What I Learned from My First Summer Camp with my Multicultural Family

Have you ever been to summer camp as a family?  I am talking about the kind where you stay in rustic cabins, do organized activities, and share communal meals.  I took my multicultural family, we had a great time and learned a few things for next time.  And there will so be a next time.  If you haven’t thought about it, consider it.  It was a beautiful experience.  Read on for my musings about it, or just skip to the 10 Tips to Make Your Summer Camp Amazing.

Have you taken your multicultural family to an organized camp? Here are some things I learned that might help you.
I took my multicultural family to summer camp and had a blast!

We took a three day trek into the mountains for Peace Camp by the Modesto Peace Life Center. It was the first time I had participated in an organized camp since sixth grade. I grew up camping, but had gotten away from it with the demands of being a grown up and a husband who thinks roughing it is a nice hotel. Suffice it to say, it had been way too long since I had taken the time to recharge in the mountains. So when the opportunity came up, I jumped at the chance. I wasn’t expecting much, to be honest. I convinced my mom and son to come with me, so we packed our bags and off we went.

It was my son’s first time “camping” since he was three and he doesn’t remember it. Time passes so quickly with one thing and another and I just realized I am raising a city boy. Oh the horror!  I was backpacking before I learned to walk.

Luckily he was enthusiastic, and had a great time.  He gets a little freaked out about bugs in the house, so I hoped it would not be a problem.  My little scientist decided that we were “in nature” which is their home and we were just visiting.  He wasn’t bothered by any of the critters, to the point where he didn’t want me to sweep the spiders out of our cabin, although he was just fine when Grandma got rid of the dead mouse that we found there when we arrived.

It was really nice to not have to plan and organize everything, especially the food. I have also gotten citified enough that I really appreciated being able to shower. The people were incredibly warm and welcoming, and the activities were well organized.  Many people really put effort into making us newbies feel comfortable and at home.

My friend, who was also there for the first time, said “It feels like we have found our tribe,” and she was right.  I have lived in California’s Central Valley for nearly thirty years, (Gah, time flies!) and I am comfortably at home here, but have had a difficult time finding a community of people who truly share my views on the world.  I have missed that, more than anything from my time living in a larger city.  At this camp I encountered people of every age and many cultures and walks of life, all focused on true inclusion on an individual and a global level.  It was a space where multiculturalism was embraced and lived.

Every person I met there had an interesting story and really thought about the world and the way they occupy it.  I haven’t had that many stimulating conversations in ages, let alone concentrated over three days.  The experience buoyed me in mind and spirit.  I am excited to go back, in fact, I’ve already got next year blocked off on my calendar.

So, what did I learn from Peace camp?

I learned that I over-pack. OK, I knew that already, but I really did bring too much stuff.  Next year I will not be so bogged down with stuff, now that I know more of what to expect.  Being able to stay in a cabin and having all the food prepared takes such a huge burden off of camping.  We brought enough snacks that we could have eaten fairly well all weekend, and never touched them.  However, I was very happy that I brought sheets for the camp cots (protection from mouse droppings).  I should have brought more warm clothes, it was just so hot down in the valley I couldn’t really believe it would be cold at night.  I knew better, it’s not like I have never been to the mountains before!  Luckily my mom also over-packs and brought an extra jacket.

My son spent hours upon hours playing with rocks and a creek and a few other kids.  I renewed my resolve to get him outside more and to take more days in nature.  Our family situation doesn’t make it easy, but we’ll work on making sure he has more unstructured time outdoors.  I may have to schedule it.  Anyone else see the irony in scheduling unstructured time?

I learned how much I had been longing for my tribe without even realizing it.  This blog has been my way of connecting with others who live a multicultural life, but now I’ve found a space where I can go to meet such folks in real life.  And that is a wonderful feeling.

