A couple of weeks ago I went off the grid.
Like, really off the grid.

To celebrate our 22nd wedding anniversary, my husband and I escaped to Big Sur, California—one of our very favorite places.


Big Sur is a place we’ve loved since even before we were married, but for some reason, haven’t visited since.


Tall redwoods on rolling mountains when you look one way; crashing waves and sheer cliffs when you look the other; fabulous wine while looking at either—it’s the perfect combination of our very favorite things.


Northern California is a place where all our pieces seem to fit; a place we dream of living; a place we wonder now—22 years older and wiser—why we didn’t figure out a way to make that happen way back when we were just starting out; when we had our whole lives ahead of us.


“Five years,” my husband told me in 1998, when the only good job offer he got out of grad school was in Minneapolis and I cried buckets of tears. “Five years and we’ll get back west.” Minnesota was not in my life plan, you see. We’d happily moved from Arizona to Indiana for him to attend business school in 1996—Scottsdale is lovely but way too crowded and insufferably hot to be a place we ever wanted or planned to settle—and were excited to experience a couple of years in the heartland (no kidding, John Cougar Mellencamp lived down the road), enjoying four real seasons for the first time in our lives. It was an adventure, and we were game.

But Minnesota was one of those states I forgot was actually a state until I was looking at a map or listening to the weather report in February (and was in awe that human life could survive in such a place), and even then, it was easily forgotten.

Five years…which turned into another child…which turned into job advancements too important to walk away from…which turned into children being involved with friends and in activities that you didn’t want to voluntarily move them from just because you thought the grass would be greener somewhere else (it would! It would!) and because you’d had to move so many times as a child that you wanted to spare your own from ever having to be the new kid (yes, they’d have survived, I realize this now)…which turned into a parent moving all the way to Minnesota with the sole purpose to be near your family…which turned into children being too near graduating high school with the very same kids they’d gone to kindergarten with (imagine!)…which turned, suddenly, into 17.

That’s a lot of Februarys to (barely) survive.

While being in northern California last week was a lovely escape and a wonderful, relaxing way to celebrate 22 years and all they’ve brought us, it was also kind of horrible.

We were depressed not 20 minutes into our drive down Hwy. 1: questioning our life decisions and suddenly feeling the weight and the rush of the time we have left.

We’re a barrel of fun on vacation, aren’t we?

Sure, we’ve traveled to gorgeous places in the past 17 years; places we’ve exclaimed “we never want to leave!” but this isn’t the same. Northern California is breathtaking, no question, but it’s not the beauty that fills in our holes, it’s the feeling we have there—the feeling like it’s where we belong.

For two decidedly non-midwestern kids, the pull to get back west was fierce, and we spent a lot of our trip discussing ways to make that happen (plans whose delight with and projected success of climbed in direct correlation with the number of glasses of wine we were consuming at the time of discussion, just in case you were worried about our depression).


It felt like home in those mountains, and we made a vow to make one there, soon. Since the 14-year-old is about to start high school and we’ve promised her we’re not going anywhere until after she graduates, we’ve got a little time—and a lot more glasses of wine—to figure it out.

About five years.




  1. Snarkfest on July 2, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    The mountains of West Virginia are pretty nice. You could always come here for a visit. Just sayin’.

    • Michelle on July 2, 2015 at 1:12 pm

      Oh, I bet WV is gorgeous! Never been! But I have the feeling my “country road” travels in the opposite direction. 🙂

  2. Pamela Fear on July 2, 2015 at 6:33 pm

    I hope you guys get there someday. Chuck and I felt the same way about MN. It’s been good to us financially and it’s been a wonderful place to raise kids, but we knew we’d eventually end up somewhere more scenic, relaxing, and definitely warmer! We just hadn’t decided exactly where yet. We were planning to check out areas around North Carolina, in or near the smoky mountains. We both loved the idea of living in an updated, modern log cabin someday. As I read your post I remembered all of those discussions, usually accompanied by a glass or two of wine, as well. You’ll get there! It’s getting closer everyday!

  3. Judy George on July 2, 2015 at 7:08 pm

    Born in a little town in northern IL, raised there, married HS sweetheart; he started his own business and there you have it – 3 children,4 grandchildren, 2 great-grandchildren – and where do they all live? Right here in this same little town in northern IL! How could we move? We’re on the verge of retiring, grandson #! is taking over business but he’s the same one who blessed us with two of the most adorable great grandbabies in the history of great grandbabies – how could we move? Have family that moved the day their youngest graduated from HS – left him behind headed to college in the fall and took off for parts unknown – wound up in SC- loving it but guess I’m just too “family oriented” – don’t want to have to Face Time and Skype with all my kith and kin – but many times wish it were different!

  4. Moira on July 2, 2015 at 8:30 pm

    Great post, Michelle. Big Sur is a great place to reflect and make life changing decisions. Juila Pfieffer Burns State Park is a special place, that waterfall gets me every time. I am a California native and have thought about leaving several times, but have never been able to commit and make a move. I do a fair amount of business travel which allows me to see places and experience the seasons without living through them. I do love the changing leaves of fall, the first snow in winter, the cherry blossoms blooming in spring, and summer’s fireflies. I just feel at home here. It sounds like your MN life has been pretty amazing. I hope that you find your way back and your kids’ paths lead them here, in 5 years.

  5. Susie Q on July 3, 2015 at 10:04 am

    You’ve just described my life… in reverse! Chicago-bred, moved to Northern CA (East Bay area) for 5 years for husband’s job. It was only supposed to be for a year or two, but things happened, and we stayed. And loved it. We knew we’d have to leave eventually (we couldn’t have afforded it long term at that point) but it truly is The Golden State, and I miss it often. Especially in February, when my friends are posting pictures of their kids in the pool. We came to MN for my husband’s job, but when our youngest graduated high school, we’re off (hopefully!)

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