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Family Camp

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So five years ago The Lovely Rhonda and I decided to drag the children to our church’s camp for a few days of Family Camp.

We took only the older two girls as the youngest was barely two years old and we thought summer camp + diapers = misery.  We were kind of correct in this regard.  The baby went to Grandma’s.

The camp is only about an hour from where we live but it might as well be on Mars, in some ways.  It’s set on something like 200 wooded acres, with a stream or two running through it, and sometimes you can see deer wandering along in the evening.  And every night the bats start flapping around after dusk, just in time for campfire.  The cabins have sturdy wooden bunkbeds in them (and, thank God, modern plumbing) and meals are served in the lodge.  College-age staff members keep the kids amused, and the boring old grownups sit around talking about boring old grownup stuff.  There is a lot of crafting.  It’s fun.

We have gone every year now for five years.  The first year, the middle child made it two nights but lost her ever. loving. mind. in the morning after the second night, when the pink Play-Doh was already in use.  She had such difficulty that Grandma had to come whisk her away.  She does not tolerate change well sometimes.

The second year we brought the youngest with us too, and it was she who required Grandma’s rescue services after a couple of nights.

The third year we all survived the entire ordeal.  Yay us!

Last year TLR felt that we should up the ante and stay the entire week.  By Thursday we were pretty much all losing our ever. loving. minds.

This year, TLR came up with the brilliant plan to go for the entire week but only bring the children in halfway through, thus enabling us to relax a bit before the onslaught of whining/bug bites/dissatisfactions/misbehavior that our children excel at.

Each year we get to know the other families a little better.  They are all fantastic people, and they keep coming back year after year; some of them have been coming literally all their lives — and they are older than I am.  We all look forward to this all year long.  There are certain customs: hand-cranked ice cream, afternoons at the swimming hole, crafts everywhere, night hikes, singing and skits at campfire.

We created our own customs.  One night at campfire, usually the last night, we (along with our delightful friend Kirsten) bring s’mores supplies and everyone makes s’mores after all the skits and songs are over.  We bring plenty so people can have all they want, and there’s a lot of chatting and spontaneous bursting into song that happens.  And kids with marshmallow and chocolate all over their faces.

And on the last night, if possible, we bribe the counselors into hanging out in the cabins that have small children in them so the parents can go to the lodge and play table games.  We bring snacks and junk food and everyone — even the salad-eating Knierim family — gobbles everything up so we don’t have to be bothered with taking it home.  We have a wonderful time.

This year was especially relaxing because I had just completed my BSN the week before camp.  It was a beautiful thing, to spend a week in the woods with such good people at this particular point in time.

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Family Camp Week

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So every year for the past four years, and conceivably for all future years, we have attended Family Camp at our church’s camp out in the sticks.

I say for all future years because there are people attending this camp who have been doing so nearly all their lives, and they are older than I am.  And I don’t think it’s any big secret that I am terrifyingly decrepit.  So apparently once you begin attending this camp you can expect to continue doing so for all eternity.  There are two ladies who have got to be in their 80’s who still come every year.

Now, “church camp” stirs up all kinds of impressions which I would like to hastily dispel.  We do not have lengthy camp meetings with laying on of hands or speaking in tongues.   Nobody thumps a Bible at anybody else.  It’s not brainwashing.

What we DO is we meet in the morning to talk about a certain amount of church related things (Jesusy stuff, you wouldn’t be interested) in the laid-back groovy UCC way that we have of doing things, and we eat lunch and go swimming down at the swimmin’ hole, and we have dinner and vespers which is a totally awesome way of saying we get together and talk about church related things again for a short time, and then we have campfire.  Also in there between swimming and dinner we do some crafts if we are so inclined, and some people also manage to get in a certain amount of napping, no names mentioned *COUGH COUGH RHONDA FOR FOUR SOLID HOURS ONCE COUGH COUGH*

Oh, and there’s also field games and hiking and all kinds of stuff.  This camp is on a couple hundred wooded acres with creeks and cabins and trees and dirt and bugs and stuff like that.  There is lots of The Nature to wander around in, if one is so disposed.

This was our first time going for the whole week, and we stayed in a rustic (translation: electrical problems meant that the stove hood light worked at random intervals and one room upstairs had no power at all for reasons that were unclear) cabin with our BFF Kirsten and her three magical offspring, the youngest of whom is only nine months old.  The other two are nearly exactly the same ages as The Lovely Rhonda’s girls.

The cabin is divided into two bunk rooms downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs, with bathrooms adjoining to the bunk rooms as well as one upstairs for the bedrooms.  We put the five girls in one bunk room and Kirsten, the baby, TLR and myself in the other.  Another camper stayed in the upstairs bedroom that did have power.  It was groovy.

