Monthly Archives: June 2012

One at a Time


In many ways, I am a linear person. I enjoy things that are straight-forward, and I like working from beginning to end on a project without interruption. While my classmates juggle various projects, flitting back and forth from British literature in the 1600s to magical realism in Hispanic American writing, I prefer to doggedly complete one task before moving on to the other. I’m not the kind of person who reads more than one book at a time. In many ways, I even think I’d be happier to have my food forcibly separated on my plate, military style.

I used to try to change this about myself. I thought I would be more productive if I could find a different working style that allowed me to tackle multiple tasks at once. But working styles are hard to change. I’ve found it impossible. What is important is finding out what working style works for you, and accepting it.

What’s your working style?

Leave a comment

Filed under Academic Advice, My Experiences

Camping Essentials


You may not be able to tell now, but I was once a state park employee. In fact, that was my summer job throughout most of high school and most of college. I worked in a small building that, until my third year and an unfortunate accident involving a painted shut window and my co-workers hand going through the glass during a desperate attempt to get a cross breeze going, was not air-conditioned and had no radio, no television, and on slow days, nothing to do except for read. In retrospect, that may be one of the best jobs I’ll ever have. At the time, it sometimes seemed like one of the layers of Dante’s vision of hell, a book I spent part of my fourth summer there reading.

In any case, I got to know a lot about camping. More specifically, I got to know the problems that people have when camping. So this list is for those of you about to venture forth camping, particularly with children. May the ground be dry and the neighbors be quiet!

Want to be a happy camper? Follow this advice! (Image Credit:http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/family/family-camping-checklist.htm)

Plan for Rainy Days

This applies to your camping equipment as well as your plans. Checking the weather forecast as you pull out of your driveway isn’t enough. Don’t believe them when they tell you that it will be sunny and over 80 degrees for the next five days. Assume that each day has a 50 percent chance of thundering downpours and hurricane winds. Equipment-wise, make sure you bring raincoats and that your shelter is up to the rain challenge. Consider bringing an extra tent to put over your picnic table, so you’ll have somewhere to sit that isn’t inside your car, tent, or RV.

My park was close to a major tourist attraction, which was outdoors. Unfortunately, if it did rain, that option was off the table. “What can we do?” bedraggled campers would ask, crowded into our hut as we gestured helplessly at the wall of brochures we had on our back wall. So have a back-up plan. Bring board games, cards, and other activities that can be played inside your tent. Google some indoor attractions that are within reasonable driving distance of your campground and take down those addresses and phone numbers. Your entire vacation doesn’t have to be a wash if you’re prepared for the possibility of bad weather.

Keep a Checklist

Frequent campers were always easy to spot. They knew their license plate number when they came into the hut. They chose the best campsites at our campground. They wore hats and long pants and looked rugged. Or they drove a giant RV and the rules of camping didn’t seem to apply to them. The majority of the people I met were not frequent campers, and did not have giant RVs. One habit of frequent campers is that they keep packing checklists. To be fair, frequent campers also keep most of their gear together, ready to go on a camping trip at the drop of a hat. For the rest of us mere mortals, make a comprehensive list of what you’ll need (bug spray, tent, mallet for tent poles, flashlights, etc) and check it twice. Make your packing deliberate so you don’t have to come to the contact station at 7 pm your first night asking where you can get bug spray while your kids cry in the back seat and itch their bug bites and text their friends about how they want to go home.

Know How To Set-Up

There is a first time for everything, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to set up your tent for the first time once you’re already at the campground. Do a trial run in your backyard and save us all a headache.

Pick a Good Site

What does the ideal campsite look like? Well, first of all, it isn’t right next to a bathroom, or even across the way from one. To avoid heavy foot traffic, potentially unpleasant odors, and the plethora of bugs that like to congregate around the lights a bathroom offers, pick a site that is a short walk from the bathroom. For those of you with young children or who need quick access to a bathroom, try and choose a site that is as far away from the bathroom as possible, even if it’s only one site away. You’ll also want a site that has enough flat space for your tent or RV, your fire ring, and your picnic table. Tent campers, make sure there’s a grassy area and that your site isn’t intended for RVs and made up entirely of small stones that will poke you incessantly through the night. (As a side piece of advice, tent campers, bring a freaking tarp and put it under your tent. This will help with waterproofing as well as smoothing out some of the smaller objects that want to make your night of sleep as rough as possible). Some people enjoy sunshine while they’re camping, but you’ll probably want at least a little shade on your site.

