It’s the Season of Hygge

Thanksgiving is so hygge! Wait, what? What in the world is hygge, and how do I even pronounce it? To start with, it is a Danish word, and it is pronounced “hoo-gah.” Denmark has been getting a lot of attention lately, because the people in this country are known to have a very high level of personal satisfaction, informally known as the “happiest people in the world.” In a country where there is so little sunlight in the winter and the weather is usually cold and overcast, how can they be so happy? Some Danes claim it is because of their cultural concept of “hygge,” or “consciously cozy.” This is an important value in their culture, to make things as cozy as possible. And there are certain ingredients that help create a cozy atmosphere. As I was reading The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking, it made me so excited about the upcoming holiday of Thanksgiving, because it is a time when we all slow down enough to savor these cozy elements. And then I realized that the culture of Rockbrook really aligns with the concepts of hygge as well. No wonder I like the book so much!

Here are the essential ingredients to help create ‘hygge,’ according to Meik Wiking:

Camp Candlelight

1. Atmosphere: Turn down the lights, burn lots of candles and light the fire. From learning to build a campfire in WHOA to our spirit fire candles, we naturally create atmosphere often at Rockbrook. At your Thanksgiving table, add some candles and soft music.

2. Presence: Shut down the screens. Be here now. We all know how easy it is to be distracted by screens. Rockbrook girls tell me all the time what a relief it is to be without their phones at camp. Remind yourselves and your family to power down on Thanksgiving.

3. Pleasure: Take the time to really taste your food. Mmmm. Muffins. Turkey. Rockbrook girls run to the dining hall when the muffin break bell rings. Standing in the late morning sunshine as the fog is lifting and munching down on a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin is the best. You will surely have some wonderful dishes at your Thanksgiving table. Really savor them.

4. Equality: “We” over “me.” The community is stronger than just one individual. Camp is all about the amazing people we get to meet from all over the world. Your family is amazing too – slow down and have some complete conversations with them. Ask them unexpected questions and really listen to the answers.

5. Gratitude: Look around. Take it in. You are very lucky. There is so much activity at camp that we build in times to reflect upon all of the wonderful parts of it. At the end of the day, campers and counselors talk about their “rose, bud, thorn” moments. Try asking those around your Thanksgiving table what they are grateful for before they dig into the food. (rose = the best part of your day, thorn = the most challenging part of your day, bud = what you are looking forward to the most)

6. Harmony: It’s not a competition. We already like you. There’s no need to brag about your achievements. Isn’t it the best to feel part of the gang, the big Rockbrook family? You don’t have to pretend to be different from how you really are. Your quirks are celebrated. Let your real family know how much you like them too.

Camp Togetherness

7. Comfort: Get comfy. Take a break. It’s OK to relax. Camp girls for sure know how to do this, as I see them lounging on the hill in their crazy creek chairs, wearing their footie pajamas, and braiding each other’s hair. Find cozy nooks in your home too and invite your Thanksgiving people to join you.

8. Truce: No drama. Let’s discuss politics another day. Sometimes it is a relief to step into the child’s world that is camp. Yes, there is a lot going on in the world that can be stressful, but we choose to put that aside for our camp session. Give yourself a break from that on Thanksgiving too!

9. Togetherness: Build relationships and shared experiences. Trying new things brings people together. Just as a white-water rafting adventure can bond a cabin group, doing something new as a family can build connections. Maybe a fun outdoor game to get moving on Turkey Day would provide exercise plus a little shared fun.

10. Shelter: This is your tribe. This is a place of peace and security. During the summer, we often get mountain gullywasher rainstorms. Those are the best times to get cozy in the cabin with our cabin mates, telling funny stories. Thanksgiving is a wonderful time when your tribe, your family comes together and enjoys that shelter of our relationships with each other.

From our Rockbrook family to yours, we hope you have warm, wonderful hygge Thanksgiving!