Did I mention  how infants like to wake up in the middle of the night or very early in the morning and scream?  They do, in case you were uninformed.  This is useful information for those who might be tempted to travel with infant-having persons of their acquaintance, and so I mention it now in case this might describe either of you, dear reader(s).  I like to be of service to my fellows.

Kirsten was afeared that we would disown her for this but Happy Fun Ball is such a cheerful, adorable baby who smiles ALL THE TIME  that we couldn’t really hold a grudge.  Not much of a grudge.  Not too much of one.  Not much.  Of one.  Of a grudge.  Thing.

What was I saying?  Fatigue has made me a bit punchy.

Anyway, we made sure the cabin was stocked up with snacks and Cokes for late night cribbage and towels for swimming and fans for the incredible sticky wilting summer heat, and we had Family Camp.

On the last night we had a very fun campfire with lots of singing (I have become a Camp Song Dork) and s’mores, and then we coerced the camp counselors to hang out in our cabin while the children slept so that we, the alleged grown-ups, could sit in the lodge and play games.  This was super fun, made even more so by the fact that when we broke out the modest array of snacks that we had remaining, the response was so enthusiastic that we dispatched The Lovely Rhonda back to the cabin for more, and then watched as everything that was offered was devoured nearly instantly.  I think it is safe to say that neither of us expected these people to eat cheese doodles and peanut butter M&M’s, after seeing them eat salad all week, but they did, and with considerable gusto.

Camp is this place with singing and crafts and really, really nice people, and for all that it is an hour from home it’s a magical hour such that when you drive out to town to get something it’s like you’ve re-entered civilization.  We love it.

However, we’re not as wild about the mounds and mounds of funky camp laundry that we have to wash when we get home.

Still worth it though.

The Weddin’, Part V: The Reception

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So I got married on Saturday, January 5th.

After we promised to love each other until the end of time, it only made sense to then strap on the feedbag at a fantastic spread provided by the best friends two lesbians could ever have, the toothsome Kirsten and her inexplicable husband, The Davey.

We met Kirsten and their daughters at family camp a couple of years ago and, as I’m sure everyone they meet does, have grown to love all of them almost more than is healthy.  They have kids very close in age to Rhonda’s girls, they like to play games and drink things and dip things into other things and eat them, and they are delightful in every possible way.

So you can imagine our breathless incredulity when they heard that we were thinking of gettin’ hitched and the first thing they said was WE WANT TO DO THE FOOD.

Did I mention that The Davey is one of those people who cooks?  Like, so well that he used to do it for a living?

There followed a certain amount of disorganized yammering at them by us, which they kindly interpreted and/or completely ignored. They occasionally asked us questions in the weeks leading up to the wedding, questions that began with, “Do you mind if we have some –” and which we always interrupted by shouting YES PLEASE SERVE ANYTHING YOU WOULD CARE TO MAKE, POUR A BAG OF PURINA CAT CHOW ON THE TABLE IF IT SUITS YOU, WE ARE NOT WORTHY.  And so against all odds a delicious buffet was produced, for which neither I nor my lovely wife can take credit.

And which our boisterous guests stripped completely bare.  It looked like rabid locusts had descended on the table and left only what they couldn’t grasp in their horrible hairy pincers.

Dear reader(s), it was lovely.  There were nibbly things of many types and an enormous slab of smoked salmon that was hand-caught and smoked by yet another friend and church-member, Clay.  It should be noted that I was so busy schmoozing, and obviously woozy from the fumes of matrimony, that I never even saw the salmon in person but have only now become acquainted with it via photographs.  There were Cheesy Poufs, and those little quiches that are like a little savory mouthful of paradise, and also: WEENIE wraps and meatBALLS.  Because, of course, it was a lesbian wedding.  Ha. Of course.  That.  Yes.

And little cubes of cheese and crackery things and bread and all kinds of things.  I ate, um, one weenie wrap and I think a Cheesy Pouf?  Because I was busy.  And dazed.

Buffet Table #2

I have already described the cake, but I show it again here because it is so wonderful that it deserves another look.  There was even a little tree-root sticking off to one side at the back, designed specifically to be cut and fed to one another by the newlyweds.  This was a good thing because it looked complicated to slice otherwise.

Deb and Rhonda Cutting the cake

 

We also had a chocolate fountain, because we are brilliant like that.  Because Rhonda and I were fussing over the idea of having some chocolate-covered strawberries but they are so expensive and delicate and and and, and that of course was when Rhonda’s oldest piped up about how we should just have a chocolate fountain.

