Wednesday, August 17, 2011

On Summer Camp

Last week we picked up our kids from four weeks of uninterrupted, overnight summer camp. Two questions I hear repeatedly regarding our personal decision to expose our children to this extraordinary experience:

"How can you possibly send your kids away for so long? Won't you miss them?"

So let's first clear the air on the latter question. Of course I miss them. Madly.

Now onto the former which requires a bit more commentary.

Many parents feel melancholy about their children growing older and reaching significant life milestones. Starting kindergarten, losing a first tooth, learning the truth about Santa, driving a car, leaving for college. Everyone's experience in the role of parent is different, and as such, we all react in our own way to the "letting go" of our babies. Sometimes I wonder why I view these achievements so differently from most. I am rarely despondent due to the advancement of my kids. I take pleasure in their growth, am fascinated in their development and look forward to what's next. Even if - no, especially if - it means they grow in independence and rely on me less. That means that I'm excelling in my job as parent, and that is more rewarding than having someone dependent upon me.

Because of their experiences at camp, they know how to compensate when Mom and Dad are not there to immediately pick them up and inject them with a dosage of confidence. They've learned to dig within themselves to handle less than desirable situations when away from home, such as contracting an illness, dealing with irksome peers, or patiently following instructions that differ from those we employ in our household.  At camp, they are exposed to different cultures, religions, personalities and attitudes toward life, and the ever important life lesson of tolerance is reinforced. They also compete fairly with their peers, learning integrity and sportsmanship while forming life-long friendships.

Some may argue that teaching these characteristics is our responsibility as parents. And I agree. But as a parent, I'll take all the assistance I can get, and I welcome the supplemental support from their camp families. Because that's exactly what they are - their extended families away from home.

There has never been any doubt about how my kids feel about their camp adventures. This is one of my all-time favorite pictures - when a nine-year-old Kahley opened a boring "clothes" present at Christmastime, only to find a "welcome to summer camp" packet inside, accompanied by a piercing scream...
...immediately followed by a tearful, emotional thank you.

Upon returning home every summer, these two share a different language. Camp-speak, is what I call it. They don't attend the same camps, so they have a lot of catching up to do. They tell stories and listen patiently to one another. They sing their camp songs to each other, without judgment or criticism, but with a common understanding and appreciation of what these songs represented during their "Tan and White" or "Green and White" competitions. They share personal achievements, whether it's mastering a new sport, accomplishing a personal goal or leading a particular activity for the younger campers. I listen from the other room, smiling and quietly celebrating in their renewed respect and deepened admiration for each other.

If either of them ever returned from camp with less than wild enthusiasm, we would not push it. But they both want to go back, year after year. They applaud the older campers who celebrate their 5, 10 and 15 year anniversaries and look forward to celebrating their own camp milestones someday, not to mention the year they turn from camper into counselor and pay their tremendous experiences forward.

We talk about college a lot in our house. My kids do not fear moving away from home. Even at their young ages, they look forward to it with excitement, confidence and their own personal desire and expectation to succeed.

But for now, we celebrate a new wakeboarder in the family...
...and sleep off the camp-sick (not to be confused with homesick) blues.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Spectacular Sequel

Did I mention there were three bottles of wine on that beach? Yes. Three.

Admittedly we were a bit slow out the gates the next morning but my inner Rally Monkey prevailed, applied some peer pressure on Mr. Musky and we motivated ourselves back to Bayfield. Again with the flowers, their brilliant colors stealing the show from the charming little shops they adorned.

We rode the Ferry over to Madeline Island, the largest of the Apostle Islands surrounding the northeast edge of the Bayfield Peninsula. After righting our bellies from the previous day's debaucheries with some delicious fish tacos, we explored the island and all that its 246 permanent residents have to offer.

A menacing thunderstorm threatened, so we ducked to safety at the local Historical Museum and learned a bit more about the island. And checked out the precursors to modern plumbing and island dwellings. I'm grateful I live in 2011. On the mainland.

Our Bed and Breakfast housemates explored this locale the day before and encouraged us to sip a beverage at Tom's Burned Down Cafe. Their advice? Go in, order a drink and sit. Then observe. Look everywhere and take it all in.
Their suggestion proved sage, as we were equally entertained by the open-air, junkyard saloon and its quirky patrons - one of whom sauntered in with a mangy cur and a ciggy burning, bought herself and the bartender a shot of Rumplemintz, then ambled out. Curious.
Tom's not-so-subtle life musings had me rubbernecking. And either cracked me up or left me pensive.
As we exited via the back "door" we were amused to find that a couple of vehicles served as the base for the floorboards we were just sitting on.
Is this place up to code?
We enjoyed the different perspective the island's views offered, and apparently so do the ducks. Mama needed to rest a leg, and I needed to rest two!
After a much needed nap at our temporary home base followed by an enjoyable afternoon reading and contemplating the sunshine dance diamonds over the lake, we headed out to one of the finer dining establishments the area has to offer. Midway through an outstanding dinner, I excused myself for a trip to the ladies' room. And promptly squealed and almost micturated simultaneously. I've been in plenty of washrooms with attendants before, but these snarky dames truly threw me for a loop.
Just another example of bizarre Northern Wisconsin humor. We've seen our share over the past six years, but that summarization will have to wait for another post.

