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    Why Forest Home Family Camp is the best vacation ever…

    We went to Forest Home for the first time last summer. We had heard it was fun, but had no idea what to expect. Now we are headed back a year later, and I can honestly say it’s probably the best place to vacation for a family with young children.

    I’m just going to be straight-up in this post…

    The cost of camp starts around $1300 for a family of four in the most basic housing option (two family cabin with shared bathroom space… but there are fancier and more private options at other price points). That might seem steep, but actually it’s quite the opposite.

    If you consider what you receive when you attend Forest Home Family Camp for one week, it’s a screaming deal (this post is my way of shouting about it). There is no way to take a restful, week-long vacation with your whole family for less money.

    At Forest Home, you get:

    • Every meal prepared for you for a week (and it’s really good food)
    • Housing in a cute little cabin for 6-7 days
    • Access to fun activities such as a pool, splash pad, field games, miniature golf, big swing, zip-line, ropes course, hiking, etc.
    • Program activities such as lake day and skit night that will have your whole family laughing
    • A shake shack with delicious desserts and a coffee shop with truly excellent brew (and I’m super picky)
    • Excellent Biblical teaching daily, times of worship, and seminars to help your marriage, parenting, etc.
    • Amazing morning childcare that is a combination between Sunday School, preschool, and the best adventure camp ever
    • And last, but NOT least, a childcare assistant (CCA)… otherwise known as an amazing babysitter who comes to your cabin every night and plays with your kids and puts them to bed while you and your spouse enjoy the nightly worship session and then hang out together kid-free. This is the icing on the family camp cake.

    This is not even an exhaustive list of how good family camp is, but it gives you a general idea. As a parent, I often feel conflicted over how to spend my very limited time and money when it comes to travel. On the one hand, I want to do fun things as a family and bond with my children as they have new experiences. On the other other hand, parenting is exhausting and I want a break from my kids to invest in my marriage and even rest by myself every now and then. When it comes to planning our vacations, it feels like we need to pick one or the other…. leave the kids with grandparents and escape by ourselves or take our kids somewhere awesome but come home feeling depleted.

    When I went to Forest Home last summer, I discovered I didn’t have to be trapped in that travel dichotomy any longer. At camp, I was able to spend tons of time with my kids as they jumped off the diving board and tried the ropes course for the first time. We treated them to milkshakes and taught them how to slip ‘n’ slide. But we also got a break from parenting… Micah and I could play putt putt at 10pm and zipline in the dark, knowing the whole time that our kids were safely sleeping back at the cabin.

    The whole week was the perfect mix of adventure and rest. A blend of family time and date nights. An opportunity  to leave the responsibility of cooking and cleaning behind. A chance to be filled up with truth from God’s Word.

    And here’s the funny thing about family camp. It’s perfect for when your kids are young and childcare is the greatest gift, but as your children get older, they’ll be the ones begging to go back to Forest Home. Most families go the same week each summer, so the kids become friends and run around camp together all week, year after year. The girls come back to serve as CCAs when they become teens, and lifelong campers often become counselors. Sometimes those counselors fall in love and get married. Sometimes they get married AT camp.

    We heard all these stories and more last summer, and we are so excited to go back again, so we can tell our own tales about beautiful Forest Home.

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    Forest Home Family Camp

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    I have been a parent for just shy of three years, so I haven’t put a lot of thought into what our family vacations will look like as our kids are growing up. Disneyland? Seaworld? A year ago, I would have said those were vacation destinations, but then we moved to California and have already visited both in the past few months…

    As a child, I remember sleeping in the back our minivan as my dad drove through the night to get us to family reunions in Oregon, California, Nevada, or Arizona. I remember visiting Disneyland exactly twice – once as a young girl and once during middle school. I remember taking a cruise with my whole family in college, which seemed luxurious since we didn’t travel a lot growing up. My family never left the country, and I didn’t get a passport until I needed one for a mission trip in college. Truthfully, traveling is expensive (and a lot of work with kids) and now that I have children of my own, I understand why it wasn’t at the top of parents’ priority list.

