Once in a while the stars align in just the right way to make something magical. Something that you look back on and say “that just happened” in awe because it was so awesome. That’s what happened a few weeks ago. And I don’t want to be cheesy or overboard about stuff here on this blog, but I do want to say that Elle and I are lucky. Or blessed. Or whatever you want to call it. Because we have great friends.  Friends with visions to see the big picture of what could happen, and then make it come to pass. We live in an area jam-packed full of great kids Elle’s age.  My friend Ashley had the idea to create a “retreat” for these kids.  An adventure up in the mountains that would be both spiritual and adventurous and that would bring all those kids even closer together and help them grow in their love for their Heavenly Father.  Her family has a place up in the beauty where we could make it happen. I told her I was in to help with whatever she needed. So we got together with some other friends and planned that thing out.  A few meetings (and a lot of work and planning on Ashley and her husband’s parts) and we were ready.  She figured a lot of kids would be out of town for various summer things so she went ahead and invited 45 kids. Forty-two came. It was a party. The kids:2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 78196(You will note that there are significantly more girls than boys.  It just happened that way and they rolled with it.) The moms:2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 78206 The dads:2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 78297 The beauty:2013-06-15 Joyce's pics. 79085 The original plan: 2013-07-03 iPhone 82794It was tweaked a little bit from there.  We did most of those things, just in a little different order. Where we stayed: They have this main cabin and then some other outlying cabins where all the girls stayed.2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 77709 The boys slept in a huge tent.2013-06-15 whiting retreat 79136 The moms slept on couches and some in the cabins with the girls, and the dads slept on one of the porches to keep an eye out for everyone.2013-06-14 Ashley's pics. Whiting Homestead 78464 The food: I wish I had a picture of my friend and I loading up our stuff at Costco or of this car before we unloaded half of it.  2013-06-12 summer 77530…and that was just our portion. Boy howdy we brought a lot of food up there! We were each in charge of certain meals which we kept pretty simple and easy.  2013-06-13 Ashley's pics. Whiting Homestead 78398 The kids loved them.2013-06-14 Joyce's pics. 78573 Especially the home-made cinnamon rolls for breakfast one morning that Katy brought up.  2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 77577Mmmmmmmm. We had the kids pack their own lunches when we went to the mud caves.2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 775812013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 77678 I thought this was brilliant way to keep track of drink cups…2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 77701 We borrowed this giant grill which was sure helpful to fill all those hungry teenager mouths.2013-06-15 whiting retreat 79131 The mud caves: I think this was most of those kids’ favorite part.  There’s this little hole in the ground that leads into these awesome caves filled with…you guessed it…mud.2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 775942013-06-14 Joyce's pics. 78534 Here it is from the inside where you go in and out:2013-06-14 iPhone 78660 It was pitch dark in there and went on and on.2013-06-14 iPhone 786262013-06-14 iPhone 82787 …and pretty darn muddy.2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 775982013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 775962013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 776132013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 776262013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 776282013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 776302013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 77612 The games: My friend Tiffany was mostly in charge of the games.2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 77638She did an awesome job. One of the favorites was “Baby, I love you but I just can’t smile.” (or whatever it’s really called)2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 77644 It was especially funny to watch these kids try to make each other laugh because the mud they were covered with alone was enough for a good laugh.2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 77662 Giant Twister:2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 777672013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 77779 “The Stick Game:”2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 77784 I’m sure it has a better name than that, but it was pretty fun too.  You have to follow directions to grab the stick to your right or your left (someone in the middle calls it out) and if the stick drops that you are supposed to grab, you are out.  The circle keeps getting smaller and smaller until the winner is the last one standing.2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 778592013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 778662013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 778752013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 77894 This will illustrate a little better: This one is called “Annie I over” (although I’m not sure I got that name right either)2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 77808 They throw balls over a house and if the other team catches them they get to go tag the other team.  2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 778102013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 77846 The dances: I loved the dances.  I think it’s pretty safe to say the kids did too.2013-06-13 Whiting Homestead 775522013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 78277 The kids went crazy during the crazy songs: …and the slow dancing cracked me up.  Check out these feet:2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 78281 The talent show: These kids sure put some heart into their performances.  2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 78237 Elle made a video with some of their great performances that I can’t find right now.  I’ll link it in a post soon.2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 78238 The devotionals: I love any time kids can get spiritually fed.  And I love when I can get that uplift as well.  So I was a big fan of the devotionals.2013-06-13 Whiting Homestead 77572 I loved all of them except the one I had to give.  2013-06-15 Ashley's pics.- 78906But I sure learned a lot from that too. After Ashley’s devotional we had a great testimony meeting where the kids got to talk if they wanted to.2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 78288The air was thick. The pranks: Ok there was really only one prank, but it was pretty funny (at least to us).2013-06-15 whiting retreat 79108 We stayed up ‘til 2:30 putting mustaches on sleeping kids.  2013-06-15 whiting retreat 79110 Boy oh boy were they trying to get back at us in the morning.  I guess they thought coolers in front of the door would do the trick.2013-06-15 whiting retreat 79114 I don’t think I have laughed as hard as I did that morning for a long time.2013-06-15 whiting retreat 79115I’m not sure if it was because we were so darn funny or because of serious lack of sleep creating loopiness. I’m pretty sure it was pretty darn funny though.  Only half a mustache left below…2013-06-15 whiting retreat 79126   Other stuff: 2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 775832013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 776722013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 779192013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 779222013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 780342013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 780692013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 78156 See why Ashley is so fun?2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 78178 …and these other ladies too?2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 782012013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 782102013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 78216 Yeah, did I mention we laughed a lot?2013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 78223I was so filled with love for these women and so in awe of how great they all are with kids. I felt so honored to get to ride on their coat-tails for a few days. On the last day we went to the highest point of the mountains…2013-06-15 Joyce's pics. 79085 …and up a big watch tower there where they watch for forest fires.2013-06-15 Ashley's pics.- 788132013-06-15 Ashley's pics.- 788622013-06-15 Melanie's pics. 78952 And then hiked down into a beautiful valley.2013-06-15 Joyce's pics. 790922013-06-15 whiting retreat 791482013-06-15 whiting retreat 791632013-06-15 whiting retreat 792052013-06-15 whiting retreat 792232013-06-14 Whiting Homestead 77635 On the drive home the sky was so gorgeous I could hardly stand it.  I think I about drove my co-captain Elle nuts telling her what to take pictures of as we drove amidst our conversations with the other six cute girls packed in that car. We talked about everything from music to high school and which boys are cute and whether or not it’s ok to kiss them :).  2013-06-15 iPhone 79722 All while that sky blinked and winked it’s grand colors and beautiful light to us.2013-06-15 iPhone 797312013-06-15 iPhone 797412013-06-15 iPhone 79744 My personal feeling was that that sky was a sign from Heaven that all is right in the world.  Those teenagers will never forget that experience of bonding and beauty and love up there in those beautiful mountains. And neither will us parents who got to be there to witness it all. Did I mention we are lucky? And blessed? Thanks Chad and Ashley!  You guys are the best!

