California Girl

(This column appeared in a recent edition of the Devils Lake Journal newspaper in my hometown of Devils Lake, North Dakota)

I’ve always been intrigued by California – the geography, the people, the weather and more. I took my first trip – and my first airplane ride – to sunny southern CA when I was a senior at Devils Lake Central High via an organized trip through the school. All these years later I can’t be sure what time of year I went, but I believe it was early spring in ND, and I remember marveling at how warm and green it was in CA for that time of year. I’ve returned to California many times over the years, primarily on business trips and also to visit my UND college roommate in San Diego (who hails from Hoople, ND)

And now some 30 years later I am again marveling at the greenery and more in CA – as a permanent resident. Last Christmas when I was decorating my Christmas tree in my apartment in Brush CO, I wondered where I would find myself next Christmas. I hoped it would be somewhere else, as I had been looking for some time to return to my former career in public relations in a metropolitan area. Just a few short months later, I found myself on a plane to Sacramento, CA, for a job interview. Not long after that I packed up my belongings and moved to CA to start my new job as the marketing and communications director for a lobbying organization. So far I am thoroughly enjoying CA and being back to living in a city. Following are some of the things I appreciate about Sacramento and city life:

  • Restaurant choices. One thing I missed about living in small towns during the past three years was the limited number of restaurant options. In Brush, I got excited when a new gas station/convenience store opened that sold homemade sandwiches. Here there are at least 30-plus restaurants in a five-mile radius from both where I work and live and endless other options throughout the city.
  • My second day in Sacramento I had a Korean Banh Mi sandwich at a local restaurant.

    My second day in Sacramento I had a Korean Banh Mi sandwich at a local restaurant.

    Restaurant diversity. Sacramento is an ethnically diverse city which is reflected in its restaurants. You name it, it’s got it. I think even more so than the Washington, D.C. area where I lived for eight years. The grocery store shopping complex near where I live has not one, but two Indian restaurants, a Thai restaurant and more.

  • The trees. Sacramento is the city of trees, including many I don’t think I had ever seen before. My aunt who lives here seems to know the names of all of them, but I am coming up with names of
    The Walmart palm trees.

    The Walmart palm trees.

    my own, such as the tall, skinny pointy ones and the one that looks like a tree from a Dr. Seuss cartoon. And did I mention the palm trees? They are everywhere. They even line the long street at the Walmart shopping area near where I live. Oh and the fruit trees. Not only pretty but scrumptious.

  • The yard sale tree.

    The yard sale tree.

    The flowering trees and bushes. Well, they are just drop dead, colofully gorgeous. I’ve never lived anywhere where I have snapped so many pictures of trees. I went to a multi-family flowering treeyard sale a couple of weeks ago where the biggest find for me was a line of large, green bushes with the most gorgeous pink and orange flowers.

  • The snails. No worms on the sidewalk here when it rains. Instead, not-so-small snails slither across the sidewalk with their shells looking almost prehistoric. I haven’t stepped on one yet, and I don’t think I
    When it rains, it snails.

    When it rains, it snails.

    want to.

  • The Delta Breeze. It’s your friend here in the summer, coming off the Pacific Ocean from the San Francisco area. It makes the 100 plus degree days here a little more bearable and cools things off most nights.
  • The pool at my apartment complex. It’s open year round and includes its own gorgeous greenery. Small town life, at least in my experience, didn’t offer pools in apartment complexes, or apartment complexes for that matter. I love sitting by the pool at dusk and watching the stars come out. pool
  • Small town touches. My Aunt Mona, who along with my Mom hails from Oberon, ND, lives here. There also is cat living at the Home Depot Garden  Center where I bought my
    Roses and jasmine in Aunt Mona's backyard.

    Roses and jasmine in Aunt Mona’s backyard.

    flowers. Also most of the people I have met so far are small town friendly.

  • Geographical diversity. A day hike in the mountains or a dipping your toes in the ocean are both just a couple of hours away. Sacramento has mild winters and snow is very unusual. However, if I feel in need of a snow fix or want to go skiing, again just a hop, skip and a jump away.
  • Down by the River. Two large rivers flow through Sac (that’s what the locals call Sacramento) offering multiple recreational opportunities.
Discovery Park. The confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers looking toward downtown.

Discovery Park. The confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers looking toward downtown.

All in all, not a bad place to live. I think I’ll stay.

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Free Falling

Greetings from Sacramento CA! About a month ago I wrote a blog about my “impromptu” trip here that was actually a trip to interview for a job, which I was offered and accepted! You longtime followers of my blog know that I started writing this blog a few years back about job hunting and unemployment. More about the job and my search in another post! This blog is about the drive and road trip from CO to CA, which was a little dicey in a number of ways.

