The Professor Goes West//Day 11//theprofessorsdinner

Day Eleven—Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Today is our errand day. We got an oil change and groceries for the cooler. The car said that the vintage Vavoline oil was delicious. Then we spent a quiet hour at the San Buenventura Mission where the professor and I took turns praying. The professor talked to St. Bonaventure about philosophy while the kids romped in the garden. I prayed with the intense, bloody crucifix about our recent loss and received new courage to carry it with joy. We lit a candle for our family and writing before the crucifix.

We lunched at the car by the Ventura pier which used to be wharf. Walking out on the thick wood boards was exciting, yet scary when we peered through the cracks to the ocean below. Several fishermen were standing at the end with their fishing rods. Two of them had lowered a jug leaking blood into the water—they said that it was to attract sharks. The professor may have seen a dolphin out in the ocean. All I saw were dozens of surfers out at the point. We stood there digging them from afar and hoped the sharks would stay away. I liked watching the waves from the side. We could stand on the pier right where the waves crashed before they hit the shore.

In the afternoon we met our friends we are staying with at a playground in Libby Park. Back at the house, we got ready to go on a date. The kids got to have delicious organic hotdogs and play with our friends’ chickens. The professor and I went to the Nest in Ojai with a chef from LA as its founder. The professor drank “The Ventura Fog,” an Earl Grey infused gin with egg whites and rosemary and lavender sprinkled on top. I had “The Cuban,” which was plantation rum with coconut, lime, pineapple juice, and garnished with mint. He ate fancy anchovy pizza and a giant salad with bleu cheese while I had a brisket on a baguette with cheese and chimichurri sauce with a side salad with fresh berries. After dinner we walked through the downtown to a cute little bookstore. We found a children’s book by Graham Greene, several books on art, and a paperback by Nathaniel Hawthorne. For dessert we went to a vegan restaurant and got wine and vegan “cheese” cake. It was a nice way to celebrate our anniversary a few weeks early.

We tried to make the dinners on our camping trip easy, but more interesting than the lunches. Our goal was foods that were portable with non-perishable storage (meaning no raw meats) and easy to cook.

Here is a list of things we did at the campsites:

  • Canned chili topped with cheese and yogurt and served with tortilla chips and bagged kale and brussel sprouts salad
  • Hot dogs over the fire, chips, and bagged salad
  • Boxed macaroni and cheese and summer sausage (from the ¼ cow we purchase every year) and bagged salad
  • A just add water Indian lentil dish from Trader Joe’s and bagged salad
  • Tortilla pizzas with a tortilla on top and bottom, canned pizza sauce, mozzerella, and pepperoni plus bagged salad

When we stayed at hotels we tried to have food that required no cooking:

  • Chicken salad wraps with grapes, mayo, and dill
  • Our last night we ordered pizza

Other nights we just grabbed food on the road for dinner. We often did this on nights we were coming into campsites close to dark or after dinner time. We did not want to have to deal with washing up. Though there were a few campsites where we arrived and the professor pitched the tent while I made dinner. Having a quick and easy meal option made things a lot simpler and saved us money since we did not have to eat out a lot.

The Professor Goes West//Day 10//You Gotta Eat (Lunch)

Day Ten—Tuesday, May 29, 2018

We woke up in Ojai and prepared to spend the day at the beach in Capistrano. We ate lunch and played on the beach in the sand and waves. It was cloudy and cool, but the kids still enjoyed the water. L found a long strand of kelp and wrapped herself in it making herself look like a mermaid. We collected sea shells and T finally found that he likes the ocean. He said that with each wave the ocean said, “Hello, Mr. T!”

After we left the beach we got ice cream from a shop in the cute little “downtown.” In the afternoon we showered and got ready for 5:20 PM Mass at the chapel at Thomas Aquinas College. The chapel was reminiscent of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Lacrosse, Wisconsin, but simpler. Both were designed by the architect Duncan Stroik. The Mass was quick and in Latin. Campus was lovely and serene with well-manicured gardens. Our hostess made us delicious Mexican style rice and lettuce bowl buffet. We ate on the patio, and the kids enjoyed playing outside with their new friend and the chickens.

