Overnight Summer Camp – Our First Experience

512aI said I wouldn’t do it, and then I went and did it. I sent my barely 9 year old boy to overnight summer camp.  For two weeks.

I really get that for many people, this is just not a big deal. I’m not any of them though, and it was a huge deal for me. Why? Let me explain.

1.  I come from good immigrant stock (Asia, if you’re curious) which means, if you’re first generation, there is positively, absolutely no camp of any kind.  Firstly, there’s nowhere near any money for this – camp is expensive, and overnight camp tops the summit of extracurricular disposable income. Secondly, sending your kids off to be cared for overnight by strangers is a foreign and kind of unseemly idea. My older sister was never allowed to attend sleepover parties away from home. I was permitted such luxuries only because I’m 8 years younger, and my mother was both more acclimatized and worn down when it was my turn to ask.

2.  I am taking a leave of absence to spend time with my children, not to send them away.  Also: not working means not bringing in any income to pay for overnight camp. It’s like not having any cake, and not eating it.

3.  My son is still really young, just 9 years old. I was open to being persuaded that overnight camp could happen to us. My husband started overnight camp when he was 7, and recognizes it as possibly the strongest and most positive force in his youth. Okay, okay. Maybe later.

Then, slowly, over the course of the last school year, I found myself turning. And I can tell you intellectually what got me to that point: a sense during the school year that my son needed something else, something more; a great friend attending the camp for the first time too; moving endorsements of the camp from parents; recognizing opportunities for mentorship that my husband and I couldn’t otherwise provide on our own.

Still, I was partly baffled to find myself in a car with my boy a few weeks ago, complete with sleeping bag and duffle bag stuffed with outdoorsy things labelled with his name.  Driving him to God knows where, to leave him with God knows who, to do God knows what.

493 496Then we arrived. A teenaged boy greeted us at the entrance and directed us to the right cabin, where the cabin counsellor met us with a smile. The camp directors appeared out of nowhere to give my son a warm welcome and call him by name (they didn’t know mine, delighting me with their priorities). The campers were energetic, but focused; the camp rustic, but well organized. Smooth sailing all around.

I was wide-eyed and wanted to see more, maybe attend the tour for the campers? Um, no. My son was okay (sort of) with me helping him get settled in the cabin because he knew other parents did this, but mostly while unpacking he pretended I wasn’t there or that he didn’t know me. The tanned cabin counsellor (16 years old? 18?) smiled again and said, “He’s just excited”.

Which was a kind thing to say but not true. My son knew his adventure had started, and that it did not include me.  I reluctantly took his cues and walked out of the cabin after a crummy, sideways non-hug. I wandered around the camp a little bit to address my curiosity. I left feeling satisfied and calm. My son would be fine here, I thought. He wanted to be there, and the camp knew what it was doing.

I didn’t even miss him at first. Then, maybe on day four, I was driving alone in the car and gripped the wheel. “This is what it’s going to be like when he goes to university,” I seethed. I was not worried for his well-being, or even that he was homesick. I was not worried about anything. It just finally registered that he was gone.  I recovered from this episode, but still my body kept wondering where he was, and it mattered not that my mind knew.

I checked the mail everyday. One day, this arrived:

photo (8)

It was my only contact with him for two weeks. I was satiated completely.

On the day of his return, he got off the bus looking dirty and tired and older.  He had an amazing time. Also he was happy to be home. Filled with stories, he would soon give me a better sense of the camp than any tour could do.

We’ve got one more week to adjust to the reality of returning to school which, let’s face it, is a whole other kettle of complicated fish. But when we do finally arrive at the schoolyard, it will be with the learning experience of this summer under both our belts, and it’s about as equipped as we can be. Let the new year begin.



