because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

Snacks For Summer Camp: A #Giveaway via @GoGoSqueez

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Cal
TechSupport poses with one of his favorite snacks.

When I went to overnight camp, we weren’t supposed to bring any food from home. Instead, we got to visit “canteen” once a week, where we could select two treats. I always selected one half-melted chocolate thing and a purple ICEE.

Of course, that single weekly visit was never enough, and we wrote whiny letters home begging our parents to send us food.

Once, my mother sent me a package filled with all kinds of goodies. Sadly, none of that delicious contraband made it beyond the office, as someone in there figured out that the lumpy Cookie Monster stuffed animal had been unstuffed and filled with all kinds of junk food.

That sucked.

In less than 3 weeks, my 13-year-old son will head off to overnight camp.

For seven weeks.

images
So long as it has one of these on it, we’re good.

TechSupport’s camp allows him to bring in food — so long as it’s kosher. This is always a bit of a conundrum as it’s difficult to find kosher snacks that are healthy, tasty, reasonably priced, and don’t require refrigeration.

But this year, I’ve got it figured out.

*insert happy dance*

The good folks at GoGoSqueeZ have nine flavors of applesauce that can be easily put into kids’ overnight trunks —  and they don’t even have to be refrigerated.

Not only is GoGoSqueez kosher, but it’s also all-natural, gluten-free, wheat-free, and vegan-friendly. It doesn’t contain any yucky stuff like high fructose corn syrup or added colors or flavors.

Listen, I know my kid is going to eat his fill of s’mores at camp.

Like every night, probably.

But I also know he loves GoGoSqueez cinnamon-applesauce.

So I’m stoked about sending him off with something homegrown that comes from a company that uses the best ecological practices to grow and harvest their fruit.

Good snacks are like currency at camp, so the kids in my son’s bunk are in for a treat if they want to trade.

Screen Shot 2013-05-15 at 10.18.21 PMAnd guess what?

Y’all are in for a treat too because the folks at GoGoSqueeZ are offering one lucky winner* a chance to try their 9-flavor sampler.

Your kids don’t have to settle for plain ole apple.

Oh no.

You can see which flavor your children like best: appleapple, applegrape, applecherry, apple-banana, applepeach, applemango, applecinnamon, applestrawberry and appleberry!

If you sign up for the GoGoSqueeZ newsletter and place your order online, you’ll receive 10% off your entire order.

I bought the 20-pouch sampler.

I figure that should hold my kid.

For about 3 weeks.

Oy.

What do you have to do to win?

1. Leave me a comment telling me the kind of snacks you remember eating during the summer. 

If you went to overnight camp, which one did you attend? Did you have a canteen to raid? If you didn’t go to overnight camp, why the heck not do you ever wish you did? What other kosher snacks can I send to camp with my kid? Oh, and no, they can’t use hot pots.

2. For an extra chance to win, tweet MY POST:

Need help regarding what to say? Copy & paste this and make sure your handle is on the tweet!

Enter to win a 9-pouch sampler from @GoGoSqueeZ via @rasjacobson! http://wp.me/pViQq-3ZH #giveaway

tweet me @rasjacobson

*LEGAL STUFF: I received a 9-pouch sampler from GoGoSqueez for TechSupport to try. He still loves apple-cinnamon the best. Big surprise. As you know, I only do reviews when I really LOVE the products. Y’all, you can make appletinis with this stuff. And cook with it. What’s not to love?

*NOTE: Comments will be closed on 6/13 and one winner will be announced on this page on 6/14, so be sure to check back. If I don’t hear back from the winner within 24 hours, Random Number Generator will select a new winner. My apologies, but you have to have a US shipping address to be eligible to win.

Yummy!
Yummy!

NOTE: The winner of the GoGoSqueeZ giveaway is Brown Road Chronicles! Congratulations Steve! Send me your mailing address within the next 48 hours!

Mo-Mo-Mo. Hawk-Hawk-Hawk.

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TechSupport called while he was away at overnight camp.

I knew something had to be really wrong to get a phone call.

He had to be sick. Or dying. Or have head lice.

But no.

He called to ask permission to get a mohawk.

