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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Delighting in the days

delight-2 In January, I chose delight as my word for the year. I'm never very good with followthrough and this one word exercise is usually no different. But recently as I thought about how I was feeling these days with our lovely summer and our new fall rhythm/schedule/day-to-day life, I realized that things had been quite... delightful... and that without particularly trying, I had in fact been delighting.

Last spring was hard. I felt like a chicken with my head cut-off with three kids doing three different things school-wise, plus sports, church, and other activities. It was crazy. I felt like if I could just make it through till summer; it was a season with little delight in some ways, but it was also a season of embracing my writing life right where it is, and pressing on and moving forward intentionally, which is in its own way, a form of delighting.

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Through the chaos, and then into the peace of summer, my delight in the Lord has been strong though. This year I've taken on a Bible reading plan that my church recommended and it has kept me in the word consistently. My prayer life has been lacking still this year, but in reading the word I have felt a growth which is powerful.

Summer was beyond delightful. Beach days, camping trips, long days, family camp (ahhh-mazing!), swimming, barbecuing, reading, baseball, relaxation, concerts (Coldplay!) time with family and sweet friends-- it was all the lovely things of summer that I adore-- the very definition of delight, thank you, Jesus. I was incredibly sad to see it go, as much as I always love the start of a new school year.

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And as we've entered the new fall season, a season which can bring with it chaos and busyness, I'm delighted to say that things have, amazingly enough, not gotten out of hand, and in fact, I'm quite delighting in our days and enjoying the rhythm of things right now.

We now homeschool three days in a row (Monday through Wednesday), and then, the kids all go to school all day on Thursday and Friday, a gift to this mama that has brought blessings galore in just the first month. Lunches, brunches, coffees, mama outings, peaceful errands, days to clean and prep, writing time, and moments of quiet have been amazing.

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I'm relishing this time and trying my best to use it wisely and keep it from getting over-scheduled. And just like I expected, it actually has me looking forward to our next homeschool days... and despite all the solo-time benefits, even missing my kids a tiny bit. ;)  For our family, and for me, it is the perfect fit.

So all this to say, even though many days I'm still tired (from knowingly burning the candle at both ends) and there are still overwhelming moments and feelings of inadequacies and frustrations with schoolwork and parenting challenges galore...

There is amidst it all a strange feeling of r e s t.

There is p e a c e.

There is d e l i g h t.

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And there is gratitude. I'm very thankful for this season, and for the ways the Lord, in His grace, has orchestrated this time. May I use it for His glory.

We're going to camp!

This is the Bennetts we're talking about... don't you mean, going camping? Nope, I mean going to camp! sparklers

Do you ever feel like the stars align and things fall into place in an unexpected way? Of course, it's really God's sovereignty sneaking up on you and surprising you with something you didn't even know you needed, something that wasn't even on your radar.

That's how I'm feeling right now. {insert giddiness}

Life can be chaotic. No matter how I try to simplify, the clutter keeps piling up. Super fun days are usually followed by high emotions and crankiness. We absolutely love summer, and try to live it to the fullest, but also, motherhood is tiring, and training little people in the ways of the Lord can be downright exhausting.

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So what if the opportunity came to be poured into, both as a family unit, as siblings, and as a husband-and-wife team, in terms of our spiritual walk, our family culture, and well, FUN?

I'll tell you what you do, you jump on that opportunity. You grab it tightly even if that means squeezing every last drop of PTO and more (please, Lord, grant David enough health to work every day until after Thanksgiving!) Yep, you drop everything and you go... to camp!

We'll be heading to Forest Home Family Camp soon, and I couldn't be more thrilled.  We go camping a lot but we have not done anything like this ever as a family! David grew up going to a Christian camp in Northern California but the only time I've ever gone to summer camp is as a youth leader fifteen years ago (to Forest Home actually!).

I'll be sure to share more about it when we return, and in the meantime, you can follow along with me on Instagram, particularly with the hashtag #bennettarsatFoHo, and more generally #foresthomefamilycamp.

Can't wait to see how God uses this experience to grow us closer to Him and to each other.

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And one little bonus way that I'm feeling God's love about all this: in early Spring I started a new writing project that is now about a third of the way along, and guess where my setting is in this new book? A summer camp! Can't wait to get some first-hand experience as "camper."

P.S. sneak peak of what's ahead for us... squeeee!