10 Tips for an awesome Summer Camp
  1. Do bring warm clothing for the evening.  It gets cold in the mountains!
  2. Sheets to cover camp cots make sleeping much nicer, even if you are using a sleeping bag.
  3. Make sure to have a separate bag for shower stuff since it will be a trek from wherever you are sleeping.  Keep the toiletries to a minimum: shampoo/conditioner, soap, toothpaste/brush, sunscreen, bug spray.
  4. Bring several pairs of shoes that are easily cleaned.  Dirt and mud happen.  Closed toe will protect you from splinters and stubbed toes.  Flip flops really don’t work!
  5. Leave your electronics behind.  If you have them with you, you will be tempted to use them.
  6. Bring a camera that’s easy to carry with you if you want pictures of the experience.  Moments that just happen make the best memories.
    • Don’t hide behind your camera so much that you don’t really join in on the fun.
  7. Bring refillable water bottles that can hook on your belt and drink often.
  8. Participate.  Its the best way to get the most value out of summer camp.  Look at the schedule on the first day and decide which activities you are going to join.  Do something you have never done before, it’s a safe space to try new things since many others are new as well.
  9. On the other hand, don’t pack your schedule so much that there is no time to just play.  Let the kids play and let yourself play too.
  10. Help.  You will likely sign up for chores at the beginning.  Show up on time and work enthusiastically.  If you see something that needs doing, just do it.  Make sure your kids help too.  Depending on age they can help you with your chores or do their own.  My son held the dustpan while I swept and helped clear the tables after meals.  By next year he might be old enough to have his own chores.

Have you gone to summer camp as a family?  Please share your story in the comments.  If you haven’t I highly recommend it and will do my best to answer any questions you have.

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Getting ready for Summer Camp as a family? Here are my tips to help you make it a great experience.
Tips from my Summer Camp experience.
Have you ever been to a group camp as a grownup? The kind with organized activities and communal meals? I had not done anything like it since 6th grade and learned a few things from the experience that you may find useful if you go.
Helpful tips from our first experience at an organized camp as a family.

The Election’s Aftermath And The Way Forward

I went to bed on Tuesday evening with still a faint glimmer of hope that the election results would turn around and prevent Trump’s election.  I saw the writing on the wall, but held on to that faint hope.  When I woke, I checked first thing and saw the results.  Since then I have been obsessively reading everything in reaction, all the think-pieces, all the click-bait, everything to try to make some sense of where we go from here.

I have not been inspired to join the protests because our system worked.  There is a certain amount of gaming of the system at the congressional level with gerrymandered districts, but that doesn’t come into play nearly as much in a presidential election.  And, although Clinton won the popular vote, just under half of Americans voted for Trump.  They also voted for Republican Congress and Senate candidates.  Now some of those people voted for him holding their noses, maybe a lot of them.  They were presented with two candidates that they did not like and chose the one most aligned with what they think is important.  My Facebook feed was filled with people complaining about the choice presented to them.  If they most often vote Republican, then they probably broke right with this choice as well.

To be clear, Mr. Trump is anathema to all I hold dear.  His rhetoric, if he is able to enact any of it, will diminish us as a country and cause real, irreparable damage to many people.  There are people who have kept xenophobic, racist, homophobic ideas hidden from public view for years who now see his rise to power as permission to bring those views out into the light of day.  Some of those people will now feel permission to act out against anyone who looks like whoever they are afraid of.  Mr. Trump’s rhetoric has poured gasoline on those embers.

Some portion of the half of the country who voted for Mr. Trump are fervent supporters who think he will save their way of life.  Another portion are single issue voters, for whom gun rights or abortion or some other concern overwhelms all other considerations.  I believe that is a short sighted way of choosing the person who represents the United States to the world, but it is not uncommon on both the left and the right.  Yet another portion are folks who saw a choice between two unpalatable candidates and chose who they thought would be the lesser of two evils.

If you look at the map of where people voted for whom, drilled down to counties, it is clear that the divide in our country is most clearly seen in the difference between city and country.  Throughout that swath of red in the middle of the country there were many pockets of blue, and they were all in and around cities.

2016 Presidential Election Votes by County
2016 Presidential Election Votes by County

Why is that?  Some of it is that when you live cheek by jowl with many different types of people, you are forced to see their humanity.  They are good and not so good just like you and yours.  More telling is that the struggles and fears of people who live in the country are different than the struggles and fears of people who live in the city.

