Our time spent camping just outside of Mount Rainier National Park covered the full range of emotions for me. It was a fantastic time with family, but was also when some of my internal struggles began to crop up unexpectedly.
Our two day drive from Danville, CA to Mount Rainier in WA, was a rough one. Surprisingly, it was NOT because of our two year old hanging out in the back seat for twenty-two hours.
Over her entire lifetime we’ve developed a pretty good travel rhythm with her and she’s adapted to the long car days even better than I have.
Rather, the hardest part of our long drive was when we’d thought we’d finished it, only to find that the out of date campground website promising water for the carhouse, instead delivered a water pump so old that even Laura Ingells Wilder would’ve rolled her eyes at it. After five EXTRA hours in the car, broken water pipes at our second stop, several near RV side scraping moments, and an exhausted toddler screaming in Scottie’s ear as he made a twelve point RV turn… we eventually arrived back at our campsite with full tanks.
The next morning we awoke to find that the scary raging river that was too close for toddler parent comfort, was filled with 100 gold prospectors who were there to search along the shores of our campsite specifically. Neither the river danger or the stranger danger turned out to matter much because the wind was so strong, it took my entire body weight to open the carhouse door. So even if we’d wanted to spend time outside, the weather was more treacherous than either of the other two discouraging factors.
So our hero Scottie, went out and found us a new campsite that was PERFECT and eliminated all the previous struggles, including the wind. By the time our visitors arrived, we were all settled into a beautiful private valley, where the water was much further away from this paranoid parent.
My cousin Jeff, his wife Laura, and their two young kids were visiting the mainland from Hawaii for a family reunion that they decided to RV trip to. We just so happened to be in the same place at the same time and got to camp together for a night! We were all very excited about it because we’re pretty close to them at heart, but very far from them geographically.
Our single night spent with Jeff and Laura was a trip highlight for me. There isn’t much to say about why it was so wonderful, other than that we simply love spending time with them. It was fun to watch our kids play together, and our conversation around the campfire that night is one I’ll always remember.
Unfortunately, that time was short lived and they had to move on towards their family reunion the next day. The good news is that the day they left, was the same day Scottie’s Seattle-based family came to join us for a good old fashioned Chanson camping experience!
It made me so happy to watch Celia playing with cousins from both sides of the family, who both live so far away from us, all in the same camp site!
There was enough hammocking, rock painting, river rock throwing, and marshmallow roasting to create some lovely lasting memories for us all!
Despite enjoying the visitor time so much, this is also when I started to struggle with some crazy things.
Over the course of our trip, we’ve had a hard time finding the balance between enjoying all the special experiences with people we rarely see, and maintaining some semblance of the normal life and routine that keeps us sane. It’s easy to brush past things we know are best for us for the sake of “oh, but it’s just this one special time”. Only that doesn’t work when we have seven months straight of “special times”.
Despite the “special times” we’re loaded up on, where the new norm is nothing normal, we still have to find time to do those every day life things like email, laundry, cooking, sleeping, and making money. We also have to remember that despite our numerous “special circumstances” this year, our parenting philosophies still apply.
It’s after spending two full days in the car, only to find we can’t stay in the spot we’ve finally arrived at, that we long to pacify her emotions (or ours!) with technology, food, threats, and bribes. Which I think would be fine if these special circumstances were in fact special, rather than everyday occurrences. If we don’t resist the lure of these easy solutions, pretty soon it will just become how we parent.
And I can already see us slipping down that unwanted slope. Since the trip began, her inconsistent bedtime has thrown her off so much that we’re all sleeping less, fighting more, and struggling to fully enjoy the “special times” we’re keeping her awake for in the first place.
Now, after a month of being on the road and repeatedly neglecting so much of our self care and healthy habits, we’re starting to feel it hard. So I decided to try to get us back where we need to be.
Only I had NO idea how hard I was going to have to fight for that… and how hard I’d fail anyways. Which was when things got really challenging for me.
I’ve spent the past nine years fighting my fearful nature that tells me I need to control everything (and everyone) around me to prevent bad things from happening. I’ve definitely seen improvement in this area since I recognized it, but on this trip I’ve been feeling very out of control of my body, my circumstances, and those around me, and my anxiety has been increasing at each stop because of that… increasing to levels I’ve never dealt with before.
In my normal life, order and structure are the coping mechanisms I use to keep much of my anxiety at bay. I don’t think you’ll be surprised to hear that those are hard to come by when we’re waking up in a new state each week.
The truth is, almost every aspect of this trip has taken something I really struggle with in life and dug the knife in deeper. Like facing the moment we ran out of water in our RV tanks at the exact same time that two toddlers were freezing in a suddenly dry shower, and another kid threw up everywhere. Prior to my emetophobia (vomit phobia) therapy, this situation alone would’ve sent me over the edge all by itself. But I kept it together for the poor sick kid who’s parents weren’t even there, as my husband and brother-in-law carried up one jug at a time of unsafe river water to fill the carhouse with (also triggering my phobia since that water could make us all sick).
Later that night after everyone was finally asleep, Celia woke up teething at 4am and couldn’t go back to sleep. She also woke up everyone else, and it happened to be on a travel day, when we all had lots of work to do that inevitably went awry.
So it was NOT a good moment for me, let’s just say that. Yes, I DID make it through (whatever that means), but rather than finding comfort in that, my anxiety was intensely heightened as I felt things around me could fall apart like that again at any moment and I had no control over it or anyway to insulate myself from it.
I’ve found that when life gets too fast or intense for me, I need space and alone time to cope. Scottie nicely says I’m a “deep thinker and need time to get my brain into sorts when things get chaotic”. I’d say I’m an introvert who sees the value of relationships, but who needs alone time to fuel my intense participation in them.
However you say it, the bottom line is that especially after our busier stops and travel days, I desperately need that recharging time on this trip. I was already deficient in it when we arrived at Mount Rainer, where I wasn’t able to refuel, and I knew we were heading to Seattle to spend some really special time with family we rarely get to see. Being on the edge of a breakdown was not at all how I’d hoped to arrive at the family stop we’d been looking forward to.
So I guess I’ll leave you in old-school TV show suspense… Does Breanna lose her mind in Seattle? Find out next time on Rare Existence!
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….
… 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….
… 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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).
We 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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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”.
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!)
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