Opening Camp Renaissance Style

Girls arrive at summer camp

Welcome August Mini Session campers; welcome to Rockbrook! For girls returning after already knowing camp and for those who were arriving for the very first time, this was the big day they had been waiting for. Now with a fervent mix of excitement and likely a dash of anxiety, both intensified by the months of anticipation they’d been tolerating, their time at camp could finally begin. What a relief! The check in process— meeting the office folks, browsing the latest Rockbrook logo gear, consulting with the nurses, and stopping for a quick “hair appointment” —went very smoothly, and in no time the girls arriving had met their fabulous counselors and the new bunk mates they’ll be getting to know so well over the next 12 days. Right away, after a couple get-to-know-you games and simply having the first of many, many conversations, I could tell we’re going to have really tight cabin groups this session. It’s neat to see camp friendships forming so quickly.

Right before lunch, the whole camp gathered on the grassy hill overlooking the mountains for a quick assembly of introductions, a silly skit performed by several counselors, a few songs led by the Hi-Up campers, and a demonstration of our lightning warning system (it sounds a very loud horn warning the whole camp to go inside whenever it detects lighting, or the possibility of lightning, within a several mile wide radius.). Part of the assembly included assigning the “Mop Awards” to the cabin group from each line that had the highest overall inspection scores for the previous week. This session the awards, which are actual mops, where decorated as board games… again, just for the fun of it. The winning cabins from each age group get to keep the awards to display in their cabins, like a trophy, until the following week when a new cabin will more than likely take the title.

During rest hour, which happens right after lunch, Chelsea and her team of lifeguards opened the lake for all the newly arrived mini session girls. She took this time to orient the girls to the lake, explaining the safety rules there and asking everyone to demonstrate their swimming ability so she could assign them buddy tags. The chilly mountain water feeding our lake can be a shock, even for returning campers, but today’s bright, warm, sunny weather made the water feel even better.

Festival Kids in Costume
Festival jousting inflatable
Festival Face Painting

The rest of the afternoon became the main event of the day, an amazing Rennaissance Festival held on the grassy lawn of the Clarke-Carrier House in the center of camp. Built between 1895 and 1889 by H.P. Clarke, the father of Rockbrook’s founder Nancy Carrier, this house was designed by noted Asheville architect Richard Sharp Smith. The campers walk past it on their way to the tunnel that leads to the stables for horseback riding. The house has winged porches on each side and a terraced lawn circled by ancient boxwood bushes. Our festival took place all around the house, including the nearby paths through the woods.

water balloon catapult
Festival Hair Styling with flowers
Girls Festival Costumes

Like so many events and parties at Rockbrook, we began with costumes, encouraging the girls to be creative as they dressed up for the fair. Masks, dresses, jester hats, ribbons, feathers and flowered headbands, all added color to the festivities. We invited our friend Billy Zanski back to set up a drum circle and play for the girls as they arrived at the event. Right in the center of the lawn an inflatable jousting game was set up, while spread around it were different activities the girls could sample: face painting, a water balloon catapult, a jello toss, and a silly “photo booth” featuring Renaissance-themed props (scepters, masks and crowns, for example). Of course we had plenty of fun snacks too: cotton candy, popcorn, snow cones, and roasted chicken legs to go around. Down one path a fortune teller was reading palms. Another path led to a story teller, and the most popular led to a magical fairy garden revealing small shiny treasures, bubbles, and twinkling lights. One area had counselors braiding hair using flowers, rainbow colored tinsel, and ribbons, while nearby others were offering temporary tattoo designs using henna. Renaissance music played, and a juggler wandered around entertaining. There was so much to do! All this, combined with all these excited, happy girls, dressed up and silly in the best ways, made the whole event a spectacular success. It’s the kind of day we love around here.

