Tuesday, August 28, 2012


     While it's always wonderful to travel to new and exciting spots, there's something about the Shore that draws us back time and again. This summer we had one full week in between camp and college to grab some family vacation time and our inner Shore magnet drew us back. The Shore being the Jersey Shore and particularly Ocean City. I grew up going there with my family and as we drive around the island I can still find some of the houses we stayed in. My mother's parents came from a seaside town in Scotland and while they lived in Philly, they would spend their summers at the Shore because it felt like home - and you could rent a little place there in those days without selling your firstborn. When I was young sometimes we would stay with them for a week and sometimes we would stay in a little house right next to them and it was just in my blood to love the Shore.

     OK, now before we go any further, we need to get the semantics about this right . . .  people talk about going to the beach for vacation. I get that - but when you're talking about Jersey, you go to the Shore. Or down the Shore. THEN when you get there, you go to the beach. And while the beach only seems to slope ever so slightly lower than the rest of town, you go "down the beach" . . . or "up the boards" - which would be the Boardwalk where you can ride bikes in the morning, stroll, enjoy great food, shop, and ride the rides at Playland and Wonderland. It's a great way to spend a week in the summer.

     When Don and I got married he was all about the mountains and adventure and while I love the mountains and (some) adventure, I knew it was part of my matrimonial duty to turn him into a beach boy. He wasn't so sure but was willing to give it a try. It took all of one and a half days for him to catch on and by the week's end he had built an enormous and amazing sand castle, was boogie boarding like a kid and couldn't believe he'd lived this long without Mack and Manco pizza, Johnson's Popcorn, Mallon's sticky buns and Brown's Donuts!

                    For what is a week at the Shore without Boardwalk goodies . . .  and a little Skee Ball?? : )

    Logan was on the beach in his Pack-n-Play at 3 months old but sadly, has no memory of that . . . When he was about 15 months old or so we took him to the Shore for the day and he absolutely loved it - no fear! He scampered toward the waves with his arms open wide just trying to embrace the entire ocean in one giant hug. He still heads for the water almost before the umbrella is up.

 For the next 10 summers we discovered the beauty of the Shore in September and would share a place right on the beach with my parents. Rental prices would drop immensely, the crowds were gone, and the ocean temps were warm. Katrina sat up for the first time and said her first word - Mama (!) - while at the Shore her first time.
                   The next summer was the one I neversatdownatthepoolorthebeachformorethantenseconds as Little Miss Running Girl took off anytime she saw open space. That wide open expanse of sand just beckoned her to GO! It still does - although now there's more artistry involved and none of us has to go and retrieve her.

 We still laugh remembering the 'pony ring' Don dug for her in the sand so she could run around and around and around .  .  instead of gone like a flash! As she grew she loved the beach but wasn't always so sure about the ocean.

 Now she can boogie board like a pro but then the crashing waves kept her toes at the ocean's edge.

  Which isn't a bad place to be either .  . .

Friday, August 17, 2012

Clans, Cousins and Chiefs

     As I shared last week, family reunions are a regular calendar event for us. And it's an unfortunate fact of life that funerals and memorial services are another time when family gathers.  It always feels just a bit weird to be happy to see cousins, aunts and uncles at a time when we are saying goodbye to another. But we also get it, that it's OK to have that range of emotions on such a day.

     Such was the case last Friday when the Ritchie clan gathered to say goodbye to Aunt Dot. The service was very nice, full of reminders of a life well lived, of two sons who she and Uncle Bill raised well but who gave her a run for her money in their younger years, of favorites she was known for like pretzel jello and cranberry bread. Her choir mates brought beautiful music without shedding a tear (how did they do that?) and we fittingly sang Amazing Grace together. We felt that inexplicable mourning and comfort going hand in hand.
      The church graciously provided a luncheon after the late morning service. 

And while we started out at several tables in the fellowship hall,

 the cousins gradually brought extra chairs around a table to talk and remember, to catch up and reminisce.

 To tease and share photos and enjoy the comfortable commeraderie of family who are also friends.


     I love my cousins and I also like them. And I know it's not that way in all families so I'm thankful it is in mine. 

