THE END, Los Angeles: Uprooted and Unplugged At Last.

My eyes are barely open, my fingers nearly unable to press the weight of the keys. It's a little after 1 a.m. the day of departure and we are now going to try and catch some rest before our long journey north--toting 1 toddler, 2 cats and 1 pregnant belly--early tomorrow morning.

I had so many things to say today, so many laments about leaving sunshiny California--especially on a day where the sun set in brushes of vibrant color over the park we found ourselves playing at with Noah in T-shirts and flip flops. I have found that this day has passed with lightening speed and has left little time for writing reflection despite the occasional tears.

I won't be back up and blogging (or doing anything on a computer, for that matter) until our car arrives at our new home as our desktop computer is going to be shipped in the trunk of our car--we are opposed for both philosophical and health reasons to laptops--which is departing L.A. a day after us.

For now, I am off to a short albeit sweet slumber land session and will hopefully connect again on the great world wide web in six-ish days or so. We will have cell service, however, and our California cell numbers will remain active until we establish new service in London in a few weeks.

In the meantime, wish us luck during our first week at a very empty house in our new very snowy, frigid and foreign new home.

Good bye, Los Angeles. You and everyone that we know and love who lives under your sun will be ever so sorely missed. Good bye, and thank you for an unforgettable decade.


Gearing Up And Ready To (For) Go (Snow)!

The day of departure is closing in upon us like a vice, a noose, a looming dooming day for mayhem and mania. "Hmmm...sounding a wee bit gloomy about this move," you're thinking? Well, perhaps I am. But it seems as if we have been planning for this great diaspora for a really long time.

In real people time, I guess it's only been a few months and strategizing an international move for a family in a few months would seem not only normal protocol, but even necessary for such a grand feat. So it is perhaps because of our living situation that these last few months have seemed so achingly long and d r a w n out--because in Surette-Nelson time it has felt like ages. Ages since we decided to move. Ages since we applied for the Visa. Ages since we found our cozy little soon-to-be new home. Ages since we began the process for shipping our stuff, our car, our cats and us. Ages, just ages, since all of this first began.

So, today with only T minus 5 days until departure, I am feeling overwhelmed by all of the both little and big things that still need to get done before our Delta flight leaves the dusty earth that is Southern California this Sunday. While at the same time I am overcome with feelings of giddiness and euphoria at our departure's mere closness in proximity as it has never been so far within reach.

The strife, concern and bitter distaste that I have for the current discrepancy in weather conditions between our now and future homestead--currently 21 degrees and snowing in London, Ontario versus a sunny 74 degrees here in Los Angeles--will have to be the whines and complaints of another post. The fact that the freight company is meeting us in Malibu at the crack of dawn tomorrow to pick up our stuff from storage that we still need to box is all I can handle at the current moment.

And, in the meantime, Noah Finn and I will continue to pass the time in between the time we are out flying around town in erranding-madness to try on and model our new snugly family of snow boots.


Up In The Air.

I have always been inpatient, antsy, unsettled even, anytime the status of major life events are up in the air. So, the idea that a major move is lurking somewhere out there in our immediate, and then not so immediate, future is nearly driving me insane.

It seems that our move status changes by the minute while our time spent waiting in between these changes drags on at a snail's pace. A major contradiction, I know, but so goes it in limbo land.

The draft for a post that I had written yesterday had to be scrapped as we received visa approval this morning--which changes so much while at the same time so very little. Now that we have the visa, our car can be picked up in Los Angeles and shipped. Our stuff, once it reaches Canada, can be claimed and continue it's voyage to our home in London. What it doesn't change is perhaps the most important part--when we can finally head to our new home. While our car will only take six days to ship, despite options of extra fees and 48 hour pick ups, the things that will eventually fill our new home will not ship out of Los Angeles until next week with an estimated arrival date of 14-21 days. This means that our arrival to our home anytime around when we were planning to arrive. . . um . . . this weekend!? . . . would be to a very, very empty house surrounded by plumes of newly fallen snow. Throw into the equation one pregnant Mama, a tireless toddler, two terrified cats, a tired Papa and no pots, toys, towels, beds or blankets, and you have a real d-i-s-a-s-t-e-r.

This time I can't blame Beck for finagling Dean into staying a bit longer to finish projects at work, nope, this is due to circumstances beyond our control--beyond the reach of a balking and cross pregnant wife.

So, what to do? We've mulled around many an idea but for one reason or another have determined that the most feasible of those means we hold out in the City of Angels yet another week. The 12th is our new date of departure. We can only hope that the kindness of the friends we are staying. . . and waiting with . . . doesn't run out.

I just somehow can't help but think that all of this (the expense, the hassle, the mental toll) would be worth it if we were moving to say . . . Spain, France, Tibet, Estonia . . . but, Canada, really? And, two hours or so north of the U.S. border no less. That really stings this mama's gaping international moving wound.

Illustration credit: Phil Wrigglesworth.


All In A Good Day's Play: The Disneyland Edition.

We visited Disneyland last Thursday with the mamas and babies from our Pasadena commune. One of the mamas used to work for Disney in her pre-baby days and scored us free tickets. I quickly jumped aboard the Disney train thinking it could be the last time for a long time that we visit the land of magic.

We conquered only a few rides--"It's A Small Word", "Dumbo's Flight", "Peter Pan's Adventure" and the carousel, of course. We stayed until close to experience the Christmas decorations, fireworks and snowfall in true twinkling-eyed style. By the time all was said and done, we had snacked, we had gazed, we had oohed and awed, we had met characters with huge hugs and the days end with dreary, weary eyes.

I unfortunately didn't get many great shots because we only had a wee hour or so of daylight left in Mr. Sunshine before he settled down for the night. And one hour or so at Disneyland with three toddlers and huge crowds, doesn't leave much time or available hands for photography.


API Article: "Numero Dos: Sharing The Love"

Another one of my articles appears today on API Speaks, the Attachment Parenting International blog. The title is "Numero Dos: Sharing The Love" and you can find it on API Speaks here and on my blog here.



Malibu, I'm Going To Miss You Old Buddy, Old Pal.