    But cost and inconvenience aside, I love to travel. I think it’s so important to try new things and meet new people and see God’s work throughout the whole world. It’s also nice to take a break from regular life – from the chores and cooking and work duties that fill our days at home.

    When we were unexpectedly blessed with a trip to Family Camp at Forest Home, I didn’t expect for it to feel like a vacation. I didn’t expect to leave thinking, “This is a place I’d spend money to take my family every year…” but that’s exactly what happened.

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    When we left for Forest Home, I expected it be great. I thought I would encounter God’s presence. I thought my kids would have fun. I thought it would be a great time of rest and reflection for Micah and me as we wrap up summer and head into a new school year. It was all those things…

    The speakers were amazing. There was a morning and night teaching and worship session for adults, and Biblical truth was preached with love, compassion, and humor. The girls loved the activities. Every morning there was a youth program for three hours between breakfast and lunch. Talitha was in the toddler class, and Zianne was in the preschool class where she got to go on fun adventures every day including: a creek walk, a field sports day, and a trip to the splash pad. At night, a babysitter (CCA) came to our cabin to play with the girls and put them to bed while Micah and I enjoyed the evening worship session, night zip-lining, mini golf, and time with adult friends. During the afternoon, we had family time. The girls loved to go swimming, and we ate a few too many milkshakes. We ate every meal together as a family, but the amazing service staff cleaned up our kids’ messes with a smile. Everything about camp was amazing.

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    I saw the cost for camp before we left, and I assumed it would never be something we could or would spend our money on, but by the end of camp, Micah and I had decided that Forest Home is exactly what we’d like to spend our money on in the future.

    As we looked around camp, we saw families who would probably not be able to enjoy a summer vacation if not for Forest Home’s reasonable costs and amazing amenities. For example, we became friends with a couple who went from having two to five kids in a number of months (through surprise biological children and adoption… aka by the hand of God!). They have gone to Forest Home for the past two years, where there they receive amazing childcare and programming for their kids while they enjoy cherished alone time.

    Or take this as another example: Micah and I budgeted about $15oo for our trip to Florida earlier this summer. That paid for our airfare, a hotel/AirBnB for four nights, and a rental car for five days. That doesn’t include the cost of our food, gas, or activities. And we didn’t take our kids! If we had, all our expenses would have increased, and we would have been juggling sandy, jet-lagged children and apologizing for making messes in restaurants for the whole trip.

    For roughly the same cost as our kids-free Florida trip, we could take our WHOLE family to Forest Home for six days, where every meal is prepared and paid for and parents receive the perfect mix of time alone and quality family time. And this all happens in an environment where God is being glorified. It’s so worth it! What I thought would be a one-time free trip to Forest Home will likely become a place where we spend our time and money to invest in our family year after year.

     

     

    I was not supposed to write this post this way. I’m pretty sure I was supposed to wax poetic about lake day and milkshakes and laughing with new friends on our cabin porch and singing worship songs around the campfire to get you to click on the Forest Home website and check it out. Then I was supposed to subtly say at the very bottom: We were blessed with free week of family camp, but all opinions are my own.

    Well, all opinions are my own… and this is what I have to say: We were blessed with free week at camp. It was amazing and now we are willing to spend our own hard-earned money every year for the same experience. There is just no better and budget-savvy way for families to vacation with young children. I’m seriously begging all our friends in CA and AZ… come with us next year! You will love it!

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    Miami

    Miami Beach

    Miami gets a bad rap. Before our trip to Florida this summer, people told us stories about how they were disappointed visiting Miami. Like any major city, Miami has its benefits and drawbacks, but we went into our time there with realistic expectations and truly enjoyed ourselves.

    1. Miami is humid. We were there in early July and most days were in the upper 80s or lower 90s with a decent bit of humidity. I went into it knowing my face would glow in pictures and my hair wouldn’t stay straight and embraced it. After living in Phoenix for five years, any temperature under 100 degrees doesn’t really seem that bad.

