Joshua Tree National Park


Spending a few days in Palm Springs was the first trip Hubby and I have made in…one year, two months, and twelve days. Our four housebound walls suddenly stretched to infinity and beyond. Such space! Once the shock wore off, I’m pretty sure our next reaction was universal: time for margaritas by the pool.

After that, we went exploring.

Our day trip to Joshua Tree National Park was possible because of moderate spring-time weather, a gentle sky, and a chilly wind. We drove from scenic points to high desert overlooks and through prickly cacti meadows. We hiked to the top of Ryan Mountain and along massive rock and boulder trails where climbers scaled their heights, tethered only with a rope or two.

Joshua trees aren’t actual trees, but the world’s largest yucca plants. On average, they live to be 500 years old but they say the oldest could be 1,000 years old. They bloom around April or May, but we missed the event and found only the remains of the conical blooms at the ends of their branches.

The Mojave Desert carries its own unique ambiance. The air is distinctly distilled, stripped of tomfoolery and run through a sandstone purifier. It serves your oxygen at an elemental level. Occasionally, with velocity. It commands respect.

And yet. There’s something about Joshua trees that brings Dr. Suess to mind. Skull Rock will forever link to Peter Pan. The landscape presents ample space for the imagination and the opportunity to slow down, spread out, and breathe in a fresh perspective. An unexpected trip outside the box.

Ride along and tell me what the park makes you think of…

Loonies and Tunies

The dust is starting to settle from our road trip to Victoria, British Colombia and in one fell swoop, I would like to tell everyone all about it and how much fun we had and how I almost died.

If you followed my new Instagram during those two weeks, you already know what I’m talking about, but running that little social media experiment taught me a few things:

  1. If you’re on Instagram, you are under the age of 20 or (ahem) you are just trying to monitor your child under 20’s selfies. So you don’t care if I almost died, because your selfies are of you, yourself, trying to do it deliberately.
  2. If you’re on Facebook, you are over 20, heavily caffeinated and keeping up with the Kardashians. They seem like a nice family. According to what they choose to post. So you also don’t care if I almost died unless there’s a video of it happening, and maybe an interactive game that tells you your personality afterwards.
  3. If you’re still reading email, you’re getting older. But at least you can still read something longer than five words strung together, covered in hashtags and destroyed by third-grade spelling skills. You are fairly interested in my death if it involves plot twists and a fascinating setting, such as India.
  4. If you just started in on the new Pokemon craze, it was nice knowing you. I’m sorry you stepped in front of the bus while searching for a Pokemon gym, *sad face emoji* but face it, your death will be pretty boring because it did not involve the following real life stuff:

The first week was spent toodling through Oregon and Washington. We visited redwoods and Paul Bunyon and beaches and lighthouses and dunes and ended up along the Columbia River Gorge. We went jet-boating down the Rogue River and saw bald eagles everywhere. We drove past Mt. St. Helens and several other volcanoes in disguise.

Crater Lake lived up to it’s reputation: fascinating and gorgeous.

We loved the Tillamook cheese factory (because we are nerds) and spent half a day at the Bonneville dam waiting for something to go through the locks (because we are engineering nerds) and I found out this abomination exists:

Lamprays: long as your arm, living in rivers, and trying to give you the kiss of death.

However, the beauty of the pacific northwest will knock your socks off. I highly recommend the trip. Just stay out of the water.

Waterfalls everywhere.

Bridges everywhere. This one is six miles long, connecting Oregon and Washington. We drove it just for the shrieking fun of it.

Chuhily Glass Museum. A Seattle “must see”. I have so many photos from this!

Seattle from the Space Needle. That “cloud” on the right is Mt. Ranier. Honest.

Once we were in Canada, we packed even more into our days. We went tubing down the Cowichan and built driftwood forts on beaches and enjoyed bellinis on the bay and wandered farmers markets and rode ferries and camped on a deserted sand spit like Robinson Caruso.

Because a tent is inadequate…

We stared at First Nations totem poles and inhaled Butchart Gardens and hiked past radioactive green slugs. We listened to marimba bands.

But the place I almost died was called WildPlay. My boys got wind of this adventure and demanded we all do it. When it was over, they said it was the best part of our trip. Hmm.


My fam was pretty much in paradise. Each obstacle got higher and harder as you worked your way up between treetops. Zip-lines delivered you to the next terror. Er, challenge.

I understood that, as long as I was clipping my carabiner correctly, the mechanism would catch me if I slipped, a thousand feet up.

I was afraid of the first ten inches of free-falling until it caught. Maybe.

