Friday, February 20, 2015

Council Patch Trade

You can see which councils I'm missing on the Trade Patches tab up top. :)

I'd love to trade 2 for 2. Email me and let's chat about a trade.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Cookie Season

As I sit here getting organized and ready for this weekend, I think back to my first year as a leader and the complete unawareness I had of the madness called cookie season. I feel for new leaders... I really do! I had no forewarning on how totally insane it gets and keeping track of all those cookies... goodness... not to mention the leftover boxes and trying to figure out what you are going to do with them and a booth? Really?? Sigh...

So, today's post is dedicated to those going through their first cookie season and I'm going to try to offer a bit of advice.

Above all else..Get Organized!!!! I can NOT stress this enough. You need to know who is getting what and when and keep track of it. How? Well, I'm sure there are a million different ways and you may have something that works better than I do... but this is what works for me. 

This is what I do from the beginning of the season... like when I hand out the order cards, I get ready for the day they turn them in for initial sales. It saves a midnight frantic crazed leader on a laptop mumbling "Why didn't I prepare!?"

1. Excel spreadsheet for cookie inventory, troop orders, money due, etc. 
Each girl turns in a sheet and the cookie person has to enter those orders into Snap (We use ABC Bakers). Snap does not allow you to order by box... you order by case. So, you are going to have extra cookies OR you get cookies later from the cupboard. If you don't plan to do a booth, take that option and run! Order your full cases through SNAP and get your extras from the cookie cupboard. But, if you are going to do a booth or have girls that continue to sell... order all you need with the extras to start your booth.

So, when the girl turns in her sheet, I have created a tab in an excel spreadsheet with her name. It lists her initial sales cookies and then has lines for the extras she sells after initial sales and before the end of the season. This helps me track how many cookies each girl has sold and how much she owes the troop.

I have another tab that is for the troop overview. It has a column for each girl and her totals are carried over from her sheet. This helps me figure out how we are doing as a troop.

One final tab keeps track of "booth cookies". This includes all the extra cookies I have on hand. I'll take them out for booths and split those between the girls. All additional orders from girls go here, too (in addition to her sheet), to help me track how many cookies I have "on hand" in my inventory.

I'm sure that sounds like a lot of work, but do you know how much time it saves me?? Seriously... someone calls and says "I need X# of Thin Mints. Do you have them?" I pull up the sheet and don't have to go look. I take their order down immediately and update the sheet, then at the end of the day, I can pull those orders together and set them aside. It also helps at the end of season when I can send an email out saying "HELP! I have ____ to get rid of. Sell cookies!"

2. Prepare for initial order cookie arrival. 
This is what I was doing today and prompted this post. 
I make up a cookie "pull sheet" for each girl. It's in a BIG font and color coded by the color of the cookie box. It tells me this girl needs X Thin Mints, X PBP, X Lemonades, etc. I don't have to deal with her order form after it's turned in this way. Less fumbling and flipping. My pull sheet also tells me how many customers they had. This information is  used for their pick up day pack.

Our troop does Thank Yous for our customers. I put together a PDF and print it, have the girls sign it, have it printed and cut into quarter sheets. For Thank Yous to stick, we get the stickers from council each year. I also purchase the plastic Thank You bags on Amazon (not from Council as that would be a small fortune).

When girls arrive, their cookies and pack are ready. In their pack is:
* Pull sheet
* Their order form
* Money collecting envelope already filled out with money due date and amount due
* Plastic bags for filling orders - enough for orders
* Thank yous - enough for orders
* Stickers - enough for orders

All these packs are in a box and waiting for cookie to arrive.

When cookies arrive, I pull the pull sheet out of the first bag in the box (they are in alpha order of first name, btw) and stack those cookies together. The pull sheet is then taped to front of the stack and their pack is sitting on top of the stack.

3. Sorting Those Cookies!
I have tried this a couple different ways and I'm sure you have or will, too. Whatever works best for you... go with it!