“It’s for the Fight Song. Can I do it?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said, knowing my husband always gives Tech a good brush-cut before school starts in September.

“Tell the director.” Tech said. “He needs to hear it from your lips.”

“Hi, Renée.” I heard the director smiling through the phone.

“It’s fine.” I laughed.

Imagine if your kid came back to you — after four weeks of being away — with this haircut:

How would you feel about that?

Also, if you like to vote, head over to Rob Shep’s awesome blog where he is hosting the 2nd Annual Blogging All Star Challenge, and vote for Team Ricky.

Right now, only 3 votes separate the two teams. This is tight people! I’m the chick in green — not the one with the mustache — in case you couldn’t tell. Wes Molebash didn’t know about my crazy curls. But boy did he create awesome caricatures of everyone.

Tweet this twit @rasjacobson

If You Really Need To Get There

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I am a huge advocate of summer overnight camps for children. Tech has been going since he was 9 years old and he recently hopped on the bus for a 1-month stint. Here is something I wrote when I was longing to go back to camp. In the name of research, I actually had to go and make the trip. It was fabulous.

• • •

If you really need to get there, get on the New York State Thruway and drive pretty fast. Get off at exit #42. Go through the tollbooth. This may take a little while because there are only two lanes, and one is for E-Z Pass users only. In front of you, you will see a Mobil station. To the right, you will see a motel. A few years ago, it was called Gus & Nancy’s. I don’t know what it is called now. It doesn’t matter. The place looks exactly a it did in 1978.

Take a right onto Route 14S. Drive for a while. See Northrup Plumbing, Heating and Cooling. See the Rollerdrome, boasting a new blue awning. If it is summertime, see the yard sales brimming with glass.

See the sign that boasts Geneva is the “Lake Trout Capital of the World.” I used to laugh at this sign, but these days, I suppose it’s as good a designation as any other.

See the houses that sandwich the Sunoco Station that was charging $4.26 a gallon for gas on the day I last passed through. If it is hot, see folks sitting on their porches. And on chairs under trees. See the shirtless boys riding bikes in the road. See the babies in sagging diapers standing on the sidewalks.

If you haven’t been on Route 14 in a while, brace yourself. The old ice cream stand that used to be on the corner of North Street has been torn down. Kentucky Fried Chicken is gone, too. It’s okay. Keep going. Pass “Family Dollar” and a furniture store called Aaron’s. Remember Alice’s Restaurant? It used to be on the left, just before you’d cross over the railroad tracks? Alice is gone, but Nonna’s Trattoria is there, so the décor hasn’t changed much. There are still red, white and green flags flapping in the breeze.

A little further down the road and you are in the epicenter of Hobart & William Smith’s night-life. How do I know this? Because I am a graduate from William Smith. Friends joke that half of the reason I chose William Smith is because of its proximity. They are not wrong. I knew where I was, how close I was. How fast I could get there. Take a right. Any right. They’ll all get you to the right place.

If you are idling in front of the First Methodist Church at Main and Seneca, prepare to take a left. See the multi-colored row houses that flank the left side of the road. Good. Now look quickly to your right.

Pulteney Park, Geneva, NY
Pulteney Park, Geneva, NY (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you don’t look quickly you will miss her: the Lady of the Lake, kneeling in her fountain. If you get close enough to her, you will see that her nose is cracked.

How do I know this? I used to live in one of those faded green apartments behind her. In 1989, my address was 1 Park Place. If I opened my bedroom window and craned my neck, I could see the road.

The road that would take me there.

If I needed to get there.

Keep going. Pass the fraternity houses with their fat pillars, the Deltas and Betas and Gammas and all the other ancient Greek symbols.

See the benches on the left.

On a clear day, it is there that you will catch your first real patch of blue: Seneca Lake stretching out before you. I spent a lot of time on those benches. But in a car, things happen fast. The lake is a blur.

Keep going. Pass Geneva on the Lake on your left, promising waterfront lunches on the porch for $15.99. Pass the American Legion Hall, situated right in front of the historic Belhurst Castle. I ate at The Castle once, with someone I loved. A bat flew about the dining room as the waiters haplessly tried to catch it by throwing tablecloths over it.