I was afraid of being “that guy”. The guy who slipped and had to hang in space like a pinata until the ten-year-old gymnast employee rescued me in front of everybody.

WildPlay Victoria: where the crazy people play.

The steps wobbled, the trees swayed, I focussed on breathing. I did not once look down.

I was most of the way through and proud of myself for neither throwing up nor freezing with my arms around a tree crying, “Hold me!”

But the bicycle handles were my Alamo.

I had to grip them and swing across the abyss to another tree but I couldn’t. My palms were too sweaty and my arms were so tired and I. Looked. Down.

It was the longest ten minutes of my life as my mind fought my body over certain death. Aloud, I insisted I would rather have a root canal. I would rather give birth unmedicated. I would rather do anything than trust my grip on those handlebars. Where’s the elevator? I’m DONE!

I did it.

There was kicking and screaming and denial and possibly tears, and when I finally got back to terra firma I was ready to kiss the sweet ground.

I’d like to see THAT featured in a Pokemon game.

I’m leaving you with one last photo. I like to photograph heights, not be in them.


Mt. Shasta on the drive home left us breathless in the best possible way.

I know this was long, thank you for sharing our trip. Ask me anything else in the comment box, and I will try to fill in the gaps. *happy face emoji*

To Canada in a Tin Can

Put four people into one car for a week, and you tell me whether anyone will be snatched bald at some point between miles 800 and 850.

The first day is all pedal-to-the-metal so you can get as far away from home as possible. You can tell by your kid’s breath what the current snack is and his kneecap keeps drifting into your back through the seat, but you don’t care because you have places to go.

Half way through day two, you realize that no teens have been looking out of windows at all. They are sitting in virtual reality with a full arcade at their fingertips and earbuds that have not transmitted a single one of your, “Hey kids! Look! More cows!”

They are happy.

Your job is to find cows and snacks.

Your job here is to adult, and you are not allowed to substitute an alternate reality for your current one.

So you maintain a certain amount of presentness in the form of, “Slow down dear, I present to you: The Speed Limit: 70mph” and awareness in the form of, “I am aware that you can drive just fine, thank you, but I’m not comfortable with all of us landing in the Gorge of the River Hades today”.

On day three it dawns on you that Hubby’s insistence on packing the car each morning, sweet as it was on day one, is actually a sneaky bid for world domination.

There is only one way to pack a car: his way.

If you attempt to load your little carry-on in the wrong order and it lands between his gigantic hanging clothes bags and his shoe bag, you will be court-martialed and the entire car gutted so he can begin at the beginning.

I’ve got my smartphone, my passport, my turns-into-everything scarf.

It’s a jacket, an umbrella, a blanket, a hat, a pillow, a skirt, a knapsack, a neck warmer and also a baby sling if I happen across a wee abandoned orphan near the duty-free.

It says, “This woman packs three things for a two week vacation.”

This time, I went wild and added some moose repellant.

Hubby packs everything he owns.

“You just never know,” screams his luggage between tightly clinched zippers.

The man enjoys his options.

You sit on the curb with a steaming cup of bad hotel coffee in a paper cup and chug it while he plays Jenga with the baggage.

Day four: I am the only driver allowed. Hubby can take his map and his smarter-than-I-am phone and his every-five-minute traffic updates and stare silently out the window looking for unicorns.

Fidget, fidget, fidget.

Sometime in the middle of day five, I see Hubby’s hand reaching slowly towards the A/C button.

With eyes steady on the road and in a Chuck Norris voice meant for a room full of eighth graders I say,

“Touch that, and I will chop off your hand and slap you with it.”

When we finally arrived at the Canadian border, I may have been a little sassy with the passport lady.


Maybe we resembled crazy-eyed terrorists by then, but we had fully discharged our explosives somewhere over Oregon.

“Go ahead and search the car, sister,” I thought, “but heaven help you if you don’t repack it correctly.”

Homing in on our destination, the kids popped briefly into reality.

“Um, what does that speed limit sign mean, Mom? What’s 100 km/h?”

“I have no idea and I don’t care. I’m making it up.”

Which is fair. They make money up here that could be any amount. Any at all.

“You’ll go to jail.”

This I know to be false. Cops in Canada ride horses.

They’d never catch me.

I am all done adulting.

Time to wrap up in a scarf, drink tea, and melt into my own alternate reality.

And believe you me, there are no cars there.


Summer Son #1

Two big guys, two big packs, and two big smiles sat on the side of the road.

One with a beat-up guitar.

One with a sign.

Would you stop for them?