So it may come as no surprise to most that we are going to miss living in Malibu--sorely, deeply, longingly, miss it. Just finding these "lost" pictures this evening taken from just before that doomed summer vacation makes my heart pang with loss, with mourning, with sadness, for what will be missed.

What will be thought of most often is probably not what you are imagining though. Malibu is a truly special place. But as I have mentioned here before, envisioning it's sand-crusted shores as a beach-side Beverly Hills is way off mark. Yes, there is a small smattering of fake boob, bikini-clad, baked and gold-bangled blondes about here and there. But, in reality, that's not the real Malibu at all.

Located in Los Angeles at the very northern tip of it's county line is an oasis from the smoggy city innards. It's rural, natural and rugged. Dusty ranches perch upon largely undeveloped hillsides. Coyotes, vultures and bobcats comb the brush for easy eating. Cowboys ride their horses down the winding scenic highways to the local country mart--as there are only three grocery stores in town and only two of those are chains. Most locals are salty, have beach-locked strands and tarballs on the bottoms of their feet. The mornings and evenings are always, always cold and dense with fog rolling in off of the Pacific as thick as pea soup. The water is never ever tolerable for entrance without a wetsuit--even during the dead of summer. Dolphin and sea lion spottings are frequent as are starfish and lively colored sea urchin. Dark colored rock formations scatter the beaches creating no shortage of caves and coves for exploring. Shark spottings are occasional and rattlesnake, scorpion, sea rat and tarantula visits come with the turf.

This is Malibu, my friends. And I am going to miss the hell out of it.

Now those of you who are regular readers of Mama Milieu may be rolling your eyes at my sudden change of heart--"forget the pain and remember the pretty, eh?" you are mumbling to yourselves. It's true that we had our fair share of struggles and strife on Milagro Ranch. Malibu and its raw roughness wasn't always batting for our team. I have not forgotten the sleepless and fully-lit nights on 10-inch centipede watch, or the mouse in the house, or the two rattlesnakes on the patio, or the tarantula in the living room, or the scorpion in the sliding glass door. I have not forgotten about the dust and the hard, hard work and the outdoor laundry facilities. I have not forgotten about any of it.

But, I will miss the coos of owls and wild quail and the scampering of cotton-tailed bunnies munching alfalfa down at the horses' haybarn. I will miss the silence and breezes and front row view of the milky-way and all of its sisters and brothers and cousins. I will miss the carsickness brought on by the 5 miles of hairpins and switchbacks to and from the rocky coast. I will miss the breathtaking canyon views in the foggy mornings, the sunlit afternoons and fiery glow at sunset. I will miss the sparkle in Noah's eyes as he experiences the beauty of nature like all of us dream we could again--like a child--for the very first time. I will miss the stillness that results from no neighbors, not even one, for miles and miles. I will miss all of this and I just can't leave without saying so.

* * *
To read all about our adventures in Malibu and at Milagro Ranch, follow this link.

And, for our life in Malibu in pictures, click here.


Numero Dos: Sharing The Love.

As the date of the big move approaches and we shuffle from one generous friend's abode to another, this pregnancy, the little growing one all snug in my tummy, often seems to take a back seat (not in the back of our Volkswagen, but in the back of a very long bus)--which makes me a little sad. Aside from the slowly, and finally, dissipating constant nausea and fatigue, my little tummy buddy hasn't gotten much air time in any sense of the word over these last 13 weeks.

I can remember the last time I shared my body. It was a little over two years ago. From the day that joyous pink line appeared across the plastic pee stick, little Noah Finn was all that I could think about despite the fact that I was working everyday. I woke up and thought pregnancy, I peed (a lot) and thought pregnancy, I taught and thought pregnancy, I ate (a lot) and thought pregnancy, I slept (very little) and dreamed pregnancy. My growing abdomen was always on my mind.

This time is definitely different. Running after a bouncing, bounding, boisterous toddler while volleying between temporary living situations has certainly captivated the time that I don't spend eating and sleeping. The fact of the matter is that constant urges to snack and slumber aside, I often forget that I'm pregnant.

What does all of this mean? Is it normal? I am betting so. But it certainly does recall those initial pangs of subtle trepidation I first experienced when pregnancy test number two revealed yet again that solid pink line: sharing the love. How does a mama who has experienced everything about mommying--pregnancy, birth, mothering--with one child not feel guilt about sharing such sacredness with another? It feels almost like cheating on the first.

Melodramatic? Perhaps. But, these are real anxieties, that while slowly fading as the months tick away, remain present nonetheless.

So, how does a mommy share the love--that smothering, doting, gooey love that's gushed all over the first with the second and subsequent bundles of joy? Will my little Noah feel shortchanged and left out the decision making process--after all, he had no vote here!? Will he harbor feelings of abandonment and isolation, regress and insist on learning the alphabet Z thru A?

Think I'm being melodramatic, again? Perhaps. But these are tangible fears that I sometimes think about. That is, when I remember I'm pregnant anyway.


London, Ontario, Here We Come.

Downtown London, Ontario in the fall.

It doesn't have the fancy metropolitan flare of say, moving to London, U.K.--where we were seriously considering taking up residence before Noah Finn was born. My how things change when children come into the picture. Don't get me wrong--we'll always be city slickers--and perhaps even move back to Los Angeles after our great northern adventure peters out, if it does--but there has come a time, now, when we're yearning for a little slower pace and this job offer couldn't have come at a more useful time.

Everything that has occurred since Dean and I moved out to California in 2001, has seemed to happen serendipitously: Dean's initial job offer at a little studio in Burbank, my ditching the Peace Core to join him, our subsequent three homes (with the exception of our most recent Malibu madness), the timing of our wedding, the pregnancy and birth of Noah Finn, the new pregnancy, this new job offer and, now, the move to London. We feel lucky, fortunate even, to have had such a rosy decade here in the City of Angels. It feels strange, unfaithful even, to be considering any other place to call home. Lest we venture on to our next stop in a little less than month. I hope it treats us as well.


Falling Into Fall.

It feels like we're falling a bit around here--from place to place, from friends to friends, with no home, from summer to fall. Our time spent with Caro and family in Pasadena has been wonderfully refreshing and at times overwhelmingly exhausting in the best of ways. It's not just us here in this Bungalow Heaven abode. Another family and mutual friends who also have a toddler and tons of transition are passing through too--they are transitioning back into L.A. from a stint spent in Oregon and we are transitioning out of L.A. to a cold a wintry Canadian wonderland after 10 toasty years spent pacific-side.