On our trip out west, our plan for lunches was to have an easy plan ready to make whenever we needed to have lunch whether on the road or at a campsite. We kept our cooler in the car with all of our lunch food. We decided that we would not bring bread but make all of our sandwiches out of tortillas, and the kids complained when I made them eat whole wheat ones. We had options of lunch meat, cheese, with leafy greens or peanut butter and jelly. I made sure to have mustard and mayonnaise in bottles with and squirt lid to make the process faster. For the peanut butter and jelly we just used a plastic knife. On Fridays we opened cans of tuna, drained them and mixed mayo into each person’s wrap without dirtying a bowl.

When we wanted lunch we would simple find a park or rest area, open up the sliding door and made everyone sandwiches on plastic plates we kept handy. We had a paring knife readily available to cut up apples—our fruit of choice on the trip—and one adult would slice fruit while the other made sandwiches. Often we just made everyone eat in the car so we would not take too long on our stops.

Sometimes we did this for dinner if we had a different lunch to make things easier. Everyone got fed, but most of us were tired of meat and cheese wraps or pb&j tortillas by the end of the trip!

Tomorrow? Campsite and hotel dinner foods!

The Professor Goes West//Day 9//Camping Breakfasts

Day Nine—Monday, May 28, 2018

We left San Diego for the first leg of our mission touring pilgrimage through the city of Ojai about 9 AM. Our plan was to go into four missions with a stop at Burrito La Palma for lunch in Los Angelos.

We arrived first at the “King of the Missions” San Luis Rey de Francia near Oceanside. It as founded in 1798 and Franciscans live there today. We particularly liked the painting of the Last Judgment with its incredible detail and a lovely painting of the Assumption. The white walled cemetery was also quite beautiful with a skull and cross bones over the entrance and a cemetery plot for babies.

The second missions was San Juan Capistrano—it was a busy, well-ordered mission. Fourth graders in California have to do a project on this mission. It had extensive grounds. The first church had fallen down in the 1812 earthquake. My favorite part here was the Serra Chapel where St. Junipero Serra had celebrated Mass with a beautiful gold altarpiece. T. really liked the gold chair in the mission treasure museum and noted the tabernacle and vestments also in the museum.

We had a delicious lunch at Burrito La Palma at the recommendation of Jacqui. We had burritos, la plata especial, and a torte sandwich with Mexican Coke. Her uncle, who owns the restaurant was very generous with our bill. It was nice to feel taken care of so far from home.

We then drove to the San Gabriel Mission. It had a neat little baptistry with a painting of the Baptism of Our Lord. I was especially moved by the painting of Our Lady of Sorrows from Mexico. The gardens had a giant trunked grape vine that was planted in 1774—the vine extended up and over the walkways all along the plaza.

Our next stop was the crowded park around Griffith’s Observatory to look out over hazy Los Angelos. We could barely read the HOLLYWOOD sign. We made a last stop at the San Fernando Rey Mission, but it was already closed so we only saw it from the outside.

Then we drove up through the sunny, hazy evening back into the mountains. Our road lead us into the Ojai Valley to the home of friends who lived in St. Paul our first semester in Minnesota. They welcomed us with wine, chocolate, and clean beds.


Let’s talk about camping/road trip food.

We traveled with an 18-gallon tub full of dry food and a large cooler full of cold food. We refilled the plastic storage containers with ice from the gas station or hotel every two or three days. This worked to keep everything very cold—even milk!

For camping breakfasts our goal was simple and easy clean up. When we have camped in Minnesota I have done things like pre-made pancake mix, but this leaves you with a pile of dishes and an hour of cleanup before you can get out and have fun. So for our three week trip we decided on simple foods. We brought granola and granola bars—I actually made enough for the whole trip. The kids drank milk out of disposable cups. If you have yogurt eaters, individual yogurt cups would work well here as well. On mornings at the campsite the professor and I would percolate coffee. On days we were breaking camp and leaving we would buy coffee on the road to save time on dishes.

