Families With Grace

Helping Christian moms create homes filled with grace, love & faith

Our family tent camping fails

Camping and life lessons learned from tent camping failures

I’m a relatively simple person. I enjoy the small things in life and quiet moments. I love nature and feel at peace in the solitude of being in the mountains or on a lake. And so I feel like tent camping should be a great activity for me. I mean, of course, I’m not all that outdoorsy and am kind of allergic to the sun (I get hives). I also can’t sleep on the actual ground because my fibromyalgia-ridden body would complete revolt. But otherwise, this camping thing should be perfect for me, right?!

In theory, tent camping is completely up my alley. It’s something I’d enjoy and be happy with. I don’t even mind too much getting dirty. I’m the kind of girl who baits her own hook when fishing with worms. (I’m also the kind of girl who goes on said fishing trip with a full face of makeup!)

But, alas. Tent camping seems to be something I just don’t have a knack for. Or maybe it’s just something that I have bad luck with. Each time we go tent camping, I go with a positive attitude that this time will be different. And, other than two overnights in a tent at a theme park (which doesn’t completely qualify as camping), I have been wrong.

Tent camping fail number one

My husband and I took our first camping trip just the two of us a few years before we had kids. We headed about three hours away. We left most of our belongings in the hatchback of our vehicle because the tent wasn’t huge. It worked just fine.

We camped in an area surrounded by sand dunes and lakes. We rented a dune buggy and had fun. Then we decided to rent a jet ski. While I grew up nearly constantly being in the water, my husband didn’t. Without thinking, he put the car keys in the pocket of his athletic shorts. He wasn’t planning to do much swimming.

But the jet ski tipped over on a wave in the huge lake and into the water we went. Back on shore after our rental ended, we realized my husband didn’t have the keys. Yep. They floated out of his pocket and were somewhere in the lake. We couldn’t get into our car, back to our campground or to any of our dry clothes. We were stuck. Doh!

My parents came to our rescue and headed to us with the spare set of keys from our house. They got an unexpected trip and rescued us. I’m not sure this fail was from tent camping or just our crummy luck, but it was my first experience as an adult with camping. It is certainly an unforgettable one!

Tent camping fail number two

Fast forward about eight years and our family had grown. We bought a larger tent on sale a couple of years previously and decided our kids were old enough to try some tent camping for a night. They were 3 and 6. We loaded up the car. Our first stop was to see Thomas the Train and then camp. But, the town where we planned to camp was inundated with rain with more forecasted. My husband suggested we look somewhere without rain and change our plans. So, we did so. We drove in the opposite direction and found a campground.

The campground was a bit soggy, but no rain was predicted for a couple of days. We didn’t get to roast marshmallows or anything by the time we got there, but we did get settled in for the night. I woke up in the middle of the night to hear the pitter-patter of raindrops on the tent roof. I thought it was relaxing. When I woke up cold soon thereafter cold, I even felt wet. As I woke up even more I realized it wasn’t a brain trick; I was wet. It was the middle of the night and the roof of our tent was leaking horribly.

We all woke up, cold and wet. I settled the kids in the car then helped my my husband tear down our tent in the rain and mud. We were soaked through and covered in mud. In our frustration, we threw the tent in the dumpster, assuming the rain protection was faulty.

Because all the nearby hotels were inexplicably booked, my husband drove us three hours home. I tried to keep the kids happy since they were tired.

When we got home and reasonably clean, we fell asleep — after remembering that we had packed ponchos in case we needed them. Doh!

Successful camping

Our next camping experiences were about two years after the rain leak fail. The kids wanted to go to a theme park nearby to ride roller coasters. I discovered the theme park offered an in-park camp night once a summer. It was a great deal, and we decided to go for it. We did that camping trip two years in a row.

I’m not so sure it was actually so much camping as it was sleeping in our (now new, bigger and easier to assemble) tent on a manicured law. But we liked it and made good memories. So, I’m calling it successful camping!

