Buddies,  I forgot to pick a category,  party party

Camp Forty Rocks


Forty is funny year to celebrate. You’ve come so far. You’ve left so much behind. Values and priorities are shifting into place but yet there is still so much to look forward to…it’s a strange but wonderful pinpoint on this journey we call life. Not quite old. Not quite young. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate it than a great big birthday bash with all your closest friends.

I have so much to be thankful for. This “midlife crisis retreat” was everything I wanted it to be and more. It’s going to be hard to put down in words what I want to say about it but I’m going to try. I wanted to go through my pictures chronologically but my brain is a jumble of beautiful memories. So a collage just seemed to capture it all better.

Beautiful, generous hostess. @susanlaporta

First of all I want to say thank you to my dear friend and fairy godmother, Susan. I called her up way back in February trying to get this camp idea off the ground. I was just about to give up because the expense seemed insurmountable especially since it was getting more and more clear that I needed to move this summer. I had visions of a retreat in Palm Springs or Joshua Tree but who wants to lounge by the pool when it’s 120 degrees outside? Not me. I couldn’t have a party at home. That was too complicated. I didn’t know what to do. I really just wanted to cross it off my big fat goal list and forget about it.

But Susan wouldn’t let me. She knew this was important to me and I’d been talking about it for years. She solved all my problems in one swoop with an offer to have the party at her house. This was a fantastic idea because Susan always has the BEST house (I’ve been to many over the years) and she’s known far and wide for her hospitality. But it was a little strange for me because you know how much of a micro-manager I can be when it comes to theme parties. Could I pull off what I wanted to pull off at a destination I’d never even been to?

Susan sent over a passel of photos of her home and gardens and I got to thinking up a theme. I wanted to incorporate Susan’s love of all things exotic and Asian but it just wasn’t working with this deep need I had for something nostalgic from my childhood. I struggled with the idea for weeks trying to blend something between smooth zen rocks and relaxing spa treatments with girl scouts camping by a steam, maybe some s’mores and any kind of 70’s-80’s kitsch I could squeeze in. Finally, I just gave up on the Asian fusion idea and plowed on through with my “midlife crisis retreat” idea.

You may wonder where I came up with the idea for a midlife crisis retreat and really it was because I was imagining a conversation about travel arrangements with Toby. I knew he would give me trouble about taking Bug away for a week and screwing up his vacation plans. (He loves to travel to Northern California every Fourth of July for a lakeside vacation.) I could just hear him saying he wasn’t going to rearrange his schedule with Bug just because I wanted to go hide out in the woods and have some kind of midlife-crisis retreat with my girlfriends. And then it hit me. Why not embrace what could be made fun of? It is what it is. Why does that have to be a bad thing?

Not that any of us are going through midlife crisis but it is that point in our lives where we look back on how far we’ve come, we think about all the struggles that have made us who we are and we either sit back and admire the beauty of how everything works out or we make some big changes to fix things. I’ve certainly been through a lot these last two years and I knew my best girlfriends had too. It would be so great to get together and share our experiences and ripe old wisdom (ha ha).

So Susan’s it was. It was perfect.

Our delightful Johnny boy! @susanlaporta

I also need to thank Susan’s fiancé, John. What an amazing guy. He is Susan’s rock and fortress. He is calm and quiet and just when I thought we were driving him crazy with our constant chicken-clucking banter, he would come out and say something about how wonderful it was to be surrounded by so much life. He was so patient and gracious with us.


This party fell on Susan and John during a particularly trying time. Susan’s father had been in the hospital with cancer. He was just in the middle of transferring back to a home with all the many many phone calls to medical officials that takes. You know how that can go when you are taking care of a loved one via phone calls long distance. It was also the anniversary of John’s wife’s death AND as if things couldn’t get any worse, their dog (the beloved Buster) was very sick and passed away after fourteen years of incredible loyalty. It was just hard all around but you wouldn’t know it. We knew they were grieving but they were celebrating life at the same time. Life is such a messy bundle like that.

I am so very thankful to John and Susan for their unending over-flowing hospitality in the midst of such a tumultuous time. It really was a thing of beauty. A friendship to be treasured.


And speaking of friendships to be treasured, I am just so in love with this bunch of weirdos who came all this way to celebrate with me in the woods. Back in high school I couldn’t get my friends to like each other. Now I can’t get my friends to stop liking each other. In fact, they don’t even need me! That sounds funny but it’s actually a really really cool thing about middle age and maturity.

I loved that I could walk in and out of a room and participate in a conversation or not. I didn’t have to play moderator. Many of these friends had never even met each other in real life but you wouldn’t know it. It was like being at a little mini blogging convention with the din discussion going on at all times. Of course food and wine helped but overall it was just an amazing harmonic experience.

We didn’t exactly follow the schedule I had so flippantly thrown together on the invitation. It was more of an *idea* of what could be fun to do if we felt so inclined. Or I could say it was a clever marketing ploy to get my gaggle of friends interested. I knew nobody could pass up karaoke and an 80’s glow bracelet fashion show or midnight monopoly and sunrise yoga. But we did pass it up. We nearly passed up the s’more bar too but that is only because we spent so much time talking our heads off that we ran out of time for all the other things. We followed it roughly but added some other things like a visit to the local farmers market and dancing in the street to a live band! Music so good that it has you dancing in the street in the sunlight! That is my idea of a happy time.


