God Gives the Goods, Youth Renewed

Photo courtesy of images online
Photo courtesy of images online

Praise the Lord… who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. -Psalm 103:5, NIV

As I watch my 6-year old hop circles around me (because walking is “too boring”), I’m reminded of an idea I often hear — the desire to bottle a child’s energy and sell it for a fortune.

My renewed energy is like a drop from that bottle. Except, it is not harnessed from a child, it is a gift from God. Nature is from God; so when it comes to veggies (whole and simple foods),  I eat as Daniel in the Old Testament ate, and my body responds favorably, as it is meant to function and thrive.

In the Bible (Daniel 1:12-16), Daniel and his buddies are given “royal food” for their optimal health. But Daniel challenges the thoughts of the time and responds, “‘Please test your servants for ten days (sound familiar? 10-day-detox!): Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food’… At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food.”

The “royal food” of our day is the stuff of rich nations: convenient, abundant, fatty and preservative-filled to last longer. What seems “good” to us is in many ways, a bad habit that has forced our taste buds to change. I am right in there with everyone who suffers from this “royal food” habit. So the psychological switch to alter what I’ve known all my life is daunting… but ultimately doable.

I took my blood test on Friday and will share my results when I receive them at the end of the month. So for now, after the official detox and roughly 17 days on my new meal plan, I take the next step… in the direction of wholesome and sustainable eating habits. Even if my blood result is not as impressive as I hoped (maybe in time it gets better?), this change in lifestyle is ultimately good. But I have a sneaky suspicion my results will speak loudly for itself; and like in Daniel’s time, I will be and look healthier than when I ate the “royal food.”

Summer Sleep-Away Camps: A Tradition of Fun and Growth

Boating with friends at campOriginally published in The Quarterly magazine, Summer 2013

5 AM. There was a biting chill in the air at the edge of a wood-planked pier on Catalina Island. But fighting against common sense, I dove into an even more frigid Pacific. Every nerve ending was jolted to attention as a rush of exhilaration forced my limbs to move, propelling me toward the sandy shores of Camp Fox.

What would compel me, a kid more than 30 years ago, to go “polar bearing?” Peer pressure? Maybe. Stupidity? Probably. The pure rush of mad fun? Most definitely.

It was summer. I was at camp. And I was going to make the most of my week away from my parents. The expectation of making new friends, enjoying nature and having fun was a given. Little did I know that I would also be educated there: learn new skills, build self-confidence and be inspired to become a better person. This masked learning occurred with each successive camp, whether it was a traditional outdoor activity camp, Girl Scout camp, gymnastic camp or church camp, I grew, transforming for the better.

Megan McDuffie, in her 11th year of being a volunteer or camp director at YMCAs Camp Whittle, reflects on her experience there. “It’s powerful to see kids who came in through camp, giving back to the community… In an unplugged environment, it’s valuable to get back to nature while connecting with other campers.”

And for the last 152 years, children in America have been experiencing the multi-faceted thrill of overnight camps.

In 1861, an educator and abolitionist with Christian values, Fredrick William Gunn and his wife, Abigail took a group of children camping. The youth from “The Gunnery,” the Gunn’s school in Connecticut, went on a 10-day “Civil War-inspired training” that included swimming, fishing, hiking and boating. About 30 boys and 12 girls participated in the trip that would ignite a camping movement, making Gunn the “father of recreational camping.”

In the 1870s, the Gunn’s continued camp at Lake Waramaug. In 1874, the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association) opened a camp for girls who needed rest from their non-stop working conditions, while a couple private camps sprang up in 1876 and 1881.

The YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) in New York opened Camp Dudley in 1885, the longest continually operating camp in the United States.

By 1902, Camp Kehonka for girls was founded in New Hampshire by Laura Mattoon, teacher and creator of bifurcated clothing for girls so that they could move more freely outdoors.

Eleanor Eells, social worker, camp advocate and camp historian, said of Mattoon in her 1978 publication Eleanor’s Vignettes, “She understood well the place women were to occupy in the twentieth century and the many ways in which the camp experience could be a preparation. Her ideas about camping education, and women’s role were in advance of her time.”

The LA YMCA started its first summer resident camp in 1912. In 1914, after the South Pasadena YMCA (later adding San Marino to its name) was founded, campers from the new Y joined the LA camp.

In addition to traditional camp activities like horseback riding, kayaking, archery and a ropes course, unique to the Y’s camp is the rag program of setting personal goals, which also began in 1914 by Thomas Caldwell.