     I'm also thankful that dresses aren't quite as itchy as they used to be for three little girls . . . . 

My Mom had old photos of my cousin, Andy, who is Aunt Dot's older son (and as he didn't fail to remind us whenever his younger brother Dave was out of earshot, the better looking one.) 

 There were also some conversations about a walrus  but we won't go into that here. : ) Suffice it to say that the girl cousins had no trouble ganging up on the outnumbered boy cousins once again . . .

 and that conversations both serious and light hearted flowed comfortably.

I'd dare to say they still don't like wearing ties . . .  just like those Christmas gatherings long ago. But what I remember most was that these guys always took the time to play with their younger, and I'm sure more that once annoying, little cousin.


 I remembered them making whirlpools in the toodeepformetoswiminit pool and thinking, "Oooo, I want to be big like my cousins and do that!" I remember them being daredevils and motor heads and always up to something fun, and I wish there was another reason to enjoy catching up with them besides remembering their Mom and her special touch on all our lives.

      Traditionally in our family photos, Clan "Chiefs" always sit in the front while the rest of the gang who could make it fills in behind.

     Today we were not really saying good bye but just we'll see you later. 

     Two days later more goodbyes were happening as the 2012 staff at Camp Sandy Cove bid farewell to their last cabin of the summer, packed up their own gear and started heading home. We all made the trek to pick up Logan and it's a good thing we did as he regaled us on the whole drive home with stories of campers and Captain Cookout and all things that make up a summer as a Chief. At Camp Sandy Cove the Indian theme from the earliest days of that camp continues and in his best high "Scout" (10 and 11 year old boys) voice, we heard many of the "Chief Logan" camperisms . . . you know . . . the ones that go . . . 

"Chief, I have to go to the bathroom"
  "Chief, is this enough wood?"
    "Chief, can we please go play Gaga?"
       "Chief, I don't like this kind of cereal" 
          "Chief, I forgot my  . . ." 
             "Chief, I can't find my . . . "

     Oh my, I remember those days. Great training for teaching and parenting. Being on 24/7 with the girls of Shawnee or Seminole and later the girls who were in training to become Chiefs (my favorite). 

I'm not sure I can even begin to explain how it makes my heart sing that my firstborn, my son, spent this summer being a Chief. Loving it. Being good at it. Opening his Bible with boys from homes where there are more Books than family members and guys who have no idea what the New Testament even is. Taping plastic forks to his hands to be Wolverine for Superhero Week. Getting the little guy who has worn his bathing suit for four days straight to go take a shower and put on clean boxers - now! Jumping in the mud pit (not a good combo with 4 days in the same clothes!) or having greased watermelon contests in the pool for Cabin Night.  Singing "OHHHHHHHH, the Sandy Cove bunch is the truest and the best. . . "  Wrapping his long arms around his guys and loving on them so they can understand just a little more how much Jesus loves them. 

     Last summer when my daughter was at camp for her final summer as a camper (sigh  . . .), the wonderful woman who was my director at CSC (that would be the big Chief herself) was visiting camp, since her son is now the director. When I took Logan to meet her and she discovered he was a Youth Ministries major, she looked right at him in her discerning way and said, "Well, I know where you're working next summer!"

     As usual, she called that one right. 



 And this Mom and Chief has a proverbial lump in her throat, reflecting on not just the Clan Chiefs and their children, my cousins, 


but the wonder of God's call on the heart of a Chief who is both carrying on the Camp Sandy Cove legacy so well and blazing his own trail with that oh so familiar camp combination of excellence, craziness and love.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Family Reunions

     My Mom and Dad both come from large families so I've been blessed to grow up with lots of aunts and uncles and a ton of cousins! When I was little I thought everyone had large extended families and when I started meeting people with one or two aunts and two or three cousins, I would feel so sorry for them. I think if I count both sides I've got at least 40 first cousins and then when you start adding their children, well . . . let's just say, there was always lots of family fun at reunions!! And there still is!