The reason why we wanted chocolate-covered strawberries at the reception was because way back on our first real “date,” The Lovely Rhonda brought a small cooler filled with chocolate-covered strawberries.  (This is the same reason we have a Christmas ornament shaped like a chocolate-covered strawberry.  It’s a really nice one too, not plastic or anything.)

Should you, gentle reader(s), ever have a wedding or gathering where children will be in attendance but will also be bored to death by all the dull conversation and lack of fun that grown-ups have when they get together, might I suggest a chocolate fountain?  Because the children will happily destroy all surrounding landscape with dribbles of chocolate.  They will gleefully race to and from the chocolate fountain table with precarious platefuls of pretzels, fruit and marshmallows fossilized in chocolate.  They will decorate their clothing, shoes and hair with chocolate.  They will practically dive into the chocolate and do the backstroke à la Augustus Gloop.  And it will keep them fantastically busy, and afterward they will leave and you won’t have to deal with the aftermath of giving children unfettered access to sugar for two hours.

Before:

After:

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Seriously, that table was surrounded by children at all times, to the point that TLR had to elbow through them to dive for the last strawberry, twirl it through the dwindling chocolate curtain and present it to me, moments before the teeming mob of pirahna-tots dipped that fountain dry.

Best.  Idea.  Ever.

Once everyone had attacked the buffet for a while we served up glasses of sparkling cider (this is a church, after all, no alcohol unless it’s the sacramental wine) and jointly tried to express our gratitude and humility for all who had helped us, all who had showed up, all who were happy to see us reach this day.  We tried to express this via an extremely inarticulate toast.  What it lacked in polish it made up for in enthusiasm, which I am told can compensate for a great many things.

We drank the toast using champagne flutes given to me by my grandmother years ago, beautiful cut-crystal things with platinum rims.  It was my way of including her in this happiest day of my life.  I am happy to say that my other grandmother, still pretty spry for 87, was in attendance and welcomed Rhonda to the family.

I am a very lucky woman.

At the end of it all, when the last chocolate-smeared parent was herding the final protesting child out to the car, we turned to find our friends who had slaved in the kitchen all day, and half the day before that, busily cleaning and putting things away.  Other church friends were there to stack chairs and tidy things up.

We tried to help but they chased us off.

We have the best friends imaginable.

The Weddin’, Part IV: MAWWIAGE

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So we got married on January 5th, twice, and the second time it was a little fancier than the first.

I’d made this powerpoint of photos of the five of us, arranged chronologically, set to music.  When we met, the younger of The Lovely Rhonda’s two daughters was only a year old, her older one was not quite three, and mine was just turning four.  It’s nearly five years later, so they have changed a bit.

This powerpoint was playing on the gigantic plasma screen in the sanctuary as guests were filing in before the ceremony.  I can’t include the music without paying for some kind of upgrade, so imagine Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World playing as you view it, and if there is time, Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds singing You & Me.

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Then when it was time, Sting’s The Secret Marriage.  This is a short song, only about two minutes, and I think it kind of sums up the way it is for people who for whatever reason cannot marry: 

No earthly church has ever blessed our union
No state has ever granted us permission
No family bond has ever made us two
No company has ever earned commission

No debt was paid no dowry to be gained
No treaty over border land or power
No semblance of the world outside remained
To stain the beauty of this nuptial hour

The secret marriage vow is never spoken
The secret marriage never can be broken

No flowers on the alter
No white veil in your hair
No maiden dress to alter
No Bible oath to swear

The secret marriage vow is never spoken
The secret marriage never can be broken

Toward the end, Rhonda’s youngest emerged as the flower girl.  She walked very slowly at first, tossing each hand-selected petal carefully first to one side, then the other.  After a few such occurrences she looked up and realized everyone was staring at her.  At this point she bolted to the front of the church to stand in her appointed spot, mortified and alone.  So I am told, as I was waiting in the entryway of the church like a good bride.  The ring bearers walked out in turn without incident and soon we stood before the altar, our super awesome minister poised above us.

There was a brief pause, and then, a la Peter Cook in The Princess Bride, Pastor Don opened his mouth and intoned:  “MAWWIAGE!  MAWWIAGE IS WHAT BWINGS US TOGEVVAH!  TODAY!”

mawwiage

…Okay, so when we asked him if he would do this for us, he had never seen the movie.  We showed him a clip of that scene on YouTube using Rhonda’s phone and he immediately agreed.  “I’m a bit of a ham!” said he.  We were fairly sure that many of our esteemed guests would be fluent enough in Dorkish to get this, and we were not disappointed.  There was a roar of laughter.  This very neatly set the tone for the rest of the ceremony.