I happen to live in a strange mixture of both.  I live near a major metropolitan area, but far enough away that the culture here is distinct.  My congressional district has a Republican representative, although there have been Democrats in the past and the Democratic challenger came close to unseating him this time, although my county is light red on the map above. I live surrounded by agriculture and the folks who live and work in the fields.  I understand the cries of farmers who just want to get on with their work without so much interference from big government.  I see that some of those regulations push small farmers out of business and favor large corporations with the resources to deal with the regulations.  On the other hand I respect the need to protect the people who work for the farmers and the consumers of their products.

Now we have a situation to deal with where the presidency, the House of Representatives and the Senate are all under Republican control.  They will have the power to enact legislation that we have been staving off for years.  There will most likely be a regression in our civil rights and the most vulnerable among us will be hurt.  So what do we do?   Do we protest in the streets?  Perhaps that will be useful, if only by keeping apathy from setting in.

I have to admit that I was not active this political season and really didn’t know what I could have done, living in California where there was never any question that Hillary would win.  Hillary didn’t exactly inspire me, but I was afraid of what the Donald could do if elected.  Like many people, I just couldn’t believe that there were enough people who would really choose him.  This has been a wake-up call for me, and I believe, for many others.  I am newly committed to act in the political sphere.  I have been silent, not wishing to deal with the high emotions generated by political opinion.  I take responsibility for my inaction and vow to do better moving forward.

Since Tuesday I have struggled with the question of what to do, in what way can I, a small voice in the wilderness, actually have an effect.  Here are some of my ideas: I will support organizations that fight for the rights of vulnerable people, I will become active in the political process both locally and on a larger stage.  I will work to make sure that the state legislature is Democratic for the next census so that the congressional districts are not drawn to favor Republicans.  This is what the Republicans did in 2010 and we can see the effect.

I will speak out, but I will do so in such a way as to invite a conversation.  I am hoping to open minds and bring people together.  I will educate by meeting people where they are and listening to their concerns.  I think that is the only way affect real and lasting change.  I will not hate.  I will not fall into the trap of demonizing the other.  It feels good, it feels righteous, but all it does is promote more hate, more fear.  I was struck by an interview I heard on NPR this week with Antoine Leiris, who wrote a book after his wife was killed in the Paris attack in 2014.  “You will not have my hate” is the most powerful idea I have come across this week.  It transfers clearly to this situation.  I see a lot of hate coming from the left by people who are suddenly confronted with their own vulnerability, who are desperately afraid that this country will turn against them and that their allies will sit silently while bad things happen.  I understand that fear, I feel it for my family, and for myself.  The trends are not going in the right direction.

I have watched, in my personal sphere, the social and political divide grow deeper and deeper.  The Black Lives Matter movement has sparked truly ugly reactions from otherwise reasonable people.  There is a lack of ability to imagine what someone from another group is going through.  People see the protests, and the inconvenience, and the disruption but not the reasons people are taking to the streets.  They see people angry with police, and don’t stop to think about the years of persistent prejudice and the system stacked against a person of color in our society.  They think that because they can go their whole life without knowing someone who has been arrested, and if they are arrested it is because they did something to deserve it, that the same dynamic is true everywhere and for everyone.

This election has placed in sharp relief the division in our society.  We must find a way to come together, or we will be torn apart.  We must be powerful advocates for the most vulnerable of our society, but advocate does not necessarily mean adversary.  Now I am not saying that an adversarial approach be verboten, I am just saying that we need to be careful to use that approach judiciously and where it might actually do some good.  I have admired the strategists from the right for many years, they are focused and take a long view.  The Democratic coalition has always been more inclusive, and as such, not nearly as focused, with priorities going in many different directions.

Perhaps this is the wake-up call we need to truly come together and act with purpose.  I hope that the current anger does not turn into despair and apathy.  “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”  My greatest fear is that we will slump into silence and apathy, and promise, for myself and my little corner of the world, to act.  I implore everyone out there to do the same, figure out a plan for yourself and what is most important to you, and act.  Rage, but don’t just lash out.  Rage with purpose and a plan.


