Friday, July 29, 2011

Outdoor School

The disclaimer to this blog is: I am 100% behind efforts to keep the Outdoor School Program (any Outdoor School Program) up and running, so this blog is biased.  This is not some balanced piece explaining both sides; this is a disgruntled club memeber upset the club might be closing. As a 6th grader who attended Outdoor School in the Fall of 1983, as the Junior Counselor 3x over between 1989 and 1990, AND as a Resource Counselor in the Pennsylvania Outdoor School System in 1998, you might ask yourself why I feel qualified to right this blog?  I feel qualified because I have been there, and Outdoor School is beautiful.  However, my love affair with Outdoor School actually began in 1981, as a 4th grader listening to a presentation by the 6th graders who had just returned from their Outdoor School experience.  Their stories of resources lessons, sleeping in cabins, and campfires, had me hooked.  As a two-summer veteran of summer camp, Outdoor School sounded like my kind of place.  (Since my love affair with summer camp has lasted decades, it is easy to see why I was such an easy sell!)
By the time I made it to Outdoor School 2 years later, I was a four-summer veteran of summer camp, so many of the things teachers want us to learn there went right over my head.  Eating in a group setting where everyone gets firsts before you get seconds, being independent from home and thinking for yourself, being in the forest, learning about animals, etc.  I had been there, done that-repeatedly.
However, even in my experienced state, I managed to take away two very important lessons.  I had camped several times through Girl Scouts and with my family, and had never realized that forests, like other habitats, is a science.  The web of life, watersheds, animal homes-it is all part of what we were/are.  The forests wasn't just for camping and hiking; it had/has PURPOSE.  The second thing I learned was that not everyone was like me economically.  Of course I knew that in theory; by the 6th grade we had done many projects to help those that were disadvantaged.  But no one in my neighborhood fit that category, and neither did any of my friends, ergo not in my backyard, right?  Being with kids from different areas taught me a thing or two about what disadvantaged was. 
The reality was though, I didn't walk away from Outdoor School a totally changed person.  The things I learned are important, and I am grateful for them, but I can't lie and say I became The World's Most Empthetic 6th Grader.  I was 11; not the most shining year I ever had.  However, there is another side to Outdoor School that rarely gets mentioned.  It is not in the PR I have seen, and outside the Hallowed Trees of Learning, few people realize that there is a whole another set of people learning important things at Outdoor School.  I speak of the Junior Counselors (JC for short).
Not all Outdoor Schools are run the same.  In the Portland-metro area, Outdoor School is made possible by the hundreds of high schools students who, every Fall and Spring, miss a week of regular school to make the magic of Outdoor School happen.  They receive no pay, get to make up all the homework they missed, sleep in the cabins with a bunch of 6th graders, plus teach a resource .  There are 4 Resource Subjects the 6th graders learn, and that the JC's must pick from to help teach-Water, Soil, Plants, and Animals.  (The 6th graders rotate so they get one day for each, while the JC's stay with that subject the whole week.) For the record, I spent one program week on Water, before I switched and did my last two program weeks with Animals (Granola was HOT-all the girls wanted to be on Animals!)  (And yes, we all had camp names.)
I swear on the keyboard I am using to write this: I learned more at Outdoor School as a Junior Counsleor, than I EVER learned as a 6th grader.  Of course being on Water and Animals, I can tell you all about Watersheds, and that there are eels in this area.  I got up close and personal to Helga the camp possum, and even stuck my finger in her pouch.  Yes, I am way cool.  Turkey Vultures are scavnegers that keep the forest clean, and clean water is the cornerstone of a healthy forest.  Yes, yes, yes:  Woodsy Owl and Smokey the Bear love me.
However, there is more at stake than being able to lead the best camp song at campfire:
*There are 2 JC's per cabin at night; my co-JC left midway through Outdoor School because she missed her boyfriend.  I learned about repsonibilty, follow through, and what happens when people count on me and I let them down.  (In all honesty she was a bitch and I wasn't sorry to see her go despite the added responsibilities.)
*I was the leader on the dead animal walk-an animal corpse with lots of maggots and beetles that had purposely been left near the trail so the kids could see decomposition at its finest.  (Funny thing; no JC but me was excited to lead this walk!)  However, one group of boys, who I thought would totally be into my subject, refused to stay on task.  Finally out of exasperation, I asked what was so darn interesting, besides this really cool, dead corpse.  Every single one of them answered, "the crickets."  I got pissed, and in my sternest, teenage voice declared they could look at those at home; we had a lesson to finish.  The quieter ones, followed me, but both the bolder two boys shook their heads and one of them said "no we can't; we don't have crickets at my house."   These kids were from North Portland.  Not only were crickets a rarity; going outside at night to see them wasn't done often either.  Lesson here was live animals trump dead ones, don't interrupt the learning excitement wherever it may come from, and never under-estimate the coolness of nature. 
*One little girl cried EVERYDAY that she was homesick.  When Friday rolled around, she cried that it was time to go, and was upset at all she had missed by moping for home.  I learned that time passes whether I am happy or sad.  Sharing feelings is fine, and acknowledging when I am upset is good too, but if I don't watch out, good times will pass me by when I am not looking. 
The list of lessons learned is endless:  the music expertise of one of the Resource Counselors; the special needs class that loved EVERYTHING we did; the songs that kids sang over and over and over AND over again; watching turkey vultures soar through the air; the JC that came to Outdoor School with a chewing tobacco addiction; trying to whistle after eating a saltine cracker; what happens when it rains everday; celebrating Halloween outdoors with virtual strangers.  I could go on and on, dredging up a lot of good memories.  However the reality is, there are very few experiences like this one for high school students, and it would be a damn shame to end it now.  I understand why the perception Outdoor School is a 6th grade program.  The middle schools pay for it; not the high schools.  But to limit Outdoor School to only the one demographic age, is to short change a program that benefits hundreds of students, of multiple ages, across the area.  We as a society should be looking at how the cost benefits ALL students at Outdoor School, regardless of age, and realize the price tag isn't so steep.  We also need to realize how Outdoor School benefits us all.  Year after year, 6th graders and high school students headed off to Outdoor School, grew up, and became voters in this area. Portlanders have a reputation of being pro-environment; something that I doubt happened by accident.

