Everyday Stories

Tips, Packing List, and Meal Plan for your First Family Camping Trip

So we went on a camping trip a couple of weeks ago.  We stayed at Dreher Island State Park and took a day trip to the lovely Riverbanks Zoo. Tips, Packing List, and Meal Plan for your First Family Camping Trip I mentioned this trip on Facebook and few folks wanted to know what we packed and what we ate.  So the following is a group of tips followed by a couple links to download the simplest packing list ever and a sample menu plan for the weekend involving minimal cooking. I promise one thing: you’re about to laugh at our bravery and our stupidity in taking 7 kids under age eight on this sort of adventure 🙂

Tip # 1

Make sure you get to the campsite before the sun sets. Tips Packing list and Meal Plan for your First Family Camping Trip

Tip # 2

If you don’t heed the above advice make sure that you have set up your new tent in the daylight before you try to set it up in the dark.  Not all tents work like your old double.

Tip # 3

If you ignore tip # 1 & 2 make sure you have adequate light and glow sticks to entertain the kids.

Tip # 4

You can forget any number of things with little to no consequence on a camping trip. Your lighter/matches and your cooking pot are not items with little to no consequence.  Although a bowl makes a pot in a pinch. Tips Packing list and Meal Plan for your First Family Camping Trip

Tip # 5

Two year olds don’t nap well on camping trips… even in the car.  Be prepared for this kind of crabby: Tips Packing list and Meal Plan for your First Family Camping Trip

Tip # 6

Two year old males who napped just a little become slap happy and will do anything to get the 3 girls in his tent to laugh.  Including pulling his legs up over his head and tooting loudly while singing silly songs. Tips Packing list and Meal Plan for your First Family Camping Trip This too late and too short car nap was our undoing…

Tip # 7

The thought that the kids will all fall asleep and you’ll be able to enjoy nice fireside conversation with the other adults is pretty much ludicrous when camping with 7 under eight years old.  Dropping that expectation before you leave would be a very good thing. Tips Packing list and Meal Plan for your First Family Camping Trip

Tip # 8

Being as close to water as possible is highly advisable.  Children love water.  You will get quiet adult time if there is water involved.
Tips Packing list and Meal Plan for your First Family Camping Trip

Tip # 9

Camping with another family crazy enough to do this… makes it so much easier (and crazier in the best way).

Tip # 10

Somehow going camping in early June meant we avoided 99% of the bugs.  The other 1% were ants and spiders and a giant 2″ bug: none of which bit us.

Tips Packing list and Meal Plan for your First Family Camping Trip

Tip # 11

Count on the kids to find something amazing.  Deer, osprey, boats, minnows, heron, killdeer (a bird), and the aforementioned 2″ bug were all found by kids.


Tip # 13

If it’s going to rain all day long: head to the zoo.  Stir crazy kiddos in tents with you all day… not likely a good thing.

Tips Packing list and Meal Plan for your First Family Camping TripTips Packing list and Meal Plan for your First Family Camping Trip

Click Here to Download a Basic Car Camping Packing Checklist.

Click Here to Download a 2 Night Super Easy Meal Plan.

Broken to Shine: How I’m Forever Changed

I’m helping her stuff copies of her latest book into her already stuffed suitcase. I thank her quietly for preaching herself the gospel during an elevator ride where I was ready to walk out.

“I have to preach the gospel to myself or the nerves will defeat me.”

“I stayed here and heard what He had for me because you preached the gospel to yourself unashamed in an elevator. Thank you.”

She asks if my near panic of the crowds has been alleviated. I smile weakly and say no; I’m still scared. And the tears come fresh to my eyes.

“I keep looking for that one person who needs someone to talk to, who needs me to be Jesus to them. And every time I look for that person I’m standing in the middle of the room alone while everyone else talks to somebody. I am that person I’m looking for.

My hands are in hers and her eyes are welling up just like mine. And as I tell her this little bit of my heart I’m swept into a hug.

“It’s okay though.” I whisper. “Really the Lord had so much for me here. So many things that I needed to hear. I needed Jennie Allen’s message so much.”

“What is he asking you to do?”

“Speak.” The words tumble out before I can stop them, terrifying me as I say them. This introvert is worn out thinking about telling her story in front of people. “I can’t believe I just said that aloud.” She laughs with a knowing smile.

“And what is your heart message?”

“It’s like Lisa-Jo’s heart. It’s to tell that mom who feels alone that all of this is normal. The messy house, the anger, the fear, and all the mess of little sinful hearts purging sin from yours. I used to be in this group of ladies who seemed to have it all together. Perfect playdates, perfect houses, perfect lives worn as masks to protect. And I would leave these gatherings in tears. I mean, didn’t their toddlers poop all over their floors, too?” And this time she tips her head back to laugh hard, brought back to those days in her own motherhood journey.

We talk for a little while longer before someone else takes her attention and I quietly slip away.

And this woman who I’ve found in a quiet moment, alone after so many days of people waiting in line to talk to her, makes me feel like I’m the only one in the room who matters. Like my soul and my journey and my heart for this 10 minute intersection were her sole purpose for living that moment.

That conversation with Ann, full of grace, is the one that fills this Melissa Ann with grace. I walk away encouraged, having received words that only made my soul stronger.

I walk away changed. And this quiet yet loud girl with the fear of never measuring up walks out of Allume as one small star breaking herself to shed His light.  Breaking herself to share for His glory.  Breaking herself for the God-man who loved me enough to take on my sin, my death, and still give me life.  And I only care what my audience of One thinks of this journey He has set me on.


