Monday, April 25, 2016

Yay! It is that time year again!

What do doody, fake boobs and a beard have in common? 
The Passover Seder at our house!

Huh?  We know that using matza in cooking for eight days is a binding agent, but the boobs and beard?

And, what does that picture of Gilligan have to do with this topic?  Which episode was that from?
All good questions, my friends, but hold that thought for a minute.  Some quick background, first.  Growing up, we used to go to my dad’s parents for the first night (saw the cousins), and then my mom’s parents the second night (saw much older cousins, aunts and uncles).  The structure for both nights was the same – blessings over the wine, reading the Exodus story, eating, praying and some singing.  These were long nights.  The second was mostly in Hebrew, during which Uncle Hy would fall asleep at the table.  Eventually, my parents had the Seders and then Debbie and I picked up the mantle.  I liked my paternal grandfather’s book (the Haggadah), but they were out of print.  What is a boy to do?

Re-invent the Seder!

I scanned the pages of the book, added some fun songs to the mix and tried to figure out how to “spice things up.”  We throw the doody whenever we read the word duty (two times).  Whoever reads the line “thy breasts have become firm…” (shows up one time) has to wear the breasts.  And the beard?  The next reader has to wear that creatively.  We have seen it as a beard, Don King style hair, used as a merken, under the armpits, etc. 

There is a part of the service, in the second half, where we open the door to let in the spirit of the prophet Elijah.  We invite the children to open the door.  One year, when the girls were young, my brother Jeff agreed to play Elijah.  He was very excited; we had hidden a sheet to wear, he had a hockey stick as a staff and the beard.  When Gab and Bec opened the back door, out jumped “Elijah.”  Just like a cartoon, the hair of both girls went straight up, they both screamed and it took an hour to calm them down.  For weeks after, if they saw the beard on the chair, they screamed and cried in fright.  The beard then became part of the Seder…

There was the year where all of the kids (our girls, nephews, friends) put on a creative play.  Every year, I ask questions to the kids to engage them, explain what we are doing to new comers, and just have a fun time.  What I have learned is:
  • Tradition – While we all have religious traditions passed down through the ages, start your own family traditions.  Yeah, but, they did this in the year gimmel…OK, but there is no (religious) law that dictates some of our actions.  Keep traditions you like and add new ones.  This will make any holiday more meaningful to you and can be something your children will happily carry forward.
  • Include Everyone – Family events = inclusion.  We include my Egyptian sister-in-law and non-Jews friends / family.  Why?  If we want to invite other Jews to participate, we sure better be open to including their spouse, significant other or special friend.  I believe in the saying, confused people do nothing.  Include and engage all who attend, which leads to a more fun evening for everyone attending.
  • Make your own Memories – Find the things that will create the memories, for not only you, but also the people participating.  We are the only family I know that has the Seder in the living room, sitting comfortably on the floor or couches.  We use props and sing alternate songs, etc.  My brother once commented that his kids know no other Seder and it has left a positive impact on them.  Make the event count. 
  • Vive la DiffĂ©rence – We grew up having a special set of dishes for Passover, which I still do today.  “Wayne, that must be a drag.”  Point of perspective – if my mindset is “this sucks,” then it does.  I enjoy the change and I am not bothered by the effort.  It is an opportunity to clean up the kitchen, enjoy a different set of foods (like the mandel bread pictured below) and give a fresh look to our daily, recurring, everyday life.  I find it exciting to do the change for eight days, relish in the disruption and look forward to it every year. 
  • Have Fun – Loosen up!  From a purely religious point of view, holidays are serious business.  Not everyone likes to be serious all the time.  Find a way to lighten things up.  For Passover, from the cues in pop culture, either you can be the Moses played by Charlton Heston or by Mel Brooks.  This is my favorite holiday, so it should be fun!  
Each year, we have a new guest come to our Seders.  Good eats, good fun, at least four cups of wine and lots of laughs.  That is how all holidays should be celebrated!  

What are your favorite holidays and your “special” family traditions?

