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Saturday, August 16

This morning was gray and dull.  The lake was incredibly still and glassy and the air was soggy.  But by lunch the sun began to peek out of the clouds and now it is hot and bright with lingering humidity.

Lots of girls are taking a break from the heat down at the waterfront this afternoon.  After 5th hour we’ll do a final clean up and pack up before dinner and then we’ll hold our last campfire around 7pm tonight.

Girls began the slow process of packing this morning.  Activities still run the same as usual except we cancel our first hour to get a jump on things.  Instead of a breakfast in the dining hall, we hold a Breakfast on the Boardwalk.  This is a buffet breakfast that is held in the front of the dining hall in front of the lake.

Girls enjoyed scrambled eggs, homemade cake donuts, fresh fruit, hash browns, and orange juice and then signed their big wooden paddles that will be hung in their cabin to mark their presence in camp.

Tomorrow morning will begin with an early wake up bell and a quick continental breakfast before departing.  Most girls will then load the bus to go to Minneapolis for their Hopkins drop-off or to arrive at the airport before flying home.

We are sad to say goodbye to all our campers and staff but ever so grateful for a fun, happy, and healthy summer.  We want to extend a hearty thank you to our parents out there who have the guts to send their daughters to camp.  You are a rare breed this day in age and we are certain, without a doubt, that the benefits your daughter reaps from this time away from home will express themselves – if not today then sometime down the road when it matters the most.

We also want to say a special thank you to our staff members who poured so much energy into making our camper’s lives bright all summer long – it is their love for this place and commitment to excellence that makes this vision a reality.  #wearesolucky #amazingwomentakebirchwoodbystorm #soproudofyouladies #thanksformakingadifference

Thursday August 14 & Friday August 15

A gorgeous Wednesday was followed by a gorgeous Thursday.  These past two days have been quintessentially MINNESOTA summer days – cool and comfortable in the morning, warming to 80’s in the afternoon – making it the perfect temperature for having fun in our pristine lake waters.

In addition to swimming, tubing, waterskiing, and windsurfing, girls are having fun on the water by learning to kayak and canoe.  Wilderness adventure experts, Meghan and Rachel A. have been leading camping trips all summer long.  These last two weeks of our summer are no different.

Yesterday they returned with a group of kayakers who stayed overnight at Star Island that is located inside of Cass Lake.  This large waterway serves many purposes, but mainly it is a pit stop for water that then travels south down the Mississippi River.

Today a dozen girls are traveling with Rachel A. and Meghan to Itasca State Park to visit the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

This day trip includes bike riding paved trails in the woods, sharing a picnic lunch at a park area, taking a dip in Itasca Lake, and visiting the very spot where the Mississippi begins its long journey to the gulf of Mexico.

What is really cool about it is how small the river is to begin with – as it trickles quietly, flowing NORTH on the continental divide before winding south.  After the girls play in the headwaters, they will have the option to climb a tall fire tower that provides an epic view of the surrounding forests.

Exposing campers to the world up North is a unique part of the camp experience.  Girls probably don’t realize what an enormous gift it is to live in nature like this – with dozens of adults encouraging you to have fun, learn new skills, and accomplish goals, big and small.

As parents I think our biggest job is exposing our children to as many sports, hobbies, and ways of life as possible so kids can have a broad range of skills to draw from far into their futures.

Last night, our Lip Sync performances showed how much teamwork and communication girls are exposed to at camp.  It’s one thing to get along day-in and day-out when things are easy and fun all the time.  It is altogether different when it comes to being kind and respectful during more stressful times, like cleaning up the cabin in the morning, solving personal disagreements, and working as a team to come up with an idea everyone will like.

At camp, girls have to hear each other out.  Not everyone can have the best idea all of the time.  It takes some give and take, a degree of flexibility and a willingness to compromise in order to gain strides as a group.

A lot of girls come here and expect to be the center of attention every minute of the day with everyone who surrounds them. (If they are like my 11-year old Riley – he is used to being he center of attention all year-round! so it comes natural).  But instead of having doting parents helicoptering around them (what?) — campers have to share the spotlight.  They need to consider other points-of-view and understand they can’t have it their way, all of the time.

So whether it is choosing what card game to play at Rest Hour, how to get their teeth brushed in time for bed (with only two sinks), which way to set the dinner table as a team of two, and – even – this is a good one – how to replace an empty roll of toilet paper in a considerate manner – kids are exposed to a life outside of their own universe.  They see how great it is to be an important, contributing member of a community.