Cabin inspection award

A True Festival

Camper Song Clapping

We welcomed our 2nd July Mini session campers to Rockbrook this morning, some returning to camp after one or more previous summers, and some for their very first time. For all 103 of them however, all the waiting and anticipation could finally bubble up as excitement, “smiles and pep” like one song puts it. Today, the gorgeous, cool yet sunny weather added even more energy throughout the check in process— greeting the office folks, checking out the latest RBC gear (green seems to be a color this year…), chatting with the nurses, enjoying a quick “hair appointment” (all clear there), but most importantly, meeting the fantastic counselors and new cabin mates they’ll live with for the next 12 days. It’s normal for this busy excited process to include a little anxiety as well, as campers and parents feel nervous about being apart or unsure about “how it will go,” but there didn’t seem to be much of that today as the enthusiastic, optimistic spirit of all the great people here carried the mood. By about 12:30 we had everyone settled in their cabins, groups get-to-know-you games happening, and tours of the camp finding their way to every activity area.

Just before lunch, we assembled all the campers and counselors on the grassy hill beneath the old walnut tree for a few songs, introductions, announcements and skits. Like most gatherings at camp, it included costumes, lots of clapping and singing, and plenty of volume throughout. The three Line Heads (who are veteran counselors supervising each age group) entertained everyone with poems announcing the “Mop Awards” given to the cabin with the highest inspection scores for the week. It’s an exciting honor to win, and then to keep the award, a decorated mop, in their cabin for the coming week.

I don’t talk about our camp food very much in these blogs, but I could, because it’s awesome! Rick and his dedicated crew in the kitchen, for 6 years now, have been consistently serving healthy, made-from-scratch meals keeping all of us happily fed. Considering the baked goods (muffins, breads, cakes, cookies!), the fresh guacamole, pasta salads, soups, salad dressings, and international camp dishes, including vegetarian and gluten-free entrees, and so on, this kitchen cooks! Here’s a fun fact; in one week the Rockbrook girls typically eat 500 lbs of apples, 300 pounds of bananas, 4 bushels of peaches, 4 bushels of oranges, and multiple gallons of blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries. Yikes, that’s a lot of fruit! Partly this is because we keep a table on the dining hall porch stocked with fresh fruit all day so the campers can cruise by and grab a snack, but it’s also because Rick likes to include at least one fruit and a vegetable on his lunch and dinner menus. Today’s lunch was a good example— Rick’s homemade Mac-n-Cheese, baked with three kinds of cheese, steamed green beans, with sliced pineapple and blueberries… A perfect first meal at camp. For dinner, Rick served his famous homemade barbeque. He roasted 12 massive pork butts, rubbed down thoroughly with a complicated blend of peppers, coffee, and other spices. He made his own vinegar-based sauce, and completed the menu with fresh coleslaw, buns, blackberries, and Rice Krispie treats for dessert. I could go on and on about how well we eat at Rockbrook. It’s just that good!

After a brief rest hour, during which the Mini Session girls squeezed in their “swim demos,” the whole camp dressed up for a special event to be held on the grassy lawn of the Clarke-Carrier House in the center of camp. Built between 1895 and 1889 by H.P. Clarke, the father of Rockbrook’s founder Nancy Carrier, this house was designed by noted Asheville architect Richard Sharp Smith. The campers walk past the house on their way to the Rockbrook Stables for horseback riding, but today it was the scene of a spectacular Renaissance Fair.

First, we announced the event so the campers could dress for the occasion… colorful dresses, ribbons, jester hats, flowered headbands, and hairstyles. Drummer Billy Zanski set up a drum circle and played while the girls arrived, and they found more than 10 different activities, renaissance music playing, and several different snacks. There was a catapult that launched water balloons, a “photo booth” complete with a variety of Renaissance-themed props (crowns and scepters, for example), a juggler wandering around (me!) and an inflated jousting game. Nearby, counselors were braiding flowers and ribbons into hair, painting colorful designs on faces, and offering simple henna temporary tattoos. One path led to a fairy garden with twinkling lights and bubbles, while another gathered girls around a story teller. There were roasted turkey legs to go around, lemonade to drink, popcorn, cotton candy and snow cones to enjoy too. There was so much to do, the girls had a blast wandering around sampling everything.  It was a true festival, made extraordinary by the crowd of happy girls, the music and historic camp setting. Good camp fun, right out of the gate!

Winning Camp Girls Cabin

Sunday Slow-Down

Color Guard

Sundays at Rockbrook give us all a chance to slow down. We put aside the exciting pace of camp, in which we have dozens of activities and events to choose from every day, and allow ourselves to take each moment one at a time.

Bear Hug!

