evidence in the photo!) right up to junior high at which point it became hugely uncool (a problem I had already:). My mother was the Girl Scout leader for many years and I'm sorry to say she was probably more lenient with some of my badge requirements than a non-relative might have been. That said, I had badges that went all the way down one side of my sash and halfway up the other. I totally regret losing or throwing that out--though probably no one but me would want it at this point!

ROSEMARY: Lucy, I can't envision a time when you weren't cool. I've seen those hippie pix of you in your overalls! No merit badges but I do have a denim jacket that has travel patches all over it. Too embarrassed to wear it these days but can't throw it out. In fact, I buy new patches for it whenever I travel. (Remember stitching them on backpacks?)

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Former Brownie and Girl Scout here. Deb must have had an earlier-developing fashion sense than I did, because I liked the uniforms. Of course, I was an Army brat, surrounded by men in uniform 24/7, so that may have colored my perceptions. I remember wearing the sashes, and I know I worked on some badges, but I can't for the life of me recall what they were now. As I remember, we did a lot of crafts.

My favorite was the waterproof seat cushion we made to sit on while toasting weinies around a campfire. I don't think we every actually made it to camp, but I had that oh-so-useful cushion forever. I wish I still had it now.

HALLIE: Oh, I know those seat cushions. They were called Situpons!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, I'm so with you, Lucy! I had NO FRIENDS as a kid. None. In Brownies, they HAD to like you. And, continuing to be otherwise friendless, I went on to Girl Scouts, yes, even with the hideous geeky uniforms. (I drew a line at the stupid hat.)

And confession: I was ridiculously obsessed about the badges. It was so--doable. And success was so obvious. I lusted after them ALL. I even tried to get Beekeeper, but couldn't finagle a way to do it without being around bees.

I do wish I had that badge sash. Sigh. I did need those stinkin' badges.

HALLIE: And there you have it. Another Rorschach!

Tell us about your Brownie/Girl Scout/Girl Guide/Campfire Girls experiences... Did you make a Situpon? A potholder? Search for arrowheads in the wilds of Brooklyn? If you were a Boy Scout, torture us by how much more real fun you had.


  1. Hank, very very hard to believe you had no friends--you've made up for that!

    we are blood sisters in the chase for badges--like Ro said, I even liked sewing the little buggers on...

  2. What a great post. I was a Brownie and a Girl Scout right through high school. We had a cool group of girls in high school, and did service projects as well as camping trips.

    I loved the uniforms, including the hat. I loved marching in our local parade in my uniform and white gloves. In high school we wore the "camp" uniform of white blouse, darn green bermuda shorts, knee socks (with knee-sock garter things), and our troop's blue jackets with travel patches. I loved accumulating badges and STILL HAVE MY SASH.

    My mother was Leader of the Year one year (I have two older sisters who were also Scouts all the way through high school). Our house was filled with cases of cookies every year. After we all left the house, my dad would still buy a case of Thin Mints every year and freeze them. And I do the same to this day.

    It was always fun. And where else are you going to learn to make a hospital corner with the clean sheet on your bed? Thanks for bringing up all the great old memories. Seriously.

    My ears perked up at the new Locavore badge. I'll use that in my new Local Foods Mystery series!

  3. I always wanted to join the Girl Scouts, but wasn't able to manage the after school thing because my mother worked. (Very rare in the late 50's, early 60's). However, my youngest daughter was in Brownies, then Girl Scouts, then was in an Explorer science group for two years, then Civil Air Patrol, then marching band, then went to a military college. So we were all about the uniform thing for awhile.

    They no longer wear the full uniform, and no one wears a sash anymore, either. They wear vests, and that's where the badges go. Because I had a sewing school for awhile, we had several sewing camps for Girl Scouts here, to make their own vests. That was a lot of fun. And the first badge they got to sew onto the vest was a sewing one.

    My daughter's troop leaders were great, except one of them wanted nothing to do with the campout, so I helped the other leader. It rained like a son of a gun that weekend, so we had 12 wound-up little girls to handle. I'm not sure I've caught up on that lost sleep yet. The last sleepover I helped with, the "good" leader was 9 3/4 months pregnant, and I was afraid the girls were going to earn a merit badge in Birthing!

    The Explorers, by the way, are managed by the Boy Scouts, but they let girls participate. It was way cool, and did not require any kind of uniform whatsoever.

  4. P.S. I'd have guessed Hank, Rhys and Hallie. You were all adorable!

  5. Edith, Karen -- I'm just appreciating how special Brownies and Girl Scouts were. I confess, my experience: not so great. And when my daughter "flew up" and the ceremony was (heavily) officiated over by the local Catholic priest, not so great either.

