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The Great Girl Scout Camping Extravaganza

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Have you ever had a deep sense of foreboding about something coming up, and then as events begin to unfold, you found out that it was so much worse than you ever dreamed it would be?

(If I were writing this on the Sonlight Forums, I would have just used the emoticon of the little red smiley head that rolls on the floor and laughs out loud to demonstrate the emotion behind that last sentence. We are deep into irony, here, folks!)

Well, uh, about that prayer request I posted when last I blogged….

What an adventure I have had!

We had had about 10 days straight of rain prior to the Girls Scout camp out I went on last weekend. Severe thunderstorms were in the forecast for the weekend.

What can I tell you? Every once in a while, the weathermen get it exactly right.

My dear friend and co-leader of the Juniors is Jen. You remember I had asked you to pray for her dear husband John’s finger surgery. John had fallen off a ladder and broken his finger with a diagonal break, and thus needed surgery to repair it. They were going to put some pins in it, so that it could heal properly. The surgery was scheduled for the morning of the Thursday that we departed on our trip. We were scheduled to leave that afternoon.

Jen called and said the surgery went well, and she would be coming to transport girls and gear on Thursday evening, but would have to leave after dinner to go home and be with John, because someone needed to watch him for 24 hours. So, in my little world, what that meant to me was: Miss America was unable to fulfill her duties (at least for the first night), and the first runner up needed to don the tiara.

I hate to tell y’all, but when it comes to camping, the tiara doesn’t rest easy on this girl’s head. And even though I was first runner up, I can tell you that I’m pretty sure that I didn’t get there by winning Miss Congeniality. At least, not in regard to my attitude as it related to camping in fairly primitive conditions during severe thunderstorms.

In fact, to digress for a moment, here is one of my very favorite stories, that is one of my favorite because it is absolutely true. It really, really happened to a friend of a friend when I was working for Metro Nashville Schools. No urban myth here, folks. I guarantee the veracity of this tale. My friend Sandy was the speech therapist at our school. I worked at an inner-city school where 95% of the students received free or reduced price lunch. Sandy served at our school and at another inner-city school called Berry Elementary, and one of her friends who was a kindergarten teacher there told her this story.

Five year old “Johnny” was a veteran of the Head Start program, which was a federally funded early childhood education program. He had been attending Head Start for two years, so when the new school year began that fall, “Johnny” was moved up to Kindergarten. At noon, on the first day of school, “Johnny” began packing up his book bag with his stuff, and his teacher asked him, “Johnny, what are you doing?” to which Johnny replied, “Well, you know, it’s time to go.” His teacher said, “Oh, no, Johnny, not just yet”, to which Johnny responded, “But, Mrs. Smith, when the Big Hand is up at the top of the clock, and the Little Hand is up at the top of the clock, it’s time to go.” Mrs. Smith smiled patiently and indulgently and said, “Well, yes, Johnny, that was true last year at Head Start. But you’re a big boy now. You’re in Kindergarten, and in Kindergarten, we stay at school for three more hours. You get to stay till 3:00.” Johnny stared at her momentarily with his jaw hanging open in dumb unbelief, until he finally summoned up the wherewithal to respond, “Well, who the hell signed me up for this?”

So, I’m betting that you can make the connection here, but just in case you can’t, let me connect the dots. Yes, OK, yes, I signed up to be a Girl Scout Leader. But it was out of love for my daughter, love for my friend Jennifer, admiration for the other leaders in my troop, and a misbegotten belief that Jennifer, who had a year’s worth of leadership experience on me, would always be there to blaze the trail, and pave the way. I was there as her back-up, to support as best I could. But in the immortal words of Prissy from Gone With The Wind, “Lawd, Miss Scah-lett, I don’t know nuffin’ bout birthin’ no babies.” By the way, if you remember that scene, Scarlett immediately applies a swift backhand to Prissy’s hysterical face. This strategy might have served me well as I contemplated leading the Junior girls on this camping trip. But instead of smacking me, our patient and always competent, cool as a cucumber in any crisis leader Lisa rose to the occasion with a sight more godliness than Katy Scarlett O’Hara, and prayed with me, instead of smacking me.

When we arrived at the camp site, the first thing that happened was that we discovered that it was a BANNER year for ticks. Oh, yeah! One step out of the van and into the grass, and two of our little girls were covered. Bug spray was immediately and liberally applied. Our camp site consisted of one small cabin that we called the lodge. It had 4 walls and a roof, electrical outlets and light bulbs, which were a blessing. The lodge was surrounded by woods and a bunch of platform tents. They were covered with sturdy canvas, and full of spiders. We swept, we sprayed, we took dominion.

