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  • This time last year I took my first road trip up California's 395 through the eastern Sierra mountains. I went on to Mammoth, Truckee and Yosemite.

It was epic.

The highlights for me were Bodie (Check out my highlights for "ghost town"), Mammoth (reminded me of the Canadian Rockies), and seeing the Donner Party Memorial/area.

It's a super hard state to live in, but it sure is beautiful. (PS: I made a Spotify playlist for just the drive: http://bit.ly/mountainroad).
  • I posted this in stories but  got so many comments I had to post it here.

I'd read an article which said how common an electric kettle is in the UK/AU but not in America. 
This was so interesting to me because my kettle is probably my most used appliance. But when I stay in homes here I can never find one.

A lot of Americans told me they use their microwave for hot water or they have a stove top.

And @astridpiepschyk explained it had to do with voltage. "Most Americans don’t own an electric kettle because the electricity voltage is too low to power a kettle effectively. In Australia, UK the voyage is 240, but in America it’s 110, and not very effective in boiling an electric kettle. It works, but takes a long time. This is why stove kettles are much more common." So what started as a post about how I love my half shelf for teacups in my 1930s cupboards turned into a great cultural and scientific conversation.

This is why I love Instagram 😀
 #hyggehouse
  • Ten years ago I moved to Philadelphia to build Anthropologies first Social Media, Content and Community programs.

It was a dream come true for two reasons. One I loved the company and two I was moving in July which meant I'd have an east coast fall.

It did not disappoint.

I spent every weekend out in nature with rosy cheeks, drinking hot apple cider. All this time later, that fall is still one of my favourite s and I miss it every year.

PS: the last photo is my old garage on my one acre property in Chestnut Hill. I had an 18th century stone home which I loved. I don't think I ever really wrote about this place because i never really settled in. Something I wish I'd done but I was just so consumed with work.
  • I like taking photos at Disneyland that don't look like Disneyland.
  • This is my aunt on my french fathers side. During WWII, she got tuberculosis and was sent to a sanatorium to recover.

To pass time, she and her other young female friends would doll up, take photos and send them plus letters to soldiers to flirt with. Some they knew, some they didn't. Like old-fashioned Bumble. 😀
She was incredibly smart, witty, and fierce. In this photo she was full of possibilities and hope.

She married soon after to an abusive alcoholic, had four sons and quickly got trapped by circumstance and the era.

She was my favourite family member even though I didn't see her that often. I have one hand written letter from her and this photo which are the few family things I have.

I loved her because she always listened to me - patiently and sincerely. She saw who I really was and was so kind about it and oddly relatable. She gave me direction without advice. She laughed often, was direct when needed and sometimes acted soft. She was the only one who ever called me sweetie (my family nickname at the time was Chuck! and my family never used soft names with each other. So sweetie felt so amazingly special). I had 5 other aunts but I called her just "Aunty" as she defined them all. It was only to her that I felt a connection, unconditional love and a sense of family.

Her situation was always pitiful and dire,  but she never acted like a victim. When I saw her on her deathbed she was so small, weak and wilted from a hard life. But somehow she had always given me courage and strength, as if to say to be the possibilities she couldn't be.

Recently I hung out with my two young adult nieces and they both just called me "Aunty." Not Aunty Alex or Alex. Just Aunty.

It made me feel so special and like we have formed the same bonds that I had with my own Aunty. And that I was now being to them what she was to me. 
But more importantly, they helped me change my idea of her - the one that she never accomplished something. 
Because she did. 
She taught me how to be a good Aunty - one of my favourite things to be. That's her legacy which I think is really beautiful.

Well, that and dressing up when you feel poorly. 😀
  • The @ojaivalleyinn is one of my favourite places either for a day trip or an overnight. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
I always go when I need supreme rest and healing because I really really get that here. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
There's something so magic and calming about Ojai and this place taps into it so perfectly. And they have the best massages.

My recs? Avoid weekends and holidays. It's insane and the spa isn't as relaxing because it's just so overcrowded.

For rooms, avoid the ones above Libby's Market/Pub (I think they are the original rooms). They're just louder & smaller. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
I've had a suite with a patio, bedroom and fireplace down by the spa that was heaven and I've had a larger room by the main restaurant (I can't remember that buildings name) and both were amazing. This past room was in the Topa building which is their main building and it was really lovely (and had a balcony overlooking the golf course). ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I've  been here with girlfriends, alone, on retreats with work and loved all the experiences. I know a lot of people who come here with kids (@couldihavethat has a recent post in IG and her blog on why it's great for families) and it's also totally dog friendly (@ScoutStCharming has been). ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I  paid for my room 😀 and received zero things for free. So not am ad, just sharing what I love.
  • I found hope in Hope thanks to nature and my nieces.
  • Possibilities.
  • "After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, and so on - have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear - what remains? Nature remains." Happy 200th birthday, Walt Whitman
  • Spring is always the most alive after the darkest and rainiest of winters. #hyggehouse
  • "There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind." C. S. Lewis. Or, as the Secret Sisters sang, "Tomorrow will be kinder."