For me, I stack my cookies around the living room in the order of the Order Form. Then, when I go to put orders together, I can go right around the room and push them to the center, then push them to their final resting place until the girl picks them up. I schedule a time for that to happen and remind parents to pick up their cookies! Typically, I have my co-leader, husband, or stepdaughter help with this. I don't have a group of people, though, because it gets too crazy... in my opinion.

I know some troops make a party of it and everyone gets together and grabs what they need and take them with them. That's awesome, if you want to do that. I just don't work that way and can't handle the thought of all the girls tripping over each other, knocking over cookies, and getting the wrong numbers of something. I prefer to handle it myself. Remember I have a troop of 7, though. It may be different if I had 20 girls.

At the end I verify my "left overs" are right and give a great big sigh of relief. 

4. Receipts - Use them
Girls (and parents) will pick up their initial cookies. Our Council requires we have parents do a permission slip and give information like a driver's license at the beginning of the sales season. I'm just going to admit right here that sometimes a parent slips by without giving me that information. So, when they come to pick up... I have a stack of what I need from them with their cookies. The reason you collect that information is just in case someone doesn't pay for the cookies they take.... yes, it happens. I know... you're shocked... but, believe me... be sure to get information and keep track of how many cookies everyone has and how much money is due to be turned in. They don't get cookies unless I get information. Period. Double period. Exclamation point!

I also do a receipt with the initial sale pick up. Adult parent/guardian signs it. I sign it. It shows they agree and took the cookies and they have a slip of paper saying how much they owe the troop and that they took the cookies.

With each additional pickup of cookies the parents do, fill out a receipt! Again... they sign, you sign.

Yes, I have my spreadsheet. But, the receipts have their signature. That's a lot more important if worst comes to worst.

5. Be realistic on booth sales!

I will say this is the hardest thing in the world to calculate. The first year, I had no idea how many cookies to get. It's really a guessing game. It still is... there are a lot of factors that come in to play. We do sales in February and March... the snowiest months of the year in Mid-Missouri. But, some years we don't have snow. Other years, we are snowed in for a week! It makes planning booths "fun".

So, my advice is to ask around! Ask other Leaders that have done booths where you are doing a booth how many cookies they sold. But, ask the right questions...
  • Where was your booth located? 
  • What day of the week? 
  • What times? 
  • How many did you sell?
  • Was it your first time at this location?
  • Are there restrictions on what we can do?
  • Did you have girls outside with signs?
I will tell you I ALWAYS run out of Thin Mints, no matter how many I get... we run out... I don't take orders to fill later at a booth sale. I suggest they try another booth and tell them how long booth sales continue. I know... you are thinking I'm passing up sales... what I'm passing up is tracking down random people that may or may not follow through. Order a few cases at the end of the season to fill those "orders" and then try for a week to deliver while they avoid you and you'll be on the same page. I guess you could take money up front, but still... you are running all over the place for a few boxes of cookies. So, why not be a good Girl Scout sister and suggest they try another booth? 

Before each booth sale, make sure you know how many of each cookie you are taking. You need and want these beginning numbers. COUNT TWICE!

At each booth sale, you should try to get an inventory going and have the girls help keep track. But, I'll warn you that this is really difficult if you are having a good day of booth sales. It's more important to me to serve the customer than to make tick marks on a sheet. You SHOULD know how many you took and you will know how many you leave with. The money should match it. If it doesn't, there really isn't anything you can do about it, anyway... so... try to keep track of the cookie inventory during a booth, but don't put it before Customer Service. 

After each booth, take an inventory and compare it to the beginning numbers. Keep track of that information for the next year. Make note of date, day of the week, time, etc. You have something to build on then and the 2nd, 3rd, 4th year will be a little better on figuring out how many cookies to take. 

Customer Service is a great lesson for girls. We provide bags for cookies at our booths. People buy more, because then they have something to carry them in. This is especially helpful with stores. Booth customers get Thank Yous and stickers, too!