Camp Belonging

Camp as Our Constant

Change, change, change. It feels every stage of life brings more and more change. When I was feeling a bit overwhelmed this year with all the change around me, one of my peers offered me some (unsolicited) advice:” Change is the only constant in the world.” Although I beg to differ, I do know a place that will always be more constant than change in my life.

camp weaving girls

Exactly a year ago, I drove away from Rockbrook Camp for Girls and towards Ann Arbor, MI to start medical school. My life became busy with deadlines, schedules, exams filled with what seemed like endless memorization. To make things even more hectic, my schedule was different every week and change became my new normal. Needless to say, it’s been a busy year with so much change, and it seemed that as the year went on, I realized I didn’t take time to reflect on who I was and whom I was becoming.

When I made the choice to come back to camp this session—even just for 10 days—I wanted to make sure it was for the right reasons. I have spent so much of my year worrying about my own needs and filling my own cup that I wanted to give back to a place that gave me so much. Many of my camp friends and campers would not be present during this session, so I was nervous to come back to a place where so many of the people that made it special were no longer there. With those friends and campers that were at camp this year, I knew it would be important to avoid showing up with expectations of what I wanted my short time at camp to be. In a happy turn of events, my short time here has turned into so much more than I ever expected. When I arrived, I was expecting camp to feel different, and yet, camp hasn’t failed to bring the incredibly familiar.

knitting girls

As soon as I caught a whiff of the camp smell, it felt like I was home. It felt like for the first time in over a year, I was able to hit pause and look around. The crunching sound as we walk through the rocks at camp, the beautiful wooded mountains in the background, the chilly lake waiting for campers to jump in— how I took these simple sights for granted! In addition to these consistent sounds and scenes of beauty, I’ve realized camp brings other timeless qualities to new and old Rockbrook girls that make this place a home base for so many of us.

The best part about this familiarity is that I’m not the only one who feels it. A few days ago, I met an alumna from many years ago who described the sense of comfort that walking through camp brings her; she knew Rockbrook as the place that helped her know who she was and who she always wanted to be. So relatable! Just a few hours later, I heard the same words from some current campers on the senior line. They talked about how much they wanted to bring their camp self to their lives year-round because they knew that here they are their best selves.

zip line camp girl

How exactly do we become our best selves? While I think there are many answers, I have a hypothesis: Camp reliably brings us routine and, in that routine, so much comfort. This comfort gives us the space to be our best selves. This is a place where we build each other up and we begin to judge our successes based on the success of our community and not our own personal success. By investing in each other, we inevitably become the best version of ourselves.

How did I get so lucky? In a world that seems to never stop bringing change, it is so nice to know that we have Rockbrook to remind us of who we are. I get to have a place to come back to that will—without fail—always remind me of who I am and can be. What a gift. Thank you Rockbrook for another great summer. Thank you for all the new and old friendships. Thank you for always being more constant than change and never failing to be exactly what I needed.

—Maria Santos

camp girls together

Eager Enthusiasm

Camp Friends Return

Today, our very first day of camp this summer, was exciting. We opened the summer 2016 summer season today with our first session girls arriving all morning beginning around 8:30. Like every opening day of camp, it was exciting for everyone— the campers, counselors, and directors alike. But there’s something special about the first opening day of the summer. We’ve had to wait for so long, have so many new fun things planned, been preparing the camp facilities, gathering equipment and supplies from new kayaks to yarn for weaving. We’ve been thinking about camp for months, literally all year long waiting for this day! Mostly, and this is the best part, we’ve been thinking about all the great campers who will be attending Rockbrook this summer, all of your great girls. It’s wonderful to see them again, to see how they’ve grown and feel their excitement for camp. For the new campers too; it’s a delight to welcome them to Rockbrook. Bringing all of this together, the eager enthusiasm and anticipation for camp, made the morning full of smiles, cheers, and hugs. With this kind of feeling, it’s already clear this is going to be a great session.

After speeding through the arrival process (perusing the latest RBC gear, meeting the office folks and medical team) and getting settled in the cabins, parents said goodbye and the girls launching right into group games (hula hoops!), hiking the trail to Rockbrook falls, tying their first friendship bracelet of the summer, warming up their tetherball arm, and just catching up with a new camp friend sitting on the hill while enjoying the view.