See the Seneca Lake Country Club. See Geneva Rod and Gun. A little more blue, a place where the sea gulls cluster. See Kashong. Say it a few times aloud because it feels good, the way it holds in the back of the throat. Suddenly, there are wineries, stalks attached to wires training branches to go this way or that. There are the old wineries — Fox Run and Wiemer — which have been joined by Seneca Shore and Anthony Road and Prejean. The buildings are huge, a little industrial, and you can feel their newness. Just when it starts to feel uncomfortably new, pass Darryl’s Garage. Little Green — the camp truck — had lots of sleepovers there. But Little Green is gone too.

See the ‘T’ in the road. Mr. Twistee’s on your left. And that light. That flashing light. You have a choice. Only there is no choice.

You know where you are going.

You could go left to Dresden. You could go right to Penn Yan. Maybe stop at Lloyd’s for a free poster and some chicken wings. But you don’t.

You know how close you are.

If you are a die-hard, your heart, you’ll feel it. It pumps. It pumps.

If you wait to see the mailbox, you’ve almost passed Camp Road, that beautiful, awful, bumpy road. The road that separates real life from camp life. If your windows are open, close them. Because no matter how slowly you approach, your wheels will kick up dust that settles everywhere. And if you are lucky, that crazy, magical camp dust will surround you, envelope you, get inside you and make you fall so in love with a place that, upon leaving, you will weep for missing its dust.

See the bee boxes. See the Mennonite children running in the fields, the girls in their long blue dresses and thick black boots; the boys in their white shirts and suspenders. See the corn. Notice how short it is in June. Remember how tall it will be in August. Pause at the railroad tracks. (Everyone knows someone who knows someone who almost got hit by a train.) Turn down the music. Look to the left, to the right. Cross over to the camp side of the tracks. Pass Gypsy camp. Bear left. See the green fence and the slightly ominous sign that reads: “All Visitors Must Check In At The Office.”

Am I a visitor? Am I family?

My heart. It pumps. It pumps.

You can’t tell me I’m not home.

What do you think about the idea of sending your children to summer camp? Have you ever gone back as an adult to visit a summer camp that you loved? How did it feel? What did you remember?

(For more on why I think summer camp is fabulous read THIS and THIS.)

tweet me @rasjacobson

Will You Write My Son While He Is At Overnight Camp?

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This year my son decided he wanted to stay at his overnight camp longer. He was willing to leave behind his close-knit group of friends in August and strike out on his own to meet totally new kids in July to have that extra week. Now I’ve been pretty good about not freaking out about this because I know 65% of the staff at the camp and I have the phone number of the Camp Director, I’ve known the Staff Director for 30 years, and I’m playing WWF with the Associate Director, and I can reach any of them in about 3 minutes I know that I can stay in touch with him via letters.

As far as I’m concerned, when writing your child who is at overnight camp, there are two rules.

Rule #1: Don’t be sad. Never tell your child that you are missing her so much that it hurts. That’s a disaster. And if your kid writes to say he is sad or homesick, don’t get all hyper and tell him you’ll pick him up. Oy. He’s just venting. No! No! No!

Rule #2: Be funny. Camp is fun – and your letters should be too. Tell stories. Take a moment from your day and embellish it like crazy. When I write to Tech, I try to be entertaining. And by that, I mean, I try to entertain myself while simultaneously torturing him.

At almost 13 years old, Tech is currently obsessed with two things: dubstep and Minecraft. If you don’t know what these things are, you are probably not the parent of a teenage boy.

Here is the first letter from home that I tapped out to my son.

• • •

Hey Tech!

You have been gone for 12 hours. I imagine you guys are just getting settled into your cabin about now. You have to tell me all the stuff you know I want to know like which cabin you are in? And who are you sleeping next to? Were things decided pretty easily or did enormous fist-fights break out? If so, was anyone seriously injured? I hope you have met some cool new people. I also hope that there are no doojies in your bunk, but you know there is always one kid. (And sometimes two.) But hopefully not.

