A Great Small Town by a Great Big City: Danville, CA (Part 2)

Our stay in Danville, California (a wonderful small town just outside of San Francisco), was a trip highlight for me. I had so much to say about it that I broke it into Two blog posts.

See part 1 about the lovely town of Danville itself (you’re missing out if you don’t know about Danville yet!) and the beautiful property we stayed on there. See this second half for the best ever Chanson family photos in Napa and San Francisco, as well as details of a friend visit and a bonus “Breanna’s life reflection” at the end.

 

THE NAPA TOUR…
Ever since we moved to California, I’ve wanted to see Napa. More for the beautiful scenery and unique experiences than for the wine even! It just felt like the Californian thing to do. Never in my visions though did I imagine taking an almost-two-year-old with me to these well bred wineries with their giant stacks of delicate wine glasses and dangerously high lookout spots.  But there I found myself, googling “toddler in Napa”.

We chose to do some of the more kitchy things in Napa in hopes they would entertain Celia more than just watching her parents drink wine, while yelling at her to not touch that $800 block of cheese.

So for our first stop, we chose a castle! We thought it would be lame and made out of foam painted to look like brick. But we found out it’s actually a legit Tuscan-built castle that was moved over to California!

It was beautiful and Celia loved the grass (again with the grass… poor little city girl!), the flowers, the moat, and the farm animals out front! She also spent plenty of time exploring the special nooks and cranny’s that only the magic of a castle can do justice.

When we approached for our wine tasting, someone stopped us to let us know they had a special room for people with kids, where we could taste in peace while our daughter colored and sampled grape juice to her heart’s content!

Which worked out perfectly for all of us! Especially since the kids area looked like an awesome dragon dungeon!

We couldn’t have been happier with our visit to Castello di Amorosa and highly recommend it to anyone crazy enough to bring a toddler to Napa.

Next we headed over to Sterling Vineyards where we rode the arial tram leading to the winery. Celia did NOT enjoy the tram at the start. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen these looks of fear on her face before!

But she soon relaxed and we enjoyed our view of the lovely lake, tree tops, and hundreds of sheep below us.

The chill vibe at Sterling and the progressive wine tasting stations with plenty of walking (or running if you’re Celia) space, solidified that it was the great toddler in Napa place we’d heard it was.

Both the employees and the patrons alike seemed to actually enjoy having Celia there! As did I! She did her happy- toddler-bobblehead-run around in her tiny little sun dress and gold sandals, while carrying her water cup and cheers-ing us at our tasting stations.

She even made herself a new friend with the only other toddler in the building! Which resulted in us befriending her parents and gaining an offer for a place to park our RV when we stop in NYC!

It was late enough in the day that things were closing and we were ready to begrudgingly head home after just two stops on our entire “Napa experience”. However, our new friends had said that the Francis Ford Coppola Winery was open late and worth the long drive to get there. This was another one I’d come across as highly recommended for toddlers, since it’s complete with a swimming pool….

… teepee….

… open space tasting veranda….

…. and a movie memorabilia museum….

… and it did NOT disappoint!

Though our camera battery did, so we had to rely solely on iphone photos for this beautiful portion of our day!

It may have been the moment, the wonderful time of day, or the movie magic, but this was my favorite stop we made. The drive there was lovely, and the fact that we were there near closing time made it feel like we had the place to ourselves in some ways. Celia free roamed around the Godfather mock-up pavilion, as we soaked in the moment, thankful that we’re able to bring our daughter to places we enjoy sometimes rather than being forced to live soley in playground land now that we have offspring.

Of course, it was the end of a long day so there were some of these moments too…

But overall, it was lovely. Our little trooper sucked it up and managed to charm waiters and diners alike as we had an enjoyable meal in the vineyard view restaurant.

It may be a cheesy to visit the kinds of places in Napa that cause people to say it’s gotten way too commercialized, but since we were “those people” who brought our kid to wine tastings, it was perfect. No one shamed us about bringing our child along, and we could’ve spent several more days doing this in kid friendly spots like these! Plus it gave us an excuse to go the places we secretly wanted to go to anyways, since we actually are the lame tourists who want the Napa “experience”, even more than the world class wine it has to offer.

 

THE SAN FRANCISCO VISIT…
San Francisco will always hold a special place in our hearts because it was our honeymoon spot, the location of our most spontaneous trip together, and was where Scottie took me for a surprise babymoon/ten year anniversary celebration trip. We love that city. But the only time we’d ever been there with Celia was when I was pregnant with her on the afore mentioned babymoon. So we didn’t really know how to do San Francisco with a kid. We decided we’d just go with low expectations and wing it.

The only planning ahead we did was to find at least one spot that Celia would enjoy playing at. So we went to the Children’s Creativity Museum, which turned out the be the highlight of our day in the city!  It had some of the coolest kid activities I’ve ever seen!

I wished Celia was a little older so she could’ve enjoyed the animation lab where kids made their own animated videos using clay figures they built themselves! She did dabble in some of the big kid activities though like building topography maps with sand….

… and using the robot coding center where older kids created code telling robots to draw, complete a maze, or throw a ball. They had a person assigned especially to help younger kids like Celia, “build code” to play music on the robot! Seriously, where else but San Fransisco, would have a museum where toddlers learn to code?!

There was tons of stuff for kids Celia’s age to do like paper crafts….

…dress up…

… put on puppet shows….

….enjoy the reading room….

… and construct things with Lincoln logs and other building supplies.

One of the coolest activities she did was color a car that was scanned in and projected onto the moving city filled with other items kids had colored. 

But above all, our favorite feature there was the music video room. Where kids pick out costumes, a song, and a background before they put it all together in a karaoke style music video. So basically it’s a room filled with mini Elsas belting out “Let it Go” like it’s their life’s purpose.

Celia picked out matching sequin gold and black costumes for us (it fit her a little differently than me!), and sang, not just her very favorite song in the whole world, but one of her very favorite things about life period… The Happy Birthday Song. She whispered through three verses before grabbing the mike, pushing me aside, and busting out her loudest “happy to” at the very last second.

After the museum we aimed for any part of the city that had a parking spot for our huge truck on this busy holiday weekend. Luckily, we found ourselves parked by the very hipster Ferry Building Market Place at Pier 1, so we had plenty to see and do there.

Teaching Celia about the wide world of fungi… that I know nothing about.

It was a fun day, but it just made me want more time there than we’d planned for. No matter how many days we had in San Francisco, I think I’d always want more.

THE FRIENDS…

People ask me all the time about what I’m most excited for on this trip. Hands down, my answer is the people we’ll see along the way. Both the new and interesting people we love right away, like Mark and Diana (see Danville Part 1 about them), as well as old friends we miss a ton, like Mark’s daughter Julia and her husband Gabe. We’ve been friends with Gabe and Julia for about 10 years and there’s something so special about our relationship. Just an evening watching our kids play together in the backyard felt like a jolt of rejuvenation during this fast-paced season of life.

These are the kinds of reunions I was hoping to find on this trip and are what led me to say yes to Scottie’s crazy cross-country idea in the first place.

Celia LOVED being around cool, big girl Gracie! Lucky for her, sweet Gracie enjoyed it too!

We had the unexpected surprise of not only spending time with our old friends and meeting Julia’s dad and Step-mom, but also of meeting both of their entire families who were all in town from different places! I always love getting to know a little more about the history behind the people I love by meeting those who’ve influenced them along the way.  

Thank you Gabe and Julia, for giving us a reason to stay in such a great town that we grew to love, and for giving us the means to stay there by finding us a temporary home! We were so happy we got to spend so much time with you and we were grateful for every second of it! Love you guys!

GETTING REAL FOR A MINUTE…
When we were in Napa, Scottie noticed how many of the empty-nesters we encountered throughout the day, looked at us enviously. Like they were remembering the good old days with their own children at Celia’s age. One older gentleman approached us at dinner to compliment Scottie on what a good dad he is and how sweet Celia is. The emotion he was trying to contain as he said it, reminded us that this is it… this is our life, the only one we have. And we need to find ways to feel it, remember it, and love it; whether we’re having a wonderful dinner in Napa, or awake with a teething child in the middle of the night.

 

People with grown children tell us all the time to cherish these moments because they go so fast. It’s so hard to fully comprehend how to do that, but I want to try. I hope it’s good enough to just soak it in and do my best to be present and grateful, because even those few things are so hard for me to do in the midst of it all. But it’s all I’ve got.

I think this quote from “This Is Us” (an incredible TV show you should be watching!), by a character who is asked what it feels like to be dying, perfectly sums up the way I want to live…

“What does it feel like to be dying?”

“It feels like all these beautiful pieces of life are flying around me
and I’m trying to catch them.

When my granddaughter falls asleep in my lap,
I try to catch the feeling of her breathing against me.
And when I make my son laugh,
I try to catch the sound of him laughing.

How it rolls up from his chest.

But the pieces are moving faster now, and I can’t catch them all.
I can feel them slipping through my fingertips.
And soon where there used to be my granddaughter breathing and my son laughing,
there will be nothing.

I know it feels like you have all the time in the world.
But you don’t.
So, stop playing it so cool.
Catch the moments of your life.
Catch them while you’re young and quick.
Because sooner than you know it, you’ll be old.
And slow.
And there’ll be no more of them to catch.”

So I think maybe it’s like that. Like I need to “catch the pieces flying around me while I’m young and quick”. But it means I need to be off my phone. I need to be out of distraction mode. I need to be in the moment. I need to be grateful. I need to get over myself and my self-pity. I need to focus on others around me and the big picture.

Even as I’m reading this, the thought of applying it sounds terrifying. Which is crazy, because it’s probably the best thing I could ever do for myself, my family, and my life. But change is scary. Improvement is scary. And giving up things I’ve come to rely on, both physical things like technology, and emotional coping mechanisms like pity parties, is scary and painful. Because once that layer of protection is removed, there’s bound to be other things underneath that have been covered up because they’re even worse than the covering.

So here we go. Into real life. To face it and to feel it. To stop coping and start experiencing. To remember, retain, and know I did my best with what I was given in the present.

 

Tyler Durden quote this is your life

 

P.S. If you STILL don’t know what the big deal about Danville, CA is, you’re missing out! Read Part 1 to hear about our experience there.

A Great Small Town by a Great Big City: Danville, CA (Part 1)

Next stop on our trip… paradise. Otherwise known as Danville. A small little town in the Bay Area, about an hour outside of San Francisco. It’s the kind of place I’ve heard referred to as “Mayberry” more than once. We loved our time there so much that we stayed an extra day… then two… then four.

(Side note: Our stay in Danville was such a highlight for me that I have two blog posts worth to say about it. See this Part 1 to learn about the special town of Danville itself and the beautiful spot we stayed there. Then venture to Part 2 for my fave ever Chanson family photos in Napa and San Francisco, as well as details of a friend visit, and bonus “Breanna’s life reflections” at the end.)

