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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facing her fears in the ball pit at The Coop.

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

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

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

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

Our New Home… On Wheels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vote to keep Rare Existence alive

So for all the rambling I do about community and how we’re all here to support one another, blah, blah, blah, I’m going to set an example by asking for some major help from you.

Honestly, I feel ready to quit writing Rare Existence.
Rare Existence makes me feel like a failure. There. I’ve said it. I had pretty high expectations going into this that are not being met. I believed if I built it (with truly quality content), they would come. I thought it would just spread because that’s what stuff does when it’s good. When you see something awesome, you share it to increase your own awesomeness ratings in the eyes of your Facebook friends, right? So either I’m just plain wrong to expect this, or my content isn’t good enough to give people a bump on the awesomeness scale. Either way, I feel like a failure.

This is very, very bad for me since part of my own plans for an extraordinary life involve the growth of Rare Existence. This makes me feel like a failure at my extraordinary life, which in turn makes me not what to write about it anymore, especially on the blog that reminds me of what a failure I am in the first place!

I know the logical thing to do would be to examine my marketing or other issues that could be the real problem before giving up. But of course feeling like a failure is bringing my insecurities to an all time high at the moment so all I’m hearing is “Why bother working on your marketing? You don’t need MORE people to see how bad you are at this”. At the point I’m at, I’m really starting to question whether that is the truth.

 

So the thing is, I could really use your help right now.
I feel pathetic, desperate, and embarrassed to be asking you for this, but I can’t get it out of my head how much I tell everyone here to be vulnerable with one another- especially when things are going badly, so I feel I must do the same.

What I need from you is your vocal support. If you read and love Rare Existence, I just need you to say “aye” to cast your vote to keep it afloat. Leave a comment here, send me a note… just SOMETHING to show me that you exist on planet earth and that you want to keep reading Rare Existence.

I feel like if I know the problem is not my ability to write things people like to read, but rather my ability to market, then I will have just the amount of hope I need to push through and fix the problem.

 

If you have constructive criticism:
… about how you think I could grow Rare Existence, get more feedback from readers, etc. I’ll take it. But please remember that I’m fragile right now so be gentle OK? I typically publish all my suggestion comments, but since I’m not feeling super brave at the moment, don’t be offended if I choose to process your suggestions on my own rather than share them with the world while I’m figuring all this out.

 

To connect with me:
… you can email me at Breanna(at)rareexistence.com, or you can comment here. Thanks for your readership, your support, and your patience while I’m all weepy and weak. Forgive me if I don’t do my usual once a week posting for a little while, I might need some time. Thanks for the grace.

 

Much Love,
Breanna

What I wanted to be when I grew up.

What I wanted to be when I grew up…

Age 4: A Mermaid. “Amy Grant-Ariel- Mermaid” to be exact. Yes, you heard that right. My cousin and I had an Amy Grant fan club too – so embarrassing.  I think we only had one fan club meeting and we ate brownies. The rest of the time I mostly just swam with my feet locked together  like a fin and spent my time trying to convince my cousin that I was the REAL Amy Grant- Ariel- Mermaid and she was just my twin. She bought it- sorry Bethany.

Age 6: A better version of April O’Neil. I wanted to hang out with the Ninja Turtles like April, only I’d be better because I could fly. I day dreamed of flying around in the sky in my black skorts and hi-top sneakers, while singing, high above my school playground at recess where all the kids could see and wish they were as cool as me. At that exact moment, my good buddy Michelangelo would kick spin onto the playground and hand out free pizza to everyone before fighting off the bad guys that arrived to get free pizza. I was the coolest kid in the world… in my 6 year old mind.

Age 8: A pet groomer. As you can see, I was growing up and my dreams were a little more realistic. More so than my little brother Paul’s, who’s ultimate career dreams were to be either an elevator operator or a car valet, only he wouldn’t make people pay because he’d just do them to be nice. I was way more practical than that. Until that is, my mom told me that I’d spend my days picking poop off poodles butts and I yelled at her “you ALWAYS crush my dreams!!!” before running to my room crying, where I decided I didn’t really want to do that anyways.

Age 10: Sea World trainer. Free Willy made a pretty big impact on me. Even after I saw the movie “Orca” where killer whales are actually killing, I was still on board. I thought I could change them. This dream never faded, I still want to do it. So all of you “The Cove” lovers out there, just accept it- I’m a bad person.