Camp Lake Dive

Camp life is life lived outside… or at least mostly outside, with our rustic screened cabins, and daily outdoor activities. The weather is naturally always a factor. Like today when the forecast called for a 90% chance of rain after lunch, we thought we’d surely be unable to open the lake for our “swimming demonstrations.” As is often the case here in the mountains however, the rain was spotty, hitting some places more than others, and we were lucky most of the afternoon. Clouds rolled by with patches of sun appearing now and then allowing us to hold a Reggae dance lake party during the swim demos (with hot chocolate waiting for the girls after sampling the chilly, stream-fed Rockbrook lake), tour all of the camp activity areas, laugh through counselors performing their activity skits, and sing songs together during an assembly of the entire camp on the hill. A sprinkle of rain cooled things down at one point, but it didn’t slow us down much at all.

We’re off to a wonderful start. The group of counselors we have this summer, fresh from our week of pre-camp training, is one of the best we’ve ever had. Each one brings talents and skills to teach, but more importantly is a lovely, kind person who will take great care of your girls while here at camp. Likewise, the administrative staff from last year have returned and are ready to guide everyone as we reform the community that makes Rockbrook special. It’s a pleasure for all of us to be here with your girls.

Girls Camp First Day
Girls Camp Swim Buddies

According to the Campers

Once again, I thought we could publish a few pieces written by the campers themselves, telling us what Rockbrook has meant to them, and what they might have learned this session. We asked a Junior, and three Seniors (writing together) to share their thoughts, and these are the results!

So Much Shaving Cream
Three Musketeers

Kate (9)–South Carolina

Rockbrook is a great place because it’s a place where girls can learn. They don’t just learn they become stronger people. When I first came to camp, I was not a really strong person. I did not make my bed, or clean much.

Then the day of camp came. From that second ’til now, I can tell all the girls and I have become stronger people and friends. I think that Rockbrook can make you meet a pal for life. I did, and we have told each other many secrets.

I also think my counselors are right about the saying “FFF” (Fierce Fabulous Females). That’s what you will become if you come to Rockbrook.

Hugs!

Rachel (14)–Virginia; Sanders (14)–Texas; Emily (14)–Georgia

When the three of us, Rachel, Sanders, and Emily, volunteered to write a snippet of the camp blog, at first we were unsure of how to put our thoughts into words. Should it be funny, formal, poetic, etc…? But, as we talked about it, it seemed to write itself:

To us, Rockbrook is waking up with a tangle of signatures strewn above your head. It’s coming back to friends you haven’t seen in a year, and feeling like you never left. It’s the deafening crunch of gravel at rest hour, and star-gazing on the Hill when you’re supposed to be asleep. It’s the nights when the sky is within your reach, and the darkness is your blanket.

Rockbrook is arguing with your counselor over the existence of a Fairy Party [editor’s note: just a dream…], and redetermining what “dry” means. It’s days in which laughter’s as constant as breath, and the cardinal’s glow stays with you all year. It’s the smile on your face when you’re singing your favorite camp song at the top of your lungs.

Rockbrook is home.

Jumping Right In

"Smile" for the Camera

Every summer, on the first full day of camp, it strikes me how little time it takes for the “spirit of Rockbrook” to take hold on our campers.

Within the first 24 hours, our campers transform from the quiet, polite children who arrive on Opening Day into true Rockbrook Girls (who, while always polite, are rarely quiet). Through the courage of jumping into the lake for the swim demos yesterday, the creativity of planning and performing skits with their cabins last night at Evening Program, and the sheer adventure of setting out this morning for the activities that they themselves chose, those handy manners that school instills in them are stripped away in preparation of three weeks of carefree fun.

Getting Their Hands Dirty

Gone too are some of the inhibitions that might hold them back from taking fun and crazy chances in the “real world.” Girls who have been nervous around horses their whole lives chose to step into the barn this morning. Girls who swore up and down all year long that they wouldn’t do the camp swim demo completed it yesterday afternoon and earned their green bracelet. Girls who dreaded opening day all year long, sure in the knowledge that they would be homesick, began to realize that they are strong enough to make it through, and even enjoy, nearly three weeks away from the comforts of home.

High Five!

