Every year for the past five or so, Jodi and I and the kids have joined 30 or so families from St. Michael's and St. Albert's parishes at a camp near Upsala, Minnesota, called Camp Lebanon. The first year I didn't want to go, a) because with a dining hall, water toys, and showers, it wasn't really camping; b) because I was going to be surrounded by kids not my own; and c) because I didn't feel like I knew enough people and wasn't looking forward to being "on" all weekend.
All true observations...none of which had any impact on my actual enjoyment of the weekend. We've been going back ever since, and even organized it a couple of years.
No time to do a complete recap of the weekend, but here are the Top 10 Highlights:
10. Not My Job! I had hoped to be done with my work early on Friday so we could be on the road by 3 p.m. or so. Not even close, and when 4 p.m. rolled around and I was still packing, my blood pressure started to rise.
Then I remembered: We're not running things this year. We can get up there any time before tomorrow, and it's all good.
Turns out we made it in plenty of time for Friday evening activities -- and with Lily this year, it's a good thing we weren't the organizers! Kudos to Sustaceks, Duerrs, and Fredricksons for a great weekend!
9. New Faces. We missed a number of dear friends who weren't there...but there were so many new families, too, that you couldn't help but make new connections. I met potential homebrewers, Axis and Allies enthusiasts, future KCs, and just all-around good guys -- hopefully next year the old and the new will all show up, and then some!
8. Albany Invasion. Albany, Minnesota, is the last stop for food on the way to the camp. A gas station just off the freeway houses A&W, Subway, Godfather's Pizza, Taco John's, and Chester's Fried Chicken counters under one roof -- and Friday afternoon, it hosted nearly every family bound for Camp Lebanon in constant rotation. I'm sure the locals had to be wondering about the volume of strangers greeting each other with hugs and handshakes.
7. Has Anyone Seen... Once we settle in at camp, the kids are off and running with their friends. Jodi and I ate with grown-ups and Lily, and generally soaked up the weekend, only rousing ourselves occasionally to ask around, "Has anyone seen [CHILD'S NAME HERE]?" And we were hardly the only ones.
6. Holy Spirit at Work. More than once, someone stopped to share that the weekend itself, or something someone did or said, was just what they needed -- that the Holy Spirit was at work last weekend. But the most striking example came on Sunday morning, when one of my own overextended children decided to disobey Jodi and run off to play with friends. I confronted the child and had a long talk about the responsibilities that come with being family -- and I thought it sunk in. Only a few minutes later, a local seminarian, Paul, offered a scripture reflection in which he talked about how family is diminished when one person acts selfishly -- and I looked over to see wide, staring, glassy eyes. I asked about it later, and was told, "I heard him and I was like, "Seriously?!" Wow.
5. Zip Line! I watched two grown men race over a wooded ravine, brazen in their talk but white in their knuckles. I watched our priest and seminarian zip through the tree tops -- Father was pounding his chest; Paul was all smiles and thumbs up. But best of all, I watched Emma nervously strap up after watching the men, whimpering and sighing a bit under her breath; watched her set out across the ravine tentatively, and watched her slide back over, screaming and giggling, barely able to speak "That was awesome!" to the camera. She is the only Thorp to have done it so far. She deserves applause.
4. Dating Survey. A few friends began asking an unofficial survey question of the couples at camp: "Do you and your spouse go on dates?" Jodi said, "Not really." I said, "Occasionally." Then we both said, "Unless running errands or getting groceries alone together count." The ruling came back: if we are specifically going together and leaving the kids behind, it counts. Oh, yes, we are still romantic!
3. Early Morning Run. Brendan rose at 6:45 a.m. on a Saturday to go running with a few of the guys from school -- and a few girls. I rose a little after 7, and when I emerged from the bathhouse, they were coming the hill from the lake: four or five girls, graceful and light on their feet, and two clomping boys bringing up the rear. Turns out the girls were all cross-country runners, and the two wrestlers were the only boys motivated enough to get up that early. What motivated them to keep pace with the fleet-footed young ladies over two or three miles? I'm going with sheer stubborn pride...though at that age, who can guess? (For an alternative explanation, see the video below...)
2. Family Prayer. Family rosaries each night, and Saturday evening mass with sunbaked parents and waterlogged kids doing their best to be reverent. Families praying together with families. There's nothing better, except...
1. Serenading Lily. Every year we listen to The White Stripes on the way to the camp. This year Lily was fussing until the guitars and drums kicked in, and, to a person, all four of her siblings began to sing to her.
Wish I could've recorded them doing it -- leaning over her car seat, almost in harmony, and her grinning, gasping, laughing face. She's pretty good-looking (for a girl).