Age 11-15: A famous singer. I WILL be discovered while singing in my car one day. You’ll see.

Age 16: A social worker for foster kids. Until that is I was sobbing so incredibly hard (and loud) through the entire first half of the movie, The Sixth Sense, that my boyfriend at the time had to drag my out of the theater wailing. Yep, The Sixth Sense, a completely not at all sad movie, during which I couldn’t stop being sad because that poor little boy was scared all the time! I remember collecting my composure outside the theater when my boyfriend said, “um, maybe you shouldn’t be a social worker, you MIGHT not be able to handle it”.

Age 19: Film Soundtrack Producer: This was my answer to the question, “if you could have any job in the world…” This dream still lived on in my heart until I moved to LA and saw how sucky some of the jobs in the film industry really are. Especially if I end up having to spend my days picking out music for the Wiggles or something like that. Call me disillusioned.

Age 20: No idea. I loved when we’d go around my Family and Human Development classes at ASU and ask what everyone wanted to do when they graduated and all you’d get was, “I don’t know”, ” I don’t know”, “I don’t know”. I thought that was probably a bad sign.

Age 23: Still no idea. I was getting my Masters of Arts in Professional Counseling, but I knew I didn’t want to be a typical counselor sitting in an office. Go figure.

Age 25: A photographer. I’d tried my hand at real world jobs and then went, wait this sucks. I want a pretend job like my husband (who was a photographer)!

Age 27: A writer. Thus Rare Existence was born.

Age 29 (now): It’s complicated. What I want to do with my life has less to do with what it is that I do specifically and more to do with how it supports the rest of my life.
Not necessarily money wise (but duh, that’s important), but more values wise. I’ve been investing my time into figuring out what is important to me in the rest of my life so that when I find a job that supports that well, I’ll know it!  I’ve also been investing energy into some personal growth issues that I feel will better open me up to being the person I need to be in order to do the things I need and want to do in life.

After investing my time into working through those sorts of issues, I now know I want a job that I enjoy well enough that will allow me to have the flexibility I need to make whatever decision I deem is best for my family.
Freedom (time, financial, geographical, etc, etc) is key. If my husband and I decide to take a year to sail around the world with our family to teach our kids that way, right on- we want to be able to do it. If the public school system turns into a brainwashing, 1984-esque military camp and homeschooling is the only way around that, right on- we want to have the ability to do that! I know I can’t control everything, but the goal I want to work towards is to do my best to never be in a position where I don’t have the freedom to choose what I know is right for my family. P.S. having “freedom for my family” means my husband has to have freedom as well so becoming a Real Housewife of Orange County is sadly out of the question for me.

So now I’m getting to the point where I’m ready to start investing into the actual logistics of this mystical career that will provide me and my family with the values I’m craving for us.
Right now it looks like photography will always be a part of that, but I feel like there will probably be more to it in the end because I know I have the desire in me to do more than just give people with lasting memories through photos (not that it’s not important, I just want to use my talents in other ways as well). I want to help people learn. I prefer to help them learn through artistic and beautiful means, like how a fantastic movie, book, or song can make you think in ways that causes you to change your life. How that will play out exactly is still unknown. Will I do all those things for money? Not necessarily, maybe I’ll find a job that provides enough through working a little so that I can do the rest of these things just because I enjoy it (taking notes off my brother who now is an elevator operator and car valet for free). I don’t believe a career necessarily has to be what dictates how I spend my time. In fact I prefer that it doesn’t because as soon as something becomes a “have to” for me, I tend to resent it immediately!

Basically there are two options for me, and both include providing a life of freedom for my family.
One, I just find an incredibly flexible job(s) that provides freedom for my family, that I also really love and feel like I’m “meant to do”. Two, I could just find a job(s) that I enjoy somewhat that provides the most amount of money for the least amount of work so that I’m free to spend the rest of my time doing what I need to with my family and whatever else it is that I’m “meant to do”.  Asking for too much? We’ll see. The benefits to this would be so great that I’m willing to try it before giving up on it! By the way, I know that drug dealing sounds like the best solution to this, but that is definitely off the table for me. Stripping? Off the table. Any sort of illegal activity that could result in either stabbings, sex for money, or a warrant for my arrest… off the table. If I have to carry a concealed weapon on me at all times in order to perform my job… so far off the table, I can’t even see the table anymore. Writing is definitely still on the table. Teaching, speaking, life coaching, etc., etc. are all on the table for discussion. It’s just one step at a time and exploring different aspects until I find my fit!  But as long as whatever it is includes a life of freedom for me and my family, then I’m in!