Most wonderfully, though, campers are putting away their self-consciousness and desire to “fit in” with the crowd, and have begun to let their inner zaniness shine through. They are realizing that camp is a place where “weirdness” is not only tolerated, but welcomed and encouraged—a place where differences are celebrated. Silly songs in the Dining Hall? No problem. Creating a skit about Cinderella and Hannah Montana starting a dance party on the moon? Totally normal. Wearing pants on your head to dinner? All par for the course.

Embracing the Weird

There were three Juniors in particular who embraced that philosophy last night, when they stood up and made the announcement at dinner that, “Rockbrook is all about having fun, and sometimes to have fun you have to get a little weird.” They then challenged their fellow campers to dress as weirdly as possible for today’s meals. Our Rockbrook girls, new and returning, rose marvelously to the challenge. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were populated by walking bananas, ketchup bottles, aliens, pants-on-head wearers, giant sunglasses, and more.

It is amazing to see the transformations that only a single day at camp can bring about; and even more amazing to consider how our campers will continue to grow and change between today and Closing Day.

Instant Enthusiasm

Moving into summer camp

Let’s get started! The day that so many of us have been waiting for has finally arrived. For the directors, all of us who work year round, today begins the unfolding of many plans and the thrill of seeing everything come together— the people, the equipment and supplies, the activity ideas, special events, new camp buildings, and surprises for the campers. For the staff, today is the culmination of their week-long pre-camp training where they learned about the Rockbrook Camp philosophy, protocols, teaching methods, and ways to focus on their campers’ needs in the cabin. And of course, for the campers, today is when their time at camp finally begins, when the fun and excitement of the next few weeks can get started.

Most importantly though, today is the day when we can all come together in “the Heart of a Wooded Mountain” and form the caring, and proudly a bit zany, community that is camp. We can all now begin to do things together— share our meals, dress up in costumes, sing (!!), be creative as we make things, reconnect with nature, truly feel the weather, laugh, and play all day long. It’s this sense of community, energized by all the wonderful people here, that makes the fun of camp life so powerful, and ultimately meaningful.

Swimming Tag board

These blog posts, we hope, will dip here and there into life at camp. They will report items of news, announce special events, outdoor adventure trips, or just what we had for lunch. Please don’t be shy about giving us feedback or asking questions in the comments. We’ll be happy to respond!

Once all of the campers had arrived today, and we finished up a delicious lunch of Rick’s homemade Mac-n-Cheese with fresh fruit and salad, all of the girls joined their counselors for a trip to the lake. It’s been a long tradition to begin each camp session by orienting everyone to Rockbrook’s lake, explaining the various safety rules, and assessing everyone’s swimming ability. With everyone dressed in their swimsuits and with towels at the ready, each girl takes turns demonstrating that she can swim out about 50 feet, back another 50 feet using a back stroke, and then tread water for one minute. It can be a little shocking to first feel the temperature of our mountain stream-fed lake, but it also makes most girls swim that much stronger/faster. Successfully performing the “swim demo” earns each girl a green bracelet and a buddy tag with her name on it for the tag board. If a girl has difficulty with the swim demo, she can still use the shallow area of the lake while wearing a life jacket. With the sun shining, and lots of cheering and congratulations going around from all the counselors, special staff and directors, it was wonderful to see the girls enjoy the lake for the first time this summer.

Camp Activity Tour

After changing back into dry clothes, all the girls gathered on the hill in the center of camp for a quick assembly to meet all of the special staff members, sing a few camp songs, and learn a few more guidelines about camp. For example, we demonstrated the lightning prediction and detection system we recently installed at Rockbrook. Called the “Thor-Guardian,” this system is a sophisticated sensor that measures electrostatic energy in the atmosphere near camp, and sends out a loud warning when there is a danger of lightning. It continues to monitor the atmosphere and sends a different warning sound when it is all clear. Everyone at camp will take shelter in a building whenever there is a warning, and stay there until the system indicates it is safe to go back outside.

The other highlight of the day was the activity tour, where the counselors introduced the campers to all of the activity options here at Rockbrook. Split into several groups, the girls toured camp stopping at each activity area to hear a brief presentation from the activity instructors. They saw kayak rolling at the lake, bows and arrows at archery, looms at Curosty, and flips at gymnastics. Many of the counselors made up songs and skits to illustrate what their activity involved, as well. It was a fun and informative afternoon giving the campers what they needed to sign up for their activity schedule later after dinner.