Guest Post: Roseanne Carrara on Ruins & Mezes: Touring the Eastern Mediterranean and Morocco

Each year, for March Break , I adapt a famous story for the kids, substituting animals for the title characters, and changing the settings as need be. Each tale sets us longing for travel. One dream: to trace the faces of Easter Island’s Moai statues beneath the moonlight, as do the bears in our version of the Bible’s Jacob & Esau story, The Coronation of the Easter Bunny Bear. Another: to visit the churches, greens, and pubs of Ireland frequented, secretly, by A Study in Emerald’s leading snake, Sir Lochrann Holmes and his buddy McUaitson. Three: an eco-tour of B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest, whose funds would support the health of the wild salmon population while opposing the trophy hunting of bears, black, white, and grizzly. Maybe, we’d even glimpse a rare white mooksgm’ol, the inspiration for Ahma, the Spirit Bear, our treatment of Jane Austen’s Emma.

Nothing, however, has gotten me closer to phoning a travel agency or booking online than this year’s Bearicles, our take on Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre. The kids and I spent hours mapping the eastern cities of the Ancient Mediterranean (Tyre, Antioch, Ephesus, Tarsus), comparing them to a current map (Lebanon, Syria, Greece, Turkey), and plotting a long, eventful trip of our own! Forays into Mediterranean cooking inspired us all the more. To complement the story, we made Lebanese manakish (flatbreads), Syrian ma’amool cookies, Turkish pide (pizzas), lemony Greek calamari , and baklava! I even went “West” one evening by myself, making a complicated Moroccan tagine. For the kids and I, it was “ruins” and “mezes” (little tastes) all week.

So if money, vacation time, and social and political upheaval were nothing to worry about, my ideal family get-away would be a historical and culinary tour of the Eastern Mediterranean (Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Jerusalem) with an extended lay-over in Morocco on the way back home!

1. First stop, Greece, for a view of the Acropolis  and an Epitourean experience in Athens. We’d have a taste of loukomades, a wind around the spice and seafood stalls of the Varvakeios market, and an Ancient Greek dinner. Our next sleep might be in Mytilini, Lesvos , where we’d tour the Medieval Castle, the Ouzo factories, and have a fish feast in the old harbor.

ephesus ancient city

2. Then, Turkey, where the perfect tour has already been planned for us by Truffle Pig. We’d get lost in the streets of Istanbul, visit the Blue Mosque and Topkapi palace, balloon around Capadocia, and visit the ruins of Ephesus, especially the Temple of Artemis, featured prominently in Bearicles. Then, off to Gaziantep for cooking lessons and lots of experimenting with Turkish flavours and food!

3. After a look at the Roman ruins of Apamea , Syria, we might tackle a week-long tour such as this : a taste of baklava and a visit to the souk al-Tanabel market in Damascus, a Bedouin dinner in the desert near the ruins of Palymyra, and dinner and a few cooking tips in the “gastronomic capital,” Aleppo.

4. Next up, Lebanon, with a sure stop at the Temple of Jupiter in the ruins at Ba’albeck. This Taste of Lebanon Culinary Journey offers what we’re after: a seven day journey in which we’d sample Lebanese cuisine, learn how to make sujuk sausage, kibbeh, and Arabic bread, and pay a visit to both a sweets castle and spice fields for za’atar.

5. Our last stop in the East is Israel. First, a glimpse of the ruins of the Knight’s Castle in Arsuf. We’d follow this up with a serious tour of Jeruslaem, including, of course, the Western Wall . We’d love to finish up with one of Tali Freidman’s culinary tours of Jersualem’s famous Mahane-Yehuda market.


6. Last stop, a long lay-over in Morocco, North-Western Africa, where we’d visit the famous Casablanca, ride camels, explore the ancient medinas of Fes, get lost in the spice markets. This would be the ultimate place for a serious family culinary tour, hosted, ideally, by the inspiring Peggy Markel . In Marrakesch, the Atlas Mountains, and Essouaria, we’d learn to cook in the famed tagine, bake bread in wood-fired ovens, eat figs, and see how argan nuts are collected and used for oil.

I can just see us passing through customs after a few good months of travel: bags full of spice jars, pockets filled with sand and rocks, four sizes of tagine, a selection of metal tea pots and cups (for the bears, of course), bottles of ouzo and olive and argan oils, dried salted fish wrapped in paper, silk scarves, wicker hats, sketches of ruins and the sea, stretched waistbands, tanned, happy faces, yes, and hands, four pairs of them, blessed with the ability to re-create most everything we’d tasted in the Mediterranean we’d come to know.