Tomorrow I will talk about lunch and dinners!

The Professor Goes West//Day 8//What to Wear

Day Eight—Sunday, May 27, 2018

We woke up early to go to 9 AM Mass at St. Anne’s Catholic Church, a parish of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter in San Diego. The church was packed, but a good usher managed to seat us. It was nice to assist at Mass after a week of being in the wilderness—it is somewhat like being a pioneer I suppose.

After mass we set out for Coronado Island to find coffee, pastries, and the ocean. We sat on the beach with huge chocolate chip muffins, and then had all but the professor’s first feel of the Pacific Ocean. The kids played in and out of the ocean as the waves lapped at their toes.

One of the professor’s philosophy friends invited out family to join his for a lovely brunch and I think the kids enjoyed each other as much as the adults did. It was wonderful to spend the afternoon with like-minded Catholic people. The N. family is one that we would love to live closer to, but alas, half the country separates us!

We went with them to the first Franciscan California Mission of San Diego to inaugurate the pilgrimage portion of our trip. Then we had a picnic supper in Balboa Park. It is interesting to think about the Franciscans building their missions, baptizing, and spreading the Gospel over 200 years ago. While the churches in Europe are even older it is neat to see a Spanish style church in America.


I was surprised the first time I heard that the virtue of modesty in dress does not just deal with covering our bodies, but it also has to do with wearing the appropriate clothing for the occasion. For example, a swimsuit is appropriate for a beach, pool, or backyard sprinkler time, but not for church, the orchestra, or a restaurant. And in our case, perhaps our Sunday Mass clothes were not ideal for the beach. Having appropriate clothing is just as important for camping.

We camped in a variety of temperatures, and since you are always outside, some mornings you wake up freezing and want pants and a sweater. But as the day goes on you are warm and want shorts and a t-shirt. Here is a list of clothes we had for each person of our family—we planned for laundry at least every five days:

  • Hiking shoes with good treads (all sprayed with tick-repellent permethrin before the trip—more on that later)
  • Sandals and church shoes
  • 2 long pants pairs jeans
  • 4 skirts/shorts
  • 6 short sleeve shirts
  • 2 sweaters
  • 5 changes of undergarments
  • 5 pairs of socks
  • 2 long sleeve PJs
  • 2 short sleeve PJs
  • Knit hats
  • Sunday church outfit
  • Rain jacket
  • Hat for hiking
  • Swimsuit
  • Towel

Everyone also packed their basic toiletry necessities, obviously, and we brought laundry detergent and quarters. This set up of clothes work really well. I think we were only cold one or two mornings, but once the sun rose higher, we were fine. The goal was to keep it as basic as possible. The kids clothes all fit in one large suitcase and the professor and I shared a medium suitcase. We use the rolling clothes method so the kids’ clothing was packed in 4 rows, one for each of them and was easy for them to find. And that is about it for clothing!

Tomorrow I will start in on how we did meals.

The Professor Goes West//Day 7//Campsite Necessities

Day Seven—Saturday, May 26, 2018

Today was a long day in the car. We woke up at 6 am and left the camp about 8 am. We did not stop until we got to Phoenix. The drive out of the North Rim park gave us stunning views of the canyon mostly due to a recent forest fire. We descended from the plateau to a vast “painted” desert. Our road led us along the Vermillion cliffs. When we crossed the Colorado River to go south it was just a medium river in a small ravine. The desert was hot, flattish, and bleak.

Flagstaff was mountainous again and reminded us of Up North. As we came out of the mountains, we finally saw a saguaro cactus—the classic ones—they grew in a little forest. We met our old friend Greg H. for lunch at Rock Springs Cafè. The green bean fries and the bourbon pecan pie were particularly good. It was nice to see Greg again and chat about everyone we knew from Ann Arbor. Phoenix (from our view) was a desolate wasteland of cacti, sand, and sunshine. All the rivers were dry—we were not sure why one would voluntarily live there (though we are open to arguments why it is a great place to live).  

