The past few weeks have been B-U-S-Y, to say the least. For starters, my sister, Erin, and her 3 girls (ages 6, 4, & 2) came to visit for a week during my church’s Vacation Bible School. While the kids had fun in their classes, Erin and I helped serve lunch to the missionaries each day. It was a great way for us to spend time together, as well as get to know the missionaries better.
VBS ended Friday at noon, and Erin was on her way home by 2p the same day. We were sad for a few minutes, but then the realization hit that we were leaving the next morning and would be gone for 3 weeks– I had LOTS of packing to do!!
Saturday at 7a we headed out and began a 2-day trip up to Wisconsin. Our destination was Northland Camp and Conference in Dunbar. We went to Family Camp with two other families from our church. A hotel in Indianapolis, Indiana was our stop the first day. Due to some unforeseen circumstances (traffic, shopping at Kohl’s, and misreading a GPS, among others), we didn’t arrive at the hotel until about 10:30p.
We were up early and on the road again on Sunday by 9a. Sunday’s travels involved a driving tour of Chicago, complete with a few U-turns and illegal parking. But, the Lord provided a nice relief to an otherwise stressful time in the form of chocolate milk. Let me explain….
We couldn’t check into camp until after 8p. Travel time from Indy to camp was about 7.5 hours. Since we left at 9a, that meant that we would arrive about 5p. Once we subtracted an hour for the changing time zones, we had about 4 hours to fill in some way. We decided to picnic at a park in downtown Chicago. It was a great plan, it really was. The problem- there was a marathon going on so access to parking was limited. Further, all the vehicles had roof-top carriers making them too tall to fit in a parking garage.
As previously mentioned, we circled around the city a few times, and we were even separated from the other cars in our caravan for a little bit. We “happened” to pull up alongside a curb and as I looked up the road, I saw the other two families also parked along the same curb. Praise the Lord! Chicago is a BIG city and the fact that we were able to find each other by “chance” is nothing short of the intervention of God. As we stood on the sidewalk discussing our plan, we all realized we were illegally parked: we were in a handicapped parking zone and the other families were in a loading zone. Because of the marathon, the towing companies were in full swing, ready to pounce on any unsuspecting vehicle.
We loaded up some very disappointed kids (who were ready to get out of the car and walk the city a bit) and decided to travel farther north into Wisconsin to a park along the shores of Lake Michigan. The kids were really upset and at the moment of sheer breakdown, the Nestle bunny walked over to the window and knocked. It not only surprised us, but it stopped the crying instantly! He gave all of us a free bottle of chocolate milk and thankfully the mood inside the truck was better. I am convinced this, too, was another intervention of God.
We drove another couple of hours north and made our way into Wisconsin. We stopped in a town north of Green Bay for KFC to pack for our supper that night upon our arrival at camp. Although we hadn’t eaten lunch yet, this was our last opportunity at finding a place to eat before nearing the camp. The camp is a good 45 minutes away from any type of real civilization.
After leaving KFC, we drove a few miles east and enjoyed a picnic lunch on the shore of Lake Michigan. The water was surprisingly cold, so cold that we actually had a contest to see who could keep their feet in the water the longest. I didn’t win… 😉 The weather was just gorgeous, along with the sites! The air was warm, there was no humidity, the sun was shining, and we were able to see a couple of deer and a red fox while we picnicked. We enjoyed playing ball, running around the grass, and just simply being with one another. The kids played, the adults conversed, and life was great!
After our 2-hour or so picnic, we loaded up and made our way farther north and a little west to camp. We arrived shortly after 8p and checked in. The camp was AMAZING!! I was a little skeptical at first glance, but after being there a few hours, I was hooked. The camp is smaller than the camp I am accustomed to going, and I really didn’t know how Northland would measure up. But, I quickly learned that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better.
The layout of Northland is wonderful! All of the cabins are situated so that they form a perimeter around the main “green”, and the chapel and dining hall form the perimeters on the other sides. In the center of camp is a small playground with a swing and slide, and that is surrounded by green grass. The lake was on the opposite side of our cabin building (our room faced the lake), and near the lake was a sand volleyball court and mini-golf course. On the opposite side of the camp was the giant swing, climbing wall, and zip line. The coffee shop, comparable to Starbucks, and the craft shop were both attached to our cabin building. At the end of our cabin building was the rec hall which housed the game room, snack shop, and gift shop. There was also a basketball court (which I didn’t play, but the boys did).
Our cabin was furnished with a private bath and 4 sets of bunk beds. We also had a mini-fridge and crib. Because there are so many of us, space was tight, but it was okay. My kids were responsible for keeping their own areas clean and picked up so that their stuff didn’t get mixed up with another’s. For the most part they did a good job. 🙂 Thankfully there was a laundry facility so I was able to do laundry 4 out of the 6 days we were there. I did have to pay, but I expected that.
The food was amazing all week! I brought snacks with us thinking the kids might be hungry before they went to bed because supper was around 5p each night, and with all the evening activities, we weren’t in bed until almost 11 all week. However, we never even opened them. The food was a nice variety and all-you-could-eat. If my kids left hungry, it was their fault!
Along with the above mentioned activities, there was also swimming, fishing, kayaking/peddle boats, archery, and hiking. We did a little of everything every day. There was never a moment where the kids said, “I’m bored!” We actually made them stop each afternoon and take a rest from 2-3p just to get some down time.
Out of everything that was at camp, the PEOPLE are who made it such a memorable experience. Not just the families we traveled with, but the staff and counselors at Northland. Because of the smaller size, there simply isn’t space for thousands of people to come to camp each week. It is more realistically like 100 or less. Family camp is larger than the junior or teen camps, but still, a smaller camp means a smaller staff. The staff made it a point to get to know the families they were serving. They knew our names, they spent time with us, including the children, and they took a genuine interest in our lives. They helped us at meal times with making plates for the kids, they played games with us in the rec hall, and they hung out with us as we did the various land activities. Simply put- they were a HUGE blessing!
We also thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the other families in our group. One family we knew well, but the other family we didn’t know that well. Our time traveling and at camp afforded us the opportunity to become closer to them as couples. We realized we have a lot in common, and our friendship was ultimately strengthened. Another blessing was the time TJ and I were able to spend alone as a couple while there. Northland gave us plenty of time each day to learn more about the Lord and reflect on those teachings together. TJ and I were able to connect in a way that we haven’t been able to do in a long, long time. We laughed together, we talked together, we played games together, we just spent time together in a way that didn’t revolve around the kids, or the house, or the job, or life. It was different. It was refreshing. It was wonderful.
At the end of the week, we packed up and headed back south. We again spent the night in Indianapolis, only this time we arrived with enough time to swim in the pool. The kids had fun (and so did the adult men). We ate pizza, swam, and laughed and laughed (and laughed some more). The realization that our amazing week together was coming to an end was a little sad, but truly the memories will last forever. The next morning, the kids and I packed up and headed to Ohio to visit my family while TJ hitched a ride home with one of the families in our group.
More about Ohio later….