Food and Interconnectivity

I touched on the subject of the interaction of emotion with food in a previous post, but I thought it really deserved a more thoughtful look.  Food is connected to emotion in a very powerful way.  Sometimes the act of preparing food a particular way becomes a statement of identity.  Food can be an act of love or a bone of contention.  It has been both in my life.  Many of our most difficult marital negotiations have centered around food, who prepares it, what gets prepared, choices about taste and nutrition, etc.

My mother in law expressed love for her family through food.  She was an amazing cook who could recreate a dish after tasting it once, and often her version was better.  She lived on three or four hours of sleep per night for much of her adult life so that she could be sure that her family ate well, in addition to all the other obligations of raising nine children, working and keeping house.

By the time my husband came around, he is the baby of the family, she was suffering from a serious heart condition and could no longer work in the fields.  It didn’t stop her from doing all of the other things expected of a woman of her time and culture.  She thought it absolutely necessary to have the ability to feed anyone who came to her home at the drop of a hat and spent a lot of time making sure that she could.  Life and food and love were completely intertwined.  Because of this, my husband grew up equating food with love in a very deep way.

For mi suegra, was both a point of pride and an act of love to always feed her crew.  Financial hardships dictated that sometimes that meant bean tacos, but she was amazingly creative with the resources that she had.  She also had cooperative reciprocal relationships in the community that had been cultivated over the years.  She was known as “la abuelita” (little grandmother) in the community because she acted like a surrogate grandma to anyone younger than her.  When I came to live with her, we would regularly deliver food to her friends, and regularly receive food from them.  This is tomato season, and we would often open our front door to buckets of tomatoes left anonymously.  We would then can one to two hundred quarts of tomatoes for use the rest of the year and the salsa made from those tomatoes would go to others as well. The community takes care of its own, especially the elders.  It is an incredibly tight knit community with food playing a major role in the currency of communal exchange.

This is somewhat true in all cultures, more true in the more rural areas of the U.S. where my extended family lives than where I grew up.  I was in a major metropolitan area and mutual support in the practicalities of life was much less pronounced in the community I knew.  My parents moved states away from their families as young adults, so those natural networks didn’t exist either.

For me, food has always been a source of fuel or sensory experience.  I enjoy the subtle differences in flavor and texture found in good food.  I really like to eat.  On the other hand I can ignore my body’s cues for food if I am doing something more interesting and can resent the time it takes out of my day.  I could be riding bikes with my child or building something or writing or reading or any number of other, much more compelling activities.  I enjoy the zen of a cooking project, but would give it up in an instant if I could afford help.  I would hire a cook long before a housekeeper or gardener.  If I could be free of the daily obligation of feeding other people I totally would.

I take some pride in being able to carry on the tradition of the food of my mother in law.  She taught me many dishes and I can replicate them faithfully.  I can follow a recipe successfully, and even modify it, but I cannot look at a bunch of disparate ingredients and come up with something yummy.  That TV show Chopped would not be for me.  I am not a particularly creative cook, but I learned her techniques for those dishes and my versions rival any others I have encountered.  It is kind of cool to be the white girl who can make versions of Mexican dishes that are really appreciated in the Mexican community.

In the community of la abuelita, a concerted effort is made by all to keep those connections alive, often with food.  Each time food is exchanged, there is a reciprocal obligation created.  Most of the time it is a direct one to one reciprocity, but often it also works on the pay it forward principle.  If you are known to give into the community, then the community also supports you.  Those exchanges aren’t always food, often people would show up to help with a garden, or to fix a fence, or give rides, or anything else that needed doing.

Since la abuelita  has passed away, we have allowed ourselves to slowly drift away from those communal connections.  Part of that stems from the fact that many of those connections were with older folks who have since passed on, but a shameful part is that we no longer have la abuelita to push us to keep those connections alive.  The hustle and business of daily life gets in the way and we have not been good about making an effort to stay connected outside of the family.  We also don’t cook that good traditional food nearly as often, so have fewer opportunities to share.  However, I have to admit that we cooked tamales just last week, had more than we could possibly eat, meant to take some to a couple of people, and never did.  I just put the last of them in the garbage last night and I feel so guilty, that was a lot of work and an opportunity for connection that I just threw away.