Five adults (one of the Papas is filming in Detriot for several weeks) and three toddlers makes for lots of crazy action--tears and tantrums, spills and screams, running and hopping and colliding and chaos--most of the time--from 6:30 a.m. until around 8:00ish at night. But it's lovely to be among friends and mamas and babies and love, lots of love. While one of the Papas cooks incredibly delectable and wholesome meals, we otherwise eat together, clean together and run after the wild wildebeests together. I've always yearned for the communal camaraderie of group living and it's more fun than I ever had imagined.

As for how we have been passing our time here, well, October passed like a spook in the night. We pumpkin patched and pumpkin carved, we tricked and we treated; we fell into fall. And, geesh, now it's November. With less than a month or so to go before the big move, my belly is progressing into the second trimester much quicker than I'd like it to. It is already time to go shopping for the ever beloved maternity pants. But wherever will I find a snowsuit in my size?


Sea Change.

A sea change indeed, my faithful friends and followers. The absence has been long and hard and rocky and winding and wily and well, really, really l o n g. It seems that I had hopes of returning with a post and many pictures sometime in late August or early September with recollections of our beach vacation in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, where we frolicked seaside with family and friends. But now, at this time in late October, those warm summer memories seem just that--distant tales of long ago. Since then, our seas have been a'changin.

I try to keep my blog as drama free as possible--I rather spare the minute details of non-baby drama to avoid seeming petty or even boring. But this tale will be told in a shortened yet still somewhat full version, if nothing else than to explain why I have been gone so darn long.

It all began days before we were set to leave for our three week vacation visiting friends and family on the east coast this past August--the first week on the same little island where we were married (our families vacation there together every summer) and the remaining two weeks jumping back and forth between grandparents' houses.

The Sunday before the Thursday we were to set sail, we received an abrupt and very unexpected 30 day notice from the landowner of Milagro Ranch to vacate our home. I will spare these details because I may break into a rant that never fizzles--but long story short...her separation from her husband forced her to sell, she couldn't find a buyer so she leased to people who wanted her out a.s.a.p. This all meant that she needed to find a place for her and her daughter to live until they found another home--and it seems that our cozy little guest house that we had just so stupidly sunk way too much money, time and labor into seemed like just the place.

Dean returned to Malibu from the vacation early to pack and move us into storage while Noah and I remained behind in North Carolina to stay with family while all of the details worked themselves out. In the meantime, Dean stayed with friends in Malibu and went back to work.

Now backtrack a little to before we left for vacation...around the same time we received the e-mail from the landowner, we received an e-mail from the recording school that Dean attended in London, Ontario more than 10 years ago. It was inquiring whether he knew of anyone possibly interested in taking a teaching position that had recently become available at the school. E-mails about salary, benefits, immigration, etc. bounced back and forth for weeks while the job opportunity became more and more of an appealing option for us.

Over the phone, from North Carolina to Los Angeles, Dean and I schemed and plotted and planned. What if? Dean officially expressed interest and after a phone interview with the school's Directors went incredibly well, we decided to accept their offer to fly the whole family to London for 10 days worth of Canadian fun--further interviews, guest lectures, meetings, negotiations, sight seeing, house hunting, and more. So, after spending all of September on separate coasts, Noah and I met Dean in Canada on October 1st.

Now backtrack a little again...to when Dean was living with friends in Malibu and working while Noah and I were grandparent house hopping for all of September. Just days before flying to meet Dean in Canada, a little dip stick in a Durham, North Carolina Target bathroom revealed that we were pregnant--again!

So here we were--exhausted, homeless and nauseously pregnant--in London, Ontario wondering if leaving a job with Beck in Malibu to teach in the snowy neighbor to the north was really what the Dr. ordered. The 10 days passed like a whirlwind as we met people, saw places and determined if this was to be the next stop on our map.

The town was just okay; the people were super. What really sold us was all of the quality of life bonuses. At the end of our stay, we took the job.

Let me explain why. Dean has worked 12 hours a day 6-7 days a week for 10 years--that's right a decade--with a week, or maybe two, or this year the most ever maybe three weeks, of vacation hidden somewhere there in between. Before Noah it was hard, since Noah it is impossibly exhausting and plain and simply an unacceptable pace to keep with a growing family. Sure he's worked with and for the best of the best in the music industry, and the money is okay--but it's just that, okay. It's not living well in Los Angeles, or Malibu for that matter, on one salary, well. It's not, own a house, travel several times a year, send your kid to private school because the public ones are not an option, hire a nanny because Dad is never home and a second kid is coming kind of well.

This new job? The salary is great, the bonuses are even better...but the hours, they are still hard to swallow. Dad will be home for dinner for the first time in a decade--every night. Dean will work 9:00-5:00--WAIT--what's THAT?! Add on to that: 5 weeks of paid vacation, incredible public and private healthcare coverage with no out-of-our-pocket cost (I have already spoken with the midwife who will deliver our next baby at home in the water), affordable housing and coverage of all relocation and immigration/visa costs. How could we say no?!

After we signed on the dotted line, we returned to Los Angeles on October 10th homeless while we wait for immigration to clear and Dean to finish pending projects with Beck. We stayed with friends in Malibu for one week and are now staying with yet more friends (three families in one house--that's another post all together) in Pasadena...we just call it our cozy little commune. We will remain here until November the 13th when we will then move yet again back to our old neighborhood in Los Angeles with yet more friends. We will be house-sitting while they are in Japan.

If all goes well with immigration--and we should know by mid-November--we will move to London, Onatrio, Canada on December 1st. We are currently looking for a place to call home there for when we, and our stuff, arrives.

In the meantime it's a crazy, whirly twirly topsy turvy kind of purgatory that we are existing in. I am still absorbing it--especially the part about moving to a really cold place. There will be snow there when we arrive--lots and lots of it. How will a Los Angeles loving family from Southern California with no winter clothes and another baby on the way ever cope? That story has yet to be written.


