From Fire to Snow

Since landing in our new home near Northfield MN (see “Driving Miss Bella” for our journey out) at the end of September we’ve been busy unpacking, arranging furniture, hanging artwork and getting to know our new area of the country. It’s starting to really feel like “home” here, but back in our former home of Butte County, in Northern California, the news is grim. The “Camp Fire” has ravaged the area, consumed the beautiful town of Paradise, and put many people and animals out of their homes. It’s heartbreaking to see it on the news, read about it, and follow it on social media. As of this writing the huge fire is 35% contained, Oroville is still safe, but everyone has a “go bag” packed and must be sleeping with one eye open. I remember that feeling from our experience with the “Wall Fire” last year. The shear number of displaced people is astounding, and how housing will be found for them all — in a state sadly lacking in affordable housing — is a daunting problem. Meanwhile fires also rage in Southern California, and firefighters from many other areas of the country have gone in to help. My poor home state is really taking a beating, and whereas I’m glad to be out of the smoke, I feel a certain helplessness that comes from not being able to help more directly.

We have donated to this fund:  https://www.nvcf.org/fund/camp-fire-evacuation-relief-fund  if you can, please send a little to help.  Butte County is not a wealthy area, and many of the people who lost everything do not have the means to rent at higher prices, buy new clothing, and staple items. For those who owned homes, it is a long slow process to rebuild, or find another spot to settle in. My heart goes out to them all.

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On a lighter note, we have been exploring! Several weeks ago we drove to nearby Nerstrand Big Woods State Park at the recommendation of a friend who once lived near here. What a beautiful place! I’d love to get back there in the spring to do some plein air painting. Below are a few photos from our day.

We also made our way over to Red Wing Minnesota, and had fun exploring the Red Wing Pottery Museum, and the Memorial Park which had great vistas of the city of Red Wing and Mississippi River which borders the town on the north east side. (photos below)

And then of course we experienced our first light snow at the new house. It’s still magical to me — although as the winter drags on I’m sure that may change! Miss Bella was quite perplexed by the falling flakes!

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Driving with Miss Bella

cat in cat carrier

When we decided to leave Oroville, CA and move to Minnesota, we knew that we’d probably have to make the drive — we had two cats at the time and planned on a long and yowl filled drive east. Unfortunately, poor old Bobcat didn’t last that long, we lost him in April of this year to kidney disease. So our usually placid Manx “Bella” would be our only furry passenger on this trip.

We really thought the move would happen sooner in the year, but the area we were focusing on, Northfield MN, was experiencing a real seller’s market. We flew back and forth several times, made several offers that didn’t succeed, before lucking out on finding the house we are in. It’s a new house built in 2015 in a new development in Dundas MN, which is right next door to Northfield. We closed on the home at the end of August. In mid September we started our trek.

Before leaving and while the movers came for our furniture and boxes, we decided to board Bella at Foothill Boarding in Oroville, a place she’d been before and seemed very comfortable at, we didn’t want her to be stressed by the movers. We stayed at the Gold Country Casino hotel for a few nights while the movers came and right before we took off for good. That was also a good choice, it was close to our house and had a decent restaurant for breakfasts — and was less stressful for us.

A lot of pre-planning went into this trip — first I got online and charted our course using Google Earth, chunking the trip into 7 to 8 hour sections and find towns we could stay in at those points. Then I found a site called “officalpethotels.com“, typed in the towns I’d targeted, and reviewed the list of possible hotels. One tip that I’d recommend would be to call each one personally and not rely on the online information. Hotels often take dogs, but some won’t take cats due to allergies. Once I’d nailed down our route, and reserved the rooms, we found midway points to stop for lunch and get gas. Since we had the cat with us, we couldn’t leave the car, so we opted for Subway locations which were usually close to the highway and a gas station.

As a side note, another thing we did was to do several “pre-packings” of the car (Toyota Highlander Hybrid). We had a fairly large fabric carrier for Bella which had room for a small litter box, food and water dish, and room for her to lie down comfortably. Tim reinforced the base with several layers of cardboard, so it was easier to carry. We also brought a smaller hard sided carrier, thinking we might need it to carry her into and out of the hotels, but ended up not using it and just bringing in the travel carrier. I was a little worried that she might claw through it, but it was fine and she really didn’t claw at it much after she got the idea of what was going on.

