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Camp Tamarack

Ortonville, Michigan

June 11th through June 13th, 2018


Monday, June 11th - 78/56°, Sunny

Today is the day for Jayden and I to wake up and head to school with the excitement of three days of camp ahead of us. This morning marks the start of three days of fun at Camp Tamarack in Ortonville, and I offered to drive kids’ luggage from school to the camp, which meant that we needed to be there before the normal school day got underway.

We got to the school and parked near the other parent vehicles, except that most of the kid's items had already been loaded. That meant that I only had to drive stuff for Jay and I to camp. Before the school bell rang, Jay headed off to her classroom for the start of the day. I stayed behind with the other chaperones talking about what lay ahead for us until it was time for the 5th grade students to get on the busses that would be taking them to camp. I decided to head off to camp before the busses left this time around.

I arrived at camp early, and drove up to the DeRoy Village, our home for the next two and half days, to drop off our stuff. Before the busses arrived I moved the car back out to the parking lot and walked back to the camp lodge. After the kids got off the busses, they found their luggage before heading off to their cabins. Since Jay and I would be staying in separate cabins, we each headed headed off to settle in. I found a bunk in the “chaperone room” in my cabin and set up shop. I put my sleeping bag went on the bottom and my clothes in the storage cubbies directly across from my bunk. Jay did the same, as she too set up her bed in the chaperone room along with three of her friends.

In addition to Jayden, I would be responsible for her best friend, Marissa, as well as two boys during each of the activities: Benton and Gavin. For some reason I was blessed with one of the few coed groups, which causes problems during down times as the boys want to do one thing while the girls typically want to do something else. I’m not sure how I got so lucky! At night I was in a cabin with another chaperone and fourteen pre-teen boys. I must admit that I was prepared for the worst! We are in a different village that I stayed in with Tyler and Samantha, and the cabins aren't that much different. The bunk beds weren't as noisy as in the old village, but they still aren't overly comfortable. One major difference between these cabins and the old ones I stayed in was the lack of showers - this village required it's residents to use a bath house instead of having showers right in the cabin. This was inconvenient, but not the end of the world. The walls are still covered in plywood, as is the shelving for our personal belongings. Though the beds were slightly better, the rest of the cabin still reminds me of the upstairs of the old Gough cottage.

Before we headed out for the first activity of the day, the entire fifth grade class then gathered outside the lodge for some basic camp directions to follow. Like it was for both Tyler and Samantha’s classes, the first activity was a game called Instincts for Survival, which took place on the lawn beside the gym. The kids were placed into the three groups – herbivores (the largest group), omnivores, and carnivores. The idea was to “eat” certain food sources by collecting beads, and also getting the water they need (which was also a bead) all without being caught by the other groups (except the carnivores, they had no enemies in this game). If they lost all of their beads they were out of the game. They were able to come back to the starting point and get a new set of beads if they got out too often or too early. Jay started out as a herbivore, meaning she was not able to prey on others. During the second round of the game she was able to switch to an omnivore, meaning that she got to chase down the herbivores and take their beads. The game lasted about an hour, and then it was time for us to head to lunch.

The Mahler Dining Hall wasn’t too far from the gym, so the walk there went quickly. As anyone who reads this journal probably knows, I tend to be a slightly picky eater. Because I knew what to expect in regards to the fine dining offered at the camp, I once again packed extra snacks that I wasn't supposed to in order to be more prepared. After being briefed on the dining room rules, we were free to get our food. I stood in line to get my serving of tacos, rice, and corn. In the past this one of my favorite camp meals, so we were off to a decent start this time around. I managed to eat a couple of tacos, but I didn’t touch the other items. Overall, I’d give this meal three stars out of five.

After eating, we headed back to the area across from the village for our afternoon activity: rock wall climbing. The rock climbing wall is divided up into six difficulty levels, progressively getting harder as you go around. Jayden started off at the second easiest level and had absolutely no trouble making it to the top. She would work her way around to the second hardest wall, and after a couple of trouble spots she was able to make it to the top. Although this wall angled out slightly, Jay found plenty of hand-holds to grab onto. Jay's group had much more time (or so it seemed) than Samantha's group did here, as Sam only got the opportunity to climb three walls, while Jay climbed (or attempted to climb) four of the six walls. By the time was up, the kids were hot from being out in the sun for so long, and ready to head back to the dining hall for what was sure to be another fabulous meal!