How to describe the latrines? Hmm…well. All over Middle Tennessee are billboards and signs displaying the tourist trap/natural wonder that is known as Ruby Falls. It is an underground cavern that you hike down into, where they flip on the multicolored lights, and suddenly you see what you have been hearing on the hike down the underground hill: a towering waterfall, all lit up with red and yellow lights. The water is descending in loud gushing splats upon the limestone below. In our latrines, well, YOU were Ruby Falls, if you follow my drift. All the little girls were terrified to climb up on the wooden box (it was equipped with a toilet seat) and park there teeny hineys over the abyss. Who could blame them? Some of the older girls made great sport of shining flashlights down into the pit to see what they could see. I understand that a shoe and a water bottle had misbegottenly made their descent into the terrible depths. And the smell? How can I describe the stench? It might have been enough to put you off your feed for a week. It was certainly enough to make a bunch of 10-12 year old girls want to “hold it” for as long as they could. I looked at the girls who told me they were planning on holding it, and told them, “Girls, it’s going to be a lo-o-o-o-o-ng weekend….you might wanna try to get used to it….”

Jennifer (God bless her) was able to stay with us through dinner, but then she needed to get back to her dear husband John, because the doctor’s office had told her that someone needed to be with him for 24 hours following the surgery. We made it through cooking eclairs (????) , a Girl Scout “delicacy” of crescent rolls roasted over the campfire on dowels (they kept sliding off the sticks into the fire, due to my brilliant innovation of wrapping the dowels in foil and spraying them with cooking spray) filled with processed pudding from those pudding cups, and iced with chocolate icing from the canned prepared frosting that you buy in the store. (To my mind, this is nothing short of a processed nightmare of goo.) The girls loved them. We brought the girls into the “lodge” (the room with electric light bulbs) and did a final “de-ticking”. Did you know that Duct Tape works really well for peeling off seed ticks that haven’t yet embedded??? Oh, the things you learn… And then Lori (one of the Moms) and I went off for a final spider “search and destroy” mission that involved napalming the insect life in the girl’s tents into the great beyond. One of the funnier moments? Lori sidled up to me and whispered, “Susan, there’s something heinous in one of the tents, and we’ve got to get the girls out of there calmly and quickly. And, I’m thinking of telling them all that we’ve got ice cream back in the lodge or something.” The only problem with that plan being, of course, that we had no ice cream… But our Girl Scouts were undaunted. I went to the tent, said, “Girls, step out for a second, I’ve gotta kill a bug.” and they stepped out, Lori and I entered, the bug was dispatched, and all was right with the world. Then Valerie, another Mom, did a beautiful devotional for the girls centered around I Corinthians 13, where she beautifully personalized the chapter, and challenged each of the girls to demonstrate on the camping trip that, “Molly was patient, and Diane was kind,…” and off we all went to dreamland. Right?

Well, not exactly. Then the severe thunderstorms rolled in. BOOM!!!! All night long. I’d drift off for a while, and then, BOOM! crash rattle shudder I don’t know how to tell you how intense a thunderstorm can be when there’s nothing between you and it but a sheet of canvas and a couple of 2×4’s, but it was intense.

And obviously, the girls were NOT going to sleep. On a normal camping trip, they would have been keyed up and excited to be together, but add in the ticks, the spiders, the bladders that were not being completely emptied because, let’s face it, that latrine was nasty scary, and what my dear daughter described as the blitzkrieg invasion of the Nazis into Poland (aka the thunder and lightening and deluge of incredible amounts of rain) and, well, nobody slept much the first night.

We had planned a no-cook breakfast the following morning, and breakfast was a breeze. The girls worked together like a cheerful well-oiled machine, and breakfast prep and clean-up happened without batting an eye. We walked over to the tree climbing place, which was our outdoor adventure activity for the Juniors, and amazingly, we were able to do it, even though it began raining while we were doing it. Our activity coaches had told us that if it began to thunder, we would have to close down the activity, but happily, the whole thing was done, and the girls were amazing, stepping outside their comfort zones, and stretching to reach new heights. My own dear daughter must receive a small shout out, since after all, this is MY blog. She made it up 35 feet into the air, conquering her fear of heights, and so did the other girls as well. The Moms and the girls of our troop were VERY proud, and rightfully so. Jennifer joined us at the tree climbing activity, and I breathed a sigh of deep relief, as if I had once again regained use of my right and left arms, after having them tied behind my back.