Your turn! What did you want to be when you grew up and what are you looking forward to doing with your life in the future?

 

Remember Why It’s Worth It

In case you haven’t decided if you’re ready to make the necessary sacrifices for your extraordinary life, or if things have been getting a rough lately and you just need a little encouragement to remember why you’re doing it, let me tell you a little about what has changed in my life since I began pursuing a Rare Existence. You need to know that the concept of extraordinary living is not just a pipe dream, but that it is an actual reality for many, and it can be for you too!

You can work from anywhere.
In fact, I am currently sitting on vacation in a cute little workspace at a stunning log cabin in the forest of Northern Arizona, listening to the beautiful rain.

You can work whenever you want.
Hence, it being the middle of a weekday afternoon and I’m enjoying my time writing, not working at my main job.

You can have a job you love.
I get to be creative and work with people on the happiest day of their lives.

You can have the ability to move wherever you want.
I have always wanted to live in Los Angeles and now I do live in Los Angeles.

You can have a beautiful marriage.
I now get to really live the majority of my life with my husband. We share in the same excitements, hopes, dreams, etc. that come from having many common goals in our work together.

You can be a stay at home parent.
When we have kids, I now have the ability to not only be a stay at home mom but to have my husband stay home with us as well… stay at home parents raising a family together!

You can live debt free.
We have no obligations, fears of bankruptcy, foreclosure, bills we can never pay.  With this comes much freedom and peace.

You can take 1 month, 2 month, or even 3 month vacations.
In this past year we went to Hawaii for 3 weeks, Mexico for 3 weeks, and Venice, California for 3 months (before we made the decision to live there).

You can live your life in a way that prioritizes relationships over all else.
When people call to hang out, we have the choice to go whether it’s late at night or right smack in the middle of the day. And we live in the kind of community where that happens almost daily!

You can live a life that matches up to your values.
We now have the choice where we what to put the majority of our time, energy, and effort.  We now just have to focus on continuing to choose well!

You can do something meaningful with your life.
We have big dreams, and we are doing everything we can to make decisions that will set us up to accomplish those!

 

I’m not kidding. This is our life.  Seriously, write out your dreams and start taking those crazy, scary steps towards accomplishing them (revisit the discipline of dreaming post)! We had to do it… we had to take the risks and walk on some shaky ground, and we continue to push through challenges as a result of our choices, but the end result is so SO worth it! Do it. Start dreaming and doing now. I’ll see you soon on the road towards extraordinary living!

 

My Internal Guts are an Ooey Gooey Mess.

I’ve done it. I have an extraordinary life. At least that’s what my stats reflect….

Married 7 years. No children. Living on the beach in Southern CA. Photographer. Writer. Fraternize with Hollywood types (C list celebs count). Owner of a successful business. Work with my husband. Debt free (both our business and personal). Free trips to exotic locations for work… with my husband. Living like the rich despite being less than rich (see previous point). I now walk or ride our bike to more locations than we drive to. My friends are the shit. I’m a regular participant in cultured sort of activities (i.e. Broadway shows, museums, concerts, etc). I’m a regular participant in not-so cultured activities (i.e. pub crawls, turtle races, and street performance volunteering). I take 3 week vacations… back to back sometimes. I wait 6 month to go get my roots touched up, call it ombre, and pull it off only because I’m from Southern California.

I mean I get it, I have a lot and my life is pretty much the bees knees.

So why am I not completely satisfied by my circumstances?
I’ve done the work, made the sacrifices, and taken the risks to put me in a place that is set up perfectly for extraordinary living. I’ve been working on setting up my external circumstances for years, so what’s left to adjust so I can really appreciate these circumstances I’ve worked so hard to bring about? Oh yeah… ME!!!!

