It is not about the curtains

We always get a chuckle when it’s time to explain to the pre-camp crew what their assignment is for the day.  “What? You want me to rake and redistribute these pine needles and move around these large rocks into a perfect line?”  “Really? You want us to dust every inch of this cabin?” “It’s snowing; is it going to be like this all summer?” And years later when these same people return for a visit, they tell us that working pre-camp has made them better at their jobs and taught them important life skills.

In our year-round staff meetings, we revisit our mission and our service quality structure.  We believe that it is part of our promise to our parents and campers to take pride and care in our facility.  My grandmother was a woman with a high standard, so high that no one felt like it could ever be met.  Her role at camp was about the quality of the details and her point was, “It is not about the curtains; but if you have hung the curtains right and all the light bulbs are in working order, you will also take that same care of the children that have chosen to spend their summer here”. After my grandfather had retired, he would drive around camp changing light bulbs.  This philosophy has been handed down.

We have six amazing men that work all winter to build, repair and upkeep the facility through the winter.

And now for the next couple of weeks, a wonderful crew of people will prepare the facility that is the anchor for the magic of camp.  Thank you crew, for your hard work and dedication to our mission, and we promise the snow will melt soon.

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Boy Scout Merit Badges at Cheley

For the past few years, I have been authorized as a Merit Badge counselor for the Boy Scouts.  We have many campers that are also involved in Boy Scouts and would love to complete a few badges at camp.

I am registered as a merit badge counselor for the following Boy Scout Merit Badges; Hiking, Archery, Backpacking, Camping, Fishing, Horsemanship, Leather-work, Rifle Shooting and Wilderness Survival

If your son is interested in completing any of these badges, please have him bring the appropriate paperwork to camp this summer.  He will need to take the initiative to complete the requirements with the appropriate counselor in his unit and then I will complete the paperwork.  I hope this helps some of our boys in their pursuit of their Eagle Scout and other recognitions in the Boy Scouts.

We are looking forward to the summer!

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Happy Earth Day and Let’s G.O. (Get Outside) month

Happy Earth Day!

As I continue on this journey of motherhood I am baffled at how fast time is flying.  I just hope that I am doing a decent job, and covering all my bases.  Everyday is a moment to moment balancing act of making sure my kids have a least eaten a bite of their meal, that we are following what we are supposed to be doing for school, that their hair is at least halfway combed with maybe a bow stuck in it, that their shoes are not too stinky, and that they are hopefully nice to the other children.

I love being a mom, AND I sometimes long for the days of being a backpacking counselor at camp, or being drenched in rain for 5 weeks straight in the mountains of Patagonia.  I long for the days of living in a tent and knowing the peace and comfort that only nature brings.

Will I be able to instill this same love of the natural world in my girls?  Will they grow up to know how important it is to be connected to the earth?  As a camp director, I hope I don’t miss the mark on this one.  However, during the winter months, it does seem like we get stuck in our routine of school, play dates, extracurricular activities, birthday parties, and trips to the playground.  We live in a world that does not always lend itself to being connected to nature.  My phone or computer are never too far away, and at ages 3 and 5, Kate and Ellie are magnets for any technical gadget they can get their hands on.  Kate can work the cell phone like she is a little adult and Ellie could play Angry Birds on the iPad for hours if I would let her.

As I am a firm believer in the movement to reconnect children with nature, I decided we were past due for a little trail time out of the city.  I wanted to honor Earth Day, and April being the “Get Outside” month, and walk my talk.  I packed up the family for a little day adventure across the Causeway to Fontainebleau State Park.  Ten minutes into our drive, the questions started, “When are we going to be there?”

Ellie said, “Ya know Mom, the other day I saw a car with a TV in it.”

I replied, “Yes I know, those are pretty cool aren’t they,” thinking of all those gear hungry people who cannot leave the house without a gadget and then I started to blare our favorite songs from the Sound of Music, and we all loudly sang along.  Then of course we had to play “Pretty Girl Rock,” because we think it is hilarious to hear the girls sing “Don’t hate me ‘cause I’m beautiful.”