Okay, the standard questions: How did you do on your swim test? Which hobby did you get? Who are your counselors? Are you going to ask you-know-who on Shabbat walk? If you have given up on her, is there someone else that has caught your eye? Did your cousins greet you with hugs? I paid them a lot of money to make sure there would be hugs. Please let me know if you do not feel you received a proper welcome in which case I will request a full refund. Be certain everyone knows that A & A are your first cousins because 1) they are totally cool, 2) they are staff, 3) no one will screw with you if they know you have bodyguards on the premises.

Dad & I are redecorating your room. Are you okay with yellow walls and a pink comforter? I’m pretty sure that is what you said. Dad thought pink walls and yellow comforter. Who is right? And don’t say you don’t want your room redecorated. We know you will love it when it it done!

Oh — bad news — I accidentally deleted Minecraft from my computer so you will probably have to start building your world again. Oh, I’m sorry. Did seeing the word “Minecraft” make you experience withdrawal symptoms? I’m sorry to have mentioned Minecraft. It’s probably hard for you to be away from Minecraft. Did you find out if anyone else likes to mine? What about dubstep? By the time you leave, I’m guessing everyone will be digging Dead Mouse and Skrillex.

I love you eleventy-bazillion pounds. And that, my son, is a lot.

Have a great time and be the great person that you are.

(Or be that kid. Either way.)

Sending you all my crazy-embarrassing motherly love.

xoxoxox Mom

I’d love it if you would leave a note for Tech while he is at summer camp during the month of July! Write as much or as little as you would like. I will print out all of your responses and bring them to him on Visitors Day which is set for July 15. 

Tweet this Twit @rasjacobson

Lessons From Summer Shoes

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photo by rouzeh @ flickr.com

Once upon a time, a November baby met July. The baby’s feet were small and bare and, as she crawled across spiky grass to the place where the lawn met road, she crouched low to pop tar bubbles with the tip of one tiny index finger.

One hot July, the little girl screamed as her mother buckled a new pair of white strappy-somethings firmly onto her feet. And no matter how many people told her how lucky she was to have such fine shoes, she knew she must have been very bad. To her the word sandals always sounded like a lie: a fancy name for prison.

Another July, the girl slipped into a shimmery yellow leotard and jazz shoes. While she was on-stage, she was confident in her dancer’s limbs. And when the audience clapped its approval, she knew her body was moon beautiful.

One July, the teenage girl watched her mother slip into a pair of rainbow-colored high heels. She saw how a 45° angle could transform a woman’s legs, instantly make them longer and leaner, and she decided that, one day, she would have a pair of magical shoes in her closet.

One July, the young woman dressed up in silky lingerie — thigh high stockings, a corset and ridiculously high red platform pumps: a last-ditch effort to make a man she wanted notice her. When he wouldn’t leave his piano, she threw one shiny stiletto at his head and realized it was time for her to live alone.

Later that same July, the young woman saved up all her money to buy a pair of distressed leather boots. As she straddled the back of a horse, her heels pressed into silver stirrups. And despite the fact that the world was shifting beneath her, she felt completely in control, holding the reins of that bridle, cantering into the darkness beneath a canopy of green and gold.

One July, the woman found herself in New Orleans, wearing a sundress with sneakers, and holding hands with the man she knew would one day be her husband.

One July, pregnant and hopeful, the woman learned sacrifice. As her ankles swelled into fat sausages, she could only wear flip-flops. Soon she would be someone’s mother; she understood her body was for rent. And she was grateful the feisty tenant who had taken control of the premises only had a few weeks left on his lease.

Over forty July later, that November baby found herself barefoot on the neighbors’ lawn. The soles of her feet were filthy, but as she turned cartwheels, she realized she owned the magical shoes she’d always wanted. She understood now that the shoes weren’t magic. It was the everything else around her that was positively succulent, that she carried an entire orchard of ripe peaches inside her, that she lived from joy to joy, as if death were nowhere in the background.

What do you remember about July?

Tweet this Twit @RASJacobson

Put Sleep-Away Camp on the Must Try List

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This is the 1st in a 3 part series about why I send my child to summer camp. It first ran last June when my blog was in its infancy, and I had 3 subscribers. It seemed like the right time of year to run it again — especially as I’m starting to pack up Monkey for his 4th summer at overnight camp.

photo by Jill Butin Neuman

It happens each summer. People ask about our plans, and when certain folks learn that our child spends three solid weeks each summer at overnight camp, I am met with looks of incredulity and sometimes horror.