After this there was the usual stuff about what makes a marriage and all that mushy stuff.  There were things we were made to repeat to each other.  Rings were produced.  I helpfully indicated which finger the ring should be placed upon.

helpful

At one point the minister asked the assembled guests whether they would support us as a married couple to which, to my great and happy surprise, they responded shoutingly to the affirmative before he could even finish asking the question.

The minister from the church we used to attend was there too, reading poems in between things that we were repeating and so forth.

After the third and last such poem I turned to face the assembly.

“Okay, so, Rhonda doesn’t know about this part,” I said cheerfully, and pulling a folded poem that was tucked into my highpockets (as my Grandmother called it), gave the signal to the computer guy running the show in the back to fire up the secret powerpoint that I had smuggled in earlier.

highpockets

Here I have inserted the poem into the powerpoint so that both of you can see it:

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I must say that it was deeply satisfying to express all of this in the nerdiest way possible, i.e. using a powerpoint and a piece of paper retrieved from one’s brassiere.

At the end of the ceremony there came that magic moment when you could kiss the bride.  There was kissing, despite the fact that I am not the sort of person inclined to do such things whilst on display in front of my family, friends and co-workers.  It was made clear to me that this was necessary, to the point that bodily harm may come to me should I merely present a cheek for the kiss.

I am told that the flower girl chose that moment to throw, with great enthusiasm, the petals remaining in her wee basket.  This constituted a lot of petals since, as stated earlier, she only cast a few down before stampeding down the aisle in a panic.  Nevertheless, the timing was perfect.First Kiss

We made our retreat accompanied by hooting, catcalls, cheering, applause, and the ringing of a sh!tload of bells, lovingly crafted into beribboned fistfuls by stray members of the behind-the-scenes wedding party (millions of thanks to Bobby and Alison).  The song, not that anyone could hear it, was Lyle Lovett’s She’s No Lady. 

It was, in a word, perfect.

Stay tuned for the gripping conclusion:  The Weddin’, Part V: The Reception

Only Panicking a LITTLE

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So I’m getting married in less than a week.

Yes, friend(s), one week from today I’ll be at the beach with the wife.  The actual wife.  Of me.  My actual wife.

We’re gathering steam for the final week of preparations.  I’d go into lengthy detail if I thought either of you would care, but since I don’t think that is the case, I’ll just boil it down to a couple of things.

For starters, the house has been un-Christmased.  I’m allowing the boxes of decorations to mellow in the living room before the final push to unearth their dwellings in the garage, which is a major sh!thole.  This is not entirely my fault, although I am certainly a contributor — the drywall and other materials for the last stages of the home improvement project are all in a big heap on one side of our adorable mini-garage, making it more of a filthy jumble.  I’ve lost enthusiasm for rooting around in junk for today, and there’s always that one stinking ornament that shows up after you’ve stowed everything, so the living room is where the three big totes are living for the moment.  I’ll finish that up tomorrow, unless someone wants to come over and clean out the garage right now.

No?  Nobody wants to?  FINE.

I’ve also done some vacuuming and am about to embark on that most delightful of tasks, cleaning the litter box.  I cannot wait for the cat’s face to heal so that we can retire the litter box once again.  I keep wanting to ask him if his face hurts, BECAUSE IT’S KILLING ME, HA HA HA!  But I refrain, because he does not speak the English.

In my opinion The Lovely Rhonda should be volunteering to clean the box at least one-third of the time, since her cat Hermione is contributing at LEAST one-third of the contents of said box, but I doubt she will see this my way.  Perhaps a pre-nup is in order…

Today I attended services at the church.  I was alone because TLR is at work today and the children are at their other households.  Everyone at church looked upon me in wonder and amazement: Just  you today?  Because I normally do not exist in nature without at least one orbiting child, if not three, as well as the future Mrs. Me.  And when I nodded, Yes, just me, each person without fail said something along the lines of Well, good for you!  Enjoy the peace and quiet!

Anyway, while I was there I looked around the sanctuary and the meeting hall and thought, OMG WHO IS GOING TO DECORATE THIS PLACE FOR THE WEDDING DO WE HAVE ENOUGH NAPKINS I HAVEN’T FINISHED THE SLIDE SHOW OR MUSIC GAAAAAAAAH.

And then I drove home and clutched the cat to my breast and rocked while muttering to myself about pew bows for a good hour, before I came to my senses.

It will all come together, and it will all be okay.

In the meantime, if either of you are interested in coming over to tie a bajillion little golden jingle bells together into bunches, drop me a line.