THE HOUSE…
The reason we had the luxury to stay in Danville longer than planned was because our thoughtful friend Julia, asked her dad and stepmom if we could park our carhouse in their driveway. Julia gets her generous spirit from her dad, which her stepmom also shares, so they said yes. And we soon found ourselves in the magical landscape that is Mark and Diana’s home.

This house was a haven to us. The driveway was private so we had our own peaceful retreat right in the middle of town. Everyday we woke with the “tough” decision of staying in our relaxing villa, or enjoying all the wonder in the area around it.

More often than not, we opted for the respite of the house.

There was grass in the front yard for Celia to play in, which is heaven to a Venice Beach born child where the grass is covered in either human or dog pee… and you never know which.

Then there was the backyard. And just… wow.

First of all, it was huge. It backed up to a creek with nothing but wild greenery, running water, and deer who walked right past us in the yard multiple times a day.

Amongst twelve different seating areas and a countless variety of lovely trees and birds, there was also tons to do! Like bocce ball, archery, horseshoes, a tree house, swing, and the grandchildren’s toys to enjoy.

The yard was especially rejuvenating for Celia because it was a place away from all the “don’t go over there’s” and “don’t touch that’s”, which plagued her on the many adult portions of this stop, like when we went wine tasting in Napa or hipster boutique shopping in San Francisco (read about both in part 2). Here she had the space to run, play, and independently experience her own version of exploring and learning about the world. 

Then there was my favorite part about the backyard…. a piano/library cottage! Yes! A tiny little house dedicated only to music and reading. What a dream come true! At least for me, who now has a new life goal to aspire to (that includes first learning to play the piano)!

Mark and Diana were only in town for a couple of the days we were at their home, and one was their anniversary, which they chose to spend with us! As soon as we met them, we immediately regretted our “perfect” situation of having the place all to ourselves, and realized we would much rather have had more time with Mark and Diana than privacy! As their eclectic, and non-Swedish furniture home portrayed, they were uniquely interesting and intelligent people with more fascinating thoughts and life experiences than most of us will ever have. They were deep thinkers, heavy readers, and extraordinary-life livers. The kind of people who’s anniversary I’d like to crash every year!

We were so thankful that once again, we were warmly welcomed into a place that felt like home during a time when home is such a difficult thing for us to grasp, and when we need it so badly. Thank you, Mark and Diana. For giving respite to these weary travelers, and for showing us what it looks like to travel often, while still doing home really well.

 

THE TOWN…
If I were to dream up the ideal small town, it would have charming small town hot spots, as well as key amenities I don’t want to do without; familiar faces and places I love, but close enough to new people and areas to keep life interesting; plenty of individual space for all, but still walkable so I can enjoy the year round perfect weather and beautiful landscape. OK, so maybe I didn’t make this place up. It’s Danville.

We spent our days in Danville walking down a tree-lined path behind the suburban neighborhoods, to the local downtown area. A space that’s complete with it’s sweet small town bookstores and restaurants, right next to the favorites you want like Starbucks and Trader Joes.

Celia’s first chocolate milk… she’s a fan.

Danville is close enough to San Francisco that even their local places are of higher quality than in small towns where there’s no competition and you just get what you get. We LOVED our lunch at Gotta Eatta Pita and our stop at the Yogurt Shack for Celia’s first ever frozen yogurt experience did NOT disappoint!

Along our walks people smiled, stopped to talk, and even checked on me when I was waiting for Scottie to pick me up at the store. Even the big kids were nice to little Celia at their famously beautiful parks with clean slides that we were reasonably confident didn’t contain syphillis like I worried the ones back in Venice did.

We even got to experience a true-small town community event! The kind I dream about being a part of when watching Gilmore Girls or Hart of Dixie! It was the Danville 4th of July parade.

Which was not just any parade, or any holiday. In Danville it’s like THE parade and in some ways, THE holiday! 

Everywhere we went, we heard locals bumping into friends or regulars in the store asking one another if they were going to the parade. The only acceptable answer to that question, being a resounding “yes”! This was dually noted when we walked around the downtown area and realized that the entire town of Danville was staked out in sidewalk chalk and lawn chairs the day before. 

The actual parade itself was just like I always imagined a small town parade would be, filled with various businesses, clubs, and organizations that made up the local community. Hugs, hellos, and squirt gun blasts were exchanged freely as friends and family members passed by throwing prized swag to onlookers!

The biggest shock to us came when the parade ended… and people actually picked up trash on the ground! In fifteen minutes, the street was cleaner than it had been before the parade. That may be one of the most amazing sights we see on this entire cross country road trip. 

We met all kinds of people at the parade, including a lady who walked all the way home with us. Strangers just don’t stay strangers in Danville!

Later that evening, we left Danville and headed over to another nearby town for fireworks. It was a totally different small town vibe, but still complete with the community spirit that the 4th of July seems to rally.

The fun we had at the fireworks was a great grand finale for the memorable 4th of July the Danville parade started for us. 

It’s easy to say that Danville is the kind of place I could stay in forever… if only it weren’t for those famous Bay Area prices and our inability to pay them.

Don’t forget to stop by Part 2 for other details about this trip highlight. Including the promised favorite family pics in Napa and San Francisco, details from our friend visit, and some of my thoughts on life as we know it.

Day 1: It’s Working! (French Kids Eat Everything Experiment)

Before you Begin…
If you missed my first post about what this French Kids Eat Everything Experiment” (based on the book French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billion) is all about and why I’m doing it, I recommend you read that post before continuing (and eventually read Le Billion’s book!) so all this will make a lot more sense.
Breakfast…
It was our first day with our new French eating philosophy. I got twenty-month-old Celia out of bed and told her I’d made us a special breakfast. Her little blue eyes widened as she excitedly nodded her understanding. We’d barely set foot in the kitchen when she made a beeline to the fridge to see the new “Toddler Taste Training” papers hanging there. Without a word she left the room, and returned carrying her step-stool so she could study these mysterious papers on eye level. This gave me a chance to discuss our new plan to learn about food and practice tasting it together. I have no idea if she understood me, but an underlying French philosophy is that kids, even infants, can understand everything; and giving them credit for that allows them to exceed our expectations. So… I told little Celia about our plan.
I warmed up our breakfast while she continued to ponder the papers on the fridge that she couldn’t even read. We sat down to the breakfast I’d made the night before. It was high-protein oatmeal, consisting of plain Quaker oatmeal, peanut butter, almond slivers, chia seeds, dried cherries, and ground flax seed; topped with fresh raspberries and blueberries. I let her use a regular “grown up” ceramic bowl and sit in a real chair at the table instead of her high chair. I lit a candle for our centerpiece and turned on the Angus and Julia Stone Pandora station. I let her pick her napkin color (I usually don’t even give her one) and all on her own, she proceeded to open it up and lay it under her bowl as a placemat. She’s only used a placemat once before in her life, and that was when we hosted guests. She was definitely understanding that this was a special meal! I told her that was a good idea (partially because she’d already gotten some oatmeal on the table), so I did the same with my napkin. We had a very peaceful meal as we discussed the textures, smells, and flavors of the food we were both heartily eating.
After Breakfast…
We kept the music on during our post-breakfast play time, which made our space feel unusually calm and serene. It may have been a timing coincidence unrelated to being treated like a big girl at breakfast, but she was much more confident in her abilities than normal during playtime. Maybe it was just my view of her that had changed and made her seem so strong and ready for a challenge!
Eventually, I got around to doing my hair and makeup for the day. This once relaxing activity has evolved into the opposite now that I have a little girl who wants to be involved in all I do. The same little girl who’s about to lick the hand she just wiped all over the toilet seat.
But today, it was different. The educational tone of our breakfast set up our day to be a team effort towards learning, rather than a power struggle showdown. Even our getting ready time, as I washed my face then handed her the soap for “her turn” before I put my contacts in and handed her the empty case for “her turn”, was more of a learning experience than usual. If nothing else, it was at least a more enjoyable experience than usual!
After we both got ready for the day, we spent some time working through our Toddler Taste Training Plan. Week #1 is all about carrots. So I gave Celia a whole raw carrot to “experience” while we worked on the taste training carrot coloring sheet. We laughed when she failed to bite through it the first time, she smiled as she felt and smelled it, and we listened to her crunching sounds while she munched on it. We compared it to the picture we’d colored and then made a play dough model of it. She was all about carrots after this play time and couldn’t wait to taste them in a meal!
It’s a French rule to NEVER snack (see the rules in my original post). But I’m only French by last name and I’m new to pretending I’m French… so I got really hungry between breakfast and lunch! Celia and I both did!
I decided to give us newbies a break, and that if we were going to snack, it was going to be a good one! So we gathered some olive Triscuit crackers, cream cheese, canned salmon, capers, lemon juice, dijon mustard, and mixed appetizer olives (kalamata, manzanilla, etc.) and had fun building various combinations of cracker towers. Celia tasted all of it until finding something or other she didn’t like, then she stuck to the olives, both her old favorites and a few newer varieties. We made a plate for Scottie who was working in the “carhouse”. We spruced it up with some extra points for presentation and made the delivery a big deal so Celia knew this was not just any snack for daddy… but a fake French one!
My grandma had beautiful plates we’re using while staying in her cabin. But now that I’m working on my presentation, I finally get why so many people go with all white plates!
After our illegal snack, the real cooking for the week began. I plan to do most of my cooking in the first couple of days, so I can be done for the week after that. Our first attempt at a big cooking day, was a huge success! Celia “helped” the entire hour and a half I spent in the kitchen and she tasted almost every ingredient, even ones she’s snubbed in the past! It helps that cooking time feels like a special time to try new foods. She learned the word “taste” today and each time I replied yes to her request to do it, she was thrilled, no matter what the food was. Today she tasted: goat cheese, beets, salmon, Brie, capers, asparagus, greek yogurt, and three kinds of olives!
She also seems more willing to try new foods when she can taste one new thing at a time, rather than having it all mixed together in a completed recipe on her plate. Then once all the individual ingredients she tasted during cooking are mixed on her plate later, she’s much more open to trying the finished meal.
Lunch…
We decided to get the actual placemats out for lunch and I showed Celia how to set a table (the American with a toddler way, not the French way that makes me think of Leo learning about forks in Titanic). Once lunch was ready, we went outside to pick some flowers for our centerpiece.
Scottie started the Toddler Taste Training’s Tastebuds Activity with Celia while I put the final touches on everything. Scottie chose the music this time (probably Jack Garratt on Amazon music, but I can’t remember), and we all sat down to our beet salad with toasted walnuts, goat cheese, and micro arugula for our first course. Celia ate more beets than she ever has and her usual suspicions about goat cheese was diminished after she’d eagerly tasted it during cooking!
We moved onto our shepherd’s pie and she was all about that too. I think she normally would’ve been wary of the mashed potatoes, but since she’d stuck her finger in them multiple times to taste while cooking, she was actually excited to see them appear on her plate! Over lunch we talked about the variety of carrots we’d tasted already today like raw, cooked, and frozen. Yes, frozen. I did cut some corners the French would never dream of. Besides the frozen veggies, I also had the tenacity to use canned beets and fake mashed potatoes to ease me into my new lifestyle.
We had peach yogurt for the dairy course. We loved Dannon’s Oikos Triple Zero Greek Yogurt that has tons of protein and is sweetened with fruit juice and Stevia leaf extract instead of artificial sweeteners or extra sugar. Well when I say “we” loved it, I mean Scottie and I. Celia wasn’t a fan until I brought out the apple slices for dessert and she realized yogurt holds the power of toddler dipping fun.
Something you might not know about me is that I have a real problem with the texture of apple skin. It’s a strange thing, but I get major goosebumps over my whole body when I even THINK of apple skin. So eating one was not easy, but I did it! Even with my husband laughing hysterically at my intense reaction and expressions the whole time I shuddered and chewed. I was kinder to him as he suffered through his strong dislike of beets. We decided we can’t make a house rule that we must taste everything, if we aren’t willing to do it ourselves!
Yes, I am a photographer… but of people, not of food!
After Lunch…
Cooking dinner definitely did not go as smoothly as cooking lunch. It went a lot more how I’d thought cooking a large meal with a toddler would go! I had to re-squeeze my fresh lemon juice when I found play-doh marinating in my first bowl. Then I burned my garlic while dealing with a play-doh-less child, forgot to defrost my salmon, and didn’t plan enough time to finish cooking with all these interruptions. But even with all that, I still enjoyed this cooking experience more than most of the others in my life where I was doing the bare minimum to get by.
Dinner…
Just before dinner was ready, Celia went into the drawer and grabbed three of the placemats we’d used at lunch. Lunch had literally been the second time we’ve used placemats since we’ve been staying here at my grandparents cabin, so I couldn’t believe she knew what they were or where they were! She said “Mama, daddy, Cece” as she put each one down in the right spot. She did this all on her own! I think she’s enjoying all these special family meal times already!
Celia loved the carrot starter, which she’d been training for all day in our “taste training” work! She tasted the asparagus and salmon, until she tipped over in her grown-up chair with a bite of salmon in her mouth, and decided she was all done with that fish nonsense.
I found out that the crackers I served with our manchego cheese and fig marmalade, had pulled a fast one on me in the grocery store. They contained fennel… my food nemesis. And I was forced to eat them since Celia was being forced to taste the salmon that she believed made her fall over in her chair. The manchego was the one food Celia refused to even taste today. Though by the dairy course in our long meal, she was having fun getting out of her chair for impromptu dance parties to that oh-so-rockin’ Ray La Montangue we had playing on Pandora. She was back in her high chair before the meal was over.
When the strawberries and chocolate mousse (aka dark chocolate I melted into extra creamy cool whip) came out, she was very impressed and “oohed” over it in the pretty little dessert dishes my grandparents have.
Until she picked it up and saw brown goop (mousse) on the bottom of the strawberry and said “uh oh” repeatedly as she attempted to throw it before daddy caught it in time. After watching us enjoy it, she eventually dipped her finger in for the tiniest, tip of a fingernail amount possible to taste. She realized it was amazing and licked up all that was in her bowl, plus any extra I could scrape from the mixing bowl. I thought maybe now she’d trust things she’d been afraid of, like manchego! Nope.
Thoughts on the day…
Day 1 of the “French Kids Eat Everything Experiment” was a great experience and I had a wonderful day. It enhanced the quality of my time with my daughter, grew her understanding of food and cooking, and pushed her to try foods she’d previously been unwilling to taste. I also was really surprised at how much I enjoyed the cooking process and how good my food was! I guess it pays to use fresh ingredients and spend longer than ten minutes of prep before throwing it all into a crockpot! Plus I loved how satiated, but not stuffed I felt! My body felt energized! Which is crazy because with all the courses of very filling food, I felt like I ate a ton, but somehow I felt less weighed down than after my typical meals.
I will say however, that I was exhausted by dinner! I decided that French Women Don’t Get Fat because they burn so many calories doing all that cooking! But I’m committed to a full week of following the menu I made. If I survive that, I’ll decide what I’m doing next week!

