West Coast, Part 3

Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico

**I’m aware this series contains a lot of frivolous information and photos. It’s a personal blog. It’s all frivolous. But also, my main purpose in writing this down journal-style is so that when the kids are grown and have forgotten most or all of this trip, they can go back and read and maybe be inspired to do it all again. Next time, they can drive and I’ll sit in the back and eat snacks.**

Getting on the Road
Oh, hi. I decided to save the rest of my preachy, long-winded trip prep posts til the end (Part 1 and Part 2 already happened, but they are very boring) and go ahead and get into the good stuff. The road trip started with the idea that I was going to leave Colorado with my pets and kids to do a loop of cool sites in the western United States before I went to Texas to wait out the rest of my husband’s deployment, but a few months before Go Time, I acquired a popup camper and two extra road trip buddies. All of which were in Oklahoma at the time waiting for me to collect them. So, man, this is turning out to be a very, very roundabout way to get to Texas from Colorado via Yellowstone National Park. Daniel actually had not left for the middle east yet at this point so we drove our four kids, dog, and cat down to Oklahoma where our families live to wait out the last ten days together. We pulled all of our belongings in a small Uhaul to put in storage.

Once he left, I spent about two days sulking then I had to do a proxy house sale which probably took five years off my life, and then I was free to spend the days renovating my camper in the sweltering heat of an Oklahoma July. The plan was to be done before the first day of August. If you want to read how the first day of camper renovation went, check out this post. (trust me, it’s more entertaining than the other posts.) Eventually I hope to dedicate a whole post to camper renovation but that’s for another day. Let’s just say that Brooke, my Uncle Don, and my Aunt Pam were a dream team. They have very specific sets of skills, and a shocking willingness to work in the heat. Did I mention THE HEAT? It’s so dang hot in Southern Oklahoma in July. Also, the camper, which we named Bill, was (and is) in pretty bad shape. It’s older than I am and needed more structural repair than we were really able to give him. We more or less held it together with sheer force of will and some paint. A gorgeous deep blue paint that the associate at Sherwin Williams helped me pick out. I said, “bruh. I want this bad boy to be exactly the color of your shirt.” he was all “say no more fam.” and bam. Bill. Rickety and sketchy but oh so pretty and homey and cozy. Yes, I did put a family altar and a super pathetic shrine to my super sexy husband in my camper.





I wasn’t ready to go by our launch date, for a million little reasons. I wanted to have the van detailed. I was waiting on a “non-essential” part for the camper (which came in the day after we left, because of course it did.) but really I was just procrastinating because “holy crap are we taking five kids and three pets camping for a whole month in a rust bucket? Do I even know where the spare tire is in my van? Are we still going to be friends when this is over? Is this too much for the kids? Do bears kill you before they start eating you?” Brooke reminded me that we were on our own schedule and could wait til everything was done but I knew that I was going to keep putting it off so, even though I didn’t get any sleep the night before, we left on our target day, July 31.

We woke up to buckets of rain and some hail that morning, which caused Brooke to have to pop the camper down by herself which is really difficult on a camper that has busted cables in the popup arms. This means the popup doesn’t pop. Zero springyness. You just have to use brute force to deal with the full weight of it. I had to load heavy items in my car top cargo carrier by myself in the hail. Good times. I got to her house late and we proceeded to have all sorts of problems with hanging the door on the camper and another issue with the trailer hitch. I’m pretty sure Brooke figured it all out on her own because I really only remember running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I also made her put on the “not all those who wander are lost” decal because I was in panic meltdown mode. She’s a dang saint for it, too, because with all the intricate lettering it was probably the most tedious task that any human has ever done. Finally we were all hooked up, loaded up, and ready to go. I was going to take the first shift driving. I hopped up in the front seat and my cell phone fell out of my lap just as I was slamming my door shut, crushing it. The phone that I purchased to take great pictures and navigate and communicate with my deployed husband…..crushed.

We were off to a great start.

Leaving Brooke’s driveway. “Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost”

We were in Southeastern Oklahoma for two or three weeks fixing up the camper. I grew up there, I don’t have much to say about the Great State of Oklahoma at this time, even though it is of course God’s Country, and a wonderful state…it’s just not very relevant to the west coast road trip because, being right on the border of Texas, we were only actually IN Oklahoma for approximately one hot minute once the trip started.

