Snow in the Desert || Camp Verde '14-'15

When our mom and stepdad packed up eight or nine years ago and moved from the only home we'd really ever known to the middle of nowhere in rural, central Arizona where they knew absolutely no one… let's just say it took my sister and I awhile to get used to. To me, my mom retiring after 30 years of teaching finally meant she'd become that mom and that Nana I never thought she wouldn't be: coming for open-ended visits or maybe even moving to be closer to me, being my eager and go-to babysitter, seeing my kids on a daily basis, hanging out with me on weekends, coming over for spur-of-the-moment meals. I think we thought she'd retire in the fold of our families and slip right in to our daily lives with no strings attached, something she never could have done while she worked and raised us as a single mom.

So instead, when she retired and left the state, I just couldn't figure it out. I still kinda can't. But nonetheless, the next chapter of our lives began. Mom started driving back and forth across the desert every month or two, spending a week with Corey in San Diego, a week with me in Santa Barbara, then returning to Arizona, establishing friends and a life for herself there, then repeating the process again. And we started visiting her, testing out the climate at various times of the year and finally settling on the week between Christmas and New Year's as our favorite.

I'm a sucker for tradition, and if nothing else, our visits to Camp Verde each year have become that. And a solid one. I now know where I'll be every year as the door closes on one year and opens on the next. I know I'll get to spend my sister's birthday with her every single year. I've gotten to experience things--and expose my kids to things--we probably wouldn't know too well without this place as part of our lives. Like seeing the Grand Canyon, the red rocks of Sedona and the pines up in Flagstaff; riding quads and exploring Indian ruins; climbing salt flats; feeding livestock from the palms of our hands; being part of (very) small town life. Or this year, waking up on New Year's Eve to a winter wonderland, making snowballs and snow angels, fishing on a lake surrounded by frozen ground.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if this solitary week that comes but once a year is why Mom's move was meant to be. The whole family comes together, no one has an agenda, the kids are removed from their distractions at home, my work emails are routed to a co-worker and we're all just there, and present. And we have so much fun. Now don't get me wrong, I'd still trade it all for my mom to be my neighbor, but with every visit that comes and goes, and with the kids' unwavering anticipation for next year's adventure, I find myself sweeping aside some doubts and confusion, and settling in to this way of life more, and more… and more.

Thanksgiving at Grandma's House

I remember long, slow holidays at my grandmother's house. Always in velvet dresses, tights and patent leather shoes, Nana's best silver and china and the delicate red glassware my great-grandfather made himself. With French delicacies I wouldn't touch and, as we got older, what seemed like hours of dishes to do. Growing up with Nana, holidays were very formal; it was a tradition I appreciate much more now looking back than I did at the time. 

But I always had my sister and sometimes my cousins. We'd shift around in our dresses and pull at our tights, laugh at each other as we each tried not to gag on our creamed spinach, but we did it together and always made it fun. This Thanksgiving, Francesca was alone in the sibling department, which sometimes comes with having half-siblings who alternate holidays with other relatives.

She drug me through all nine rooms and up and down the windy staircase in Grandma and Grandpa's huge, old house. It was quiet, she was contemplative, I heard 'Are there any toys?' more than once. And then we stepped outside to walk around in the sun while the adults gathered in the kitchen, and the tone of the afternoon changed quickly for her.

Because right out of the shrubs popped a new little friend, the most dog-like cat I've ever seen, who trailed around at her ankles 'til the sun sunk low and it was time to head in for our meal. For Fran, she got an instant playmate and for me, it really made me think about the definition of 'friend' and what it means for a child, actually for all of us.

I also used Grandma's beautiful home and Francesca's new Thanksgiving dress as an opportunity to photograph the most dainty little necklace by L.A. designer Naina Kids for my friends over at MiniStyle Blog. Fran had been coveting this precious star pendant for weeks before I dreamt up the perfect setting to show it off.

For the original post over at MiniStyle, click HERE.

Silver Bay & Maine

I've got nostalgia on the mind. Or maybe just beneath the surface, where it lives more as a quickening of the heart rate and a feeling than something packaged into words. This summer my kids and I returned to upstate New York after three years away; last time Fran was there, she was inside my belly. Anyone who knows me well knows it's not just blood that runs through my veins, but the waters of Lake George and in particular, a little place called Silver Bay.

Alongside my mom, grandma and sister, I began vacationing here at age nine. We four Californians would travel back most summers to join our Midwest and East Coast relatives for a family reunion at this color-saturated, storybook, nothing-like-SoCal place that has been rooted in my uncle's wife's family for generations. It had no television and two pay phones on the porch of the Inn, but all the swimming, boating, tennis, hiking, archery, shuffleboard and capture the flag of your dreams. It's still very much that way today.

You know when a place hooks you? When in your absence from it, your return to it becomes more desperation than any level of desire? This is my "that place."

When I became old enough, during the summers between college, I packed up and spent full summers here, lifeguarding these waters and as a camp counselor.

When I became a mother, I began bringing Isaac, pooling every penny I had and often relying on others, in order that I might let him grow up here, too. When I looked at my son against this backdrop for two weeks this summer, I saw with no pretense that his blood's got the same mixture mine does. That his teenage agenda, any agitations and outside influences washed clear away the moment we drove down the lane. That to him, for this brief time, Silver Bay was all that mattered.

For Francesca, she's too young to tell. But I think the images I have to share show something like magic on her face . . .

For 14 days, the kids and I spent every moment with cousins, cousins' cousins and kids, aunts and uncles and friends, and my cousin's cousin tried to teach me the meaning of cousins twice and thrice removed. My mom was there, and my sister {who hadn't been in years} with her boys for their first time. For Corey's account of the trip, click HERE.

I reconnected with lifelong best friends and made the acquaintance of their children. After Silver Bay, we piled into a rented SUV with New York plates and traveled into Maine, where we connected with my mom's past, I met a favorite online friend and we caught days of the most spectacular scenery.

Everyone says I'd change my mind about the Northeast if I gave it just one winter, but anyone who knows me well also knows I'm a seasons person. That maybe instead of averting me, the brutal cold would be the one thing to make me stamp my foot down, upend life as I know it and allow me to settle into the one place my soul truly knows its peace. Well, maybe not . . . but herein, maybe I've also made my point.