This is especially apparent as girls come to camp year after year.  When campers return each summer – especially when they make that huge commitment to attend for four weeks – girls become incredibly adept at high-level communication, teamwork, and setting goals as a cabin.

They become a well-oiled machine during clean-up time.  They listen carefully to each other.  They celebrate each other’s triumphs.  They value helping each other and are sincerely thankful when others take time to help them.  They realize that the goal is to have fun and get along rather than “getting their way”.

It takes time for all this to happen, and sometimes it isn’t easy.  It is a huge investment for parents.  A big commitment since summers are short.  But when you see the long-term rewards you know theses girls have gained a kind of “know-how” very few children — let alone adults — possess.

Wednesday, August 13

Well the blogger (it’s me, director Rachel B) went out of town and realized too late that no one else knows how to do it.  So sorry for the lack of entries!!!  Riley and I chaperoned the Kansas City flight on Sunday for our departing one-weekers and the two days prior were filled with prep work so that things stayed on-course while I was gone.

Travel is one of Terry’s biggest tasks all summer.  It’s been a few years since I have had to shuffle girls through the Minneapolis airport and for good reason – I am a wreck!  Our drive south alone was enough to unhinge me – we had to take three bathroom breaks and a follow a massive detour into Minneapolis.  We arrived at the airport with less than enough time to do all that needs to be done before boarding a flight:  checking in, eating lunch, more bathroom breaks, traipsing through the airport in a group etc. etc.  All of these things Terry does perfectly, every two weeks, but with hundreds of girls going in all kinds of directions.  I had a mere THREE to keep track of and I sweat buckets to keep on track the entire time.

Nevertheless, we boarded last minute with cheese pizzas in-hand (which stunk up the whole plane and loaded the attendants up with all kinds of bulky trash – whoops I didn’t think of that) and settled into a quick and uneventful flight to KC.  I learned that the SkyMall catalog is just as interesting to girls under the age of 10 as it is to my husband over the age of 50 – and if they had a credit card available they might buy some of the wacky “necessary” gadgets that he too has convinced me he needs.

I also never considered how intolerant others might be when three girls like to sing camp songs on a plane.  So instead of enjoying my last moments with campers I unfortunately had to ask them to quiet down over and over like a cranky mom.  At camp girls make so much noise it’s a bit lost on me at this point J.

I would definitely say that my chaperoning skills are not polished at this point.  A review of my headaches with Terry revealed the truth:  he is much better, calmer, and more confident with travel details than I am.  So I will thankfully stay behind to greet drive-ins from now on – and leave the details to his worthy sensibilities.

After a two day lay-over in Lawrence to scout out a potential new home for our family, Riley and I returned to camp yesterday evening.  Everything had gone perfectly the past couple days.  Girls loved Sunday afternoon doing the Great Race, having their big Sunday night BBQ (despite the rain that came in) and holding Campfire at our circle.  Two girls received their five-year jackets and everyone who is new this summer was given their blue fleece Camp Birchwood scarf.

On Monday and Tuesday everyone skipped from one activity to the next, happily working on activity awards and gaining their well-earned badges after dinner in the Dining Hall.

Staff are enjoying their hour off each day because it allows them the opportunity to sign up for activities themselves.  Their energy and helpfulness is at an all-time high, despite the fact that it is our last week of camp.  In fact they are cherishing their time with kids even more, and soaking up the moments they have left with one another.

Last night when I arrived, I could hear one cabin group having a dance party in Goss Lodge and another packing up to go to the Daisy field to do an overnight in camping trip.  The lingering smell of campfire smoke wafted through the parking lot from their night of cooking dinner over an open flame at designated spots all over camp.

As the sun went down you could hear girls practicing for Lip Sync (tomorrow night) and counselors engaging them in before-bed discussions like sharing “highs and lows” for the day.  It is clear that girls have grown quite comfortable in their cabin groups.   There is a relaxed sense of life around here – a calm and ‘homey’ feeling – like everyone belongs.  There’s so much room for girls to BE, and LIVE, and express themselves.  A unique kind of silliness has sprouted up too – a familiar way of bantering back and forth – that only happens when kids feel truly safe and accepted.