 

Camp

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So for the third year running, The Lovely Rhonda and I completely abandoned our core values (cleanliness, wifi, and Starbucks) and took the Collective Spawn to camp for four days and three nights of unmitigated dirt.

We’ve been home for seven hours and the washing machine has been in use the entire time save for the periods in which we ran baths for the Spawn, who were so encrusted with grime that we had to whittle some of it away before we left camp to be sure we had the right children.  The bathing was thorough and involved soap and washcloths, and afterward we were obliged to run the shower on each of them to rinse off the soap scum.  These sparkling clean children scarcely resemble the grubby filth-beasts we shared our cabin with lo these several smelly days.

We go to Camp Adams which is owned by our church.  The church has week-long camps for school-aged church kids and also rents the camp out for Outdoor School (through the public schools) and other such events.  You can get married there if you wish.  Personally I think this would be hilarious because afterward you could insist everyone tromp over the floating bridge to the swimming hole.  What says ‘Til death do us part’ more than making your nicely-dressed guests brave the freezing cold and mud of the swimming hole?

They hold a Family Camp every summer and some families have been going to this for thirty years or more.  We went on a bit of a lark three years ago and despite having to send at least one child to Grandma’s part way through the three-night stay for both of the first two years, we keep at it.  We have stubbornness issues.  I’m happy to report that all of the children made it through although it was touch and go for the youngest there at the end.

What do we do at camp?

Well, there is the aforementioned swimming hole.  It’s beautiful up there and the water is cool and refreshing (translation: your gonads will hide deep in your abdominal cavity no matter what gender you are, and if you’re female your nipples will slice your bathing suit top to ribbons).  The children love it so.

We also do things like make ice cream in a hand-cranked ice cream freezer somebody got as a wedding gift in the 50’s.

There are amusing skits and stories around the campfire.

It’s a pretty good time.

Pageantry

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So, we’ve been attending a different church lately.  It’s the same type of church, just smaller and closer to our home.  I have mixed feelings about possibly leaving the church I’ve attended since Delia was a month old.  But that’s far too serious a topic for this blog!

At any rate, the long-awaited Christmas Pageant is tomorrow.  My kid is rather noncommittal about participating in it.  Last year we attended the old church’s pageant and Delia was a sheep, a role she feels is perfect in that it a) involves wearing a totes adorbs sheep costume, and b) has no pesky dialogue to get in the way of her art.  So, this year she opted out in fear that she may have to be something other than livestock, or perhaps speak publicly.

The other children, however, have embraced this pageant with their entire beings, if you pro-rate that to a 4- and6-year-old level.  They even demonstrated the level of their commitment by sitting through a rather lengthy, and, by the exacting standards of the under-7 set, boring rehearsal.  Until the 4-year-old broke ranks and raced around with the other 4-year-old, but that is to be expected.

The Lovely Rhonda is working this weekend, which means that I alone will be shepherding (ha!) the youngsters to and fro.  And photographing them in action.  O the joys!  I fully expect one or both of them to vomit/sneeze/urinate copiously on their costume(s) and perhaps on the Baby Jesus himself.  Really, we can expect nothing less.

In other news, I made my triumphant return to the gym today after a week of feeling crummy with a crappy head cold.  I expected the DeathMaster to kick my ass since I’ve been indolent and congested, but it went quite well.  This may be in part because I loaded Nirvana “Nevermind” onto my phone.  I like to listen to such things and watch people try to figure out the various weight machines while I mindlessly wander up the mechanical stairs for twenty minutes.  It’s oddly soothing.

I also braved a shopping mall this evening for reasons that cannot be disclosed at this time.  It was packed with a generous cross-section of society, with a particularly heavy concentration of stroller-bound toddlers who had reached the end of their abilities to cope with the mall.  They expressed their displeasure by screaming and kicking, something we all wish we could do at such times.  This is quite familiar to me and rather than become irritated by it, I found that I was so grateful not to be pushing a toddler around in a stroller myself that I was quite indulgently tolerant of the whole thing.

Also I saw several examples of people carrying tiny dogs around.  Generally these were women, surprisingly youngish and often heavily made up.  And, in case you thought “bros” only existed in Jersey, I saw several of these as well.  They are remarkable for their startling plumage and intricate mating rituals, which seem to involve shopping at Abercrombie & Fitch and bathing in cologne.  Also, they seem to appear only in pairs.  It was all I could do not to whip out my cellphone and snap some pictures, but my arms were pinned firmly to my sides by the crowds.  Besides, they can become violent and stampede if offended and who wants to die a senseless bro-related death in a mall?