california 1,099 days in

Cyclops on my back porch

Cyclops on my back porch

Three years ago today, the occupants of the Wee, Small House woke up in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in a hotel whose A/C was broken (highs around 100 all that week), packed our bags, and went downstairs into a drippy, humid, steam-on-my-glasses morning, where, outside the hotel, a few dear friends had gathered — some to say a last goodbye, and one to drive us to the airport. Several hours later we landed and began the California chapter of our lives. Here’s what I can say so far:

  • Weather: better. Um, understatement of the century.
  • Healthcare: better. We had a wonderful pediatrician in St. Paul, but overall there is more advanced medical knowledge here, and more experts-per-capita. Thank you, Stanford University.
  • Schools: worse. This is one of my biggest regrets of the move. My kids attend what are supposed to be some of the best schools in California, and they don’t hold a candle to the schools we left in terms of curriculum, differentiation, facilities, extra-curriculars, etc.
  • Real-estate: Don’t get me started. Let me just say that we were amazingly lucky to have relocation assistance and to have bought just before another uptrend in prices.
  • View from my kitchen window: worse. Then: woods, the bird theaters (as Sister still says for bird feeders), a beautiful old cedar tree. Now: the loading dock of the Asian grocery store, a strangely out of context center hall Colonial, a blue duplex that gets frequent visits from the police.
  • Traffic and parking: (*crumples in defeat)
  • Literary and arts scene: better. The Twin Cities had a good literary and arts scene, too, but the scene here feels more democratic and ubiquitous.
  • The City: (*swoons and holds up hands in adoration)
  • Produce: So much better, so much cheaper. The only cheaper thing in California. Tender mercies.
  • Streetscapes: different. In the Midwest, you tend to have your “nice neighborhoods” and your “not-so-nice neighborhoods.” In the nice neighborhoods, all the houses are nice, tidy, and well-tended. In the not-so-nice neighborhoods, not so much. In California you have wild mixes: a multi-million dollar, ultra modern, new home right next to a 1920s cottage with no central heating that looks like it’s about to fall in on itself.
  • Public transit: so much better.
  • Parenting culture: Oh, help. The parenting trends we’ve seen all over (achievement culture, wanting to make everything special for children, helicoptering, etc.) are at a fever pitch here. I have a long story about being assigned (I emphasize assigned) to make clam chowder for 60 and deliver it to school on the day after Second Son came home from major surgery, and about what happened when I said I was sorry, I couldn’t do it. I have another story about a friend who was assigned to make fruit tartlets for 8th grade graduation, “must match attached picture, no canned fruit.” Have I mentioned the weekly teacher appreciation brunch? Friends, I can’t compete and don’t want to. I’ve also noticed that many parents speak of their children in the collective here: We are doing gymnastics. We have Mandarin class today. Somebody please pass the Midwest in 1978.
  • (I hasten to add that of course not all parents here buy in to this culture, but enough do to make me feel like I need to run and hide. Have I mentioned that when we first moved here I was known as The One Who Lets Her Kids Walk Alone To School? 1.5 blocks, people, 1.5 blocks)
  • Access to brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, nephews and cousins: BETTER ❤ I feel so lucky to live near my brother and his family, and not super-near but near-enough to my uncle and his family.
  • Flora: All I can say is: Abundance of pants on steroids (oops – typo – I meant pLants, but there are pants on steroids here too). When we first moved here, I actually felt a little freaked out by how big and ubiquitous plants and trees are (First text back to Saint Paul: “freakishly large geraniums”). I’m now getting used to it, and I’ve particularly fallen in love with succulents, which look like little (and not so little) aliens on the planet, exactly mirroring what I feel is the shape of my soul.
  • Freedom to be you and me: better. You can pretty much be/do/look like/try anything and everything in California and no one will bat an eye. There is a real freedom here to be who you are, to fly your freak flag.
  • Sleeping weather: better. Even on the hottest days (which rarely reach the 90s, and which typically happen in October) the nights are always cool. Thank you, cold and indifferent ocean known as the Pacific. Speaking of which:
  • Access to big water: better. When we lived in Minnesota I’d sometimes become despondent. I felt trapped and landlocked. Husband would ask what was wrong, and I’d say: I need some water. BIG water. Although MN does have Lake Superior, it’s quite a drive away from where we lived. Here we can be at the ocean in about 35 minutes. Having been formed by the sands and horizons of the Great Lakes, I need that vast expanse of big water. Thank you again, Pacific Ocean.
  • Access to psychics and palm readers: better 😉
  • Joint pain: better. No storms rolling through, no 6 months of cold weather, no basement stairs. My arthritis is easier to manage here.
  • Access to my mother: worse :(.
  • Thing I miss the most: my dear Saint Paul friends (*heart literally skips a beat, then aches).
  • Have I mentioned my washer and dryer are in the garage? (still not quite used to that)

Sometimes I feel like my real life is still happening in St. Paul. That this is just a long, strange trip. Mostly I’m grateful for the way life can surprise and fill you full of goodness you never expected. I’ve made a few friends here, one of which in particular feels like a true soul mate, a sister ship on this voyage of life. Peaches grow in my front yard. My 3yo nephew loves to vacuum my couch, and lays his head down on my shoulder when he’s tired. My husband is employed, my kids are healthy, there is a roof over our heads and (at least for now) water comes out of our faucets when we turn them on. Who could ask for more?

8 thoughts on “california 1,099 days in

  1. Why didn’t I know that July 21st should be renamed Best Day Ever in Calfornia calendars?! I get all the list above (especially love the ‘abundance of pants’ perfect typo considering some conversations we’ve had 🙂 ), even though I’ve never been to MN or MI. California is my birthplace and my life has changed immeasurably for the better since you’ve inhabited it. Welcome! You’re never leaving – bwhahahahahah xoxo

  2. Hi Molly!

    How wonderful that you are enjoying my home state! I must admit, it certainly is beautiful here, especially up where you are. I feel a bit guilty for wanting to leave now, but Los Angeles just doesn’t have the soul that northern California does. Sadly, the schools are awful, and I also despise the kind of “parenting” that is over-taking the world. Though I have to say, I don’t let my kids walk alone to school….sad but true. And one thing you forgot to mention about the tiny bungalow next to the million dollar house: the tiny bungalow is also a million dollars. Lol. But the produce, the fruit trees in the front yards– yes. Such a great post, Molly. I’m feeling pretty good about living in California toady. 🙂
    😦 (Sorry you are missing your friends though)

    • Hah. I did forget to mention the pricetag on the falling-down bungalow. Le Sigh. Yes it’s incredibly beautiful up here. Haven’t made it down to SoCal yet but I feel a road trip coming on for AWP 2016!

  3. Just catching up on your blog . . . I was looking through to figure out about your MFA program. You have been mentioning it here and there, but I felt like I missed some details somewhere. At any rate, I found this post and thought — it is hard to believe you have been there for three years already! Seems like you were just moving. Glad to hear your arthritis is better there or at least easier to manage. You seemed to have quite a bit of suffering before. Less suffering is always better — or is it for artists? Maybe enough suffering so you have something to write about but not so much suffering that you are incapable of writing at all? I will leave that to the poets. 😉

    • Hard for me to believe, too! Yes, less suffering is always better, even for artists. But suffering teaches many things, not least of which is compassion. And suffering makes the need for art even more important. So it has it’s benefits.Thanks for reading!

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