Our family just spent a few of the best days we’ve ever had together. When our summer weekend schedule became too busy to fit in a camping weekend, we decided we would camp in the fall when Faith and I had time off from school for parent/teacher conferences. I prefer being outdoors in fall-like weather anyway, and looked forward to sitting and reading in a camping chair with the breeze blowing while Brad fished and Faith found non-electronic ways to occupy her time.
Our original plan was to venture away from the nearby lake and campground that we always camp at. It’s just too easy to run home for something we forgot, or to shower and change clothes, and I feel like we lose some of the “roughing it” experience that I love about camping. But between iffy weather, having the dog with us, and Faith wanting to bring along a friend or two, plus some projects that my husband and I had hoped to accomplish at home as well, we reverted back to camping in town Thursday through Saturday, leaving the weekend open for projects and allowing for a couple extra kids without trying to figure out how to haul food and gear and more bodies.
The plan was, then, to take a couple of Faith’s friends (who are sisters) with us Thursday night, spend a family day on Friday, possibly horseback riding and maybe picking apples, and then camp one more night before packing things up on Saturday. We didn’t get out to the campsite until Thursday evening because getting groceries and gathering all of our supplies, washing bedding that had been sitting around for months and tying up loose ends at home before we left took a good chunk of the day. We wound up setting up the second tent (the girls had their own for the night) nearly in the dark, and were trying to get supper finished as we cooked things in shifts over the fire (because we couldn’t find the propane for the camping stove, among other things). I found myself getting irritable but keeping my cool because we had other kids with us. I felt bad that the girls weren’t getting to eat supper until about 8:00 or 9:00 at night and that I failed to pack them much to do in the dark (and we couldn’t get the lantern to work nor find enough flashlights). I was angry with Brad for forgetting where he had packed things and for not making sure we had enough batteries and lights…one of the things I asked of him when he asked me what he could do to get ready. But my friend, the girls’ mom, said when I texted that we were struggling to get supper cooked in shifts and that we couldn’t find things, “That’s how the best memories are made.” And she wasn’t wrong.
The night wasn’t perfect and the girls had moments of “boredom” that I regretted easing with the iPad, but I think they had fun and I enjoyed having other kids along. Brad and I often feel guilty that Faith is an only child and that she sometimes feels like a third wheel on family outings. Having extra kids made me work harder at coming up with creative activities for them and also encouraged me to have them pitch in and help a little, which I think is also good. I only brought the iPad along for a couple reasons…one, because I’m reading a book on the Kindle app, and two, because I was looking up scavenger hunts for older kids and aside from the nature scavenger hunts that we’ve done in the past, I found a couple selfie scavenger hunts, too (you can find all of them on my Camping board on Pinterest here). I thought it would get them moving around and we’d end up with some fun pictures for the scrapbook, and I was right!
Friday morning we had campfire donuts (refrigerated biscuits fried and coated in cinnamon sugar). The first batch was burnt on the outside, doughy on the inside, but we got close to perfection by the last batch. The girls spent a little more time walking and riding bikes around the lakes, and I was glad that Faith was learning how to find her way around (and figure out how to get back!). After her friends were picked up, we headed home to clean up and go have a fun family day riding horses…and maybe pick apples.
We scheduled trail rides for 2:30 but had to be there at 1:30 to check in. We had just enough time for everyone to shower and get ready, grab fast food, and hit the road to head to the other park where we would be riding. We got there early enough to take our time driving around and looking at the park, and wound up going to the top of an observation tower. I’m not a fan of heights and neither is Faith, but I knew I’d feel more foolish not having tried so we did. We were about two or three landings from the top and were laughing about how nervous we were, and we almost called it good. We stopped and took a family selfie, and then I said, “Faith, are we going to let fear stop us?”. She (half jokingly, half not), said, “yes”. I said, “No we’re not, let’s go.” We climbed the last few flights and while we didn’t spend a lot of time at the top, it was enough to get a couple pictures, feel the tower sway in the breeze (aaaagh!), and to be able to say, “We did it”.