More often than not, people gasp and say things like: “I could never do that,” as if to imply that I somehow force my son to pack his trunk and duffel and get out of our house. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if I didn’t let him go, he would consider that the biggest punishment – ever!

Sometimes I get a variation on the theme: “I would never do that.” This response is extra excellent as it is packed with a little judgment, which I really appreciate. This response implies that I am somehow harming my child, perhaps inviting trouble into his life because I won’t be there to oversee his every move 100% of the time. (Can you imagine?)

When people respond this way, I sometimes get a little snarky and say, “At least this summer he came home with nine fingers.” (Insert a dramatic pause.) “Last summer was a disaster.” I know people  imagine pedophiles lurking around the showers or picture their own children drowning, their heads being held under water by rowdy unsupervised troublemakers. These are their issues.

For me, overnight camp was the greatest gift my parents ever gave me, and I feel fortunate that my husband and I are able to pay this gift forward to our child. Here’s what overnight camp gave me and continues to give children who attend each year:

1. Continued Independence. Each August, Monkey and his posse of buddies hop on the camp bus and return with a kind of “we-can-survive-without-our-parents” vibe. I once asked my son if anyone ever gets homesick. He shrugged, “Usually, our counselors keep us too busy to even think about being homesick. If it does happen, it is usually the new kids – but once they get into it and get comfortable with the routine, all that homesickness goes away,” then he added, “Plus, we take care of each other.”

2. Benefits of Communal Life. Living in a bunk with 8 or 9 “summer siblings” affords kids the opportunity to develop some amazing problem solving skills. If there is an argument, instead of a parent swooping in to the rescue, the boys generally have to work it out by themselves. That means using their mouths to directly communicate their feelings. Sometimes they aren’t so great at expressing the subtle nuances of their emotions, but – again – they have each other to lean on. If things ever escalate, they have counselors and Unit Heads to help them.

There are other benefits of living in a large group. Boys learn to respect each other’s property, tolerate each other’s quirks, and appreciate each other’s boundaries. Everyone sees each other at their best and their worst selves. Summer camp goes a long way towards undoing that horrible “entitled” attitude. The spoiled girl quickly learns when her peers have had enough of her whining. Kids are patient to a point, but when an entire bunk is angry at you, it is time to take a look in the mirror. Campers quickly learn that despite the fact that a person cannot always get what he wants, everything usually turns out okay in the end.

3. Time Away from Technology. Okay, so when I was young, there was less technology, but I still missed Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy and General Hospital. These days, kids are so connected to their social networks, their email accounts, their Apps, the Internet, their Skype. They are used to the constant buzz-ping of each new text message as it arrives. Being unplugged from most technology allows kids to connect with each other, a valuable skill that seems to be getting lost a bit these days. My son reminds me, “We can have iPods, so if someone needs some alone time, he can just pop in the ear buds.” Staff members have told me that after a few days, many kids begin to prefer people to gadgets, and rather than tune out, they start to look for other campers to “hang out with.”

4. Connection to Nature. While our family is fortunate to live in an area with plenty of access to great parks, during the school year, many children just do not have a lot of spare time to go outside and play. My son says, “At camp, we are kind of forced to appreciate nature. It’s easy to forget, but once you start walking around, you can’t help but remember.” Camp Seneca Lake has over 200 acres to explore. Trails to blaze. There are squirrels, field mice, lots of ants and millipedes; there are raccoons and skunks and deer. There is a beautiful lake with a beach that consists of zillions of flat shale rocks, perfect for skipping. What more could a kid want?

5. Opportunity to Try New Things. I like to think of CSL as a “liberal arts” camp. Unlike sports camps where kids learn the skills necessary to specialize in one venue, at CSL kids have the opportunity to try new things simply because they have access to so many opportunities they may not have at home.