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  1. I'm really impressed by all that altruism and generosity!
    I bet it was a huge experience for those teenagers.
    And an even bigger effort for you parents to plan and prepare a great experience like that for 42 of your kids and your neighbours' kids and your kids' friends.

    I just want to say that there aren't so many people out there who would do something like that voluntary, because it takes effort and planning and nerves to deal with so many teenagers 24 hours a day, for a whole long weekend.

    I really admire you and your friends for making this possible.

  2. What an incredible experience! We just moved from the valley to New Zealand and reading you blog makes me a little homesick! I also love seeing a few familiar faces pop up on your blog every now and then, love the Quackenbushes and Julie Martinez is one of my dear friends. Thanks for your inspiration!

  3. It's like girls camp but with guys and parents. I might start something like that with my husband and our friends along with our kids when we grow up. Such an amazing idea!

  4. Now that I'm 24…I KNOW that those types of experiences are essential for teens and building their testimonies before they leave their parent's homes.
    What an amazing experience. I'm a little jealous.

  5. I long for this sort of thing for my teenagers. I am constantly praying and stressed (although I try not to be) about their lack of friends. How I would love for my kids to have friends like yours do. I hope your kids realize how blessed they are to have such a dynamic group of friends, parents, church leaders and grandparents.

  6. I would love, love, LOVE to get a copy of your notes for your fireside. And any of the other speakers' talks, too! You guys do such amazing things for your youth. I'm jealous!!!

  7. This made my day. One of the things in our world that saddens me is parents who use the word "teenager" as a disparaging word. Look at all the good and love they are capable of, all the beauty they are able to appreciate, and all of the fun they are able to create. Such great ideas in this post. Thanks!

  8. I LOVE THIS POST!! (From a planning/organization standpoint, I always love reading about how people organize getaways for large groups.) What a fantastic trip!! My hat is off to the mom and dad who planned out the schedule and meals, etc. Those kids will never forget that time away and you are the best for helping make it happen.

  9. What an amazing time for the kids and the adults alike. Would love to do something like this when my daughter is a teenager. Maybe not on that many kids.

  10. if i were one of those teenagers i would have thought this would be the coolest trip ever, you mothers are rocking it, way to go planning and helping!

    as i was reading this post i thought of this game you and your family (and their friends) would totally love, we always played it at BYU and thought it was a hoot!

    everyone sits in chairs in a circle while 1 person stands in the middle eyes closed holding a pillow. the middle person holds out the pillow to find someone sitting down, whosever most directly in front of the pillow will help the middle person put it on their lap, the middle person then sits on the pillow on the person's lap. the middle person (eyes still closed) says an animal and the person sitting down has to make that sound (sometimes we did easy ones like monkey and snake to a caterpillar, zebra or balooga whale, you get the idea). i believe we gave the person 3 tries to guess the person they were sitting on, if they got it wrong they'd have to do it again, if they got it right those 2 people would switch. in either case though everyone would stand up and switch to new spots each round.

    hopefully you'll play it sometime, good luck!

    and thanks so much for writing this blog. i LOVE reading it being able to see what it's like in the future, especially since we're hoping to return back to arizona after all our schooling is said and done. i just have my 1st 8 month old and am beyond in love with the life and role of a mother, you are a wonderful inspiration!

  11. Holy Smokes, Shawni…I can't believe what amazing things you do with and for your kids. Just amazing. It's always above and beyond. My friend and I had a BBQ tonight and as I watched the kids play with water balloons and sit back and talk we chatted about you! You're amazingness. There is so much to smile about with your life.

  12. LOVE this!! What a fabulous idea and experience for those teens. So glad they had such a great time. And way to go for pulling off an amazing trip and experience for your daughter and friends. It totally reminds me of EFY…more girls than boys, devotionals, games, dances, just about everything except camping in the outdoors. Oh what fun!

    Also, thank you for your inspiring and uplifting blog! I can always turn here for a pick-me up, whether it be funny family moments which we can often relate to, or beautiful pictures… So fun to see familiar faces and places too. For example, our family was in Coronado this summer as well! What a gorgeous place. Burger Lounge is the best! And we know and love the Jarvises. Just to name a few.

    Love your family!

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