The south western desert of Arizona was bleak with oppressive sun through the California haze. We grabbed a fast-food supper in Yuma. At the border of California we had to stop and list our fresh produce to an inspection agent. Then we hit the real sand desert with blowing sand across the highway. In Imperial Valley we were 64 feet below sea level, and then at it grew dark we entered into a treacherous 64 mile wind tunnel over the Santa Rosa Mountains. Halfway through the mountain wilderness we were stopped at a border patrol checkpoint that woke all of our children with a flashlight. We were let through since we are all U.S. Citizens. We finally arrived at La Mesa, California at the home of some friends. They have a lovely yard full of succulents and cacti and an elaborately decorated home.


Today, I just want to give a basic list of campsite necessities besides the tent and things that go with it. These are things that we have needed to cook meals, make coffee, wash dishes, and other items that make things go smoothly. The dishes we chose based on the food we planned to eat. Most of them came straight from our kitchen, though some we bought just for camping. We fit all but the Coleman stove in an 18 gallon tub:

  • Wash cloths
  • Towels
  • Bar of soap
  • Coleman Two burner stove with propane
  • Two lighters
  • Oven mitts and hot pads
  • Percolator Coffee pot
  • Tea kettle for boiling dish water
  • Sauce pot
  • Large pot for pasta
  • Mesh strainer
  • Wooden Spoon
  • Rubber spatula
  • Plastic spatula
  • Tongs
  • Can opener
  • Wine screw (we forgot this and bought one at the Grand Canyon)
  • Paring knife
  • Enamel or Travel mugs
  • Washable plates and cups
  • Forks, Spoons, and Knives
    Disposable paper and plastic products (for an easy breakfast on mornings we left early)
  • Paper towels and napkins
  • Two tubs for washing and rinsing dishes
  • Dish soap and sponge or rag
  • Long skewers for marshmallows
  • Vinyl tablecloth with a flannel backing for the picnic table
  • Tablecloth clips
  • Rope for hanging wet towels and clothes
  • Clothes pins
  • Trash bags for dirty laundry and trash
  • Citronella candles

Here is a short list of things that we also brought for camping, but that we ended up keeping in the door pockets of the car. They were easy to grab when we needed them, and hard to lose since we always had a spot for them!

  • Sunscreen for hikes
  • Bug spray for hikes and the campsites
  • Hand sanitizer for before meals or for after using facilities
  • Baby wipes for wiping dirt of hands before using hand sanitizer
  • Lots of flashlights for walking around at night at the campsite**This post contains affiliate links.**



The Professor Goes West//Day 5//What to Wear at Night

Day Five—Thursday, May 24, 2018

We woke up early to drive out to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I thought we were done with the mesas but they followed us West across the desert into Arizona. We stopped at a scenic viewpoint in the San Rafael Reef which was a ridge of uranium rich rock and sand. The crumbly rock was the real desert. It was still dotted with sage brush and fir trees. What never ceases to me surprise is how the canyons and ravines just appear in the surface of the desert and range land. It is so desolate, beautiful, and awful at the same time.

We stopped for lunch in Richfield, Utah. We found a friendly mechanic to take a look at and repair a few cracks in the windshield from the hail we had encountered in Wyoming.

In the afternoon, we drove through Zion National Park where the Virgin River has formed a deep canyon. We went up a steep windy road and drove through an unlit mile long tunnel which was built in the 1920s. We hiked briefly and then got in the car again for the last leg to the Grand Canyon. We grabbed buffalo burgers and corndogs at Al’s Burger Joint in Kanab, Utah and after another windy drive through the wide open range bid farewell to the mesas of Utah and said hello to the tall pines and white birches of Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.


