Summer Camp is a Trail of Tears and Other Things

June 27, 2018



Last week, we packed Miss M. up for her first-ever stint at sleepaway camp. I know that many, many kids have been packed up and sent (usually blissfully and with much excitement) to sleepaway camp for summers upon summers. They have gone at ages much younger and more tender than Miss M.’s age of 12. For some kids, that’s what summer’s all about, right? Days spent splashing into crystal lakes, hiking among nature’s bounty, endless games of capture the flag, songs and s’mores around the campfire, newly minted friendships that are all the more bittersweet because you know there’s a timeline involved.

For some kids, the time spent at camp is the highlight of the summer. Some kids love it so much that they return to the same camp year after year, excited to make new friends and thrilled beyond belief to see old ones from summers past.

Uh, that’s not my kid.

And I know that’s not my kid. I knew that when I asked her if she wanted to go, confident that she would say, “No way.”

But she didn’t say no.

She said yes, because one of her best friends from school was going, and Miss M. loves this friend. This friend has gone to summer camp a few times before and oh my goodness, camp is so much fun. It’s such an adventure. You get to do all of this cool stuff that you normally would never get to do.

This friend is wonderful and kind and not a liar, not by a long shot.

She’s also many things my daughter isn’t: outgoing, athletic, adaptable, independent, thrill-seeking.

Can you see where I’m going with this?

Miss M., child who fell straight from her mother’s tree, our Little Miss Home Now, did not enjoy her first foray into sleepaway camp. That’s putting it mildly.


Excerpt from letter home:

Dear Mom,

Camp is okay. After you left, I had a hard time adjusting. I cried a lot that day and most of the next day, too…the food is okay (I have mostly eaten bread and water so far, but I haven’t been very hungry, anyways)…My cabin mates are very nice…I had a hard time sleeping the first night…I am also kind of afraid to use the showers here.

I do believe pickup time for end of camp is between 9 and 10 on Saturday?


Here’s the thing. I knew she would hate it. I knew it, I knew it, I knew it and I sent her anyway. I realize that I should not feel guilty about this because she told me she wanted to go and she believed that she wanted to go, so of course you let the girl go, dammit, but I knew. And I still feel guilty. A little bit.

She did adjust. After two days of crying most of the day and night, she gathered herself and reserved her crying for nighttime for the duration of the week’s stay. They had ice cream there. Kayaking and boating didn’t suck and the day they went rafting was pretty neat. Her cabin-mates remained nice and she still dearly loves her friend. The showers remained creepy and the food stunk.

She survived and she was incredibly grateful to be picked up and returned to the things that make her world go ’round: quiet, routine, books, comfort, indoor environs, her own bed.

I cannot say I blame her.

She also had better enjoy home while she can, because we’re leaving again soon, although her digs will be much more amenable than a bug-filled log cabin. We’ll be floating.

First week of July, we leave for Alaska. There will be wildlife (I hope! The bigger and the wilder the better!) but from afar, on the comfort of a ship’s deck. There will be unfamiliar food, but those floating hotels have things called “dessert bars,” so I do believe she will be fine. Hopefully more than fine.

As for me, I’m a little nervous. I never, ever, thought I’d want to go on a cruise, even to Alaska. I’m an introvert, after all. If you are an introvert, is it a good idea to board a gi-normous vessel and strand yourself in the middle of the ocean with hundreds of people and shuffleboard on the Lido Deck? I’m not sure about that. Will there be a bartender named Isaac? I fervently hope so.

In preparation for a trip that boasts things like “dessert bars” and 24-hour room service and chocolate fondue fountains, I’ve tightened the grip on Le Regime until we depart. We’re going full throttle on the salads and the whole grains and the vegetarian meals. We still have our kitchen poltergeist, which honestly, given the travel schedule, I’m not going to be able to deal with properly until August, so we’re keeping things simple and clean and easy. This recipe fits the bill.

I’ve made it both as written and as the more salad-like option stated in the footnote, and both are tasty. For the hot summer days, I think I like the lemon vinaigrette version but I certainly also cannot argue with butter, so make the one that speaks to you most. Or make both.

If you have an eagle eye for detail and have been reading here for a while, you will notice the inclusion of fennel in this recipe, which is odd. I have made no bones about my hatred of fennel, particularly raw. But over this winter, as we were trying to eat more vegetable-forward meals, I roasted it and wasn’t unhappy. Then I got lazy and merely sauteed it on the stove and you know what? Wasn’t that unhappy, either. I was especially not unhappy when there’s a recipe like this, where you pair it with hearty, earthy shiitake mushrooms, snappy asparagus and sharp shards of salty cheese.