A star is born when it breaks itself and gives itself away. A star is born every single time you break your mask of having it together. A star is born when you break other people’s images of you. A star is born when you point out your own sins and be a sign pointing to Jesus. ~Ann Voskamp

14 Days of Thanks Recap



I’m curious, how did this little experiment in gratitude go for you?  Were you changed?  Did hunting for a picture of good things help you change attitude gears from sour to thankful?  Please let me know in the comments.

For me, it’s been a crazy 14 days with 10 of them spent out of state.  Starting from the big cornfield image and moving counterclockwise, here are six things I documented (and remembered to use a hashtag for… ha!).

  • The beautiful cornfields at my friend’s house outside of St. Louis where we stayed for 6 days.  I may have left my heart in this land where you feel like you’re in the country with a Target less than 10 minutes away.
  • My twins eating donuts for breakfast with Julia’s twins. (and playing together so well all week!)
  • My photographs from two years ago all beautiful on Julia’s wall.  As well as late night chatter with a friend who gets me 🙂
  • Pedicures for my wee ones.  Even Sedryn didn’t want to be left out.  He points to his toes and says “Blue!” all the time.
  • Taking 6 kids under 10 to the pool to serve a friend.  The biggest surprise, when I took them all to my house, they all disappeared and played together so well I was able to mop my filthy floor!
  • A cormorant at the St. Louis zoo. This is quite possibly Aeralind’s favorite bird ever and it was less than 3 feet away from her inside an aviary.  She almost could have touched it.

This visual joy hunt for 14 days… it’s been exciting.  It’s turned crazy road weary whiny mama (in response to the children’s same attidue) into a slightly nicer repentant mama.  And let me tell you, there’s not much other than grace that can change my heart of stone.


A day in the life of a dreamer

The floor has been vacuumed and the dish and clothes washer loaded. Cloth diapers have been returned to their home. Some clean clothing found its drawers. A bird feeder was painted shades of blue and red by very serious little girls. Sick baby boy tears have been soothed. Two meals were fixed, eaten, and cleaned. Twenty row of a sweater sleeve were knit while three adorable rascals dug, climbed, and soaked in the glorious, but chilly sunshine. I’ve managed to tape together and modify my pattern for my Easter dress. It’s nap and rest time, and I finally get a moment to myself.

Let me confess: my camera battery has been dead for about 9 days.

My everyday is filled with the holy calling of three little lives and my handsome husband. A task both so mundane it brings me to frustrated tears and so big, so beyond me that I can hardly breath under the weight of it all.

Everyday Mess

I spend 15 minutes here and 20 there tapping keys or clicking the shutter desperately trying to use this one life to fill the calling to show beauty in the midst of everyday mess. And the God who gives that calling, He provides plenty of everyday mess to give me the opportunity to do just that in my very own life.


Like that moment where I pulled that little girl to my side and breathed the grace that she doesn’t have to be perfect because Jesus was perfect for her already. Or the moment where a different little girl was climbing all over me and I snapped at her just wanting a moment of peace after working so hard to tidy our messy space. Or that moment where the little boy, sick again, burst into tears at my feet wanting his nap prematurely and I was able to hold his small body close. Or how I fought back bitterness toward my hard working husband with the gospel as I loaded the dishes and cleaned up the mess from yesterday’s trip.

Beautiful Mess

I have plenty of beautiful-messes and ugly-beautiful in my life. And all of it is grace. All of it is the road Jesus uses to guide me deeper into Him. Uses to make me more like Him. Uses to bring me to the end of my prideful self so that He can file me with His Life and power to live the dream He’s called me to fulfill.

The life of a God-sized dreamer isn’t easy, but every moment writes His story.

Linking up with Holley.

How can the ugly messy be grace?

I come upstairs from tossing the last of five sets of sheets in the washer to find the youngest of the three tossing his cookies (the figurative ones) right there in the high chair.  Last night the wildest sleeper of the three had taken over our bed (and soiled two sets of sheets).  The other twin had paid in 30 hours of not being able to keep in liquid and 48 hours of little food.  My morning had started with the littlest one and I in the shower trying hard to wash away the sickly stench. I had to call Derek home from work so I could catch enough sleep to be able to handle the sick trio with sanity.  He’s gone now while I clean up the baby and get them all down for naps.


Motherhood is far from glamorous. In fact, on days like this I might just want to pack up and run away. Oh, but what is puke if everything I have is grace? Grace. Puke is grace. But how?

I stop tapping at the keys a minute here while the three sleep and spend time in prayer with a bottle of diluted bleach over a high chair and my table.  It’s not easy to see puke as grace.  It’s not easy to choose gratitude over bitterness. Nothing worth doing is easy.

The table though cleaned with bleach still bears blue and yellow marks.  And I am the same.  This roiling boiling cauldron of selfishness and discontent and frustration seething just under the surface.

“But God!”  Peter had preached these words just two weeks ago.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:4-7

Puke is grace because it shows me how much I need Jesus.  How ugly and messy I am without the saving power of grace.  How ugly and mess I am when I refuse to see even puke as the grace pointing toward the proudly self-sufficient heart beating violently within.

This messy smelly puke it is grace because it points me to Him.  To “the immeasureable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”  To that place of blissful surrender that says the plans I have are not the ones that He has for me and His plans are in fact better for my own good.

Sometimes I need to be brought low to the reality of earthly motherhood so I can recognized the beauty of the perfect heavenly Father. So I can recognize just how much He loves me in all my filthy sin-soaked sheets and awake to the reality that He died to wash those sheets clean.

And, right here in this moment, puke contemplation gives me the grace to see what true love does.  So I wrap the soiled clothes and rags in a towel and carry them down to the now finished washing machine. It’s time to be washed clean again.