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French Life Wanderlust

Returning To The Loire Valley

February 15, 2015
Chambord Castle France

Winter travel has it’s advantages and disadvantages for sure. The negatives? It’s very cold and often rainy which can make walking around sometimes seem impossible. Days are shorter (less light, things close early), grey and not everything is open. But the positives are always so worth it – hardly any ‘tourists’, places aren’t as busy and the locals have a lot more patience for you – especially in the Loire Valley, France.

It’s these benefits and the fact that my birthday falls in February that have me returning to Europe every winter. And this year after working in London for a week, I decided to go back to one of my favourite places in France: The Loire Valley. It’s beautiful, historical, easy to get around, quiet and charming. I’m a sucker for a chateau and this area has more than any other. I keep hoping one day, one will be mine…!

My itinerary for this trip? Day one: Chambord, Blois. Day Two: Chenonceau, Amboise. Day Three: Chinon, Saumar. Here’s the breakdown of where I stayed in the Loire and my first day in Chambord.

My homebase in the Loire

I rented a car from Paris and drove all the back roads down Tours, where I did something I’ve never done – made a city my base. Normally this would drive me crazy but I found a beautiful little flat and wanted to stay in it and it happened to be in Tours. Turned out to be a great decision.

In the heart of Tours was a beautiful, completely renovated and updated flat housed in a 16th century cloister. It’s big, beautiful windows overlooked a private enclosed park which gave it a very peaceful setting (in fact, from the park you couldn’t see any signs of the 20th or 21st century!).

The flat was just a 2 minute walk from the daily market Les Halles (and also a more traditional grocery store if a market isn’t your thing) which perfect for buying food for cooking in each night. As someone who has food allergies, France can be especially tough, so I wanted to make sure I could get in a good and easy meal each day. The photos of the kitchen totally sold me on staying here and after using it for a week, I totally want this as my kitchen! Small with no wasted space. It was so good to cook in each night, especially after being out in the cold all day. And having a little espresso after each meal became a little treat.

Tours was a great location for a home base; it was relatively easy to get to the main roads for exploring either up to Chambord (north) or down to Saumur (south), which was the whole purpose of the trip.

Day One – Chambord

Chambord Castle France 1

I had driven past the Chateau de Chambord so many times but had never been in so this was the year to finally see what was inside this 16th century chateau.

Being the largest chateau in the area, you really need to set aside at least half a day to really absorb the history, the architecture and the space. If the weather isn’t great outside then a visit here is extra perfect as you’ll welcome having so much inside space to wander.

It was hard for me to comprehend this as having been built as summer hunting lodge and that the original owner only spent 72 days here the entire time he owned it. It was also hard to comprehend all the details found in the windows, the floors, the roofs, the walls, the grounds… My favourite? The very elaborate rain spouts.

Chambord Castle France in the Loire Valley France

At the ground’s entrance there are gift shops and a couple of cafes. As it was a very cold, wet winter day, the one with the fireplace was especially charming and my lunch was really good. A welcome retreat after 3 hours of walking the chateau.

This visit was definitely worth the time and I highly recommend it as part of your Loire tour.

  • Reply
    susan // fleurishingNo Gravatar
    March 9, 2015 at 12:05 PM

    How am I just discovering your blog?! The Loire also has my heart…my brother lives in Sully sur Loire. Oh, Chambord…le sigh. Future Airbnb rental?!

  • Reply
    JulieBNo Gravatar
    March 11, 2015 at 8:32 PM

    Welcome back to blogging. I was a newcomer just before you’re break, and I look forward to more posts.

  • Reply
    Château du Petit ThouarsNo Gravatar
    June 10, 2015 at 4:22 AM

    Next time you come to the Loire definitely book a free tasting or book one of our tours at our family château and vineyard, only 10 minutes from Chinon! So glad you enjoyed the region!

  • Reply
    EllenNo Gravatar
    March 7, 2016 at 1:15 AM

    Great to see your post!

  • Reply
    MindNo Gravatar
    July 27, 2017 at 8:44 PM

    Hi Alex,

    Love your website 🙂 I found your blog by chance (I’m planning a honeymoon trip in Loire Valley in November) and it has totally inspired me. At first i thought you live in France, but then i read through your faq and found that you are in fact living in CA. I recently started blogging too. Anyway, thank you for all the information in France. I’ll definitely check out those places you recommended.

    xo

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