Tent camping fail number three

And that brings us to the most recent tent camping failure that happened just a few weeks ago. My kids keep wanting to go camping. As summer break wound down, we had a lapse in the heat and headed to a state park for two nights of tent camping. Our kids are now older (8 and 11). We were now wiser. This would be the camping trip of our dreams. Plus, the state park offered horseback riding — something both kids love right now!

The first night went swimmingly. We roasted hot dogs and marshmallows. We played some games and had a good time. It rained overnight, and we didn’t get wet at all. The next morning we were raring to go and hit up the horseback riding. After lunch and a couple of excursions, we headed to our camp site to rest. Backing into our parking spot, we hit a tree stump that pulled about 1/3 of the front bumper loose.

It wasn’t a great way to start our downtime that afternoon. With some ingenuity and a carabiner clip, my husband got the bumper to stay in place until we got home the following day and he could repair it.

We all had a rest after that and then decided we’d go out for dinner. The sky was a beautiful blue. The weather forecast said 0% chance for rain. We talked about it and decided leaving our tent windows open was a good plan to keep the tent cool while we ate our pizza in town.

As we sat down for dinner, the wind dramatically kicked up. The sky grew dark. The rain poured down for about 10 minutes. We hoped the trees shielded our tent. We speculated that maybe it didn’t even rain at the campground, which was about five miles away from town.

But, we were wrong. We arrived back to camp to find our tent wasn’t in standing water, but it was wet. Our bedding, chairs and clean clothes were all wet. We discussed options and decided heading home a night early was the best choice. We tracked mud through the tent as we packed up to leave. In the end, we tied the wet, muddy tent on the roof of our vehicle. On the way home we frequently checked to make sure the bumper and tent were still attached.

The next day, we spent a few hours (quite literally) cleaning mud off of things. We hosed down the tent a couple of times and used the wet vac. My husband repaired the bumper. The kiddos sprayed down the chairs. We took a brush and hose to our shoes. Exhausted, we got everything put away and ended our camping adventure.

What we taught our children

While our oldest daughter remembers the second tent camping fail, our son doesn’t remember it quite as well. But now at 11 and 8, they certainly remember the most recent fail. We had discussions while we were unexpectedly packing up our campsite and the following day as we cleaned.

We told our children feeling disappointed by cutting our trip short was normal. In fact, we were disappointed, too. I mentioned that having had very minimal positive tent camping experiences, I felt all the more determined to go tent camping again and not let it defeat me. (Though I had a moment the day of scrubbing mud from the tent where I was fine to let camping be the victor!)

We also talked about working together. I was incredibly impressed with my children. They helped us pack everything up at the campsite and also clean everything up when we were home the following day. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but we determined this crummy thing happened and we got to choose how we reacted to it. Both packing up and dealing with the disappointment were much easier working together.

My husband and I each felt some responsibility for the soggy tent. We decided to take the risk and leave the windows open. But we didn’t blame each other. We explained to the kids that we had certainly learned a lesson. (Never again will we leave tent windows open while we’re away from the campsite!) And that’s what failure is about. We learn lessons, take them with us for the next time and move on. I pointed out to them that everyone messes up, and we don’t have to get really angry at ourselves when it happens. It’s an important lesson to learn.

In the end, our tent camping fails have given us memories at the least. And they’ve allowed us to teach our children how to react when life goes sideways. These weren’t the first time we’ve taught them that lesson, and they won’t be the last. I want my kids to be prepared for times life goes unexpectedly, because it surely will.

Now we just have to gather the courage to take on tent camping again with our lessons learned. One of these days, we will prevail in tent camping. At least I’m pretty sure we will!

How to have a family yes day (and why you should!)

Ideas for making a family yes day fun for everyone

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A couple of months ago, my kids watched the movie “Yes Day” on Netflix at my parents’ house. Since then, they’ve talked about how they wanted to have a family yes day as well. In fact, as we made a list of activities we wanted to do this summer, family yes day made it onto the list.