    2. People in Miami are all about the club scene. If you’ve listened to rap music at all, you’ve probably heard references to people partying or dancing in Miami. Miami Beach, especially, is like the Vegas of Florida. I went there expecting crowded streets at night, neon lights, and people wearing club clothes, and that’s exactly what I saw. It’s kind of a cultural distinction of southern Florida, and I like witnessing different subcultures in the U.S.

    3. Miami is a melting pot of cultures. You can almost pretend you are are walking through a foreign country. Miami is a destination spot and a crossroads for world travelers, so you will literally hear five different languages as you walk down a single city block. We passed so many families with young kids on the sidewalks and every single time they were speaking a foreign language as we passed them. Chefs from around the world call Miami home and cook up amazing fare for travelers worldwide. You can get the best Italian food, Colombian food, or Japanese food within blocks of each other on Miami Beach. Also, Florida has many Cuban influences that you can’t find in other regions of the U.S. Cuban sandwiches and Cuban coffee are plentiful in Miami. If you want to feel like you are abroad without having to bring your passport, Miami is the place to go.

    We rolled into Miami on a Thursday afternoon and hit up the beach before dinner. We stayed in a little AirBnB hotel room directly across from the water in North Beach. Literally, the only thing between us and the ocean was a crosswalk, and we only paid $89 a night. This was the first sign that we would love our time in Miami. This was the view of the sunrise from our room…

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    The first night we visited the Wynwood Walls in downtown Miami. This is a neighborhood that was previously run down by poverty and crime. Then a developer had a vision to use the old warehouses as canvases for an exhibit of street art. There are blocks and blocks of amazing graffiti in the area, as well as a designated museum/gallery space. Once the neighborhood was revitalized by the art, shops and restaurants started moving back into the area. Now it’s a fun spot for dinner and art viewing. This was probably our favorite attraction in all of Miami. We thought we would stop by for a few minutes before dinner and ended up staying for more than an hour.

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    Wynwood Walls Miami

    After the visiting the walls, we headed to Little Havana for dinner and ice cream. We ate at Lung Yai Thai Tapas and it was amazing! I had the steamed dumplings (best I’ve ever had) and the Pad See Ew. I will dream about eating this meal again for the rest of my life. We sat up at the counter and watched the chefs cook our food just inches away from us. So fun. After dinner, we walked down the block to Azucar Ice Cream to try some of their unique Cuban flavors. Micah loved the mantecado (Cuban vanilla with cinnamon and nutmeg) and I had the Cafe Con Leche with Oreos. Loved it.

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    Azucar Ice Cream Miami

    The next day Micah visited another cable park. On the way, I stopped at Alaska Coffee Roasting for a latte and a cronut. Well, the cronut wasn’t planned… but the both were delicious. If you happen to find yourself in the north Miami suburbs, this place is a gem. That evening, after our daily late afternoon swim, we went out to dinner in South Beach to get a feel for the culture. We had appetizers at Bolivar, dinner at Naked Taco, and dessert at  O’ My Buns. The food at these places was okay, but if I ever go back I will scout out the most authentic Italian food I can find and top it off with a cannoli.

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    On our last day in town, we grabbed brunch in South Beach at The Front Porch Cafe. The bonus to being in the Miami Beach clubbing culture is that everyone stays out all night and brunch spots don’t get busy until 11am or even noon. I called our restaurant in advance and the hostess said there would be NO wait, even as late as 10am! I spent the next few hours wandering around South Beach while Micah visited the wakeboarding park one last time. I adore Art Deco architecture, so I walked around the historic district a bit, grabbed coffee at Crema, and went shopping all by myself at the Lincoln Road Mall. I only bought one shirt, but being alone and not in a hurry was an amazing feeling. Since having kids, shopping is usually a drag.

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    We made our way to the Fort Lauderdale airport in the late afternoon and said goodbye to our Florida adventure. We loved Miami. It was affordable, relaxing, and fun to taste and see an array of cultures collide in a beach setting. Adios Miami! Until next time!

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