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Bella checking out her blue fabric car carrier. Lots of room for a small litter box, food and water bowls.

Our route took us four days via Hwy 80, from northern California, through Reno, staying the first night in Elko NV at a Best Western. It wasn’t the nicest place, but it was actually Bella’s favorite! We figure it was “well scented” from other pets that had stayed there.

The second day we drove through Nevada and Utah, staying the night in Rawlings, WY at a MicroTel Hotel. This was a bit nicer and newer, and there was a nice cafe across the freeway we had dinner at. Bella was fine staying on her own in the room for an hour or so. She seemed to enjoy all the new beds.

Cat looking out window
Bella looks out at Rawlings WY, and thinks “I hope this isn’t it…”

The third day took us through the vast empty spaces of Wyoming to spend the night in Grand Island, Nebraska at a very nice Candlewood extended stay suite. We were all quite comfortable there, and just made sandwiches for dinner in the room which was equipped with a nice kitchen.

Cat on bed
The higher end Candlewood extended stay hotel was a hit with Miss Bella…

Then the forth and final day, we drove through Nebraska and Iowa, to head north from Ames, IA into Minnesota, to our final destination of Dundas. We settled Bella into our new master bedroom and bath with the larger cat box we brought, leaving some of our clothing around for the familiar scent. Since we had no furniture yet, we stayed in a nearby hotel (which unfortunately didn’t take cats).

Cat and woman in front of fireplace
Road weary travelers in our new home!

The moving van came in on Sunday, the the driver actually stayed in the same hotel, so we were able to show him the route and the house the afternoon before the big unloading. The next day he was there early, with a good experienced crew, and unloading commenced. We were buried in boxes, but finally in our new home. All three of us were able to sleep in “our” own bed that night.

Throughout the whole ordeal, I must say, Bella was a trouper. She did express her “dismay” at being on the road each morning when we started out, but always settled down for a nap in the afternoon. She was noticeably more comfortable on the straight, level stretches, and most agitated at the changes in elevation or curvy sections of the route. From the beginning of the process she seemed to understand what was going on, and as long as we were all together, everything would be OK.  In a strange way, I feel incredibly grateful for her presence in this new stage of our life, just as I felt when we brought our Bobcat up to Oroville from Santa Clara.

cat in chair
Feeling right at home in the new house, just in time for winter!

One Month Out!

We’ve been busy here… most of us. Bella, our large long haired Manx just likes sleeping on the boxes! By the end of September we will be seeing Oroville California in our rear view mirror! Our belongings will go with a professional moving company, and Bella, Tim and I will take to the road. Yes, it would be easier to fly, but it’s hard to shove a 17+ Lb cat under your seat on a plane! So we’ve mapped out our route using a Pet Friendly Hotels site, and  will be listening to a fair amount of yowling at first.

See you on the other side!

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Shaking things up, again.

Retiring early can be challenging, and we retired at 54, well before most of our friends. The way we did it was to buy rental properties and to become debt free. We picked Oroville, California after many visits, and thought this would be our forever home. But visiting a place and actually making it your home are two very different things. While we have enjoyed the natural beauty of our area, particularly the area around our home, that was not enough to keep us here long term.

We gave it a good try.  We joined local groups related to our interests in politics and the arts, we got to know new friends, and spent time exploring the area — all the things one does when moving to a new area. But one issue that we didn’t anticipate was air quality. We are on the northern end of California’s Central Valley, and smoke, dust and pollution gets trapped here — which becomes really intense when there are huge fires anywhere near. I have developed a summer cough, directly related to this.

Family and connection is another aspect of the decision to move. My husband is from a large family, with 7 other siblings and their families, most of them living in the Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa areas. This became a huge pull, since my family is quite small and not near us.

Although I will miss the trails behind our home, and our incredible view, I hope this change will be a positive one. We took a big risk when we left Silicon Valley five years ago, to live on rental income and investments — now we face another huge shift. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” echoes through my mind. Sometimes you need to shake things up — and hopefully it will all be worth the ride.

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More Cheagan than Vegan…

So… it’s been a while. And no, I didn’t make it to my two year anniversary as a whole food planted based vegan. Nope. I have a confession to make…I’m a Cheagan (a vegan who cheats). My excuse?  It’s hard, and well, I got bored and lazy. Also a certain amount of apathy came into play.