We also didn’t plan to spend any time in Texas because, again, we grew up on the Oklahoma Texas border and having driven through West Texas many, many times I knew that there was mostly a bunch of dirt and cotton and nothingnesss (other than my amazing relatives. Hey guys! Love you!) but we ended up staying one night there because we were so behind schedule. As we were approaching nightfall, clouds started rolling in and it became evident that our first night in the camper would be a stormy one. I called the nearest RV park which turned out to just be some lady’s yard, but she had a swing set and only charged us $20. After dealing with the heat in Oklahoma, we were surprised when the temps dipped into the 50s that night. It ended up being one of the warmest nights of our entire trip. (Newsflash, its cold on the California coast. Who knew?)

On the road: Margaret and Albus, aka Maggie Mayhem and Adventure Cat, often kept each other warm due to excessive air conditioning.
Storms rolling in as we prepared to set up camp for the first time.
I was a little embarassed fumbling to pop up the camper up next to the extremely fancy RV and its super experienced owners, but they were very nice and encouraging. Notice our camp toilet next to the red basket.

It stormed hard on us that night but the rain mostly stayed outside the camper, and we woke up feeling a little proud of ourselves for figuring things out and going with the flow. We decided to stop and explore Palo Duro Canyon before we headed to New Mexico, and it was lovely. I didn’t have my phone so I took no pictures but my girls had their Polaroid and managed to take a couple.

Palo Duro Canyon

I found a wizard in Amarillo that was able to use voodoo witch magic to repair my incredibly busted phone for a super reasonable price and yes I left them great reviews on Yelp, so we left Texas for New Mexico on an extremely cheerful note.

SANTA FE, New Mexico
Finally! The good stuff. Listen, I love Santa Fe. I love the churches and the art and the food and the people and I am a sucker for the turquoise jewelry in the town square. I hate to use words like vibe and energy, maybe it’s a little cliche, but there’s just something about this place. Part of it is nostaliga. If you’ve been with me since Part 1 you may remember that I mentioned how I wanted to do a road trip after I graduated high school and it fell apart, but I didn’t mention that my dad couldn’t bear my disappointment and one morning he was all, “get in the car! I can’t take you alll the way to Cali, but we’re going to the Grand Canyon!” so literally hours later we were on the road. Mom, Dad, my brother, and me. It was an amazing trip. At a rest stop in New Mexico I picked up a brochure for Santa Fe and I was captivated by the pictures of the Loretto Chapel staircase. It was not on the way, and nobody else really wanted to go much, but Dad said, “sure! Why not? Detour!” (if you know my dad….that is very unlike him. He’s a schedule man.) We ended up having the best time there just walking through town, chatting up locals, visiting the old churches and shopping. We had New Mexican food for the first time which is not like Tex Mex. When we got to the San Miguel chapel and I saw that it’s the oldest church in the Unites States. I went into the gift shop where I bought a rosary for a friend. We’d had many late night conversations about how he was considering converting to Catholicism, and while I thought he was a nut for it, I wanted to buy him a gift. One of the first signs I was in major denial about us being “just friends.” A few months later he was passing through Santa Fe on a road trip with his friends and he went into the same gift shop where he purchased a postcard with the prayer of St. Francis on it. He wrote me a beautiful note right then and there and sent it, presumably while all his macho buddies made fun of him for it. (spoiler alert: we got married, converted to Catholicism in college, and haven’t stopped having babies since.)

Daniel and I have sadly never been to Santa Fe together (yet!) but I was eager to take our girls. Funny thing, the geography of the United States hasn’t changed a whole lot in the 11 years since I was last in Santa Fe so you might have noticed that it’s still not directly on the route between my hometown and the Grand Canyon. I wanted to take a pretty significant detour north through Colorado and into Utah before we made it to Arizona, because have you seen Colorado and Utah? Anyway, I had plenty of reason to be there. I think we were there three days? Maybe? Ask Brooke.