The first of these moments came this morning at 9 AM, when the rising bell rang. We all jumped out of bed, refreshed by the extra hour of sleep that we get every Sunday at camp, and made our way down to breakfast in our PJs. We skipped the chores. Those we’d save for later. We all enjoyed a breakfast of Krispy Kreme Donuts (a Sunday tradition) in our PJs, robes, and slippers.

The hour between breakfast and chapel was spent in cabins, hanging out with friends, and changing into whities. By the time all of the campers arrived on the Hill for the flag raising, teeth had been cleaned, hair had been brushed, and whities had been donned. We were all relaxed and happy as we stood in the sunshine and watched the Hi-Ups raise the flag.

Story Time

Chapel this week was put on by the Juniors and Middlers, and the theme that they chose was “Fearlessness.” Sarah, as has become a tradition in the last several years, read the camp a book pertaining to the theme: “Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: A Cinderella Tale from Africa.” The heroine in the tale wins the hand of the king by braving a series of tests that prove her worthiness.

Talking to the Group

Inspired by the story, several campers arose to tell the group what fearlessness means to them, and how they have experienced it in their time away at camp. Interestingly, the stories that they told were not so much about being entirely without fear, but rather about fully experiencing the various fears and anxieties that come along with being away from camp, and then conquering them. Campers talked about fearing homesickness, until they realized how much fun it is to experience the independence of camp; about fearing the water slide, until they got up the nerve to step off that platform, and felt the exhilaration of speeding down the chute and out into the lake; about fearing horses, until they finally sat upon a gentle horse, guided by an experienced hand, and learned that there was nothing to fear.

Got Her!
Mop Award Win!

Chapel was followed by Assembly on the Hill. The Middler counselors started things off with a hilarious skit in which they all played personifications of “Rockbrook Villains” (Snake, Heat, Poison Ivy, Moisture, Lost Crazy Creeks, etc.), trying to determine which of them had failed to replace their buddy tag after leaving the lake. After the presentations of the weekly “Mop Awards” for cleanest cabins that followed, counselors from each line represented their age groups in a water balloon challenge. The camp water balloon catapult was placed on the porch of the Junior Lodge, behind the campers. The challenge was for one counselor to attempt to shoot water balloons over the heads of the crowd, to where their partner was standing on the road. The counselor who hit their partner with the most water balloons would win. The Senior counselors won, and quite a few members of the crowd got drenched in the process.

Camp needs to have these slow days once in a while. We have to have days in which we all take our time, get a little goofy, and allow ahead, a week that, in this case, will involve Banquet, the play, a horse show, Spirit Fire, and Closing Day. Today was that last deep breath we all took before the end of camp.

Rocking the Whities

Honest-to-Goodness Camp Fun

Two camper girls moving luggage

The light grey fog common to our mountain mornings was just beginning to clear today when we opened the front gate to welcome this summer’s August Mini Session campers. About half of the girls arriving are new to Rockbrook, so as they drove up the hill, rounded the lake with its view of the stone hillside lodge and water slide, and met Sarah in the center of camp, it was a strange moment of excited anticipation, vague familiarity (from watching the RBC video… repeatedly!), sprinkled with maybe a few butterflies. The group today took no time to get started— being welcomed by the full session campers who are already here, getting to know new cabin mates, unpacking and making beds, and even heading off on a short hike or friendship bracelet making activity.  Rockbrook is a friendly and down to earth place, so it’s not surprising how quickly and easily new campers settle down and begin to have fun.

During the check-in process for the arriving mini session campers, the full session girls followed our regular Sunday schedule which included dressing in their white uniform with red ties (their “whities”), a quick flag raising ceremony, and attending the Chapel gathering set in the woods on the north side of the camp. Today’s Chapel theme was “Individuality” and was presented by the Senior campers.

Before lunch the whole camp, now all the campers and counselors (210 + 58), gathered on the hill in the shade of the big walnut tree and with the gorgeous mountain view in the background, for an assembly.

Campers win mop award for a clean cabin

Sarah, Sofie, Frampton and Charlotte, with help from the Hi-Ups and Line Heads, led a few camp songs. Several Activity Leaders presented skits and awarded a few campers achievement/attitude certificates, like the “Always Ready to Jump in the Lake” award and the super-hero-themed “Mop Awards” that went to the cleanest cabins on each line. We finished up the assembly with everyone hopping up to take a state photo. While some states had only one or two representatives (OR, MO, CO, for example) this session, others like North Carolina and Florida formed quite a crowd.