We learn at Outdoor School, in the Soil Resource, that there is no such thing as dirt.  Rather there are different layers of sub-strata, all with a different function but working together to form Soil.  Soil provides the basis for plant life, which in turn supports animals and air.  Outdoor School is the same way- the 6th graders are simply one layer. We need to see that there are numerous layers of Outdoor School, all working together to provide a program that supports other programs down the line.  The numerous parties involved in Outdoor School, 6th grade and high school alike, become the stewards of each other, and the planet we live on.  Not a bad exchange for anyone. 
And my camp name was, and remains, Zinka. 

Sunday, March 06, 2011


A lot of people have asked how the trip to Disneyland was, so I am taking the lazy, high-tech way out, and just writing a blog about it.
First, despite appreances, this trip was well thought out.  We went with my parents, so the adults out-numbered the kids.  I had reservations about taking a 5 year-old AND a 2 1/2 year-old on this kind of trip.  Plus I HATE to fly.  I don't have wings to flap if the plane goes down, and I get air sick.  Daramamine will keep the nausea at bay, but it doesn't cure the "I don't feel so good" stuff.  However, in the end, we went off-season for shorter lines, and we had the expectation of lots of breaks. 
Second, we LOVE Disney.  Anything after this is totally biased because we love Disney.  Nick and I have been to Disneyland without kids about 4 times, and we went to DisneyWorld for our honeymoon.  I have even been to Tokyo Disneyland, years ago in another lifetime.  It was the first place I saw Captain Eo.  Are the parks over-priced?  Absolutely.  Does the music annoy us? Sometimes.  Buuuttt, you get what you pay for.  I have been to places far less crowded that were filthy.  Disney keeps a relatively clean park, there is staff everywhere to assist you if you ask, and I feel relatively safe.  Plus the rides are fun and they have ice cream everywhere for purchase.  Good times Dawg.
We left Sunday at about 7:00am. which means we were at the airport by 5:00am.  Way to early for me, but it meant that we were standing at the gates of Disneyalnd by 10:00am.  First slap of reality was Asa.  I expected to wait on Noah- he is younger, slower, might need naps, etc.  Asa refused to go on any ride he couldn't actually see the ride.  Example-no arguments getting him on the huge Mark Twain Riverboat.  Peter Pan's Flight-forget it.  It was like that the entire trip.  By Wednesday we told him if he went on 4 new rides, he would get a treat EVERY time.  We had to pay up twice.  Shoot-if that had been me, I would been on enough new rides to make me a sugar zombie, but to each their own.  Second reality slap was the crowds.  Off-season my ass-that park was crawling with people.  Unless we hit it early in the morning or right before we left the park, most rides had at least a half hour wait.  We did a lot of passing off between mommy and daddy and grandma and grandpa, because making my kids wait for EVERY ride seemed like a lot.  In fact, if we had known there was going to be a national cheerleading competition down there at the same time, we would have picked a different time. 
Tuesday we rented a car and headed up to the La Brea Tar Pits, and Hollywood.  Hollywood is worth a trip once in a lifetime.  I had been, Nick hadn't.  But Disney has a soda fountaint up there I had never seen, and we ate at the Hardrock Cafe.  And it was worth it to get the kids out of the rides scenario and show them something without lines.  We saw turtles in the nature walk at La Brea Tar Pits, so we got some education in there too.  My only big beef, and Nick rolled his eyes at me, was at Hardrock, they had music and the title so you knew who the artist was.  When Jerry Lee Lewis was singing "Great Balls of Fire", they said it was Little Richard singing "Good Golly Miss Molly".  I complained-if your business is music, do it right.  We also saw Grauman's Chinese Theater and all the famous, and infamous, footprints. 
Wednesday, my aunt and uncle drove down from their home in Vegas and met us for a day in the park.  Hard to tell who had more fun!!   I think the kids just liked having someone else to fawn over them.  Since they hadn't been to the new park, we spent the day over in the California. 
By Friday, everyone was bushed.  Noah had a rash that made walking painful-I am guessing it was the water but I really don't know.  We were all tired and cranky, and our flight didn't leave till 6:50pm.  By the time we got luggage, got our car, etc., it was 11:30pm before we got to bed. 
I never thought I would be one of those people who took kids to places they wouldn't remember.  Asa might remember parts of this trip, if we are lucky, but Noah probably won't remember a thing.  However, two things make it worthwhile to me.  Well, three things.  First, my friend Katie gave me some of the best piece of parenting advice I have ever received-your child might not remember, but you will.  I have applied that to the first time I took both my kids camping when they were 8 months old, to Christmas morning with Santa.  My memories are just as important as theirs, and I have some priceless ones.  Secondly, even if the kids don't remember Disneyland per se, they know that they just had a fun time with family.  I could wait till my kids are 6, before we do anything fun, and then they would be like "what the hey?".  But now, at their young age, they know that we do fun things sometimes, and when the fun times end, another will be there to replace it in the future.  We just build on those feelings. 
The third, is that I love vacations and I love Disneyland.  I just spent 6 days in warm weather, not having to cook, and having someone else make my bed.  What's not to love?
Favorite ride for me is Splash Mountain.  It was closed down.  I did get on Thunder Mountain, which is my second favorite ride.  Favorite ride we all could go on was Woody's Midway.  You get a "gun" and you shoot at targets to rack up points.  Buzz Lightyear is similiar and the kids really liked that too. 
Worst moments were Noah's rash.  Broke my heart watching that kid cry as he tried to avoid walking.  Fighting with Asa over the rides was a downer, but hey, we took the little kids so we had to expect something.  He also liked to scream in the bathrooms that he had just gone poop-I am almost positive I heard mom's snickering over that one.  Why couldn't he say something quietly before we went in there?
We are officially ready to go again!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