There are so many highlights to talk about! The long table dinner, that was a dream of mine since forever. My mom made her famous spaghetti. The spring rolling contest, that was a blast. We made wine charms for our coffee cups and painted rocks. I love painting rocks! There were some brief hikes and a few campers actually made it to a yoga class.

And of course I can’t forget the spa treatments. If anyone is in the Grass Valley area, you HAVE to visit Vela and ask for Reneé. I have never had a better massage in my life. Yes, I’ve only had maybe ten massages in my whole life but it was an out of this world experience. I actually started contemplating if I could afford to fly up every few months just to get one. Of course visiting Susan would be part of that plan but still. It was that amazing.


Basically we spent a lot of time just sitting around enjoying the surroundings and each other. It was really fun. There’s even talk of a reunion…who knows, maybe for my 50th!


  • sizzle

    It sounds every bit amazing as you’d hoped. How awesome! I love Grass Valley (I have relatives that live there). So glad you got that dream come true. I’m turning 40 next year and I really want to do something special for it with my friends.

  • Kassie

    “Life is such a messy bundle like that.” What a perfect line. I’m so glad you had such a wonderful event! It looks beautiful and is inspiring me to plan something epic and fabulous for myself in a couple of short years. Congrats on making it to 40!

  • OMSH

    Why am I weeping? I think that a lot of what you wrote could be correlated with life in general and not just the party – which was wonderful (as we all knew it would be). I fell in love with Grass Valley and I think we all have crushes on Susan and John. Thank you for the invite friend – it was a blessing and I DO want to return.

  • Cathy

    Yay for you, Yay for turning 40 and Yay for a rocking’ camp party with your amazing friends. You deserved it.

  • Sandra

    Did you say Grass Valley?? It’s a beautiful outdoorsy place with nice people! My hubby and I have a service gas station (big ol’ 76 station) up there, and we’ve done tons of camping up there! Your pix looked awesome, and I’m happy you had some a great time! I turned 40 last year, and decided to a girls only Vegas trip, but I thought your theme was great!

  • bethany actually

    It seems ridiculous to me now that I was a tiny bit apprehensive about the fact that I didn’t really know some of the people who would be there that weekend, and worried that it might be awkward. Everyone was AWESOME, and it was an amazing, fun, relaxed celebration—as your parties always are! I’m so very glad I was able to be there!

  • nicole i

    thank you friend for the 40 rocks…i loved it…like bethany commented above, i also was apprehensive. i was so nervous driving up there but i am so glad you invited me. the long table dinner was a highlight…as was the spa BUT the best part was meeting so many wonderful souls. truly 40 rocks.

  • JennyBean

    Oh, Brenda, this all looks so amazing! I’m so pleased for you, that you were able to celebrate your birthday in such a special way, with such wonderful people. :) You’ve inspired me, too! Not that an engagement is on the horizon for me at the moment, but one day when that time comes, I think this sounds like an AMAZING idea for a hen party! I’ve always hated those silly parties of embarrassing the bride-to-be and all the gross jokes…a weekend away with my Best Girls, doing stuff like this, sounds like my Bride-To-Be Happy Space. Maybe one day I’ll have to get you to help me plan it, haha!

  • Sarah

    I’m so happy that you (all) had such a great time. I’m seeing a lot of food, a lot of colour and a lot of smiles in the photos, so it must have been good!

  • Susan

    Dearest Brenda, It was truly a privilege and an honor to host your wonderful 40th birthday and what a joyous celebration it was. If it were not for you, all of the magnificent women would never have gathered and had the opportunity to celebrate YOU and create deeper and new friendships too. Cheers to all who stepped out of their comfort zone to allow a new and delightful enriching experience to show up in its place. Thanks to everyone for all your help, the entire week flowed so easily. We truly are blessed to share such cherished friendships and I think it would be great to have a reunion for your 50th!!!Thanks for such a magical time XXOO

  • Kuky

    It was lovely of Susan to open her house to us. She was so welcoming and made me feel at ease right from the get go. EVERYONE was wonderful and I had so much fun. I only wish I stayed longer and that I took more pictures. But at least I got the time I did.

  • BeachMama

    Wow Brenda!! What an amazing 40th experience!! I love the idea of a 50th reunion, it will give me time to get there ;) All joking aside, I was so sorry to miss it, but so thankful that you had such an amazing time and that I could follow along from the other side of the country. Since I will turn 50 before you, perhaps I will celebrate up North for some Fall colours (my bday is in the Fall, go figure) and bring you all up here to share in it :). You are so inspiring and I love that you can just make things happen!!

  • Jill

    Two of my favorite people in the pic above (you and Heather – I am sure I’d love the others, I just don’t know them).

    Happy 40th!

    Just a spring chicken. It looks like you had a ball and were surrounded by so many loving and loved friends and family