An added "thing" we do at our booth is a Service Project. This year we made paracord key fobs and have a sign saying "Be Prepared". We are going to give them out for FREE to anyone that wants one. NO purchase necessary! It's a great way to show people that Girl Scouts are more than just cookies. We do outreach into the community. I will tell you a happy side effect is that people will buy a box of cookies, because you get them to slow down and they are taken off guard with the girls giving them something for free... with no obligation. We have had people give us a donation for items we are giving away, but we make sure they understand it isn't the intent and isn't necessary. It gives the girls a break from "Do you want cookies?" and gives them a "Can you help me with a service project? We are trying to inform the community about ______". 

6. Be prepared for "those" conversations.
If you are new, you may have NO idea what I mean. I was totally thrown off guard my first year as a troop leader at a booth with little Brownies when I had a lady go off about how she won't support Girl Scouts, most of which was not appropriate to be discussed with 2nd grade girls who were doing their 1st real booth sale at a great store.

So... arm yourself with knowledge. Knowledge is power. Talk to your Council and see if they have a cookie proceeds breakdown (they should have one!). Get information about the Cookie Program and the facts. Make sure you know the organization you support is not ripping off little girls and telling them family decisions and discussions aren't part of what Girl Scouts stands for. Most of all... continue to smile and thank them for their time and wish them a pleasant day. Don't stoop to their level. Stand up for your girls and Girl Scouts, but don't succumb to unpleasant conversation.

I have started taking business cards with me and handing them to people and saying "This conversation really isn't appropriate in front of the girls. Some of the information you are sharing isn't accurate, but I'd be happy to speak with you at another time or give you the phone number for our Council who would be more than happy to answer any questions you have about Girl Scouts and the Girl Scout Cookie Program." FYI: I have 2 types of cards... for upset people throwing accusations, I give them Council's contact information. For people interested in getting involved with Girl Scouts in our community, I give them a card with my contact information.

7. Remember you are a Girl Scout

As the Volunteer Support Coordinator, I have the luxury (not!) of hearing all kinds of reports each year from volunteers. I get reports about troop leaders arguing in front of stores about who has their booth there that day because the store mistakenly double-booked (it happens... people make mistakes!). I hear about girls taking orders early (admittedly, it's typically adults not following the rules). I hear about troops running specials on cookies and trying to get an edge over others..I have even had a booth reported because they were selling cookies at 1/2 price... come to find out they were year old cookies!!! I urge you to keep it honest and fair. You are there representing the largest girl-led businesses in the world! You are their role model. You are their troop leader, assistant leader, cookie mom/dad, or someone that they are looking up to. If you are bickering, complaining, playing on your phone, avoiding people, being rude or mean... they are absorbing every single bit of it and unfortunately... maybe not all... but most likely 1-2 of those girls are going to think it's okay to be like that... it's not!

I hope you have a successful and amazing Girl Scout Cookie Season. Follow the rules. Follow the GS Promise and Law. You'll be fine. It's only 2 1/2 months of the year, afterall. ;)

OH!! All those "things" I said I use... yeah... I try to help when I can. Here are links to some resources I've developed for use. :)

* Excel Sheet for Troop Cookie Order - UPDATED 2/21/17
* Excel Sheet for Individual Cookie Order sheet (I use this for my own girl's orders)
* Pull Sheet
* Booth Inventory Sheet
* Cookie Price Sheet (I use this at my booth sales for the girls reference)
* Sample Thank You (Word)

Friday, February 6, 2015

Quebec Chocolate Challenge

If you want to make the people in the checkout line at the store wonder if you've had a really bad day... get all the supplies for this one in one swoop. For me, this was combined with holiday baking and a butter sale... so in my cart was 12 packs of butter and 10 pounds of chocolate. It was awesome. Awesome enough that the couple in front of me had to keep taking turns glancing and whispering and trying not to be noticed. I finally simply said "My Girl Scout troop is doing the Quebec Chocolate Challenge and I make 30 tins of cookies for family and friends during the holidays. Butter is on sale." A collective "OOOOOOHHHHHH!!!!!" from the man, woman, and checkout girl. Ha! That was immediately followed with "Chocolate challenge? What is that? That sounds fun!!!" 

