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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You can do it my dear

This post is dedicated to two of my friends (you know who you are).

 

“You can do it my dear.” That is what I told myself when my husband and I both went full time into our new photography business which has continued to support us for the past 3 years.

“You can do it my dear.” That is what my friend, Kelli, told herself as she gave up her successful career to start up her non-profit organization that now helps hundreds of foster children every year.

“You can do it my dear.” That is what my friend Molly told herself (and her husband!) as he went in to reverse his vasectomy after they decided that extraordinary living for them means having and raising as many children as possible (they now have 4 boys and are pregnant with their 5th baby!).

“You can do it my dear.” That is what my friend, Nicole, told herself when she started up her blog that now has a large fan base and is leading to major speaking opportunities which enable her to help all kinds of people in more ways than she dreamed possible.

“You can do it my dear.” That is what my friend Christina told herself when her and her husband decided to start saving their money to fulfill their dream of living on Maui- which they succeeded in doing 5 years later.

“You can do it my dear.” That is what my friend Julia told herself as she gave up her life, time, and energy to nursing school because what she is meant to do with her life is help people.

“You can do it my dear.” That is what my friend Lynn told herself as her and her husband set off to leave their home in Phoenix and live in Chicago for a year… just to have an adventure.

“You can do it my dear.” That is what my friend Abby told herself when she moved to Africa to start housing and taking care of orphaned children there.

“You can do it my dear.” That is what my friend Katie told herself when she started sewing wedding dresses out of old tablecloths and soon became busier than she could handle sewing all kinds of unique women’s clothing.

“You can do it my dear.” That is what I want you to tell yourself next time you have a dream, inkling or idea, that seems made of equal parts amazing and impossible.

“You can do it my dear.” That is what I want you to tell your friends when they share their big dreams and ideas with you… right before you pull out a pen and paper and help them write out the steps to accomplish their plan.

YOU can do it my dear(s).

 

Sometimes Lauryn Hill just says it better than me

I’m not sure if it’s her raspy voice or her slight east coast accent that makes you know she’s awesome… but there’s just something about Lauryn Hill that makes everything she says sound extra true!

I do know that it’s her vulnerability that makes me love her. If you’ve never seen or heard her MTV Unplugged 2.0 video… GET IT! I’m giving you a little clip here, but it’s not nearly as powerful without the music and the rest of her story backing it up. Basically, she went on national television and broke down, laid it out, preached, and just spoke straight up truth… all while being completely unprepared and almost too emotional to finish her songs. In other words, I L-O-V-E it!

In this particular section I’ve chosen for you to listen to,  Lauryn’s talking about how her life of fame, glamor, and beauty fell apart and she began discovering and owning the real her… not the public image of her… but the legit Lauryn, full of flaws and all (as you will even hear in the clip when she can’t find the lyric sheet she needs).

The reason I’m including it here is because it’s so inspiring to hear from someone who’s “made it” and who has achieved an extraordinary life, who is willing to  be open and share the lessons she learned along the way. Most of it has to do with how once she found who she really is and what she’s meant to do she found freedom.

Preach it sister.

A true story about Extraordinary Living (Kelli Freeman: Part 2)

Kelli Freeman has done some crazy things in her life… and many of these things were all in her pursuit of an extraordinary life. The following interview will make a whole lot more sense if you go back and read Part 1 of Kelli’s story here.

(All the photos here were taken by my husband and I during a “just for fun” photo session we did for Kelli and her sister… and it was definitely fun!).

Now that you’re caught up, let’s dive right on in!

B: OK, so WHAT?! You made the decision to dedicate your life to helping foster kids and then you gave up your apartment AND quit your job only two weeks later to pursue that dream?! What?!

K: (laughing) yep. I’ve always been the kind of person who dives in head first.

B: OK, but still… how did you do that and make it work?

K: Well I needed time to research and learn about the foster system, and I knew that not having to go to work everyday would help with that! I’m a firm believer in not having debt and I’m a big saver so I had quite a bit to live on and I knew that not having to pay rent every month would help that savings go much further! I did get a mindless part time job that allowed me to still dedicate all my brainpower to thinking about my next step, while making a little bit of money at the same time. I also am very grateful that my search for house sitting jobs paid off quickly and I found one that gave me a place to stay 3 weeks out of every month, and actually provided me with some extra money to live on at the same time. And when the house owner found out why I was doing it she spoiled me a ton, so I was very blessed! (smiling).

B: Yeah, but you never would’ve found that perfect housing situation if you didn’t just sack up your faith and dive in head first, right?

K: Exactly.

B: I LOVE that you just did what you had to do! So did all that pay off?

