The road is life

I’m going on a road trip.

I love road trips.

Despite all my experience to the contrary… like the time my brother got car sick and my mother gave him my sweater to throw up into, or the time Chad and I ran out of gas and had to push our car a quarter of mile UPHILL to get to the gas station, or the time we drove through Death Valley with the heater on because our truck kept overheating and Chad said we had to take the heat off the engine, or the time I got dehydrated and delirious just outside Las Vegas and thought I might be having a stroke.


I think you never know when a roadside attraction might turn into something magical… like the time The Boy and I, on a road trip to deliver him to college, stopped at Indian City on our way through Arizona. We’d seen signs for miles and miles. By the time we reached Indian City, I had to pull off of the highway and check it out. (True confession: I also had to go to the bathroom.)

The “city” turned out to be two buildings and a little trailer where a woman made frybread by the order, while you waited. The gift shop was tiny and silly and the little carved box I bought turned out (I discovered once I got it home) to have a Made In China sticker on it.

It would have been terrible, except that we ordered frybread, which I’d never had before, and the woman went into the little trailer to make it. It was ninety degrees outside, and the inside of the trailer was clearly unbearable, though she didn’t complain. I felt bad and apologized for making her go in there to cook. She waved off the apology, and while I stood there bearing my impotent guilt, The Boy went and got her a bottle of water. Such a simple thing, really, but I swelled with pride.

When she was done, she came out and handed us each our frybread orders. She sat on an a chair outside the trailer with a magazine and the bottle of water The Boy had given her. The Boy and I sat on a bench a little ways away, and watched as the sky opened up in a biblical way, producing a torrential, short-lived rainstorm. I don’t remember what we said, The Boy and I, or if we said anything. We just sat there eating our frybread (which I loved more than I can say), and we watched the rain, and I felt how fleeting this moment was, how precious. I felt, more intensely than ever before, the young man inside my boy, and I was proud and joyous and lost and grieving all at the same time.

I love road trips and all that they entail – inevitable improvisation, miles and miles of highways, new places, new adventures, new pieces of myself to discover. And since October 1st was Day 1 of my 30 Days of Hand Lettering challenge, I painted and lettered something in honor of my imminent trip.



I know our road trip won’t be On The Road, Jack Kerouac style, but it will be fun, and funny, and tense, and surprising in all the ways that road trips uniquely are. And I will return with stories to tell.

In fact, if you have a great road trip story with which to send me off, please do share it! (I might even doodle it, you never know.)

Also, there’s this! Along with the more traditional Christmas cards I designed last year, this year I’ll be offering a new set of cards in my Etsy shop: Grumpy animals in Santa hats (or Cranky Christmas Critters, as one friend suggested on Twitter).  These cards have been so fun to make. Seriously. No matter how bad my mood is, as soon as I get to the part where I’m drawing a Santa hat on a grumpy animal, I start laughing. I have three so far. I’m not sure how many there will be, but I am sure there’ll be more than three. The entire set will be up and on sale sometime in the first half of October, so if you’re into celebrating the holidays in a vaguely subversive way, I’ll have just the cards for you to send out. Here’s a sneak peak…


Bon Voyage, all!



  1. Nina Badzin on October 3, 2014 at 3:43 am

    That was a great simple yet powerful memory to get down “on paper.” I could picture the two of you eating that fry bread. (never heard of it, but sounds AWESOME.) I’m excited about your lettering project!

    • j on October 3, 2014 at 7:40 am

      Thank you, Nina! And frybread is delicious! Ours had cheese inside, so it was about as bad for us as it could possibly be… which explains why it tasted like heaven. ; )

  2. Nancy on October 3, 2014 at 7:39 am

    Safe travels! My favorite road trip is the one I took with mama in May, to see her beloved in Sedona. Driving there, we listened to books…when she’d awaken from a brief sleep, she’d say “Are we there yet?” And, precisely because my dad never ever pulled over for a roadside attraction, I pulled over for several, much to her delight. Oh, and we had a delicious breakfast in Needles!