I love a good road trip – always have. There is nothing like loading up the car, filling up the gas tank and hitting the open road whether it’s to a familiar destination, somewhere new or wherever the wind takes you! I had taken this particular route only once before some 20 plus years ago with a dear friend of mine – a SF native – who moved back to SF from CO after a divorce. If I remember right we also had her little shih tzu dog as part of our entourage. As I was preparing to travel the same route, I tried to remember the details of our trip together all those years ago and couldn’t summon up much. I remembered spending the night in Salt Lake City and seeing the expanse of the Great Salt Lake and traversing Donner Pass. My friend via FB filled in a few blanks, such as we listened to Basia, which I had on a cassette tape. (Anybody remember Basia??)

What I thought about most as I prepared for the trip, other than the excitement about the new job and living in CA, was how I  was going to handle some issues I have had in recent years with “open road driving anxiety” especially that related to driving in the mountains and even more so driving over mountain passes, something I hadn’t done by myself in a very long time. I didn’t come up with any particular plan other than just to try and conquer it. Lest anyone reading this think I am a big old wimp – I used to be quite fearless about such driving. When I was younger my sister came to visit me in Denver and we took a road trip to the Grand Canyon. I didn’t even bat an eyelid or sweat one single drop when I drove over the Million Dollar Highway in southwest CO and traversed several mountain passes. But times they have a changed. I am not sure why I have developed this particular type of anxiety, and I don’t think it really matters. What matters is learning to deal with it.

Utah mountain range preceding Parley's Summit

Utah mountain range preceding Parley’s Summit

I am not going to go over all the details of the trip. There were definitely some moments of some intense anxiety and times when I wanted to bail, although that is not an option high on a mountain pass. The first big pass I encountered was Parley’s Summit in Utah, and I had no idea it was even ahead of me. I had only heard about Parley’s Canyon on the Salt Lake City TV news, due to snowstorm the days preceding (the snowstorm and high winds are another story). As my vehicle was climbing up the mountain to Parley’s summit the Tom Petty song “Free Falling” came on the radio, and I somehow found comfort in this song as my sweaty hands gripped the wheel. As it turned out the song spoke to the way for me to tackle and how I had been tackling this 1,000 plus mile drive. It was to jump in feet first, free fall so to speak, and not look back. The song continued to play as I sailed down Parley’s Summit. I also took a lot of deep breaths, uttered self affirmations and looked for inspiration to road warrior and 17 year old kit kat

Kit cat Jenni is one awesome road kitty!

Kit cat Jenni is one awesome road kitty!

Jenni, who fortunately doesn’t suffer from my afflictions and is cool as a cucumber on road trips – flat land or high country. And glad I am that I jumped feet first. The beauty of Parley’s Summit and Canyon, and all the passes, deserts and mountain forests that I drove through was spectacular and well worth every drop of sweat. I have faced similar fears before in other situations and come out on top. When you conquer your fears you feel – at first a little relieved – and then empowered, liberated and ready to take on the world.

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Sands Saved

The Sands Theater in downtown Brush.

The Sands Theater in downtown Brush.

In late 2013, I wrote about the Sands Theater here in little ole downtown Brush being in dire need of raising funds to convert to digital or risk not being able to show movies any longer on its archaic movie equipment. The situation also prompted me to reminisce about the former movie theaters in my home town of Devils Lake, N.D., including its own downtown theater as well as a drive in movie theater.

Some $60,000 needed to be raised for the pricey equipment and the community rallied and held a variety of fund raisers and also launched a Save Our Sands Facebook page, which eventually garnered nearly 2,000 likes. The thought that the theater might have to close its doors touched the hearts of many former Brush residents who had fond memories of the theater over the years. The donations came pouring in with many sharing theater recollections. Fast forward to about a year later – the Sands Theater was saved.

Brush’s Sands Theater was not alone in its need to convert to digital. Small town theaters throughout Colorado found themselves in the same situation. It prompted an organization called downtown Colorado to launch an initiative called Save Our Screens to help provide grant money for theaters to convert to digital. And convert they did, with small towns from throughout Colorado rallying their communities to save their theaters. About a month ago the Brush Chamber of Commerce invited me, the town’s newspaper reporter, to attend a celebratory lunch in downtown Denver where small town theater owners would share their success in converting to digital and other stories about their small town theaters.

The theater owners’ dedication to their theaters was impressive and infectious. It was interesting to hear how other small towns were working to multi-purpose theater use including using them for other functions from film schools to funerals. The devotion to small town theaters was best expressed by one owner who said every small town should not be without two things – a library and a movie theater. Amen.

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A warm and lemony visit

As I write this blog in mid March it is Spring Eve and the weather has been fluctuating wildly in Colorado over the last several weeks. Just a few days ago it was approaching near 80 degrees and just a couple of weeks ago it was in the teens with fresh blanket of snowfall. It was during those frigid days that I took a somewhat impromptu trip to Sacramento, California, and within a matter of hours left the dead of winter and stepped directly into early summer.

