After rolling the two kids and the camper all the way the Alaska and back, we couldn’t just stop and go home to the heat in Arizona. Instead, we continued to Pennsylvania to visit family and give the kids an opportunity to attend summer camp via Penn State University’s Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center. Zoe went to a week of their camp a long time ago and has, ever summer, asked to do it again. Finally, this year, I was able to say yes.
It is a day camp, so each morning I had to rouse them early and drive about a half hour to drop them off. Typically, its held at Shavers Creek, but they are getting a major renovation, to it was at the Agricultural Arena Penn State owns. Still, there was lots of forest, plenty of creeks and creatures, and happy tired kids. Well, mostly. Zoe was apprehensive after the first day. She is a ‘dive right in’ kind of kid and the first day felt, to her, a bit too much like a getting-to-know-you session with some fluff and time filler. Since they aren’t attending this camp to act as childcare, I was a bit concerned; she didn’t want to be missing out on grandparent time if it wasn’t a fun educational experience. I encouraged her to try day two and then decide if she would continue. Well, day two was, apparently, awesome. She went for a hike. She got dirty. She learned about biodiversity and life cycles. Best of all, she made a new friend; another homeschool girl from the local town, whom she has already sent letters to and received from!
Avi also made a friend; the counselor called Echo was his buddy. I arrived early for pickup one day and sat in on a story time with his age group. They were outside, under the shade of a gazebo, so I just slipped in the back and looked around for him. I looked and looked at all the little fuzzy headed kids and couldn’t spot his curls. Oh, yes, the humidity in PA brings that hair to life! Finally, I did spot him. On Echo’s lap! Avi loved camp from the beginning. He loved to be social. He loved the cool hiking and digging up crayfish out of creek. He especially loved the crazy stories and songs. Both kids came home with some new tunes that we can’t seem to get rid of….Bazooka Bubble Gum is driving me nuts! The rest of the week breezed by, with them getting ever more tired but happy at the end of each day. I heard stories of a biodiversity king who visited, a cool museum with farm equipment and pully’s, plus the amazing time they all had riding the bus and swimming at Whipple Dam.
The final evening, families had the opportunity to come to camp and have the kids show us around the agricultural museum and go visit the master gardens. Both kiddo’s really enjoyed showing off their new knowledge of old farm techniques. I brought dinner for us, and the camp served PSU creamery ice cream. There was a campfire event in the evening with each of the kids’ groups putting on a little goofy skit, and the counselors teaching us some of the camp songs. It was bittersweet and Avi was in tears saying bye to people, and especially Echo as it is his final year. Both kids want to return and I told them I would try my best to make that happen another year, which made them happy.
I was happy, too, because we spotted no ticks on them the whole week. This is always a stressor for me when travelling to PA. We tromp around in the woods or play in fields and I’m so aware that the deer tick population is on the rise, and they carry lyme disease; something that scares me a lot. I got some anti-tick chemicals that spray on clothes, treated them all, and felt better about the trip. With a few family members and friends having contracted it, I get all uptight about long pants even if its hot.
Before camp, we visited with my in-laws who live out in the country on a big property with lots of forest and a field; beautiful, it is, but oh there are deer out the wazoo, so, of course, I’m more paranoid about ticks there than anywhere. Regardless, my treatment of the clothes eased the mind and we had a great visit. The kids helped in the garden. Avi got to drive pappy’s tractor, and Zoe developed quite the skill at driving the little off-road golf cart thing they have called a gator. We enjoyed down time visiting with Pappy and Nana, and I loved hanging out with my new pal Blue, the dog.
They also invited the whole extended family over for a big summer birthday’s party. Five of us have birthdays in the summer, so it was a fun get together, and a great time for the kids to play with their cousins. Zoe and her cousin Bella spearheaded a little zoo demonstration production; they caught a salamander, a frog, a millipede, and a few other little critters, created mini habitats for them and then had a series of mini-shows about the animals. It was quite organized and eventually included all the kids; Avi took tickets, Sophia helped MC, Gianna and Mila were assistants. It was adorable!
Our last day at Nana and Pappy’s house was a blast, and, actually, wasn’t at their house. We went down to nearby Prince Galitzen State Park and they rented a pontoon boat for the afternoon. Nana packed lunch and snacks, the kids swam off the boat, and they each got to drive it, too! Avi was the king of this. He gave Zoe a chance for a bit, but really took over as boat captain. Pappy helped keep him on course and gave him much-needed advice like staying right of other boats and going around the kayakers. I’ve never done a pontoon-boat day, and thought it was super fun. There are some boats people own on the lake that have little homes built on them for overnighting, even. It was a fun afternoon, topped off with some ice cream before goodbyes, which are always tough, but the kids had summer camp to look forward too the next day.
After camp, we spent some quality time with my family. I mean real quality, too. A big family reunion at Bald Eagle State park brought in lots of my relatives from my mothers side of the family. We rented out the whole lodge and made an entire weekend of it, with genealogy, presentations, outdoor time, beaching, food and visiting, plus my job of giving out prizes. I got to put on a goofy headband and declare people to be “the most”. We all really had a great time, and just like my kids at their grandparents’ house, I had a blast catching up with my cousins (and their kids, too).
Once all that socializing ended, it was nice to have some downtime at my parents’ cabin, where the kids love to play and run around (again, with tick-proofed clothes). They rode the mini tractor with PaJoe – and then he taught Zoe to drive it on her own! They had massive nerf gun battles, and picked a few raspberries. We helped Nan with her hay bale garden, and she taught the kids some basket weaving. PaJoe helped them shoot some targets, and a giant box came that was a good fort for Avi. We also visited my Gram, the kids’ great grandmother, at her place for an afternoon.
We finished up our PA trip with a campout at Lake Raystown. My folks had scored a sweet water-front spot at the Army Corps campground, and I was able to get one up the hill from them. So, the kids all got a turn sleeping with Nan or Pajoe or Aunt Beppy. We roasted lots of marshmallows and the kids made a friend at the playground; a nice autistic teenager that was really still quite the kid at heart and made a great playground companion. Zoe went for a kayak ride with Aunt Beppy and were able to graze on blackberries from the boat. Avi was then determined to paddle his own kayak, and he did incredible going from our campsite around the bend to the beach. Pajoe and I paddled back, though, as an afternoon at the beach wiped Avi out.
There were tears, as always, when it was time to go, but excitement as well since our trip was next taking us to see more friends.