“From Eau Claire” A Big-City Family Finds the Perfect Place to Live

Laura Lash |

Laura Lash, her son, and pup.
Laura Lash, her son, and pup.

My husband and I started dating nine years ago. We met at our shared workplace in the Loop, downtown Chicago. He had slowly traversed to Chicago after growing up in and around Eau Claire. Once he began pursuing his tech career, he and a small group of friends, all Eau Claire ex-pats, were together seeking out career opportunities and new towns to reside in. From Eau Claire, down to Wheaton, Ill., then to Oak Park and finally into Chicago – this posse of budding tech developers and designers were seeking city life.

My path to Chicago was a bit different. With a challenging and thrilling TV career, I lived in many different cities across the country, sometimes living with no address, just working and sleeping in hotels, resting off the job at my parents’ home outside Boston. So when I was ready to wean myself from my career, I thought Chicago would be an excellent city to lean into a “normal” office job, get some hobbies and maybe some plants.

As I relaxed into the Chicago way, my future husband and I grew closer, as we reaped all the benefits of living in this active and inviting city. We took long bike rides, found many ways to be lakeside, kayaked the Chicago River, and loved every moment of being an urban couple. Our engagement, first year of marriage, cattle dog adoption, and the birth of our child all occurred with the embracing backdrop of the Chicago skyline.

Yet nine years into our relationship, we had outgrown big city life. No matter how our salaries increased and our friend circle expanded, we still were lacking something, a way of being, that simply couldn’t be found in a city.

Yet nine years into our relationship, we had outgrown big city life. No matter how our salaries increased and our friend circle expanded, we still were lacking something, a way of being, that simply couldn’t be found in a city.

Last summer, we moved our toddler and dog to Eau Claire. This shocked many of our friends and family. When the idea dawned on us, during a summer visit to my in-laws in Brackett, we were chuckling about it as well. I thought we were moving to Sweden to live with the happy people? What about living in that shipping container pre-fab home in Washington State? The Eau Claire idea just dawned on us. Like the sun coming up, ideas moved to the surface. We talked about all the elements we were noticing in Eau Claire that would suit our lifestyle.

We turned to “the Google.” Everything that we would need as a family could be found in the area: bike trails, farmers markets, yoga studios, good coffee, green spaces, water access, Montessori schooling. We had never wanted to own a house, but I found prices within our budget. And these houses didn’t just have yards, they had Land. Our current city life – with its pink light-polluted, starless sky – gave way to the idea that we might stargaze, even briefly, every single night.

And so we have been gleeful residents of Eau Claire for 10 months now. At times, I bet it was annoying for locals to be greeted by our utopian enthusiasm and love affair with this fine city. But we chose to live here, and we are swooning at the chance. And you choose to live here too. Whether you’ve been here since birth or since college, or you came back after being elsewhere, you’ve made the same choice. It can be strengthening to look at where you are with fresh eyes once in awhile so you can appreciate all that you have going for you, all that is good about living here.

My observations are tinged by my values, of course, though I believe we can share some of the same elements that make this an excellent town for families to grow in.

I’ve been told by new friends here that there are so many more things to do in the Chippewa Valley than there used to be. And yes we found science classes, art classes, bike trails, family events, music in parks, restaurants – all the things a busy family would like to participate in. As an antidote to busy, and one of our essential ways of being, is to visit the places in and around Eau Claire where you can do very little. Riverside by the Forest Street garden, my son cast his first line – fishing “like Curious George,” he explained. When I met up with friends in Rod & Gun Park for the first time, I thought I’d traveled to Colorado. The sound of rushing water on the water wheel, the wash of sunlight, and the waving shade of those tall trees – these elements framed my three-year-old son in photogenic, curious natural moments that cannot be created but need to unfold in an environment such as this.

Our yard is visited daily by bunnies, turkeys, and deer. We’ve got worms crawlin’ up into our new bottomless compost bin. Two weeks ago, a large old oak got soaked through and crashed across Putnam Trail. Word spread amongst the neighbors and we quickly scampered down there to be within the tree limbs. Rain fell, shoes got soaked, umbrellas abandoned – and we took it all in. That sweet, wet smell of fresh lumber where the tree had split. The magnificence of being inside of a tangle of branches that are typically out of your reach. The bright bouncing colors of a green rain coat, pink wellies, and a red hooded sweatshirt, colors lain against the soft green leaves, the grey-brown bark, and the filtered light from the overcast sky. To be in nature, to have natural experiences so close to home and choices in the way you explore, visit, and question what is growing up around you – this to me is Eau Claire.

We are humbled and grateful for the way we are cradled in safety and quiet here. And we came here to contribute to it. We are not looking to improve on it as if the city lacks some essence that we want to perfume it with. The uptick in downtown activity through new businesses and the farmers market community – this is what impressed us, and it is what we came to be a part of. And with the skills and talents we have, we hope to be some quirky characters that live and work here as well, making a contribution.


Laura Lash is a mother, yoga teacher, writer, and contributor to Chippewa Valley Family.