French Kids Eat Everything Experiment (Intro)

There have been a lot of changes in my life over the past two months. As a result, my relationships, body, emotional state, and budget, have all seen improvements. Surprisingly enough, the growth I’m talking about here isn’t because of the life-altering, six month road trip I’ve just begun with my husband and daughter!
 These improvements have happened because I decided to change my family’s food culture. I’m not talking about health, diet, food sources, etc. I’m talking about changes in how often we laugh over food, how much we savor it’s flavors, how we spend more time together because of it, and how we love each other better since we’ve made these adjustments.
I’ve been conducting my own experiment based on things I’m learning about the French culture and the way they see food, cooking, family, and life. I’m only two months in on this attempt to align my family’s lifestyle with our last name (which means “song” in French), and I’m already well convinced that France is on to something.
I’ve mentioned the main areas of change I’ve experienced throughout this process, but there are many others that have taken me by complete surprise. It’s affected everything from our musical tastes and my artistic ability, to my daughter’s confidence and our stress levels! Plus we’re eating more delicious and healthier food than ever, with higher quality ingredients that we’re actually saving grocery money on. Not to mention, my almost-two-year-old daughter and I have had some really beautiful moments together through this process AND she’s now eating everything (and more!) that my husband and I eat!
This is the moment I knew this experiment had been a success. It was 1 month after we started, when we ate at one of the trendiest restaurants in Los Angeles, Gjelinas. Celia ate: Grilled bok choy with bottarga and lemon;  Grilled king oyster mushroom with tarragon butter and lemon (I couldn’t cut the pieces fast enough for her); Ricotta gnocchi with shallot, black morel, and Porcini mushroom; Crispy duck confit with roasted cherry, chicory, and hazelnut; Crispy baby Mackerel with mustard aioli and grilled lemon (pictured above). She loved the food and we all enjoyed our restaurant experience together… which could’ve been a whole other story if we’d eaten here just a month before!

So here is the story behind my French Kids Eat Everything (FKEE) experiment. Beginning with the why, then moving to the how. Keep a look out for more of this FKEE Experiment” series here on Rare Existence. It will be hidden amongst tales of the adventures we’re having on the road as we travel America.

 The Story Behind the Experiment…
May 7, 2017:
I’ve read French Women Don’t Get Fat (Mireille Guiliano), Bringing up Bebe (Pamela Druckerman), and finally, French Kids Eat Everything (Karen Le Billion), and I’ve got to say, I’m very intrigued with the way the French eat! I can’t explain exactly how they do it because it’s rooted so deeply into their culture and the small moments of their everyday lives; lives that are largely dominated by food… really, really good food. And yet they (as the book title says) don’t get fat, and seem to be healthier than their overweight American peers.
One main area of interest to me in French eating, is the way their kids eat. They patiently sit through long drawn out meals, they don’t snack, and they eat the same food as the adults (including foi gras and other delicacies that many adult Americans wouldn’t touch). That means no chicken-fingers-and-pizza-only diets like so many American kids I see. Food is a joy shared between French kids and their parents, rather than a battlefield.
These same kids grow into adults who’s relationships with food are also filled with joy; rather than the fear, sorrow, or shame that many of us Americans feel around food.
In France, it seems people are really able to have their cake and eat it too!
So how do they do it? Wanting to know more about this answer after reading Bringing up Bebe, is what graduated me to French Kids Eat Everything. That book is the meat of this experiment, so if you’re going to follow along with my blog posts in this “FKEE Experiment” series,  I highly recommend reading/listening to the French Kids Eat Everything book by Karen Le Billion as well!
In my quest to build an application plan for what I learned in the book, I headed over to the FKEE website.  That’s where I found this list of French Food Rules.
Whether these sound right or wrong to you, read the book to hear more before you make a decision!
I also found weekly updates about what preschool kids all over France are eating for lunch each week. France prides itself on it’s national policy for healthy foods and teaching kids to eat well, despite income or social class. Even after reading the book and being semi-prepared for this, I was still AMAZED at what is considered to be a normal school lunch in all parts of France! I used these menus to build the structure for my own, and also to get meal ideas.
I got other meal planning inspiration from none other than the Cheesecake Factory menu. Yes, I know. Whatever it is you may be thinking… I know. But it worked really well for me because that giant book of a menu has such a huge variety and a lot of things I love! So I picked a few items off the french kids menu, and a few from an American restaurant that is often in exact opposition to French food philosophy… and I made it work for our family! That is, I committed to TRYING to make it work for at least one week.
I made some of these sound a lot fancier by just listing ingredients or using lofty names. It’s all part of making meals fun and something to look forward to!
I also signed up for the FKEE “Toddler Taste Training Plan” (they have a baby one too) for my 20-month-old daughter, Celia. That gave me ideas on how to make this more fun for all of us. Which is key to French eating… and to keeping me on board with all this extra work!
Disclaimers…
  1.  No, I don’t actually know anything about France. So if I’m entirely wrong on everything I say about it, well… don’t be surprised. This is all based on my own interpretations of things I’ve heard. This experiment is by no means perfect and not for everyone. It’s also not officially affiliated with the French Kids Eat Everything book or website.
  2. Yes, this is going to take a LOT of time. If your situation makes this seem too difficult, don’t despair! Parents work and have lives in France too, and they still find ways to make this happen. Their culture does make it easier, but they also value it highly enough to give up other things for it. My goal is to see if the benefits to my family are worth the sacrifices we’ll make for it. I do expect it to get faster and easier as I get better!
  3. Yes, this is going to take a bit of money. And honestly, I’m not in a great financial position as we’re launching a new business and taking a semi-break from our old one while on the road. But I want to give this a fair shot, and I need to be all in for that. So I’m choosing quality over quantity for a week, and I’ll just have to see how it goes! I think I will get better at shopping inexpensively as I get more experience in this style of thinking and cooking.
  4. No, I don’t enjoy cooking at all. I’m also not a very good cook. I typically make two to three meals in a crockpot that take ten minutes to prep and will last us all week. Before I made it that far, we were eating Cheez-its for dinner. This is a huge stretch for me. But I like how my perspective on food and it’s role in our lives and relationships has already been changed by the French thoughts on it, so I’m hoping my attitude towards cooking will be affected the same.
  5. Yes, I have been working on my daughter’s palate for as long as she’s been eating food. But I saw her willingness to eat whatever we gave her start declining as she aged into toddlerhood and began experimenting with her ability to tell us no. Which is what perked my interest in the “Toddler Taste Training Plan”. However, if you have an older child or haven’t been working on this with your kid thus far, the author of French Kids Eat Everything is a better testament than I am that it is possible to improve your kid’s relationship to mealtimes and food, even if you are starting with a large deficit in those areas.
Day 1…
Just one day with these changes brought an unexpected environment of peace and learning to our home, amongst many other surprising results! Read about it here!
*** UPDATE ***
Since first posting this, I’ve had some questions about exactly what our changes were in the beginning. Following along with the future posts in this series will help explain that (see Day 1 here), but here’s a quick summary of our initial changes:
1. Four course lunches and dinners (veggie, main, dairy, dessert) with each dish served in a separate course and not moving onto the next until each family member is finished (no rushing!). In my experience (and others I’ve heard), toddlers are more likely to try new things if one thing at a time is on their plate and adults are eating it too. Also, I printed up a menu of these course to hang on the fridge (see my menu above) and I didn’t deviate from it at all (for many reasons I’ll get into later).
2. Long meals with family, which happens as a result of no rushing through four courses. Also it’s important to make these fun for kids by talking about the food and experimenting/learning about it together in a fun way. Keep the tone of the meal fun and light! Laugh together! This helps kids learn to sit through the long meals and enjoy them.
3. Cooking really good foods with really quality ingredients and involving kids in the cooking. The kids seem more excited about meals when they were a part of it. And everyone is more excited about meals when you take the time to make them taste good!
4. Giving kids new foods to try and educating them about the food as you go. Have fun learning about, describing it, and experiencing it together! Allow them to taste new ingredients as you cook with them to help them taste one at a time (a way I think they’re more willing to taste), and to help familiarize them to new foods during a more “fun” time to taste than standard meals times. I talk more about this on Day 1.
5. Following things on French food rules, starting with no snacking. See the French Food Rules above. It took us a few days to adjust to no snacking, but it made ALL the difference in my daughter being hungry enough to eat more at meals! Which means she’s also filling up on a higher quality of food than typical snacks.
There’s a lot more to it all than that since it’s a whole philosophy that works better when applied all together, so you’ll have to read the book and more in this blog series to get the rest!

