Monthly Archives: May 2015

Camp Jenny: How One Weekend Can Change Your Life

I spent this past Memorial Day Weekend eating mediocre food (no offense to those that prepared it…it was what it was), sleeping on essentially a piece of wood and feeling like I was never going to feel or smell clean again but it was the best Memorial Day Weekend ever!

I had the honor and pleasure to participate as a volunteer at Camp Jenny, a 4 day camp experience for students from F.L. Stanton Elementary School in Atlanta on the URJ-Camp Coleman property in Cleveland, GA. I made mention of it in a blog back in February after my daughter had won a film festival award for her documentary, Earning Jenny, about this absolutely amazing program. And as I said then, it was definitely a #ProudMama moment. (If you would like to view the video, please send a request by clicking here. I promise it is worth 7 minutes of your time.)Earning Jenny on Vimeo

So call me crazy but…I thought I really knew and understood everything about Camp Jenny after hearing all of my daughter’s stories upon returning home every Memorial Day Weekend for 6 years…all 4 years in high school as well as after her freshman and sophomore years in college. Seeing her go through the process of creating the documentary and watching the end result?…Honestly, I didn’t think it was possible to get any more emotional about it.

Clearly I was wrong because when the buses pulled up to over 270 screaming teenage counselors and adult staff (yes, that’s 120 more counselors and staff than campers) and those kindergarten through fifth grade kids are just in awe of what is unfolding in front of them, I became an absolute puddle of tears.

Camp Jenny Buses Arrive
My daughter did warn me. And so did all of the Camp Jenny leadership, especially during the 24 hours prior to the campers arrival. They also warned us that many of these kids have never left Metro Atlanta, some haven’t even left their neighborhood and most are more afraid of the woods than they are of the dangerous streets they cross every day to get to school.11329765_911385358903184_5085171261819523805_n

So it was our responsibility to make sure they all felt safe…

…from the time they got off the bus on Friday when many would be crying because they were homesick or simply afraid of the unknown

…until the time they got back on the bus on Monday when they would be crying because they didn’t want to leave after having so much fun or sadly, for some, because of the reality of what is waiting for them back home sets in.

David Haller, the first director of the program when it was established in 1988 and still a very active part of the leadership team, took us through it’s history on the eve before they arived and outlined the four simple yet powerful goals…Camp Jenny GoalsThere is no doubt we set the groundwork to meet #1 and #2 in the years to come. They already have 28 years of documented proof that they have, in fact, not only improved but drastically changed the direction of so many children’s lives, children that insist the days they spent at Camp Jenny between the ages of 5 and 10 gave them the confidence and strength to overcome the odds of growing up surrounded by things like drugs and drive by shootings, get through high school, go on to college and lead very successful lives.10931171_911388795569507_3987769863272336546_n

Think about it…even if one child earns the opportunity to go every year they will have spent a total of 24 days at Camp Jenny over the course of their elementary school years. So what if that one child goes on to get a full scholarship at Stanford and do stem cell research? Yeah, that happened…all because of Camp Jenny. Impactful for sure!10958795_911952175513169_4774674190361311500_n

I grew up never having to think for a minute whether there would be food on the table, clothes on my back and a roof over my head so there is no way I can ever really know what it is like for these kids on a day to day basis.  But I can certainly imagine it and that, of course, breaks my heart.

At the same time, my heart was overflowing with joy as I watched the kids learn something cool about science…

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Climb a rock wall for the very first time and get to the top…11068384_911388475569539_2827727956525761895_n

Participate in an activity about supporting one another…
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Run around on a big field of soft grass…barefoot…in bathing suits…getting soaked by buckets of water…11330047_911389688902751_672817623916480351_n (1)

And learn how to make superhero super muffins and fruit burritos…

11329905_911390268902693_6694378623161610065_nI spent two full days as a cooking specialist and while that certainly isn’t a stretch for me in terms of the skill set required, I really had no idea how exhausting it would be to have one group after another come through the tiny kitchen. I was so fortunate to have 3 younger staff members there to truly own it. They were absolutely amazing with those kids. If you are reading this Lexi, Daniel and Roni…thanks from the bottom of my heart. Even though it took for us to run out of butter for you to believe that the muffins would, in fact, taste better with mashed bananas as a replacement (and essentially cut all of the fat out of them), I think you are all SUPER! That said, remember…#mamaknowsbest 🙂20150523_110627

I would be remiss, though, if I didn’t give a huge shoutout to all counselors who totally brought serious energy and enthusiasm to the activity. I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to get excited about baking powder …but they did…and that filtered down to the campers for sure!

