Yup I did it. Two days and two nights, deep in the woods of North Georgia. And despite my initial protestations (and the tolerance of threats from my resident Go Green enthusiast/sister-in-law Angelou and much pleading from Mari and Lila), I have to say it wasn’t half bad. And maybe just maybe I’m willing to admit that I had some fun. Here, our journey in pictures and in words:

We stayed in Ft. Yargo, a state-run park in Winder, GA. It’s only about 40 minutes from our home, but the massive lake, pristinely-maintained forest, and primitive living made it feel like we were 400 light years away from Atlanta. And yes, that’s Angelou, acting like she’s about to check into The Ritz.

Signs welcomed our families the Chileses, the Ezeiloes, and the Gees to our campsite, located on small peninsula off a small corner of the lake. We dropped our stuff and got busy getting settled setting up tents, unpacking sleeping bags and lights (all graciously provided by REI, the campground superstore). You know I was scoping out what mattered most: the bathroom (a two-minute walk from our tent site, it had running water and toilets, but lots of bugs, which meant I was going to do the drop and run; showers up in there were not optional), the cooking facilities (a rock pit with a sturdy grill) and an exit strategy (you know, in case a chick had to make a quick getaway). All in all, it was all quite nice for the outdoors.

The kids got a kick out of the idea of sleeping on the ground, surrounded by the lake. They skipped rocks over the water, tossed around the football, danced to the Black Eyed Peas, Earth Wind & Fire, and Nice & Smooth, tooled around on their scooters, and, on many occasions, were caught looking reflectively out over all that God made. (A big highlight for Mari was being allowed to brush her teeth in the woods and spit on the ground. It’s the little things, y’all. The little things.)

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During the day, we mostly chilled went for a leisurely hike through the woods, took a dip in the man-made beach, talked, and read (Mazi got wrapped up in the latest Dan Brown novel, “Angels and Demons,” while Nick and I shared Nathan McCall’s incredible novel, Them. We got our New York Times fix on our Blackberries (reception was crystal clear).

When the dark settled in, we whipped up dinner (grilled veggies, salmon, chicken, and potatoes the first night; hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken sausage, and grilled corn the second) on the campfires, and then watched the kids gorge on S’mores while we played When I Go to the Moon. We followed that up with a raucous round of campfire singing, black people style, which means we were crooning Teena Marie, Chaka Khan, Rick James, Run DMC, and Sugar Hill Gang songs at the top of our lungs (the volume of said sing-alongs was wholly controlled by various adult elixirs).

The trickiest part? Sleeping on the ground, in the pitch black, in the middle of the Georgia woods. This truly is something that freaked me out, not a little, but a lot. I’m no fan of bugs or critters (though REI’s Jungle Juice, a bug repellant, is the truth, the light, and the way, for real!), but it wasn’t the creepy crawlies that bothered me. It was the noises. And the darkness. And the fear of what was lurking the unknown. The first night wasn’t so bad, but the second night, Lila woke me out of a dead sleep, shivering, talking about how she heard noises and footsteps. I heard them, too, and felt powerless to do anything about it but cuddle Lila and try to be brave while she settled back to sleep. All the while, all I could think was, Damn, James has the knife in is tent how am I going to stab a mofo if I don’t have the regulator?! I spent the rest of the night staring at the stars and waiting for Jason/Freddie Krueger/The Blair Witch/a group of guys in white robes to slice through the tent. Needless to say, sunlight couldn’t come fast enough for me.

When morning finally came, we made quick work of breaking down the tents, gathering up our things, and getting in our last looks at nature. I have to admit that it was quite a lovely experience, sleeping out in the open and waking up to such beauty. I’m not planning on becoming a camping enthusiast, that much I know (though REI has some pretty spectacular gear that did wonders for keeping us comfortable from the tents to the lanterns to the coffee percolator to the backpacks, kids’ toys, and the Jungle Juice). But I wouldn’t be against going again one of these days. (The picture below is of me and Mazi proof that I was, indeed, there!)

A special thanks to REI for making this, my first camping trip, a comfortable, special experience; the tents were incredible, the lanterns lit the way, the percolator made great java, the sleeping bags were quite cozy, the portable stove made perfect Jiffy Pop Popcorn, and not one of us got bit by a bug thanks to your fantastic Jungle Juice (I’m SO buying stock in the JJ!)


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  1. You were not kidding. You REALLY went camping. With tents and all. Woah.


  2. We would have loved to tag along on that trip. Hopefully soon, we'll be able to do a camp out. Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. Oh wow! That looks totally amazing 🙂 Your family is so beautiful and it looks as though it was great bonding time together! LOL on the "Jason & Freddie" stuff….I would so be freaking out too 🙂 Glad you all made it back alive ha! smilinggreenmom *tweet me!

  4. Tara @ theyoungmommylife

    Your family and friends looked so cute, the food looked yummy and that Mazi is cheesing so hard! LOL. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I am so glad you and your family were able to experiance the joy of camping. My family and I love to go camping, we have only been twice but are itching to go back within a month or two. LOL on the whole Jason in the woods thing! probably was a couple of animals taking a late night stroll. What a great family bonding time.