"Yuv Ooo" And Other Heart Melts.

So my dear friends, have no fear, the mysterious visitor was not so mysterious. Just a sweet friend with a trigger happy bookmark toolbar--best case scenario for this concerned mama who can now venture on to other happenings. Relief.

On to other news--Noah uttered his first "I love you" today which sounded a whole lot more like "yuv oooooo". I turned immediately to mushy gooey putty and would have found a real life unicorn dressed in a clown's costume if that's what he had asked for at that very moment. Even as he belted it out over and over again throughout the day it never lost its effect--I swooned each and every time.

Aside from love-speak, things are a little wacky about the household. We are preparing to leave for a 3 week voyage back east to visit with friends and family on a Thursday night redeye--just two nights from tonight and the packing hasn't even begun. The redeye booking was an attempt to take advantage of both a non-stop, thus shorter, flight, as well as, nighttime hours--we are crossing our fingers that the darkness will keep our wee tot sleeping the duration of the flight. If not, we're screwed. How do you explain the strange circumstances that render you relatively chair bound for hours on end to a 1.5 year old? You don't. You just buckle up and hope for the best.

I am not quite sure when I will post again. The first of the three weeks will be spent at the beach and the other two between the homes of parents and grandparents. I will do my best to post as soon as possible--hopefully not long after the Atlantic sun has browned our skin and the east coast tide has warmed our bones.

We need the rest and relaxation. It's been a thrilling and also exhausting last few months and it seems that recent developments on several fronts might be throwing more curve balls our way. But more on that later. For now we shall sign off with a few pictures from our morning on the ranch and hopefully will return within a week or so with news and photographic delights from the right coast (right as in directionally right, that is--not right as in the opposite of wrong--just in case any east coasters were getting big-headed...)


Dear Mysterious Visitor.

Dear Frequent Visitor from Apex, NC,

I notice that you really love my blog and was hoping that you might drop a line or two so that I know who you are!

You can say "hi" by sending over an e-mail to jonisurettenelson@gmail.com or commenting quickly on any post!

Thank you so much for helping me to ensure that my blog is kept friendly and safe.

Warmest Regards,
Mama Joni


All In A Good Day's Play: The Camera Has Returned Edition.

The Rocking Moose.

Underwood Farms.

Nicholas Canyon County Beach.

Playtime With Papa.

Lil' Ranchers Round Up at The Leonis Adobe.

The First Haircut.

Nicholas Canyon County Beach.

To view more photos from our old restored friend, click here.


All In A Good Day's Play: Going Ape-y At The Zoo Edition.

We're back in business and it just so happened that the first photos taken with our restored shuttered friend was at the L.A. Zoo yesterday.

While Noah enjoyed the animals, he liked the playground water fountain that had been put out of commission and covered with a piece of metal--which made drumming on it tons of fun--and the mister that cooled off the hot valley afternoon a whole lot more.

Enjoy and happy, happy weekend.


I've Missed You, My Dear Shuttered Friend.

Ah, the sweet sensation of anticipation. Our repaired camera has been delivered by Fed Ex and is sitting at the gate about a half mile down the drive. Since the sun has set and this ranch girl doesn't traverse into the wild after the stars have risen, I will have to wait yet another excruciating hour for Dean to come home until I hold her in my paws.

Tomorrow is the Zoo and Friday, the beach and Saturday, a pool BBQ and Sunday, a visit from friends and Monday, produce picking at the farm and Tuesday, the Leonis Adobe and Wednesday, the park and Thursday, a pool playdate and Friday, back to the beach and Saturday, next Saturday, maybe it will finally get a rest. While I cannot believe that our calendar is booked for nine days straight with no lull, I am even more impressed at the incredible photographic opportunities that await. Not to mention food photography for Feeding Little Foodies.

The month of struggling to drill moments into my fading, failing memory is now over. I can simply click a button and allow the shutter and lens to work their magic.

This is the last picture-less post. Ever. I hope.


Rape Is Never Funny . . .

. . . except when Antoine Dodson is involved. There are not many things that get me rolling on the floor past midnight after a long day of beach playdates and dinner guests. But when Dean came home from work tonight to show me what he had been filling his work hours watching, I couldn't help but want to share it with all of you. It's possible that I am desperately behind (I usually am)--maybe many of you have already seen it. If you haven't you're in for a real treat. If you have, surely it can tickle another laugh out of you, no?

Meet, Antoine Dodson--the best. brother. ever. Enjoy.


Giving It Another Go.

So the initial shock of the tarantula sighting has dulled and faded. Since then, there have been no other critters larger than a quarter spotted for over a week now. This is progress, folks.

We have decided to give Milagro Ranch another go.

You see, our morning romp in the valley last week viewing dark, dreary and drab pre-fabs was depressing to say the least. These over priced shoe boxes left much to be desired--the first was a tiny guest house sans stove (what? a family of foodies with no roasting, broiling, or baking capabilities--si par impossible!) and the second was carpeted, small, dark and downright depressing. Even if there were such things as apartments--or affordable housing--in Malibu, I still don't think we'd take the apartment leap. Unless we were able to find the exquisite 1920's French Normandy-esque chateau that we had in the city, we just can't bring ourselves to inhabit an apartment building--even if in Malibu--ever. Which brings us to our current debacle--our wild and wily existence in an eclectic guest house on a 20 acre horse ranch.

It's beautiful--it's so breathtakingly beautiful and peaceful and recharging and inspiring and natural and Noah is over the moon for the place. It's a crazy little ranch--it's so very different than anywhere that we have ever lived before. It's creaky and cranky and expensive and really inconvenient (for example, we have to have special propane deliveries every other month because there are no gas lines run this far out and not to mention the incredibly winding, narrow and vulture-lined roads to get down the mountain to semi-civilization). And while half of the time those are all of the reasons that we were ready to throw in the beach towel last week, the other half of the time it's all part of its charm, its splendor, its appeal, its unmistakable character.