    • j on October 3, 2014 at 7:46 am

      I love “Are we there yet,” from your mother! And, you went to Needles! Yay! Chad just said, “Good, ask Nancy where the ‘hot spots’ are in Needles.” ; )

  3. Julia on October 3, 2014 at 7:49 am

    Oh J, I completely choked up (like my belly did a little choke-y thing that I couldn’t control) when I read the part about The Boy getting the woman water. Oh my gosh, that just hit me right in the gut. And the image you painted of the 3 of you sitting there with the rain…what a beautiful, blessed moment.

    And do damn beautiful that you saw/felt the beauty. Sigh…

    And the new art, the grumpy Santa owl-I’m in pure love.

    You amaze me.

    • j on October 3, 2014 at 9:06 am

      Thank you so much, Julia. I feel that way about you All. The. Time. <3

  4. tinakomi on October 3, 2014 at 8:16 am

    July Clement Wall, I so very glad that I “found” you via Jill Seeger Salahub! You bring light to my day. (BTW, I love Indian fry bread and I never met anyone more generous than a person of the First Nations and I’ve been fortunate to know quite a few.) You, having the gift to see the beauty in life and stopping to notice it, is a gift you give us all. Wishing you all a safe, fun, and gift-filled journey. ♥ (PS – LOVE the grumpy critters, especially the owl – cracks me up!)

    • j on October 3, 2014 at 9:04 am

      First of all, thank you! I’m beaming right now. I’m so glad you found me too. I think we’re a certain kind of tribe finding each other, a subset of which are frybread lovers! I haven’t had it since that day, more than a year ago now. I guess I better find a local supplier or learn how to make it.

      And yay! I love the grumpy animals too. (Another subset!) xo

  5. KjM on October 3, 2014 at 8:18 am

    January 6th, 2013. Sunday morning leaving Flagstaff, AZ. Early morning, the sky an impossible deep blue. Cold, cold. So cold the snow that remained had frozen into solid clumps on street corners and some sidewalks.

    The day before was a drive across the high desert. The day before me would take me further into that high desert and on into New Mexico. Wherein tumbleweeds!

    But that lay ahead in the day. At that moment I was setting out, still within the city, still flushed with…beginning.

    The time made yet more sacred by the gregorian chant streaming from a satellite twenty-two thousand miles above my head.

    A chord deep within me thrummed in echo.

    • j on October 3, 2014 at 9:08 am

      Wow, that moment, beautifully rendered here. Thank you, K. I read “A Chord deep with me thrummed in echo” and got chills. The best way to hear about a perfect moment is from a poet. xo

      • KjM on October 3, 2014 at 10:41 am

        Thank you, J. Sometimes…just sometimes…the words come together.

        Best wishes to you, et al (no, I’m not calling Chad “Al”, no matter what Paul Simon may say) on your road trip.

        And thank you for giving that memory from a January or two ago a chance to well up.

  6. Della Monk on October 3, 2014 at 8:39 am

    This is so beautiful and poignant that it made me cry. I love the interaction between you and The Boy, and I love fry bread (especially with molasses). Yum! My favourite road trip is one I took with my family when I was seven or eight years old. We were on our way from British Columbia, on Canada’s West Coast, to Quebec, in the East, where my father has been stationed. On the way, we stopped to visit cousins in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which is pretty much smack dab in the middle. While we were in Winnipeg, my Uncle took my brother and sisters, and me, and my six cousins, to visit Riding Mountain National Park in Northern Manitoba. For a young child, such an adventure carries life-long memories, the fondest of which for me is the excitement and joy with which my Uncle approached the trip. Despite the potential for catastrophe, with cars full of children and a long, long drive, my Uncle was happy and positive and friendly. Because my Uncle had such a good attitude, we had a really good time. I’ve never forgotten that trip. Though I don’t live there, I still love Manitoba. And though I hardly ever see them, I love my cousins, and they love me. xo