And so a couple of weeks ago, we picked a Saturday and declared it would be our family yes day. My husband and I had some concerns and weren’t all that sure what to expect. The kids forbade us from watching the “Yes Day” movie beforehand, though they shared about some of the antics in the movie. Just like that our yes day was underway, and I’m so glad we did it!

What exactly is a family yes day?

A family yes day is a day when parents say yes to anything the kids ask them. Basically, it means the kids get to be in charge. The yes day in the movie lasted 24 hours, according to the movie trailer. Our yes day was from the time we woke up (at a time our kids chose) until we went to sleep that night.

Saying yes to anything kids ask for sounds a bit scary and potentially alarming. So, as a family we agreed to a few ground rules ahead of time. We tried to keep the rules simple and straight forward. My daughter wrote them down for us.

  1. All rules apply!
  2. Parents may sit out when involving major fears or inconveniences.
  3. Any toy purchases come from the kids’ own money.
  4. No asking for living things.
  5. Say yes!

While our kiddos had about six days to plan their yes day after we made these rules, another option is to just pick a day and say yes to whatever the kids ask without them knowing ahead of time. I suggest letting them do some planning, though. At least for my kiddos the anticipation is half of the fun. (Another bonus is it gets them to work together on something!)

Making plans

Once we had finalized our rules for yes day, our kids got to work coming up with ideas of what they’d like to do for the day. They sequestered themselves in my daughter’s room so we wouldn’t know anything. The pair of them even made arrangements with grandparents for things. They asked my in-laws to watch our dog for the day. And they asked my parents for a day to come over and do some work for yes day.

Meanwhile, my husband and I were beginning to wonder what we’d gotten ourselves into and what they were going to have us do!

I learned after the fact that the kids did some online searching for ideas. They checked the weather forecast. Rain was predicted for the Saturday we chose, so some activities wouldn’t work out well. Because my daughter is much like I am, they also made an itinerary for the day complete with approximate times for everything. They were well prepared!

Earlier in the week as they were making their plans, I mentioned to my daughter that I wanted to make sure her little brother had an equal say in the day. I do see that could certainly be an area of conflict among siblings. My kiddos feel very strongly about being fair, though. They did a great job at balancing the day with things they both wanted to do.

Ideas for family yes day

Let’s get to the fun stuff of what actually happened for yes day! The kiddos told us we needed to be ready for the day by 7:30 a.m. and that we shouldn’t eat breakfast.

A breakfast treat

Our first stop was a local doughnut shop where we each picked a sweet pastry for breakfast. My 8-year-old son chose to wear his PJs for the first part of the day. We don’t usually let him go places in his PJs, but we couldn’t tell him no!


The next stop was Walmart for my son because he wanted to do some toy shopping. He used his own money and purchased a truck set he’d had in mind. (Thanks to not being out much for the past year and a half because of the pandemic, my kids both had a decent amount of money in their spending. They were able to have small shopping sprees!)

My daughter opted to wait until we got back home after that stop and order online. She’s wanted a giant teddy bear for years. We’ve always said no, because where are you going to put a 5-foot tall bear?! But, we couldn’t say no on family yes day. Plus we had just finished cleaning out and reorganizing her bedroom with her, so she really did have room for the bear. She also added in some stickers she’d been eying to use in her new room decor and some new scrunchies that you can store small items in.

Getting crafty

The kids asked to make fluffy slime. We hadn’t don so for a while, but thankfully we had the ingredients needed for fluffy slime: shaving cream, glue, baking soda and contact solution. We’ve made this slime recipe a couple of other times and it turns out well, but we hadn’t made it for about two years. We were overdue. And my sweet kiddos gave me my own glob, because I love slime!

Water fun

Our next activity was a bit crazy. We live in the Midwest where July weather is usually hot and humid. On our family yes day, however, we had an atypical cool day with highs in the low 70s and rain forecasted. But that didn’t deter my kids from wanting to have a water balloon fight. We’ve never done that and evidently it was something they’ve been pining to do.