Reminding myself--ourselves--that it's an adventure, helps. Reminding ourselves that it's temporary, helps. Standing beneath the pepper trees as the late afternoon sun trickles through the wispy leaves in tiny drops on Noah's hand as he feeds the horses, helps. Bunny watching from the hammock with my morning coffee, helps. Watching our vegetable and herb garden (even if through galvanized steel meshing) finally take root and begin to flourish and anticipating its harvest, helps. Listening to Noah mimic the songs of the quail and road runner in his sleep, helps. Spending each and every day as we please on the sandy shores of the Pacific watching dolphins and seals frolic and play, helps.

This is a good thing. It's a great thing. It's a character building, make hair grow on your teeth kind of thing. It's a make your marriage stronger while learning all of the nitty gritty, raw, unedited facets of nature while your wee tot experiences life naked and barefoot beneath citrus trees kind of place. It's the kind of place we call home.

So, really. Really? Were we really going to let rattlesnakes, rats, scorpions, centipedes, mice and tarantulas drive us away from ol' purple haze ranch? We don't scare that easily.

But, then, ask me about it all again tomorrow.


Second Thoughts: Milagro Ranch, You're So Mean.

(At the Long Beach Aquarium with my mommy group)

Life looks peachy, right? Time spent away from home has been peachy. Noah and I have been making tons of new mama and baby friends in our new hood thanks to the mommy group that I started here called the "Malibu Mamas". Since I last wrote, we have been flipping our fins at swim lessons, tank-gazing at the Aquarium of the Pacific and produce picking and farm animal petting at a local family pick-your-own. With Daddy, we have been attending storytime on the Bluffs and two weekend concerts (one was apparently with an all-star in the family indie music scene--I didn't know that there was a "family indie music scene"--go figure).

But at home, well, home is another story all together. Our efforts at varmint proofing our garden have been in vain. It turns out that it was squirrels, not rabbits, decimating every speck of green above our $100 worth of organic dirt (and free horse manure). We've spent well over $500 now on this garden bed from hell and well, while we are not ones to give in and give up easily, we're ready to throw in the shovel. The garden, you see, is very telling of our time here on Milagro Ranch here so far. We've sunk dollars and time into making it a home but nature just won't allow us to settle in. Despite our sage smudging ceremony, performed by Chieftain Dean on Saturday, we found a tarantula upon waking Sunday morning. Luckily, the cats got to it before it found its way to us as vulnerable and easy prey in our slumber.

Perhaps Dean and I had far too romantic notions about living remotely, rurally, down a dirt road in a desert canyon, with rattlesnakes, scorpions, rats, centipedes and now our newest dear friend, tarantula, to fight over territory with. Aside from the creepy critters, everything has been and continues to be a chore. From driving the garbage and recycling down the mile long dirt road to keeping the brick patio surrounded by dirt swept clean to washing clothes in outdoor machines to rat and bug roofing to waiting for the septic to be fixed to sleeping with the lights on to ensuring the pipes that empty all of our used water (except for the toilet, of course) out onto the property are kept clear of weeds and animals to to to . . . it all sounds petty, I know. But this is only the half of it. When it's all piled up on the dark purple carpet thrown in there with our recent kitchen ant infestation, it just amounts to being too much for this mama and family to handle. We spend much of our time working, working to keep things status quo here at the Ranch at the sacrifice of real, enjoyable, relaxing moments together as a family. Really, Dean works 60 hours a week every single week--is cleaning rat poop from the brick ledge and walking the dead rat that we trapped under the car the prior night out to the field to dump its lifeless body really worth it?

We are asking ourselves that very question. Today, tonight, now. We are seriously throwing around the idea of moving. Yes, I know it's crazy. But what's more crazy? Waking up with a tarantula at your toes or admitting to yourself that the suburbs aren't so bad after all. Seriously, I, who would never even look twice at an apartment complex without losing my lunch is currently finding the convenience and safety of a gated complex with a pool and fitness center a droolingly appealing option. I know, I know--the desperation is so thick you can cut it with a knife.

We have been humbled by Milagro Ranch--we are no longer the city snobs we once were. And we were before Noah, I admit it. But we have a year or less before Beck finishes working on his latest album and Dean is able to move on. And then we can move on--away from L.A. after 10 years and hopefully north--into the comfortable embrace of a cozy craftsman in green, clean, Portland. What to do until then is the question that will keep me up tonight--that and my incurable phobia of all things that move in the night.

We have two appointments tomorrow to look at places just over the hill from here--the valley, yes, the valley. We'll still be only 16 miles from Malibu--the beach--the bugs--but 100 leaps closer to keeping our sanity. Who knows, maybe we'll tour some drab, mini-blinded, generic box and go running back to the ranch faster than a vulture can sniff out roadkill.


Panic Mode.

(Taken by friend, Rebecca, with her camera yesterday at Topanga Beach)

I am still without a camera. I am now in full-on panic mode. My inability to capture every wince and grin and drool and stumble and smirk made by Noah over the last two weeks has truly tortured me. No camera means that we are without pictures and without a video camera and I swear that my little tot toddles even cuter when he knows that there is no chance it will all be documented for future tortured family screenings. Yes, we have a film camera and yes, we have a video camera, but by golly our Canon was both in one small portable great picture taking package.

Anywho, we have been busy. Super busy. This ranch living leaves no time for resting on one's laurels. There's always something to do, plant, fix, hang, paint and nail. The raised garden bed we planted two weekends ago was flourishing until the recent rabbit rampages--tomatoes, squash, watermelon, cucumbers-all ravaged. I should have known that we'd have to wage war against our floppy-eared foe. Every and any thing that I planted in pots after we first moved in was nibbled to nothing more than nubs over night. Even stuff they shouldn't like--peppermint, succulents, lily of the nile, Mexican primrose and lavender, salvia--all native SoCal vegetation that in most cases is already growing on the property. But, yet they still dine on mine. So, this garden business I knew was going to require a diligent and constant effort to dissuade these little cottontails from snacking on our produce. I headed out to our local hardware store after our swim lesson today and picked up some hopeful deterrents--I'll have to report back on their effectiveness.

Other than that, the days have passed with trips to the Oxnard DMV to renew my license that expired back in April (oops!), unsuccessfully trying to treat my sister to a picnic and cupcake for her 22nd birthday (excess traffic and a cranky car-bound toddler thwarted my efforts), attending Beck's 40th birthday bash and hiring our first real-live non family or friend sitter for Noah. All went well.

