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