Up To Onaway Island

Camp Onaway. Just typing those two words stirs memories in my soul from six magical weeks of my childhood, spent one week at a time each summer from 1985-1990. Those of us who were fortunate enough to go to camp as a kid know exactly what I mean. For me, it was Camp Onaway, a camp in central Wisconsin on an island in the beautiful Chain of Lakes near Waupaca. Yes, an island! The entire island is owned by the Boys and Girls Brigade, a youth organization in Neenah, Wisconsin (my hometown), that runs a program during the school year for youth in grades 6-12. Onaway is the location of their week-long summer camps, alternating weeks of boys and girls camps, as well as some leadership and family camps.

Onaway Island

Onaway Island

My first week there was in 1985, just after finishing 6th grade. I don’t remember a lot about the specifics of the camp now, 30 years later, other than that I had a lot of fun playing games, swimming, wrestling with fellow campers and leaders on the rough raft (think “King of the Hill”, but on a raft in the water), canoeing, singing, Chapel and campfires. And morning dip, cross country race, tribal competitions, skits and watermelon feed. Okay, I guess I remember more than I thought. But, what really stands out in my mind is the memory of the leaders at Onaway. A bunch of men who willingly gave up a week of their summer to spend it with someone else’s kids, away from the comforts of their own homes and families. Probably spending a week of their own hard-earned vacation time in the process. As a young camper, I loved being around these guys each summer. For one week, those guys were my family. It wasn’t until years later that I began to comprehend the sacrifice and dedication that these men made each summer to be at camp.

After finishing high school I wasn’t able to attend camp as an adult leader since I moved away to attend college and ended up getting married and starting my own family. I did, however, get an opportunity in 2006 and 2007 to return for a few days as a leader. Despite not seeing many of those men for the better part of 15 years I was welcomed with open arms and hearty hugs. There was no judgement about why I hadn’t been back sooner; just joy that I was back. There were lots of new faces among the leaders there but there were plenty of guys who had been so integral to my development as a young man. Men who I thought of as family despite not knowing them personally outside of camp or even seeing them much since 1990.

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Two of my favorite leaders from Camp Onaway. Dick and Chrome.

I woke up this morning to read the news that one of my favorite leaders, Chrome, had passed away last night. It turns out that he actually had a real name, but I knew him as Chrome. To be honest, I didn’t know that much about him outside of camp. I did know his real name and I did see him a few times outside of camp when I was still living in Wisconsin.

But Chrome was the epitome of camp to me. I funny guy with a heart as big as the ocean. I remember when I returned to Onaway after my 15 year absence Chrome was one of the first to see me and he came running to greet me with the biggest, most heartfelt hug. And he’s not a big guy. He literally grabbed my cheeks with his hands and held my face, telling me, “Carl, it’s so good to see you again, young man. Welcome back.” I’ve been crying on and off all morning since learning of his passing, just thinking of the good memories I have because of men like him. The last time I saw him was in 2011, at camp the summer before we moved west to Washington.

It’s extra special for me this week to know that my third daughter is at Girls Camp 2 at Onaway this very week, making her own magical memories. My older two daughters have also been to Onaway in previous years. I know that my son, who will be in sixth grade in the fall, is already thinking about going there next summer. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to join him as a leader. That’s the thing about camp. Once you go, you always want to go back, even just for a moment. One of the best parts of each day at camp is the daily chapel. While Onaway is a Christian organization it’s not a “church” camp.

OnawayChapelChapel is more of a time for reflection with a very short talk given by one or more leaders. It’s often in the early evening as the sun filters through the tall pine trees, giving all in attendance the opportunity to think about their day. Chrome was kind of famous for giving his “sands of Onaway” talk each year at chapel when I was a kid. It’s the notion that no matter where you go, the memories of Onaway will be with you. Thank you, Chrome, for your years of service to countless young men like me. Without him and the many men and women like him, Camp Onaway wouldn’t be as special.

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Back to School Blues

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Today is the big day. It’s been written on our family calendar for months. It’s a day of anticipation and dread. It’s the first day of school. As a Stay At Home Dad it means the return of taxi driver to my daily routine. As well as alarm clock and lunch-preparer for my kids. Today is a day that I both dread and celebrate, but not for the reasons many parents do. As a former student (a long time ago) and former teacher (not as long ago) I loved the first day of school. There was a sense of optimism and possibility and freshness. A new year with a new teacher and mix of old and new friends. Getting to see friends and colleagues again after the summer break. It almost made the chore of getting everything ready worth it. Almost. After all, it was still school. It also meant the end of staying up late and sleeping in. Playing at the park, hiking at Mt. Rainier, going to week-long camp, and vacationing in Europe, to name a few. Doing nothing and enjoying it. Replaced by getting up early (rude alarm clock) and homework or lesson planning and correcting papers.

What I don’t understand, though, are the parents who are celebrating that their kids are finally out of their hair. Fruit of the Loom (makers of fine underwear) even started a #TGIBTS (Thank Goodness It’s Back To School) campaign to capitalize on this sentiment among parents (although it was aimed at moms). It makes me sad that there are some moms and dads who genuinely celebrate the absence of their kids. I’m going to miss my kids while they’re at school. It’s going to be quiet(er) with only a four year old and one year old at home all day long. What ever will I do with all of my newly-found free time? HA HA HA! As much as the teasing and such between my kids is a little bit annoying, I love having them at home. They bring so much joy to my life on a daily basis. I’m going to miss the fun that we have just doing life together. Yet, I love that they get to go and learn and be with friends and teachers and experience things that I cannot give them. I loved being a student (even though at times I had to work hard) and had a lot of fun in school. While I wasn’t a fan of the significant homework and studying in high school and college I understood it to be a part of my “job” as a student. I hope that my kids will view their educational opportunity in the same way. If anything, I celebrate the new and fun things that my kids will learn this coming year.

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The only bit of dread that I have is in wishing I had done more with my kids during their time off. Did we do enough fun stuff to make up for the days where we did basically nothing? Did they get to do something memorable enough that they can write about it for their first assignment in English class? Will they look back on their Summer 2014 as fondly as I do? I hope that they each can answer yes to all those questions. But, in the minds of my kids, I’m sure they’re probably already starting the countdown. 180 school days to go. June 11, 2015 can’t come soon enough.

Big Cheese Takes Flight

Over the next three weeks you’re going to notice a bit of a change in my blog. I’m off for nearly three weeks in Europe with my sharp Little Cheese, aged 14 years, but not on a wood plank! Many thanks to Mrs. Big Cheese and MIL Big Cheese for watching the Cheese Curds in my absence. We are whey excited to visit Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France and England. Watch this space for updates of our European vacation.

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Yeah, that’s my head hitting the ceiling. Pretty much the way it always is on airplanes.

Psych! After over 90 minutes on board, waiting for some mechanical issues to be resolved, we deplaned and are in the gate area. Still in Seattle. The good news is that the problems were discovered on the ground as opposed to in the air. Pretty sure we’re going to miss our connecting flights to Brussels later this afternoon.