After lunch, all the new campers changed into their swimsuits and set off on a tour of the camp, stopping to identify all of the activity areas, including the waterfront where they could meet the lifeguards and perform their “swim demonstrations.” This is a simple exercise that involves swimming out about 50 feet, back another 50 feet using a backstroke, and treading water for 60 seconds. Doing this confidently qualifies a girl to receive a green swim bracelet and a special colored buddy tag. If someone struggles to complete the demonstration, she’ll be limited to swimming in the shallow end of the lake and be required to wear a life jacket until she retakes the swim demo as does well. The lifeguards are always happy to help a girl work on her swimming ability, if she is so inclined.

Camp obstacle course kids
Camp girl having face painted
Camp girl slides down inflated slide

Next, for our hot and sunny summer afternoon, we cranked things up with a Wet and Wild Carnival down on our grassy sports field. We had an inflatable, 25-foot water slide and climbing obstacle race course in place, sprinklers spraying wildly, and enough water pistols to arm everyone. When the girls arrived at the field dressed in their swimsuits, the music was pumping and there were stations all over with different fun Carnival activities to try. The Rockbrook corn hole beanbag games, ping-pong ball toss, hula hoop and frisbee games, and water dunking challenge offered small prizes for the girls. There was a face painting tent that seemed extremely popular— faces, arms and even stomachs soon painted —and of course a snack tent to keep us going, which included an endless snow cone machine as well. Groups of girls ran from one game to another, squirting people, stopping to pose for a photo, nibbling snow cones, screaming and laughing with delight when suddenly hit with a water balloon. With this much going on, this much honest-to-goodness camp fun, we all had a blast.

Camp girls eating snow cones in the sun
Camp girls in sun at carnival

Miss RBC

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Sunday at Rockbrook offers a change of pace. It is a much more relaxed schedule that allows both time to recuperate and to reflect. Everyone got to sleep in an extra hour this morning and come to the dinning hall in their pajamas where we were all treated to donuts at breakfast. After our leisurely breakfast, all the girls and staff had plenty of time to return to their cabins and change into the traditional Rockbrook Sunday uniform of white shorts, white collared shirt, and the red sash tied in a square “friendship knot.” When the bell rang, the whole camp lined up around the flag pole to watch the color guard raise the flag. The privileged honor to perform as the color guard is one of the many responsibilities reserved for the the oldest group of campers called the “Hi Ups.” After the flag raising, and the pledge of allegiance, the campers and staff walked in silence down the lower line to Rockbrook’s open air chapel in the woods where they sat on rustic log benches. This week’s chapel was led by the Middler and Junior lines on the theme of “friendship.” Campers and counselors from these lines prepared and presented readings, personal stories, and songs centered on the topic of friendship. Sarah Carter read a book, “Our Friendship Rules” and led a brief discussion about the story before opening the floor to any campers who wished to add their own thoughts or experiences about friendship. Chapel at Rockbrook is always a positive welcoming environment where campers are given the chance to observe, express, discuss, and reflect on some of the many experiences they are learning about here at camp.

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Then this afternoon, they changed out of their uniforms to dress up and show off their talents at the much anticipated Miss RBC pageant. The campers were given a few days notice to prepare a performance of their own invention. Cabins worked together as groups to come up with dances, skits, and songs to perform for the rest of the camp with everyone from the cabin participating. Today we saw lots of impressive gymnastics, circus tricks, dancing, singing, and fun. Many of the silly costumes campers brought from home came out of their trunks today to make an appearance and add to the fun, colorful atmosphere of the pageant.

Flashback to the 70s

Girls Camp 1970s Ceremony

Another quick historical photo post… Browsing through our archives, I found this picture labeled “August 1971.” It shows the Sunday morning flag raising ceremony, the girls gathered on the hill dressed in their uniforms, and the amazing view of the mountains we have at the center of camp. The Sunday uniforms are slightly different nowadays. Campers today wear white shorts, shirt and a red tie, but not red knee socks! 🙂

Is that an Oldsmobile in the background?