 Storming the Castle  . . .
           with Qtips!
  Singing and acting out
the Twelve Days of Christmas

 from Three Calling Birds 

to Eight Maids a Milking

  to Nine Ladies Dancing . . .

and yes, you guessed it
that's the Partridge in a Pear Tree

(and he still doesn't like to wear a tie!!) : )

                 Hope I can still do the Highland Fling when I'm - - -  years old!! : )

      We have two annual family picnics on the Kaiser side and one to two annual reunions on the Ritchie side, which is my Mom's gang. Our Ritchie Christmas Gathering of the Clans is a tradition that goes back to the days when we all crammed into my Nana Ritchie's wonderful end row house in Southwest Philly at Christmas time. She would make Scottish meat pie and shortbread and those of us relegated to the kids' table would chatter and peer into the corner cabinet that housed an amazing collection of salt and pepper shakers and giggle and eat as quickly as possible.  We knew that Santa would be coming soon with something for everyone, thanks to the name exchange that the parents had orchestrated. Somehow PopPop Ritchie (or FaFa as some of the cousins called him) always seemed to miss Santa . . . and he always seemed so surprised that his timing was off every year! 

     Later we would gather around Nana's upright piano in her living room and sing Christmas carols which I always loved. There's a wonderful picture that someone has of all the cousins smooshed onto the couch - my older girl cousins with their bouffant hair that I so adored (both their hair and my older cousins!) the older boy cousins (who I also adored!) not very happy to be wearing those oh so constricting ties, we younger girl cousins in our good Christmas dresses (lovely but itchy!) and Mary Janes happily playing together -  and all of us connected by the unbreakable ties of family.

     Were there squabbles sometimes? Of course - it's a family. And families will squabble. Combine enough people who feel things deeply with inevitable differences and you will have squabbles. Sometimes you will have out and out battles. But the unquenchable spirit of family just about always wins out.

    Gradually over the years the aunts and uncles have started crossing over to their eternal home with Jesus and a reunion with my grandparents, Andrew and Helen Ritchie, who had come over from 'the old country' before either one was even 20. The bouffant haired and necktied cousins have children and grandchildren these days. The trio of girls in our Christmas dresses have been busily raising our own children as well. And each year at the Christmas Clan Party we celebrate our heritage and the joy we find in family with as many as can make it. For we never know what a year will bring.

      There were four "Clan Chiefs" out of the original seven at the 2011 Christmas party. These women are amazing. I'm glad I have their blood running through me. They lived through the Depression and World War II and tell stories of hopping the trolley to get to work or going to the movies for a nickel. They also tell stories about chewing the hot tar off the Philly streets because it was supposed to make your teeth white!!!

It might explain why alot of the teeth showing in those smiles are not their original ones!! : )

      My Mom (standing), is the baby of the group and her older sisters left to right are Dot, Eleanor and Esther. Her sisters and my aunts. Women who have prayed for me and my adventures over the years. Women who would come to our house to sit at the dining room table and watch me and my neighborhood friends play in the backyard because I was always orchestrating something crazy and fun that they loved to peek in on. ("Today we're playing Peter Pan - I'm Wendy, you're Peter, you're the Lost Boys - GO!") Women with guts and hutzpah and strength for the hard times and who still love to enjoy music and games and laughter at a family Christmas party.

      And now there are three. Dorothy (Ritchie) Cowgill, "Aunt Dot" (above in the red), is having a wonderful family reunion in Heaven with her twin brother, her parents, her husband, her other brother and her sister. No more sorrow. No more pain. Clothed in heavenly MacIntosh tartan. I'm pretty sure they are all doing the Highland Fling. Together. With Jesus. Eating the best meat pie and shortbread ever. It doesn't get any better than that.

       Which is why we will find hope and joy in the midst of grief. For Aunt Dot knew and loved Jesus, her Savior and Lord. She served Him out of the gratitude she had for all He'd done for her. Her legacy lives on in two of those strangled-by-their-ties-cousins I still adore, Dave and Andy.

     An accomplished musician herself, she loved to hear my Logan play the bagpipes. And so in loving tribute to my dear Aunt Dot with a fond see you later - for I will join you in that Heavenly Highland Fling myself one day -  Amazing Grace from Easter service a few years back.