As we entered the gates of the park, that feeling of a slower world hit me.  It was an awesome feeling for me to be bringing my girls into nature, and to share the love and appreciation that I have for it.  To be present with them and away from the hustle of our daily lives was what I needed.  We walked under the beautiful trees and admired their huge roots, watched dozens of dragonflies and other bugs, and listened to the birds.  I did forget to pack the bug spray, and the mosquitoes were very large and plentiful, so we did a lot of swatting

In Richard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods,” he writes: “As the young spend less and less of their lives in natural surroundings, their senses narrow, physiologically and psychologically, and this reduces the richness of human experience.  Yet, at the very moment that the bond is breaking between the young and the natural world, a growing body of research links our mental, physical and spiritual health directly to our association with nature – in positive ways using health information technology

In our 91st season, I sometimes find myself apologetically explaining to new camp parents that they will not get emails, calls or texts from their children, as I know this is new territory for them.  I find myself worrying that there might come a time when parents and children do not want to be “unplugged” for the summer.  I worry that the desire for skills and knowledge will outweigh the desire for strong character.  As a fourth generation camp director, I dedicate my life’s work to providing a summer experience for youth which allows them to play, grow, and learn among the beauty of nature.  I strive to stay true to the powerful mission that was set forth by Frank H. Cheley; he believed so strongly in the phrase, “Great things happen when youth and mountains meet.”  And as a mother, I dedicate myself to the movement to reconnect children and nature, and I will start with my own.

Take the time to celebrate the Earth, today and everyday.

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Parenting and Technology

Now that I have joined the parent community.  I recently attended a meeting that addressed the impact technology is having on family dynamics and relationships.  Craig Knippenberg talked about the positive and negative impacts he has seen as the byproduct of technology.  I appreciated that he talked about the positives of technology and its ability to help families share moments while they are apart, the security it provides for families,  and its ability to facilitate social interaction.  He also talked about the negative effects of technology, how it can become an obsession, the increase of spontaneity (he said that for parents, spontaneity can be the enemy because it robs you of your ability to plan and fully discuss all the options with your children), and the dependency it creates between children and parents.  He made the comment that as parents, “we need to give them roots and wings.”  Craig suggested using the phrase, “I think you can figure it out”, after receiving a call from your children for help that offers you the chance to provide them with a decision -making experience.  Craig also mentioned the lack of truly connecting with each other and the loss of reflection and “down time” for all of us.  This made me think of camp.  Camp offers down time to be present with your mentors and your peers and it offers the opportunity to find a solution without picking up the phone.

Two of the best concepts I gained from his presentation were comments about connecting with children.   He quoted Jimmy Carter who said, “The two most important loves in your life should be God and the person sitting in front of you.”  Regardless of your religious beliefs, I think we could all improve in paying attention to those in front of us.  Especially when we have the opportunity to connect with children, we should do what we can to give them our full attention.

His second concept was “fly fishing for feelings.”  I loved the visual and the idea that we are not bait fishing for conversations but rather fly fishing for conversation.  I have to be honest, I am not a fly fisherman, but I did see the movie “A River Runs Through It” and have spent a frustrating day on the shores of a river in Alaska with dozens of other fisherman during a salmon run.  Fly fishing takes patience and the ability to lead, and to focus, all while enjoying the process.   As Henry David Thoreau once said, “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”  If we look at having a conversation with our children as “fly fishing for feelings”, we may be more successful at connecting with them.  We must realize that we may not get the answer we want on the first cast.

Cast #1 – How was your day?

Response – “Fine.”

Cast #2 – What was the best part of the day?

Response – “I don’t know.”

Cast #3 – What would you do over again if you could?

Response – “Stay in bed longer.”

Cast #4 – What are you looking forward to tomorrow?

Response – “Being done with my history test.”

You may start thinking “Hey, the answers are getting longer.”  Keep casting.

Cast #5 – What’s the coolest thing you’ve learned in history right now?

Response-“Did you know that movies didn’t have sound until 1927?”  Or “Did you know that the very first American in space only was in orbit 15 minutes?”

Cast #6 – Wow, I didn’t know that.  What was the first talking movie? Or, who was the first astronaut?

And you’re off and running.

I just received a wonderful book called “Get to Know your Kid” by Shana Connell Noyes.  The book is full of questions to help parents connect with their children.  Some of the questions are:

What do you like most about yourself?