    I wonder if they gave up sashes, recognizing the only other place women wore sashes like that were in beauty pageant?

  6. Or maybe because it was goofy.

    But then, so are the vests. Who wears vest any more?

  7. One of the things I love about the Girl Scouts is how resolutely non-military they make their uniforms look. Some of that may be rooted in an early 20th century idea for what was proper for girls, but I suspect most of it comes from Juliette Low's philospohy. When you see how much Boy Scout uniforms can start to resemble Junior Brownshirts, you get a sense of where Arthur Baden Powell was coming from, too...

  8. I believe that I had more badges than Lucy, and I still have the sash to prove it. I also have the beanie. Odd but neither the sash nor the beanie seem to fit any longer. In 1982 my husband and I even took the ultimate step when we bought a Girl Scout camp in Plymouth, MA! We sleep in what was the camp's "Wishing Well" (which we call The Infirmary) and our guests -- those who are brave -- sleep in the bunk houses. Needless to say, I loved Girl Scouts. One other memory: I earned the drama badge by writing and directing a play presented to the Girl Scout mothers. I didn't understand why they laughed when all the lead roles were announced, "and starring Patty Lechtenberg..." Obviously, I was the casting director too.

  9. A proud Brownie & Girl Scout.. my two sisters were also. Actually, my oldest sis [64] is still involved with GS via a collegiate scout troop. She also was part of the last Round-up in the 60's at Lake Champlain. My mom was a troop leader for a long time and also Council President. My dad [Boy Scout] was also involved with the council and it's camp receiving the appropriate ratings. Sadly, lots of the council camps have been sold off. With all of the other summer options available -- lack of interest.. When my mom passed away, we heard from so many women whose lives were greatly impacted by being a part of GS with her.

  10. I enjoyed your post very much! Oh my those girl scouts they are so cute and I love the thing that they sell! You brought me such great memories! Clean & Gone

  11. As someone who's slept in one of Pat Kennedy's "bunk houses," I can attest to its rudimentariness. And their "house" still has the red cross from the infirmary in the door. Kids must have had a great time there.

  12. I went to Catholic grade school, so the Brownie/Girl Scout uniforms represented a twice a month respite from those awful wool accordian pleat jumpers. That's probably why I joined Brownies, which I recall as a fun activity involving games and cookies (oh, and making a Situpon.)

    Girl Scouts were another story. Our leader was bossy and shrill. I was going through a rebellious stage and too intimidated by the nuns to act out in school, so I saved the attitude up for Girl Scout meetings. (Could have earned the mouthy badge without breaking a sweat.)

    The leader and I pretty much agreed after less than a year that I should look for a different after school activity.

  13. I wasn't only a Girl Scout, I later led my daughter's troop. It was lots of hard work, but fun, too. My favorite part was the campouts and s'mores! My least favorite part was realizing that one of the girls in my troop was attempting to steal from the camp store. Sheesh!

  14. Mouthy Badge - Love that, Brenda. Sounds like the perfect badge for writers.

    Hmmm... writers' badges.
    Drama Queen
    ... what else?

  15. I was both a Brownie and a Girl Scout, though, like Julia, I can't remember a single badge I earned. I know I earned some, however, and I still have the sash in a box somewhere. I didn't last too long as a Girl Scout ... just drifted away into something else, I think. But I remember selling cookies. Those were the days when a kid could set off on her own through the neighborhood and ring doorbells to take orders. Good times.

    My verification word is "femendes," which sounds vaguely complimentary. Tremendous women?

  16. I think vests are still an important part of the gear.

  17. I was a Junior and I think I got the required badges, the memorable one was the cooking badge.

  18. I went all the way to Sr. Girl Scout and I think I had every badge in the book. I found my Situpon when we cleaned out my mother's house prior to moving her into assisted living. It was too tattered to keep but what memories! My dad was self-employed and had a truck so he was always drafted to ferry our gear to camp.

    And I still remember my favorite Brownie/Girl Scout song, sung as a round:

    Make new friends but keep the old.
    One is silver and the other's gold.

  19. I was raised by Raccoon and Daddy Raccoon. Hey, if you raise five girls, you go with the flow. Thanks to my folks, I experienced survival camping in the sierras, and wider opportunities in Texas and Mexico. Also got tossed out of Disneyland, but I digress.
    Am I too old for that screenwriter badge?
    Loved the uniforms, I've worn them all.