The “non-jock” can try floor hockey or excel at Ga-ga, a weird game I’ve never seen played outside of summer camp. There are plays in which kids can perform; an art barn where children can make jewelry, throw on the potter’s wheel, batik, make candles, draw, paint, make just about anything. (A far cry from boondoggle – although they have plenty of that, too.) At Athletics, they can practice archery, basketball, tetherball, softball, tennis, ping-pong – and any other land sport you can think of. The waterfront offers canoeing, wakeboarding, waterskiing, sailing, banana boating — even opportunities to swim-the-lake! Picky eaters might even try something new because the kids work up a real appetite trying all these incredible activities.

Did you attend  to attend overnight camp? What is your favorite memory? If you didn’t go, would you let your kids go? Why or why not?

Lessons From Eight Junes

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Photo from dalesmith @ flickr.com

June is definitely a time for endings and beginnings. Proms. Graduations. Weddings. New jobs. June has got me thinking about all the Junes in my life. My parents started their married life together on June 23, 1963. My son will become a bar-mitzvah next June. One of my grandmothers died in June. And one of my friends, too. I tried to think about some significant Junes in my life, and this is what was born:

• • •

Once upon a time, a November baby learned that she loved June. She played with bubbles and chased butterflies, rode her bicycle, played kick the can, and stayed out until the fireflies guided her home.

One June, the girl snapped her well-packed trunk and clipped her khaki duffel bag ready to spend seven weeks at overnight camp.

One June, the girl went to a prom in a ridiculous dress with ridiculous hair.

Four Junes later, the girl was no longer a girl. She graduated from the college she’d loved and, as she drove west in her beat-up Plymouth Volaré to live with a man she loved – prepared to insert herself into his house and into his life – she was terrified that everything was going to be different. And it was.

One terrible June, the girl sat in a room staring at a casket, and no matter how many people told her that the air conditioning wasn’t on too high, it felt like winter in that place.

One June, the girl found herself in New Orleans. She had finished her first year of teaching in a city that smelled like magnolias and crawfish. It was the hottest summer of her life and it lasted until November.

In a blink, it was June again. This time, she looked in the mirror and saw she was no longer a girl. She was seven months pregnant; her hands and ankles had swelled in the heat. As she fanned herself, she daydreamed about the future. Also, she ate a lot of watermelon.

One June, the November girl moved – along with her husband and her son – into a home nestled in a neighborhood with flowers and trees and children. And as she hung up her summer sundresses, she remembered bubbles and bicycles and butterflies, and she knew she was home.

This June, the woman knows there are wrinkles around her eyes – but she is less focused on herself. She sits at the computer and listens to her son, now almost 12, as he practices for his last piano lesson. The music is familiar. The clothes in the dryer bump around noisily in the background, everyone’s stuff mingled together. Hopefully, for many, many more Junes.

Can you share one particular memory from one particular June?

In Which Season Do You Shine?

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Photo by RAS Jacobson

Yesterday, my summer son landed back on planet Earth. He came from summer camp via yellow bus and was deposited in a parking lot along with his summer siblings. His voice, gone from three weeks of cheering at Color Wars and singing songs in the Dining Hall. He said this was his best summer yet. And next year, he wants to stay for four weeks. We spent hours listening to him talk about “camp stuff.” What he did, what he ate, moments he loved, moments he didn’t love. If there were any pretty girls. How everyone got along; how his counselors were. And much, much more.

Alas, we are going to have to kick into school mode pretty quickly.

First of all, the middle school is looming there in my backyard; we simply cannot ignore it. And he has a formal orientation later this week.

Yesterday, before he fell asleep, he pulled me down toward his face. “Mom,” he whispered. ” I love you, but I will miss summer.”

I understand completely.

He’s a summer person.

Today, we will find his locker and he will try out his very first combination lock. He will find his homeroom. He will look around, take in the landscape. Figure out the lay of the land.

And then we are back to the banal tasks, like shopping for new sneakers (he outgrew his while in camp), new shirts and pants (he outgrew his while in camp), and we need to consider things like . . .  food. Because while he was away, my husband and I didn’t set foot in the grocery store. (Which was divine.)  But, with boy back at home, we simply must return to some kind of routine. We   simply cannot continue to eat cereal for dinner. Or peaches and cheese. Or one tomato with salt.