K: Definitely. I spent all my time learning, networking, and volunteering in the non-profit world of foster kids to find out what the needs were, how I could help, and what areas I was gifted in.

B: Given your history of struggling with major self-confidence issues, did you even believe you were gifted in certain areas at this point in your life?

K: Actually yes. My experience at that first camp was huge and totally changed my view on life, my identity, and my quest for meaning in my life. I was still absolutely terrified, but I knew without a shadow of a doubt this was what I was supposed to do so I knew it would happen even if it ended up being in spite of myself! I really didn’t know everything and I did as much as I could to prepare myself but I still made lots of major mistakes along the way and things I would do differently knowing what I know now. But oh well, pushing forward even through my imperfections is what got it all started!  I spent most of my life trying to figure out what I should do and once I knew, I really knew, so I dove in regardless of whether or not I was “perfect” enough for it.

B: Awesome. So tell me how the next few years went down for you.

K: About a month after that first camp I went to in 2004, the person who is now the co-founder of our non-profit, came to me and said he had an idea for a charity. I agreed to help him at a very minimal amount. We decided we needed to have a place for the 12 year olds who had grown up going to the camp for younger kids and were now too old to keep going. These kids were graduating the program and were completely crushed to find out they had nothing to go to next year, many of them were losing a major source of stability in their lives and they were only 12 years old! So our initial goals were to create two things for them to go to, a summer camp for kids ages 12-15 and a Christmas party for them. Within 3 months of deciding that, we had our first Christmas party and about a year and a half after that (in summer of 2006) we had our first camp.

B: Having been to camps myself, I know putting one on is a lot of work, that seems really fast!  Especially considering you had to coordinate with the state to get the kids there and everything, that first year couldn’t have been easy!

K: Oh it definitely wasn’t easy! I had to raise $20,000 for that camp and I had absolutely no fundraising experience! I actually had many panic attacks that first year. The stress, worries, and fears were piling up and really getting to me. I was falling apart personally. I started really battling self-doubt about whether or not I had what it takes to be a leader.

B: So how did you get through that time?

K: There were a few things that helped me, my friends were huge to me during that time. I had a really supportive community who kept pushing me and encouraging me through the hard times. The second thing was that I read an amazing book called “The Dream Giver” by Bruce Wilkinson that is an allegory about a Nobody named Ordinary from the Land of Familiar who faces down all kinds of opposition on his journey to his Big Dream. The book was a huge encouragement to me, and still is because I re-read it all the time!

B: Yeah, I know thanks for that gift by the way!  It’s been super encouraging to me as well! You’re SO lucky you had such a supportive group of friends, not everyone has that!

K: Don’t get me wrong, I had PLENTY of people who told me that even though my ideas were great, they were just too big to be realized… and even more people who thought I was plain crazy for quitting my job and doing the things I was doing.  And actually those kinds of comments pushed me more than anything to be successful!  I rise to challenges! I’ve had to do a lot to learn about how to shut down negative feedback and manage it in my own mind.  That’s a very hard thing to deal with and it still comes up from time to time.

B: So has there ever been a time you wanted to quit?

K: Oh yeah, lots of times. I even had to take a break for awhile to pull myself together. It takes a ton of hard work and oh so many sacrifices to follow your dreams. I mean, I haven’t really dated anyone for 9 YEARS!!  I lost a lot of my friends because I was just too busy to keep up relationships (thankfully, I also gained new relationships through my charity work), and I went through SO much self doubt. I’ve had MANY tears and many failures. From the very beginning I found myself doing things I was not at all qualified to do. And I soon found out that when you make one bad decision, it makes you question everything about what you’re doing and who you are… but when you make multiple bad decisions, watch out, you’re about to crumble! Following your dreams is one of the hardest things in the world, but it is of course, so very VERY worth it!

B: Tell me a little bit more about what you have going on with the organization now.

K:  Well we still have those first two things we set our minds too… we have a girl’s camp and a boy’s camp every summer. And we still have the Christmas party every December. The new things we’ve added are the Princess Program for girls and The All-Star Program for boys. The point of both of these is to help build the kid’s confidence, break down barriers during the summer camp, and teach them the great things about themselves and what they have the ability to do in their lives.  These are the kinds of messages that most of these kids don’t hear often enough… especially from people they really trust.

B: My husband and I have gotten to be the photographers for multiple Princess Program events and my most memorable moment was when one of the girls put on her fancy prom dress (The Princess Program features a prom for these girls who are not very likely to ever get to go to a high school prom) and then as soon as she turned around and looked at herself in the mirror, she broke down crying immediately. It didn’t seem like it would help for her to see me crying too! So I did everything I could to hold it together as her counselors quickly put their arms around her and gently whispered encouraging things to her about how beautiful she is.  That moment to me, said so much about what you do. (I want to encourage everyone to go read the blog post I wrote about our first experience with the Princess Program because the pictures in it really help tell the story about what Kelli’s organization does). I know the Princess Program is about much more than physical beauty and you guys do a good job encouraging the girls in their inner beauty too, but it is absolutely amazing to see how those girls’ attitudes change the second they put on a beautiful dress!