Yes... Quebec Chocolate Challenge... it is fun! Thanks to a dear Leader friend who told me about it. My girls were happy to participate without any arm twisting whatsoever. Imagine that!

Everything you need to know can be found here: 
UPDATE 1/22/16: Okay.... so that link doesn't work, but they still have them.
Use their navigation and go to Programs>Challenges> then Chocolate Challenge will be on the fly out menu. :)

For our challenge... I made a S’mores Cheeseball for "snack". Not that we really needed it, but why not!?

The meeting before the girls were instructed to bring their favorite chocolate recipe. Chocolate Recipe, which I would make into a book. Good thing their Leader knows they aren't the best at remembering Girl Scout "stuff" and padded the challenge with extra activities. Most of the girls forgot this. How you forget chocolate is beyond me.

They also had to track their chocolate intake for a week. They did have this done. It was interesting to hear how some of them told parents they "had" to eat chocolate in order to have something to report. Ha! I sent an email to parents beforehand telling them about this challenge and assuring them this wasn't going to be every meeting, but we needed some FUN!

We created a Chocolate Craft by dipping oreos and decorating them with sprinkles to take home! We gave some to the FACS teacher who graciously allowed us to use her room, too. She was thankful. 

One of the girl's Grandma came prepared with chocolate from Mexico and Switzerland. She talked to the girls about Chocolate Geography. I was shocked to hear what the girls knew. They learn about chocolate in school, apparently... How I missed that class, I'm not sure. 

If you want to freak out 6th grade girls, hand them a sheet of paper and a pudding cup and tell them to Be Daring. Make sure to tell them there are no brushes, spoons, etc. allowed... we are finger painting girls! They were not too sure about that one at first.

We also played Kim’s Game. I cut a cross section off 10 different types of candy bars and the girls had to identify them. They worked as a group. The bars they answered correctly, they got a piece of to eat. The ones they didn't get right... they didn't get. They got 8 out of 10. Pretty good result, actually. Some of those candy bars are tricky and look similar.

I think my favorite activity for the girls was the Chocolate Tester. They probably wouldn't agree. Ha! We had different types of chocolate (bitter, semi-sweet, sweet; milk, dark, white chocolate) for them to taste and identify. Their faces were priceless on the bitter and semi-sweet. By the time they got to the "good ones" they had a slight trust issue. HA!! But, it was all in fun and they had a great time. Don't think I'm torturing my troop or anything.

An interesting activity we did was the Chocolate Tree. They use the candy bars they identified by sight and put the wrappers in order based on by calories and fat grams and protein. They were shocked at the results. I won't ruin it for you, in case you use the same type of candy bars. It was an eye opener.

By the time we got to the last 2 activities, the girls were hoping they didn't have to eat anymore chocolate (shocked, I know). We talked about a world in which we would use Chocolate as Money. I had them come up with a currency structure, rules, benefits, and consequences of money being M&Ms. They were very creative and decided that money we could eat probably wouldn't be a great idea.

The last thing we did was create a few Chocolate Drama stories. I took this straight from the challenge. Have the girls create funny chocolate stories or skits. (1) The Day it Rained Chocolate (2) What will I do? I’m locked in a candy store (3) This is so weird! I took a bite of my _____ and …… (4) A giant chocolate bar came up to me and started crying saying….. (5) One morning, I woke up and had a bad case of chocolate fever/chocolate sniffles/chocolate pops.

To say we had fun would be an understatement. This is a patch program. So, it isn't a badge and it shouldn't be on the front of your uniform. But, it's fun and highly recommend doing this with your troop if at all possible. This is definitely a memory maker and well worth the time and money. Oh... yes... word of caution... this is probably one of the most expensive meetings I had all year. The amount of chocolate needed to make it happen cost me about $40 for 7 girls. That's not a huge amount, but for a troop it can be. My recommendation is to have the girls bring in some of the supplies to help offset the cost.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Outdoor Skills: Building a Campfire