  7. j on October 3, 2014 at 9:11 am

    Love that, Della. And really, as a kid, you can’t possibly appreciate how wonderful (and rare!) it is to have a patient, upbeat, enthused adult on a long trip with a bunch of kids. Your uncle was clearly magical. You’ve made me want to visit Manitoba! *adds to list of one-day road trip destinations* : )

    • Della Monk on October 3, 2014 at 12:31 pm

      Thanks, Judy. Manitoba is quite magical. Safe travels to you. Can’t wait ti hear all about it!

  8. Lucy Pollard-Gott on October 3, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    We did exactly what you described–riding through desert (between Pasadena and Las Vegas) with heater blasting to “cool” the engine. Is this real? Or just something husbands say? Good luck and have fun!! Looking forward to RV stories, pictures of Lexi, etc. 🙂

    • j on October 4, 2014 at 7:46 am

      I’m laughing because as I was writing this, I asked Chad if that’s really a thing. He said, “Of course it’s a thing. I wouldn’t drive through Death Valley with the heat on if it wasn’t a thing.” After which, I asked the interwebs because I was still dubious and wikihow said, “Running your heater full blast takes a significant amount of heat away from the engine.”

      So there you have it. It is apparently both true, and something husbands say. ; )

  9. rejoycephotos on October 3, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    I always love your posts! They’re always so real and raw and uniquely You. This one brought to mind a June adventure with my 84 year old Mom, just she and I. We also drove 2000 miles from Montana, down to Zion, through Bryce, and over and through some really cool scenic roads in Idaho. We laughed and drove and drove. Ate good food. Drank good wine. Saw so much beauty and I heard stories that I never knew from her. Here’s one of my posts from that trip (check out the photo of Mom at Bryce looking out over forever…)

    • j on October 4, 2014 at 7:52 am

      Holy cow, your pictures are beautiful, Joyce, the one of your mom looking over forever is particularly breathtaking. I hope I get some great pictures. We weren’t able to pick up the RV until after 4 pm yesterday, so we didn’t get into Las Vegas until 3:30 this morning. What I’m doing up right now, I don’t know.

      But what’s a road trip without some logistical drama, right?

      Onward! (And thank you!)

  10. Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) on October 6, 2014 at 8:12 am

    Oh my goodness; the cranky Christmas critters have to be my favorite yet! I’ll have to order some of those for sure. 🙂 Have a blast on your road trip! I can’t wait to hear all about it.

    • j on October 6, 2014 at 3:08 pm

      Thank you, Annie!

  11. Karin on October 6, 2014 at 9:28 am

    I love roadtrips! Even though I’m not usually allowed to drive for some odd reason… (perhaps because I’m a giant accident magnet or something).
    The longest roadtrip I took was with my grandparents right before I went into 8th grade. It last about 19 days/18 nights (16 nights I spent sharing a room with them and boy do they snore).
    But it was a very precious thing to me, and we traveled from Southern MS all the way to Utah/Idaho.

    Then of course there was the time my family tagged along with my stepdad while he drove over the road in his 18 wheeler. Two dogs, my mom, him and me. In one truck. All up and down the East Coast.
    Lots of interesting things happened on that trip, whether it was the dogs eating our ramen noodles or the “accidents” they had while we were in New York City.

    It’s always an adventure. And nothing beats watching the road and the people that drive by, or meeting new people wherever you go.

    Hope you all travel safely!

    • j on October 14, 2014 at 4:15 pm

      How wonderful that you got to take that road trip with your grandparents. I’d love to have done something like that with mine, since I can barely remember the ones I actually did get to meet.

      One thing for sure… road trip memories stick. And for me, there always good because even the bad parts wind up endearing after time has passed.

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