You know what else filters down to the campers? The theme chosen for the weekend. This year it was Be Your Own Superhero. They made it very clear to the campers that you don’t need a cape or a mask to be your own superhero but they certainly looked adorable “flying” around camp in ones made by their counselors and they got to decorate.11377395_911955328846187_2465898647680067151_n

And channeling their superhero powers…WOOSH!

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The counselors, of course, were all about the costumes…

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These are high school kids giving up not only their Memorial Day Weekend but also for a few seniors attending their graduation ceremonies. The co-directors, chosen by their peers via an election at an annual convention for the National Federation of Temple Youth – SAR and STR Regions, work tirelessly all year to make sure every T is crossed and every I is dotted.

Remember the goals above? #3, build a generation of young leaders, is absolutely in motion.

#4 from that list of goals? Improve our own lives? Well, I was on my way to dinner last night when I saw that my daughter had tagged me in a Facebook post. She rarely does that so I was obviously very curious and then cried as I read these words…

One final shoutout to my mom, Beth Blacker for going in my place. It meant so much to me that you were finally able to experience what it’s all about!

If that doesn’t improve a mother’s life I don’t know what will.

Actually, her being there with me next year would be a fantastic improvement. Unfortunately she couldn’t make it this year. She’s in the midst of working on her senior film thesis so college took precedence. Her spirit, though, was definitely felt and I’m thinking my name tag should have just said “Jamie’s Mom”…I can live with that!

Possibly the only thing that could improve upon my Camp Jenny experience and, in turn, my life would be to have my son and husband join me and my daughter and make it the ultimate family affair. I was so jealous of the other parents there with their kids. At various points in time I was definitely “adopted” by them especially these three families and I really can’t thank them enough.20150525_081556 (1)

The mothers all met at Camp Coleman and have remained friends through the years. Their children essentially grew up together despite living in three different cities and all very much embody what Camp Jenny is all about.

Suffice it to say Camp Jenny not only improved, but changed my life. My brain absolutely has not shut off since I left two days ago with thoughts of how amazing it would be if there could be hundreds of programs exactly like it around the country. I know some do exist but I’m hard pressed to believe they have quite the intensity I felt.

To all of those incredible children, I wish you a wonderful summer and best of luck earning the opportunity to be back for #CJ2016. For those that have “aged out”, as announced during the closing circle on Monday, you can return to Camp Jenny in high school as a counselor. So do what I’ve always said to my kids…make good choices and make your parents proud!

That’s it for now…#BlackerOut!

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Call Me Crazy, Great Causes, Life Lessons

Technology IS The Devil…And The Reason For Vodka!

In the past few weeks I have gone through a technology meltdown. And that means I drank a lot of vodka. Hey, don’t judge…we all have our vices. Mine just happens to be something with a splash of cranberry juice.

So what drove me to drink? My computer, cell phone and two tablets all acting wonky, not to mention the Bluetooth in my car for whatever reason pairing my cell phone for calls but not media. I know, that’s not an end of the world problem but I use my time in the car to catch up on podcasts about business related stuff. (My favorite you ask? Biz Women Rock)

Fortunately, I have a great computer guy who got my laptop back to “I can tolerate this” status. I don’t expect miracles, but I do think it still deserves a shoutout for Carlos and Ivonne at Fix My Computer On Site here in Tampa. Contact them…seriously, they will not disappoint. They didn’t pay me for this endorsement, I just think they are really awesome.thumbs up

My phone carrier and car dealership…well, that’s a different story. No reason to even mention any names…the last time I did that I got banned from an entire cruise line.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not afraid to name names, I just feel like what’s the point? When it comes to technology, all manufacturers and service providers, in my opinion, are the devil and we have all sold our souls to them by constantly buying their products and signing up for their services.

technology devil

So call me crazy but…I hate technology. That said, I know it is a necessary evil in our lives and we’ll never be able to turn back the hands of Steve Jobs time on this earth… may he RIP. But when things seem to be temporarily (fingers crossed) hurting more than helping, I have to stop and rant take a breath.

Easier said than done especially after spending 3 hours at the dealership and 5 hours at the phone carrier tech support center over the span of 2 days plus about 2 hours back and forth on the phone with customer service calls. Oh and everyone was pointing the finger at each other so, yeah, that is always fun.

Truth be told, I have no one to blame but myself. I am way too reliant on all of this stuff and I think I want out

…as I sit here typing this blog

…on my laptop

…that I’ll then upload to my website

…using Wifi

…and disseminate across social media channels

…undoubtedly via mobile devices

Meh…

Honestly, what’s a girl mature woman person to do? I mean is it really too much to ask that if I spend hundreds of dollars on a device or thousands of dollars on a car that they work properly?

