Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Play Again.

I haven't had a chance to actually see this film (we don't get too many movies with indie cred out here in the rural Hill Country!) but it seems to pose some very good questions. Camp answers a lot of the need for urban children to experience the outdoors, but in our case, only for a week at a time. What does it take to keep the Nintendo DS and the Xbox off after camp? Is it even worth it?

It's interesting to think about yourself, or your child, in a similar situation to the children above. There are certainly a set of traits, interests, and strengths that emerge when a person is taken out of modern society and given more rudimentary tools of survival. We aren't a bare-bones minimalist camp, but simple acts like powering down the computer, pulling the earbuds out of your ears, and spending hangout time under the stars instead of the mall shift a person's focus and open their awareness to the rest of the world and people both alike and dissimilar to themselves. Camp is so valuable for that reason, and many of the awesome memories made there are so awesome precisely because the environment is so different than what we are used to as a first-world culture.

Anyone had a chance to see "Play Again?" I'm looking forward to finding it on Netflix in a few months.

(And P.S.. 70 days 'til camp! Woohoo!)

Travel and Learning

Hello my fellow Raggers - I am going to take a break from Raggers and just catch you up on my March. I have been absent for a few weeks - sorry about that! This month is a travel month for me - New York State for a food service conference (left picture of me in snowshoes), then spring break family time and now, I am headed to California for the San Diego Christian Leadership Conference (CLC). I am so excited to be able to attend this conference as we are holding our first ever CLC at CFA in November! Also, I have not attended a CLC in 10 years, so it is time to recharge my spirit and remember why I dedicate my life's work to the YMCA.

This conference is geared to YMCA staff and volunteers. The main emphasis is "sharing Christian values and the YMCA Mission in all YMCA programs." The YMCA Ragger Program has a strong presence at this conference. The program was founded by the C.J., Carrie D. and R. Howard Walker family. Friday night is typically spent getting to know each other, singing praise music and learning about the weekends events. I am looking forward to recharging my spirit, realigning my Ragger goals and bringing home ideas for camp.

Early in March, I attended the North American Food Service Conference at Camp Chingachgook on Lake George, NY. First, I arrived to two feet of fresh snow! This Texas girl had never seen snow like that and was promptly issued snow shoes and sent off on a hike. It was awesome. But to get back to food - I learned a lot about nutrition, gained new ideas for meals and most excitedly, ideas for cooking club. The CFA Pan-handlers are going to learn how to make sushi - both for meals and dessert (pictured) along with a lot of other cool things. I think the neatest trick I learned was to put the peanut butter and jelly into squeeze bottles - it makes it easier and cleaner to make your sandwich. Now why didn't I think of that?

And mid month, the family and I went camping in Rockport along wiuth my parents and my neice, Kristen (CFA alum). The kids were so excited camp, see family and play on the beach. Pictured are Laine, Kristen and me as we had a groovy time shopping. We had a great time.

I can not wait to update you all on what I learn at CLC and how my Rag is rededicated. Until next time, keep dreaming of camp, recruiting your friends to attend summer camp and study hard.

In the Spirit of Camp,

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Camp Quotes

The organized summer camp is the most important step in education that America has given the world. ~ Charles B. Elliot, President of Harvard University 1922

What I like about camping is you can get really dirty.  Either you're all by yourself, so no one else sees you, or everyone you're with is just as dirty as you are, so nobody cares.  ~Anonymous former Boy Scout, quoted in Highs! Over 150 Ways to Feel Really, Really Good Without Alcohol or Other Drugs by Alex J. Packer

The fire is the main comfort of the camp, whether in summer or winter, and is about as ample at one season as at another.  It is as well for cheerfulness as for warmth and dryness.  ~Henry David Thoreau

Usually people come up and say they like our band, so it's a great place to make new friends. It's like going to summer camp. ~ Good Charlotte


Friday, March 18, 2011

A Mustang at Camp: Indigo's Story

In the northernmost corner of Nevada, close to California, are the Calico Mountains. Named for the colorful rock formations that resembled the piebald coat of a calico cat to some pioneer eons ago, and relatively lush in grazing and water supply, these particular hills are home to a distinct subgroup of the American Mustang. The mustangs still roaming western North America are all mutts of the horse world, pieced together from old Spanish influence, Native American's unique breeding stock, and ranch horses turned lose or wandered away from settlers. Calico Mountains Mustangs are unique in that they closely resemble (and are descendants of) the ideal ranch horse of American settlers. Possessing good confirmation and hardy, because of their bountiful homeland, "Calico Complex" horses are often as colorful and varied in their patterns as the mountains that surround their home.

The Calico Mountains, north of Gerlach, NV.

In the early spring of 2008, a shaggy red-and-white colt was born in these mountains. He had a white face, one blue eye, and (one would guess, from knowing him now) a slightly quirky expression on his face. We can't know for sure if this colt's first year was lived in peace and stability along side a healthy mother and a strong family unit, or if he was plagued from the start by the drought in Western America. What we do know is that on January 29th, 2010, his life changed both dramatically and traumatically— a helicopter rounded up the colt's family and drove them to a holding pen, where agents from the Bureau of Land Management loaded them into huge stock trailers and eventually they were shipped all the way to central Colorado, to a gigantic prison complex housing over 2,000 other formerly wild mustangs and burros from all over the American West.

One of the prison facilities at Canon City, Colorado, where 2,000 wild equines are housed, in addition to inmates.