This week has been heating up and chasing away the gloom that haunted our June. The coastal fog has lifted to unveil 80-90 degree days and we have been seeking out refuge at the beach with some of our new Malibu friends. Tomorrow it's a trip to the acclaimed Long Beach Aquarium (Noah's first time) followed by two super fun family concert events this weekend.

Did I mention how it pains me to be sans camera for these past, present and soon-to-be amazing moments that are going un-captured--lost to my "too many heavy drinking episodes in college" damaged memory?

I am going to try and send the camera to Canon this week and see if we can't get answers. Our family vacation back east is in just 4.5 weeks and I can't bear to miss another smile!


Poo, Poo, And Double Poo: Pictureless Along The Pacific.

Poo. Poo. And double poo.

Our camera broke--last week--while Noah and I were exploring the wild and wily west. While taking snapshots of my little cowboy sweltering in the hot heat of Calabasas in the afternoon, my camera just up and died.

No pictures of the classic western ranch house of the historic Leonis Adobe or its barnyard full of petting animals.

No pictures of our 4th, at the home of the Producer of "The Bachelor" and other seedy reality TV shows, perched upon the cliffs of Malibu.

No pictures of the teal painted 4x8 raised garden bed we built over the holiday weekend--chock full of lettuce, carrots, herbs, pumpkins, squash, berries, tomatoes, okra...and so many more soon-to-be-table goodies that we should have built another.

No pictures of the low lying sea clouds filling our beachside canyon lately with thick dreamy fog that drifts between the leaves of the olive tree leaves and wraps itself around every succulent.

No pictures of Noah and Kai frolicking at the new neighborhood park today or chasing chickens and bunnies on our local nursery's lawn.

And, well, no pictures of my sister tomorrow on her 22nd birthday while Noey and I treat her to a picnic on the immaculately manicured lawn of a Beverly Hills' park hotspot followed by Sprinkles' (the best cupcakes in L.A.) finest.

Poo. Poo. And, double poo.


Noah's Fins.

We began swim lessons this month and this video documents the 4th class of the series thoughtfully filmed by our friends, Bianca and Bryce--proud parents of little Oona Fish--at Mama Kim's pool.

Noah was chosen as the underwater demonstrator for the first class and though he had never gone under water, except for the occasional accidental tub head dunk, he did exceptionally well. Now that he knows what's coming, however, he doesn't cry as much as he "fusses" or "protests" beforehand. The kiddo crying "mommy" in the background is Oona, not Noah--though Noey has been know to occasionally whine a little "I don't want to" of his own from time-to-time.

Nevertheless, he is quite a little fishy at 18 months and we can't wait to see what a few more lessons do for his apparent naturally fantastic fins.

Viva la summer!


Rattler Ranch.

(Noah in awe of a very old and very big oak tree at the Leonis Adobe in Calabasas this week)

All things have been quiet here on Milagro Ranch as of late. We seem to have nipped the earwig infestation in the bud, encouraged the spiders to set up shop elsewhere, weatherproofed and weatherstripped the centipedes and beetles out and willed away the scorpion sightings (*we hope*). Other than the rats taking up residence under the hood of our white Volkswagen golf (which requires diligent old fashion nightly rat trap settings by Dean and lots and lots of peppermint oil), we have been living virtually *spotted* pest-free within the confines of our cozy little canyon cottage and it has been glorious.

Then comes yesterday . . . *da, da, da, dum*.

We had been enjoying the kind of day that brought us to Malibu in the first place--an early afternoon beach birthday BBQ just yards from the ocean surf followed by another birthday bash, poolside, at the glorious shore-side home of Dean's boss. Clad with a fabulously authentic looking "real live" Snow White, Jack Sparrow and a bouncy house large (and pest free) enough for Dean, myself and Noah to rent a room inside of, the party was fabulously fabulous. We partied away our Saturday in true Malibu style.

We arrived home mid-evening. Dean was retrieving our tuckered out tot from the car while I unloaded the mountainous load of gear that we had been schlepping along from shindig to soiree. When at the front door, out of the corner of my left eye, did I spy, a dark, long, rattle snake sunning against the rock wall of our brick patio. Here's how things progressed from there:
  • Noah and I ran quickly inside via the backdoor
  • We called Suzanne, the land owner who lives just up the mountain
  • She called the Fire Dept.
  • Dean remained on the patio at a safe distance to keep a watchful eye on the rattler's whereabouts
  • Noah and I watched things unfold from the safety of the bathroom window
  • Suzanne appeared, and chatted with Dean about the reptile's remarkably dark color, long length (4 feet!) and large rattler
  • The Fire Dept. arrived within 10 minutes--with three strapping firemen and a huge shiny red fire engine they managed to squeeze and maneuver down our rough, long and rural mile long driveway
  • With a long pincher pole, one of the firemen grabbed the snake just behind its head
  • The snake, incredibly loudly, hissed and rattled while thrashing its angry body violently from side to side
  • After the first fireman wrestled the snake to the ground, a second chopped off its head with a shovel
  • The third fireman took the head and placed it in a safe location on the firetruck and gave us the still moving body to dispose of
  • After the firemen gave Noah a brief light show and firetruck tour, the heroes of the day backed down the long mile-drive with the venomous head of our unwelcome visitor in tow
  • Suzanne convinced Dean to remove the rattler from the snake's body before carrying it down to the trash
  • Removing the rattler from the tail of the still thrashing snake gave all of us quite a scare
  • Noah and Dean carried the snake body wrapped up in a grocery bag, to the safe confines of the trash can at the end of the mile drive
The rattler now sits on our kitchen counter (and soon, in Dean's studio to be used as a percussion instrument) as a reminder--a reminder that we can never let our guard down here on Milargo Ranch. Though we may not be seeing as many critters and creepers and crawlers, they're always here, around somewhere. And, that's just the price we pay for living among the beauty of nature--it's rural, raw and wild--very, very wild.


Two Buns In The Buff.

Life on Milagro Ranch has its ups and downs. Sure, there are 8 inch centipedes, scorpions, rattlesnakes, vultures, tarantulas, rats, and well, I could go on and on. But, heck, this is country living, right?