When you’re trying to get from one place to another with only your charm for cab fare, how do you go about it?

The boys began their journey on the San Diego coast, at the famous 101.

They ended up as far north as Seattle, Washington before the summer closed out.

There were some things, says my son, that he learned the hard way, and some things that he was born already knowing.

This hitch-hiking adventure was a hodgepodge of both, and everything in-between and they never knew what was coming down the road next.

The first mistake that became obvious long before he wanted to admit it, was his choice of shoes.

He figured if the army could march through deserts and over mountains in boots, so could he.

They ended up doing a lot of walking. And a lot of waiting. But those big army boots were the wrong shape for either. Closed and hot, his feet blistered up early on.

By the time they reached Santa Barbara, the ten pound a-piece footwear made a cross-fit workout seem tame.

It took a while to find a spot for the night. They settled on a cozy place behind a dumpster that sat behind a church.

When two police officers woke them with a firm kick at three in the morning, they were off and marching again, brushing the roaches from their faces.

Slowly, they walked the length of the town without stopping.

When dawn broke, it occurred to them that they had completely circled Santa Barbara, and were back at the street where they had begun the evening before.

They almost cried.

Legs aching, and dizzy from lack of sleep, they sat on the beach all morning. At some point they realized a soup kitchen was open nearby and joined the local bums for brunch.

Once Santa Barbara was finally behind them, the boots were traded out for cheap, light, flexible skate shoes.

My kid is an artist in general and a doodler in particular, so he was in charge of the cardboard roadside signs.

One side had crazy art, the type that catches your attention.

On the other, in big bold lettering, he put the name of the next town north.

Sometimes, his cardboard art caught the attention of passers-by, who stopped to observe his freehand and stayed to chat them up about their travels. It was obvious from the sign that they weren’t your ordinary, every day bums, but kids on a wild adventure.

It was a great conversation starter.

A couple of times, people insisted on buying the art piece on the spot, and he pocketed $20 or $30 with it.

But most of the time, the sign served it’s purpose and stopped a vehicle heading north.

Then the sign got tossed.

His buddy played an acoustic guitar, and although it wasn’t in a case, it doubled as a wallet a lot of the time, a handy place to stash small valuables.

They made up songs as they walked down the road, picking out melody lines and making up lyrics about the cars that weren’t stopping for them.

Some days, they never got a lift.

And some days, they turned them down.

A lady pulled over and offered them a ride. Peering into her car, the boys saw at least eight large dogs milling around in the seats.

“They’re really sweet dogs, fellas!” she insisted.

They waved her on, sure that they didn’t want to join the circus.

An older man pulled over and offered them a ride. Peering into his car, there were a couple of red flags to consider. First, he wore nothing but a pair of tighty-whities. Second, there was a ten-inch bowie knife lying on the console.

“I’ll take ya where ever you want to go, guys!” he insisted.

“Nah,” said my son, “we’re good. Thanks!”

The elderly gentleman couldn’t hide his disappointment, but moved on.

They were already in the car with a young woman when their radar detected an unidentified flying freak-show vibe. And not just because she was tweaky. Upon further conversation, the woman confessed that she may or may not have killed someone and she may or may not be pursued by police and she may or may not be driving directly through the next couple of states, but they were sure welcome to ride along.

The boys insisted they were just fine being dropped off in the next convenient town or clump of trees, whichever came first.

A lot of the time, however, they were picked up by more or less regular folks. Sometimes it was other kids, wandering for the summer, or on their way to festivals. Sometimes it was people flat out curious, wondering what these two nomads were doing out in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes it was mom-types who had sons of her own their age, and she insisted on taking them home for dinner.

The songwriters turned storytellers once the ride began.

It was only fair to give your benefactors something in return for the favor, and as they introduced themselves, names, histories, and ancestries were made up at random by the boys. Everyone in the vehicle would exchange life information, driving down the highway and telling stories, some true, some false, and no one caring either way.

Enjoying the company, most drivers were just happy to hang out until the next town loomed on the horizon. It was live entertainment, a happy change from the radio.

Only once did a semi-truck pull off the road and offer them a ride.

It took forever for it to come to a stop, and the boys weren’t sure if it was for them, but they ran towards it, determined to convince the driver anyway.

Hopping from the cab was one of two Armenian brothers who, with the aid of very broken english and a smart phone, invited them into a cab containing a full kitchen and a set of bunk beds.

The boys went as far as Portland with them, learning Armenian folksongs from one excellent guitar-playing brother while the other put the hammer down, singing at the top of their lungs and higher than kites from a cab full of pot.