  20. I'm impressed. Can you gals start a fire with just two sticks?

  21. I was a Scout all the way through high school. Loved everything about it, including badges. Out here, lots of camping involved, including first aid, mountaineering, even survival training! Worked as a camp counselor, and amaze my husband by coming up with a silly song for any occasion! Traveled a bit on Wider Opportunities to gatherings in other regions. Still pouting that my parents wouldn't let me go on a historical trip to New England b/c I was too young to fly there by myself from Montana. (Ok, they were probably right -- I think I was 14. "So why'd you let me apply?" "We didn't think you'd get accepted.") Hmm. Sounds like a trip I should plan for myself now -- an adult merit badge.

    The council had a collection of early uniforms and I got to wear a cool one with bloomers in a parade once. Great fun!

    Gotta go out to the garage and find that sash -- and my safari jacket with all the other pins and badges!

  22. I was a Girl Scout for the last two y.ears in high school--first time we'd been settled enough to have the chance. Like Julia, my dad was career military. I went hogwild for the badges at that point, and since I already had many of the skills, I racked them up pretty quickly.

    Later I led my daughter's Brownie troop in the inner city. None of the families, including mine, had any money, so I had to get real creative about activities and fundraising. That's a problem with GS. They assume troops will be in prosperous suburbs. I had to raise money to buy uniforms for most of the girls. Lots of fun, though.

  23. It's so interesting how many of us were overachieving badge collectors! They should do a study on badge collecting equating to success in later life.

    Hank, you are the best. Bee keeping without bees? I love it!

  24. Hallie-

    Love the idea of monthly badges for writers! I'll add:

    Invisible Friends

    Did I mention Procrastination? ;-)

  25. Of course we can start a fire with two sticks, Ro!

    If one of them is a match.


  26. Badges --
    Blatant self promotion

  27. Badges:

    -Imagining Bodies Where There Are None
    -Amateur Sleuth
    -Titling with Puns

  28. Badges for Wroters: Armchair Forensics

  29. I have almost finished writing my first mystery. I'm a little afraid that once it's done it'll look like the afghan I tried to knit when I was in Girl Scouts. Everyone else turned in colorful lap sized afghans. I turned in a tatty little trapezoid that looked like an oversized pot holder. The shame still burns...I'm hoping that writing bloody mysteries will be more successful than tending to my own knitting.

  30. Oh, Pinny, too funny! My only attempt at knitting (NOT in Scouts) was a scarf (successful -- I still have it) and a mitten, in which the thumb grew out of the palm. Since my hand is NOT shaped that way, I only made the one. :)

  31. You know, not so much for me either. My mother got me started in Brownies when I was in second grade. We'd just moved, so I'm guessing 1) she wanted one kid--the bossiest, oldest girl (speaking of yesterday's blog post)--out of the house for one afternoon a week, and 2) she thought she was helping me make friends.

    No go. All I remember is the hippie mom-leader playing "Age of Aquarius" and teaching us how to make the perfect latticed pie crust. I quit, big time.

    A few years later I tried again with 4-H. Sewing. Cake decorating. A few other things. Again, no go.

    It was all too girly and comradely for me. I was a collector, for sure, but not badges. I preferred solitary collecting: stamps and coins. Geek squared! I was serious about stamps. I didn't use the pre-printed albums. I made my own albums by buying blank philatelic pages from a stamp collectors store. I even held the stamps with tongs!

    I still have my albums; I'll never throw them away. They're rather amazing, actually. Such focus and concentration; I'm still surprised I didn't get into writing earlier. I've always had the right temperament for it. So figure!

  32. Love hearing your stories! (Hi Pinny, we won't say so if your story looks like a potholder:).

    Can't make a fire rubbing sticks Ro, but this reminds me--I can tie a knot! Still have the board in the attic with all the fancy knots lacquered onto it...

    And I've stayed in Pat's Girl Scout camp too--it's the cat's meow!

    Oh and one more memory, when we went on camping trips, the leaders were always careful to bring sanitary supplies in case one of the girls started her period. But then everyone would watch to see if any of the campers had to use the goods. Would have just died!

  33. I not only was a Brownie and a Girl Scout, I was a leader for 11 years and a day camp director for 6 years. Took all three kids to work with me. They loved it.

    I didn’t get to go camping as a kid. Hey, I was lucky my parents let me be a Scout. But as an adult, I took Brownies camping. Then Juniors. Then Cadets. Then Seniors. I taught them to cook, camp, roll a bedroll, make a situpon and ditty bad (to carry your personal item when camping), and to sing crazy songs. My downfall was arts and crafts. I usually recruited a Mom to do them.

    A few years ago our SinC chapter did the writer badge with about 30 Girl Scouts. We all had a great time. Oh, it was a charm, not a badge now. The girls even gave me one.

  34. Very interesting blog post you shared here and i really love it a lot. thanks for this one