The laundry is spinning as I tap out this quick blog. And my real life looms, too. I have to figure out the time line for my curriculum. Make a few copies. Invite a few guest lecturers. Line up my instruction day in the library so students know how to conduct reliable research in 2010.

Like my son, I  have always been a summer person. I sparkle and shimmer and shine in June, July and August. I love the heat and the water, from pool or ocean. How I used to look forward to the summer. Summer camp. Skinny-dipping. Getting a deep dark delicious tan. (In the 1980s we did these things.) A plain girl, I felt prettier in the summer. Transformed, I always fell in love in the summer. I married in the summer. My son was born in the summer.

But now, I feel autumn creeping up on me, wrapping her fingers around my throat.

It has been a wonderful summer, and I am so grateful to have everyone home together.

Yesterday, I was waxing nostalgic for the many wonders of summer, a friend informed me that she actually hates summer. That, in fact, it is her least favorite season. I was shocked. Horrified. How could it be? She explained her story to me, and I understand it — but it is a foreign concept to me. I’d like to hear from others.

In which season do you feel the most alive? Can you explain?

Summer Camp Blues

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photo by D Sharon Pruitt @ flickr.com

Scenario: Your 11 year old daughter has been excited for many months about going away to overnight camp. She has gone to this same camp before and had a great time, but now you are receiving upsetting letters saying that she is homesick and would like to come home after two weeks, instead of three. You call the camp, talk to the assistant director who assures you that your daughter is having a good time. You see pictures on the camp website where it appears that she is having a good time. When you finally speak to your child, she says she just wants to come home. Simple as that. Nothing is really wrong, per se. She would just prefer to be home. Financially, you will lose $1000.

What would you do? Would you get your child and bring her home early? Or would you have her stay the final week? If so, what would you say to your child?

The Secret Benefits of Being a Summer Camp Counselor

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As summer winds down, it seems like the perfect time for the 3rd part in my 3 part series on the benefits of summer overnight camps.

Most staff members at summer overnight camps would likely agree that moving from camper to staff is one of the most difficult transitions they have to make. One summer, they are the kids being entertained and – shazzam! –  the next, they are the adults in charge of making sure their own campers are safe and happy. And while being a counselor is one of the hardest, most exhausting jobs, it can be one of the most rewarding jobs they will ever have. It is not uncommon for staff to feel everything from relief to sadness when it is time to pack up and leave. Whether they love it or hate it, the experience of being a camp counselor often becomes a powerful source of strength and a knowledge base from which they can draw on their entire lives.

The long-term benefits of working at a summer camp include:

1. Experience working with kids. Working with children provides staff members with opportunities to be empathetic, problem-solve, be creative and silly, and learn new ways to relate to others. Most people eventually become parents, aunts, uncles or just have some other special relationship to a child. Kids offer amazing opportunities and lessons that, hopefully by having an opportunity to work with them, staff members learn to appreciate an enjoy more. That said, working with kids can also be fabulous birth control. I’m serious! While plenty of people enjoy working with children, few actually realize how hard a job it actually can be, and, at camp, that job is 24/7. While working as a counselor, many staffers realize Whoa, I do NOT want to be a teacher, or a pediatric dentist, and I do NOT want to have kids any time in the near future. These are all good things to know about oneself.

2. Gaining leadership experience. Campers live and breathe for their counselors. They watch them and imitate them. As a counselor, staff members get to feel the responsibility for actions of others. Staff may be asked to teach an activity while ensuring the safety of the campers but also making it fun and exciting for them. Regardless of the job titles staffers may earn later in life, the best camp counselors develop integrity, accountability and compassion — all traits that every employer, partner and friend look for, making former camp counselors valuable assets to people’s lives. Case in point: Once, I was visiting a summer camp on the day they were holding their annual 5K Bug Juice Run. It was a 90+ degree day, and my nephew, a staff member at the time, had started a hobby group to help train campers to prepare for the big event. He was so far ahead of the pack at the second lap, I was certain he would win the race. But suddenly, he disappeared. The kids lapped him once, then twice, making me wonder if he was okay: Could he have fallen? Could he be bleeding? Eventually, he emerged from the woods — running full-tilt, making up for lost time, he wound up winning the 5K. When it was all over, I asked him, “Where did you disappear to for a while there?” He said, “Oh, a camper overheated. She was dehydrated, and I thought she might have heat exhaustion, so I stopped to help get her something to drink, cool her down. I waited until someone else could come and be with her before I took off again.” I was beyond impressed by my nephew’s willingness to put his competitive streak aside to take care of another human being.