At this point, you may be wondering how you’re going to find a site like this, especially if you’re booking in advance (which I highly recommend in any case). Well, luckily for you, Alexander Graham Bell invented something called the telephone, and due to its magical properties you can call the campground where you’ll be staying and talk to people who are actually familiar with the sites! I have helped people with RVs decide which site can most easily accommodate them, steered campers who have a propensity to burn away from sites in full sun, and helped improve the camping experience of hundreds (if not THOUSANDS) of campers due to my knowledge. So call ahead, explain your needs, and then book the site of your dreams!

Wear Sunscreen

Many’s the time that at check-out, I meet families hitting the road who look miserable and uncomfortable and distinctly redder than when they came in. Wear sunscreen!!


What are some other tips you have for campers?

Leave a comment

Filed under My Experiences, Parenting

News Overload


I used to pride myself on being current when it came to the news. I tried to stay up-to-date, and I got the overwhelming majority of my news from CNN. As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve become more educated on certain issues in the news that I’m interested in, but less aware of current events in general. It isn’t that I don’t care what’s happening in the world, it’s just that staying up to date often feels more like a Sisyphean endeavor than anything else. After all, the news changes by the hour, and in this digital age, by the nanosecond.

A wall of televisions wouldn’t be enough to keep me current on the news! (Image Credit:http://komplettie.wordpress.com/2010/01/19/the-future-of-tv-lpd-3d-and-your-head/)

Furthermore, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that the objectivism I thought was present in the news is a myth. Everything about the news is biased, from the titles given to the articles to the order in which they’re presented on the television to the images that accompany a story. Even if a story is based purely on facts, which facts are included and which are excluded help to bias the reader, listener, or viewer. With all this frustration, I’ve separated myself from the news. Sure, I still check out CNN’s homepage a few times a day, although I no longer profess to be a news expert.

And if I find the news so overwhelming, how are kids supposed to learn to be intelligent, skeptical news viewers?

How do you keep up with the news?

Leave a comment

Filed under Academic Advice, My Experiences, Parenting

Busy Summers


Summer always goes by quickly in Western New York. By September, schools have already started again, the air is getting cooler, and Halloween decorations and costumes are in the storefronts. As quickly as summer seems to go by, there’s still a lot of time in between the family picnics and vacations to fill, and without school to fill up children’s days, the constant refrain of “but I’m bored” may soon be ringing in parent’s ears. So what are some ways to get kids out of the house?

Summer Sports

Find a summer league near you in a sport that your child is interested in. While many leagues meet in the evenings, some may offer daytime camps. Soccer is always a good bet, but there are also summer baseball and softball leagues too.

Day Camps

Plenty of organizations offer summer day camps for kids, ranging from arts and crafts to theater. Try your local school district, YMCA, museum, zoo or youth center for potential camps.

Sleep-Away Camp

If you’re looking for a longer-term solution, try an overnight camp! There are tons of options when it comes to overnight camps, and a website called Camp Page can help you find the ideal summer camp for your child.

Summer Job

For older children, a summer job might be the best option to help pass the summer hours. Babysitting jobs can be at a premium this time of year, but there are also plenty of seasonal attractions that are looking for help.

Summer Courses

While your child may not need summer school, there are often summer courses offered by local colleges that older students can take advantage of. Taking summer courses means that not only will your child have something to do, but he or she will also be getting college credits.

What are some other ideas you have for getting kids out of the house during the summer?

Leave a comment

Filed under Academic Advice, Parenting

Social Skills (or Lack Thereof)


When it comes to meeting people in social situations, I do alright for myself. I’m an active listener, I don’t monopolize the conversation, and I’m friendly. The problem with meeting people at parties or other events is that I’m not great at taking the initiative to introduce myself. I don’t need to be surrounded by people to have a good time, but sometimes my aversion to self-introduction means that I end up standing on the fringes, awkwardly watching the rest of the party mingle.