Monday, April 18, 2016

“Every Camp Has A Legend…”

Poyntelle, Pennsylvania.  How many of you have heard of it, much less have been there?  This is a tiny town in Wayne County, located in the northeast corner of the state.  To me, and many other youths, that was the home of Camp Echo Lark and, for me, 15 summers of memories.  In the years that followed, as we head into spring, I would dream of being in camp, whether as a camper, a counselor or engaged in some camp activity.  There were the familiar bunks, fields and faces.  Last year’s dream had me on the softball field, then having a conversation with Zelda, the last owner from my time at camp.

I know what you are thinking:  “What? 30 years later and this is what you dream about?”  “Wayne, you’ve lost it (again)!” “Who dreams of such things?”

You do realize that with the help of the internet and Facebook, I get my Echo Lark fix whenever I need it.  There are the pictures and the faces (which have gotten older looking).  I might sound like a stalker, but it is good to see what the people from my youth, their successes, and the families that have grown.

My trigger this year was a picture, sent via Facebook, from a camper of a letter he wrote home to his parents.  All campers had to have a “buddy” when they went around, and I went around that year with one of the campers.  We used to go to an amusement park each summer called Ghost Town, in Moosic, Pa (closed in 1987).  I remember going as a camper on the teacups a bunch of times with a bunk mate, spinning as hard as possible – that led to one nauseous ride bank to camp.  Another year, we were on the Spider and it jumped its track – this led to them manually stopping the ride.  When this camper found the letter that his mother saved, he forwarded a copy (see below).  I remember spending the day with him and hanging upside down.  It is a great feeling to be remembered, especially around a positive experience.
What we learned at camp:

  • Sports – You learned how to play softball, soccer, basketball, street hockey, swimming and tennis.  In the earlier years, they also had golf (taught by Smokin’ Joe).  This was not open playtime, but instructional, leagues, inter-camp competition, and countywide competitions.  The camp always had experts in the various fields that played or coached in their sports. 
  • Teamwork – Very important attribute taught as a byproduct of sports.  There were some standout individuals, but the team working together was most important.  Outside of sports, camp built camaraderie (i.e., team spirit) in the bunks at play, in the dining hall, or in the field.
  • Dealing with children – An extremely important lesson that I learned was from a guy named Murray.   As a counselor, you find yourself trying to corral your campers constantly.  When they are younger, they have boundless amounts of energy.  Murray taught me to have patience and not yell.  Since you cannot hit the campers, nor can you “legally” punish them, yelling is the only thing you can do.  That bit of advice made me a better counselor and ultimately a good parent.
  • Playing in the sandbox – This is a term used by my cousin Ben.  In camp, you had to learn to get along with other people.  For eight weeks, you lived in an intense environment where a lifetime past by in 56 days.  If you did not figure out how to get along, negotiate friendships and share, you were severely ostracized.  This skill has helped me in business and with volunteering where you learn to respect others, care about those around you and learn to work together.
  • Learning to Lead – As a counselor, you are responsible for the 8 to 10 campers in your bunk, from the moment they arrive at camp until the moment they leave.  While the measure of your success is being asked back the following year, an even greater measure of success is the return rate of your campers.  My first year as a counselor I did a mediocre job.  They next year, I was paired with a “strong” counselor, where he could act as a mentor to me.  I observed, learned, and ended up working as a counselor for 7 summers. 
  • Mentoring – There are certain people in our lives that have an impact on what we do, how we think and how we react.  We may not realize nor appreciate it until later in life.  The boys head counselor, Ed, was one of those people that had a profound impact on many people.  Any of us that have coached our children use some of his techniques (including wipeout).  My brother, Brian, commented on how he realized this coaching his son’s baseball team.  Ed provided a model for being a good person, doing the right thing, sportsmanship and the importance of zero tolerance for not doing what you were suppose to.

This was a land where people went by the name of BT, Smack, Bananas, Buffalo, Danger, Munchie, Mouse and Whoopie.  Each generation of camp goers has their stories and the impact to their lives, made special in a short 2-month period.

