A New Way-kind of Summer

Ah, summer.

That magical time of year when anything can happen, or at least that’s what I like to think. It’s a break from the routine of life: from school, from work, from closed-toe shoes, from pants and sweaters, from the mundane routine that can get boring and stale and old. It means seeing family and cousins you haven’t seen for a while, visiting new places, and reading at leisure for more than a few minutes at a time.

Summer 1986
My mom and me on one of our family vacations, probably around 1986.

When I was a kid, summer meant a break from school (even though I was one of the weird kids who really liked school and eagerly awaited buying supplies like pencils and notebooks and colorful folders). My family usually took some sort of vacation, even if it was just camping in a state park. One of my favorite vacations involved camping with my cousins when I was around five or six. My cousin Jamie was three weeks younger than me, and being two towheaded kids, we looked like twins and were inseperable. I have no idea how long that trip was, but I have fond memories of Jamie and I hiking our campsites together, seeing Mt. Rushmore, and exploring Story Book Island in South Dakota. When I was older, we still went camping, but then it was my brother that tagged along with me, even though we had that unspoken sibling agreement to ignore each other completely when it was convenient, and to “not touch” each other in the minivan.

When I got to high school, summer meant one thing: New Way Singers. I had the privilege of being a part of Nebraska Christian College’s New Way Singers program for four years, every year I completed a year of high school. This meant rehearing with about a hundred and twenty other high schoolers for several days at the beginning of June, then sending us all out on three tour buses around the Midwest to perform concerts every night at churches for a week and a half. The three tours would then come back together for a final concert a the end of the tours.

Forty-plus kids on a tour bus with handful of adults for two weeks? What couldn’t be fun about that?

NWS 2000
New Way Singers East Tour, 2000. This was my junior year, the year of the blue polos. See if you can spot me!

I had a blast! I got to do three of the things I love: sing, worship Jesus, and make new friends. We would start each concert with the New Way Singers theme song, which would start with our group of forty singers at the back of the sanctuary. The music would begin and we’d start snapping our fingers to the rhythm, marching up the aisle in pairs of two. When we reached the stage and mounted the risers, we’d keep our backs to the audience until the last singer had reached the stage. Then, on cue, we’d whip around and start singing:

“Start the music! Let the melody begin! Our song is just waiting to be sung!”

NWS 2001 Final Concert
Final concert in 2001, the year of the red racing polos. We always performed one song with sign language.

After each concert, members of that congregation would volunteer to house us students for the night. Believe me, I’ve stayed at some interesting places! Elderly people who wanted nothing more than to hear about our lives, young couples who were on fire for Jesus, and families with kids who wanted us to play with them: they all came to our concerts and opened their homes and hearts to us. There was the one couple who had four of us girls stay in a trailer on their property and had a composting toilet. There was the teenage daughter of a single mother who let us sleep in her room, but she had to listen to Michael W. Smith’s “Friends are Friends Forever” song to go to sleep. I think it looped about 15 times before I finally fell asleep that night. I still can’t hear that song without shuddering. (Sadly, it’s the weird homes that I remember most!).

While the performing was undoubtedly one of my favorite parts of New Ways, the friendships and memories I made are also high on the list. From staying up all night talking on a backyard trampoline, and riding roller coasters until we threw up, to “cruising” through someone’s (extremely small) hometown late at night and praying together with new friends, it was two weeks of my life that I miss just a little bit every summer.

Camping With Cows

>Last day to enter to win Shari Barr‘s OPERATION: EXCITEMENT!
To enter, see contest rules below<

Camping with cows sounds exciting, doesn’t it?

Well, maybe not, but let me explain. I grew up on a dairy farm, and my best friend also grew up on a farm, so cows were always in the background. Summers were super busy with picking rock, harvesting crops, baling hay, and other *fun* farm chores, so we had to grab the free time when we could and camp close to home. That usually meant heading to one of two places: the hayloft or cow pasture.

The hayloft / shed was great for the rainy night. I’d head out there with my sister, my friend, and her younger sisters, munchies and boombox in tow. (No boys allowed!) We’d form a stage out of hay bales and pop in the Grease cassette or 8-track (yes, I know that ages me). Someone would blink a flashlight to create cool stage effects (for a hayloft, the effects were cool!) while others sang and danced.

MP900385381[1]For the non-stormy nights, my sister and I would bike over to our friend’s farm. She’d hook a large wagon onto a tractor, we’d fill the wagon with sleeping bags and blankets and pillows and boomboxes and guitars and munchies (we really roughed it!) and head out to a wooded part of the pasture. After getting a fire started, we’d roast hot dogs and make s’mores, then break out the guitars to serenade the cows.

Oddly enough, few cows visited us in that pasture. Wonder what that says about our music …


What’s your camping story? Tell us about it in the comment section below to get your name in a drawing for Shari Barr’s book Operation: Excitement. The more you comment on any Inksper blog posts dated June 23 – July 4, 2014, the greater your chances of winning. The giveaway ends at midnight on July 4, central time, and is open to continental U. S. residents only.

Operation excitement 1Here’s the blurb to Operation Excitement, featuring three Camp Club Girl’s stories (by Shari Barr, Janice Hanna, and Linda Carlblom) in one book:

Join the Camp Club Girls on a series of clue-filled adventures and cheer them on as they crack the case in this entertaining 3-in-1 story collection. Whether the Camp Club Girls are vanquishing vermin in Vermont, searching for stolen sea lion pups on the Oregon Coast, or investigating peculiar elk stampedes in Estes Park, you’ll encounter six charming characters who combine their mystery-solving skills to save the day.

