Why Forest Home has our heart, and what I love most about family camp as a mama

Last year, when the opportunity to go to "family camp" we didn't really know what we were getting ourselves into. Neither David nor I had ever done any vacations that structured/organized with our families growing up, and I personally had never even been away "to camp" but rather had just heard accounts from my brother and friends of the epic experience it would be.

(Side note: Thankfully-- since I wrote a book about summer camp-- I finally got to have some of my own camp experiences from which I could draw. Those familiar with Forest Home will recognize some little details worked into my story and the camp I made up in my book if it's published one day.)

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You guys, despite all I had heard, I was not prepared for how amazing an experience it would be to go to camp as a family. Last year, we fell in love with Forest Home. This year, as we prepared to go back for year two, anticipation was high, and all five of us were counting down until it was time to go. 

And it did not disappoint. 

Of course, with all of the activities on the docket, the fun-meter at family camp is basically off the chart. The kids could talk your ear off about the Giant Swing, the ropes course, mini-golf, the craft cabin, the pancake breakfast hike, and Lake Day (our family's favorite day of camp). 

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But here on the blog, I thought I'd share the aspects of camp that pull on my mama heartstrings the most, and what makes family camp a true vacation for parents (spoiler: free babysitting. Nope, not a joke).

And, bonus: it's such a short drive off the beaten track (aka Redlands/I-10) which is great because I love the mountains but I don't like scary mountain roads. People come to Forest Home from all over (we met a family from England this year!), but if you live in Southern California it is is especially convenient, while still feeling worlds away.

Family time, friend time, alone time. Fun time and down time. Family camp offers such a good balance. The extroverts get plenty of friend and family time (we spent every evening playing cards in the clubhouse), and the introverts can hide away in the cabin or in nature anytime the schedule feels like too much.

Everyone gets poured into and gospel-refreshed. Our kids get time in their classes that is like a VBS, but even better (I loved the new trail adventures where they studied the word while out adventuring). And the grownups get the word taught twice a day (we were so encouraged!) with lots of time to worship God through music, too. 

Yummy meals and tasty snacks (ie milkshakes!), and coffee to boot. The kitchen staff is amazing and the Clubhouse is known for its delicious shakes and addicting fries. The coffee shop is fun to have as a treat option, although I love that they set up free coffee stations early each morning for the early-risers. 

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Enjoying creation, and getting away from daily life. Plus, fresh-picked blackberries for dayzzz. The mountain setting is so beautiful and rejuvenating to the tired soul. All along the creek are berry bushes, and we were there at just the right time to get to see (and enjoy) the berries at their ripeness, too. This year we also did a little hike at Big Falls down the road from camp which was super fun.

And of course, the CCA program (aka babysitting every night, and I mean that includes not dealing with bedtime). Each family is assigned a CCA (childcare assistant) who loves on the kids each evening during the teaching/worship/free time, and what a blessing it is to have all that time together as a couple! Hands down, this program is one of the best parts of Forest Home family camp, and I look forward to sending my girls up to be CCAs some day, too. 

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Finally, I have to give a shout-out to my handsome husband and our friend who won the Blob contest with an epic, story-telling, creative prop-using Blob stunt. #DaveyPoppinsForEva

If you're curious about Family Camp or have any questions, I'd be happy to answer. We just love it so much!

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Reading and writing recap: 2017 thus far

We're just over halfway through with the year so I thought I'd do a little recap of how my reading and writing has been going this year. 

Reading

So far, I've read 41 books (or 43 according to GoodReads, not sure what my paper list is missing). I started to keep track of some with the hashtag #nicolelovesbooks on Instagram but since I read so many on Kindle (thru Overdrive/the library), I don't end up getting pics of many of the books I read. But I have done better at recording my books read on paper as well as on GoodReads, and I love having a pretty list to look at and reminisce about all the lovely books I've read. It's been a good reading year so far, with lots more to go. 

My currently reading/TBR includes: Present Over Perfect, Big Magic, The Girl from Everywhere (about a time traveling YA pirate girl), A Snicker of Magic, For Darkness Shows the Stars (a YA dystopian Persuasion re-dux), Ginny Moon, Echo, Some Kind of Happiness, At Home in the World, Much Ado About Anne, Chasing Slow, and Border Odyssey (stories from the US/Mexico border). My upcoming book club selection is an Agatha Christie, which will be my first of hers. And of course, the TBR list grows daily it seems. (So many books, so little time!)

