Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Relative Fun of Camping

I haven’t had much time to blog this month. We’ve been too busy enjoying summer, which is a good thing! One of the fun things the kids and I did recently was attend the annual summer gathering of relatives on my mom’s side of the family – an event known as Tent City.
The sun rises over Tent City 2012.
My mom’s brother, Bill, and his wife, Connie, built a cabin on a lake near Finlayson, Minnesota, more than a decade ago, and every year since then their family has invited extended family members to join them for a weekend of swimming, boating and s’more-eating. Even though Bill died a few years ago, he’s still with us in spirit as we gather to enjoy one another’s company and the great outdoors.

This year we had cool T-shirts designed by my cousin Megan
Those who are willing and able to sleep on the ground pitch their tents in the yard; those who require more luxurious accommodations (beds and couches) sleep in the cabin, and we all gather in the morning for pancakes, sausage, fruit and strong coffee.

We’ve attended almost every year since Elias was a baby (that year, I slept inside the cabin!). One year we had to scrap our plans because we totaled our car on our way out of town. This year, Steve wasn’t able to go because of his play performance schedule, but I didn’t want to miss it, especially since my brother and his kids were attending (they aren’t usually able to go because they live in Arizona). 

My brother's kids and my kids enjoying some quality cousin time at Tent City.
The weather was near perfect that weekend, and the kids, the dog and I spent a reasonably comfortable night in the tent – it was much improved from two years ago when we left a zipper open slightly in one tent and my mom, Elias and I were eaten alive all night by mosquitoes.

The campout with my cousins and their children got me thinking about my earliest memories of time spent with Bill, Connie and their four kids – it should be no surprise that one of the clearest memories is of a joint family camping trip we took to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

I was about 5 at the time – old enough to remember it, but young enough that I was spared having to do any of the work, like portaging the canoes or setting up the tents.
The camping cousins from left to right: Me, Kathy, Megan, Jimmy, Pete, Dan
These are the details that I remember best:
• We slept in a bunkhouse the night before setting out in the canoes, and I had to leave my favorite stuffed animal, Big Orange Dog, behind in our car.
• The water was so clear, you could see all the way down to the bottom of the lake.
• My cousin Megan was disgusted by the idea of using the primitive toilets, so she refused to go to the bathroom during the trip.
• My brother, who was a picky eater, refused to eat any of the dehydrated camp food we had packed and subsisted only on bread and peanut butter.
• I was afraid and thrilled at the same time to learn that bears had been spotted in the area where we camped.
From left to right: my uncle Bill, me, Mom, Dad and my aunt Connie
My brother, Pete
My cousin Kathy, me (love the hat!) and my dad
It’s difficult to predict what my kids will remember years from now when they reflect on their Tent City experiences. They may have trouble remembering, once they reach my age, the names of the people who attended, or how they were related to them. And that’s OK, because those details aren’t the most important thing in the long run. What’s important to me is that my kids grow up with the sense of belonging to a greater family community, one that sees the value in cultivating connections to each other and to the natural world around us.

It makes me think of a John Muir quote that became a favorite of mine last fall when we visited Yosemite. The quote is from Muir's book, My First Summer in the Sierra, which was published in 1911, but is still timely and beautiful 100 years later:

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

Here’s to enjoying the rest of the summer and to quality time spent outdoors with family!

This photo taken by my cousin Patrick needs no further description!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Summer with Frog and a Wolf in the Woods

It’s been a busy theatrical week for our family (not an unusual statement, I realize). Louisa, Sebastian and Elias all started Young People’s Theater Workshop on Monday – a three-week day camp run by the Northfield Arts Guild – and Steve’s free time has been consumed by late-night rehearsals for his second show of the summer, Into the Woods, which opens tomorrow at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault.

The show is directed by Gary Briggle, a well-known professional actor and director from the Twin Cities, and it’s a joint production of the Northfield Arts Guild and the Paradise Community Theater (click here to read a Faribault Daily News article about the production, and click here for ticket information).


Into the Woods is a Stephen Sondheim musical that premiered on Broadway in 1987 and was revived on Broadway in 2002. Although its cast of fairy tale characters includes Rapunzel and Cinderella, it’s not a show for kids – unlike the show Steve acted in earlier this summer, A Year With Frog and Toad, a Merlin Players production that also was performed at the Paradise.

Steve as Man Bird in A Year with Frog and Toad.
A Year With Frog and Toad is a lighthearted musical about friendship; it’s based on a popular children’s book series. Into the Woods is a darker exploration of parent-child relationships, of growing up and learning to accept the consequences of your actions, and of an individual’s responsibility to a greater community – not exactly themes easily grasped by younger children (or some adults). That’s why I was surprised to learn that Disney is making a film version of it (read more about that in this Wired article).

Anyone who’s familiar with Sondheim should not be surprised by the dark themes, however; this is the same man who wrote Assassins, a musical about people who have tried to kill U.S. presidents, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, a musical about a barber who kills people and has them made into meat pies. 

Steve’s character in Into the Woods is the villainous Wolf, but instead of wearing a wolf costume he’ll be wearing black leather – which makes it all the more creepy as he stalks Little Red in the woods. See why I said it’s not a show for kids! He also is sporting special facial hair for this role, inspired by Hugh Jackman’s role as Wolverine in the X-Men movies. I’m not sure how he’s explaining this transformation to his nursing home patients this week!


Steve’s sister Beth is in the show, too; she plays the multiple roles of the Granny, Cinderella’s mother and the Giantess. It’s been fun for two former stars of the Eldora-New Providence High School stage to be in another show together. Beth directed the first show Steve ever did for the Arts Guild, The Sound of Music, and they haven’t done a show together since Guys and Dolls.
The Wolf is no match for Granny
My kids are familiar with Into the Woods because we saw the junior version several years ago at the Northfield Middle School. We have the album from the 2002 Broadway revival, and even though they went through a phase when they played the first act constantly, I still enjoy the music and the clever, intricate lyrics. I think my favorite song might be "No One is Alone," although I like different songs for different reasons.

I may discover a new favorite tonight when the kids and I attend a preview performance for families. It will be fun to go “... into the woods, and out of the woods,” but given the length of the show, I doubt we'll be “... home before dark.”