Even though we were well equipped with good sleeping bags, the professor emphasized to me that warm sleepwear at night was very important. We all brought long sleeve pajamas or t-shirts, pants, and warm socks to wear at night. Many nights I wore a short sleeve shirt underneath—and on warmer nights I took off the long sleeve one if I got warmer. I guess the point is that layers are helpful for camping, especially at night!

A friend suggested to me that we also bring knit winter hats for the cooler nights. These made all the difference for keeping warm at night—thought if you have a mummy bag, no hat needed! For my son we put him in a fleece lined jacket with a hood and/or a fleece sleep sack every night since he often scooted his way out of the bag.

Another interesting thing we figured out about sleep was to pitch the tent and lay out the sleeping bags according to the slant of the ground. If we had to sleep on even a slight incline, we all did much better if our feet were pointed downhill. My son always rolled out of his sleeping bag if he was angled any other way.

Tomorrow I will talk about family sized tents!

NCRegister: The Desert is Where We Find God

The fertile forests of Yosemite National Park in California, which we had camped in the night before, had given way to the dry, rocky land of Nevada, and our minivan sped on in a land where cities and towns are few and far between. We were on the final week of our three-week western road trip. It had all been so beautiful, but here, in this empty, dry land a sense of dread lay heavy on my chest. The desert went on for miles before us and behind us. Rocks rose occasionally into mountains and cliffs in the distance, but their barrenness only added to the bleakness of the path we had to take. And everything seemed closer on the horizon than it actually was, making each mile seem longer.

This family road trip was the first time I had experienced the desert, and what surprised me the most was the amount of life, life adapted to the environment, that struggled on even in this most desolate of climates.

Read more at the National Catholic Register…


It all started last November shortly after we miscarried our baby. The professor and I were finally getting to making and canning jam out of our frozen berries that we had picked in the summer, and trying to console ourselves in our loss. Then it suddenly occurred to us that we had a window in our childbearing years that allowed for the massive camping road trip that we had always talked about doing *someday*. (Now don’t get me wrong…camping has never my favorite activity…but now that our trip is over I like it more than when we started. In fact thanks to the self-inflating Thermarest air mattress, I slept about how I normally do when not in my own bed.)

I said that I would be willing to do the trip if we broke it up by staying in hotels or with people we knew on the road. And that is when we really got planning. We were going to see 10 National Parks, several State Parks, and as many of the California Missions as we could fit into our schedule. We made it inside of 8 and saw 3 more from the outside. 

We had 11 nights camping, 4 in hotels, and 7 with friends (thank you sooooo much friends!).

The trip was amazing. The drives were long, but the views were so, so worth all of the effort of going there and back again. We made the drive more enjoyable by listening to The Lord of the Rings on audiobook, and we still have some left to finish out on a later road trip.

I will probably spend the rest of the summer writing up my thoughts from our road trip. In the meantime, head on over to my Instagram account to see all of the pictures I posted from our three weeks on the road.

NCRegister Blog: Sometimes, Our Plans are not God’s Plans

It was a cold, icy drive into Detroit on the Feast of Stephen. It had been snowing for two days at my in-laws’ house, but that was not a hindrance for our annual visit to the giant five-story used bookstore in an old warehouse in the city. This year we added a new stop. Since the time of his beatification in November my husband and I had been planning a visit to the St. Bonaventure Chapel in which Bl. Solanus Casey is buried. According to the website the chapel was open that day, while the Center that tells about his life and work was not. We hoped to end a novena to him, asking for his intercession for a special family intention, beside his tomb.

As we approached the site of St. Bonaventure Monastery, the temperature registered in the single digits. We parked across the street, helped our well-bundled children out of the car and crossed the windy street, only to find the doors to the chapel locked…

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

Country Roads: Our Big Summer Roadtrip

We spent two weeks of July doing one of those massive road trips that we are wont to do; the kind that make we wonder if we are insane. We parred it back a bit from our Christmas trip, from three weeks down to two. And since the night weaning of T was so effective, we actually slept pretty well until he gave into his slowly emerging molars and woke several times the last night in MI. (The molars are still the cause of a 5-6ish morning wake up which requires me to feed the poor, teething baby; but this, too, shall pass.)