The Healing Wilderness (Sierra National Forest, CA)

Away from Orange County we went, as we headed for the beautiful and (hopefully) peaceful Sierra National Forest.

To our chagrin, the drive there was the opposite of peaceful. We were going up the mountain, and man was it a mountain. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Scottie more stressed out than he was during that drive. And we work at weddings together! It didn’t help that he’d just emptied poop tanks in 113 degree heat and that we were at the end of our six hour, turned eleven hour, drive with a totally over-it toddler. More than just the mountain was treacherous at this point.

Once we arrived, we set up camp and made a real dinner (if you pretend you don’t see the hot dogs) fast enough that we almost believed we were actually the camping pros we’re supposed to be now. For the first time, we felt like we were killing it with this whole RV camping thing. And thankfully, at this stop, that feeling continued!

STILL LEARNING…
There’s a lot about “RV living” that I intentionally stayed ignorant about, because this trip wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t. There are some parts I hope my dear sweet husband will allow me stay ignorant about, like where the poop goes and how dangerous it really was for us to drive back down the mountain at the end of this stop. But there are other parts he can’t protect me from, that I’m now forced to reckon with.

For instance, I casually skimmed by, not really sure what the big deal was, when RVers online would fantasize about nice long showers at hotels. I now know it’s because you soap up in the shower with the water off, then turn it on to rinse off as fast as you can before shutting it off again. Maybe some really green people always do things this way, and I think it is a bonus that we’ll learn a lot about conservation on this trip, however I’m still not a big fan of the showering situation. I’ve learned the hard way that even when practicing special RV water techniques, (like dumping dirty dish and bathwater into the toilet instead of draining it from the sink and tub like normal people) we STILL ran out of water AND filled up our water tanks after just two showers and three days of use. It didn’t help that I found out we’d run out of water right when I had a head full of shampoo and no way to rinse it out.

Overall, I’m glad I didn’t learn all of this (and trust me, there’s much more!) before the trip. Because after some of the experiences we had together as a family in the Sierras, I’m starting to think (or at least pray really, really hard) that it’s all worth the trouble!

THE NATURE…
Once we rested, rested, and rested some more (if you missed the post about our first stop in Orange County, it was a doozy), we finally worked up the courage to actually attempt to accomplish something. First stop, Rancheria Falls. We brought the stroller and made it to the top. Celia and I enjoyed the view for about 10 minutes before we were both done…

…while Scottie on the other hand, found the missing link to his soul.

I’ve always known I married someone much more outdoorsy than myself, but the way he responded to as he put it, “seeing water in the forest”, was something truly special. He was more alive and he looked like he hadn’t just lived through one of the most stressful weeks of his life. I think I even saw some of his grey hairs turn back to blond!

We ventured over to the lake near us, which turned out to be quite a memorable experience!

The water consisted mostly of melted snow, so it was beyond the kind of cold we’re familiar with. I dipped my toes and easily decided to settle in for an afternoon on the shore. Scottie sat on a rock for 45 minutes while intensely working on the courage to fully swim, while Celia waded in ankle deep.

Scottie finally went in and then beckoned Celia to join him. She paused for a minute like she was thinking, then to my astonishment, she started going in after him! I seriously can’t even explain how cold this water was. But she just kept going, inch by inch, whimpering and semi-crying as she continued moving forward! Both Scottie and I were completely stunned that she was actually doing it! It was like she’d just made up her mind to be brave and keep going no matter how hard!

She’s done a lot of impressive things in her short little life, like moving from a crying lump to a real person who walks and talks, but I think this was my proudest moment so far. My little not-quite-two-year-old, was choosing all on her own to be BRAVE! I didn’t even know she was capable of that!

She made it to Scottie… and he proceeded to dunk her entire head!  I thought for sure that was going to end this madness. When he pulled her back out of the water, her eyes were bigger than he’d ever seen them and she couldn’t breathe for a second. But when she did finally catch her breath, he said it looked like it was the best breath she’d ever taken.

Then they splashed and played in their cold, cold world like the best of friends who were experiencing an exhilaration that only they could understand in that moment.

That went on until Scottie looked up at me with a different type of wide-eyed expression.
“I lost my wedding ring”.
Nooooo. For a second, I couldn’t believe it. Literally FIVE DAYS before this, we’d said how crazy it was that after twelve years of marriage, we both still had our original rings. We were telling friends how many people we’ve known who’ve lost rings in the ocean when the cold water made their fingers shrink. Scottie then demonstrated how in the water, he moves his ring to his right hand because it’s bigger and stays on better. Ah hubris, it will get you every time.

This is the look of a man who’s just lost his wedding ring.

We did our obligatory looking, but the entire lake floor was lined with small pebbles. Any one of those little Golloms could’ve been hoarding the ring. This ring by the way, was made out of titanium from an F-16 fighter jet, by a friend who worked in the air force. Not exactly what you’d call replaceable. Especially since that friend has a new job now.

Surprisingly, I didn’t feel as devastated as I thought I would be. We were both very sad, but I felt like we could move on with our lives and not feel as weighty of a loss as I would’ve expected.

CELIA MOMENTS…
It helped that we went straight from the greedy ring eating lake, to Celia’s first ever campfire and outdoor s’more roasting! The night continued on and all was not lost with the ring.

The next day, Scottie took Celia on a hike to a place called Indian Pools. It was another moment where Celia blew him away with her ability to challenge herself!

This time it was her hiking skills. She was climbing boulders and handling hills like she’d been born on them. This is a girl who couldn’t even stand up on her own a year ago!

While on the hike, Celia did one of my favorite things ever. After they were a ways in, Scottie said “OK, it’s time to turn around and walk back”. She looked at him confused for a second, and then turned around and started walking backwards!
Of all the sweetness in that, my favorite part is how she trusted him enough to do what he asked, no matter how crazy it seemed!

Another funny little tidbit about Celia in the forrest. She’s learning to play hide and seek. So she squeezes her eyes as tight as she can and counts ALL the way to one, about three or four times in a row (“one, one, one”), and then looks for you. Or SHE hides and then runs out to find YOU as soon as you finish counting. She also thinks that one of the only places you can hide is behind a tree. So every time we go on a walk in the forest, she thinks we’re there to play hide and seek and yells “hide!”, then runs behind a tree before we have a chance to opt out of the game.

CAMPGROUND LIVING…
One of the things I remained intentionally ignorant about before our trip, was our living situation. When I thought of our visit around America, I saw us waking up all by ourselves to rolling hills of perfectly green natural grass, in a beautiful field with trees, then spending our days strolling along the streets of Portland or Austin. I remember when I bought Celia some clothes we’d be taking on this trip, my mom looked at me really strangely for awhile before gently suggesting that maybe Celia would need some camping clothes? “No mom, we’ll do SOME camping, but we’ll be spending a lot of time in cities where these cute blush and cream colored shorts will go great with her all-white tennis shoes”.

OK, so my mom was right. We are now professional campers. I didn’t know this was going to happen.

I’ve noticed on Instagram (which I’m finally using and posting daily pics of our trip! @bchanson), that many of the other full-time RVing families are scaling mountains with their buff arms and paddling down raging rivers with their makeup-less faces. This is not me AT ALL. I am definitely in a world where I don’t fit in!

My mom spent my entire childhood trying to make me a camper, but very little of that stuck. The parts I did catch though, were that:

1. We are tent campers. As in, that’s part of our genetics and you can’t change DNA. OK, MAYBE we were pop-up tent trailer campers on some of the longer trips when we HAD to do it.

2. We don’t stay in campgrounds with flushing toilets. If we stay at an official campground at all, we use outhouses and only go places where you can’t see your neighbors who are one spot over. Camping is about open spaces in the natural world, not crowds or comforts.

So now that we’re staying in whatever campgrounds are available, which will eventually include RV parks with full showers, laundry, and electricity, I feel like I’ve turned my back on my people. And I feel like they’re bitter about it. When we roll up in our fancy carhouse, and plop our loud generator next to a family of six all sharing a tiny tent and huddling under a small tree when it rains, I feel like a terrible person.

Of course, these people don’t know that we do this every day and that a full six months of no a/c or heat, is different than their one night of it. Which is another thing that’s surprised me! In my vision of what our accommodations would be like during the times we DID stay in a campground, I think I was picturing more of an actual RV park (we’ll see, we haven’t actually stayed in one yet), where it would be mostly retired couples, and a few families on longer summer vacations with whom we’d share RV living tips. I didn’t realize we’d just be at regular old campsites where everyone stays a night or two and then leaves. Where’s the community BBQ’s and the borrowing of eggs? At the expensive RV parks is the answer, I guess. And we’ll get there eventually. In the meantime, it is kind of fun being in campsites full of families bonding and kids having the time of their lives. At least that way we don’t have to worry that our kid is the loud one waking everyone up early!

It is interesting to stay that close to other campers. Like, listen-to-one-another’s-conversation close. You do get to know people faster, even if it is only for a day or two! Plus, it’s made me notice how I really talk to my family. And let me tell you, it’s not as kindly as I thought it was. It’s all in the tone. It’s not what I say, like “move that, or can you help me?” It’s the sarcastic, “you-should’ve-known-better-you-idiot” tone that I take when I say it. Have you ever had times where you say something to your spouse that feels normal to you and then realize a friend overheard it and you suddenly feel like you were a total jerk? I have. And now that we’re staying in close quarters to new strangers all the time, it’s happened to me quite frequently. Apparently my tone and attitude towards my husband and daughter, aren’t as innocent as I thought and I have a lot of thinking to do about why, and work to do on how to fix it.