I have traveled to California a number of times over the years, including both for business trips and personal visits. I have visited San Diego, San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, Santa Monica, Monterey, Long Beach and probably a few places I am forgetting. I had traveled through Sacramento on one occasion but had never spent any time there. And on this particular recent trip I spent just shy of 24 hours, however it was just enough to embrace the sunshine, green grass and trees and blooming flowers – which proved to be an almost indescribable breath of fresh air. I can’t remember the last time I jetted off in the dead of winter to embrace summer like weather. I know many people routinely take off each winter to Mexico, the Caribbean or some other tropical locale. Not me. I cannot fully describe the pure joy of going from sub zero, bone chilling temps to a balmy clime and being surrounded by so much greenery and blooming vegetation in an array of gorgeous colors – pure plant heaven.

lemon treeI stayed with my aunt in Sacramento, whose house I had never visited. When I arrived there at night it was dark, however the first thing I did the next morning was roll up the shade in my bedroom window to find a gorgeous leaf filled tree with lavender flowers. Her front yard was filled with a colorful array of flowers – both in the ground and in pots scattered around the porch – I wish I had taken note of the varieties. The backyard had several HUGE lemon trees, both the traditional yellow variety and Meyer’s greenish lemons – both of which were filled to their branch brims with lemons. I can honestly say I have never been been so up close and personal with such lemon trees in all their glory! Also in my aunt’s back yard were enormous bushes of blooming rosemary and several other herbs, of which I had only seen grown in small pots. We picked them off and took in the aroma and talked about the many ways to use them in a variety of dishes.

In addition to enjoying a little early summer toward the end of winter, I spent some one-on-one time with my aunt, a first for me, particularly special since she just celebrated her 80th birthday. My aunt has always been an active and energetic person, and she is still 80 years young and an inspiration and aspiration of years to come. She is my mom’s sister, and my maternal grandparents owned a small grocery store in the teeny tiny town of Oberon, N.D., population back in the day of maybe 500ish. My aunt talked about how she was unhappy with small town life growing up in Oberon and how she found escape through reading via a small impromptu library a woman in Oberon set up in the back of Grandpa’s store. My aunt asked me if I remembered that library, which I did not. However, now I do, and it’s just one of those nuggets of information you gain about your family in those kind of visits with family – just the two of you.

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Pickleball, and oh Corned Beef

Brush CO St. Paddy's Day Fun Run 2013.

Brush CO St. Paddy’s Day Fun Run 2013.

I recently wrote an article for the newspaper I work for about its annual St. Paddy’s Day Run, which is coming up this weekend. The poster for the event said proceeds would go to benefit new tennis courts and pickleball. That’s all the poster said was “pickleball,” which intrigued me as I had never heard of pickleball and also the fact that I am huge fan of pickles in all forms, so of course any reference to pickles is bound to attract my attention. So I did a little research and it turns out the pickleball sport has been around for quite some time, but has recently become extremely popular among the over 50 set. And having recently had a birthday that moves me further into the 50 set I had to do a little pickelball research. So if you also are not familiar with pickeball and would like to learn more you can google it of course or read my article, which provides a brief description of pickeball and also the upcoming St. Paddy’s Day race in Brush, which last year featured some killer corned beef and cabbage, this coming
Killer corned beef and cabbage.

Killer corned beef and cabbage.

from a person who is not particularly fond of the dish. I will have to find out who is the St. Paddy’s Race corned beef chef in little old Brush.

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A comfort home fix via the movies

The Academy Awards just wrapped up over the weekend, and once again I failed to see any of the movies nominated this year. It’s not because I don’t enjoy watching movies. I do. Very much. Next to reading a good book, watching an engaging, engrossing movie is right up there with one of my favorite things to do. Especially on the big screen in a darkened theater.
However, I also enjoy another kind of movie watching. Repeat comfort movies at home. It’s like comfort food, only a comfort movie. It’s the kind of movie I might want to watch if the weather is snowy or chilly. Or if I am not feeling well either with a nasty cold or a mean case of the blues or I’m feeling a little lonely. It’s the kind of movie that gives you a you fix like a bowl of homemade mac and cheese or chili or whatever your comfort food fix. It fills you up, satiates a need and leaves you warm inside and extremely satisfied and fulfilled. And it makes you smile.

On these particular days I am drawn to movies set in what I find to be incredibly comfy, cozy, homey homes, where the home is a key, central part of the movie. It’s a home that is not extravagant , not a mansion, just something really comfortable – warm and inviting with just the right decorating touches. For example, I was feeling really run down one one recent Saturday, and I did a little channel surfing and found the movie “It’s Complicated” and watched it for a second time. If you haven’t seen the movie it features Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. The crux of the movie is set in the home of the character Streep plays. I find every part of this home so appealing, a home you would walk into and feel instantly comfortable, including the kitchen where Streep’s character whips up an impromptu gourmet meal for Martin’s character, her architect. She entertains her friends in the living area and shares her frustrations and indiscretions. The home also is where Streep’s character is given a joint by her ex-husband, Baldwin, while she is soaking in the claw foot bathtub. Who doesn’t love a claw foot bathtub?