What Happens If I Disagree?

The shootings in Arizona have left me, and a lot of other people, speechless.  A gunman, at this point lone, is pissed at the world and opens up at the politicians he thinks is responsible?  How is a nine-year old little girl responsible for the issues of today?  Shooting other people while going after your ex-spouse is rehensible.  Shooting a cop, while high on meth, to avoid jail time, is disgusting.  But at least we can say there was some reason.  But explain to me how a little girl is in anyway responsible for your political issues?  Not to mention all the other innocent people caught up in a gunman's rampage.
ABC broadcasted an interview with Emanuel Cleaver, Missouri-D,and he said that the toxic discussions coming out of DC were being exported to the rest of the nation (I am paraphrasing-not quoting directly).  If truer words were never spoken.  Politics has turned into a simple war of right and wrong.  I am right, therefore you are wrong.  It all boils down to that, and it has turned deadly.  Last November, after the elections, most of the non-elected officials, regardless of party, conceded defeat, wished the best to the elected, and promised to get their group back in office.  Huh?  How about-great win, let's see what we can do for the people.  The last 5 presidential races, the latest being no different, concluded with the losing party promising to get folks the help they need, in four years when they re-take the office.  And even some elected officials have publicly stated that they will do their best to disrupt the system, until they get what they want.  Some politicans have a list of OTHER politicians who are wrong, that way there is no guessing.  How is that helpful?
It doesn't take long to see why we are a nation at war with ourselves.  Compromise has become nothing but a dirty word, and "us VS them" is the stance on every issue-from our favorite footbball team down to how we deal with health care.  Even how to celibrate holidays can turn into World War III.
Aaron, of my college days fame, once said, "agree to disagree".  I know he was not the first to say it, but his version was the first I heard, and it sums up everything to me.  I am proud to know that some of my closets friends dress different than me, picked their spouse in different ways than me, and gasp! voted opposite of me.  And more power to them for it.  I hope they continue to do that, because that individuality is what makes them a great friend. 
Instead of fighting to make sure we are the same politicaly, or even demographicaly , I want to see more fighting for people being the same socially.  I know I am not alone in that I pick my friends by how kind someone is -how they treat their fellow human beings, animals, and family members.  How about arguments for hanging out with people who don't use violence to express themselves, and refuse to pick their nose in public ( I couldn't resist-that habit grosses me out.)  Like different movies, vote for the conservative, give clothes to the needy and food to the poor and I like you anyway.  Go to church, don't go to church, but agree that all children, regardless of color, need hugs.  Can we find common ground?  Take mass transit, drive your gas-guzzling hummer, burn a bra-just respect the fact I like the Grand Canyon as a vacation spot.  There are a hundred different ways we can disagree, as long as we can find common ground in human decency.  Can we fight for that, instead of which ideas deserve the most public ridicule?
The shootings in Arizona were the fault of one man, and one man only.  I don't blame anything else.  But it doesn't hurt to hope for change either. The Civil War offially lasted four years, 1861-1865.  But the issue of slavery tore families apart of for decades, before AND after the war.  If our nation can survive that, we can survive this current war of ugly words and feelings.  It would just be nice if we could do it before more nine-year old children, who can't even vote and are in NO WAY responsible for this political quagmire, are shot down and killed.