Maybe that’s what I’m not good at–mingling. And it isn’t that my parents never took me anywhere. No, my parents are fantastic minglers. I’ve spent my formative years watching them model good behavior at events that have hundreds of people. Somehow, this trait was not transmitted, either genetically or through repeated observation and exposure. I’m not totally hopeless, though, because when I’m given a task that involves working with people, or even initiating conversations with others, I shine. Volunteering at Ride for Roswell this past weekend, I spoke to hundreds of riders easily. What came less easily was talking to my fellow volunteers. With a specific task in mind, such as registering riders for the ride, I have a basic script that I can then vary to fit the situation. With social situations, there isn’t a script, and there isn’t necessarily a set objective that I’ve ever been able to understand.

So maybe what I’m saying is that at a party, I’d rather be a waiter than a guest when it comes to ease of conversation. When you’re given a specific role to play in a social context, you don’t have to figure out what side of yourself to present to the rest of the crowd. There’s no fretting over whether you should respond to a liberal’s bait about Republicans hating all poor people, or whether you should pretend to know what movie everyone is talking about.

Strangely enough, though, not everyone shares my opinion. Some people do fantastically well with the social side of things, and less so at the professional side. Before registration started at the Ride for Roswell, there was a woman who was breezily chatting to the team leader and the other volunteers, leaving me to stand awkwardly up at the table, trying to decide if I should stand in the huddle of other volunteers or just eat my granola bar in peace before the doors opened. As soon as riders started approaching, however, it was my turn to shine. I felt entirely at peace as I slipped on my customer service mask and completed the objectives. Be enthusiastic. Be friendly. Be helpful. Be knowledgable. Be thorough. Give them rider everything they need. File the paperwork here. These tasks may seem simple enough, but the former social butterfly struggled and eventually gave up, instead retrieving the various items we had to give to riders. At the end of my shift, she commented that I had been amazing, and I smiled awkwardly and said it had been nice meeting these other people I worked with.

How can you teach a child to perform well in social situations both when they are working and when they are there simply for social interactions? I’m not 100 percent sure. Any advice for other parents? Leave it in the comments section…and I might try it out on myself.

Leave a comment

Filed under My Experiences, Parenting

Sunday Morning Shout Out


While thoughts of summer vacation send most children cheering, it may send some parents cringing. Just as a successful school year takes planning, a successful summertime also benefits from careful consideration. For me, I have always leapt into summer with my kids. My struggle has been finding a balance between planning too many fun things and just enjoying each other in our home. Some of the lessons and badges I have learned in Kelly kid camp (not withstanding some of the scrapes and battle scars that got me them) follow like a Baskins’ Robbins’ ice cream cone, unique to our family’s different personalities, age levels, and interests. Others are more universal.

1)      Go into summer with an idea of what you want to do with your family and learn what they want to do. I like to experience local happenings, such as our community’s summer recreation program, area festivals, community concerts, LOTS of library time, with a smattering of play dates and play parties here, and city time, and  if possible a designated vacation next to a (any) body of water. This can run right in line with what my children like or off to right field. I have learned that on any given day or week we may need to compromise. Sometimes there isn’t an outing and we enjoy being home reading, baking, bike riding, and playing outside here. Last summer, we had a newborn baby in the house and our pace tried to reflect it. That baby is just a year now, so we will also reflect that this summer. Or it does not always need to be a big outing. Sometime, we pick one activity a day- a trip to story time, a grandparent’s house, the pool. Or we do our normal routine most days and pick one big outing, outside of our community, per week. (More on the normal routine to follow).

2)     Switch up your normal routine and get a “new normal” for summertime.  Call it getting your summer on, becoming a little more Jimmy Buffet in your home, getting more chill, whatever, summer is about a looser, more free schedule. When that crunched for time feeling sets in during the summer I know we are trying to do waaaaaaay too much!!! The only crunchy feeling in summer should come from too much time outside.. Make home the new oasis in the summer. Find great spots around your home or in your backyard to read a book, play a game, have the best fort, camp, zoo, etc. This brings me to my next point.