3. Experience putting others first. My youngest nephew is now an overnight camp counselor. Recently, on his day off, he went scouring garage sales, looking for little props to bring back to camp. He found a bunch of crazy hats, and he was really pumped about bringing his loot back to camp. Why? Because at camp, people appreciate individuality: The counselors who are most remembered are the ones who are the loudest, the ones who are willing to wear wacky clothes, the one’s who are willing to cross-dress, all in the name of fun! Every employer appreciates a free-spirit; someone willing think outside the box and take a little risk.

The communal nature of camp often requires counselors to put the needs of the group ahead of their own. Yes, there are plenty of times when counselors can have fun with another staff member, but there are also moments where counselors are expected to be their for their own bunks despite their immediate desires. One never knows when a tiny disagreement between campers could turn physical; staff members have to be there ready to deal with confrontations, homesickness, real sickness (schlepping campers off to the infirmary), helping with hygiene — especially with the littlest ones. None of these things have the appeal of a giant mudslide or a fabulous campfire s’more, but they are part and parcel of the job. Camp counselors are truly surrogate parents for as long as the kids are at camp, and our children count on them to put them first.

4. Gaining independence by making new friends and being in a new environment. At my son’s summer camp, many staff members are local but some are international and hail from New Zealand, Australia, Israel, Poland, Mexico and other places I’m sure I’ve forgotten to list. Since they did not attend camp as campers, sometimes they feel a little bit isolated being thrown into the camp routine, especially if they are nervous about their English competency. But whether they are native speakers or longtime-campers-turned-staff, ultimately everyone develops his or her own core group of friends who bond just like the kids — through common experience and their own cheesy inside jokes. And for staff who are new to a camp, going into a new experience without knowing a soul and coming out the other side successful is an amazing feeling!

5. Summer Lovin’. Many staffers experience their first real relationships at summer camp, away from the prying eyes of parents. There is hardly a better place to experience young love than at camp as nature provides the perfect backdrop: sunny days; a sparkling lake; leafy trees that rustle in the darkness; berry bushes to collect and share fruit, quiet places to sit and be still with another person. At my son’s summer camp, it is not uncommon for people to meet, date and later marry. To date, over twenty-five successful unions have their roots at Camp Seneca Lake. It’s not that surprising when you think about it, really: People who go generally share a similar background, are often paired up as a result of liking similar activities, and – as I have said before – camp provides that place to live with people and really get to know them in an unplugged way. Camp couples know how to communicate with each other. If couples can continue to stay in touch once summer camp is over, they stand a good chance of being able to make things work for the long haul in the real world.

6. Makin’ Major Connections. I am pretty sure that I am not speaking only for myself here, but nearly 30 years later, I still put Camp Seneca Lake on my resume. Why? Because someone always says, “You went to Camp Seneca Lake? My mother/brother/sister/cousin/friend/wife went there!” We chat about the experience a bit, and 95% of the time, I have ended up getting a job out of it! People recognize what it means to have spent one’s summers working one’s butt off to make other people’s children happy. It says a lot about a person’s character and work ethic. While they are in the moment, most counselors probably think the biggest benefit to being a staff member is getting to go into town and get pizza once in a while! Not so! If a person does things right, he should leave camp with a solid recommendation from the camp director! So to all you parents of camp counselors whose kids are just completing their summer experiences, don’t forget to remind them to put “Camp Counselor” on their resumes: What they did, how many kids they were responsible for, how many weeks they worked, how many people they worked with (or worked under them, if applicable). Sad as it may sound to them, eventually everyone does grow up and has to find a real-world, four season job! And sometimes camp friends land really great ones! Sometimes camp friends even start their own companies! There is major power-networking to be done if summer friends stay in touch with each other! Just another secret benefit to being a camp counselor.

What lessons did you take away from being a summer camp counselor?