It has it's perks too. Today was one of those rare days that Noah and I hung ranch-side from sun up to sun down and it was as lovely as the last. Dean blew up Noah's new inflatable pool just before he skipped off to work. Nestled on the sunny brick patio amidst climbing vines, succulents and cacti, the pool provided a day's worth of fascination and fun. Noah broke from bare-bummed swimming only long enough to nap. He even dined, eating both lunch and dinner, from the confines of his new watery playspace.

Best of all, with not a human in eye or ear shot, I gardened in the buff while Noey slumbered. Enjoying both breeze and sun in places that needed respite from a long city cloaking, I am counting the days until we plant the vegetable garden . . .

P.S. Did I mention that we have had to recently take desperate measures to prevent rats from nesting beneath our car hood at night? Well, perhaps more about that in a down post soon. Today it's all ups.

(Image courtesy of Phil Wrigglesworth, an amazing illustrator--I simply love his work.)


Daddiness Day.

Blackberry, peach, banana & walnut pancakes--a hand-painted mug masterpiece--frolicking around Peter Strauss Ranch bare-bottomed (Noah only, of course), followed by lunch prepared over a wood burning stove--hammock time--baby to bed early--garlic popcorn and frosty micro brews--night two in an attempt to make it through the "Maltese Falcon" in it's entirety.

Really, does it get much better than this? I think Papa enjoyed his day.


All In A Good Day's Play: The Underwood Family Farm Edition.

I could gush about this amazing Southern California family farm for hours. It was absolutely amazing. But as the midnight hour is drawing near, I find myself with heavy lids and weary fingers. Here are some collages of our beautiful day. Words are soon to follow about this and more.


A Work in Progress.

Our cottage of love nestled deep within the canyons of Malibu is a real DIY (do it yourself) kind of find. And that's what really drew me to it in the first place. If I am good at anything, it's seeing the potential of what a physical space can be after I've had some time with it. The road of search and selection may sometimes be long, hard and bumpy, but once I'm there, it's a damn good feeling.

The thing is with this place, though, it's truly a roll up your sleeves and get your hands nice and dirty kind of habitat and after all, we are just renting--so there are boundaries to what is considered a reasonable renovation. So far, we've filled terracotta pots on the patio--desperate to find vegetation varieties that won't be ravaged by bunnies, ground squirrels and whatever the hell else bare branch my plants by sunrise--built our own clothesline pole and painted it a cheery "egg yolk" yellow, painted the bathroom green, glazed the unfinished clay tile floors in the bathroom and kitchen and hung a hammock between two generously fragrant eucalyptus trees. But, we still have much to do. I aim to still:
  • paint the bedroom
  • paint the living room
  • paint the kitchen
  • hang our own ceiling fan in the bedroom
  • buy and hang a new ceiling fan in the living room
  • paint the front doors
  • paint our computer desk
  • paint the unfinished door of the hot water heater closet
  • buy and hang new bathroom towel racks
  • paint the outside of the clawfoot bathtub
  • stain the bathroom and kitchen cabinets
  • build and hang bookshelves in the living room
  • build garden beds
  • plant our garden
  • find/build a chicken coop
  • find/buy chickens
  • convert the back guest house to Dean's studio
  • buy a grill
And, I am pretty sure that I have left something(s) off. The thing is, it takes time and money to do all of these things and we are often short on both. Living on a single salary means budgeting wisely. And, raising a toddler means constantly running on a time deficit. So when and how will this all get done? I just can't say. Is it silly to be investing so much time and money into a rental? Perhaps, but I just couldn't have it any other way. Home must be a comfortable refuge--a place without to-do lists lurking around in my noggin.

Aside from all of the critter drama, we really do love it here and already know that we will miss it dearly when it's time to leave. It has been several days now since we've seen any dead mammals or insects with claws, tails or 100 legs. Geeze, give me another few days and I may even forget all about the quarter-sized bug that fell from the light above onto me while I showered.

The fact of the matter is that, today, Noah and I had one of the most magical days that we have had together on this ranch so far. It has been a while since it's been just the two of us home alone all day. We napped and hiked and fed the horses and jumped in the hay and nursed in the hammock and kicked a ball and picked wild flowers and tickled in the bed--with freshly cleaned diapers drying on the line, it felt like home . . . finally. . . and I hope, that as I whittle away at the to-do list above that feeling only grows and grows.

But, we'll see. Ask me again tomorrow. Nighttime around here crawls with all of the things that could make me change my mind really quick.

Nighty, night.


Centipedes, Dead Bunnies And Scorpions, Oh My.

Honey, this ain't Kansas no more. Has the Malibu honeymoon worn off yet, no, not yet. Have I stood on the desk chair with hands clasped to a gaping mouth for five minutes or even more at the 8 inch long centipede sighting on the sofa? Yes. Have I sat in the middle of the coffee table with all of the lights on not moving a muscle until Dean came home at midnight from work after spying a scorpion snacking on an earwig in the corner? Yes. Have I nearly hurled my morning coffee after Noah and I witnessed the landowner's dog corner and maul a baby bunny--not leaving a hare to spare? Yes. Yes. And, Yes.

My devoted family, friends and readers, this is it. This is the post that you have been waiting for. No more happy, smiley collages of life on the ranch or frolics on the beach. This is our life, so far on Milagro Ranch, revealed, raw and uncut for the very first time.

In summation, life for the last two months here has been hard. It's been sprinkled with moments of enjoyment--the stunning scenery, the fabulous flora and fauna, the solitude, the quiet, the star-lit night sky, the sandy rocky shore just 5 miles down a beautiful canyon road. Sure, we've even played with Julia Robert's kids down at the local playground (that's kind of cool, right?). But the rest of the time--it's been downright difficult. I have shed a tear or two of frustration, terror and exhaustion. City life is not missed at all, but sometimes the conveniences are. City life, we have determined, is easy. Sure you have to move your car by 8 a.m. on street cleaning days twice a week. Sure the sounds of helicopters and sirens at 2 a.m. wake you from your slumber and the dumpster diggers startle the baby awake daily. But it's easy dammit. Compared to this.

