This week I had the unbelievable opportunity to go back to camp. My novel, Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire, was inspired by my six summers at the best place on earth: Camp Birch Knoll in Phelps, Wisconsin. Gary Baier, the director of the camp, invited me to come up to camp for a Fireside program to talk to the girls about my experience as a camper and to tell them about the book. I was pumped!
I took my puppy, Ozzy, with me. He was not too excited about the prospect of a seven-hour car ride.
But he soon got the hang of it.
But he soon got the hang of it.
And before too long, we were driving through the entrance to camp! I couldn't help but break out in the Camp Birch Knoll song.
Just like Jemma, I was dazzled by this view of the lake.
I showed up right in the middle of their Sunday afternoon program: CBK's Got Talent. My daughter, Faith, was very happy to see me.
I stayed in the Upper Lodge, which is off-limits for campers. Faith was dying to go up there, but of course I didn't let her. Suffice it to say the Baiers are very hospitable hosts!
The girls put on their finest for the Fireside program. Here's Faith and some of her cabin-mates.
They took this opportunity to show me all their songs and dances they'd made up so far this summer.
Dinner was famous "Ed's Chicken," as featured in my book and in my memory. Yum!
Finally it was time for the friendship chain leading to the Fireside service. "Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold..."
At Fireside, campers and counselors shared songs, poems, and beautiful thoughts. I spoke about my terrible start to camp my first summer there (fought with cabin mates, ran away, was considered the "Big Mouth of Cabin Six") and how I came back and made the most of every summer afterwards and how I took the values I learned at CBK into the rest of my life. I read an excerpt from Jemma Hartman, and the girls loved it. Then awards were given, and finally, the new Firelighter (camp role model) was announced, and her cabin clobbered her with hugs.
Afterwards, Gary surprised everyone when he told them he bought copies of my book for every camper and counselor. Cheers all around!
Cabin groups came into the Lodge one at a time to eat fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, ask me questions, and get their books personalized.
The funniest question of the night was, "I want to have a book written by me, but I don't want to write one. How do I do that?" My answer was to become a celebrity.
The girls enjoyed looking at my old yearbooks, laughing at the fashions from the late 70s and early 80s.
And they loved the tattoos I gave them.
The next day I had to say goodbye to the magic of Camp Birch Knoll.
And head back in the car with Ozzy.
When I was sixteen years old, during my last summer of camp, Gary gave me a quote by Walt Disney that has guided my life ever since. I give it to you now with the hope that you will all follow your dreams and have the good fortune to see them come true...
"Think about the person you'd like to become.
Believe in yourself, based on the thinking you've done.
Dream big dreams, based on your belief in yourself.
Dare to make your dreams come true.
Think. Believe. Dream. Dare.
Become the person you know you can be."
Thanks, Gary, for everything!