“Ragging” a friend meant bestowing one of various bandana-like colored cloths around a person’s neck as an outward symbol for an inward commitment toward betterment. Lorenzo Frias, a Freshman at South Pasadena High School and on the leadership track at Y camps said, “It’s an amazing experience. It changes you. I even have a friend with anger management issues who just changed. He became nice!”

In 1910, the same year Boy Scouts of America and Camp Fire USA began, Alan S. Williams founded the Camp Directors Association of America, known today as the American Camp Association (ACA), standardizing camp quality for safety, staffing, health and programming.

The ACA helped take camps to a new level of excellence. “Educators are at the core of the camp community, professionalizing the field and raising the professional caliber,” said Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association.

Today, there are nearly 200 overnight camps in California (162 are ACA accredited) and close to 2000 nationwide (1,636 are ACA accredited). That’s more than 14,000 sessions in all!

Along with local traditional camps, like Catalina Island Camps (since 1922) and the YMCA’s Camp Whittle (since 1958), there are also popular interest group camps like Camp Cherry Valley on Catalina Island for Boy Scouts (since the 1920s), Winacka Girl Scouts camp in San Diego (since 1974) and a nondenominational Christian camp at Forest Home in Forest Falls (since 1938).

Currently, the colorful palate of sleep-away camps is mind-boggling. One can choose among an in exhaustive list of camps centered on: every imaginable sports activity, art, science, language and cultural experiences.

There are even technology camps that focus on computers, programming, iPads, iPhones, gaming and game design (internaldrive.com); then to rehabilitate from too much technology use, there’s a ranch and rustic living camp (jamesonranchcamp.com).

Some unique experiences include: secret agent, girl power, Hollywood stunt, rock star, flying trapeze, extreme action, fashion, DJ, broadcast, culinary camps and more (paliadventures.com). Or if astronomy and space exploration are a passion, there’s Astro Camp (guidediscoveries.org).

I don’t remember all the things I did at the many camps I attended, but I do remember my awe of nature, a force bigger than myself. I remember the people and how they influenced the way I felt about myself.

There were crazy fun counselors who did ridiculously silly things like rinse into a cup only to pass it on for the next counselor to do the same. There were campers who told scary stories about bores that would gore us in the night if we stepped out of our cabins and bees that could spit blinding poison into eyes. And there were “friends” who made me ask a boy to dance, leaving me humbled by the trauma of it even now.

I learned silly songs I can still recite perfectly today. I relaxed on logs, doing nothing but cultivate deeper friendships. The saturated weeks I spent with people proved to draw them closer than years of casual interactions. And if they asked me again to jump into ice-cold waters in the middle of the ocean, I just might do it.

Resources for local camps: camppage.com, kidscamp.com, ymcala.org

Special thanks to Stephanie Yuen at the South Pasadena/San Marino YMCA and Kim Bruno at the American Camp Association for contributing to this story.

History of camp credits: connecticuthistory.org, acacamp.org and summercamphandbook.com

12 Days of Christmas Ornaments: A Tradition of Memories — Day 8

IMG_3854On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me –

8 family trips

7 Bruins beating Trojans (38-28!), 6 Asian Orbs, 5 manger scenes! 4 major awards, 3 dancing pigs, 2 handmade bells, and a portrait to put on the tree.

Seven years ago, our family visited the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. When I was 10, all I wanted to be was an astronaut, so the visit was truly thrilling for me, especially. So to remember our trip, I was so pleased to have found an ornament to help us relive our experience. Every time I bring out our golden space shuttle ornament, memories about a family trip and a youthful dream reemerge.

Though our son remembers one thing about that vacation (the Mickey pool on the Disney Cruise), I recall several more. At the space center I remember seeing the space suits, the mission control room, the size of the rocket boosters, and the shuttle mover over gravel. It was all awesome!IMG_4025

Yesterday I was a chaperone on my 5th grader’s field trip to the California ScienCenter, the new home of the retired space shuttle Endeavour. Again, to see the shuttle up close was amazing and the 3D IMAX movie, breathtaking and humbling. Our trip yesterday, our trip to Florida, and a little girl’s dream are all wrapped up in my tiny fragile ornament. It represents to me: God giving man the  ability to reach great heights, figuratively and literally!

On the flip side there’s God’s natural wonders, supernatural “great heights,” if you will. This last summer we visited Yellowstone, the first National Park in our country. There, we saw another kind of amazing. So what did I do? Well, I bought a bison ornament, naturally, since we saw about 100 of them.

Again, it’s my way of assuring that we remember the great moments in our lives, each time we bring it out in December.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me – visit here tomorrow to see.