Steven Martin also made two “Father of the Bride” movie set in cozy, homey homes. Memorable scenes include George wanting to have a barbecue wedding in the backyard and eventually settling for a wedding reception in the house, and George and Nina having a little fun on the kitchen floor and ending up with a baby on the way in their middle age years. After finding out about the baby on board and knowing the nostalgic value of a family home George buys the home back in “Father of the Bride II” after impulsively selling it.
“Driving Miss Daisy” is another movie set in a gorgeous, gorgeous home this time in the South. One visually impactful scene is where Miss Daisy is sitting in a white wicker filled sunroom with sun streaming in multiple windows framed in white curtains. Just gorgeous.

If you add an ocean outside these homey homes, I love the movie even more. Think Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson in “Something’s Gotta Give.” They stroll along the beach with the waves breaking and sending up white spray, and Nicholson’s character contemplates climbing up a flight of beach stairs after a heart attack to gain strength to be “ok back in that department.” Later the two meet up in the kitchen in the middle of the night in their pj’s to make pancakes.

One of my favorite movies combining a warm, meandering older home and the ocean, plus a great story, is “Rich in Love” with Albert Finney, Kathryn Erbe and Jill Clayburgh. It’s set in South Carolina and it has Erbe’s character, a teenager, trying to figure out why her mother has abandoned the family. The house is huge and inviting and has giant wrap around porches. The house and the movie are truly treasures and will give you the ultimate homey home movie fix.

I have lived in 15 different places in the last 30 or so years. This Victorian apartment in Wisconsin was one of the most homey homes.

I have lived in 15 different places in the last 30 or so years. This Victorian apartment in Wisconsin was one of the most homey homes.

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An Ode

One of my Devils Lake Central High School Class of 79 classmates, Brad Blazer, recently passed away after a hard fought battle with cancer. The day one of my other classmates, Roger – one of Brad’s very close friends – posted on Facebook that he was gone I was incredibly sad and I found myself thinking a lot about Brad and my high schools pals. The thing I remember most about Brad was his smile and infectious sense of humor and laugh. It was a Jack Nicholson worthy smile that encompassed his entire face – big and toothy with an ever present mischievous twinkle in his eyes. I remember Brad as being one of many guy classmates who were incredibly funny and were also collectively part of the close knit Class of ’79.

The thing about growing up in a small town the size of Devils Lake – population 7,000ish – is you have some kind of connection to so many of your classmates, especially if you live in the same town your whole life. Maybe you went to kindergarten together like I did with my friend Stuart who I walked to and from our kindergarten teacher Mrs. Laber’s house. I remember we took a nap in the half day class, and I thought it was such a waste of time. Or maybe you were in the same first grade class like I was with my friend Donna and you remained best buds through grade school, high school and beyond. Or maybe you remember sitting with all of your classmates in the second grade wearing your first pair of glasses and fortunately nobody made fun of you – at least that you remember – and you went sledding behind KDLR. Maybe you went to your first slumber party and played Truth Dare Double Dare Promise to Repeat for the first time and you got your ears pierced without your mother’s permission, or were involved with some “Harriet the Spy” high jinks with Jennifer. Or maybe you experienced new school in the sixth grade with Mr. DeLapp with friends like Maren, JoNell and Jane where you created your own newspaper and collected beer cans for charity. Maybe you went to Bible Camp at Red Willow. And then all the grade schools converged and you met new people in the 7th grade and girls like Shelley and Shurette and more became your friends. You went to your first boy girl dance. You worked at the Barrel Drive –In and made notes about cute boys. Maybe a guy named Richard became your best guy friend and dated your pal Jane. You cruised Main. You tried your first cigarette, took your first drink and smoked your first joint with your friends and went to keggers at the Halgrens and camped by the lake. You had classes together and countless fun times with your pals like Brad and everybody else. You went to sporting events and the state hockey tournament in Grand Forks. The list goes on and on. And then you graduated and there is a lull. You went off to college. Some people remained friends, some didn’t. Then came Facebook many years later, and you reconnected with a whole bunch of them and you became a collective unit again.



And then fast forward to now. Brad was a little late to the game in joining Facebook. But there he was just a few months ago on FB. In the hospital. Sense of humor totally intact, making us all smile and laugh again via cyberspace. His friend Roger posted updates, and we all collectively prayed. And then he was gone. Heartbreaking. But even in death his uplifting spirit was intact. He didn’t want a funeral, instead a celebration of life.

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