Tornadoes and Boats

When you read the rest of this blog, you will notice how long ago I wrote it. What happened? In a word, summer. House guests, parties, summer theater. We’re a small town but the summer theater here is world class. I was stunned when we saw our first play. I was expecting community theater but we got professional actors from big theater companies. The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis for instance. What a wonderful surprise. The blog got put on hold, a long hold, but here is the story of boats and tornadoes.

I’m writing this, waiting for the storms and tornadoes to hit. It’s scary. We’re right in the middle of all the weather coming in. Right now it’s thundering. I love thunder but not this thunder. I have the candles out, all the deck furniture has been brought into the house, windows closed tight. I thought we had escaped all the dangerous stuff by moving away from fires and earthquakes. A tornado touched down three weeks ago and destroyed whole houses, garages, roofs and tons of trees. There was a lot of damage around the lakes, docks destroyed, boats thrown up on shore and toppled, outdoor furniture all destroyed or blown away. You get the picture. The storm hit and we were ok but a lot of people had a lot of damage. I hope that’s the last of the big storms this season.

The storm reminds me of the day we finally decided to go out shopping for a boat. It was raining, wind howling and very cold. This was in April. We figured we’d be the only ones out shopping for a boat, everyone else would be cozied up in front of their TV with the fireplace on. We picked the showroom closest to us and we were the only ones in there. They had beautiful new pontoons for sale for $54,000. This of course did not include the lift which was an extra $11,000. And those are just the beginning of the expenses of having a boat. So we took all the shiny brochures and went to the next place out on the edge of town.

This place wasn’t quite as fancy as the first place and the salesman was great. Quickly we became best friends. AND their pontoons were only $43,000, the lifts $10,000. I was sold of course. We picked one we liked the layout of and they only had one left. We needed to make a quick decision. Tom kept talking to our new buddy and I was pretty antsy. What were we waiting for? “I need to speak to my husband” I said. Our new best friend knew he had me on the hook. “Tom, they only have one left, we’d better get it or we won’t have a boat this summer.” “I’m not ready to commit, you do realize we can’t afford this, right?” I looked at our new buddy and asked if they have financing. “Yes, of course and it’s great financing.” “How many years?” Tom asked. “We actually finance for 10 years which is the longest so you don’t need to worry about affording your boat.” Of course we were hoping for 30 years which would mean we could afford the boat. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, “I will hold this boat for you until 10am tomorrow. I shouldn’t do this, but I can see you need some time to think about it.”

On the way home, silence in the car. Next morning I said we needed to call our good friend about this boat. “We’re not getting this boat” Tom said. I pretty much knew that but…”We don’t have our final bill from the remodel and we can’t afford this boat, we’ll look for a used boat.” “There aren’t any” I wailed. One thing about Tom, hysterics have never moved him. We started looking for a used boat and went to a town (a very small town) about 10 miles down the road where a new boat place had just opened. He had new boats and he had some used boats. He showed us the shop where they refurbish the used boats and they had one there already sold but he had another coming in. It was a 2004 but they would put in new furniture, flooring, motor, etc, whatever you wanted. We struck a deal and also a deal for a used lift. This package was way more affordable. And they did financing. We were very excited. We’d have a boat for the summer.

The boat didn’t come in and didn’t come in. Soon, very soon he told us. Then before the boat came in, our remodel bill came in which was a lot higher than the estimate they’d give us two weeks prior. Something had to give and even I knew it was going to be the boat. The day we got our down payment back, the boat came in.

Who Is This?

By now, you have forgotten that I write a blog. I agree, it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything. I deserve to be forgotten. I could make excuses as I have plenty, but I will skip all of those excuses and write about our new home town and surviving our first winter in 43 years.

We are finally in our new home, although not wholly unpacked, wondering why I moved certain things, what was I thinking. Did I really need those three legged frogs, all those teapots, pans I didn’t use at our last house but MAYBE I’d use them here and you get the picture. So I started a box for all of those things I moved and wished I hadn’t. Although we’ve downsized twice ,this is the largest home we’ve ever owned and it’s so open there is nowhere to put anything. As I was opening yet another box, I unwrapped two sets of Chinese figurines from my many trips to China. One set was of thee men standing and the second the same but the three men were sitting.

“I am going to give away these figurines of the men sitting” I told Tom who was in the room. Dumb move. “Why?” he said, “I like those.” “Why?” I asked. “We have two sets, the standing ones are better and don’t look like mass produced tourist traps.” “I like them better than the standing ones, and it’s my house too. I should have some kind of say.” “OK”, I said, “then they’re yours and you can find somewhere to put them.” “No problem” he said and walked over and put them on his desk which is our old dining table. I knew he’d do that. He had to shove aside reams of paper and small wooden animals to find room where they look totally out of place. I waited a few days, then moved them which he didn’t notice at all. Is it safe to box them?? (Tom here: NO! I thought I moved them) With a bigger house, we are light on furniture. Because we had to buy a bed, we went for a king. We have the new king mattress but the bed frame which was promised in February is now maybe coming in by the end of May. We are one of many victims of the supply chain.