#rhetoricalquestion

I haven’t resolved my tablets issues…more than likely I will have to bite the bullet and get another one. I can understand, sort of, replacing the one that’s 3 1/2 years old. It’s slow, painfully slow, and although I am relatively certain that the powers that be in Silicon Valley and across Asia are laughing their corporate tushies off all the way to the bank, I guess this is the price I will have to pay for going down the technology rabbit hole again and again and again.

The other tablet? That was kind of a freebie when I switched carriers last year so I’m trying not to stress about that one. But still…I need to “wipe the cache partition” whatever that means. I tried following the instructions for doing it via a Google search but pressing MENU+VOLUME UP+POWER all at the same time requires, as one of my friends commented, #octopushands.#octopushands

Meanwhile, the phone – Bluetooth pairing issue? Well, that all started because I thought my former phone screen had cracked and I replaced it using my insurance policy.

Note to self: If your phone has a protective hard plastic clear cover it will, believe it or not, actually protect your phone screen. Good idea to check that’s what cracked before paying the $100 deductible for a new phone.

#IAmAnIdiot

Anyway, the new phone was an upgrade so bigger, faster, better, right?

Sure, but apparently only if you get a new car to go with it…or maybe the user just doesn’t know what she is doing???

I stopped at the dealership and asked if they could just pair it back up. There must be a step I was forgetting.

The old phone Bluetooth pairing worked just fine but the car dealership guy said it had to be a new phone issue and sent me to the phone carrier tech support center. They supposedly tried everything and deduced that the car’s Bluetooth software needed an update and sent me back to the dealership.

Ugh…

The car dealership looked at me like I had 8 heads when I walked in again and told them what the phone carrier said.  Hey, I already need 8 arms so maybe 8 heads will be the answer to my technology woes?

They took the keys and about 2 hours later had me go out to the area where 100 other cars were being serviced, lowered my car down on the lift thingy, told me to get in the driver’s seat and the car tech got into the passenger seat. He wanted to show me that his phone paired fine.

Ummmm…so how exactly does that help me?

After sitting out in a very hot garage for about 45 minutes with the guy pushing a bunch of buttons,  nothing was coming out of my phone through the car speakers. My makeup was melting off my face and I was sweating through my carefully chosen dress for an event that I was attending that afternoon. I was done, reminding myself that my car lease is up this summer and this problem will hopefully resolve itself when I do, in fact, spend thousands getting a new car. Crazy Lady v Goliaths

I left the dealership and about a mile later there was sound coming from my car speakers via my phone Bluetooth connection.

Don’t know how, don’t really care. I just went home and poured myself a vodka on the rocks to celebrate a small success for the day and maybe earning 1 or 2 points on the scoreboard of #firstworldproblems.

That’s it for now…#BlackerOut !

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Filed under Call Me Crazy, Random Stuff, Technology and Social Media

All In The Family: How To Work For Your Spouse And Live To Tell The Tale

It’s official!

I am now the
Director of Strategic Relationships and Community Outreach
for OJ Mortgage Inc. 

Slide background

Yeah, that’s my husband Stan’s company and I did get to give myself a long and fancy-ish title but I suppose it’s one of the perks of being married to the boss 🙂

So call me crazy but…I did actually volunteer for the job. I mean, I get paid but I willingly went into it understanding I would be working for my spouse. We’ve sort of been dancing around this idea for years, the planets started to really align a few months ago and after much  yelling debate  discussion  casual conversation we decided to give it a real whirl.

This should be a no-brainer for me…I am a self-proclaimed, crazy in a good way networking maven (or at least I think so) and go out and about into the community as well as represent myself online every day with virtual ease. I also have been the unofficial #1 cheerleader for OJ for a long time.Stan, Stan, He's our man...%0AIf he can'tHow long?

Well, first let’s go back in time to the morning that I signed my divorce decree for my first marriage in August 2001. My attorney advised me to find out about refinancing ASAP. Rates were significantly lower than the one I was committing to by taking over the mortgage on my soon to be former marital home. He asked if I knew anyone in the mortgage industry. I said I thought the guy  I was going out with that night was a broker…aka Stan.

Eight hours later I arrived at the restaurant for our first date, albeit a little early. It took a year, a lot of stress, tears and, of course, money to get that divorce and I figured it was time to celebrate so I ordered a bottle of champagne to be delivered to the table. I think that freaked Stan out a little. He wasn’t used to such a controlling take charge thoughtful kind of woman. I also don’t think he was expecting a first date to include a conversation about refinancing but I’m guessing he was able to write off the meal as a business expense? You’re welcome Stan!