SUMMING IT UP…
So yes, the intentional ignorance about RV living may have hurt me in my preparations, or at the very least caused me to waste a lot of money at kid’s H&M, when I should’ve been buying camping clothes at thrift stores. But I’m here, aren’t I? I’m living on the road with no other home base to speak of! And I wouldn’t be, had I bothered to think it through or get my facts straight.

It’s kind of the same answer I have when people ask how I’m able to handle not knowing if we’ll be able to make money while on the road, where we’ll end up living after all of this, or anything else about my future. Honestly, both this present stage and the future feel like such different worlds with so many unknowns, that it’s impossible to have expectations. It’s all so unclear that even the worries I should have about it all aren’t clear. I’m actually not sure how I’m OK with this level of unknown since it’s not really my personality, but I do know that it was a long process of getting me here that happened over the course of a 12 year marriage, not overnight. But now that I’m here and I don’t have any upfront answers about what to look forward to beyond this stage, I’m OK to just see what happens.

If I knew the exact state, city, and neighborhood I wanted to live in after this, my heart would already be there and planning my roots. Instead, since it really is like a big blank white space when I look into the future, I don’t have anything to get so excited about that it would make me rush through this part of life to get there. As I’ve gotten used to a less and less planned out life, I’ve always seemed to know what the next step to take should be, even if I don’t know the end result. So here we go, day by day. We’ll get there when we’re meant to, and I’ll learn the pieces I need to know as I go!

Our Great Adventure Begins! And Almost Ends. (Orange County, CA)

We did it!!!! We’re officially living “on the road” for the next six months or so, with no other home base to speak of. This is it, our home is our “car-house” (as we started calling it to help Celia understand).

2017-06-13 09.16.392017-06-22 09.36.13We imagined our first stop would be somewhere exotic or unknown to us, but instead, we found ourselves right back in Los Angeles where we came from! Well sort of. We parked in Rancho Santa Margarita in Orange County to be near some dear friends of ours while making several visits to LA to see other friends and do the photography work we stopped there to do. We ended up being thankful we went somewhere familiar first because we found we needed the comfort of home much more than we expected.

THE LEAVING:
Leaving our mountain home in Pinetop, AZ that we’d lived in for the past four months while preparing for this road trip, was a LOT harder than I’d expected. It was a much deeper issue than just saying goodbye to Pinetop itself, or even than closing a really special chapter in our lives. It was about leaving home and comfort. Since I’ve left my own home-base, and my parents recently sold the house I grew up in, my grandparent’s cabin that we’d been living in is one of the closest things I have to a long-term home right now. It’s that place that will always bring me peace when I return to it, no matter how long it’s been. And saying goodbye to that, while simultaneously heading out into a great big world with all the unsteadiness that comes from living in a car house (literally), was not easy for me. I came to realize that this entire trip is going to be one giant stream of goodbyes after another.

THE BAD AND THE MORE BAD.
Our trip did NOT start out as we’d hoped. Not. at. all. But before I get into the bad, let me just say that the very bad was exactly equaled with the very good. Had it not been, there’s a real chance we would’ve quit on the road trip the very first week! It was like we were living in two separate worlds. We’d wake up in misery in our car-house, then we’d be whisked off for the day to this beautiful land of fun and friends… and then go back to the dungeon at night. I want to tell you about the dark part first so that you can appreciate how much the light meant to us. Especially so I can explain it to those blessed souls who played a part in bringing us the light!

For starters, we quickly found out there’s a much higher learning curve to living in a 5th wheel than we’d anticipated.  A lot of our problems in the beginning had to do with us trying to keep our costs down as low as possible. Like we bought one small generator instead of two, or one big one, in hopes that would be good enough. It wasn’t. When we arrived in Orange County during a huge heat wave, we soon found that not having enough power to run our air conditioning was not going to work. Especially when Celia and I got a stomach bug our first night on the road and weren’t able to sleep in or rest the next day because these were the kind of temperatures we were dealing with INSIDE our car-house.

Temperature INSIDE our RV. And might have been more... I don't think it's capable of triple digits.
Actually it may have been more, I don’t think it’s capable of showing triple digits!

Thankfully, the worst of the stomach bug was that night. Celia was fine by morning. Mine lingered the rest of the week and prevented me from doing some fun things, but it was semi-manageable. However, the rest of the things we were dealing with, didn’t let up so easily. To sum up a LOT of struggle into a very short space, basically we couldn’t use electricity (like lights at night), we couldn’t charge any devices (including sleep apnea and white noise machines that we needed to catch up on sleep), we didn’t have hot water and had to turn off the water pump when we weren’t using it, and our entire home smelled like an outhouse. Add to that the extra frustration of constantly sweating in our 100+ degree house and that we hadn’t slept more than a few hours a night in over a week; then pile on other things like having stomach issues in the bathroom at night without lights, and dealing with a sick toddler with limited water access and no washing machine. Not to mention we didn’t have electricity for some of our normal escapes like TV, internet, and music (we had limited time to charge phones too). When I tried to turn on the microwave for two seconds and it completely shut our generator down when Scottie wasn’t home, I couldn’t even go ask another camper for help because I knew I’d just burst into tears in front of them.
We badly needed a day of downtime to rest and work out the kinks with the car-house. But due to the crazy heat and lack of a/c, that wasn’t an option. So we’d leave the house all day – which I’m actually thankful for because we always went fun places with friends, and into air conditioning- then we’d come home to this literal hot mess that continued to grow each day we weren’t home long enough to deal with it.
We eventually hit that point of exhaustion and sweating from where there was no return. We started falling apart fast, as the logical sides of our brains were shutting down and our dominant emotional sides were being driven by caffeine and tears. And the way we were relating to one another became a hideous reflection of that. We were no longer capable of handling the numerous small things that continued to go wrong on the car-house when they were piled on top of the exhaustion and chaos. Things got so bad for awhile there, that even Scottie… who’s dream this was in the beginning, and who can actually handle quite a bit usually, was ready to quit.

DSCF6018

THE SAVIORS:
I have one HUGE recommendation to anyone considering this sort of trip: that your first stop is near good friends. The kind who don’t care if you’re late (every time) to the dinner THEY made for you (every time). The kind who let you use their air conditioning, washing machine, stamps, diapers, internet, memberships to fun places, coupons, address for Amazon packages, alcohol, coffee grinder, and child’s toys. Thank God we had the Varners in Orange County. They kept us sane during “The Great Chanson Breakdown of 2017”. They supported us with all I mentioned above, along with compassionate ears and thoughtful responses that put the logic back into our car-house hating heads. They fed us every meal so we didn’t have to cook in the heat or spend all of our trip’s eating out budget in the first week. They kept us going.

Thank you Varners, for loving us and caring for us when we were just weepy, pathetic, whining lumps. And for being understanding even when you were disappointed that our circumstances negatively affected our plans and time together.

Besides getting to catch up with our good friends, there’s another reason, I was excited to start this trip with a visit to the Varners… Celia’s very best friend, Maddie!

On the road, Celia’s going to have to sit through a lot of long conversations, car rides, and “character building moments”, as my mom would say. Plus, it’s going to be rare for her to have the comfort of seeing familiar friends in familiar environments. So I was very excited to be able center this stop around Celia. The Varners planned some great experiences for her and Maddie to have together, and it was so awesome watching Celia have so much fun with her best friend!

One of the highlights for Celia and I was Pretend City: Children’s Museum of Orange County. It’s a non-profit with a whole little indoor city for kids to play in! Complete with a mini-Trader Joes, garden and orchard, doctor and dentist offices, and public service careers!

Older kids can do “jobs” at each place and get their time sheets stamped to earn money. But Maddie decided to put on the Trader Joes employee Hawaiian shirt and sweep for free.

Pretend City was one of the cutest places for kids I’ve ever seen and I think we’ll try to head over there every time we’re in Orange County from now on! Provided the Varners haven’t had enough of us forever, and will (at least eventually!) invite us back into their real city one day.

THE LA VISIT AND RITZ CARLTON STAY:
The other major saving grace we had during this difficult week, was a free stay at the Ritz Carlton in Marina Del Rey! We trade photography work for hotel stays with them, and we had two free nights burning a whole in our pocket. It worked out better than we could’ve imagined because we had no idea we’d be so ready to escape the car-house troubles and live in real luxury for awhile!

Morning tea party… room service style.
Celia LOVED the “Ritz Kids” gift bag they had waiting for her at check in!

The pool day we spent at the Ritz was one of the best of our trip, at least in regards to fun family time together. And Celia was as thrilled with our accommodations as we were! It’s like she really knew this was something special.

It was EXTRA special actually, because it was also Father’s Day weekend! Which came with a few little bonuses of it’s own. Some courtesy of Celia to Daddy, some courtesy of the Ritz to us, and some courtesy of our lovely friend and favorite Ritz employee, Harriet, who never fails to make us feel at home wherever we are!

As you know, feeling at home was extra important to us on this stop, so thank you to the Ritz and to Harriet for all the special comforts you both provided us with, right when we needed it the most!

Making a Father’s Day card for Daddy at a Ritz Kids event.

We also had another gift card we needed to spend while we were in town. One that was so special to us we’d actually saved it for several years for the right moment. We headed over to one of our favorite spots in our old neighborhood, Abbot Kinney (see my post about our life in LA to read more about “the coolest street in America”), to one of the most talked about restaurants in LA, Gjelina. To give you an idea of the Gjelina hype, it’s the kind of place that’s written into TV shows as “the” place to go. It’s also a celebrity hotspot. I once saw David Beckham leaving on his motorcycle with a swarm of paparazzi running out into traffic behind him, and there was this whole situation with Victoria Beckham and Gordon Ramsay that I didn’t witness, but was a very talked about thing. It’s also not at all the kind of place we can afford to eat at… hence holding onto the gift card like it was made of the rare truffles they serve there. It felt a little strange to take a toddler to such a place, but Celia totally held her own. She charmed the waitress, ate more of the unusual gourmet foods than I did, and laughed along with us throughout the meal like she, again, recognized how special this was. It was the kind of moment where I felt like all the hipster singletons of LA were looking at us and captioning their instas, “maybe having a kid isn’t as tragic and disgusting as I thought”.

See, that girl behind us is totally insta-ing that.

Also, I have to brag on Celia’s adventurous eating since we’ve been working on a Toddler Taste Training Plan (that I will be blogging a lot about soon!) based on the book French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billion, which has transformed the way we eat and handle meal times in our house. And I felt like this little experience at Gjelina was the ultimate test and success in what new foods Celia is willing to try!
Here’s what she ate there (it’s small plates/tapas style):
Grilled bok choy, bottarga, lemon.
Grilled king oyster mushroom, tarragon butter, lemon (I couldn’t cut it up fast enough for her!).
Ricotta gnocchi, shallot, black morel, Porcini mushroom.
Crispy duck confit, roasted cherry, chicory, hazelnut.
Crispy baby Mackerel, mustard aioli, grilled lemon (see pics below).

I couldn’t get over the eyes on these so I had a hard time choking down even one. But Celia loved them and kept trying to feed them to me. Based on how often I push her to try new foods, I felt I had no choice but to comply and practically swallow the bites whole that she offered me.