K:  Oh totally, the princess program is one of my favorite things about camp each year. One of the reasons I started it was because I felt like I really know what it’s like to struggle with self-worth… and I have parents!  I absolutely can’t imagine what it would be like to struggle through that if you don’t even have a family of your own! At one point in my life, I had someone come alongside me and help instill some self-esteem in me so I wanted to try to pass that on.  I also sat down and thought about what little (and big) things would go into a night to make a girl feel truly special… and those are the kinds of things I’ve tried to incorporate into the program.

B: So tell me more about the 2 newest programs you guys have going on.

K: Well, our teen camp was filling the gap for the kids who were looking for a place to go after they turned 12, but then we found ourselves having problems figuring out what to do after the kids turned 16 and graduated the teen camp!  So we developed the Life Skills Program which is there to help kids from 16- early 20’s learn to do essential things that many never had a chance to learn as they were passed from home to home. They learn things like how to budget, cook, dress for a job interview, fill out college application forms, etc. I mean, one of our kids is only 16 and he’s moved 42 times in the 14 years he’s been in foster care!  Who’s ever going to sit down with that kid and teach him conflict resolution skills or how to find an apartment on a budget?

B: Seriously, a child with that much school system fluctuation is probably just lucky if he can read, let alone function in society! I was shocked when I heard that at 18, foster kids are required by law to leave their foster home even though most were never prepared for the real world!  I had no idea how many of them just end up on the streets!  It totally puts your Life Skills Program into perspective!

K: Exactly, we saw a great need for it and we also wanted to provide another place for the kids who graduated from our teen camp to continue going where they could build more constant relationships with adults who were willing to invest the time into helping them. In addition to that, we developed a scholarship program to help some of these kids go to college!  And we actually recently received a call from our first recipient who needed help moving into his dorm! That was huge for me because it really made me realize that we truly are his family… we’re the ones he calls when he needs help moving!

B:  Wow. So when did you realize, “this is it. I’m here”, I ‘m definitely doing the right thing with my life”?

K: There’s definitely a part of me that knew from the beginning back when I first quit my job, but that has really been reinforced through the fact that I’m lucky enough to get to see very tangible results working with these kids. I’m constantly getting amazing reports about various people’s interactions with the kids throughout different events… and I especially love when these stories relate to how much the kids have changed since they first began attending our programs. It’s truly amazing how much these kids bloom as soon as they feel “safe” to be vulnerable and let down their defenses. Both the kids themselves and the volunteers have beautiful stories about their experiences together and the things they remember from the events. And every time I hear a story about someone’s who’s life was changed through something in our program, I’m like, “yes, this is it. This is where I need to be”. Of course I have other things I want to do with my life, but they will most likely fit in around working with foster kids. Whether I go back to school, have my own family one day, or whatever it may be, I will still always be doing this in some capacity for the rest of my life.

B: Do you have any advice for others out there who are seeking to uncover and live out their own extraordinary lives?

K: I can’t stress enough the importance of having a support system in your life. Encouragement is so vital because even if you are the most motivated, self-confident person in the world, you WILL doubt yourself at times and you need people around you to help you push through that.  I also think that having a mentor is an important part of a successful support system. Finding someone who has ventured off and tried it before you so they can walk you through some of the challenges is a major tool in trudging through the hard parts.
Another major thing is to be OK with failure.  That’s a hard one to wrap your arms around… but it’s necessary. Failure is a way to learn and you have to be OK with just giving it all you’ve got and stepping back in hopes it will work. And going along with that, it’s very helpful if you can recognize that you don’t have to start off perfect, you can always change it later.

B: Sorry to interrupt, but I can’t help but laugh because I can’t tell you how many people told me that when I was getting ready to launch Rare Existence. I was really struggling with the design and functionality of it and everyone was like, “Breanna, just do it already!!! It doesn’t have to be perfect! You can change it later, just get it up!!” It’s good advice but so hard to listen to!

K: Tell me about it! But the sooner you learn that, the better off you’ll be! It’s also important to have short term goals and celebrate your small successes along the way. Like you can celebrate that Rare Existence is up even if it doesn’t look exactly like you might want it to eventually!
And finally, one of the biggest things I want to stress is that the balance between work and life is so important!  I’ve made a lot of mistakes in this area and I paid the price for it. Boundaries are very important and if you ignore them, you’ll get into trouble.

