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By Katherine Relf-Cañas
If you want a hands-on vacation that will get those hands right into the soil, would-be farmers in your family might enjoy volunteering for WWOOF. Begun in 1971, its initials say it all: World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The exchange allows participants a place to stay and a chance to do real farm work. It also offers a budget-friendly way to explore the land and expose your family to the concepts of sustainable farming. In the process your children will learn where food comes from before it gets to the grocery store.
WWOOFers can choose listings that appeal to them from a members directory, and contact the hosts directly to organize their stay. Look for farms that welcome family participation. Once you get to one of these farms you will live as part of their family.
Wherever you are, there is probably some opportunity to do a WWOOF exchange nearby. WWOOF cautions volunteer families to be sure they inform their hosts on specifics about their children, including ages and capabilities. Also, those with younger kids need to consider whether their child will be old enough to fully understand and follow safety restrictions so they are not in harm's way.
If your family has a budding musician, actor or storyteller, they can hone their craft at Cazadero Performing Arts Camp. Cazadero's mission is to encourage the artistic spirit in learners of all ages to blossom and grow. Early in the week, the instructors put on a concert. Another performance happens each morning when different instrumentalists get their chance to rise early and wander through the lodging area playing the wake-up call.
"At Cazadero, we don't offer private instruction but instead believe in "threshold ensembles." Beginners are thrown into the tub with other musicians. If you know five chords on the guitar, you're in rock band, learning to play with the drummer, the bass, the trumpets and blend," says Joelle Yzquierdo, Family Camp coordinator.
Located in an old-growth redwood forest in California's Russian River Valley, it's a place where you will feel supported and accepted as your talents take shape. "Cazadero is uniformly supportive since everyone is stretching out. It's like a mutual love fest," says Laurie Leiber, a California resident and longtime regular at the camp.
This one-week summer experience year after year has had a dramatic effect on the entire family, enriching their lives with music and developing them as performers all year long. Gathering with others to make music has become a part of the way they enjoy life. Husband Phil took up the clarinet and eventually formed a Klezmer band in their hometown of North Oakland. Jacob played cow bell in a band. Mom now has a singing group, all of whose members are Cazadero alumnae. The whole family has friends from camp.
"Cazadero is truly intergenerational." says Leiber. Kids from age 6 to adult can take as many as four classes a day in categories such as African dance, drama, yoga, concert sound production, rock, writing and storytelling. While these classes are in session, younger siblings can have fun in childcare, which accommodates campers from 1 1/2 to 5 years old. Two sessions are held in August each year.
If they want, participants can also take a lighter load. "I take a packed schedule," says Leiber. "It's hard to resist." Other recreation is also available. During what is called "freetime," campers organize themselves into self-selected groups to rehearse for the daily open mic shows. This is the time when rockers find rockers, and string quartets form, or singers find pianists to accompany them. There's also an un-talent show, which welcomes acts that are unusual and unprecedented, but not unrehearsed. Some of the characters return year after year. As Laurie puts it, "Before you even get to camp, you're thinking about the un-talent show."
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