Disclosure: My family has been blessed with this week at Forest Home Family Camp. All opinions and text are mine. {We are ultra-grateful!}

3 Little Things {6.17.16} + a little update

trail to the beach Happy Summer!!

We've gone camping twice in the last month, and just last weekend was spent at the beach in San Clemente where we hiked this steep trail down to a beautiful, peaceful spot. I'm sure there's some spiritual lesson there about doing hard work... ;)

I'm finally popping back into this online space after a few month hiatus. It was a crazy semester of school and life and I'm beyond thankful to be in the quieter space of summer break now.

In April, I participated in Camp Nanowrimo, and while I didn't quite make my goal, I felt like it was a great catalyst to getting going on my writing project, and I'm looking forward to writing more this summer. Brody turned six, and we a had a great get-together with his birth family.

In May, Gigi turned nine, and we camped in the mountains with my parents and some friends, which was awesome. A big highlight of the month was going to the Wild + Free homeschooling conference with some of my best girlfriends. I learned a lot and was greatly inspire, and wrote about my experience there on my homeschool blog.

And now, June. Hallee turned five (!!). Our spring birthday season is complete and I can hardly believe I am now the mama of a 9-, 6-, and 5- year old. We are done with school for the year and ready for lots of summer adventures.

A couple more things I've written lately: 

Adventure packs for my wild explorers, in which I share all about my kids bundle of tools and goodies that they carry when we go hiking, exploring, camping, to the beach, etc.

The truth about hospitality, in which I discuss the idea of making room in our hearts for others over on The Art of Simple blog.

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It's the Three Little Things

It's been a while since I've posted one these fun posts (but heck, it's been a while since I've posted anything!), so as a reminder, this is a fun series started by my friend Amy of MomAdvice, where we share just a few little things making us happy at the moment.

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1. ZestNest

I'm not sure where I first saw this zester-- maybe a magazine?-- but I put it on my wish list and my mama bought it for me for my birthday. It's awesome. I was tired of all my zest being embedded into the grater side of my zester and this one catches it all in a tidy little container. Works great!

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2. Saltwater Sandals

I totally had these as a little girl, so they are a throwback for sure. But as I started seeing more and more mamas rocking them, I fell in love, all over again. They don't have a lot of support but are surprisingly comfortable. Next up will be getting some for my girls.

Tip: I soaked mine in water and then let them air dry as I walked around to break them in, and they fit great. Look for the "big kid" sizes to fit women's feet.

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3. Aladdin Glass 1-Gallon Mason Jar Dispenser

(I linked to this on Amazon so you can see its details, but quick get yourself to Target to see if there are any left on clearance!) In the last several years it has become hard to find large drink dispensers that aren't plastic. Since I like to sit mine outside to make sun tea, I really want glass, because I don't like to warm food/drink in plastic.

Bonus: I posted this photo on IG and a friend told me that Aladdin is an ethical company, and as I checked out their website I found that they are indeed committed to sustainability and being environmentally responsible.

What's making you happy these days? 

Delightful snaps from the cutting room floor

Just felt like sharing a few glimpses of what's been delighting me lately. I've been snapping so many more pictures than I've Instagrammed (especially since we've had some phenomenally warm weather which has me all heart-eyes and praise hands) and I thought it'd be fun to share them here on the blog in 10 on 10 form. delightful snap-1

Both girls are playing softball this year, and here they are along with Gigi's best softball buddy. Gigi is on the Camo Chameleons and Hallee is on the Blue Sparkle Bears. ;)

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We had a little SuperB owl gathering, complete with chess, and lots of good snacks, of course.

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The sun has been shining and the beach has been calling me. These two are so good at playing together that I've even gotten in some reading time. (Reading at the beach is my fave! I have tinted reading glasses ordered, and I'm looking forward to not doubling up my glasses all dorky-like.)

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Book club met to discuss The Lake House amidst many good British-inspired treats. More on this book to come in a future post.

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Valentine's Day brought our annual community group Valentine's dinner-- one of my favorite traditions. We did a secret valentine exchange and all shared a favorite verse about love from the Bible. <3

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My first attempt at sourdough pizza came out quite deliciously! More of my sourdough journey is at #nicolesadventuresinsourdough.

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I sent my husband out to play golf with his parents on Valentine's day and I spent the day like this, finishing up The Royal We (which I was sad to finish and can't stop obsessing about).