It took over a month to get the washer and drying properly hooked up--converting a gas dryer to run on propane, installing a hot water line, setting up the waste water pipe to properly run off into the garden down the hill, building, from scratch, a clothesline pole--painted a cheerful yellow. We finally have clean, dry clothes.

A brief but terrifying earwig infestation was thankfully nipped in the bud by an organic solution of various essential oils.

Sightings of the kinds of spiders only for science fiction comic books and the size of small dogs have been fewer and fewer--thanks to diligent weather stripping of doors and windows.

This past Saturday evening at dusk, an unwitting Dean left the screen door open while he and Noah went to hang something on the line. A few minutes later while eating dinner, it was discovered that a tiny field mouse has gained entrance. After a sometimes humorous and terrifying chase ensued, Dean successfully trapped the live but battered mouse (thanks to our worthless cats) in a mason jar and released it back into the wild night after allowing Noah a peek or two.

Snakes sunning on dusty painted steps, lizards lurking on sun-warmed rocks, gigantic vultures playfully picking at fresh roadkill, crows carrying off chipmunks for snacking and owls blocking our way on the windy narrow mountain pass at night . . .

This is the other side of the desert country coin--the side I haven't managed to capture in picture collages. Perhaps it is these time that I am too terrified to cross the room to retrieve the camera or just plain frozen with fear.

We will survive here. I know we will. And we will have grand stories to tell when we are older. Noah will have an adventurous early-life narrative. It's just the getting through the now part that's trying, as we adapt from life in Los Angeles to life on a ranch in the middle of nowhere Malibu.


Noah Finn: 17.5 Months.

I've been rotten at being a blogging, ranching mama. I admit it, I've been absent--I haven't been around, I have to be honest. Keeping up with all of the changes (and struggles--oh, that post is going to be a long one) that living in the middle of nowhere in Malibu have brought along with struggling to maintain the momentum that Feeding Little Foodies had been gaining prior to the move has kept me whirling from sunrise to sunset. And, wait, I didn't even add my toddling toddler into this to-do list equation.

Nevertheless, I am aiming to regain my prior posting glory once more and have faith that it isn't too far off into the future.

In the meantime, I am going to make a list that I have been meaning to sit down and put together for a very long time now. So that 5, 10, 20 years from now, I can look back on this gloriously busy time and remember all of those beautiful little things that I am sure to forget otherwise. The thing is that this list has been changing in my head as time passes with it unwritten--it changes as I strive to keep up with a very quickly growing little boy.

Documenting Noah Finn at 17.5 months:
  • He learned how to kiss with a pucker and sound effects two days ago--and he smooches us on the cheek every chance he gets
  • Everything is "Daddy"--from the little Hispanic boy in his book to the sand sifter on the beach, it's all just "Daddy"
  • Favorite words that come to mind: bottle, Miles, bye, hi, go, bubble, ball, shoes, magnet, mommy, daddy, vroom, mole, more, beach, bees, cherry, book, shhhhh, boo boo, poo poo, pee pee, dog, cheese, teeth, three
  • He loves splashing, screaming, running and laughing in the surf with Dean
  • His favorite foods are fresh mango, dried blueberries and nori
  • He dislikes milk but he will drink it if he has to
  • He isn't crazy about cookies or other sweets
  • He loves saying bubble and pointing to the bubble bottle but is less than enthusiastic at the act of blowing them or watching someone else do so
  • He is absolutely o b s e s s e d with beer bottles--full or empty
  • He loves to throw things in the trash can (if it has a lid on it, even better)--especially rocks
  • He loves to hold one stem of wildflowers (or rocks) in each hand for a very long time
  • He doesn't care too much for swinging, but loves to slide and teeter totter
  • He likes to give others raspberries (bellies or backs are preferred targets)
  • Jumping on the bed naked after bath time is by far his favorite time of the day
  • His favorite color is red
  • He collects rocks (to later throw away, perhaps?)
  • His favorite toy is Henry's plastic sand shovel
  • He breaks out in spontaneous singing bursts of e-i-e-i-o all. day. long.


All In A Good A Day's Play: The Weekend Edition.

This past weekend was a blur.

It all began Friday with a maddened trip into the valley to put a deposit down on a washer and dryer--finally! It took nearly all day, but we managed to frollic to a new valley park we had never foraged before and snuck over afterward to see an old friend that we hadn't seen in quite some time.

Saturday passed with a gray morning on the beach, followed by the unpacking of the last few boxes that were hiding in the back of the bedroom closet, all topped off with roasted chicken, heirloom potatoes, long beans and freshly squeezed lemonade.

Sunday buzzed by with an early afternoon at the Oxnard Strawberry Festival--where Noah slept nearly the entire time--despite the fact that Dean and I waited in line twice for the mini flying rockets just in the case that he'd wake before we left. All before zooming back into the valley to pick up the washer and dryer before sunset with the help of a super duper damsel devilishly disguised as a petite brunette named, Candice. Merci, mademoiselle York, Merci.

So far, today, Monday, has been super relaxing. Noah and I didn't get out of our pajamas until our evening bath. After which we put on some clean, fresh, new pajamas.

The Oxnard Strawberry Festival

Other snapshots from the weekend


I H e a r t Collages.

So, I still find myself with frightfully little time to sit down and write all about the adventures we have been having since the move almost a month ago now. And, we still have much to do--we are "moved in"--but still need to paint, hang shelves, buy odds and ends and get our outdoor spaces ready for summer. There are few visits from friends scheduled until late May when my dear little sis moves out this way and stops by for a nice long visit. So, I am hoping sometime between now and then that I am able to find myself with prolific fingers and a willingness to tinker on the keys, as well as, an urge to get the indoors picture perfect.

Until then, enjoy these collages chronicling our days with and without friends in and around our new home.

Going for a beach walk with friends after a Saturday afternoon birthday BBQ.

Whaling around at the Malibu Bluffs Park after story time.

Romping on the ranch before dinnertime with Asami, Kai & Pancake.

Noah + Owen = Double Trouble.

Noah HEARTS Pancake. And, I am pretty sure that Pancake loves him too.

Yoga, rock climbing and a little bubble blowing on Leo Carillo Beach.

Flowers picked fresh from the Ranch, a handmade Mother's Day greeting and breakfast in bed. My Mother's Day = perfection.


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