After our climb it was almost time for the horse rides, so we headed to the stables. The annoying little black gnat-like bugs (that I later found out are called minute pirate bugs), had been out in abundance the afternoon before and resurfaced as we were about to ride horses. They seem to like warm sunny days and both days were in the higher 70’s and sunny…that kind of weather where you’re just not sure how to dress so that you’re not too hot or too cool (I tend to worry more about being too hot). Near the stables the bugs got worse, and the wranglers informed us that they had taken up residence in the tree (that we were standing under), and that once we got away from the stables it would get better. The horses were clearly just as uncomfortable as we were. Before it got better it got worse, and as we mounted our horses we were literally sitting in a swarm of these bugs. Faith had shorts on and her legs were covered in black dots, they were flying in batches around our faces, and sitting on every open section of skin we had (and on our clothes as well). Later Brad said he was afraid to breathe, and I felt the same way. I had to talk Faith out of a panic, and had to calm myself down, too. It was easy to get really irritable and want to scream, “Can we just move already???”.
It did get better as we got moving, and when we came back it wasn’t as bad as when we left. Faith got to experience her first horseback ride, we saw more of the park than we had before, and those annoying bugs helped make a bigger memory than we may have had if we’d just had a smooth ride. In fact, we’re still talking about it because Faith’s legs are covered in swollen, itchy bites.
On the way to the park to ride horses, I realized we were right by the safari that I had a membership card for. Instead of looking for a place to go apple picking (which I have yet to do this year and still want to accomplish), we decided to go there. Brad hadn’t been there yet, and we were so close that it seemed silly not to go. He was excited to see the ginormous elk, we had a good laugh when Faith set off the truck alarm (long story), and the animals were more active and making more sounds than when I went over the summer with the daycare kids.
We were warm and fairly tired after all that activity, and decided to take the scenic route home and stop for ice cream at a nearby town where I’d taken the kids after our other trip to the safari. We enjoyed big waffle cones and a nice drive home. When we got back to camp, it was around 7:00. The black bugs weren’t an issue anymore, there was a nice breeze, and despite a light rain through the night, we stayed warm and dry in the tent.
As we tore down Saturday morning, I was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t gotten a chance to read like I’d planned, and I kept thinking I finally got my cloudy, cool day and I wished we were staying one more night. But the couple days prior had been so fun and so imperfectly perfect that I was happy regardless, and I was also thankful to be tearing down the tents in cool weather and not heat. That afternoon as Brad was about to mow, it started unexpectedly to rain again. Not only did most of our home projects go out the window in favor of a more lazy, restful day, but it was assurance that we weren’t supposed to be out camping another day. At least I wouldn’t have been reading outside, anyway! We napped, got some things cleaned up and organized around the house, and were able to sit back and appreciate all that we’d enjoyed and accomplished over the few days.
As the Write 31 Days series approached, I felt like I was being led to not plan every post or every topic. After these past few days, I could see more clearly that I was supposed to start this series talking about the joy in the UNplanned. Yesterday when that idea came to me I thought, “That seems like a better way to wrap up the series rather than start it, especially if I intend to write about planning and being intentional.”
But God continued to put the unplanned idea on my heart. This morning at church there were a couple more instances that drove that idea home. All my life I’ve tried planning things out, and time after time my plans wouldn’t come to fruition. Usually, though, things turned out better than I imagined (or I realized why MY plan wasn’t so great to begin with). That doesn’t mean I don’t need reminders. Often. I am planner by nature, and I think most of us as humans tend to try to control every aspect of our lives. When things don’t work out as we planned, we’re frustrated and it’s easy to miss the blessings that come in our perceived “failure” or in the unplanned. But had everything gone as I originally planned this weekend, we likely would have been caught in the rain hours from home, would have had no choice but to sit outside with the pirate bugs during the afternoon, we wouldn’t have gone to the safari or made an impulsive stop for ice cream, and we wouldn’t have had Faith’s friends along. We would have spent our weekend painting doors and doing home maintenance. And we probably would have been grumbling about all that we had to do and what we weren’t getting done, rather than being in awe and appreciative of all that we managed to enjoy in a couple of days.
So as we go forward with this month of redefining what our blissful space is, what makes a happy home and happy life, remember to stay flexible and remember that there are happy accidents, that our way isn’t always the best way, and to find joy in the unplanned. I don’t exactly know where this “redefining” journey is going to take us, but I am confident that it’s going to be amazing!