GET OUTSIDE AND PLAY
When Sandy Newkirk was growing up as an only child in the New Jersey suburbs, her mother never had to yell at her to “get outside and play.” Her favorite place to be was outside. Whether she was gardening with her mother, playing alone in the backyard or riding her bike with her best friend Francine, she never wanted to come inside unless she absolutely had to. She was on an adventure in her mind the whole time.
She was traveling her neighborhood and exploring all the things an eight year old can explore in their boundary-filled worlds, but inside she knew that someday she would cut loose and practically “live outside.” In the meantime she had Francine and a very creative imagination. When the weather was too bad to be outside they did all the things that girls growing up in the 1970s did. They had Barbie campers, which they played with on the living room floor using the TV as their “drive in” theatre. The two girls did all the craft fads of their era: woven pot holders on the metal looms, sewing doll clothes and finger knitting but they preferred the outdoors to all other forms of play.
When Sandy got married and had a little boy followed by twin sons two years later, she knew that the best way to purge all that energy was to get the kids outside. She seized on the idea of learning how to camp. Neither Sandy nor her husband had grown up camping, although they both loved the outdoors. They decided that they could spend a small fortune renting a vacation home for one week a year or they could put that money toward a monthly RV payment and hit the road with their ‘band of brothers’ during the spring, summer and fall. Their first camper was a pop up and they used it for three years. New York State was their favorite place to camp and they looked for campgrounds with any form of water! River, lake, pond or creek; Sandy’s boys fished, floated, skipped stones and sought treasures. They were always happiest with water in the mix. Sandy recalls the day they loaded the kids in the car and took them to buy each one their own fishing pole and tackle box. Jubilation – boy style.
After three years in the pop up they traded up to a 25’ bunkhouse travel trailer. They would hit the road on Fridays and spend the whole weekend creating adventures in the woods. Those were happy times, but when Sandy and her husband divorced and the trailer had to be sold, Sandy purchased a good sized tent and she and her boys continued their camping adventures until the boys were well into high school and weekend jobs put an end to the campouts. Looking back from the perspective that parents can only manage with the passage of time, Sandy credits much of the determination and ingenuity that each of her sons possesses to the resourcefulness and creativity they developed when playing all day in the woods. All of the hours spent figuring things out and sourcing materials for their forts and games resulted in the ‘can do’ spirits that are now serving these young men well. As it turned out, family camping afforded them much more than affordable travel.
Sandy (Mom!) lining up the girls for a photo
When you are most at home in the outdoors but you actually work from home and are indoors all day, restlessness begins to build. At a certain point, a bike ride or Sunday hike is not filling the void and Sandy was at that place of possibly doing something radical! When she lost her mom to cancer and her dad was unable to live alone, Sandy sold her condominium and moved in to her childhood home to care for her dad. Many women who are raising children alone and caring for aging parents don’t allow themselves to think about what they want to be doing; they’re too busy doing what they need to be doing and Sandy was no exception. She had seen an article about “Glampers” and shelved it in the back of her mind for ‘someday.’ On occasion she would go online and look at used travel trailers for sale on Craigslist. It was a pleasure release button she kept to herself. She knew that ‘someday’ would eventually come.
Only a month after her dad passed away she was perusing the ads for travel trailers and she saw an ad for a 17’ long, 1991 travel trailer that was only a few miles from her home. She took her oldest son with her to look at it and impulsively bought it for $750. She had purchased the Sisters on the Fly book but she was stalled. She didn’t know how to get started and the trailer just sat in her driveway all summer. Fate intervened one sunny September Saturday when Sandy saw a garage sale sign in my neighborhood. She followed the arrows but hit the brakes when she saw me in my driveway only a mile from her house. I was cleaning out my trailer and getting ready to attend the Country Living Fair in Ohio. She pulled up and asked if the trailer was for sale. I explained that I was a Girl Camper and that I used it to “Camp Like a Girl” with several thousand other Sisters on the Fly. She immediately felt that she had been lead to me by camping angels interceding for her. My friend Carol, also a Sister on the Fly, was over and we asked Sandy to come back at 7 PM and told her we would order pizza and fill her in. We rounded up the New Jersey sisters and said we have a Girl Camping emergency here and we need everyone to come over tonight for an intervention. Sandy arrived at five minutes to seven for our mission of mercy with an appetizer and a bottle of wine. We knew then she was a ‘shoe-in.’ When she left at midnight she had the name of a reputable trailer repair shop, the web address to sign up for Sisters on the Fly and her first planned campout with the NJ girls. She has never looked back.
One of the best things about the sisterhood is watching women overcome their fears and obstacles and then watching them help others do it too. Sandy is our ‘go to’ gal when someone is having trouble hitching up. She is also our craft leader, sister in charge of the grill, kayak hauling expert and protein provider when we’re hiking and hit a slump. Everyone with an attitude that says, “What can I contribute?” finds a home among the girl campers. Each has unique talents and qualities that make them essential to the group and missed when they are not with us. We are a patchwork quilt of members who shine in different ways but when all sewn together provide warmth, color and comfort. Sandy is the binding in our quilt. She has a way of herding cats. She’s the first one to pull out her phone and make a shopping list, Google the winery we’re trying to find, and check the tide schedule when we’re planning a kayaking outing. She keeps us from getting lost on trails when we’re so busy laughing and looking that we miss trail signs. She’s our mom! I am so glad that providence pointed her in my direction and that I get to ‘get outside and play’ with her all the time now!