Right now, my co-leader would be laughing so hard she would have tears in her eyes. It isn't that I don't go outside... it's just that I prefer inside. (Did I just admit that on a Girl Scout Leader blog? I think I did... we all have those secrets...) My idea of "camping" consists of a cabin and cooking outside. I do sleep in a sleeping bag inside the lodge... I don't bring an air mattress or cot or entire bed frame. I just don't like tents that much. The ground is harder now than when I was a kid... just sayin'.... and I guess I'm just too darn lazy to pack the entire bed thing... did I mention I have this fear of raccoons unzipping the tent and running through the tent like a crazed animal in the middle of the night and me being stuck in my sleeping bag... yeah, thanks to Troop Camping training... HA!

Anyway... back to my point... I do, however, love s'mores. I also love hotdogs over a campfire and onion bombs are... 'da bomb! Banana boats and  grilled cheese in a pie iron are up there, too.

To build a campfire... well... it's more than just throwing some sticks on the ground and wishing for the best. There is an art to it and depending on what you are wanting to do with the campfire, there are different techniques to build it. Gets confusing fast, right?

Well... it just so happens I have a GREAT resource for you on How To Build The Perfect Fire and from now until March 10th it's FREE! After that it's like $1.95 and that's a decent fair price. I have to say I was over the moon excited and honored that they reached out to me to give this deal to my readers.

How can you get it, you ask? Well... it's easy!

Go here:
Enter your email address
Use this coupon code "SparkAChange"
and check out!

The coupon will give you a 100% discount. Sweet, right? It is. I really like their PDF, too.

You can download a color and/or grayscale PDF.

Use a real email address and they will email you links to both. You'll be able to get to them on the checkout page, too.

My idea is to have the PDF printed and get it laminated for my "camping kit". Then, the girls can use it over and over to help them (and me) remember how to build the correct type of fire.

Amaze Take Action

Honest Moment:
This has been an interesting year for our troop. We brought 4 troops together to form our Cadette troop. We have 7 girls (down from 8) and they are all at different levels of maturity. It keeps things interesting and I keep encouraging them to work through differences and work together... not by telling them, but finding ways to get them working together. It's been a struggle. No one has cried or died, so we are okay. But, it's been a struggle.

SO... for a Take Action project, we had 7 girls and 7 ideas for what their posters should look like. They were not prepared for me to tell them they would be working on 2 posters together. They had to meld their ideas together into one cohesive project.

Take Action Posters:
7 very different girls

2 posters against bullying

They did good. We got the posters approved by the school to hang up in the hallways and did that at the next meeting. I got color copies made of their posters, so they had to make 2 and hang up multiples of the same.

Amaze Session 5/6

This meeting was an interesting one. We saw into the lives of our now Middle School girls and heard some of the things they are facing and how they are dealing with all the changes in their world. I have to say I wanted to grab each of them and give them a hug and tell them it will get better.

What is Bullying: 
As a group, I had the girls write out what bullying meant to them. What have you seen? What have you heard? How did you feel? Have you been bullied? Have you seen others? Did you step up or walk away? Have you ever been guilty of bullying?

Cyber Bullying: 
Then, we branched over to Cyber Bullying. I have to say I was impressed at their knowledge about this. Most of the girls are under 13 and aren't supposed to have social media accounts. But, they are aware it's there. They aren't aware of the technology behind it. So, we had a talk about sharing photos and text messages and videos and everything cyber related.

It worked out great, because my co-leaders are college girls and they were able to give some insight without being a "mom". The girls listened intently to their real stories. I think (and hope!) it made an impact and will save them before they have had a chance to mess up.

Zen Garden: 
The plan was to go on a photo scavenger hunt to take photos of what they wanted in their Zen garden , but it was FREEZING and rainy outside. So, the girls drew a Zen Garden. They had to list the items that would be in their zen garden to help them relax.

Diplomat Award/Take Action: 
At the end of this meeting, we started gearing up for the Take Action Project. We talked about what they needed... what they wanted to do... how to make it happen. The girls decided to make posters for anti-bullying. They wanted to hang them up at school and get them to other troops in our Service Unit.