Tonight's treat was chicken nuggets, rice, and some bizarre vegetable mix (that looked mainly like onions on my plate). You would think that it would be extremely difficult to screw up frozen chicken nuggets, but somehow the camp managed to do so... these nuggets were rock hard. Several of the chaperones described the nuggets as hockey pucks, and that pretty much summed it up. Needless to say I didn't eat the rice or the vegetables, and neither did Jay. I ate the nuggets, pretty much because that was my only option, but that was about it.

After dinner it was time to play the Eco-Games. There were two different games being played here, but neither of them were overly remarkable. The first game basically consisted of a few kids in the middle of the field, and they had to call out a trait of an animal ("It has teeth" for example). If that trait matched the animal the rest of the kids had chosen, they had to run across the field without being tagged. If they got tagged, they had to turn into a tree. The tree could then tag the runners, but without moving their feet. The other game involved throwing a ball around in a large circle, while a second ball went from the outside of the circle to the counselor in the center or to a random player in the circle. If either ball was dropped, the player was out. I don't remember how this related to the ecology or environment, but the kids did seem to enjoy it...

Like it was during Samantha's trip, Jayden's final activity of the day was square dancing. Although the kids weren't overly excited by this activity when it started (especially the boys) it turned out to be a lot of fun for them. Some of the boys refused to dance with girls, while other boys did their best to avoid dancing with another boy. The girls didn't seem to care who they danced with, it was fun no matter who their partner was. The songs weren't the catchiest, but I caught the kids singing them for the rest of our stay at camp. I struggled with pictures of this activity due to the location that it was held at this year, but the memories are still there.

After the square dancing was over, it was time to head back to the village to rotate the kids through the bath house. Tonight, it was ladies first with the boys following them. After each of the kids had showered, it was lights out in the cabins. Although Tyler's group was a noisy, rambunctious group at night, the boys that I stayed with during both Sam and Jay's trips were relatively well behaved as bedtime neared. The only issue we had was one boy who got homesick in the middle of the night, woke up the other chaperone in the cabin, and begged to go home. The other chaperone was able to talk him into staying, and had him move his sleeping bag to the floor next to his bed. Once that situation was taken care off, it was a relatively peaceful night of sleep.

Tuesday, June 12th - 76/57°, Partly Cloudy

I had set my alarm early this morning so that I could give myself time to shower and get dressed before breakfast at 8:15am. I was the only one outside so early, and had the shower building all to myself. When I got back to the cabin some of the boys were up and moving, slowly getting themselves ready, while the I had to work on rousing the rest of them.

Our first stop this morning was at the dining hall for breakfast. Imagine my excitement to see scrambled eggs sitting on a cold taco shell, but that is exactly the meal that was on our plate this morning. At least we were given some grated cheese to put on it, along with some cubed potatoes. I decided to eat the eggs off of the shell as well as the potatoes, though neither were overly warm. While this isn't the worst meal I’ve ever had while at camp, a nice Big Boy breakfast buffet sure sounds great right about now!

This morning our activity was the high ropes, which meant that we had a bit of a hike ahead of us to get there. That meant that we had to start walking as soon as breakfast was finished.

The High Ropes are exactly what the name implies – a bunch of ropes high in the air that the kids were going to climb on. Each of the kids was provided with a safety belt and ropes to tie themselves off with while they were up in the trees, just in case they slipped or fell. They went through a practice session on the ground in order to learn the proper procedures in a “classroom” setting that was about a foot off the ground. In addition to the training, they were required to have a “shadow” on the ground (one of their classmates) to help make sure that they didn’t make any wrong moves while on the ropes. One additional safety feature was that they were required to ask permission from one of the camp counselors before making any move on the ropes, such as transferring their rope from one cable to another.

Jayden decided to go in the first group to climb up the ladder to the High Ropes course. While Tyler was very hesitant to make the climb up, Jay was much like her big sister, Samantha, in that I never had a doubt that she would enjoy this activity. She easily made the climb up the ladder, and once she reached the main platform she was off and climbing. Jay headed off the platform the course on the right, as the opposite side was backed up with other climbers. Her first step out was across a taught wire with two ropes at arm height to hold onto. She completed this section easily, and was quickly ready to move on to the next section.