It’s time to work on my INTERNAL aspects of extraordinary living.
You can adjust your outward situation all you want, but if you never look inward, then you will feel the exact same about life regardless of if you are living in a multi-million dollar mansion with a butler to bring in your gold encrusted chihuahua, or if you live in a grass hut and wipe your kid’s poo off his butt with your hand that you will later clean only with a dry stick (that’s a real thing- watch the movie “Babies”).

No matter how extraordinary my situation is, if my PERSPECTIVE and HEART aren’t extraordinary, my situation is irrelevant.
It’s been through my internal heart work that I’ve found I’m extremely lacking on the perspective issue. I’ve found that no matter what has changed in my life, my perspective has stayed the same. My perspective on life is so ordinary that it’s keeping me from enjoying the extraordinary!

The following is now an official part of my plan for internal extraordinary living.

  1. Be a student and follower in the art of gratefulness.
  2. Accept the belief that I am in control of my stress level… it is a choice (view my stress as an internal issue, not an external one).
  3. Accept the belief that I am control of my happiness level.. it is a choice (view my happiness as an internal issue, not an external one).
  4. Let myself rest and enjoy the fruits of my labor (this is official doctor advice by the way, due to my low function adrenal problem that I’ve created through my stress).
  5. Continue to look inward to see what other changes need to take place within me so that I can spread that healing and growth outside of me.

I’ve been pushing, pushing, pushing to get further and further ahead in my extraordinary life and I’ve let that suck a lot of the me out of me. So now it’s time for me to heal. To rebuild. To grow. To reflect. To rest. And to change my perspective. So that the beauty of my external extraordinary life can be rivaled only by the beauty of my internal extraordinary life. So that I can truly be free to appreciate the blessings I have surrounding me and truly be able to extend those blessings to others. Let this new season of extraordinary internal growth begin!

 

Is Los Angeles the place where my dreams will come true or where my children will get stabbed?

Lately I’ve been finding myself in all sorts of mental conflicts.

Work or sleep? Re-read “Hunger Games” or jump right into “Intro to Being a Better Human Being and Fixing Everything in Your Life Through Painstaking Work and Exhausting Effort”? Go out and make new friends or decide to sit at home feeling fat instead?

You see, life is a pickle! Decisions, decisions, decisions!

I think I have decision-block.

I’ve had writer’s block lately and I think that it has to do with the fact that the very thing I write about is the very thing I’m blocked about. I’m re-thinking my decisions, which for me means questioning whether I’d rather spend my days relaxing on the porch with an extra large glass of sweet tea and my 3 legged old dog while we watch the fireflies land and count our days by how high the tulips grow in the front yard? Or by laying on my horn in traffic as I rush late to my next meeting, while trying to cram a meatless, gluten free, double fiber stick of something or other down my throat and yelling into my speaker phone about the ice cream cake I’m picking up for that thing tonight, while trying to learn Mandarin on my iPod and squeezing my glutes for added toning at the same time. (Think Michelle Pfeiffer’s lawyer character in “I Am Sam” who survives on handfuls of jellybeans and non-fat lattes).

Why is the answer to that question even a question? Oh right, because I’ve actually chosen the awful sounding second one.

Yes, I have moved to Los Angeles, California. It’s the land of concrete and smog where the green grass only grows up between the sidewalk cracks and where when you hear someone say the word crack you think about either Charlie Sheen’s tiger blood or Brittany Spears’ coin slot before you think about the sidewalk.

Here I must compete, always. I must make more money to stay afloat, always. I must know how to enter a restaurant with no visible sign or apparent, always. I must hurry, always. I must know all about Ryan Murphy, Ryan Gosling, and all the future famous Ryans who aren’t even born yet, always. I must look good, but try not to look like I’m trying to look good, always. I must know not only what they are, but also 10 different ways to prepare and ingest kombucha, kale, or kimchi, always. I must avoid walking alone at night, always. I must carry quarters on me for parking, laundry, and bums, always. I must work out 3 hours a day, 10 days a week (yes, 10), always. And people will continue to ask me what I was thinking when I decided to move here, always.

But I know why I moved here.

I moved here for the ocean, the community, the culture,The Chelsea Lately Show, the art, the potential, the bike rides, the entertainment, the celebrity neighbors, the abundance of french bulldogs, the old Hollywood history, the diversity, the great weather, the walkability ratings, the chance to see my front yard on my favorite TV show, the inspiration, the excitement, the creative collaborations, and- let’s just admit it- the white truffle aioli sauce with candied bacon, creamy burrrata, and lemon zest had a little something to do with it as well.