Staying five minutes away from our old apartment, and having such wonderful friends still living at that apartment, made it the perfect time to invite all our LA friends to a BBQ at our old place, just like old times! Special thanks to the Roxann residents for letting us do this… especially to Ari and Jonas who did most of the work for it. It was, once again, a chance to forget our troubles and enjoy the fact that our first stop was in a place that held some semblance of home when we so desperately needed it.

It was SO nice to see familiar faces and spend time with loved ones! The party was perfect. It just felt right and we were so thankful for it!

We also took the opportunity to spend some time at “our” beach while staying so close to it. Celia was too little to ever remember living on the beach, so I want to take her there as often as possible to keep it in her little surfer girl heart.

Thankfully, our friends know about our desire to hold onto Venice from afar, so they gave us one last going away present. Ari and Jonas made a video of our final days of living on Venice Beach. It was BEEEEAUTIFUL! It included snippets from our lives, clips of friends, ambiance scenes that tell the story of what Venice is like, and plenty of other material that’s guaranteed to bring tears to our eyes every single time we watch it from now until forever. Thank you guys, it’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

On another drive down to LA from Orange County, I met up with my best friend who had been out of town while we’d been in it. Celia, Rachel, and I had a nice lunch at Sacks on the Beach (impressive quality of food by the way!) and a walk around Redondo Beach, before heading over to a sweet little indoor play area, The Coop South Bay, followed by an Italian coffee shop stop. As short as our time together was, it was still really perfect. Even having Celia with us while we caught up was great because she’s always had a special relationship with her “Tia Rachel”, who lived upstairs from us when she was born. And you could tell by watching them together, that they still do! (Though we did miss seeing you, Matt-Tio!)

Facing her fears in the ball pit at The Coop.

THE GOOD AND BAD COLLIDE:
So while things did get pretty bad at some points, the fact that we were able to reside in both the dark and the light worlds, made the bad… maybe not quite “bearable”, but at least forgotten for awhile!
It helped to remember that the first couple of weeks in Pinetop were rough as well, due to a terrible stomach flu that hit us all during our move from LA. And if any of you remember my “I Hate Mexico” post from awhile back on a previous blog… you’ll know that we have a history of starting out big trips very poorly. But in both the instances of Pinetop AND Mexico, things did get a lot better after the first week or two! And I think once we just get rest and air conditioning, we’ll be able to handle the rest of our issues with a lot more class and grace than we have been!

I can’t say enough how thankful we are that our first stop was one with so much love, support, and so many fancy gift cards to use! The only problem is all these goodbyes that we’re saying all over again! And in a couple of weeks we’ll be headed to see our good friends, The Schmidts in the Bay area, and I know we’ll have to cry all over again after that goodbye too! Surprisingly though, it is kind of nice to feel deeply about something so important. Crying over goodbyes is a much richer experience than crying over my usual things, like slow wifi.

There was one moment when I had a chance to just sit on our “porch” and do nothing but enjoy the beauty of our campsite in the cool morning air. Celia and I were having breakfast in our little camping chairs and listening to the The Okee Dokee Brothers, who are our family’s favorite kid’s band (because they don’t sound like kid music), and who also happen to have albums all about excursions around the country. So they’re kind of our theme music for this trip. I was listening to a song called “Through the Woods” where he’s inviting someone he loves to go “wandering” with him. And I just sat in my campsite crying and remembering how special this whole thing is and how it’s all about my little family being together… which hadn’t happened much in recent times as the stress had not brought out the best in how Scottie and I related to one another. It reminded me to take a step back to re-focus and hopefully find more of the beauty in the wandering, like the song is talking about. So a special thanks to The Okee Dokee Brothers for keeping our trip (and our marriage!) afloat in that moment. Take a second to listen to the song if you can, it’s pretty wonderful and will help set the tone of this whole trip for you as you follow along with us!

“Through the Woods” by The Okee Dokee Brothers
I’m wondering if you’d go wandering with me
Through the wilderness and woods
To where the winds are blowin’ free
Through the darkness of the night
Headin’ toward the morning light
I wonder if you’d wander with me
I’ll spread the word
And you beat the drum
We’ll round up the troops
And get the gang to come
And we’ll leave the streets
And these neighborhoods
Head over the river
And through the woods
You’re wondering if I go wandering with you
What kind of trouble we’ll get ourselves into
Would it be wrong to tag along
With a band of vagabonds
You wonder if I’d wander with you
I’m wondering if you’d come wandering my way
If you ever get lost
Or the trail leads you astray
The music of the pack
Can always bring you back
I wonder can we wander away

Our New Home… On Wheels

Aside from the fact that I’ve basically been homeless for the past few months, I don’t think you and I are all that different. For example, I’m guessing that you, like me, never dreamed that the first home you purchased would have wheels. Sure, I imagined a guest house, a nice yard, and maybe a pool or something… but never a house that would require new tires from time to time. It’s not that I’m too bourgie to see myself in a mobile home. In fact, home prices in Southern California have made me consider that option more than once, especially when I learned there are trailer parks right on the beach in some of the priciest neighborhoods in LA! But still… “first time homeowners” and “pumping our own sewage out” were phrases I’d never thought of putting together. Until yesterday that is, when we did indeed buy our first home… on wheels! We bought ourselves an RV! A 5th wheel to be exact. A 2016 Keystone Sprinter to be even more exact.

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We didn’t intend on buying one so new. In fact, our plan was to buy an old one to fix up in a way that matched our style. Though I’m pretty glad that didn’t happen because I know us well enough to realize that in reality we’d never actually finish, and we’d spend our whole six month road trip lamenting the backsplash we never got around to. So luckily, we avoided the five stages of backsplash grief when we happened to drive by just the right RV dealership- with just the right reason to sell this one fast- on just the right day, and saw just the right RV for us! So we bought a 2016 model for 1/3 less than the list price! I’m not even joking. And it’s selling for even higher than the listed price everywhere we’ve seen it posted around the country!

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Of course we were skeptical that we could be so lucky as to find just the right everything for just the right price, so we hired an inspector to look it over. And it came out perfectly! His only negative feedback was that the “outside was dirty”. I think it was that dirty outside that helped us get this great deal, because it limited how many people driving past would stop to notice how sparkling this trailer was on the inside! In fact, it’s practically brand new and barely used inside!

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The TV, stove, and fireplace (yes, FIREPLACE!) all seem like they have literally never been used. And there are still new stickers on the bathtubs and showers. Yes, I did say bathtubs and showers PLURAL because this is a 2 bed/2 bath model!!!

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FYI friends, this couch folds into a bed... as does the couch in the living room! Where are you going to meet up with us?!
FYI friends, this couch folds into a bed… as does the couch in the living room! Where are you going to meet up with us?!

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If you’re doing the math, you know that means our daughter Celia actually has more of her own space than she did in our LA apartment (see our nursery closet pics here)!

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And it’s actually tall enough that Scottie can fit in it! Which was a real problem when searching for this. He still can’t stand up in the bedroom, but that was the case in all but one of the 5th wheels we saw (and is the reason we didn’t buy a tiny travel trailer!).

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So when all is said and done, this is the perfect RV for us! Better than we ever imagined we’d have. I am a little sad we won’t be Pinterest famous for all the remodel magic we do (we actually can’t do much because it’s so close to factory condition and changes would likely lower the resale value). But I have a feeling we’ll be less stressed out on the road knowing that:   1.) Our backsplash is done, and 2.) We have a better chance of making it from Point A to Point B with our “car house” (as Celia calls it) in tact. And man, does it feel good to have such a new and perfect place to call home… for awhile!

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Look out, America! Here comes the Chansons with our (almost) new “Car House”!

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My Love Letter to Los Angeles: why we went, stayed, and left

Growing up, my happy place was Southern California.
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Like most people from Arizona, we grew up going to San Diego for vacation, and occasionally Orange County for theme park visits, but only once ventured up the way of LA, just so we could say we did it. And like most Arizona people when they finally make their way up to Los Angeles, we had no idea how to navigate the city and found it to be mostly stressful and not nearly as beautiful or relaxing as San Diego. However, all of that changed when we spent a week in Hawaii with some wedding clients and their Los Angeles-based wedding guests, because once we made friends in LA, going to visit was an entirely different experience! 
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We discovered that LA is a lot more fun to live in than to visit. We learned how to navigate traffic to lessen it’s effects, and we discovered that some of the beaches are less busy than the Orange County beaches we grew up going to! We found out that the best parts of LA are the things you have to be invited to, or places you have to know about… all of which are not found on travel sites. The fun lies in the day to day life and revolves around the extraordinary people you get to know.
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Daily Life in Southern California….
There’s a TV commercial I see air in Arizona advertising trips to Southern California. They joke about how people in Southern CA are just “regular people with regular lives” but all the while you see them in amazing places, doing amazing things. That’s really what it feels like to live there! I often wanted to pinch myself when I looked around and thought, “is this my real life”? I mean, when I walked out my front door, I was on the beach!
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We took daily walks down to the pier to watch surfers, or to the marina to watch the boats. 
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My daughter learned to walk on the boardwalk!
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We had annual passes to Disneyland, Pantages Theater, and (accidentally) Universal Studios.
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From our house we’d walk through the stunning Venice Canals to Abbot Kinney which was once named “The Coolest Street in America”.
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Then we’d spend the afternoon on Abbot Kinney, enjoying world-renowned coffee, art, fashion, or cuisine. Well, we’d at least look at all those things… the only one we could afford was the coffee!2016-02-14 16.40.42On the rare occasion that we couldn’t walk or bike to our destination, we’d drive ten minutes to meet friends on Main St. in Santa Monica to enjoy the quirky shops, food truck nights, or to just sit in the grass and listen to music while watching the pony rides at the farmers market. 
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In the summers we’d ride bikes along the beach to sit in the sand with some wine and cheese while we enjoyed free concerts at the Santa Monica pier. We’d spend our weekends watching the waves while either having deep conversations with our closest friends, or partying it up in matching themed attire.
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Whether we were watching a musical and theming our clothing and meal to it, celebrating Japanese culture that we actually knew nothing about, remembering the beauty of the Gatsby 20’s for a Birthday party, or ringing in the summer solstice with Argentinian 80’s culture… whatever our LA friends did, they did it with costumes and flair. And usually with a celebrity or two in the mix. This is the kind of stuff that made up our “normal” life in LA.
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It’s all about the “Once-in-a-lifetime” experiences….
The daily life is awesome, but it’s the utter abundance of “once-in-a-lifetime” type of experiences in LA that REALLY make it special! We were lucky enough to have some incredibly generous friends (especially Rich Payne who was the benefactor to many of our very special and free LA experiences! Thanks Rich! And thanks to ALL of you who gave us these types of opportunities!). Rich gave us box seats at the Hollywood Bowl, Dodgers Tickets, and stays at five star hotels we could never afford!
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Other friends gifted us with free massages, private tours of movie studio lots, VIP tickets to TV show filmings, Coachella tickets with vendor privileges (aka not using those general admission bathrooms!), and had lunch dates with us at Google and Youtube (which I thought was super special!).
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Living in LA is about working hard and playing hard (and often doing both together!). Being photographers always provides us with special perks, but being based in LA for our job (and the friends we made through it!) stepped this up big time! We had the opportunity to do things like see free private performances by John Legend, Neil Young, Sting, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, Patti Smith, Tom Morello and more! We got to work on set for McDonalds and Disneyland commercials (including going behind the scenes at Disneyland!). We scored free VIP tickets to the Chelsea Lately Show.
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At different points, my husband and I separately got to be the private photographer for Sheryl Crow, Holly Robinson Peete, Jay Leno, and others we aren’t allowed to name. We were regularly able to stay at the Ritz for free (thanks to Harriet for getting us that job connection!) and that sometimes included bonuses like free food and drinks for our entire stay, a personalized chef’s tasting dinner, and free massages in their spa! We traded photography for private Pilates instruction and physical therapy (when either of us were unfortunate enough to need it). 
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We were invited to the kind of wedding industry networking events where the moving dessert table was actually a woman dressed as Marie Antoinette with desserts placed on her giant moving skirt.
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(Although every time I see this, I think of “The Capital” in The Hunger Games!)