Here is what we did on our trip:

St. Paul to Michigan to Buffalo to the mountains of West Virgina with a stop in Pittsburgh to drop a friend off and an impulse swing by Steubenville (Hail, Alma Mater! Let your glories here be told!) back to Michigan over to Grand Rapids for a wedding back to Ypsilanti for Sunday Mass with a priest friend home from Germany and finally, finally, home again, home again…

And the best part is that for all those hours on the car, 13 month old T only was really inconsolably upset about it for the four hours between Steubenville and Ypsi.

Our first trek of our trip brought us for two nights to stay with the professor’s parents and his sister. We spent a quick 36 hours with them before shuffling off to Buffalo, NY, where we lived for four years while the professor earned his PhD. My grandparents live on the west side of Cleveland and we stopped there for a couple of hours and lunch; it was wonderful to see them and visit with them and my aunt and my two-year-old first cousin.

As we drove through Cleveland, east on down I-90, through the snow belt of Ohio, into Pennsylvania, and into New York, so many memories of our time in Buffalo came back to us. We talked to our eldest of parts of the road she always screamed through as an overtired infant at the end of long road trips, reminisced about the intense snow storms we plowed through for out Christmas visits to family, and pointed out our favorite places to stop for gas. All the emotions we felt in the instability of grad school life came back to us. We remembered our first drive up to Buffalo together to hunt for apartments. We admired the still beautiful vineyards of Western New York and admired the view of Lake Erie from the bluff that I-90 runs across.

In Buffalo, we stayed with some of our good friends from our years there who always seem to have at least twice as many kids as we do. We had none when they had three; we had two when then had four; we had our third when they had six, and now we have four and they have eight. They also live in a large, beautiful custom built five bedroom house (which is always spotless) with plenty of land for playing and exploring. In addition to hosting us for two nights, they graciously held a gathering with most of our friends that we were close to in Buffalo. It was awesome to see everyone, and we were all about the same as always with just a few more kids. I don’t think I saw my older children the whole time we were there since they just were absorbed into the playing.

After two nights we drove to a resort in the mountains of West Virginia where we all felt awfully car sick rented a seven bedroom vacation home to house 11 adults and 12 children. We vacationed with these college friends three summers ago, and I wish we could do it every summer (or that we all lived in the same town). They are all so dear to us; these were the people with whom we formed a foundation of faith in our early adulthood and the kind that I can’t wait to spend eternity with because they are so wonderful. (But we have also found wonderful friends everywhere that we have lived, and we love you all!)

The view from the porch of our house.

After our week of West Virgina we went back to Michigan for a cousin’s wedding, and to see our dear friend who was ordained a priest for the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priests last summer and was on a home visit. He has a beautiful hand carved wooden travel altar on which he said a traditional Latin low Mass in a house (just like the old days…) at which we were thrilled to assist. G requested the front row and knelt inches away from Canon (the title for priests of the institute), which was so special for her.

Between West Virginia and Michigan we made an impromptu stop in Steubenville. The campus was all set up for a youth conference, but we found a visitor parking spot and did a walk around campus. It was weird being there in some ways. We showed the kids where we had met, the courtyard between our old dorms where we had fallen in love, took them to the Port to pray, and spotted a young couple having an emotional conversation probably similar to those we used to have. It was nice to stop by and see the place.

The Marian (R) and Trinity (L) Hall courtyard that we often rendezvoused in before walks (like the one during which we confessed our like for each other).
The poured cement steeple of Christ the King Chapel next to which we met for the first time.
Where we met nearly 12 years ago.
The Portiuncula Chapel where there is perpetual adoration during the semester.
G and The Port.
The bridge between Steubenville and Weirton, WV.

We had a lovely trip, but are now savoring these warm months, easing back into school days (1-2 subjects a week), and eating all the in season foods… It is good to be home.