“But of all the other idols,
The one that stands the test,
Is the royal green and gold camp,
The symbol of the best.” ~ excerpt from the camp Alma Mater

Monday, April 11, 2016

Owning Up to Our Actions (Part 2)

“Accountability breeds response-ability.” ~ Stephen Covey

Last week, in discussing “owning up,” I presented four causes that lead to a fear of ownership (or following the mindset of the masses) – Fear of Failure, Desire to “Fit In”, Feelings of Entitlement and Mindset of Excuses.  To continue along the same thinking, people that embrace “owning it”, exhibit some drivers behind embracing ownership (or having a mindset of abundance):

  1. Striving for Success – This can be the simple desire to succeed.  There is the old mantra, “if it’s going to be, it’s up to me.”  There are times in our lives where we are happy to sit back and watch someone else take ownership and ride their coattails to success.  There is no better satisfaction, however, in taking the reins and guiding the path to success.  When we were young and playing, we all stumbled, picked ourselves up; wipe the dirt from our trousers, and continued playing.  The same should hold as adults whether at work, volunteering, or in our homes.  While it is important to enjoy the journey, it does feel great to get there!
  2. Need for Individualism – To take ownership / responsibility, one has to be willing to stand out front of the crowd on your own.  I like being me and am comfortable in being a little different.  My parents used to tell the story of visiting my brothers and me at camp.  On visiting day, we had to wear specific camp colors (whites? Or white tops, green bottoms?).  All of the kids had on white socks.  My parents knew how to find me – I was the only one wearing colored socks.  Embracing individualism is the willingness to stand out on one’s own, and take on the ownership needed.
  3. Taking Responsibility – We all know people that have trouble taking responsibility for themselves, let alone other people.  When Debbie and I first started to live together, there was some responsibility for each other.  Upon becoming a parent, responsibility reached a completely new level.  Part of this is caring for others, their well-being and not fearing making a decision on their behalf.
  4. Willingness for Continued Learning – While there is a desire to succeed; failing is an important part of the process.  The lessons learned from our failed effort help us continue to strive towards our successes.  John C. Maxwell wrote a book on the topic (“Failing Forward”).  As Thomas Edison put it, when asked about his 10,000 failed attempts are creating the light bulb, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”

Monday, April 4, 2016

Owning Up to Our Actions (Part 1)

“Accountability breeds response-ability.” ~ Stephen Covey

Ownership is a word we think of in terms of materialistic gain.  I own a house, I own a car, I own a pet (which is decidedly different from being a master to a pet), or I own [fill in the blank].  I spend time observing and listening to what goes on around me.  Yes, sometimes you have to stop and smell the roses.  In addition, to being a student of life and looking for the lessons that surround us, means I have to look and listen.  Too often, I find that people dither when confronted with options or points of decision-making.  For some people, there is difficulty in making decision for themselves, and when the one person is responsible for a group, anxiety gets added on as another layer leading to indecision.  “Owning it”, comes easy to some and not to others.

Some causes that lead to a fear of ownership (or following the mindset of the masses):

  1. Fear of Failure – We are taught from a young age that we are either a winner or a loser.  If we strike out, we are a loser.  If we do not get good grades, we received punishment.  As we do things for the first time, not meeting expectations leads to others telling us we are stupid, putting us down, etc.  As we get older, we run from opportunities that can potentially lead to failure due to this learned emotion. 
  2. Desire to “Fit in” – How often have we heard the phrase, “…because everyone is doing it...”  As social beings, we do have a desire to fit in somewhere.  Unfortunately, that desire has us doing what the crowds around us do, and sometimes we follow a group , even if we do not agree with them, just to be accepted (i.e., certain nations following a leader in WWII).
  3. Feelings of Entitlement – This is the “I’ve done that before, so I deserve this now” mindset.  It also comes from a feeling of “why don’t I have that opportunity”.  Once we feel that we are owed something, we cede control of our desires and become dependent on the expectation that an outside source will provide.
  4. Mindset of Excuses – There always seems to be a reason why we did not do something. Along with excuses comes blame, the reason for us not “owning up” is out of our control, or someone else’s fault.  Growing up, my father drilled into my brothers and I that if you know you will not do something you said, say it up front (referred to in project management as an obstacle to success).  If you say it after the fact, it is an excuse.  One that constantly relies on excuses and blame never takes responsibility.

This week was the fear of ownership, next week I will write on embracing ownership.