I’ll try to let the pictures do most of the talking, though I am a terrible photographer, but some highlights of Santa Fe were 1. The campsite! It was beautiful and it felt woodsy and secluded even though it really wasn’t. They also had a playground and a pool which the kids loved. Brooke helped the kids build a fire so we could make hotdogs and s’mores. We played cards and relaxed at camp quite a bit. The animals were happy there. The van needed a jump so we borrowed cables from the camp host and Brooke stopped him from blowing us all up not once, but three times. She eventually just gently removed the cables from his hands. It was hilarious. When it was time to go explore the city, we dropped the pets off at doggie (and kitty) daycare. This brought us to highlight 2. the food. Oh my goodness. Tacos and green chile stew and posole and prickly pear margaritas. Yas. Later we had spicy mocha lattes and gelato at a cute little cafe 3. We went into a couple of museums but I apparently only photographed the Native American Modern Art Museum. Brooke, being native herself and a bit of a history expert on Native Americans was geeking out pretty hard there. 4. The shops and market. The girls loved looking at all the handmade items. Clothes, purses, decor, jewelry. I bought our first souvenirs from a lovely Navajo woman named Bernice. Months in advance I planned to buy matching necklaces for me and my girls, and we found the perfect ones. I was all prepared to haggle, but she gave me a steep discount for buying five before I said a word. Deal! I’m pretty sure Brooke’s daughter was able to hone her haggling skills, at least. 5. The churches. There are no words for the beauty and history of the cathedral, the Loretto Chapel, San Miguel. It was fun going back now that I am actually Catholic. I actually had to (politely) correct the guide at the cathedral on some history and some saint names he got all wrong. He then made a super awkward joke about his vasectomy and the sacred silence in the church became just uncomfortable silence. Anyway. Santa Fe was, as always, enchanting.

I bought this polaroid camera for the girls and it ended up being a great investment. Isabella loves the photo she took of Margaret here.


This is how I washed my kids, and often myself….and also our laundry and dishes (separate conainter for the dishes) We had shower facilities sometimes, but when we didn’t this worked just fine.
Brooke…has made fire.


My oldest 3 and the dog slept on the dinette-turned bed, while the baby, cat, and I slept on the slide out. Brooke, Ridlee, and their yorkie slept on the opposite side slide out.
Using glue sticks to make photo journals in their notebooks. Notice the hairbrush on the table, which they evidentily never used.


He has a harness, but he never wandered far so eventually I just let him do his thing. If you’re looking for a super clingy, loyal, silly, adventurous cat, I highly recommend the Devon Rex.
Tigo is a standard poodle but we disguised him as a labradoodle (eye roll) because for some reason people aren’t intimidated by a poodle with poodle haircut. Which is weird becaues they’re actually really badass dogs. Not this one, he’s an idiot, but Standard Poodles in general. He is a great travel companion though. Happy to just be near the family but has a heart-stopping bark that turned away more than one black bear.
Me and Maggie Mayhem, touristing pretty hard out there.


crayon art at the museum
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The miraculous staircase


One of the only images I’ve ever been tempted to tattoo on myself.
San Miguel. A weird little piece of our love story and our faith journey.

West Coast, Part 2


In Part 1 of my West Coast road trip series I covered the circumstances that left me with the sudden freedom to be a nomad for a while and how it led to me deciding to take a month long camping roadtrip with my four little girls, our dog, our cat, my bestie, her little girl, and their dog. Whew.  I can’t talk myself out of writing about trip prep so that I can get into the fun stuff like… the actual trip. It might be that I am procrastinating because I worry that I won’t be able to do it justice when it comes time to summarize one of the craziest, best experiences of my life so I’m getting hung up on irrelevant details BUT in my defense I do get a lot of questions and comments about the stuff I’m about to talk about.

For me, the four things I needed to plan for when becoming a nomad for an indefinite amount of time were 1. Where I’d go 2. Stuff I’d need 3. How to help kids not be miserable jerkfaces 4. What to do with the things I’d leave behind.

Turns out this is going to take two separate blog posts because I. can. not. shut. up. so here’s topics 1 and 2. I also added some junk about food and money. Whatever this is my blog I don’t have to stick to the script.

1. The Route
Like I said in part 1, the route came mostly from deciding I’d try to see the north rim of The Grand Canyon and the Pacific Ocean, and if things went well I’d just keep heading to the next cool destination. From the beginning, my “ideal but almost certainly unrealistic ultimate scenario” looked pretty close to this route pictured here. Spoiler alert: this is the exact route we took in the end. The gaping hole where we obviously missed Lake Tahoe and Yosemite was engulfed in flames at the time. Most stops were within a maximum 6 hours of each other, and on long travel days we tried to make sure we stayed somewhere for at least two days. There were a few 10+ hour days.