What do you like best about our family?

What was the best day of your life?  Describe it.

Would you say your life is better than most people’s lives or not as good? Why?

So next time you pick up your children and they want to sit in the back and text their friends, start “fly-fishing for feelings.”  Keep casting questions until you get a nibble, and then lead them in.  Remember, sometimes it takes some effort and some line to catch a fish to be proud of.

Here’s to the journey of parenting!

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The Top Ten Benefits of Sending Your Child to Camp

1.Explore the outdoors – Camps foster children’s connection with the natural environment.

2. The opportunity for unstructured play – Dr. David Elkind says, ““The traditional summer camp recognizes that play is a powerful form of learning that contributes mightily to the child’s healthy physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development.”

3. Meet people from around the world – Campers are exposed to different cultures, beliefs, and personalities at camp.

4. Build Independence – Campers have the opportunity to make decisions on their own in a safe and nurturing environment thus building independence.

5. Build Confidence – Camps focus on the success of the camper which helps young adults build self-esteem.

6. Gain proficiency in a skill area – Camps offer structured training in specific skills and general life skills.

7. Parental growth – The camp experience is also a growing process for the parents.  Parents learn to let go and trust that their children will make good decisions.

8. Develop Resiliency – Camps help children learn to succeed and fail in a nurturing environment and teach them to give it another try if they don’t succeed the first time.

9. Children are in an environment built specifically for them – Camps are designed for the success of children.

10. Physical activity – Children are active at camp.  Away from technology and the couch, they are able to be active, breath fresh air, and exert themselves.

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Don Cheley on the Phoenix Society Board

Don Cheley is pleased to report that he has been selected to serve on the Phoenix Society Board of directors.  The Phoenix Society is the largest non-profit dedicated to  providing support to burn survivors and their families.  They hold the annual World Burn Conference to bring together those impacted by a burn injury to provide networking and support for Recover, Renew and Return.  This year over 300 attended the conference in Galveston, TX. . The Burn Camp programs has been acknowledged as the best way to help children with their recovery.
Cheley is respected as a pioneer in the development of this kind of
program.    So Burn camps are an important link in the recovery process
for all survivors to thrive.

We are proud of Don’s involvement with this organization.

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A Gentle Evaluation for Nannies

You may be your nanny’s first boss, or you may be her last boss.  She might be 18 or 85.  Whatever her age or yours, it is not always easy to give feedback to someone.  Bosses are supposed to make better employees. So with the best intentions of making it a happy working environment, take the time to make sure everyone is on the same page. After having many different formulas of evaluating people in close quarters, we have landed on Stop, Start, Continue.  It is gentle yet straight forward.

For example:

I would like for you to stop being five minutes late or being on your cell phone a lot.

I would love for you to use my sweet smelling counter spray.

Please continue to play all the wonderful games that you have been playing and loving my children like you have been.

Then give the nanny a chance to evaluate you as well.  Open lines of communication make everyone feel valued.

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The Important “Letter on the Table” for Nannies

As camp directors, we spend our winter months honing our skills on how to manage people in the close quarters of camp.  We go to trainings and seminars with the best educators in this field.  Through the camp experience, we are helping to develop the future leaders of this country in our campers as well as in our staff.  People today are accustomed to being told exactly what to do. Their GPS tells them how many yards they have until they reach their destination.  Managers want people to come in with precise initiative, the innate knowledge of what is right and wrong and to have all the skills necessary to complete the job.  You will get lucky if you hire someone like this but more often than not, you have to lay it out on the table.  Write out a job description stating exactly what is expected.  It is a lot easier to have it out on the table so you can refer to it if you need to.  Is this asking a lot of someone?  Heck, yeah it is.  Being a mom, working or not, is a lot of work, so if you are paying someone to help you, it should be good help.