Roseanne Carrara blogs at The Lunchbox Season  and Summer of Funner . These also have a Facebook Page. Her professional site is In Defense of Burning .



Hyundai Hockey Helpers and Kidsport

It’s August!  It’s the height of summer!  Let’s talk hockey!

All three of my boys are off to hockey camp this week, and we have done the Great Hockey Gear Excavation followed by the Great Equipment Shuffle.  The boys have grown, the skates have, mysteriously, multiplied, and after this round of trying things on, we only need a few bits of new equipment this year.

The costs of hockey add up quickly, and that can make hockey difficult for many families.  That’s why I’m always happy to help and help promote organizations that make it easier for families to get their kids on the ice.

Hyundai Hockey Helpers and its not-for-profit partner, KidSport, recently sent us this information to share.  They have teamed up with Norris Trophy winner and Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban, his father Karl, and his family. The Subban family knows first-hand what it’s like to make financial sacrifices with five children and three boys playing hockey (younger brothers Malcolm and Jordan were recently drafted to NHL teams). They are also shining examples of the immeasurable benefits sports can provide socially and for the community.

P.K. Subban has a special place in my heart, because my eldest was moved to write a poem about him in his rookie year for an assignment at school.  Subban is still his favourite player, and he follows his career closely.  I love that he has added this charity to his public profile.  A great role model on so many levels.

Father and former principal Karl Subban has provided Hyundai Hockey Helpers with a list of tips for other parents to help their kids develop into the best player they can be.  I love all of these tips, and endorse them wholeheartedly.  Balance, fun, giving back.  All essential to the child athlete.


Karl’s Tips

1.     Kids need balance. While long drives to tournaments and early morning practices can be overwhelming, it’s important to include family and play time. A child overwhelmed with a demanding schedule may soon lose his or her passion for the game.

2.     Kids need direction. Let your kids know why they are participating in an activity. Not only are they gaining skills to be a better player, but they are gaining the skills to be a better person, including confidence, teamwork, and communication. And most of all, they are playing to have fun.

3.     Motivate by rewarding effort, not wins. It’s easy to take your child out for an ice cream if they win a game, but it means more to celebrate milestones achieved through hard work and perseverance.

4.     Remind children that they get better over time, not over night. Kids can get frustrated when they don’t feel they are making progress. Maintaining current skills is an accomplishment, and those tiny, incremental improvements are leaps and bounds for children.

5.     Keep them fueled. Aim for balanced meals, but don’t obsess over nutrition. Kids can be picky. Try feeding them like a professional athlete and you will fight a losing battle. Remember, even pancakes (our family favourite) have protein-rich milk and eggs.

6.     Be an active listener. You want to influence young people, but more importantly you want to inspire them. Listen to your child’s subtle cues.

7.     Teach kids the importance of giving back from a young age. Regardless of socio-economic status, all kids can give back.  Whether it’s giving up a seat on public transit to someone in need or holding a door, small acts of kindness can go a long way to instill the values that ultimately make a great hockey player.

8.     It truly does take a village to raise a child, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Organize a car pooling schedule for your team. If finances are an issue, there are organizations that can help for almost every sport. Hockey parents in need can visit HyundaiHockey.ca to confidentially apply for grants for equipment and registration fees.

10 Things I Discovered at Overnight Camp

201My kids and I went to camp this summer for the first time.  I’m in no particular hurry to get my kids to overnight camp (my oldest is 7), but when we were invited by my oldest son’s classmate and his mother, I was tempted.

At 5 days and 4 nights, with an adult-child ratio of about 1:3, our camp is designed for 6 to 9 year olds to have a gentle entry to overnight camp.  And it does this for some of their parents too, because it turns out that we can volunteer as counsellors.  By doing just this, I also got to bring along my second son, who just turned 5.  