3)     Make summer refreshing and restorative

Pace yourself and keep that summer feeling there. For better or worse, we have the school year for that faster pace. Loosen parts of your normal routine that feel like staccato clock work during the school year, to make way for special events during summer. Keep the parts of your routine that serve your family best. In our home, bedtimes need to stay largely the same. While certain nights, it can’t be helped, the nights it can make the days that follow brighter, calmer, smoother, and more fun. Well rested, we can be more impromptu and not be slowed down by tiredness and grumpiness, all the way around.

Try on some new activities for size. Summer is the perfect times for letting your child try a new sport or hobby they have wanted to do. Our community’s youth soccer league starts the week after school lets out. Many communities have summer sports. From libraries to museums, there are special children’s programs and camps going on that are featuring everything from science to history. Summer offers the perfect chance to experience some of these wonderful offerings for a trial period.

Keep the parental reserve strong. For stay at home parents; parents who are off in the summer with their children; parents who are working extra hours during the summer and are trying to squeeze every or any ounce of summertime fun in with their kids,  and single parents who shoulder so much added responsibilities, such pressure can be daunting and exhausting. Make some deposits into your reserves to keep your energy up, for your own sake, sanity, and preservation of the family.  A date night; a night out with friends; sending the children to grandma’s, another family members, or close friends for a few hours, the night, or a few days; or even an hour or two alone while your child does activities can go far in recharging the batteries. It’s hard to be recreation director and Mom/Dad! Rome and childhood weren’t completed in a day. Taking care of you, means taking better care of them….

Note: For more ideas on low cost/educational summer fun and activities for your children try these resources:

20 Fun & {Mostly} Free Summer Activities for Kids

What To Do With The Kids This Summer — 10 Simple Ideas

Infographic: 10 Super-Fun Ways To Make Summer Last

Leave a comment

Filed under My Experiences

Being There (Or Getting the Best View)


Last week, my family and I headed out to see Nik Wallenda cross Niagara Falls. Luckily, my dad had thought ahead and gotten us a bunch of the free tickets to watch the event from Terrapin Point, the best possible spot on the US side to see all the action. The atmosphere was electric. The crowd was excited, and although there was no music and only a few peddlers hawking their wares, it felt like an old-fashioned carnival. The view, while spectacular…was nothing compared to what the viewers at home were seeing on their television screens.

This view only made possible by television cameras. The real view was obscured by a lot more mist. (Image Credit:http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/TopStories/20120615/liveblog-nik-wallenda-120615/)

While folks at home were listening to interviews with Nik Wallenda and hearing cool facts about the Wallendas and Niagara Falls and eating cheap popcorn, my family and I had been sitting in the same spot for over three hours, eating over-priced hamburgers and taking turns getting up to stand behind the chain link fence that separated the spectators from the man of the hour. Television has changed the way that live events operate. Going to a live sporting event used to be about getting closer to the action, but now it seems to be centered around staring at the jumbotron. Of which many were set-up in the State Park for the spectators to watch.

Case and point. My family enjoys supporting the Batavia Muckdogs, a farm team for some major league baseball team. I don’t know the details. The stadium is small, the ticket prices are reasonable, and there isn’t a big screen. The seats, however, are all very close to the action. The crowd is lively, but eager to actually watch the game. For the past two summers, when my former flatmates from Scotland have been over to visit, a Batavia Muckdogs game has always been on the agenda.

Last year, through work, my mom got discounted tickets to a Buffalo Bisons game. We headed into the big city ready to enjoy the baseball game atmosphere we’d been used to in Batavia, but what we found was something very different. It seemed like watching the game was the last thing most of the spectators had on their minds. We were seated so far from the action that it was almost impossible to see anything, and I resorted to watching the big screen. In short, it would have been better to stay at home.

What matters more to you? Getting a good view, or enjoying the atmosphere?

Leave a comment

Filed under My Experiences, Parenting