As I type this, we are in an airport lounge, awaiting a flight from Melbourne to Sydney. (Three cheers for small airports — we were the only ones in line to check in and go through security — arriving really early probably helps). We left Mill Valley Ranch a few hours ago — reluctantly, after a wonderful week. Highlights to follow, but first a bit of background.
I grew up attending and eventually working at a summer camp near Orangeville, Ontario called Teen Ranch. It was my happy place, and relationships forged there continue to this day. Mill Valley Ranch was started at the same time as Teen Ranch — founded upon similar values and themes, 50 years ago. The two camps remain connected — the founders, both in their 80s, are still fast friends and there have been countless staff exchanges over the years. So when our family was looking for a volunteer opportunity to incorporate into our sabbatical, MVR was a natural fit.
We’d received a message saying we were welcome to come on the dates we’d proposed, but that’s all we knew. One full week was the longest we’d stayed in any one place on the trip so far, so we weren’t sure what to expect. We needn’t have been apprehensive — each of us would have been very content to stay longer. It’s a special place, and we had a ton of fun. Some highlights:
- It is a blessing to be needed, to serve and to work. We helped with a variety of tasks through the week. Jonah learned to use a power sander and scaffolding to get the old school house ready for a new coat of paint.
- Tim (and often Genevieve and her new friend Hayley) painted a fence around the train station.
- I washed windows, coached volunteers, spent lots of time in the kitchen (as did Gen). It was amazing how the skills I learned in the Teen Ranch kitchen 30+ years ago came back quickly! We staffed the snack bar (where Gen and Hayley were queens of milkshake making).
- We bought new basketball nets and repainted the rims — they saw good use even while we were there.
- We spent time with a friend who has hosted and been hosted by various members of our extended family over the years, starting with my uncle 40 years ago in Australia and extending to my parents and camp friends in Canada. She and her husband had us over for a delicious supper, then she and her cousin took me on a long and lovely history walk around the MVR neighbourhood which used to be their family farm.
- The family connections continued — we borrowed tools from one member of the Weatherhead clan, one of the daughters-in-law took our family for a lunch picnic trail ride, and another cousin hosted me for a quick tour of her amazing garden that specializes in native Australian foods. She has a school house on her farm that is now used as a cooking school and cafe — she attended the school in the 1960s and had it moved to her property when it was slated to be demolished in the 1990s. It’s lovely — made me wish I could take a class there, and savour the amazing tastes from her garden.
- We spotted load of wildlife, ranging from parades of kangaroos to gorgeous parrots to a wombat (I missed it!) to brush-tailed possums that had no fear and that often woke us up with their knocking on our cabin walls.
- It was fun to be included in the camp games and songs. Gaga ball was new for me.
Jonah climbed 9 milk crates high. I remembered almost every song, including the actions.
- Our kids loved being on ‘staff’ at camp. It was fun for them to interact with kids their own age while also having extra privileges and responsibilities. We were at MVR for a school group, a day off, and
an Easter “round up” camp for 12-16 year-olds — we were grateful for the mix that exposed us to a variety of events.
- On the weekend, we wandered around Farm World, an annual event that attracts 55,000. It was chilly and rainy, but we watched a bit of show jumping and ate good
- We enjoyed church at Planetshakers in Pakenham, followed by a yummy lunch with a fellow Canadian (thanks for the tip, Hoover!) at “Pie and Mighty.”
- We met staff members who plan on being in Canada during our summer (including someone who taught me to ride when I was about 11 years old) — we hope to meet up with them while they’re local to us.
So now we’ve packed up for the last time before heading home. A week in Sydney will be our last stop. Very mixed feelings about that! And very grateful for the week we’ve had. Gen is wondering whether MVR might find its way onto her gap year itinerary!