We almost never knew where we’d be more than two nights in the future. We usually booked camp sites or hotels when we were a few hours away. I always had a next location in mind but I always wanted to keep open the option of staying an extra night if we really loved a place. We often would sit and research routes to our next chosen location and sometimes picked a longer route because it was more scenic or was more likely to have ice cream. Sometimes we stumbled across cool things we didn’t know about, and took chances on exiting towards something that sounded interesting. This method of planning worked out really, really well for us. I never had to worry about losing a reservation, and yes sometimes it was hard to find a campsite on short notice, but it always worked out. It often felt like amazing places, experiences, people, and restaurants were presenting themselves to us because we were open to them. We were truly meandering and it was only stressful sometimes because I did worry that if we took too much time, we’d hit a wall and burn out or blow all our money before we got anywhere super cool. As time went on though, I began to feel like “this has been amazing and if it’s over today, it will have all been worth it.” In hindsight it’s easy to romanticize the whole thing. I hope going forward I’m able to bring to mind the really hard times and everything that sucked about it so I can present a balanced memoir of the trip. A common theme of conversation between Brooke and myself was “highs and lows” because they seemed to come consistently and in quick succession. So many times we looked at each other and said “Hey. We’re doing this. We are making it happen!”

early morning route planning sesh with Brooke on the Oregon coast

2. The Stuff
I also covered gear a little in part 1. I did spend a lot of time researching camping gear but only because that’s fun for me. I could spend 4 hours in REI no problem. In the end my approach to gear was the same as my approach to the route. “Figure it out as we go.” I knew that if we needed to stop at the Walmarts on the way, it was always an option. Since we camped a few nights with the gear I bought, I felt pretty confident that we had most of what we needed. I bought a tent, camp stove, ice chest, 40 degree sleeping bags (pro tip: the temp rating on sleeping bags is the temperature at which you can survive in that bag, not the temperature at which you will be comfortable. Another pro tip: it’s hella cold in Canada) plus self inflating sleep mats, lanterns, water jugs, a camp potty, storage bins etc.
After I purchased all of this, my brother offered me his popup camper. I knew it was in bad shape so after I made the decision to fix it up and bring it, I bought a car top cargo bag to keep all of my tent camping supplies in case “Bill” the camper bit the dust halfway through the trip (spoiler alert: he did.) I didn’t want to bother with electric and water hookups because I’d hoped to do a lot of “boondocking,” so the camper functioned as glorified tent. We were still doing very primitive “dry camping,” with the pop-up being used only for sleeping, hanging out, and storing clothes.  You can read all about day one of camper renovation HERE and I may make another post about the rest of it in the future, or perhaps I can beg Brooke to be a guest blogger and do it for me.

A note about safety. My dad and particularly my brothers insisted repeatedly that I take one (or more) of their guns but much to their dismay, I declined. You can’t take guns into National Parks. You also can’t take guns into Canada. And while I never in a million years actually thought we’d make it to Canada, I decided it wasn’t worth it for a lot of reasons (one being that I’m not skilled enough for it to be of enough value to outweigh the risks of having it around.) I did however have a large dog, two cans of bear spray, a big knife, and a large bright beam tactical flashlight (knife and flashlight courtesy of my oldest brother.) I tried to avoid saying whether or not we were packing heat while the trip was going on because A. If I said yes I’d be admitting to breaking the law and B. If I said no I’d be showing all my cards. As women traveling with little girls and without a man, I know that it’s best to be mysterious and keep creeps assuming that you’re capable of slashing their throats AND blowing their brains out. Also, handguns don’t work on grizzly bears, so they really offer a false sense of security anyway. Also, I ain’t scared, yo.

Glamping Gear. All of this fit in the cargo carrier on the top of my van, sans the tote, but including the contents of the tote. And the ice chest stayed in the back of the van which functioned as our kitchen. Also baby Margaret rode in a rear facing carseat in the van, as is proper.