On their day with my parents, they went shopping and my parents got these easy-fill water balloons. We got them filled pretty quickly and then proceeded to chase each other around the yard with them. There were lots of shrieks and giggles!


After drying off, we were all ready for lunch. We made our typical lunches, but the kids had a rule that we could eat anywhere except the kitchen table. One sat on the fireplace hearth and the other on the dining room floor. My husband and I opted for the couch!

Obstacle course

During virtual school, we had a couple of times that our gym assignment was making an obstacle course. The kids wanted to do that on family yes day, so I helped them sit it up downstairs using kitchen chairs, stools, a yoga mat and some fabric squares. Basically, it worked like “The Floor is Lava” where they couldn’t touch the ground. They did a couple of tweaks as they went and then wanted to time themselves to see how much faster they could get.


The kids had extra time in the schedule, so we had some family downtime for a bit. They had planned some family downtime, but we ended up with just a bit more than they had planned, which was nice for their tired parents!

Chuck E. Cheese’s

The next activity was a trip to Chuck E. Cheese’s to play games. I wasn’t super excited for this idea, and it was the busiest place we’ve been since before the pandemic, but my son really wanted to go. Plus, how could we say no? So we spent 45 minutes playing games. My daughter, who isn’t as excited about Chuck E. Cheese’s these days, was sweet to humor her brother.

Early dinner

If my kids can pick anywhere to eat, they always pick Fazoli’s. So we weren’t shocked that’s where they wanted to have dinner on our family yes day.

Cake decorating

According to the kids, the next activity was a bit last minute. They had planned for us to go see a movie, but that didn’t work out for a variety of reasons, which they realized the day before. Instead, we came home and they wanted to have a cake decorating competition. I got a slightly modified cake in the oven in two round pans and then whipped up some buttercream icing.

My daughter found an image of a bear and we divided into teams. Our objective was to recreate the image of the, but we didn’t have to use the same color as the bear. My husband and daughter worked on a brown bear, while my son and I decided on blue for our bear. We let grandparents pick the winner via photos or video without telling them who did which cake. My son and I won just barely.

And then, we had some tasty cake at the same time the kids would usually be going to bed!

Our cake inspiration
Cake A from my husband and daughter
Cake B from my son and me

Fort building

As we were getting into bedtime mode, the kids had planned to make a blanket fort in the loft and sleep there. They switched to making it our bedroom, though. My son planned to sleep in it all night. My daughter hung out there until she was ready to sleep and then went to her own bed. The fort turned out very well using our kitchen chairs, blankets and some clamps.

The blanket fort before it got filled with glowing balloons, blankets and pillows

Glowing in the dark

The final activity for yes day was using all sorts of glow bracelets and balloons that they had gotten from the Dollar Tree with my parents. As we blew up balloons, we put one or two activated bracelets in them to create glowing balloons. Some glow bracelets stayed out.

Benefits of our family yes day

My husband and I were quite surprised at what our kids picked to do for yes day. We had visions of them wanting to go on excursions out of town or do major activities. But instead they really just wanted to do fun stuff. Chances are, we would have said yes to many of these things at different times. I know we wouldn’t have said yes to them all in the same day. And, honestly, some of them seemed like more effort than they actually were.

I don’t want my kids to always think of their dad and me as saying no. Of course we can’t usually say yes to everything, but letting them have the freedom to just have fun with our yeses was more than worth it. They completely loved the day. I was proud of how they worked together to plan the day. Seeing them excited to be calling the shots and in charge was so much fun!

The best part to me is that we made good family memories. I took photos. We laughed. We won’t forget yes day any time soon. The kids asked to have another one again sometime. Our answer? Yes!

Family fun night activities at home

10 Easy family fun night activities you’ll all love!

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I love family fun time. One of the best things about having kids who are older (currently 8 and 11) is that we get to have fun together and make good memories. And we can often do so without even leaving the house, which is another bonus! We’ve found quite a few family fun night activities that we like to do together.