Anyway, he told me we couldn’t really talk about my specific circumstances until after the 3rd date.
Seemed a little presumptuous but I giggled at what I sensed was his positive outlook.
Or maybe because I was already halfway into a bottle of champagne?

Did I mention I was celebrating?


Ok, it wasn’t quite like that but you get my point.

We obviously made it to date #3 and I reminded Stan that we needed to discuss my soon to balloon rates. But first I was understandably curious…why 3 dates?

In his mind, #3 would be the make it or break it date…in other words, would we go forward or fizzle like a bottle of champagne after the cork was popped? I get it…no reason to waste a lot of time if you don’t think you are all that into someone.  So  he was going to refinance my home and that meant I was revealing all of my finances to him.  And therefore, he said he would, in turn, reveal his finances to me.

Ummmmmmmm….

Never would it have ever crossed my mind he needed to do that.

Yep, welcome to #lifewithStan . Go ahead, search the hashtag, I use it often.

Suffice it to say, he won my trust as a mortgage broker and as an all around honest person.
And, yes, he did provide all of his financial documents prior to closing as promised.

Side note: My credit score was slightly higher…score one for me!

So I went through the refinancing process and subsequently to cheer for Stan (and all of Team OJ) for the first time in 2001. And let’s just say he totally had me at “no cost loan”.

We aren’t exactly Renee Zellinger and Tom Cruise but you get the famous movie line reference right???

He also was able to roll some of the home’s equity into the refinancing so I could buy a car (I got the awful mini van with a serious A/C issue in the divorce) and instead of making a $300-400 car payment, my mortgage only went up about $12 per month and I had a brand new Toyota Camry that I essentially paid for with cash out of my home.

Yeah, home prices were climbing significantly back then so I never felt a substantial loss of any kind, but still, I was hooked…on the concept of refinancing, that is. Oh and Stan too. He definitely “dazzled” me with his mortgage magic and thinking outside of the loan process box. Ultimately, it was his sense of humor that really won me over. Hey, how many mortgage guys do you know that are willing to stand on their head in the middle of a home show? 150929_10151243219765017_1445018721_n

Now, almost 14 years later, we are taking our relationship to a whole other level…working together. And we are both really going to need to maintain a sense of humor if we are going to survive. We already know we pretty much disagree on everything when it comes to marketing and have completely different organizational styles, but we usually find the compromises that make us both happy.

I do have to keep in mind that he is the boss when it comes to matters regarding OJ. So here’s my proclamation…

I, Beth Blacker, do solemnly swear to be a great employee and respect Stan Blacker as the President of OJ Mortgage between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm, Monday-Friday.
Should we disagree on any matters during those hours I will defer to his years of experience in the mortgage industry and fulfill my employment duties as directed.

After hours…all bets are off.

That’s all for now…#BlackerOut !

 

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Filed under Business Development, Call Me Crazy, Marriage, Networking

The History of Mother’s Day: A Day For Sentiment…And Smiles

As happens every year, April showers have made way for May flowers…or at least that is what I experienced this past weekend while in New York City where tulips, daffodils, lilacs and irises were everywhere.

Springtime in NYC

Signs of spring in NYC with tulips lining Park Avenue (left) and daffodils making their appearance at the Saturday Union Square Farmer’s Market (right)

 

And the trees…OMG…blooming in all their glory!

In front of The Plaza Hotel across from Central Park at 59th Street (left) and outside the brand new Whitney Museum in the Meatpacking District

In front of The Plaza Hotel across from Central Park at 59th Street (left) and outside the brand new Whitney Museum in the Meatpacking District

In Florida, however, not so many signs of spring.

So call me crazy but…I always assumed that the proliferation of flowers elsewhere may, in fact, have been the reason why America’s version of Mother’s Day was chosen for this particular month.  With the day we honor all maternal figures rapidly approaching this Sunday, I took it upon myself to check the origins via my good friend Google and suddenly found myself reading a very different history than I had imagined.

It appears our modern day version started as a result of Ann Reeves Jarvis. A social activist from a young age, she was the founder of the Mothers Day Work Clubs around the time of the Civil War. The goal of these local clubs was to help promote better health and sanitation, but also to demonstrate the value of mothers to our society beyond the traditional domestic stereotypes. Eventually, Ann began to dream of a way for our country to better honor all mothers as their role was rapidly changing.

Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis (1832-1905)

Ann passed away in 1905 and her daughter, Anna Jarvis, an extremely community driven woman in her own right, decided to fulfill her mother’s dream. With the help of many friends and activists she started a letter writing campaign  to establish a holiday to recognize the importance of motherhood. The first official Mothers’ Day ceremony took place in her hometown of Grafton, West Virginia on May 9, 1908, three years to the day after Ann’s death. At the service, Anna presented all of the mothers with a white carnation, her mother’s favorite flower, still to this day considered the symbolic flower of the holiday.

It took a few more years and a lot of letters until, one by one, every state began celebrating some form of a Mother’s Day. And on May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed Proclamation 1268, creating a national holiday on the second Sunday in May.

“The history of the day has its roots in honoring the broader networks, social ties, and political concerns of women. The day is about women’s commitment to the past, present, and future at both the personal and political levels. It honors women who have acted not only on behalf of their own children but also on behalf of an entire future generation.” (Source: Legacyproject.org)

By the 1920s, however, Anna had watched how commercialized it became and actually spent the rest of her life denouncing the holiday.

A Day Of Sentiment

Despite her profound disgust for what she started, she was labeled the Mother of Mother’s Day and until she died in 1948 her room at the nursing home where she lived was always filled on Mother’s Day with cards and flowers from around the country.

Anna Jarvis (Source: Wikipedia)

FYI…don’t ever underestimate the importance of punctuation. The original holiday was Mothers’ Day with the apostrophe being after the “s”. Why? So the emphasis would be on all women’s social and political activities.  Officials, of course, messed it up by changing the placement between the “r” and “s” and thereby forever making it a holiday about one’s own particular mother.

For me,  Mother’s Day has been rather bittersweet in recent years. Many of you know that my own mother passed away on May 10, 2005, two days after we attempted to celebrate the holiday in her hospital room in Little Rock where she had recently received her second stem cell transplant to help curb her incurable Multiple Myeloma. She actually had been cleared to go home the week before but took an unexpected turn for the worse.

Sadly, Mother’s Day began to leave me with a very heavy heart. I don’t know if I would feel the same way had she died at any other time of the year, but like Anna Jarvis 100+ years ago, I needed to do something to make sure my mother would always be remembered.

A simple email (my version, I suppose, of a letter writing campaign) on May 10, 2006 to family and friends asking them to take a moment during the day to have a cookie and smile (she was an incredible baker and made amazing chocolate chip cookies) led to an annual “event” of sorts selling her cookies to raise money for various cancer charities. If you don’t know the story, feel free to read a blog I wrote three years ago, in her memory as well as in honor of my first Mother’s Day after starting my baked goods company, tcP! Sweets.

While I no longer have that business, I still have daily reminders of my mother and the incredible role model she was for me beyond the four walls of our home growing up and through my adult years before her death.  After all, she came from incredible stock…my grandmother and great-grandmother were also very strong and fiercely independent women.

My mother (center) at her Sweet Sixteen with my grandmother (left) and great-grandmother (right). I may be a little biased but she was so beautiful.

My great-grandmother, Helen, actually ran away from her home in Czechoslovakia when she was 12 and took a ship to the U.S. by herself. Her family managed to get her back to their village until she was 14, only for her to run away again.

Did I mention she was fierce??  

It seems her parents figured out she was determined and decided to let her settle in Detroit where she ultimately met my great-grandfather and the rest, as they say, is history. Clearly, had she never left Eastern Europe, the chances of her surviving the Holocaust years later would have been slim…talk about rewriting history, right?

I wish I could rewrite what happened to my mother. Instead, I will continue to keep her memory alive the best way I know how especially by having a cookie on Mother’s Day, possibly for breakfast, since that’s what happened last year when my son and I went to visit my daughter at college and neither one of them, of course, made it out of bed before noon.

Photo

Mother’s Day morning 2014…Yep, that would be my son sleeping in the background.

This year, I’ll be in Tampa. No idea what the plan is yet (giant hint there for my husband and son to figure something out), but regardless of whether I have the cookie for breakfast, lunch, dinner or anytime in between, I guarantee it will be with a big smile on my face.

You know what else would bring a smile to my face? If you would consider voting for my dog, Gavin. He (whether he realizes it or not) is competing for the Dogs With Purpose Calendar Contest.  Since I am not doing any baking this year to raise money for any cancer charities that I’ve helped in the past, I figured I would put Gavin’s sweet face to work for me…1507781_10152567157693226_3598771262779493801_n

Come on, a vote is only a buck…cheaper than a cookie or cup of coffee!!!! And you will be helping Women With Purpose, an amazing non-profit helping cancer patients with their non-medical financial needs.

That’s it for now…wishing all the moms out there a wonderful day filled with love and life on Sunday…#BlackerOut !

 

56 Comments

Filed under Call Me Crazy, Holidays, Motherhood