Lunch was baked potatoes cooked in the coals, and while they roasted, Jennifer had brought a neat activity of making fire starters out of melted candle wax and dryer lint, poured into paper egg cartons. While we were making them, the idea came to us somewhat serendipitously that we could dip pine cones tied with string into the melted deliciously scented wax and make something with a lovely scent for our Moms for Mother’s Day, so each of the girls had fun doing that, too.

We ate, the rains came again, but we ate in the lodge, so all was well, and then we got a call from Jennifer’s husband, John. John said that some severe thunderstorms were moving into our area, and so rather than go on our planned hike, we went down to the big barn at the camp, where they have a stage and dress up clothes, and prepared skits for the evening’s campfire. (The barn was also the place where scouts were to gather in the event of a tornado, so this seemed like the prudent thing to do. And the fact that it tied in neatly with what we needed to do anyway – practice our skits – was just icing on the cake.) The girls had a blast, and came up with hilarious original skit ideas.

Then it was time to go for our annual trip to the 1950’s burger joint we go to each year. The weather cleared, burgers and shakes were consumed, and we all had a fabulous time. Back to camp for the final campfire, where the skits were performed, marshmallows were roasted, s’mores were eaten, songs were sung, and just as things were winding down: the rains came again.

We were staying at a camp called Camp Sycamore – which I fondly renamed Camp Tickamore. And what might be helpful to understand about our troop is that we are a group of home-schoolers, and we have multiple age levels in our troop: from Brownies up to Seniors. Each of these groups – the Brownies, the Juniors, and the Cadettes and Seniors were staying at a different camp site within Camp Tickamore. Our campfire was held at Whispering Oaks, at a lower part of the camp near Sycamore Creek, where the Brownies were staying. So as the campfire ended, we had to disperse back to our various camp sites. The Juniors were in our platform tents up on the hillside, and the Cadettes and Seniors were at Beech Bend, which I never saw personally, but I was told that before we had arrived, due to all the previous rain, the road to their campsite had recently washed out. So it was terribly rutted, and very difficult to get into or out of. So back to our respective campsites we went to hunker down for the severe thunderstorms of the evening.

The Juniors were EXHAUSTED, which was good. We were banking on a better night’s sleep on the second night. Alas, for me, this was not to be. I did sleep, off and on. Jennifer told me this, because she said I snored, which I of course know to be absurd since I am nothing but cute all the time. (Where’s my rolling eyes smilie when I need it?) But the Nazis were once again at work, apparently doomed by some mysterious time loop to forever re-conduct the London Blitz. BOOM!!! BOOM!!! went the V-2 rockets of thunder all. night. long. And the howling of the wind was so incredibly loud! I kept watching to see if things (like scarecrows or tin woodsmen) were blowing sideways by the front flap of the tent. Water was certainly blowing in. But we seemed to be staying on the ground, so this seemed to me to be a good sign.

When morning finally came, I woke to the sound of a truck engine. Jennifer was up first, and went outside to talk to Gary, the site director. I was lying there on my cot, thinking, “Well, we made it through the night. Thank You, God!!! I can go HOME to my clean bathrooms! And my spider-free bed, with my strong, handsome and comforting Big Bison to hold me tight!”

And then, Jennifer came back through the flap of the tent….

…to be continued….


Sunday 17th of May 2009

What???? To be continued???? That is cruel, just cruel . . .Stephanie (fellow SLer and now knows to never allow her daughter to sign up for Girl Scouts)

Karen (KayKay)

Saturday 16th of May 2009

Yikes. Sounds like my idea of a nightmare. Obviously you made it home safe and sound or you wouldn't be telling the story. You did...didn't you?


Saturday 16th of May 2009

To be continued??? That is so not cool. :-) You know I know what happened, but I just want to hear you tell it.Kristi ITC


Saturday 16th of May 2009

Great writing! I think I know most of the outcome but I can't wait to hear the details!Cdgni (from Sonlight)


Saturday 16th of May 2009

I hope that you get to take a very civilized trip somewhere SWEET soon. Maybe stay in a nice hotel with high count sheets and a flushing toilet. I hope that happens for you very soon, my ya, and I'm glad you survived. We need you.c