The best family fun night activities don’t require a lot of planning, work or clean-up. Honestly, if something takes too much work, we are less likely to do it. So, everything on this list offers minimal effort for maximum fun.

1. Play hide-and-seek with toys.

I’m not sure what else to call this, but our kids like playing hide-and-seek with toys. It started outside because we don’t have a lot of good hiding places for people in our yard. But we have also played it inside a few times. It’s sort of like an Easter Egg hunt. Someone hides a relatively small toy and the other people try to find it. Of course, when it gets tricky, the hider can give some hints or declare the finders “hot” or “cold” as they search.

If you are playing inside, I suggest you pick one room or area in which to hide the toy or the game might go on forever! When we first started playing this game, our son was 5 or 6. So, he often paired up with an adult or his big sister to both hide and find the toy. Definitely work in pairs or groups with younger kiddos to make it fun for everyone.

2. Color.

I’m nowhere near artistic, but even I enjoy coloring. Coloring is a good family fun night activity because each person can choose what he or she wants to color and find something based on their skill and comfort level. But the best part of coloring is that while you color, you can also talk. With having a tween, I love anything that lets us just relax and chat together.

Sometimes while we color, we play music for some additional fun. We pick favorite songs or even just turn something on in the background we all like. One evening, we ended up listening to classical music while we colored. I felt very cultured! My kids’ interests have varied. My husband likes to color superhero pictures with fancy markers, shading and all sorts of stuff. I like to color Barbies or princess coloring pages with crayons and give them makeup to match their dresses. Do what you like!

3. Play with your pets.

If you have a pet who loves playtime, turn playtime into a family event. This probably won’t be your entire family fun night activity, but it’s still a good one to be part of your time. Bonding over the cuteness of a pet is good.

Our family loves playing with our beloved Pixel the Pup together. Our cheeky Lhasa Apso loves playing fetch. Sometimes we make it a family event simply by all being out with him together, even if just one of us is throwing the ball for him.

4. Take a walk.

This one easily combines with the previous one if your pet is a pooch. But even without a pooch, a family walk is a nice way to connect and spend time together. A stroll around your neighborhood together is a good way to spend time with one another and get a bit of exercise in as well. If you want to take this activity away from home, you could go to a nature area near you, but neighborhood walks are just as fun. The point is less about where you are and more about who you’re with.

One of our favorite family walks happened two years ago when Pixel was a few months old and we all walked through the neighborhood and then decided to walk a couple of blocks away to get ice cream from a nearby family restaurant that has an ice cream parlor. Thanks to the pandemic, that didn’t happen last summer and this summer the restaurant is remodeling, but I have a feeling we’ll do that again sometime. It was a spontaneous and fun treat during our walk.

5. Play board games together.

What board games you play depends on your family and what you like. My husband and I love playing games, and we’ve shared that love with our kiddos. We’ve played a variety of games with them and found our family favorites tend to be cooperative games where everyone is playing together to beat the odds. One of our favorite cooperative games is HeroQuest, which is board game from when my husband was a kiddo. A new version is coming out soon. Another cooperative board game that is similar is Marvel United, which we all have fun playing as superheroes working together to defeat bad guys.

But not all games we are play are cooperative. We’ve played lots of others that have been fun like Uno (including Harry Potter Uno and Jurassic World Uno), Uno Attack, Toilet Trouble, Dragon Snacks and Trouble.

6. Watch something together.

If you’re looking for easy family fun night activities, it doesn’t get much easier than watching a movie or show together — as long as you know what to watch. Deciding and agreeing on what to watch can definitely be the most difficult part! We like finding movies and shows to watch together that we all enjoy. Don’t go for shows just the kids will like. You might as well enjoy it, too. We usually add in pizza (homemade, frozen or delivery) or popcorn. To kick it up a notch, popcorn snack night often involves some candy as well!