  6. Lynn from For Love or Funny

    Denene, you are my hero. Your camping trip actually looks…fun!

  7. Denene,
    That's so great you went camping. We made a short camping foray into the Northern California Redwoods last week, but the night air was too cold and my little guy had a bad cough, so we left the next evening, before dark, but after spending the day walking and throwing rocks in the river. Outdoor time for kids is so important (see the book "Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv – I think that's his name) especially in this day and age. That's great that your kids were trying to get YOU out there (rather than the other way around!) I'm so glad you had fun. My hubby had to convince me this time around, sort of – he just kept hinting. I did it for the good of my son though (the greater good, in my mind!) It was so relaxing (hubby put up a hammock!) and rejuvenating.
    Thanks for a great post with wonderful pictures!

  8. :::Renaissance Woman:::

    Lol! It looks like you all had an amazing time! The scenery is splendid and the veggies look great on the grill!lol!:) That picture of Jason is hilarious! I'm inspired to camp now–as long as there are no snakes around!!:0

    Btw, you don't look a day older than 15 in your picture! Nature makes you glow!

  9. I just about busted out laughing when I saw the "Jason" picture!

  10. All I can say is 'Big Ups!' Y'all did the damn thing! I am sooooo jealous, 'cause it looked ike you had a great time (drop and run and Freddy notwithstanding). Your pictures are lovely too!

  11. MelADramatic Mommy

    You are my hero. I do not sleep on the ground! LOL!

  12. The Mocha Life Coach

    Wow, what a wonderful way to connect with your Family!!

  13. The JaGramerican Queen

    My Daughter has been begging me for years to go hiking. I found renewed energy in your post. I'm going to make it happen this year.

  14. You all look like you had a great time. I went camping myself with my grandchildren in the back yard…lol and it is very dark at night, blackness! even with the backdoor yards away..lol..Morning couldn't come soon enough.

  15. Absolutely awesome! Your blog gives me mocha mommy hunger and I have to remind myself its not my time yet;)

  16. You are too funny!! My Dad was a serious camper.I think it was because he was to cheap to pay for hotels. We camped across country when I was six and again when I was 16. We still laugh about those times. On the first trip it was aunts and uncles and my father's mother – big mama. We spent a night in Yellowstone and a bear came. It was crazy. I'll never forget those days. You are making great memories for your children. You have to do it again!!

    Kathy Carter

  17. Medela backpack

    You guys are looking so cool! I miss my camping days now!

  18. I went to camp when I was a kid and was a camp counselor for a few years when I was a teenager. I'm so glad my parents gave me that experience, because as a New York City girl, I could have easily missed out on that. In fact, my best girlfriends from the Bronx are decidedly citified. Scared of swimming and not campers at all. I've never gone camping since my counselor days, though I would definitely go if I could get another adult to go with me. My man is/was a Marine and has no desire to go back "into the field."

  19. What a beautiful place. It looks like y'all had a lot of fun. I love camping in theory. I've never been, of course. We might have to give it a try.

  20. MBB Founder and Editor Denene Millner

    Thanks, everyone, for your beautiful comments—I really appreciate every last one of them. I joke a lot about how much I can't stand the outdoors, but I do recognize how important it is to get children—particularly brown babies who suffer disproportionately from obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and a bunch of other horrible diseases associated with inactive lifestyles, poor air quality, and high-fat, unhealthy diets—moving.

    Trust me: If I could overcome the fear of the great outdoors for my babies, you can too. Get yourself some of that jungle juice and some sunblock, and go on outside. Not now, but right now! You don't have to sleep on the ground like I did; a simple walk around the block, or a toss of the ball or two out in front of your home, will be a great start to a life of healthy, enjoyable, memorable habits you'll build for yourself and your babies.

    Well go on—whatcha waiting for?!

  21. Parents, Kids and Schnoodles - oh my!

    WOW. Now that we've moved from FL to KY I've been thinking of breaking out the tent and sleeping bags and now I am SO ready! Especially thinking of having a cookout like that – YUM!!!!

  22. Tears are rolling down my cheeks…the noises in the woods…cracks me up. We own a 10-person tent but my hubby ain't having it. The closest we've come to camping is in the backyard…we had electricity in it so the dvd player drowned out the noises of the night.

  23. p.s. checking out your bookshelf…one of our favourite gerald mcdermott books on there…ANANSI. I love visiting here.

  24. Jennifer James

    I love this! Such great photos and the children will remember this trip for the rest of their lives.

  25. Arlice Nichole

    Looks like fun! I could get into this. But, you took your Black Berry? Ok, I guess it's cool just in case Jason did show up. But it would not have done any good. With Jason you always get got! LOL.

  26. Funkidivagirl

    Hey, I saw people I know in your photos: Jennifer & Anthony Gee! Looks like you all had fun! I want to go camping with my family, but my husband is more the room-service type of guy LOL. One day….

  27. Girl you KNOW I am proud of you and from the follow up I see I am not alone! Your pictures are AMAZING and yes, you look like you're having a blast.

    Consider yourself a camper yet?

    ^5 D!


  28. OBG Adventure Camps

    This is absolutely awesome!!! Do it again, Denene…do it again!

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