B: I’ve been there myself, and am in fact still digging myself out of the hole that comes from an unbalanced life, so I second that piece of advice for sure! Self-care is VERY important in order to continue to thrive and have the important things in your life continue to thrive as well.

Thank you so much for being so vulnerable here, Kelli. I think your honesty will really help to encourage people wherever they’re at in their quest for a Rare Existence.  Your story is incredible and very inspiring, it’s such an honor that you let me share it!

(if you liked this story and want to hear more true stories about Extraordinary Living join the  Rare Existence Facebook community)!

If you want to learn more about some of the things mentioned in Kelli’s story see the links below:

Hope and a Future: The non-profit organization to help foster children that Kelli co-founded (also see info about The TRAC camps, The Christmas Party, The Princess Program, The All-Star Program, The Scholarship Program, and the Life Skills Program).

TRAC: The organization that helped train Kelli to launch her own camp for foster kids. They are still training camp directors if you’re interested in starting your own camp!

Royal Family Kid’s Camp: The camp Kelli initially went to for foster kids ages 7-11. This is a nationwide organization that holds camps all over America.

A true story about Extraordinary Living (Kelli Freeman: Part 1)

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

(Kelli on the left, her sister on the right. All these photos were from a “just for fun” photo session my husband and I did for the two of them!).

While most little kids would prattle on about grandiose dreams involving fame, firetrucks, and princess dresses, young Kelli would hide in the corner hoping to avoid the awkwardness. Even as a very young child, this question made Kelli very uncomfortable and upset. The truth was that she had absolutely no idea and she knew this was the wrong answer.

Throughout high school Kelli battled deep feelings of insecurity.

She never felt like she quite measured up to the standard of perfection that was continually held over her by her extremely traditional culture that told her the only option in life was to be a mom and nothing more. She found herself continuing to fight to stay in the mold- all the while feeling like her efforts were futile- which only perpetuated the cycle of her not feeling good enough and trying harder. She was being crushed by feelings of failure and worthlessness. At this point she was pretty much convinced she would never amount to anything.

Of course her pressure for perfection did lead her to great things…

…no matter how negative she still felt about the things she did and herself.  She moved from working her first job at McDonald’s, through tons of other positions, all the way up to maintaining a great, high paying, corporate job. She was officially a “success” to the outside world, but inside she still didn’t feel good enough.

Since Kelli was used to high pressure and challenges, she got bored very quickly. Which is probably the explanation for the MANY jobs she had before as she tried to uncover “what she wanted to do when she grew up” (she even worked for a temp agency for awhile where she was able to experience over 50 different types of positions!). She was starting to feel very dissatisfied with the corporate game because she was beginning to feel a great desire to do something that would truly help others. She was again faced with all her insecurities beating up on her and telling her that she wasn’t good enough to do anything else. How could she? She didn’t even have a college degree, which was just one more thing to make sure she felt less important and capable than everyone around her. So she settled into her corporate job trying to believe that the money was enough, because she also still firmly believed that she wasn’t good enough to do better with her life.

And then everything changed…

Kelli was invited to attend a week long camp for foster children ages 7-11. This was a very intense camp. Many of these children have severe emotional and relational problems due to their volatile backgrounds. So spending a week with them trying to love them while they are doing their best to put up their walls so they don’t get rejected again, really challenged Kelli and resulted in her doing quite a bit of soul searching. For many of these kids, this week of camp is the most stable thing in their lives. They can move from home to home throughout the year with new foster parents, new schools, and new everything and then they get to go to camp where they see many of the same kids and adults from last year. Even having the same rules, expectations, etc. is very comforting. So the importance of this camp on these kids cannot be understated, and of course Kelli was feeling the pressure to make it perfect for them.

But this time she was feeling a lot more than the pressure to be perfect…

She fell in love with these kids and responded very well to their plight in life. It was barely 2 weeks after returning from camp that Kelli decided to quite her job, give up her apartment (essentially becoming homeless– no kidding) for the sake of dedicating ALL her time and energy to finding more ways to help foster kids.

And that was just the beginning.

Everything you’ve just read is the intro to the actual interview I did with Kelli.

See the real interview here which goes deeper into her story and why I’ve chosen to feature her here. Kelli has decided to be super honest and real about her insecurities, challenges, etc.- more so than she is comfortable with actually- all in the hopes that it will benefit those who read it. So make sure you check it out to help make her vulnerability really worth it and to allow her story to encourage you on your own path to extraordinary living (as I know it will).  See you in part 2!

To see more stories like this along with other things related to extraordinary living, like Rare Existence on Facebook!