About Living Sonoma County

Welcome to our lifestyle and wine country living site. We’ve lived enough years to appreciate the value of a life that’s simpler, more meaningful, and kind. Join us in an online gathering of people who want to continue to reflect, learn and explore. Our goal is to stay connected with the best parts of our past (which for everyone associated with this site revolve around Sonoma County and the Napa Valley) and to help ensure that “old school” values of creating community, celebrating our history, and sharing our stories, endure into the future.

We hope to share the things that inspire us to slow down, to live and act with intention, and to express gratitude openly and often. Living Sonoma County celebrates the wonder of the North Bay’s natural resources, a simplicity of lifestyle, and a focus on what really matters. Anyone can cultivate a “Sonoma State of Mind” wherever they are.

My husband and I are both native San Franciscans who vacationed in Sonoma County as kids (Russian River and Boyes Hot Springs) and who always dreamed of having our own little getaway in this remarkable place. Living in Sonoma County (even part of the time) was always a family goal.

In 1997 we found our Sonoma fixer-upper cottage, drained our savings account and had to temporarily raid the kids’ bank accounts for the last few thousand dollars we needed for closing costs.

The real estate agent called it “cozy” (which absolutely always, always means “small”) and we knew that the 900 square foot cottage built in 1956 was perfect.  For city people like John and me, one-third of an acre made us feel like we owned our own park. Our little ones who were used to a cement backyard in the city and who now regularly saw raccoons, squirrels, possum and deer in our backyard asked if we had bought a farm.

In the beginning we played the radio when we were outside but soon stopped in favor of the symphony of the sounds of nature. We had to get used to the “animal noises” as the kids called them, the buckeye nuts falling on our roof, and the crunch of dried oak leaves under our feet.

El Verano means “the summer” in Spanish and the area began as a resort area where people from the San Francisco Bay Area came to vacation. It seemed fitting to us that this had always been a place of rest and rejuvenation for those seeking the healing benefits of geothermal springs but also dancing, music and socializing for those who preferred more vivacious fun. Our plan was to channel more of the area’s restful past.

Having one small bathroom required a higher level of cooperation and all three children shared one bedroom, but we soon learned that living in close quarters can be very good for a family. And I especially loved to be able to look straight from the kitchen into the kid’s bedroom and see all three twin beds with matching quilts lined up in a row.

A short time after we bought the house, Katherine, our only daughter, experienced a recurrence of an aggressive childhood malignancy. Nineteen months later, Kate lost her life-long battle with cancer when she was ten years old.

During our many weeks in the hospital a life-long friend of John’s who lives in Sonoma cut roses from our front yard and drove them to Kate’s hospital room. It was an extraordinarily touching expression of support and seeing and smelling the crimson petals reminded us of the happy moments in our little cottage and gave us hope that Kate would have more time to spend there.

Our cottage waited patiently for us to return and was only a little worse for wear due to the efforts of family, friends and neighbors. In our absence, the grass in our front yard grew so tall that our new next door neighbor knew something was wrong. He started to mow our grass for us because he knew how much we loved spending time outdoors in our garden and he just kept mowing until we came back.

Kate did return to Sonoma many times where we experienced some of the best moments of our lives and most of them were right in our own back yard.

After our unimaginable loss we instinctively turned to Sonoma and to our cottage to bring us solace and sanctuary. We removed rotting pergolas with sledge hammers and jack hammered cracked cement walkways.  We dug up sticker bushes and poison oak and the physical work and resulting exhaustion provided a respite from our grief. Sonoma continues to offer us a sense of peace unmatched in our city life.

-Julia Hallisy, 2018