We left Redding and headed to south Sacramento to see one of The Music Man's best-but-seen-not-nearly-often-enough-friends: PJ. It always warms my heart to see those two boys together... it's actually even cuter than watching our cute kids together. The boys played so hard at the park that The Music Man was too queasy to touch his dinner when PJ's Papa, John, took us to the world best Mexican restaurant and for the first time in my entire life, I ate refried beans. Up until that moment, eating refried beans, which I'd only ever seen come out of a can, was the equivalent of eating a can of dogfood... or at least that's what I thought as I child. Now I know better.
I remember a few years ago when I went to a great Mexican restaurant in Seattle with the other U.S.E wives (U.S.E, which stands for United State of Electronica, is one of The Music Man's musical endeavors), and ate pinto beans for the first time. Actually, it was the first time I'd eaten beans of any sort. I couldn't figure out what that delicious, creamy substance in my burrito was and, in all seriousness, it was a real life-changer. Now, you have to understand that, for the vast majority of my life, food was my ultimate means of control in a world that was spinning wildly out of control. But at the age of 29 I suddenly found the freedom to try whatever I wanted (with no intense pressure or fiery judgement from eager onlookers), and it turns out that I like pretty much everything -- except ketchup (strictly on principal) and sloppy Joes's (which I consider to be in the ketchup family). Long story short: I love beans.
From there we headed to Thousand Oaks to visit The Music Man's cousin, Sharon, and her husband, Fabio... that's right, Fabio. While he does not have long, golden hair, he's Brazilian and is one of the kindest, most sincere, least cheesy guys on the planet (unlike the infamously cheesy famous Fabio). We arrived around two in the morning but Little Buddy woke up, so we decided to take him in for some hello hugs before snuggling up in the van. He greeted them warmly saying, "Let's make dinner! How about mushrooms?! Mmm... that sounds yummy!!" While we did not make mushrooms, he was eventually fed a cheese sandwich by Cousin Sharon, which she fashioned out of two smallish slices of cheddar flanking a smallish slab of cream cheese. Moses said it wasn't good but did ask for more, so the jury is still out on that recipe. We had lots of good laughs and it was such a blessing to just be mellow together and enjoy their beautiful new home.
Whenever we're in the LA area, we stop in at Expression 58 (our new church home away from home) as much as possible. It's such a great community of believers -- the way they worship together and love each other just blows our minds! Dan & Alisha came out to join us for church, and a little hang time in the van (our first guests, really). We love those two so much, it seems cruel that we lived a few miles away from each other for a few years, and while we knew each other, we didn't really discover each other until immediately after they moved from Seattle to Venice! Life is like that sometimes.
Next we headed south to Oceanside, then on to Mexico to hang out with Art & Julee at their condo overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It was so incredibly beautiful! We arrived after dark and went straight to bed... and were awestruck when we emerged to the brilliant sun and the crashing waves and the sounds of the sea in the morning. We feasted and made music together and caught up. We wandered along the beach and explored. We swam in the pool. We soaked in the hot tub and prayed with our crazy party-girl hot tub mates whose friend had just landed in the hospital with cancer. We talked and prayed with Art & Julee about going to Jerusalem together in the spring... and we were all in agreement that we should go for it! We were on cloud nine, even after Art discovered that those bites on his back weren't from sand fleas but bedbugs!
Art & Julee are exceptionally sanitary but do travel frequently both abroad and back home to Seattle to spend time with their children and grandchildren, so it makes sense. Ironically, this was the first time in all the many times we'd been invited to sleep in someone's house that we'd actually done so, and of course we'd brought in half of the contents of the van with us! Having recently had a close friend who'd been plagued by bedbugs for a year or so, I'd already done my research and knew exactly how to get neurotic so as to eliminate any and all possibilities of cross-contamination. We spent five 12 hour days of hard labor cleaning the van and all the contents therein (tearing apart, drying, washing, re-drying, double bagging, cleaning, vacuuming, putting back together, rinsing, repeating), plus multiple heated arguments, all in an effort to eliminate any possibility of bedbugs in our van.
We kept asking God if we had a bedbug problem, and He kept saying no, but while I had enough faith to trust Him about cancer, I apparently didn't have enough faith to believe him about bedbugs. Along with doing absolutely everything else we could think of, we turned the van into a sweatbox a couple times in an effort to cook 'em out... although I was only ever able to get it up to 115 degrees in there (it being a much, much colder outside), and only for an hour or so before the propane heater my father-in-law bought us automatically shut off due to oxygen depletion (minor detail). But I really do love a good sauna so I was delighted to have the opportunity, even if we couldn't attain the prescribed three hours at 130 degrees, which is necessary to kill the beasts). In the end we paid the cutest little beagle $200 to sniff our van for less than 10 minutes to confirm or deny that we were bedbug free. Apparently bedbugs smell like coriander. Of course we don't have bedbugs now, but it took me a full five weeks to become fully convinced of that fact. In hindsight, I regret wasting all that time, energy, and money, but at the time I was afraid to do nothing, as we were heading east to spend time with our families.
