Thursday, January 23, 2014

I Heart You, SLO

Well, it's been over a year now, and I feel pretty confident in saying that I absolutely adore our new little town.  It's funny how fast the move happened and how resolute I was in our decision to move to San Luis Obispo.  In hindsight, it took a lot of balls -- uprooting the family and moving to a place where I did not know a soul.  But never has my intuition guided me so fiercely.  I simply knew on the deepest level that this was the best place for us.  And though I will always be grateful I got to grow up in the Valley and live out my crazy wild years in L.A., it's odd -- one day I woke up and realized that L.A. is not The Center Of The Universe.  I don't feel like I am missing out on anything (other than my friends and family).  And then everything started happening, guiding us to this place.  I will always love L.A. for making me the person I am today, and there was a time in my life I could never have imagined living anywhere else on the planet.  But now I love it in the way you love a crazy drama relative -- I love it and always will because it's in my blood, but am grateful for the distance.

Getting settled was not easy.  There were many times I called my girlfriends crying because I felt so lost.  There was a profound sadness on some days that I imagine can only be understood by someone living, for the first time, far away from your family and closest friends.  But then I would step outside my front door and breathe in the fresh air and see the hills in the distance and that sadness would get kicked to the curb.  I tried not to dwell and I embraced instead.  And my new town embraced me back.  Here is what I have consistently found to be true about living here so far:

1.  Everybody, everywhere you go, looks you in the eye and smiles and says hello.  Walking down the street, schlepping up the hiking trail, in the aisle at the grocery store, at school drop-off, seriously, EVERYWHERE YOU GO, young kids or old guys or any age in between, male or female, even on bike or behind the cash register, everybody looks at you and smiles and says hi or gives the "what's up" nod.  You can't imagine how much this means to me, being a life-long smiley person who is used to being met with either a mad-dog stare or a "she must be crazy or stupid" look, and rarely a smile and hello in return.  Now it's the other way around.  If I encounter someone who doesn't smile and say hello, they are in the glaring minority and something must be wrong with them.  It is awesome.  It's such a small thing that takes virtually no time or energy to do, yet it immediately connects you with your surroundings and community in a positive way and just makes you feel safe.  It's neighborly.  It makes it super easy to make friends.  I'm not really one for small talk, but I have always loved pleasantries and don't understand why it's not like this everywhere.  I don't know if it's because SLO is a small town or because it's voted the Happiest Place in America and we all know happy people just smile more, or if everybody is just stoned, or what.  But if you step out your door and walk down the street, someone is going to say hi to you and be happy to see you.

2.  I hardly have to drive anywhere (which rules), but when I do, traffic is not part of my life.  It is a revelation.  It has heaped untold years back onto my life.  My stress level has plummeted.  In the past year, I have encountered exactly TWO traffic jams.  Two, as in 1 . . . 2.  And both times I was able to get off the freeway and take an alternate route and it was no big whoop.  Quality of life doesn't even begin to describe the extra time and calm that Derek and I now enjoy.   His commute is now five minutes and I don't think I have to tell you what that kind of extra quality time means to our kids.

If I am late getting somewhere now, it's because I ran into someone I know and ended up chatting with them (small town -- statistically inevitable) -- NOT because I was stuck in traffic.

3.  The ubiquitous front lawn is not a thing here.  Not like I have anything against big stretches of grass (aside from their water-hogging nature) -- it's the noise and air pollution from all the gardeners necessary to maintain all those lawns.  I love to walk, but I couldn't walk a single block in L.A. without having to listen to the loud obnoxious whine of gardening machinery and smell the noxious fumes from same.  I hadn't realized how annoying it was until it was markedly absent from my life.  Walking around the neighborhood is a pleasure, and it's fun to see what people do with their front yards instead of have a stretch of lawn.  Some have fountains, drought-tolerant plants, sculptures.  A lot of them grow food instead, which I think is really cool.  And the walk is a quiet, reflective experience, which brings me to my next thing to love . . .

4.  No noise pollution.  There are no helicopters hovering EVER and no airplane noise.  You hear sirens on occasion, but never in the middle of the night.  What you hear at any given moment is birds singing and at night, crickets chirping.  I love the quiet.  Really the noisiest thing I have heard since living here is a drunk college boy stumbling out of his house and shouting "Hey girl!  WANT TO COME SMOKE A BOWL WITH US???"  Noisy, but again with the friendliness.

5.  San Luis Obispo is a very OLD town.
The town was founded in 1772, and many of the oldest homes and buildings are still standing and lovingly cared for.  Walking around the neighborhood never gets old (no pun intended) -- I constantly gawk at all the cute old victorians and craftsmans and adobes with all their character and wonder about their history.  I guess it's the same reason I love going to Europe so much -- everything is so dang old and cool to look at.  It's like living in a mini-Europe in a lot of ways.  The house we are renting was built in 1908, and I never tire of showing guests around who marvel at all the nooks and charm and moldings.

6.  The wine, OMG.  The wine.

You know how they say you can throw a stick up in the air in New York and it will land on a taxi or an ambulance?  Well in SLO you can throw a stick up in the air and it will land on a winery or a vineyard.  There is a scene in Cougar Town (love that show) where the characters are standing around drinking wine and contemplating a trip to wine country, and Jules looks at her glass and says, "We're gonna see where you were born!"  Well, I live where that wine is born and it rules.  Most of the great wines I have loved over the years came from here.  There is a microclimate here that is perfect for grape-growing, and so wine is just part of the culture.  There are great wines stocked in even the crappiest, cheapest grocery store.  Not like I needed a lot of selling points to move here, but I gotta be honest, the wine was one of them.

7.  The unbelievable natural beauty.

It is so easy to become spoiled by it.  I mean this is my treadmill:

A few blocks from the house and I have the best workout imaginable.  Which enables me to drink more of that delicious wine.

8.  Speaking of natural beauty, going to the beach is no big deal.  Ten minutes in the car on a beautiful scenic road and you're here:

Last weekend I actually rollerbladed there.  But when I do drive, no traffic, no parking hassles, just beautiful, clean beach full of seals and sea otters and other interesting wildlife and --you guessed it -- more wine tasting.

Kids tired and not feeling it today?  No biggie -- pack the towels back up and go back home.  We can always come back tomorrow.

9.  People love dogs in SLO.  Dogs are everywhere.

People walk their dogs and hike with them a lot, and people love my dogs too.  I have held Speck in my arms while shopping in a couple of stores downtown and been promptly informed "It's okay to put him down, we are a dog-friendly store" and then they offered him treats.  A lot of restaurants allow dogs on the patio, and I personally know all of the dogs (and their owners) on my street.

You would think barking would be more of a problem, but strangely it's not.  There was one A-hole who lived up the street whose dog was in the front yard barking all day, but she moved away.

10.  There are roughly a million fun, kid-friendly (and adult-friendly) things to do that are free and easy to get to.  Suddenly being a stay-at-home mom is less of a grind and more of a daily pleasure.

There are so many more things I love (no smog, great schools, no smoking in public places, no fast food drive-thrus). . . I mean the list could go on and on and I discover new things every day that make me love it more.  But then this post would never end.

I have found my happy place.  And I hope if you haven't already, that YOU dear reader find YOUR happy place soon!

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