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Around the fam-- David read and enjoyed Ready Player One (he liked it more than me but I am looking forward to the movie) and just started The Hunger Games (!!). The fact that he's reading more has me all swoony. ;) Gigi is reading lots (recently The Babysitters Club (originals and new graphic versions), The Mother-Daughter Book Club, Little Women (my childhood abridged copy) and lots more, and Brody has been devouring Magic Tree House books in order, along with lots of graphic novels, and most recently some of the easier Matt Christopher (who's actually a lady!) baseball books, like this one

Writing

In addition to my quarterly posts at The Art of Simple and what's become almost that infrequent here on my blog, I've been writing a lot (well, a lot for me). I finished my middle grade novel manuscript and have been editing and revising that and now I'm ready to submit it to Pitch Wars, a really cool contest and community. I've written a query letter and a synopsis and I have a couple more weeks to polish those up before entering in early August. 

My next project is flourishing in my mind but I haven't quite found/made the time to do much in the way of concrete outlining/plotting yet. It's a YA and I am really excited about bringing these characters' stories to life. 

{sometimes when you have a creepy dream and wake up early, you have to redeem the time and get to work!}

{sometimes when you have a creepy dream and wake up early, you have to redeem the time and get to work!}

Podcasts

If you're a reader, I'm sure you already know and love the What Should I Read Next? podcast, but another fun one I found recently is Overdue. Each episode the two hosts discuss one book, so I've downloaded a bunch about books I've read and they're quite entertaining. As for writing, I have been really loving the diyMFA podcast. Although, now that it's summer I'm pretty behind on my podcast listening-- something to look forward to when I'm driving to school and practices more in the fall. 

One last note...

I think I'll try to send a newsletter in the early fall with more thoughts on this, but after much prayer and consideration we decided to send Gigi to public school for 5th grade. She is thrilled. I'll still be homeschooling (part-time) Brody and Hallee for 1st and 2nd grade, which should be fun.

Hope you're enjoying your summer!

Disclosure: this post has affiliate links in it. Thanks for your support!

Happy Summer, and a yummy, dairy-free ice cream recipe for you {Lava Flow Sherbet}

Ah, summer. So fleeting, so fantastic. I mean, seriously, I could not love summer more... and what better time (July is National ice cream month after all!) to enjoy some refreshing, creamy sherbet? 

My recent post on The Art of Simple is all about giving ice cream as gifts. I thought I'd share another flavor with you, in addition to the favorite flavor that I shared in that post. (If you're new here, thanks for clicking over. And if you'd like to stay in touch via my newsletter, you can do that by clicking here.)

I made this ice cream to take to a friend who's a new mom. She's taking a break from dairy so as I reflected on celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago, and remembered the Lava Flow drinks we drank in Hawaii, I knew just the creation I wanted to make to enjoy with my friend Sarah. 

A Lava Flow is basically a Pina Colada with a berry drizzle. I decided to blend all the flavors together to make it simple, and boy was it easy to whip up!

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Lava Flow Sherbet

makes almost 1 quart

  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk
  • 2 cups pineapple chunks (if frozen, thaw mostly first)
  • 2 cups berries (if frozen, thaw mostly first)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon spiced rum (optional)
  • pinch of salt

Blend all ingredients together in a high powered blender until smooth. (I rinsed my frozen fruit first to help thaw it.)

Chill in fridge until nice and cold (a couple of hours or overnight is ideal).

Mix in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions, and chill in freezer.

Enjoy your tropical treat!

Sharing a bowl of homemade ice cream with a friend, along with conversation and newborn baby snuggles on a warm summer night was perfectly delightful. Just a drop in the big bucket of summer enjoyment. I hope you're enjoying this summer as well. 

Working hard and making room

I made that choice, when the next glass of milk was spilled,
to choose a thriving response, rather than the surviving one.
— Joanna Gaines

We all go through these seasons, right? Thriving and surviving? Or maybe, like that quote I loved in Chip & Joanna's book, The Magnolia Story, there more like moments than seasons. I feel that-- each day, I make both choices to thrive and to survive. 

I've been thinking a lot about hard work lately, partly due to an essay Mindy Kaling wrote in her second book (which I just enjoyed listening to on audio). I have a lot of dreams, but am I willing to actually do the hard work to accomplish any of them? 

It's usually easier for me to either a) just be lazy, or b) let life scatter me, mess up my direction, and throw me into survival mode. Which, let's be honest, is usually just me, once again, being lazy.