Before that, there was Ronan, the happy Irishman.

But we’ll leave him for another story.

The Amazing Race

I’m on the way to Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
Between home and there, we have to cross Nevada and Utah.
The plan is to drive to Richfield, Utah on day one and the rest of the way on day two.
There are three other families driving this route at the same time, spread out along the way so as not to advertise each other’s driving techniques.
Some of us *ahem* drive a wee bit zippier than others.
I don’t name names in this blog, but one rhymes with “chubby”.
Our wimpy car could’ve gone even zippier, except Hubby had everything and the kitchen sink packed into the back of it. The man likes his options.
We are all connected by a running group text, in case of emergencies.
Such as, someone in our car needs a slushy pronto and has anyone seen a Dairy Queen up ahead?

The first car headed east had a solid two hour lead.
Halfway through Nevada, their air conditioning broke.
It was over 100 degrees and climbing.
Their plan was to get to a dealership somewhere in Utah, where the next two cars coming along would catch up and offer assistance.
They ran their car heater in case it would help the engine, and landed, dripping wet and in borderline heat stroke, in St George Utah.

We pulled into the dealership parking lot just as they were informed that the air conditioning wasn’t going to be fixed. Not today anyway.

As the third car joined us, and folks generally milled around in the volcanic heat, I noticed Hubby looking at the front of our own car.
Like a man who just found a hair in his soup.
Like a man who just discovered his kids’ secret booger collection.
Both of our front tires had gone bald. The tread gone, the cables showing.
No explanation other than: we need two new tires immediately.
“Jolie? What do you have for me?”
Within five minutes, I had discovered via Smarty Phone that the nearest Costco was at the next exit up the freeway, their tire department (“Mike”) had tires in stock for us, and could install them in the next half hour.


Which is how the other cars took the lead in this Amazing Race while we ended up browsing a Utah Costco. A fascinating experience in what a Costco can do when called upon by Brigham Young to provide for multiple wives, each of whom require a phenomenal kitchen at exceptional prices.

The following is actual footage from my cell phone text with the car that had gone ahead of us.
It began by asking if anyone needed anything from Costco while I was there.
I was eyeing up the wine selection while thinking of our hotel room still tantalizingly out of reach.
I didn’t get any takers.

So this Costco is totally geared up for big family homes.
Domestics alone – kitchen gadgets! – is killing me.
I want it all and have no room in the car for a single spatula.
I blame Hubby. If he hadn’t’ve packed the kitchen sink I could be buying a new one right now. Besides, I don’t fit in.
Surrounded by good Mormon mamas and I’m dressed like a wicked city woman.
Well. I got the skirt right.

Cover those shoulders Jolie! People will be scandalized.
Are you taking photos?

Hey! This isn’t Walmart.

Hahaha! That’s what they thought until you arrived.

You’re a very bad friend. Why do I talk to you?!

I don’t know.

So I took some pictures for her.
The first one is to prove that yes, I could have bought a kitchen sink.

In this case the dishwasher is an upgrade.

In this case the dishwasher is an upgrade.

The other one is proof that, in addition to a huge selection of furniture that was being jumped on by a multitude of identical children supervised by pregnant women wearing skirts and tennis shoes, this Costco offers thirteen different vacuums.

Just of vacuums.

I fled St George Utah before my overwhelming nesting instincts kicked into gear.
I could feel my hair growing past my waist and a sympathy pregnancy coming on.
We caught up to our peeps in Richfield and they had the courtesy to not “U Turn” us.

The Amazing Race continued the next day, our Utah Roadblock now in the distant past.

Don’t Make Me Come Back There!

We were all finally old enough!

Old enough to ditch car seats and strollers. Old enough to have manners in a motel parking lot while dad negotiates the bed count. Old enough to set up tents. Old enough to know before we’re going to throw up, that we are.

Old enough to know not to make rude faces as we creep past cops in a small town speed trap.

This time I planned ahead.

I was prepared enough for a NASA space launch.

We had a small TV and VHS player with new movies next to it. We had all the right snacks and a handful of traveling games. Some kids had cameras. Others were going to keep a journal.

I had packed each kid a secret box. Each contained things that I normally wouldn’t allow in the house, let alone the car, but we were finally old enough.

Dry erase markers for playing tic tac toe and drawing on the windows.

Candy. Tiny bottles of bubbles. Flavored Chapstick. Balloons. Silly Putty. Dollar store goofiness.

But I wasn’t just born a parent yesterday.

I, myself, was finally old enough to know that road trips with kids are a risky business and like playing Double Dutch, timing is everything.