I know why I’m here right now, but the new question I’m asking myself is- do I want to be here forever?

Do I know that I want to raise my kids here? Do I know how I will juggle my freeway captivity and Botex injections with my kids’ Pilates and french cooking classes? Maybe having my kids skateboard to school while I Feng Shui up the house isn’t the lifestyle I want for my family. Maybe I’d rather have my kids walk home from school with their friends while I await them with a plate of fresh baked cookies and a Bible story to tell them that I heard in my knitting club. Having time to play, garden, relax, sleep, talk, and go number two isn’t such a bad thing is it? Maybe moving to small town USA where I’d just go to a regular old job and my kids would come home from school to a regular old mom in mom jeans, and going to regular old church potlucks on Sundays and listening to old Uncle Joe tell that same story about the cat with angina for the hundredth time isn’t such a bad thing? Why do I feel the need to fight it and do the opposite?

I found out why when I was visiting my dad’s small, mid-western hometown.

As I watched people have time to enjoy life and found myself longing for some of the small pleasures of the simple life that they had (mostly the lard), I met a young girl who had a different kind of spark in her thick black eyelinered eyes. Even though she didn’t say it out loud, everything about her and about the things she DID say out loud, just screamed to me that she was going to leave this place one day, this place with 4 generations of her family all living within 5 miles from each other. It’s not that she hated it, it’s not that it was bad. It just wasn’t HER and it wasn’t what she was meant for. And I saw myself in her in more ways that I could count.

It was at that moment that I realized, this thing about destiny is so much bigger than my own finicky desires.

It doesn’t matter where I want to live or what I want to do because I know that what I want more than anything is to do what I’m meant to do with my life and I’ll live wherever I need to in order to accomplish that. So even though a small town sounds kinds of nice right about now, it’s just not where I’m meant to be… just like I can tell that young girl is meant to leave one day. Maybe I’m meant to end up in the middle of a corn field one day… but for now I KNOW I am right where I need to be. Right in the middle of the action, the opportunity, the thrill, and the challenges that come with LA.

I don’t know if my kids will be the ones with thick black eyelinered eyes who are meant for LA…

…or the ones with an affinity for growing crops and wearing Carhart overalls who are meant for a small potato farming community in Idaho (or in Ireland if I’m lucky, because then I can visit them in Ireland instead of Idaho). It all goes back to extraordinary living and how by definition of it, we all have different sorts of lives we are meant to live. I don’t know if LA will be best for my family. Some of you just choked on your corn chip when heard that I’d even consider that LA might be best for my family! I DO think there actually are benefits to raising your kids in the big city- like how they can always find a hotdog stand when they are hungry! Of course I know there are many downsides as well- like how they can’t sit on benches because the homeless people pee on them. I kind of like the drive and desires that a fast pace competitive city can put in you… those are the kinds of things that can lead a child to grow up and change the world. I also like the down time and support system that a slow paced small town can provide you with… those are the kinds of things that will allow a child to grow up investing into things that are extremely meaningful like relationships and helping other people.

There are pluses and minuses to both sides.

You just have to decide which you believe is best for you, your child, your family, your partner, your dentist, your therapist, your dog walker, and all the other people who stand to be affected by your decision. And even if you make yourself crazy trying to decide (as I do every night at 1am when I go frantically re-reading and continually re-commenting with my non-nonsensical night time thoughts on Teresa Strasser’s blog post related to this), you’re still pretty likely to be wrong in the end anyways! So my final say on the matter is that I am where I need to be now in order to live my extraordinary life, but when I have kids, I will re-consider, weigh my options wisely, and then make a decision that I will stick to- until my husband tells me I’m wrong, or until my kid ends up in college or prison, at which point I will find out whether or not I made the right choice.

Slowing the pace to enjoy the race

I recently realized that our values went awry somewhere along the way.
We moved to a little place a block away from the beach in the most fun, entertaining neighborhood that I’ve ever known. We then proceeded to unpack. Work. Unpack. Think about going to the beach. Unpack. Work. Think about inviting new friends over for dinner. Work. Work. Long to go swimming in the ocean. Work…. you get the picture.  We moved here for the lifestyle. Yet we are too busy trying to pay for the lifestyle to be able to enjoy it!

