Christmas in the Cruiser

Who could’ve known
I wouldn’t have thought
That I’d be spending Christmas
In a Denny’s parking lot

– Excerpt from Kyle’s “Merry Cars-mas” — a joke song that turned out to be prophetic

(Foreshadowing, foreshadowing…)

Since moving back to SoCal in October, we’ve been a little bit—How do you say?—”homeless” as we figure out how-in-the-world to pay double what we’ve ever paid for rent in Los Angeles.

(We’re getting there.)

Enter our Land Cruiser, a.k.a. Car-V, our SUV-turned-makeshift-camper-van that’s sheltered us throughout our summer road trip. We’ve spent a handful of nights in the Cruiser in between nights spent in hotels and family members’ homes.

Once it became clear that we likely wouldn’t have a house of our own before Christmas, we started brainstorming: how could we make Christmas in the car fun for the kids?

Disneyland? Too expensive.

Sacramento with the grandparents? Too far.

What if we camped in the Cruiser on Christmas Eve and the kids awoke to SNOW in the mountains? We could make snow angels and go sledding. It would be our kids’ first white Christmas, just like the ones we used to know.

Of course, it would only work if there was *snow* on Christmas, and in the week leading up to Christmas, the forecast for Christmas Eve was 50 degrees and raining in Crestline, one of the closest mountain towns.

Then Hazel contracted norovirus. (You know, the virus that makes you throw up.) In the days leading up to Christmas, we went down like dominoes: Hazel got it, Kyle got it, I got it, Augie got it, and then Adelaide got it. But it was a 24-hour virus, and Adelaide recovered on the eve of Christmas Eve.

Meanwhile, the forecast had turned, and what once was a raincloud was replaced by a big ol’ snowflake. We set our sights on Snow Valley, a ski resort on the way to Big Bear that has a snow play area with a big sledding hill, a chairlift, and manmade snow, just in case.

Kyle and I couldn’t wait.

Christmas Eve, Kyle led a candlelight service in Camarillo, while the kids and I attended our church’s service in Newbury Park.

After service, we enjoyed a festive holiday dinner with relatives before setting out for Highland, where we would spend the night before heading up the mountain on Christmas morning.

We found a decent place to park and got the car into sleep mode: we folded down the middle seats, pulled out the sleeping platform, unfolded the memory foam mattress, slid out another platform for the kids, until finally we were nestled all snug in our beds, while visions of sugarplums danced in our heads.


Three a.m. on Christmas morning, I awoke with a start.

Or more specifically, I awoke with vomit on my face.

Adelaide had round two of the flu, and unfortunately, we were sleeping just inches away. Even worse, she’d thrown up all over her pajamas and blankets.

We were in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night on Christmas.

Nothing was open.

Nothing, except…


Adelaide and I smiled politely at the host as we shuffled through the doors and headed for the women’s restroom, where I helped Adelaide change into new jammies and washed the vomit out of her hair. We emerged 15 minutes later, mostly clean, mostly dry, and smelling faintly of cherry vanilla hand soap.

We walked back to the Cruiser, where Kyle had cleaned up inside and bundled up the soiled blankets.

Once again, all was calm. And all was bright, thanks to the pink-orange parking lot lights overhead.

Now what?

If Adelaide was really sick again, we’d need access to a bathroom. But should we drive 90 minutes back to town with a nauseated kid? And to where, exactly? Or maybe we should find a hotel nearby. But it was already 4 a.m., and by the time we checked in, we’d only have a few hours before checkout.

And what about Christmas for Augie and Hazel?

We decided to stay put and sleep in the Denny’s parking lot.

And, miraculously, it all worked out.

Dad’s 60th Birthday

My dad celebrated his 60th birthday at The Happiest Place on Earth, and wouldn’t you know it — it was his twin brother’s birthday, too!

Our fam was super blessed to spend the day with my mom and dad, along with Uncle Perry, Aunt Barb, and cousin Eric and Melissa and her sister Caitlin.

I always feel like I’m taking too many pictures, and then I get home and find that I didn’t take NEARLY ENOUGH PICTURES. (Sigh.)

How do you get good pictures without sticking your camera in people’s faces all day long?

Answer: You don’t.

I was also trying out my new 50mm lens that Kyle got for my birthday(!), which has a smaller range than I’m used to. So fewer pictures turned out.

But here are a few that I liked:


Hazel in line for the carousel (I have a thing for the carousel…)




Stoic Augie




Kyle and Hazey




A picture of meeeee for once 🙂




Adelaide on the Storybook Land canal boats




Kyle in near tears on the Storybook Land canal boats (it’s so magical!)




The Sword in the Stone








Late lunch/early dinner birthday dessert with the twins




Birthday boys on Main Street USA with their new hats 🙂




Waiting for the Paint the Night parade. (The best parade ever so far in history…)




Then I made us all look at the window displays at the Emporium store. (The Aladdin one was especially good.)