We subscribe to a few streaming services, so I’ve organized the list based on where we watch them, but some of them you can find other places. Don’t forget that your local library usually offers DVD rentals as well if that works better for your family.

The Mitchells versus the Machines (movie)
Into the Spider-verse (movie)
Animal Crackers (movie)
Hotel for Dogs (movie)
Green Eggs and Ham (series)
You versus Wild (series)
Pup Academy (series)
Camp Cretaceous (series)

Amazon Prime
The Pack (series)
World’s Toughest Race (series)

YouTube TV
Battlebots (series)
Supermarket Stake Out (series)
Food Truck Road Race (series)
The Wall (series)

Disney Plus
The Mandalorian (series — best for older children)
It’s a Dog’s Life (series)

7. Do water activities at home.

Obviously this family fun night activity is weather dependent! If it is cool or rainy, this one won’t work. But for hot summer evenings (or days) you can have some fun cooling off together as a family. Get out your sprinkler and enjoy the cool water flowing over you, have a water balloon fight or spray each other with water guns. If you have smaller kids, consider getting a water mat sprinkler. (I got one for my son last summer when he was 7 and again this summer and he loves it!)

8. Let the kids be in charge.

For a few years now, one of our kids’ favorite activities is having one-on-one parent time. With two kids, my husband and I can easily switch between them. With more than two, you’ll have to get a bit creative. Basically, we set a timer for a predetermined time (usually 20-30 minutes) and each of us spends time one-on-one with a child. We switch kiddos at the end of the time. The kiddo gets to pick what we do. Now that our daughter is getting older, her one-on-one time is usually less about playing and more about something she’s interested in that she talks to us about or shares with us.

Then other times, we switch this up to have time as a family and let each child pick what activity the entire family does. We do the same thing with setting a timer for 20-30 minutes and let them each be in charge during that time. The rules are the child deciding the activity needs to pick something we can all do, and the other child needs to participate as well.

9. Play non-board games.

We really do love playing games, so it is fitting games are on the list twice. But outside of board games, there are other games great for a family fun night activity. A long-time favorite of our kiddos is charades. You can get a charades game where you pull out a card with choices, use a free online generator or let your family pick on their own. We have played all three ways. Usually we have at least a few that the kids pick on their own. Our only rule is it has to be something we all know and can’t be a made-up creation. One of my favorites was when my son was a newspaper lying on a porch!

You can play charades with teams, timers and scores, but we play it all together. We don’t keep track of time or scores. We also just go in an order so each person gets the same amount of turns. One time we tried playing where the person with the correct guess went next, but that doesn’t work out so well for some kiddos’ sense of justice. (Trust me on this!)

Another non-board game we recently tried and liked was alphabet story-telling together. One person begins telling a story with a sentence that starts with the letter “A.” That person says a couple of sentences and the next person continues the story with a sentence that starts with “B.” The story goes that way through the entire alphabet. I think we laughed more playing this game than any other in recent memory!

Finally, video games can be good for your family as well. If you all play video games and can do so together at the same time, then go for it. For my family, video games means that one person has the controller and we all have input. Our recent favorite was playing Monopoly together on the Xbox. My husband ran the controller and we played against computer characters. Our whole family was strategizing together, celebrating together and moaning together. We spent a few evenings playing one game, and it was so fun. When our character won the game, we had a living room dance party.

10. Serve up special treats.

Of everything on the list, this one takes the most planning just because you have to have ingredients. Having a special treat can make any family fun night seem all that more special. We have roasted s’mores in the fireplace (and over our indoors s’mores maker), popped popcorn in the popcorn maker (instead of the microwave) and had an ice cream sundae bar with a variety of toppings.

Other fun food we’ve had before is a variety of appetizers or an array of finger foods like crackers, cheeses, fruit, veggies and dips. We tried fondue with the kiddos once making a mild cheddar cheese dip, but neither of them liked it. But if your kiddos are into fondue, that’s another fun, special treat option as well.

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