The solution (aside from becoming independently wealthy through passive income in the next month)…
… is to work on the discipline of rest. Like a sabbath. That’s right. A good old fashioned, Biblical sabbath. Everyone’s definition (i.e. life and death dogma) about this issue is different so let me explain what it means for my husband and I.  It means no appointments, no to- do list, and above all, no guilt for that. It’s a day of rest. Basically we will refuse to feel guilty for being unproductive and we will enjoy the gift of life.

“But I can’t take a day off, I’m too busy!”
And you will never not be too busy so you need to stop waiting for “someday” when you finally have time to rest and enjoy life and you need to start living NOW. We have a tendency to believe that productivity is next to godliness and we all too often ask  “can I fit this into my schedule?”, when really we need to be asking “SHOULD I fit this into my schedule?”. These are the things we’re taught and we live by, even if we hate it. And now this is what bosses, spouses, friends and any other person you come into contact with expects of you. You must reply to my text or email NOW, you must squeeze me in this week, you must work late… and the guilt piles on as we get further behind and feel even more pressure to perform.  It’s time to give up and realize that you will never get it all done no matter how hard you try and the “someday” where you have limitless amounts of time might not come until the last 5 years of your life (if ever) which means you will already have missed most of it! Taking stress pills, sleep meds, caffeine inhalers, while continuing to have chest pains, ulcers, and emotional breakdowns anyways is not a way to live. It’s not worth it. A day off every week is EXACTLY what we need! No matter how hard it is to come by! It’s amazing how prioritizing time for rest can rejuvenate you for the rest of the week to be even more productive. And it’s even more amazing to realize that you still get just as much done (or not done) as you did before you started taking a day of rest. Don’t waste your life just trying to make it through the stress while ignoring all the joys around you.

“But I can’t take a day off, I get too bored!”
Of course you’ll be bored, you’re going to sit down for a full minute straight! It’s sooo different from your day to day life! That’s not a reason to not take a day off, in fact it’s the very reason you need a day off… you’re incredibly unhealthy! Even if you are just a high energy person, you still need to take time off to do nothing. I read somewhere that it takes a full 5 days of doing nothing before you relax and adjust to the pace (so screw 7 day vacations by the way, unless you plan on it being one of those fun, action packed ones that leave you more exhausted than revitalized when you’re done).

“But… oh wait, I’m out of excuses”.
Right, so give it a shot. One full day off a week. Or even one day off every other week if you have to work your way up with this!  A day of rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation. It could be spending time with others or by yourself (I know you can come up with a solution about what to do with the kids when a particular sabbath requires much needed alone time).  It’s one day with no performing, impressing, or pleasing on this day (doesn’t that sound AMAZING?!). No to- do lists, chores, or working on things you’ve been putting off.  It’s a day to sit back and be grateful while enjoying the fruits of your 6 day a week labor.

Start keeping a list of what you’re looking forward to doing (or NOT doing) on your next sabbath. That way when you have a few seconds to spare, you don’t panic because you don’t know what to do with them (you’ll get better at not panicking once you’ve had practice with this discipline of rest by the way). So when you find yourself hitting snooze on your alarm clock more than once, write down “sleep in” as what you’re going to do on your sabbath this week.

Here’s what I did on the first full day off I’d had in over a month and a half…

  • Read for 2 hours in the morning (not productive reading, just an Elizabeth Taylor biography that had more pictures than words- real brain food you know).
  • Went to Starbucks and got a tasty drink with REAL sugar in it!
  • Went to the beach with my husband (FINALLY took time to enjoy our surroundings!!).
  • Started cleaning out our side yard that I’ve been dying to fix up and make usable. Yes this was productive, but it wasn’t something I’ve been procrastinating on, it’s something I’ve been dying to have time to do and it was very relaxing!
  • Watched a movie (Grand Canyon from the 80’s. Really intense and interesting/weird movie!)  I have been DREAMING of watching a movie and I just haven’t had time!
  • Went to bed early. No working until 2 am on this day!

It was such a GREAT day and I couldn’t believe how positive I felt about my life for the rest of the week! Life felt enjoyable and I still somehow found the time to get the same amount of work done that week…. maybe because I was rested and ready to go for the next 6 days of work.