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We booked jobs through LA friends that involved free trips all over the country for us. Scottie filmed a music video that ended up on MTV, as well as several other pieces of work that were played for celebrities, network executives, and many others in an industry we were not qualified to produce content for… but got to do so anyways!
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Venice Beach…
The great thing about LA that most people don’t know is that it’s really a big city that’s made up of small towns. You pick the little village that suits you and live your life in that self-sustaining community. Driving to work is often the only time locals venture into LA traffic, since it’s only worth it if someone is literally paying you to do it. We chose Venice as our hub because we were looking for community, and the beach lifestyle of being outside and walking or riding bikes everywhere, seemed to lend itself well to that. Our guess was right and our neighbors became like family and we ran into friends everywhere we went. Though it had all the big city benefits I’ve mentioned already,  I think it may have felt more small town than many small towns do! gift1749 gift1274 copy 306720_10150984985628074_2061705430_n
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If you’ve never been to Venice, it’s hard to explain. It’s the kind of place where a homeless woman yells for help, and a famous actress comes barreling out of her house ready to beat someone down. It’s the kind of place where a high twenty-year old girl asks for an extra pair of your panties since she doesn’t know where hers went. The kind of place where you go out to walk the dog and stumble upon Tony Hawk skating a half pipe, the Red Hot Chili Peppers filming a music video on a rooftop, Blake Griffin dunking for a commercial, or Chris O’Donnell filming a TV show with LL Cool J. Then of course you’re followed home by a clown on stilts whistling “if I only had a brain”. This is all truth and it’s just a snapshot of the crazy things I saw daily in my six years there.
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In Venice, there’s the exciting, the scary, the unforgettable, and always the entertaining. We’d be sitting in our kitchen and suddenly we’re being serenaded by an incredibly talented violin player who has set up a block away. Walking down the boardwalk, we’d head past the skate park, the basketball courts, and muscle beach while running into everything from a man riding a 10 foot tall unicycle, to the “wolf boy” from the Freak Show getting a slice of pizza, to a group of gymnasts performing a comedy dance show, to a man jumping on glass for a living, to a turban wearing rollerblader who’s played the electric guitar while rolling along the boardwalk every day for the past 20 years. Sure there were times when crazy homeless people camped out by our garage, or pooped in the cinder block outside our doorway… and proceed to spread it all over our mailboxes; but the bad side of crazy is more than balanced out with the fun and interesting sides of it. 
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Every time we opened the door in Venice it was an adventure. Including the time I’d just finished watching the very old “Heroes” TV series and a week later I responded to a knock at the door and found a villain from the show- who I later found out lived two houses down- standing on my doorstep asking to borrow something from my front yard (I was so scared of this “evil man” that I froze and could barely nod yes). A few times a month we’d walk out the front door to find a section of the street blocked off for some sort of filming, including the time our neighbor was on a reality show with the “skate car” he built. Twice, Netflix asked to use our apartment for filming one of their original content shows. Once, Jessica Simpson asked to use our building’s parking spot for a few minutes. Another time a private investigator asked to rent our parking spot while he watched coked up models and hookers leaving a nearby house night after night. Then there was that wonderful time period all of our neighbors sold their parking spots to make $300 a weekend that we could pool to spend on parties, fixing up our front yard (a project we began by tearing up the ground at midnight on a whim one night), or any community expense we found. Lack of parking, just like the lack of personal space that forced a bond with our neighbors, is another thing that seemed like a curse but turned into a blessing!
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One of my favorite nights in the Venice area started out with a free stay at the Ritz Carlton. After getting back home, we rode our bikes to the Marina Del Rey boat parade with hot chocolate and Christmas cookies. At the end of the parade, a friend called and said his girlfriend was singing and playing trombone at a fancy hotel nearby. So we rode our bikes down the beach to join their group of three which turned into ten, before we all headed to the Christmas party of a friend (who happens to be a famous musician) to finish out the night. It was one of the many LA nights that felt nothing short of magical to me.
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The Roxann…
Even with all the incredible moments Venice Beach provided us, the community amongst our neighbors in “The Roxann” building, was the heart and soul of our Venice beach experience. 2016-01-28 17.23.30 HDR
In fact, when I was writing for this blog, my neighbor who had babysat the night before so my husband and I could go vintage bowling at the Roosevelt hotel on Hollywood Blvd, texted to ask if she could bring me down some fancy hot chocolate fixings! Just another random Thursday afternoon surprise at the Roxann!
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Vintage Bowling at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel
Our neighbors at The Roxann (and the few stragglers that chose to be adopted into our community), were like family. We all had keys to one another’s apartments and those keys were used often to let dogs out, double check the oven was off, put Amazon packages inside, and to leave meals and other surprises for one another. To get permission to enter for surprises, we’d ask to borrow something out of their fridge…. and sometimes we really just needed to borrow something out of the fridge! We helped one another through hard times with lots of tears at all hours and we celebrated everything from birthdays, to babies, to weddings!
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Actually, we celebrated anything we could come up with! Some of us had a tradition to go out to the divey-est restaurants we could think of on all the most neglected holidays, like going to a haggard old chicken and waffle joint on Columbus day. We celebrated multiple Jewish holidays with feasts that Jewish community groups bought for us.  We even built a Sukkah structure in our driveway and encouraged those passing by to participate in the building and decorating. We also built a Jewish-Christmas tree in our front yard one year to celebrate our mixed faith building.
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We threw many memorable building-wide parties. Including a St. Patty’s Day party that went from surfing, to BBQing, to a field trip to the “American Ninja Warrior” TV show obstacle course they set up every year down the road, to hang out with our camera man neighbor and watch contestants run through it. Then there was one of Scottie’s birthday parties where a neighbor locked herself out and twenty (not entirely sober) men tried to prove they were the manliest by attempting to get her in via a twenty foot wobbly ladder and power tools (power tools won). Our 4th of July parties were pretty well known in the community. Every year the horse cops would stop and play a game of corn hole in the street with us from atop their horses. And some years we’d have super successful garage sales with our customers being all the red, white, and blue dressed passerbyers who were too drunk to realize they were spending money. During one memorable garage sale, a homeless woman who kept her money safely in her butt, handed us a $20 with feces on it. NOT my favorite Venice moment. Every 4th of July party included a BBQ feast with bacon wrapped hot dogs and of course, Americana costuming, and we’d end the night with a walk down to the ocean to join other parties in watching the four different fireworks shows we could see from our little spot of beach. 
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Though our big planned parties were epic, the real benefit of living a few feet away from some of your best friends were the impromptu moments. The “hey, I know you’re sick, do you need anything when I go to the store today?”, the “I need to vent about my day at work, want to go for a walk along the beach to get a drink?”, and the “I swear the baby is crying just to be mean to me, can you come babysit while I go walk with this other neighbor along the beach to get a drink?”.
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There were impromptu BBQ’s where everyone contributed whatever they had in the building (we were also lucky enough to have a few really quality chef’s living there!), and sometimes unexpected dance parties or karaoke would break out. We’d roast marshmallows in the front yard fire pit that our parking spot sales bought for us, and our late night hang outs would sometimes end in midnight group trips down to play in the ocean. Other times those late night talks in the front yard would involve calling the police on the many drunken hooligans who crossed our path. Though sometimes we chose to help them instead, including one lost girl we claimed so the cops didn’t arrest her. 
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Once Scottie found a kite and all the neighbors headed out the beach for a really fun kite flying day. Another time, one of our neighbors was inches away from getting into a fist fight with an Elijah Wood look alike. We befriended a homeless man who had built an entire living room out of trash, a fashionable ensemble out of leather pieces, and who had taken a vow of silence and would only communicate via writing. He said his words had gotten him into trouble and he was waiting for his son. One day his son showed to pick him up and months later he came back into the neighborhood as a normal salesman who wore a suit and tie, spoke well, and lived in Culver City. The many adventures of our days at The Roxann will never be forgotten!
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Why we left…
LA is a city of extremes. The good is extremely good, and the bad is extremely bad (i.e. feces tainted payments). I’m glad we braved the bad for awhile to embrace the good. Some people seem to adjust to the bad and get used to it, I never really did. And as soon as we had a baby, that became very apparent to me as the things that were a little hard before (parking, over-crowdedness, general pace of life, piles of trash my daughter liked to put in her mouth, etc.) were added onto the basic hard things that go into having a kid, and it was just a little too much for me… for us.  
LA gave us the bigger life we were looking for, until it didn’t. So now this Goldilocks is heading out in search of a bigger life that is actually the right size for us. 
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Goodbye, LA, I’ll miss you…
We’re not sure where we’ll live after our six month road trip ends. There are places near LA that might be options, but it definitely won’t be the same LA that I’ve grown to love (and hate). So regardless of where we end up, I’m saying goodbye to the LA I know.
LA is a very special place and in some ways it will be unlike any other place I’ll ever live. As much as I do feel the relief from the bad now that I’m out of it, I already miss it terribly.
Not just anywhere has perfect weather year round, access to the best of anything any time I want it, or so much to do that something would present itself before I even finished asking “what should we do today?”.

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Turtle Racing… yeah, you heard me right.
Not just anywhere allows you to meet the beautiful and extreme variety of people you’ll meet in Los Angeles. It’s a place where the neighbors you befriend consist of an ailing homeless man with one arm, a South African dog walker who speaks mostly in “dog” language and F-words, as well as a variety of A-list celebrities. Not just anywhere allows you to walk out your front door and hear six different languages being spoken around you at once. 
 LA gives you the opportunity to strike up daily conversations with strangers in a coffee shop and know you’re sure to hear stories of immigrating from a war torn country, running a reality TV show for seven years, being a missionary in Los Angeles, nannying for an Iranian prince, living in a socialist commune, being a personal seamstress for Sandra Bullock and J-Lo, not getting an offer when you took your business on Shark Tank… and any and every other kind of interesting life experience that can be had under the sun. It’s the kind of place where you really do feel like “anything could happen”. Like the time AFTER we’d already moved away and I thought “I wish I could’ve met Josh Gad while we were there” and then I ran into him a week later when we went back for a quick visit. 
Not just anywhere would’ve allowed me to have had the honor of meeting so many different kinds of people, or to learn and be inspired from such a variety of stories and experiences on such a regular basis.
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Of course, mostly I’ll miss the people we loved and who loved us (including those not pictured here) . I know that I will forever miss them and the very special life we shared together.
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Goodbye, LA. I’ll miss you forever.
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The Adventure Continues!