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Me and my mama- on my lovely birthday outing-- riding bikes around Mission Bay. New Dodgers hat courtesy of my hubby-- it came with Coldplay tickets and I'm counting down until August!

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Children's Cove in La Jolla. We admired the beautiful water and then walked up the street to enjoy the best gelato ever at Bobboi Natural Gelato. I mean... mmmm....

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T-ball has begun as well. Look at Brody hitting the target in the middle there!! He's doing awesome so far, and David is having a better coaching experience the second time around with a slightly-older team. ;)

And just for fun, have you heard of I'll Have What Phil's Having? Tsh from The Art of Simple mentioned it on FB a couple of weeks ago and David and I have been loving traveling the world of food virtually with the very funny Phil Rosenthal. It's on both Netflix and the PBS app/website.

I hope to do more of these little photo recaps of the delightful things going on in my life as this year progresses. And an updating reading post is due up soon, too.  Tell me friends, what are you delighting in lately?

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When long-time friends become real-life friends

green ninja ladies I was going to title this post something like Meeting friends for the first time but it just didn't feel right. I've known these ladies for over five years, but a couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of actually spending time with them, all on the same side of the computer screen for the first time.

Thanks to my parents taking a little winter excursion, I was able to sneak over to their place, where I co-hosted a lovely little girls weekend/retreat with four friends from my blogging mastermind group, the Green Ninjas. I co-hosted with a local friend, Krissa, who I knew a little from my college days but who I really got to know through the mastermind group, and we were joined by Rebekah, Stacy, and Emily.

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It was a simple weekend-- Krissa picked up the girls from the airport Friday night and we met up at the house where we spent the weekend lounging, chatting, eating, and getting some blogging brainstorming and writing inspiration.

We made sure to visit the beach, and had lots of down time to relax and just be together. Food highlights included local favorite chips, salsa, & guacamole from El Nopalito, a trip to In-n-Out, fresh-squeezed orange juice, homemade sourdough bread, and some delicious coffee and pizza.

green ninjas at the beach

Monday morning, we were already talking about planning our next gathering (hopefully with even more members of our li'l group present). We headed over to my place so I could pick up the kids and relieve my husband from a weekend of solo-parenting (thank you, honey, you're the best!).

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And I laughed as Rebekah commented that entering my house was like stepping into my blog, or like being on a movie scene. She'd had so many little glimpses of it through the blog and social media that it was already familiar. And that's how it felt to finally hug these ladies and be able to talk to them face-to-face.

I drove the girls to the airport where we embraced and they waved goodbye to the palm trees. And just like that, we are back to communicating by chatting on Voxer and commenting on FB and IG posts.

It's a funny thing, this modern world, and sometimes we find beautiful, real friendships in unexpected places... like the internet. ;)

More pictures found at #greenninjaretreat.

2016: Delight

I so love a new year. And since winter is definitely not my favorite season, it's lovely to have something like the feeling of the new year to energize and excite me in January. Because thinking about clean slates and fresh starts does just that-- makes me feel energized, excited, encouraged, and of course, hopeful. I wasn't sure if the Lord was going to give me a "one word" or a phrase to focus on this year, but almost immediately when I began contemplating it, this word came to my mind and my heart. The more I settled into it, prayed about it and surrendered to it, the more perfect it felt.

So here it is~~

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Delight...

~ in Him & His word.

~ in my family.

~ in His creation.

~ in hospitality.

~ in my calling.

:: submit to God's will, let Christ reign, enjoy what He's given me ::

It almost feels like more of a new mission statement, than a word-for-the-year. Like, if I can somehow figure out how to really embrace delight, then moving forward it seems like that should always be how I live my life.

We're two weeks into 2016, and I'll be honest, it hasn't been easy so far-- especially the family part. The more aware I am of this idea of delight, the more I see myself not delighting very much in the day-to-day with my kids. I rush them out the door, I get easily frustrate with their attitudes, I feel selfish in my disdain of the laying down of self that is required in motherhood.

I think so often I feel entitled, and so I don't find joy when things aren't going my way, or when the days are ordinary. And so that's what this is really about; it's a reminder that all is grace.

My hope is that as I delight, I will be better able to submit to God's will, let Christ reign, and enjoy what He's given me.

P.S. Since blogging quite delights me, I hope to try to do it at least once a week from here on out, even if it's just a quick update. Let's see if I stick to it... ;)