In the early stages of planning I was obsessed with the idea of being able to bring a lot of fresh food with me so I could cook most of our meals. I love to cook, I’m good at it, and my kids prefer my cooking to eating out. Also, Brooke is the absolute BEST cook I know, and also loves to cook, and her kid also prefers her food. So, between us, we were going to want to cook a lot. However, being lovers of local food, we also knew we’d eat out a lot in order to get a more full experience of certain places (green chili posole in Santa Fe anyone?) Also, being realistic human beings with 5 kids and a lot of stress, we knew that convenience foods and Taco Bell would win out sometimes. I think letting go of control helped make us really succesful with this.
We aimed to cook a meal, with enough for at least one meal’s worth of leftovers (keep in mind there were 7 of us,) then to eat out for one meal, and then eat a meal that was basically just snack food. Often, that was packets of lemon pepper tuna fish with club crackers and a handful of freeze dried strawberries. We ended up cooking some BOMB meals on that little single burner camp stove and honestly, the mid size Yeti knockoff cooler was the perfect size. We went to the grocery store every five days or so, and we always had eggs, coffee, cream, butter, bacon, and fresh berries and we would buy about 3 meals worth of meat and fresh produce for whatever meals we had planned, which was about as long as the cooler full of ice could keep frozen meat at safe temps. Or maybe it wasn’t safe and we’re lucky to be alive. Whatever. I took a food safety course mind your business. I never felt like a slave to buying ice though, which I was worried about it in the beginning.

One of my absolute favorite things I bought for this trip was the Wonder Bag. This insulated bag kept our cast iron dutch oven at a safe simmer for something like 15 hours. We were able to make stews and chilis as if we had a crock pot, but using no energy/heat source besides the initial heating. Heat it to a simmer, put it in the bag, pull the strings, and go about your day. Also, when you purchase one the company sends one to a woman in need so that she can spend less time hunched over a fire, and less time sending her vulnerable children out to collect firewood. Often we would heat our leftovers up in the morning, put them in the bag, drive ten hours, and have a hot, ready meal as soon as we set up camp.

You may remember from my last post that my husband predicted I would spend way more on this trip than I planned. Which, I DID plan for, so I’m not sure you can say that’s entirely true, but yeah, it was expensive. Keep in mind, we sold our house so we were suddenly without our sizeable mortgage, and we made money on the house so we paid off our debt, plus Army pays us more when Daniel is deployed. I used these as excuses to pretend we had “extra money” and that I was just living on money we’d be living on anyway. Which is kind of true. I could either spend a lot of money a month on a house payment and bills…or I could spend a lot of money seeing the United States, “roadschooling” the children. In our case, travel ended up being more the more expensive option but Daniel and I are both in agreement that it was 100% worth it for us. I understand that’s not many people’s experience and I’m grateful I had this opportunity.
I’ve always had a guilt relationship with spending money. Daniel has always had a pretty healthy relationship with money. Part of my guilt stems from being a stay at home mom.  Daniel brings home all of the money and I don’t like to spend it on myself. He, being a damn good human being, spent the first 9 years of our marriage trying to help me change that mindset. He’d say that I earn every penny of what he makes by running our household, educating the kids, finding ways to be frugal, etc. It took me a long time to believe he meant it and believe it for myself. We were legit super poor the first few years so there was no money to spend but even as he made more money I would not buy things or enjoy things for myself. So this was sort of an “ok. cool. I’m going to spend a lot of money. I’m going to spend a month’s mortgage worth on supplies and fixing up the camper.” Which I did. And it was a good investment. I’m never going to stop camping, and a lot of things I bought are ultra lite so I can use them for backpacking.
I also decided we weren’t going to change our generous grocery or eating out budget for the month, even though we were down one adult person with him overeas. And that I’d spend what I’d spend on rent or mortgage camping and staying in hotels. I will admit that I pretty seriously underestimated how much those things would cost. We did not stay on free government land quite as often as we wanted, and we ran into very expensive repairs. I’m not big on souvenirs, but there were times we wanted an item or a treat and quite often, I splurged where I normally would not. We camped on free land when it was convenient and safe, and saved money on cheap meals where we could, but at the end of the day it was a pretty wild splurge for one month. In the final part of the West Coast series I’ll talk about why I think it was all worth it.
Tomorrow I’ll talk about well-traveled kids and getting rid of all our belongings. Then…maybe…I’ll talk about the dang road trip.