While we returned to crashing in our van, It may or may not interest you to know that the next place we parked had rats. And the place we parked after they had fleas. And the place after that was in Texas and, honestly, they have everything there. And a few places after that they didn't have anything, but they were living there temporarily because their house had just burnt down. And the place after that they had a moth infestation.
From Mexico, we headed to Austin, but not before another round of van repairs and having what we believe was our second miscarriage. It was strange being in the middle of nowhere and all alone, warding off beg bugs and losing another baby, wandering around town hand in hand looking happy go lucky while suffering inside. It was very sad but somehow I felt relieved when I considered that we were living in a van and would be leaving for Jerusalem in three months time.
We headed east toward Texas. We honestly didn't realize just how big of a drive it would be, and it was huge. But everything is bigger in Texas, so fair is fair. We had a really lovely time with The Music Man's brothers and the women they love. We feasted with Uncle Dave & Auntie Angel, and Little Buddy watched his first (intentional) entertainment on the projector at Uncle Ben & Auntie Ciara's: A Charlie's Brown Christmas. After a few days, The Music Man's parents joined us.
You may or may not know that The Music Man's folks were bonafide hippies. And I mean the whole nine yards... hippie commune and wood fire saunas (several of them, if the tales are true -- all of which reportedly went down in flames) and the whole shebang. The Music Man spent his first 18 years living on the remnants of a defunct commune, which most of his dearest friends and neighbors had also been a part of. So when his middle brother, whom I affectionately refer to as Benito, bought an old school bus and converted it into a home, I rolled my eyes but I wasn't a bit surprised. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, or so they say. And when his youngest brother, Dave, bought an even older school bus and, not to be outdone, stacked a Volkswagen bus (with a pop top, mind you) on top of it, I shook my head and made multiple dire predictions, but I was especially not surprised. I certainly was surprised, however, when I, who had vowed to never (never ever ever) join the ranks of such artists and vagrants, somewhat joined the club with our own bus-type-home-on-wheels. How could something like this happen? What was I thinking? And we, with the highest headcount and tiniest bus of them all?! How unexpected. How bizarre. How utterly irresponsible.
A critical part of the story of our A Very Texas Christmas is the fact that some critical misinformation was provided, the end result of which was us somehow managing to invite ourselves (and others) to Christmas without actually being invited! Now, you have to understand that inviting yourself is one of my ultimate personal pet peeves, and this was to be the first year that Ben & Ciara were going to spend Christmas day together EVER, and it was to be Dave & Angel's first married Christmas. How embarrassing. While they no doubt had other dreams and aspirations for the holidays, everybody was wonderfully welcoming and gracious. We had some really special moments and many epic feasts, from mussels to lamb to fish tacos. We made cookies (Ciara is a genius) and drank the world's best Irish Cream (Ciara is Irish). We snuck in after everyone was asleep on Christmas Eve and sprinkled a trail of snow (flour) and footprints from the fireplace towards the tree (I stole this idea from my folks), and ate the cookies and drank the milk Little Buddy left for Santa. Moses donned his tiny tuxedo and we sang carols around the piano (and cello and fiddle and guitar and mandolin). We fed the chickens. We worked on the van (we got ourselves a gorgeous new goldenrod-ditto-paper-colored canvas pop top for The Sozo Van for Christmas). We muddled our way through the relational rough spots.
We took a trip to San Antonio with the whole clan to visit even more family, walk the river, and stuff ourselves silly on oysters. Little Buddy and I camped out in the van outside the hotel where the family was staying while The Music Man wandered the streets of San Antonio with his brothers and sister-in-law until the very wee hours of the morning. I hardly slept after discovering bug bites on my lower back. I had felt a bug biting me there while walking the river, but upon inspection after returning to the van, I discovered a cluster of 40+ bites and lay awake terrified that we did indeed have bedbugs and had possibly infected either of The Music Man's brothers' houses. So upon returning to Austin, we played another game of tear-the-van-apart-and-launder-everything-in-sight. It was exhausting.
To round out the year, The Music Man consented to giving me a haircut. I've mostly been the one to cut his hair for the last few years, and while I don't actually get how to do it, I seem to have gotten pretty lucky... I guess I figured that maybe he could get lucky too? So after a couple of beers and a big pep talk, I told him to "butcher it!" a la Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables... to which he replied, "I'm pretty confident I can do that!" And he did, in the cutest way. I love it!
Our final night in Austin was New Year's Eve. The Music Man danced the night away (til 4 in the a.m.) with his brothers and Angel, while I tried to sleep in the van with Little Buddy. Except, Dave & Angel's house, where we parked, ended up being Ground Zero for a massive (MASSIVE!) neighborhood fireworks display. Everything IS bigger in Texas, and we might as well have been at the Forth of Jul-Ivar's fireworks display in Seattle that half the city attends. Eventually I abandoned trying to get Little Buddy to sleep, and we laid on our backs in bed and watched the fireworks, perfectly framed, out the windows. It just kept going and going and was so extravagant and over the top and unexpected and too good to be true... just like God's great love for us. It was such a surprise! We laughed and squealed and hugged and delighted, until I cried for pure joy, then we cuddled up and held each other tight and drifted off into a deep, dreamy sleep. Such moments cannot be orchestrated, or even conceived of, and are the greatest gifts. It was my happiest New Years yet...