We do have a new puppy in the house and a lot of other stuff going on-- both on the schedule and in our hearts-- but all those things become excuses for me. The truth is, if I want to thrive in my quotidian life and in my dreams, I really do have to buck up a bit. 

So this is me calling myself out. To do the hard work, and make the choice which is often the tougher one for me, responding in a thriving way, not a surviving way to the curve balls that come my way.

Surviving is yelling at my kids when they spill milk; thriving is taking a deep breath and dealing with the inconvenience calmly.

Surviving is talking a lot about writing but spending my bits of free time doing who knows what; thriving is using my time wisely and doing the dang thing, as Leslie from Blue Crush would say.

Because here's the thing. Thriving means my life is full of light. It's full of peace that transcends understanding, and a gospel-centered (not self-centered) life. It's full of living life to its fullest instead of mindlessly wading through the muck. 

Have I been reading too many dystopic novels? Maybe. But I really don't want to be a mindless drone. I want to grab my life and make the most of it. I want to tell stories and let stories fill my soul and make my mind think deeper thoughts. 

I'm determined to start making room for light in my life. Making room for thriving. Making room for doing hard work and hopefully accomplishing some things that I feel like God has called me to do. 

In another blogging life, I would have started an upbeat series about all the ways I'm making room in my life. But I know myself better these days; I know that I'm not known for following through on that sort of thing.

And also, I have other things I want to spend my words on (like finishing the last 5 chapters of my novel's first draft. And starting another one. And another one. See? Lots of dreams).

I do want to share the process with you though. I think I'll be more successful that way.

In most contexts, I think I'm what Gretchen Rubin would call an Obliger, which is to say, feel free to hold me accountable to this.

And if you want to join me in trying to thrive and do hard work, even if that means making room for it by saying no to other things, I'd love to walk through this together.

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You may consider sharing bits and pieces of this on Instagram with the hashtag #makingroomforlight. I'd love to see what this looks like for you. I'll try to do the same thing. 

Let's do the hard work; let's make room for light and see what shines through.

2 resources to encourage your walk with the Lord

I've gotten really picky about the books I receive or request to review, mostly because there are just so many things I want to read out there that I just can't read them all. But recently a few things have caught my eye; a few things in fact that are great resources for the spiritual journey (ours, and our kids-- you can check out my review of The Radical Book for Kids over on our homeschool blog). scripture-doodle-pray-atoz-1

Today the books I have to share are timely, too, because I think they would would bless you , and that they would also make great gifts for a gal who loves Jesus in your life.

One thing I struggle with in my relationship with the Lord is prayer. I just can't seem to get in a good rhythm with praying for things that are important to me. I pray sporadically, when someone comes to mind, when a friend asks me to pray, before dinner, during the day when I'm feeling desperate.

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I even have reminders on my phone to pray at 9am, noon, and 3pm, which was an idea I got years ago to pray at set times from Ann Voskamp's blog-- often they are just a quick re-centering which is always helpful. But I like the idea of having a bit of specific direction with my prayer, and this new book, Pray A to Z, is a wonderful resource for that.

Pray A to Z is a book of prayer prompts that guides the reader in "a practical guide to pray for you community." Each letter of the alphabet lists a few topics to pray for (like adoption, pain, neighbors, missionaries, etc.) along with a couple of praise topics that thank God for his character (like mercy, righteousness, & dwelling place). It's a great starting place for spending some time in prayer as I start the day.

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The second fun book I want to share today is actually two editions of the creative journaling book Scripture Doodle (the second one is Scripture Doodle God's Promises). These books combine devotional/worshipful scripture readings with the "adult coloring books" phenomenon. The author/artist April Knight gives mini art lessons and guidance for doodling scripture (and for hand-lettering as well) as a way to memorize verses and hide the word in our hearts.

I wouldn't call these books a super deep, gospel-focused devotional or a substitute for reading the Bible itself but they are a really fun and beautiful way to interact with God's word while also functioning as a creative outlet. As Litfuse put it, "Each of the creative worship prompts in this interactive guide includes biblical encouragement and ideas for worship through art." The books themselves are beautiful as well, and would be great gifts for both adults and maybe even a tween or tween.

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(a spread I colored while watching a Hallmark Christmas movie)

Thanks to Litfuse for the review copies of these books. There are affiliate links in this post; thanks for reading and supporting the blog.