I didn’t go to camp as a girl, and was excited (and a little nervous) by the idea that I would be experiencing and learning about it alongside my boys.  Without further ado, here are the top 10 Things I Discovered at Overnight Camp:

1.  The dining hall is not for dining.  

I have to be honest:  I never adjusted to the dining hall experience.  The food was unspeakable, truly.  But beyond the reconstituted food powders was the noise.  Oh my lordie, the noise.  I could possibly bear the incessant singing if it weren’t followed with rounds of screaming.  Screaming, my friends, at the top of one’s lungs.  We were the youngest unit, sitting next to the 13-15 year olds.  I’ll pause a moment for you to imagine.  Our little people basically dropped their forks whenever the hollering sounded, which was a lot.  It was all but impossible to eat.

2.  Bring Metamusil.

Related to the point 1, but deserving its own line.

3.  Being a counsellor is serious work.

I thought that being an inexperienced volunteer counsellor would mean a couple of hours in the craft room, maybe a morning in the kitchen.   Um, no.  A counsellor is with her unit 24/7 for five days.  I was… surprised.

4.  Fake it ’til you make it.

The camp we attended struck me as an extroverted dream.  You are surrounded by lots of people who want to get to know you, have instantaneous friends, and are never alone.  You sing and yell and be merry.  This version of heaven is not mine.  One of my favourite times at camp was stealing away from the group because my 5 year old needed a nap, and I got to read for an hour in a quiet tent while he slept.  But the rest of the time, even when I would have preferred to be alone, I pretended that I didn’t.  I sang and danced and air pumped with the best of them, and I had a good time.

5.  Girls are lovely.

Camp rules mean that female counsellors sleep in the girls’ tents and male counsellors sleep in the boys’ tents.  My tent housed four 7 to 9 year old girls.  I have three sons, and don’t spend much time with girls, and discovered from my little tent-mates that they are lovely.  They’re pretty and quiet(er) and bounce around less.  They talk easily and their colourful bathing suits have two pieces.  One of them asked me to braid her hair and told her about her family life while I did it.  I miss them a little.

6.  Being at camp is hard.

Each of the four girls in my tent ran amok and laughed and cheered during the day; each was homesick at night.  Two slept with their flashlights on through the night; two wept; one tried not to and had an earache at midnight instead.

7.  Leaving camp is hard.

My 7 year old wouldn’t join the receiving line for saying goodbye at camp.  When we got home, his Lego structure broke and hit his toe, the full weight of leaving camp fell and he said that “all the fun is gone, there’s no fun left.”  I held him through that and the next morning until we re-adjusted to being home. Kids feel post-party just like adults do.

8.  Sleep is for wimps.

There are a number of factors working against sleep at camp.

a).  The children, both those in your own tent and those in the neighbouring tents.  They will talk, get homesick, want (not need) to pee (in the toilets, which are like a mile away), and cough.

b)  The sounds of the night.  Anyone who waxes on about quiet country nights is forgetting the bullfrogs, the loons (so, so beautiful), and the animals (coyote?) who stalk and eat at night.

c)  Your own self.  On the one night that the girls in my tent actually slept, I had a nightmare that they needed something and sprung up in bed asking, “Are you okay?  What do you need?”  My co-counsellor could have done without this.

9.  A good frog is worth 100 iPads. 

Forever and ever, amen.

10.  It’s good to be kind to kids.

The children’s well-being and happiness was the number one priority at camp, which was essentially a 5 day immersion on kindness to kids.  Most of us could benefit from this once in awhile and be reminded not to let the frustrations of the day reign – I know I could.  I think I brought home from camp a little more patience and a little more cheer, and for this alone it was more than worth it.

Drowning: What You Need To Know

It’s the summer time when the temperatures soar people look for relief in the form of water play but it’s important to remember that every year hundreds of people die from preventable drowning or are hospitalized because of a near drowning.

If you think that you are safe because you don’t own a backyard pool or frequent the summer cottage, you’re mistaken.  Drowning can occur anywhere including bathtubs and playgrounds with water features.

Drowning doesn’t look like what we believe drowning to look like.   Please take a minute to review these key drowning facts and some basic prevention tips.

Safe Kids Canada

Safe Kids 

Be responsible.  Talk with your children about water safety and learn the facts for yourself.

Lunch Box Blues and Dinners on the Run

I love everything about back-to-school time, except for packing school lunches.  I hate packing school lunches.  This is due, in large part, to the fact that my boys don’t like easy lunch box items or are allergic to them (nut butters, yogurt, muffins, granola bars, meat, fish, most forms of cheese, any fruit that will go soft during the day).  You begin to see how my options get limited.