I had the secret weapon all ready in the front dash.

At mile 50, the donuts and hand wipes were dispensed.

At mile 100, the secret boxes and more hand wipes came out.

At mile 150, I turned around to address the masses who were just on the edge of “now what?”.

I fanned a pile of cash between us and stared them down.

Silence was immediate.

“Kids,” I began calmly, as Hubby maneuvered through big city freeways, “this is your vacation cash. I’m holding ones, fives, tens, and some twenties. Watch carefully.”

I handed each kid a five.

“That’s for paying attention. Well done. Every time I catch you guys behaving and helping us have a good time, I hand you money. Spend it on whatever you want.”

This was such a big hit. I made sure each kid ended up with the same amount in the end, and made sure to hand plenty out on the first couple of days, to get the attitudes and the planets aligned.

For kids who didn’t even get allowances, this was pretty great.

We could have given it to them before the trip, and they would have put it into pockets and not thought much about it.

This made a game of it, had them earn it, made them appreciate it, and kept entitlement at bay.

It’s never again been that easy to get cash out of the mom ATM.

Because now, doggone it, they’re finally old enough…to get jobs.


Road Trippin’

Summer is almost here and the freedom of the open road calls louder each day.

I can drown it out with my lawnmower for only so long and then it’s time for a family vacay.

If you’re like me, the week leading up to a road trip is full of panicky planning and packing, culminating the night before we leave, when I won’t sleep anyway from nerves.

Because I’m pretty sure I forgot something. Major.

Which means I begin our trip already exhausted.

Day One of the road trip begins just as dawn cracks and includes a great many last minute scuffles and false starts before take-off.

The first couple of hours include negotiating music selections, re-organizing personal items, watching the sunrise, and eating the first of far too many disgusting road trip breakfasts.

If Hubby is Pilot, we have it packed so as not to waste valuable road time in a drive through. Beverages are discouraged to keep bathroom stops to a minimum.

This is important to note.

This means NO CAFFEINE was administered to anyone in the car.

Day One is a marathon.

Day One is dedicated to getting as far down the road as possible before stopping. Day One assumes anything within driving distance is already familiar and therefore not worthy for the title “Travel Destination”. Day Two may have something to offer, but Day One is all about sitting in cramped quarters trying to distract yourself through long, straight, uninterrupted stretches of wasteland.

Downtown LA qualifies.

If Texas is between you and your destiny, you know how it feels to be a Road Zombie. If you have driven through the state of California…horizontally…you’ve been a Road Zombie. If you’ve driven past so many crops that you can identify them by smell with the window up, you have been a Road Zombie.

Your eyes get heavy. Your hands no longer feel the wheel. Your butt is numb and your leg wants to cramp if you wiggle your toes. Your left arm is sunburned because, naturally, your road trip has the car turned with the sun in your window. You’re squinting because a million dead bugs blanket the windshield, and once the afternoon rain hits, your wipers turn it into a rich soup that will take a few miles to eliminate, which is barely in time for you to dodge yet another big rig lumbering along ahead of you.

These truck drivers are always happy. You pass them and they seem to say, from their giant seats in the sky, “I have a mini-bar and a bathroom in my truck! I have absolutely no passengers so I can blast ANY music I want from my radio. I can see the speed traps way ahead of time. I can choose my own pace because I am the BIGGEST thing out here on 16 wheels baby. Texas? Big deal. I’m going from Sacramento to New Orleans. Now get outta my way before I blast the air horn.”

And we do.

Once in a while I get startled awake by a motorcycle brigade passing by.

I’ve kept my eyes on the horizon for five hours straight, not once looking in the rearview mirror because I will not only see my kid stuffing a Lego into another kids’ ear, but where I’ve already been.

See it once, shame on them. See it twice, shame on me.

Motorcycles move in a school, like fish. They drive on any part of the road they please, including the shoulder, the center divide line, and your bumpers.

One minute you’re driving along, day-dreaming about the next Motel 6, and suddenly you’re surrounded. Don’t panic. Don’t make any sudden steering maneuvers. They will part fluidly, pass you on all sides and move on down the road, braids flying from under helmets, boots thrust forward in the barcalounger position, much too cool to acknowledge you.

They will get to the Motel 6 first.

Maybe they don’t carry kids and legos, but they have more body parts going numb than I do.

So they’re in a hurry.

Day One ends with a personal vow as I stagger into an uncharted town in the middle of nowhere, face haggard, hair blown into dreadlocks, and a ghastly gleam in my eye.

“Apocalypse happening…first thing in the morning…if they don’t have coffee!”