Jay’s next obstacle required her to make a short leap from one small platform to another, across a gap of about two feet. Although she was nervous about jumping, she had no trouble making the leap. Her third section of the high ropes involved stepping across wooden planks that were suspended like swings, having to make it from one platform to another as the planks swayed in the air. Even though this required a bit more effort than her previous two obstacles, she was able to complete this one with ease as well.

This is where Jayden ran into a bit of trouble, as the platform she was on already had two other climbers on it, one of which was too short to reach all of the clip points overhead. Jay took the time to help him transfer his ropes so that she could continue on her way. Because she lost time jammed up on this platform, she had to make her way back to the ladders as time was running out and the second group needed their turn. This meant that she had to complete one last obstacle, a wooden plank “ladder” bridge where the "rungs" would swing out of the way. It was supposed to have all of the planks missing, and the climber is supposed to put them back into position as he/she makes their way across, but the rope to drop the boards was tangled and it wouldn't release the boards. Jay ended up crossing it just the way it was, skipping over the open spaces by taking giant steps. Now, all that was left was to descend the ladder, which she managed without incident.

I never had any doubts that Jayden would be successful while participating in any of this weeks activities, but I was proud of how calm, cool, patient, and helpful she was on the high ropes course. Not only did she do all of the obstacles without hesitation, but she was also extremely willing to assist others in their time of need. If Jay keeps up these types of behaviors throughout her life, then I know that she will have a great life ahead of her!

Once our time at the high ropes had come to an end, it was time to make the trek back to the dining hall for lunch. Today we were served pizza and some type of weird vegetable medley thing. The pizza looked fairly decent, but certainly wasn't anything to write home about. I managed to get through my whole piece, but Jay wasn't able to eat it all. At least we had bread to eat...

Our first afternoon activity was kayaking. After the kids were fitted with life jackets and given instructions on how to paddle their kayaks, the kids were assigned boats and allowed to head out on the water. Jayden and her classmates were given some time to paddle around the lake before they were all asked to gather their kayaks into a group. They lined up side by side (as best as they could) to form a sort of raft, and then they spent some time talking (about what, none of us on shore knew). They played a couple of games, though again we couldn't really tell what they were from land. They were given a little more time to explore before it was time to come back in.

Once the kids were out of their life jackets, it was time to make the walk to the Teva Nature Center for the living science activity. During this activity the kids were allowed to touch or hold several small animals. Jayden's group got to check out a tiger salamander, a painted turtle, a corn snake, a skunk, and red tailed hawk. The kids couldn't touch the salamander or the hawk, but Jay was brave enough to touch each of them as they passed by. She was especially impressed with the snake and the skunk (which was much cuter than I expected it to be...). On a sad note, the skunk was blind due to some negligence due to it's previous owner, which had been kept it in a basement and fed a poor diet, causing the blindness. More sad news to report, as one of the teachers mentioned that the building where both Tyler and Samantha had their living science exhibit had a fire at some point in the last couple of years, and a majority of the animals inside were lost...

The Living Science activity was our final afternoon activity, so upon it's conclusion we walked back to the dining hall for for our last dinner at cap. Tonight we were served spaghetti and meatballs, along with a vegetable medley thing, which neither Jayden or I touched. The noodles were fine, though they were definitely on the cold side. I didn't brave the meatballs, though I heard they were undercooked.

Before we knew it, it was time for our final official activity of the day: the "Minute To Win It" games. Though the activity changed, this was the one event that was open for family to attend, as it was during Tyler and Samantha's stay. With Tara out of town, Grandpa Gary, Grandma Terry, Samantha, and Uncle Steve came to see Jayden. They held the event in the gym, as they did during Tyler and Sam's "Mock Olympics", and, like last time, the floor is still dusty and covered in bird crap. I was disappointed in the switch from the Mock Olympics to the Minute To Win, as it didn't give as many kids the chance to participate. Jay, for example, didn't get to compete in any of the games until the final one, which everyone participated in. Though the kids had a great time, it was more the chance to interact with their parents that they were thankful for!