For the first day of camp, this one ranks right up near the top. It seemed like there was instant enthusiasm, loud excitement for everything we were doing and about to do. This session is off to a fantastic start!

Young girls camp friends

Never To Be Forgotten

Summer Camp Friends

Today was the final day of camp for our 2014 season, and looking back, recalling all the excitement and action of the past 10 weeks, we’re so grateful for the experience. It’s been a truly remarkable summer. We could point to many reasons for this, and while it’s tempting to list accomplishments or the successful special events that populated our weekly calendar, I think the most delightful aspect has been the bonds of friendship we all gained with the wonderful girls, staff members and directors who comprised our camp community. It was the relationships we formed that will keep this summer unforgettable. Here’s how Lucy Maud Montgomery put it.

“All in all, it was a never-to-be-forgotten summer — one of those summers which come seldom into any life, but leave a rich heritage of beautiful memories in their going — one of those summers which, in a fortunate combination of delightful weather, delightful friends and delightful doing, come as near to perfection as anything can come in this world.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams

Thank you everyone for contributing your enthusiasm and energy, your care and kindness, to our time together. We will miss you all. We’ll miss laughing and playing together, supporting and encouraging each other. We’ll miss you, friends, but also look forward to next summer when we can be together again.

The Simple Things

Last night, we held my without-a-doubt favorite event of each session: the shaving cream fight. It is an event at which girls leave their manners in the cabin, put aside all their instincts that demand that they stay clean and orderly, and give no thought to the rules–because there aren’t any.

Sneak Attack
Got ya!
Messy and Happy
Watch out!
The Latest Style

This event is camp’s equivalent of giving a child an expensive gift for her birthday, only to have her play with the empty box for the next month or so. We spend a lot of time and energy putting on elaborate events for the kids throughout the session. And they do enjoy them–but nothing can quite equal the utter, visceral joy of being handed a bottle of shaving cream, and told to just go nuts.

Something about the simplicity of it all–pick up shaving cream, shake can, spray onto as many people as you can, get as messy as possible–lends itself to a beautiful sort of mindlessness. There’s no goal that you must reach, no way to win or lose, and, most importantly of all, no fear that someone might judge you for looking like a walking marshmallow. There is only the can in your hand, the grass between your toes, and the grin on your face.

It’s the simple pleasures such as this one that I believe is camp’s greatest gift to campers. Too often in the real world (and yes, sometimes even in the camp world), we overlook the tiny things in the world around us that can bring us joy. We are too intent on the big picture, on making this world and our lives exactly what we want them to be, to stop and focus on the details that are of no real use to anybody, but still can chance our lives and make them more beautiful. We tend to miss the trees for the forest.

Take the campers I saw in the lake yesterday, swimming back and forth, intent on finishing their mermaid laps in time to get the Dolly’s trip prize. Would there have been any real harm done if they had stopped their swimming, and floated silently in the sunshine for the rest of Free Swim? What about the camper I talked to a few days ago, trying to race through “Hamlet” before the end of camp, so that she would have time to write her report when she got home? What if she had forgotten the deadline, and taken a few moments to slow down and appreciate the mellifluous rhythms of Shakespeare’s language?

But I know it’s not that easy. Of course everyone would prefer to slow down and appreciate the little things, but the big things feel too important, too pressing to ignore even for a moment. Stopping to smell the roses feels like a luxury that simply cannot be afforded.

But at camp, thank goodness, that particular luxury comes cheaper. Camp gives both campers and staff the chance to slow down and focus the significantly less important, and more joyous, things. Of course there are still moments, even at camp, when we too get caught up in the big picture. The completion of mermaid laps, the execution of the perfect skit, the nitty gritty and ins and outs of the daily schedule, even the completion of a blog post–all of these things can draw our eyes away from the joys all around us.

Which is why the shaving cream fight, and other camp events and activities like it, are so important. They strip down our priorities and interests into those that are most vital to our happiness. They train us to look past the things that seem important, and focus on the quieter things that really are. Put more simply, they allow all of us–camper, counselor, and director–to just slow down for a minute and remember what it feels like to just be kids.