There the horses are broken into pens which often hold 30 or more horses of the same gender, age range, and capture date. This little colt didn't catch anybody's eye for eight months, at least not enough to get him a $125 ticket to a new home; the cost of an adoption fee through the BLM. He waited. And, apparently, got a little beat up in the process from his pasture-mates.

I spotted him on a trip to Canon City while searching for a new camp horse, milling around in a pen of much more boisterous 2 year old geldings. He was the object of a lot of flying hooves and bared teeth, but despite being clearly bullied, he showed a great deal of interest in me, my best friend, and my sister-in-law. We were instructed by our guide to hang at the edge of the pen in case they herd got moving quickly, and as we stood discussing the merits of various horses, a white face and blue eye kept peeking out from behind other rumps and tails. We wrote down his tag number but passed him up. I do believe we nicknamed him "Ugly," which probably wasn't the sweetest thing to do, but he was sort of a ragamuffin, covered in scratches and bites and general wear and tear.

But after a few more hours of searching among the thousands of horses, my mind kept drifting back to "Ugly." No other horse had shown so much interest us the rest of that morning. His funny face kept egging me on. And so, with a signed check and a few pieces of paperwork, Ugly belonged to camp and we were a few short weeks and a long drive back to Colorado with a trailer from picking him up. He made it to his new home at YMCA Camp Flaming Arrow in late August of 2010, just before midnight.

Within a few short days, "Ugly" had a name and was wearing a halter. Called "Indigo" for the deep, purpley-blue depths of his right eye, he proved himself to be just as calm, willing, and interested in people (and the tasty food they bring around) as he appeared on that first day back in Colorado.

Indy's first halter. Yes, it's pink!

Turns out, with a little bit of grain and a fair amount of brushing, "Ugly" really.. wasn't. He has balanced confirmation; a little on the short side, but with powerful shoulders and hindquarters and strong legs and feet that are a throwback to his great-great-great-grandparents' lives working early cattle ranches out West. Within short order, he was leading happily on adventures around camp, checking out new places and allowing new people to stroke his shoulder or offer him a bit of hay. He learned that the saddle and blanket weren't going to eat him alive, and so carried those well without much coaxing.

Indy and another young camp horse learn how to trailer and tie safely.

Be warned, though, that Indigo is probably not an average mustang. Remember, we chose him for his personality— friendly, not very scared of people, and extremely calm. Most of his brethren were wild-eyed and terrified of humans, and would probably require a great deal more patience and time before being half as gentle as little Indigo. Even as docile as he is, Indigo has never been forced, beaten, or truly threatened— there is no sense in rushing or pushing any horse, especially one that was once wild.

Right before his first ride in the roundpen.

Flash forward to seven months later, and Indy is coming along right about at the rate a normal, hand-raised domestic horse would be in their training. He has carried a rider for short periods since early October and has just begun short, easy trail rides with me on his back. Nobody else has been on him yet, but that will come in due time— possibly this summer, once he is used to the camp wrangler and trusts her, too. Letting a horse mature a bit (age four or five) is a good idea before asking it for too much difficult or fast-paced work, but at the age of three, Indy will hopefully carry a wrangler on a few trail rides with a group this summer and should be ready for more work by spring of 2012.

Turning three and still a shrimp! Tall MA (5'10") rides little Indigo last Tuesday.

Our hope is that Indigo will learn to serve children and adults at camp as he grows and matures and continues his training. The hardiness, health, intelligence, and sound build of the American Mustang make them good candidates for learning almost any equine discipline. Indigo's gentle nature and friendliness make him a great candidate for a life filled with teaching children about horsemanship and the wild, wonderful horses of the American West.

Happy trails!

A view from between Indy's ears on a pleasant spring trail ride at CFA.

For more information on mustangs, visit Wild Horses of the Calico Mountains or The Bureau of Land Management's Wild Horse & Burro Adoption. I could not have written this blog without the above two sites. The first two photos are from Wild Horses of Calico Mt. and a government website, respectively. Also, please note: This blog post is not intended in any way to serve as horse training advice. Leave that to the professionals, guys!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Whether we know it, care to accept, or embrace it, we all have a passion, if not more than one. It is a part of who we are. It makes us unique from everyone else.

At moments in my life, I have been gifted with amazing experiences and opportunities. During my junior year of college, the choir I was a member of traveled to Europe for a 10-day tour with 6 concerts while overseas. Our last concert was at the Canterbury Cathedral, an hour and half southeast of London. For those who aren’t familiar with this cathedral, it is a landmark of Christian history and is a large contributor to the theme of the Canterbury Tales. (Enough of history – lets move one!)

When we entered the cathedral, we were guided through the church on a tour to view burial sites and rooms of worship and prayer. When we completed the tour, it was our turn to sing, to share with the people in the church our last concert. Due to time constraints, we only sang one song, but it was our favorite. Its melodies and harmonies of eight different parts rang through the never-ending vaulted ceilings and the cold and crisp air that hung above. People stopped where they were to listen with all they had. When the song was over, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Singing is a passion of mine. It is a passion that everyone can enjoy if they choose to, whether singing or listening to the arrangement. Singing placed me in a community where I was introduced to wonderful and loving people, those of who will be my friends until the end of time. I am alive when I sing!

What has been placed within you, which makes you alive every time you think about it? What makes you smile from ear to ear? If you aren’t sure how to answer these questions, take a look around. I am sure it isn’t too far away.

With all of your heart, embrace your passion! It has been given to you as a gift to enjoy and to share with those you come into contact with. Let your passion come alive!