Purchase Operation Excitement online:

Parable | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | CBD

Up at the Lake

Camping revives all sorts of memories—the infamous yucky outhouses at Girl Scout camp and waking up in a wet sleeping bag because it rained during the night. (That wasn’t what you thought I was going to say, was it?) One time while camping in the backyard I found something furry in my sleeping bag only to discover my baby kitties had crawled in to snuggle. Then during high school I camped overnight with a youth group and came out of the showers and saw one of the guys standing on a picnic table shoved up to the girls’ bathroom frying doughnuts in an electric skillet on top of the pop machine. Strange but quite innovative since that was the only outlet in the campground. Breakfast was good that morning.

My favorite kind of camping isn’t really camping at all since it comes with a cabin, electricity, and running water. Since those amenities come with the cabin, I’ll take it. When our kids were small, my husband and I spent several vacations at Little Pelican Lake in Minnesota at a small family cabin. The sun porch, equipped with a queen sized bed, was the coveted sleeping spot. With the windows open, the cabin had a camping feel to it, especially on a rainy night. Aah, perfect sleeping weather—until the loons start their nighttime calls. If you’ve never heard a loon, the first time is quite eerie. I got shivers the first time I heard one. Now I absolutely love their cries. You know you’re in the north woods when you hear the call of the loon.

The cabin at the lake had a private beach with a dock perfect as a jumping-in spot for swimming, settling into a canoe or sailboat, or a starting point for water skiing. Someone had made a special set of skis that were fastened together so the kids could learn to ski without doing the splits. Since I have limited athletic abilities, I was the self-designated photographer, recording all the events, and I do have quite a stash.

Dusk at the lake was best of all. Climbing onto Grandma’s pontoon boat, we set out on a tour of the lake. At least once during our stay we had a picnic on the boat, but the rest of the days we cruised the lake, waving to the neighbors and watching wildlife. As the sun slipped behind the trees, we watched and waited for the loons to come out. If we were lucky we saw them dance—another fascinating trait of the loon.

It’s been many years since we’ve been to Little Pelican. Though it’s not really camping, it’s the best kind of outdoorsy living.

operation excitementDo you have a camping experience you’d like to share? Tell us about it in the space below or just leave a short comment to enter your name in a drawing for my latest release Operation: Excitement which includes three Camp Club Girls stories in one volume, including my McKenzie’s Oregon Operation, Kate’s Vermont Venture by Janice Hannah, and Bailey’s Estes Park Excitement by Linda Carlblom. The more comments you leave on any Inksper blog dated June 23 – July 4, the greater your chance of winning. The giveaway ends at midnight July 4, central time, and is open to continental U.S. residents only.

So Not a Camper

We’re celebrating the release of Shari’s Camp Club Girls release, McKenzie’s Oregon Operation included in the 3 in 1 volume, Operation: Excitement!

When I tell people I never went to church camp, they always seem shocked. I guess they assume this preacher’s wife grew up in church. But I didn’t start consistently attending until I was twelve. And our church was very small. Small as in twelve members who were all related to me on my mom’s side or my dad’s. There weren’t any kids my age. There were some younger cousins five and under, but I don’t remember camp ever being mentioned. If our church had sent kids to camp, I wouldn’t have gone. I’m not the rough it type.

Gold Hiking SandalsI’ve always said my idea of camping would be a motor home with electricity, great air conditioning, and plumbing. But I like Dawn’s idea better – a cabin with electricity, great air conditioning, and plumbing. With accommodations like that, I probably wouldn’t go outside. I don’t like bugs, heat, humidity, or critters such as ticks and snakes, and I’m extremely allergic to poison ivy. Camping in a cabin in the fall would be nice.

Last summer, I had my first and only brush with camping when my local writers group, ACFW AR had a retreat at a church camp. We slept in squeaky bunk beds with ladders in the middle of one side and the open side against the wall. We all chose the bottom bunks, but the top might have been better. Crawling out the hole beside the ladder was a bit like crawling out of the birth canal. The showers were and toilets were all in one long room in stalls with shower curtains.

I was completely unprepared and never dreamed we’d go hiking. I brought two pairs of wedge sandals–no tennis shoes. But never one to use my shoes as an excuse, I went on the prayer walk in my gold and rhinestone sandals. It turned out to be a mountain climbing expedition and my shoes became forever known as my hiking boots. Those are the intrepid hikers above: Debbie Sheetrum, Rosie Baldwin, Ann McCauley, and me.

This year, our writers group found a Bed & Breakfast used for Christian retreats. Talk about accommodations. Technically, it couldn’t beRustic Retreat called camping, but it was my idea of camping. Nice beds, rustic decor, and very comfy with two bathrooms. The mosquitoes were thick, so I didn’t step outside except when I arrived and when I left. I don’t like the smell of Off. They need to come up with a perfume scented version. I told you, I don’t rough it.

Comment or share your camp experience to enter the drawing for a copy of Operation: Excitement!

Operation Excitement!Join the Camp Club Girls on a series of clue-filled adventures and cheer them on as they crack the case in this entertaining 3-in-1 story collection. Whether the Camp Club Girls are vanquishing vermin in Vermont, searching for stolen sea lion pups on the Oregon Coast, or investigating peculiar elk stampedes in Estes Park, you’ll encounter six charming characters who combine their mystery-solving skills to save the day.