This week, 4 mothers will be sharing quick and easy lunch box and dinner ideas.  Please join in and leave us your go-to recipes in the comments.

This one was a surprise life-saver last year: spinach dip.  It’s bright, bright green, a fact that I was sure would turn my boys off, but a mother at playschool made it for the kids’ snack, and my son loved it, so it became a staple in his lunch box. 

In a blender, whiz a cup of fresh baby spinach, a clove of garlic (cooked if you want to take the bite off), a tablespoon of cream cheese and half a cup of cottage cheese.  Blend until smooth.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with veggie sticks and a mini-croissant or mini-bagel.

Something different and healthy and quick.


It’s summer.  We’ve got mosquito bites and, in spite of my best efforts with sunblock, tan lines.  We’re eating fresh local strawberries and raspberries.  The windows are propped open to allow in what breeze will grace us. 

And did I spend the day making popsicles and seeking shade?  No, I was washing hockey equipment and making sure that the boys have matching skates, shin pads, and elbow pads for each side of the body; I was in a snit because of a missing neck guard; I was gearing up for the great gear haul.

It’s the first week of summer holidays, and the big boys are spending it at hockey camp.  Griffin only just finished his spring league games, which took up both weekend mornings, and now we are into daily ice time.  I’ve pretty much gotten over the shock of becoming a hockey mom.  I grew up in tropical and desert countries,  I am still learning to skate, and I think I finally understand the offside rule.  But nothing is quite so disorienting as going from the humid haze of a summer day into the frigid gloom of an ice rink.  Part of me rejoices at the boys’ love of hockey, something still so exotically foreign to me.  But another part of me resists.  To everything there is a season, and surely, there must be an end somewhere to hockey season.

Book Camp

Summer is winding down, and with it the longer days and extra time in which to squeeze extra chapters of whatever book I’m reading with the boys (The Wind in the Willows this week with Rowan).  Griffin and I were reading A Wrinkle in Time over the holidays, but our pace and interest have slackened.  (He has been away all week at camp, and I’m not sure that book will survive the gap….  And that’s fine.  It is one of Daniel Pennac’s rights of the reader to abandon a book.  Life is short.  Read only great books, books that are great to you.) 

I picked up The Phantom Tollbooth the other day–another attempt at a children’s fantasy classic– so I was thrilled to see this video at Educating Alice about the author, Norton Juster, visiting a camp for child authors in New York.  The young man with writer’s block quite stole my heart.

And here is an excerpt from the entry on The Phantom Tollbooth from Anita Silvey’s 100 Best Books for Children, about which I wrote here.  If you are looking for some suggestions for books to round out the summer reading with your kids, I cannot recommend her  book highly enough, and the kind of information in this entry on Juster demonstrates why.

An architect who wrote for relaxation from arduous planning projects, Norton Juster had received a grant from the Ford Foundation to create a book for children about how people experience cities.  In 1959, to avoid writing this book, he began working on a short story–one that took on a life of its own.  Juster viewed The Phantom Tollbooth as a way to procrastinate from his real responsibilities.  He wrote without an outline and in no particular sequence, although he revised the book again and again to achieve the right pacing and word choice.

Juster and Jules Feiffer, the cartoonist, had been friends since the mid-1950s, when they lived in the same apartment building in Brooklyn Heights, New York.  Although not intending to illustrate a children’s book, Feiffer started to read what Juster had written and made drawings.  As they worked together, Juster took great delight in describing things Feiffer might have difficulty drawing.  The project continued with this lighthearted banter, and Feiffer modeled the Whether Man, on page 18, after Juster. (100)


And if you are a fan of Oliver Jeffers and would like to treat yourself to your own book camp, click on the link below and watch his presentation about his career as an artist and children’s book writer and illustrator.  I was in awe, but then I think that education is wasted on the young and would happily spend the rest of my days in lecture halls.  (It is 45 minutes long; plan accordingly.)  Thanks to 123 o’leary for the link.

Oliver Jeffers – OFFSET 2009