Traveling, visiting with family, social eating, living with a type II diabetic, being too tired or slightly bored with the whole foods menu — all of that. I still try, about 80% of the time. Most of the time when I cheat, I’m still technically a vegetarian, but occasionally not — yes, chicken and fish have crossed these lips. When you’ve spend most of your life as one who eats “just about everything”, it’s hard to be totally “good” all the time.

So… that’s the facts. If you’re looking for vegan inspiration, or new recipes — I’m sorry. I still cook that way MOST of the time, and do keep up with my favorite vegan YouTube-ers, but this isn’t the space for purists — I understand if you need to leave, turn away, delete. I still believe that a whole foods plant based diet is the best diet to have for optimal health, nothing will change my mind about that — even all the nay sayers who suddenly decide voice their opposition to the vegan diet/life style. Yes, them. If you’re vegan, and particularly if you came to it as an older adult, you know exactly what I mean.

On the other hand, while I’m still doing some art — I do admit I’ve been really down this past winter and spring. In addition to losing my sister to cancer back at the end of November 2017, we had to put our much loved cat “Bob” down in April 2018. That was a blow, he was just shy of 14, and because he’d been an indoor cat — much pampered and loved — we thought he’d be around much longer. But no, he didn’t make it — kidney disease.

We miss you Bob, you were one in a million.

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On Finding Your Tribe

Last week the portrait drawing group I attend had a slightly different spin. The guy who organizes it also works with the homeless in Chico, CA and he invited a man he’d met through that work to join us. Not sure if this man — an artist — would actually join us (to both model and draw), he’d also engaged another woman (a friend and artist) to model. They both showed up, so we had a great time with two poses from each, as well as two shorter poses. Our model Scott was able to draw half the time by trading off with Jennie, the other model/artist. He produced some good, solid, accomplished work. He is one of us, part of our tribe.

I didn’t get much of his story, but I know he’s in his early 60’s, has done art in the past and wonderfully “at home” in our group.  He was quiet and focused while drawing, and was also a good portrait model.  I wish him well and hope to see him again in our sessions. I also hope he is able to stay warm and safe during the current cold snap. There are fewer homeless shelters in our area than meet the need, and I fear for those who don’t have access to shelter.

Below: 10 min to 30 min sketches of mine from the session. I do enjoy drawing mature faces, particularly now that mine one too!

 

Moving quickly & standing still

arkansas river
Arkansas River

Note — This was written a few weeks ago and not published until now. Since this time I’ve plunged back into my twice weekly yoga classes, portrait drawing group, and am back to cooking some good fresh vegan fare. Things seem more manageable. One thing I’ve learned is to take time and be kind — to yourself and those around you.

At the beginning of October, I jumped on a plane and rushed to be with my sister in Maumelle, AR. She was experiencing severe health problems, and her daughter — who had been visiting and checking on her — had to leave. I remember I texted her, asking if she needed me to come out — and “Yes” was the answer. So I did.

Two months after that, the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend, she was gone.

I had been there for her diagnosis — multiple small cell cancer tumors throughout her body. It was devastating news, but she took it stoically, as though she already knew. And she decided right away, with very little hesitation, not to fight it. She didn’t want to go through the side effects of Chemo, the false hope (in her mind), so she refused treatment and signed up for hospice care. What followed was a swift decline, coupled with a very unfortunate fall and hip fracture. Her daughter came out to stay until the end, a loving heroic effort which left her raw and drained.

It all happened so fast. By December, my husband and I were flying out to Arkansas for the memorial service, which had been planned, for the most part, by my sister. It was beautiful, tasteful and so so sad. Many friends left behind, and all of us reeling by her sudden departure.

Just a week after returning from this, we were off again to Minnesota. We had planned over six months prior to attend my husband’s family Christmas gathering and to look at some houses back there. We are contemplating moving there within the next year or so. Difficult timing, and as a good friend told me “you’ve just had a huge loss, and the idea of losing your home and the community you’ve become accustom to is probably too much to take on right now” — she was right.

I needed to stand still, and catch up. My body has been moving back and forth through time, space, devastating emotion. I need to get grounded.