It’s been awhile since we embarked on a big adventure. The last time was when we moved to Los Angeles for “the summer”, but ended up staying for six years.
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gift1615gift1568gift1101 copymedieval timesThough in the midst of our LA life, we had our first child, so I guess we HAVE had an adventure pretty recently after all!
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After the dust settled from our family’s size transition, we were ready for another change. Especially since the math of adding another person to a one bedroom apartment on the beach in Los Angeles goes something like 1 person + 3x more money = 10x the effort!
(See the photos and captions below for ideas on how to make room for a baby in a one bedroom apartment! If you don’t need such ideas, fast forward past the photos to find out what our latest adventure is!)
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Celia’s nursery in our 1 bedroom apartment. Complete with the fold down changing table her daddy built! See more details on how we created and used the closet baby room, in other photos.
Tiny house baby rooms, Small space baby room, closest baby room, one bedroom apartment nursery, fold down changing table, Artist and animator Pete Oswald
To build our daughter’s baby room in our small apartment, we used IKEA cardboard drawers in the hallway cabinets as her clothing drawers. A friend crocheted the hanging pendant, which was a great way to bring in our colors with so few places to use them.  Artist and animator, Pete Oswald, made a custom painting to help incorporate our “Classic Children’s Books” theme into the small space.  We labeled a jar of glitter as “Pixie Dust” and placed it on a shelf my dad made for MY nursery (next to my dad’s childhood book collection), that we painted to match the room and hung over a door. My husband built a fold down changing table with room to store changing supplies (see the inside of it in the other photo).
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A full picture of our daughter’s baby room inside of a closet in our 1 bedroom apartment. Here’s a little more info on how we did it. See the details (and the inside of the fold down changing table my husband built) in other photos. The rug is from Pottery Barn Kids and the crib is the Delta children portable mini crib with a better mattress we purchased separately. The portable part of the crib is key so that it folds easily to get in/out of the closet and we didn’t have to build it once inside the closet. The sheet that fit in the crib we used (and the bedskirt you can’t see in the pic) were both American Baby Company for travel cribs. We did lots of research on the least smelly diaper pail since a bad one could stink up our entire apartment, and we landed on the Munchkin Arm and Hammer Diaper pail, which we thought worked GREAT! Book shelf below diaper pail is IKEA. Cardboard drawers on top of cabinets are IKEA (and the lower cabinets are filled with them used as clothing drawers- see in other photo). We moved the bar and shelf on the back of the closet and split them in two, to hang clothes on each side (until she was old enough to stand up and pull them down!). We put light storage items, like stuffed animals, on the shelves on either side with strong netting to keep them from falling on her. We used the storage space under the crib to it’s full potential! We added an outlet to the light bulb inside the closet so we could hook up the baby monitor, speakers for white noise, and run the fan (under crib) constantly for circulation.
As much as we ended up loving Celia’s mini closet nursery, we knew we wanted to grow our family even more eventually and we couldn’t stay there forever.  We figured, if we’re uprooting our lives anyways, we might as well make some memories in the middle!
So we’re taking a 6 month road trip around the country!!!!!!
 pjimage (3)While we prep for the big trip, we’re giving ourselves some space (literally and financially) by temporarily moving from a tiny apartment on Venice Beach in Los Angeles, to my grandparent’s beautiful cabin in a small mountain town of Northern Arizona called Pinetop.
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Since relocating to Pinetop, we’ve definitely found more margin in our lives. I think we needed the change of pace more than we knew; we feel much less stressed here. We’ll pick up the pace soon to start planning our road trip, but for now we’re enjoying some of the peace we’ve found here. And it’s just lovely.
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* Keep a look out for my next post. It’ll be about our experience living in Los Angeles and more about why we moved there, stayed there, and left there.

Trading Comfort for Community

Sitting around last night with my husband in our friends’  living room and listening to them talk about the kind of apartment they might want to move to, reminded me about why we chose the place we did when we moved to LA. I’m telling you this because I think our checklist for our apartment was a little different than most people’s and the result of that has been life changing for us.

What was the number one thing we were looking for in our new apartment?

No, it wasn’t famous neighbors or living by the beach like you might think (though we did get lucky and get both of those anyways). It was community. You see, at our last apartment, building community was actually our official job (yes, that’s a thing). So while we did have enough community to make us recognize the value of it, there were a lot of aspects lacking from it that eventually led to our transformation into 85 year old shut-ins. Only we were the kind of 85 year old shut ins who didn’t sit around collecting cat feces or filling out mail in surveys, or whatever it is that normal 85 year old shuts ins do, but we instead filled our time with working 90 hours a week. I know, it was ridiculous. What’s the good of spending all your time sitting around your apartment if you don’t memorize every word to every episode of I Love Lucy?!

So when it came time to choose a place to live in California, our search was immediately narrowed down to an area where we would have enticing reasons to leave the house and people all around us to leave the house with. We chose the crazy world of Venice Beach. Venice is the kind of place that has led many of our Orange Country friends to shudder as they ask us if we actually moved to Venice on purpose or if it was just some sort of crazy mix up at the property management office like you would see happen on a TGIF show or something.

Yes, we moved to Venice Beach on purpose.

It’s where majority of our friends live (and yes, they’re normal and they chose Venice on purpose as well). Venice is the kind of place where you actually see your friends out and about because people walk and ride their bikes everywhere. It’s also the kind of place where all your friends from other parts of town will willingly come to visit you on a beautiful Saturday afternoon for a game of volleyball on the beach, to finish it off with a BBQ in your front yard. Most of all, it’s the kind of place where there are boundless amounts of people around our own age with whom we longed to share life with.

I know, I know, it also has drugged out young girls who ask for your underwear on occasion (I do have a soul so I gave her an extra pair), as well as homeless people who use your outdoor shower when you’re asleep or hide their stolen bike collection behind the bushes in your back yard, and then there’s the skateboarders who knock you down while they fly past you yelling, “I don’t stop for tourists!”.  Plus, I know some people just wouldn’t be cool with their neighbors sole source of income to be riding around on roller blades while playing an electric guitar and wearing a turban. But all of that is just the charm of Venice and we take the good with the bad. Sure, I’m worried about who’s urine I’m sitting in when I’m chilling on the grass or a bench, or even leaning on the rail at the beach skate park, but I’m wondering the same thing when I’m in those child herpes pits in Burger King playgrounds or swimming in public (cess) pools in fancy neighborhoods!

The point is, we traded in our 2 bedroom/2 bath apartment with a washer/dryer inside our place, a dishwasher, easy parking, 3 pools and 3 hot tubs, and a fitness center… that all cost only a third of what we’re paying now, for a 1 bed/1 bath place with none of those things and the added bonus of drunken passerbyers peeing on our bushes every Saturday night.

But we in no way regret it for a second. Why? Not just because of all the cool stuff I find on walks (see photos below of all the things I’ve found on walks).

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But the real reason I never regret my decision is because all the fancy apartments, personal space, and amenities in the world aren’t worth trading in for the incredibly community we get in our current building, where there are neighbors who are forced to get to know one another because of our shared everything, and people who support one another like family because we’re in such close proximity to one another that we can’t help but be involved in each other’s lives.

The trade was beyond worth it.

When our nose is to the grindstone and we’re working at 9pm at night, but our neighbor interrupts us to bring us leftover matzah dessert from his seder dinner and then his roommate gets home from her date so she stops by to fill us all in on it and we end up laughing until midnight instead of working like we would’ve otherwise done, we know it was worth trading in EVEN OUR HOT TUB in Phoenix for this… and that’s saying a lot! And when it’s annoying that we have to ask our neighbors to help us move cars around in order to have a space for a visiting friend to park, we remember how awesome it is that because we interrupted our neighbor, they will most likely contribute a dish to our potluck dinner and end up hanging out with us late into the night around our fire pit. During which time we may find out that she’s having surgery next week and will need some help around the house or she’ll find out that our family is coming to town next week and we may need to borrow some pillows… or Xanax.

What I’m trying to say is that I think we made the right decision and that so many things that felt like sacrifices initially are the same things that have actually turned into blessings. I’m not kidding when I say that one of the major reasons we’ve been able to stay in LA is because of our neighbors. It’s been their support, as well as their hard work to help us find clients out here, that has given us the hope and the ability to stay in this place we love.

Relationships are the choice that wins.

I know everyone has different priorities and trade offs they’re willing to make, which is important because everyone’s definition of an extraordinary life is different and requires different things. However, there is still a principle here that is universal that I want to remind us all of. Just because we’re all used to things being a certain way, having a certain level of ease or comfort, doesn’t mean it’s right or that we’re not insulating ourselves with so much protection that we’re actually preventing ourselves from experiencing something truly beautiful and wonderful rather than just comfortable. Choosing comfort over relationships is a waste of life that will always leave us wanting.

The following are pictures of the things we gave up and sacrifices we made to live here….

(This is a picture of our shredded, detestable, laminate tile in Scottie’s office, otherwise known as our kitchen, otherwise known as our dining room. You can see our full dining room table stacked neatly in the corner).

905a25def6e10f6a303092eb7f53315a (This is a picture of our giant bed that I have to jump to get into.  When we lived in an apartment that was twice the size of our place now, it was just a regular bed. But after the move every square inch had to become an uber space saver. Now it’s our bed, our guest bed (extra mattress stacked on top of our mattress), AND our storage space (via IKEA bookshelves below) all in one).

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The following are pictures of the reasons we gave things up and made the sacrifices we did to live here…
(This is a picture of all our neighbors having dinner in the Sukah we built together in our driveway for the Jewish Holiday of Sukkot).

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(And this is a picture of us hanging out in our front yard on the pavers that we purchased and laid with the money we achieved through some very fun and unorthodox methods that our property management was not a fan of and shall therefore go unnamed).

b660b43d9741d5bc973b4a4fa7af4b40 (The photo on the left is our neighbor trying to break into her own apartment with the assistance of an untrustworthy ladder and several men who have had too much to drink, after locking the keys inside during Scottie’s birthday party. The photo on the right is my husband and our neighbor who together built a Jewish Christmas tree for our front yard during the holiday season).

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(Spontaneous Fantasy Football draft party in our living room).

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(This is just after we cleaned out our shared garage for a reality show episode being filmed about our neighbor).

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(This is a picture of what happens on the weekends when our friends from all over LA come to visit us in Venice).

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So yeah, there are some things I wish I still had and some additions that would make our lives more comfortable, but as you can see, it’s been a well worth it trade for us.

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