Willing this whimsical vacation to persist, we ventured into a local fish house to purchase a piece of fresh lake trout to grill upon our return to our cabin. Paired with some locally fresh new potatoes and asparagus, we reviled in yet another fantastic dinner, acknowledging our blessings in life - how awesome is it to "return home" to our sanctuary on Echo Lake?  
Still feeling melancholy about the conclusion of the weekend, we kayaked in the morning before hitting the road to home home. Our friendly neighborhood loon posed for some pictures before we re-entered the atmosphere of reality.
I'd rather go back to fantasy land. Where the weekend's answer to the meaning of life, or at least this one question, can be summed up with...
...pure, unadulterated satisfaction.


Sunday, August 7, 2011


Last January, as the snow swirled outside and I stressed about a pending business trip to Dallas in tears and a mental state where I would have rather pulled my eyelashes out one-by-one, Mr. Musky made a plan. He shared the scheme with me, but lost me entirely when he said, "In July..."  He might have well said, "In the next century..."

Fast forward to last weekend. With the kids at camp riding thousand pound animals, scaling 50 foot climbing walls, luxuriating in candy before bed and loving independence from all familial influences, we embarked on one of the best weekends of our marriage yet. The excursion involved a hearty breakfast, a rest stop in Ashland, WI to enjoy a bottle of wine we'd stashed all summer, followed by arrival to the beautiful shores of Lake Superior in Cornucopia, WI. When it's hot everywhere in the great Midwest head further north, Baby.

Along Highway 13 from Ashland to Bayfield, my inner kid emerged. Perched on the edge of my seat with the seatbelt protesting my proximity to the dash, I ogled everything. I rubbernecked madly, attempting 360-degree swivels like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. An overwhelming feeling of better-than-Christmas-morning erupted. With every glimpse of that magnificent body of freshwater I uttered, "Spectacular." No less than six times in thirty minutes.

Mr. Musky's reply:  "And they're real."

TV Show? Anyone?

It was the only word I could muster, and it still fell short of describing the sheer sublimity of what I saw. And how I felt. Imagine, you 30 and 40 something parents...your children are off on their own, completely safe, having the time of their lives. They barely miss you. You won't report to work for five glorious days. You share a scenic drive with the love of your life, traveling to a place you've never before visited, all dialed in to explore together and soak up the moment. I think that's what makes me most giddy about a trip like this - not knowing what's going to happen next, where we'll be in 30 minutes or in 2 hours, and just being in the moment.

Well-laid plans are meant to be dashed, so we ditched the wine stop and instead pit-stopped at the Bayfield Visitor Center. I detest local tourist attractions. I'm not a big shopper. I'm not into the three hour commercial boat ride listening to a pimply-faced college kid read a script about boring historical facts of the surrounding area. I prefer to buddy up with the locals to find the best-kept secrets. Upon learning that we hail from Sugar Camp, the kind man at the Visitor Center perked up and announced, "I'm from Rhinelander. Wanna know the best spot ever to see the sunset?"


We drove another 25 miles around the Bayfield Peninsula, past Cornucopia to a secluded beach called Roman Point. He warned us that we may have to walk through a small inlet to get to the beach, but the water wouldn't pass our knees. While cursing, hoisting our belongings above our heads and sucking in sharp breaths as the water nearly reached our chests - the very 'refreshing' 62 degree water I might add - we finally arrived.

Homeboy hooked us up. Huge!

Exact number of people to the left sharing our beach for the day...

...and exact number of people to the right.

We decided the bay alone would likely hold all of the water in the entire five lake Sugar Camp Chain. Lake Superior is simply massive (warning - ensuing hydrography lesson).

  • It is the largest freshwater lake in the world based on surface area
  • It has a surface area of 31,820 square miles (approximately the size of South Carolina)
  • It's average depth is 482 feet, with a maximum depth of 1332 feet
  • It contains 2900 cubic miles of water - enough to cover the entire land mass of North and South America with one foot of water
  • The average temperature in the summer is 44 degrees.  We lucked out.

Back to my story. The wine. Oh baby, the succulent nectar of the gods. This would be bottle number three for the afternoon. Bottles one and two experienced very short lives.

Yes, that is me out there.

And Mr. Musky.  Clearly I am braver, as I ventured further out into the Gitche Gumee.

After our divine, secluded Happy Hour we meandered over to Siskiwit Bay Lodge, located on the other side of the bay from Roman Beach. "Lodge" would be the last word I'd use to describe it, as it's more like a log cabin mansion complete with every modern amenity imaginable. Built in 1997, the Bed and Breakfast accommodates eight guests, and the owners Sandy and Bruce Von Riedel were ideal hosts. Although every time Sandy appeared, Mr. Musky muttered "Frau Blucher" under his breath while I stifled my giggles and listened to the whinnying horses in my head.

The flowers were so vibrant and unbelievably fresh with no evidence of dead stems due to extreme heat like we experience in Illinois.  I could not get enough of the flowers the entire weekend. They were natural artworks.

And although we didn't remain at Roman Point Beach for the sunset that night, the Siskiwit Bay Lodge views were absolutely breathtaking (another popular word in the afore-mentioned TV show).

To avoid this being the longest post ever, I will conclude the recap of our trip later this week. There is no doubt that I will return to this sparkling natural gem again in the future.