Happy birthday, Dad! I hope this is your Happiest Year on Earth… so far 🙂

Road Trip // Summer 2015 // Part 4: MT

< Go back to part 3: WA

Montana was a surprise. I was expecting cowboys and mountain folk, but when we rolled into the parking lot of a grocery store in Bozeman, I could tell this was not the Wild West. Yes, there were plenty of pickup trucks: bright and shiny F150s and Chevy Silverados. And no shortage of men in cowboy hats, with their blonde, Botoxed cowgirls.

We had lunch at a cafeteria-style restaurant inside of a health food market. I think it was called the Co-Op. There were artsy paintings on the sidewalk and the utility boxes, and cute shops along the street.


Then we went on to our one “official” ($3) paid campsite, where we set up a tent and everything.montana-camp9montana-camp-8montana-camp-5montana-camp-sunset montana-camp-6b

Adelaide posed as mermaid Ariel on a rock.montana-camp6a Kyle and the kids explored the campsite.montana-camp-4a montana-camp3 montana-camp2They gathered some firewood, but then the camp host came and gave us some kiln-dried wood.
montanacamp1We loved slowing down and having some real camping time. So much so, we decided that next year, we’ll do less driving and more camping.

(Well, the same amount of driving, but spread out over more days.)

On to part 5: Yellowstone >

Road Trip // Summer 2015 // Part 3: WA

< Go back to part 2: OR

(Really? I only have FOUR photos that I edited for our day in Seattle? Shame on you, Emily of the past…)

You may have already realized that it doesn’t make sense to drive from California to Minnesota by way of Washington. Heaven knows we didn’t have the budget to drive an extra 828 miles out of our way. (Not to mention the potential wear and tear on our kids, tacking on another full day of driving.)

But I’d never been to Seattle and I’ve wanted to go there forever. Well, at least since watching the “Real World: Seattle” in 1998.

So almost forever.

My frugal nature was really not digging this plan, but there’s another part of me, the part of me whose life verse is Psalm 90:12:

Teach us to number our days
That we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Or, in The Message version:


And Kyle is always down for extra adventure. So we did it. We went to Seattle.



Seeing this sign was magical. I felt like, “We’re here! We’re actually IN Seattle. Wow.”

And henceforth, this sign will always remind me of our squealing brakes as we inched our way down the steep hill to the Public Market.

(Don’t worry, there was nothing actually quote-unquote “wrong” with our brakes. It’s just that we’d decided not to replace the shims — who’s ever heard of shims anyway? — because they weren’t necessary when we got the brakes replaced, but the mechanic said they’d eventually squeal if we didn’t replace them. And wouldn’t y’know? He was right.)

We scored a great parking spot right at the entrance to the farmer’s market. I saw buckets of sunflowers with honeybees all over them.

seattle-sunflowersWe walked all through the market. There was a pickle shop called Britt’s or Brittany’s and I wanted to take a photo for Kyle’s sister because her name is Brittany. But I didn’t. (Sorry, Britt!) (Here’s a link.)

In preparation for the trip, we asked some people what we should do in Seattle. Kyle’s friend Christian (who lived in the Seattle area for a while) said we should visit the public library. I was underwhelmed with his recommendation, but we thought hey, what the heck?

Turned out to be a pretty good suggestion.
seattle-library2 seattle-library1

Welp, that’s the end of the photos I edited!

Not pictured:

– The gorgeous drive up the coast from Oregon to Washington

– The ferry ride in to Seattle (an excellent recommendation from Kyle’s parents and the aforementioned Christian and his lovely wife Alexis). (I want to say we took the ferry from Bainbridge? But I’m too tired to look it up.)

– The impossibly delicious roast beef panini from Michou in/near the Public Market. (Thanks, Yelp!)

– Us getting slightly lost and walking into downtown Seattle, looking for the sandwich shop that was a few steps away from our car.

– Our visit to the first Starbucks (I just used the bathroom, didn’t get a coffee).

– Speaking of coffee, WE DIDN’T GET COFFEE IN SEATTLE. Obviously we need to go back.

– We also didn’t get clam chowder from the place with the very long line. Next time.

After Seattle, we stopped in Spokane for dinner at a very inappropriately-themed gourmet hot dog restaurant called…uh, I think it was Wild Dawgs or something like that.

The food was OK, but our visit was overshadowed by some drunk girl who had sat on the hanging sink in the bathroom and broke it off the wall, hurting her leg in the process.

Incidentally, it was the second time that Yelp led us to tasty food served in a restaurant totally inappropriate for children. (The first being Cheba Hut, a marijuana-themed sub sandwich shop in Oregon.) Thankfully our kids were 6 and under and none the wiser.

On to part 4: MT >