The universe is fucking with me, people. I am middle-aged and no longer recoil at fennel, as long as it’s cooked. My husband says that your taste buds start to fail you after a certain age and I must be there, because I daresay cooked fennel is pretty darn palatable. LOCK ME UP.





Mushroom and Asparagus Grain Bowl

adapted very slightly from Cooking Light

serves 4


1 tablespoon olive oil, divided

6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced (about 3 cups)

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 large fennel bulb, fronds removed, bulb thinly sliced (about 3 cups) or 2 sweet onions, thinly sliced

8 ounces fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)

4 cups cooked farro or 2 (8 1/2 oz.) pkgs precooked microwaveable farro (such as Simply Balanced)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter*

1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions

1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds or toasted chopped hazelnuts

1 ounce Parmesan cheese, shaved or grated (about 1/4 cup)**

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or flat-leaf parsley


Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms release their water and have browned, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and cook for a minute. Transfer mixture to a plate.

Reduce heat to medium and add the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to the skillet. Add sliced fennel and asparagus; cook until just tender, about 5-6 minutes. Transfer to plate.

If using microwaveable farro, prepare according to package directions (if using regular cooked farro, keep warm). Stir the butter, lemon zest, and lemon juice into warm farro.

Divide farro into bowls. Top with mushrooms, asparagus and fennel mixture, salt, pepper, scallions, toasted nuts, Parmesan and chopped herbs.


*Alternatively, if it’s just too dang hot outside to want buttery anything, you can mix 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest and a dab of Dijon mustard together and toss with the farro. It works great if you want to eat this salad-y style (eg: room temperature or slightly chilled).

**1 ounce of cheese is pretty dang parsimonious. If you aren’t trying to bank calories for a “dessert bar” in your future, double it.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Kitschen Bitsch June 27, 2018 at 7:30 am

Kudos to you for sending her. That foray will help her do other hard things later, and stick out the longer camps and programs she’ll want to do in high school. And, you know, leave home. ;)


Dana Talusani June 27, 2018 at 3:16 pm

Kitschen Bitsch,

After the camp debacle, I am concerned that when she hits college age, she will still be living in our basement and commuting to the local college. Home is too dang comfy for that child.


Jody June 28, 2018 at 8:43 am

Nothing wrong with that.


Ashley January 2, 2019 at 7:05 pm

EVERYTHING wrong with that! It’s why kids live at home until they are 30 and don’t have the balls to go out and experience life! Good grief, how clueless are you?


Dana Talusani January 9, 2019 at 3:06 pm

Hi Ashley,

Charmed to meet you.

Annie June 27, 2018 at 9:50 am

I have known several “not cruise people” who have done the Alaskan cruise and absolutely loved it. You can get so much closer to glaciers, hidden bays, and other things by boat. I bet you will totally love it. Be sure to pack rain gear and warm layers! Can’t wait to hear all about it. Xoxoxo


Dana Talusani June 27, 2018 at 3:17 pm


We are taking many excursions off the boat–whale watching, dog-sledding on the glacier, bear stuff, etc. Thank goodness we still have our rain gear from Ireland last year (albeit it being humongous and unflattering).


elizabeth June 27, 2018 at 12:21 pm

I felt like I was reading about *my* one summer camp experience. I also took a few days to adjust and eventually liked it, but I was glad to be home. And I have a wariness of daddy long-leg spiders to this day. Feel free to tell Miss M that she’s not the first to not take to summer camp.

I’m definitely not a cruise person, mainly because I am somewhat of a control freak on vacation and I like to be able to do things my way, but I’ve heard really awesome things about AK cruises. If you have Hulu, it might be worth watching the last few episodes of season 10 when they cruise from Seattle to AK and spend a couple of episodes there–it might help you get psyched up for all of the good salmon and crab you’re going to have!


Dana Talusani June 27, 2018 at 3:18 pm

Oooh, Elizabeth–which show on Hulu? I can definitely get behind good seafood, as land-locked as we are in the Rocky mountains!


elizabeth June 27, 2018 at 7:36 pm

Doh! Today has been a really long day and I didn’t realize that I didn’t mention that it was Top Chef which really is the #1 reason we have Hulu because I watch it more than anything else…though The Handmaid’s Tale is rocketing right up there in how relevant the show is versus our current hellscape!


Sherri June 30, 2018 at 9:05 am

So my oldest loved camp – slept away with friends at the same beloved camp for 5 or 6 summers (a few weeks at a time) – but my two boys are on the fence – one does not want to go (mostly) – and the other does (but he is my ADHD kid who gets in hot water everywhere he goes and this camp is phone-free / no contact with kids for the duration so… I get nervous). My little one is just getting old enough to go so we’ll see. Thanks for sharing your story. Oh – and have fun in Alaska – sounds amazing.


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