This is an example of my “Letter on the Table”:

My Daughters

  • Please do not watch TV or have Judge Judy or Days of Our Lives on in the background.
  • Activities-Go for walks, play on the swing set, make crafts, paint, build forts, play with toys, bake and make things in the kitchen, make up skits, play dress-up, dance, listen to music, read books, teach them how to draw stars.
  • Discipline- Please use time out, or redirect them when you can.  Trouble arises mostly with sharing. Please help me with them earning their stars and with empowering them to make good choices.  Please use Love and Logic.  I think it is the best way to deal with children.
  • I do like for them to eat healthy foods and not snack all day.  If it is close to a meal time and I am not home, just start the meal.  I am around most of the time at meals and love to have an extra hand in the kitchen, so please jump in with me.
  • Please have them put away an activity before they start a new one.

House

  • The girls are of course, first priority, but I do appreciate when someone sees other things that need to be taken care of.
  • Please clean up the kitchen after meals and wipe the countertops if you have time; the girls love to help spray and wipe. Please have the girls pick up bath toys after baths and have them put their dirty clothes in the hampers.  I don’t want them to be picked up after, but I like to try to keep things tidy. It makes me saner.
  • If trash is overflowing please empty it, and please recycle when you can.
  • If the dishwasher is full and complete, please empty it if you have the time- I am not picky-I will find things.
  • If there are dishes in the sink, please put them in the dishwasher.
  • If the Brita is empty, please fill it.
  • If they have made a mess of the floor, please sweep it.
  • Please help me keep toys and things picked up, organized and in the right place.

You

  • Please be engaged and keep the usage of your cell phone to a minimum when you are with the girls.
  • Please be on time.
  • I will forget to feed you so please make yourself at home and dig in.  And let me know if you want me to get you anything special from the store.
  • Please remember that you are a huge influence in my daughters’ lives.  Always make it a positive one.
  • We will sit down and have a mutual evaluation quarterly using the Stop, Start, Continue method.  Please bring anything to my attention that is not working for you.

Me

  • I see this position as a full partnership in our home.  You are part of the family.  If you do a good job, we will love you and take good care of you.
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Suggested interview questions when hiring a Nanny

I was born into a wonderful legacy called camp, and I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a camp director. For over the past decade, I have worked during the winter months to put together the best possible team of 200 people to care for other folk’s children during overnight summer camp.

I have never taken the job of choosing these caregivers lightly, for these are children we’re talking about.  What is more important to a parent?  Nothing.

While hiring our perspective staff members, we use experience-based questions.  This is obviously not rocket science, but it works to get some really wonderful answers and some awful answers, just the kind of tool that you want to differentiate your candidates. Think about what you really want to know; this is different for everyone.

I want to know if the nannies I hire are going to go above and beyond in their job.  Are they going to leave me some dishes in my sink for me to finish at the end of my long day, or are they going to spray the countertops with the sweet smelling spray that I bought?  So in my interview I ask.  Tell me about a time that you have gone above and beyond in a job. It is a bad sign if they cannot think of a situation.  Or tell me about a time when you have put others’ needs ahead of your own. Again, not a great sign if they cannot think of an example to share.  The mother/nanny relationship can be a tricky one.  So I like to ask, tell me about a time when you have had a friendship with someone who was also your boss. Additionally, you want to know how they really are with children when you are not around.  Tell me about a time when you have had to discipline a child.  What did you do?  Would you have changed anything about how you handled it? Tell me about your best moment with a child and tell me about your worst moment with a child.  You get the idea.

At the end of an interview, I once had a young man ask me if I wanted to know his strengths and weaknesses because he was more ready for those kinds of questions.   It is hard to fake it with experienced-based questions.

These same types of questions should be used in talking to their references.  I ask the references to tell me about a time when they were let down by the applicant, or a time when the applicant did not meet their expectations.  Tell me about a time when you all disagreed on how to handle something.  What did you most appreciate about the applicant? I know for me I don’t want to take too much of their time, but it is a very important piece of getting to know the candidate.

I hope this is helpful information to any parent going through this process

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The Gift of Camp

Sometimes this season loses its meaning.  The purchasing of gifts overtakes it.  But if we are talking gifts, give a gift that will have a lifelong impact, send your child to camp.  I sometimes cross paths with people that do not understand the gift of camp.  They will say, “Oh I suppose camp is for parents that are really busy and need to have something for their kids to do during the summer.  I try to patiently explain that it is one of the best gifts you can give to your child.  Tis the Season.

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