This time right now is the sweetest part of camp.  This is the spot in the session that is so enjoyable and so impactful – that girls just bask in the joy of it.  It has taken work to get here like enduring wonky introductions, awkward beginnings, lots of compromising, and teambuilding even when you want to quit.  But now all that has passed and what is left is a charming camaraderie that is a joy to witness.  It is friendship – yes – but more.

It’s a way of relating to each other that is rich in truth and authenticity.  Girls are relaxed.  Fearless.  Innocent and unabashed.  Real.  Untouched by negativity or doubt.  Void of competition and pretending to be something you’re not.   Instead, girls are living out loud, and enjoying it – together. It is what makes this work so very worth it — even when it involves chaperoning flights (chaotically and badly) and messing up blogging (apologies again).

Wednesday August 6 & Thursday August 7

For the last two weeks the weather has been perfect and there’s more of the same forecasted ahead.  The mosquitos that were raging in May have dissipated too so spending times in the outdoors is absolutely ideal right now.

Girls have adapted to camp life exceptionally well this session!  They are taking full advantage of the warm lake waters in both the morning and afternoon – as we run two motorboats for waterskiing and tubing all day long while leaving our huge waterfront open all afternoon.  In addition to our huge inflated trampoline and large “mountain” slide in the deep end, girls have been having a ball going down our two-story waterslide that was improved for this summer.

In the evenings girls have kicked it up a notch to compete in old-time favorites like Capture the Flag and Counselor Hunt (an all-camp game of Hide-N-Seek).  Counselors are avid participants in these group events so girls join in enthusiastically as well.  Competition is never fierce, but offers enough incentive to work together as a team in order to win.

Watching girls voice their opinions in the spirit of good fun is really cool!  Often times it is a quieter camper who speaks up with a good idea.  Girls will immediately praise her ingenuity and work together to strategize.

With a little trial and error they find out what works — together.  They don’t realize they are learning high level skills like communicating well with one another, problem-solving, multi-tasking, and goal-setting because it is so much FUN.

But we watch it and marvel at how effervescent and joyful they are – and how much it compares to how kids are during organized sports and when adults run competitive events at school.  It’s kind of shared joy, or collaborative happiness.  They run like crazy too – packing in over a full hour of constant exercise.  By the time bedtime rolls around, girls are ready and willing to tuck right in and quiet down before the counselors have to remind them.

Yup, life is busy-busy at Birchwood!!  Today twelve girls are going to Bemidji State University to go rock climbing at their large indoor facility.  Tomorrow our young one-week campers will canoe the Neck Tie river and next week a two-night kayak trip will depart down the Mississippi River for anyone who wants to participate.  In the meantime, we will keep on enjoying these fun-filled sunny days ahead.

Tuesday, August 5

It’s our kitchen staff’s night off so instead of a having dinner in the dining hall like usual, each cabin group travels to their own cookout spot to roast turkey dogs over an open flame.  Girls also enjoy fresh fruit and carrot sticks, with classic “s’mores” for dessert.

After dinner, campers have been swimming, playing Ga-Ga ball, going on the swing, and playing all kinds of games in and out of the cabin.  You learn a lot about someone when you simply play together – no matter how young or old you are.  So tonight’s schedule is actually a great beginning for girls.  They gain familiarity with one another while having a ton of fun.  By the time everyone goes to sleep tonight, girls will all know a little more about one another.  Before we know it, girls will feel so comfortable in their cabins they will begin describing camp as their “home away from home”.

A big reason girls feel so at ease here at Birchwood has to do with our staff members.  All our college-age counselors are solid, caring role models who show girls how to be kind and supportive of one another.  They also remain present and engaged with their cabin groups, making sure that the dynamics are as positive as they can be at all times.  They also create an atmosphere at their activities that is welcoming and inviting – as they help introduce everyone to one another and begin conversations that include everybody no matter how young or how old.

By the end of tomorrow, girls will be amazed that it has only been a couple days since they arrived.  We pack a ton of FUN into each hour around here!  Stay tuned for updates…

Monday, August 4

Girls arrived safe and sound at around 4pm this afternoon.  They got a huge welcome by all ours staff members as they stepped off the bus!

By now they have already attended their medical check-in and seen Orientation Skits by our staff members.  Tonight they will unpack and come up with cabin guidelines that foster a happy life together.  Tomorrow morning girls will be assigned life jackets, given a swim tag, and sent to the Sign Up window to choose their five activities for the next day.