The activity ended around 8:30pm, but this year the kids could take their family back to the cabins to show them around (neither Tyler or Sam had this opportunity). After that, it was time for the parents to leave. Both Jayden and Marissa were tired, hungry, and a little bit homesick at this point, so Grandma Terry graciously ran to McDonalds for us to get some food for the girls. The three of us snuck off to my car to sit and eat as the other campers got ready for bed. We casually returned to camp once they had eaten and settled themselves back down. The rest of the night they were OK, but that was a tough hump to get over...

The activities of the past two days must have taken a toll on the boys, because our cabin was quiet once when I returned. It didn’t take long for them all to pass out tonight. I don’t recall exactly what time it was when everyone finally fell asleep, but considering it was already past 10:00pm when we headed inside, things went very smoothly tonight.

Wednesday, June 13th - 81/66°, Mostly Cloudy

Today is our last day of camp, and although I was having a good time with a great group of kids, I was ready to sleep in my own bed! This morning we had to clean the cabin and pack up all of our belongings before we headed off to breakfast. I pulled the car over to our village lodge and loaded up our stuff. Like it was on the ride to camp, I didn't have any other kids put their stuff in my car, so I moved it back into the parking lot to await the drive home.

Our first stop this morning was at the dining hall for breakfast. Like yesterday, today's breakfast wasn't much to brag about. We were handed our tray with a fried egg sandwich with some more of the cold cubed potatoes (probably left over from yesterday). As before, the option to have cereal or hard boiled eggs was available, in addition to water, orange juice, and milk to drink. I cannot even pretend to say that I am sad to say that this is our last official meal here...

Jayden's class did something that I do not recall occurring during either Tyler or Samantha's trip to camp - they took an class photo. Although this wasn't the most organized photo session I have ever witnessed, it was nice that they did it. While I would have say the kids on the bleachers for the photo, the counselors instead assembled the kids down by the lake as the parents scrambled to the bleachers to take pictures.

Our first activity of the day was the pond expedition. If you asked Jayden and her friend Marissa to pick their least favorite activity, this would easily be it. After a brief lab activity involving water quantities, the kids were tasked with going out to one of the ponds (some of the groups) or the lake (Jay's group) to take a survey of the pond life. Being that this was the last day, and it required digging around in the mud, neither of the girls were thrilled with this particular activity...

At least the kids got to end on a high note, as their final activity of the day was archery. Most of the kids in Jayden's group had never shot a bow and arrow before, but a couple had. You could easily tell those who had versus those who hadn't. The parents also got a chance to try this activity out as well, and let me tell you it is a lot harder than it looks - Jay kicked my butt! Jay hit the center of the target once, and I never even came close. This is another one of the activities that the kids had a lot of fun doing, and not one of us got hurt doing it!

After the last arrow was shot, we made the walk back to our village one last time. When Tyler was here, this is when we headed back to the school and ate pizza for lunch before the kids were allowed to leave. When Samantha was here, they ordered pizza and ate it in the lodge at camp before heading back to the school. Jay's group repeated the routine that Sam's group did, bringing in pizza from Little Caesars and eating in the village lodge. I don't think it mattered where the pizza came from, Jay and I would easily count this as our best camp meal! Before the pizza arrived, the kids passed the time by playing games and talking in the lodge. After we ate I headed back to the school while the teachers rounded the kids up to board the bus for their own return trip.

Once we got back to the elementary school, I signed Jayden out for the rest of the day. We head home, unloaded the car, and headed upstairs to take a nap!

Trip Summary

Although camp is a lot of fun, and I truly enjoyed the opportunity to spend so much quality time with Jayden, I was also glad to see it come to an end. Some things here never seem to change, particularly the awful, awful food, and I certainly won't miss that.

I really enjoyed seeing the camaraderie and togetherness that Jayden and her classmates displayed this week. They are a great group of kids, and I am extremely proud to be Jayden's father.

Although I feel bad that Drew had to miss his class camp trip during our first time in Florida, I can say that I am glad that I do not have to attend camp again. Three trips here is enough...

Jayden - I want to say that you did a great job at camp! You really showed your compassion and willingness to push yourself past your limits this week. We love you, kiddo!


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