We think we like it here, ask me when the weather gets a little better and all the snowbirds are back. We made it through one of the worst winters they’ve had in a long, long time, according to the locals. A throwback kind of winter, a way below zero kind of winter, with lots and lots of snow. It’s April and still snowing, along with howling wind. All the smart people left for Arizona and Florida a long time ago and will be back shortly I’m told. That’s good because when it’s just you and your husband, it doesn’t take long to look at each other with murderous intent. Usually that happens on the 8th day in a row that it’s been 34 degrees below zero.

But let me tell you the joys of small town living. We couldn’t get the gas fireplace to work so Tom called the local fireplace shop and asked if someone could come out. “Sure, are you home? We’ll be right over.” The first time that happened we were in shock. Then it happened with a stuck garage door, not to mention leaving something at the hospital and the lost and found department calling me several times to let me know their progress in finding my item, which they assured me they would, that their detectives were on the case. Then they called and proudly announced that with the help of a nurse they found that phone charger and I could pick it up right away. Things like this seem to happen all the time. Then you have the very friendly store clerks who like to chat and really seem genuinely interested in your story or the grocery clerks who share recipes or give advice on how to cook something you bought.

We love our new home, the remodel is next to finished with just a few things left to do. We have a wonderful view of the lake. Our next big purchase? A boat. I hear they’re really hard to get, there being a shortage of boats, just like cars. We have put off this hunt for a boat long enough so Tom is out today in the snow and howling wind to peruse the boat shops. I will let you know how this hunt goes. Our friends and kids who are all coming this summer to visit are expecting a boat, imagine that. But it’s April, and we need a couch.

Will it Last?

It took 43 years of living on the West Coast, and then moving back to the Midwest to realize this is where we belong. After living in big Cities, the small town is a wonderful experience. No traffic, no homeless, no riots, cheerful workers everywhere, the grocery stores, the restaurants, hardware stores, retail, and even in the government buildings (most of the time, except for the DMV), but also not much shopping to speak of. It seems everyone wants to have a conversation and are genuinely interested in what you have to say. It’s beautiful here with the ever changing lakes, so many of them, each with their own personality. The thunderstorms, the owls at night, the loons, why did it take us so long to move? When you’ve lived on the West Coast as long as we have, it’s pretty scary to move back to a small midwestern town with a season called winter. It could snow any day and we don’t have coats or boots or gloves or a Yeti cup to keep our drinks warm. Will we hate the winter? Time will tell.

Our remodel starts in a week. We’re now moving back into my Aunt’s house. We didn’t think we moved much into our house as there are still boxes piled in the garage, but we moved in more than we thought and now we’re taking it all out again. It will be worth it, the longer you wait for something, the more you appreciate it as the saying goes and I know that’s true. Meanwhile we can hop on over to Nelson, a small town of about 150 people which has a bar called the Corral that attracts people from all over. Why? At this bar you can “shoot the minnow” The bartender will drop a minnow into a shot glass with the beverage of your choice, usually Tequila. If you can swallow that minnow in one gulp you get a tee shirt that says: “I Shot the Minnow.” Now how is that for small town America?

No Going Back

We did it, turned our lives upside down again, but this time the change is huge. We went from living for 43 years on the West Coast to the Midwest where we both came from, albeit different States. One of us a gopher and one of us a badger. We have left our kids on the West Coast and hope our change is enticing enough for them to spend a great deal of the summer here.

We moved to the land of lakes, unlocked doors, cream horns, thunderstorms, hooting owls, loons, and…winter. Alexandria, MN is a small town in the winter and a large town in the summer as there are 41 lakes in the area. We got very lucky with an off market deal as there was absolutely nothing for sale here and there still isn’t.

We were here in May and after two weeks of seeing nothing, were ready to leave when our realtor got a listing from an older couple who lived in a great location on a big lake but wouldn’t be able to get the property on the market for a couple of months as they had so much stuff. Maybe they’d let us see it. She got them to agree and we saw it for about 30 minutes where it was hard to get past all the stuff which included a 6′ tall curio cabinet full of moose figurines. But we liked the feel of the place right away and maybe were so excited to finally see something that we left and made an offer the same day, convinced we’d never see anything else. They accepted our offer mainly because they wouldn’t have to put the place on the market and have time, with professional help, to clear it out. Three days later we had a house.

We rushed back to Portland to put our house on the market, and our realtor was out of town. She got it on the market as soon as she came back and it sold right away. Now we had 30 days to pack and leave. We’ve moved a few times, so why was this so hard? Several friends helped us pack and somehow we got it done. We drove both our cars out to Alexandria and at some point our daughter sent us a pending Redfin listing and said “I think this is your house.” It was. It was empty and sort of horrifying to look at the pictures and to realize how big it was. “Did we really buy this place?” I asked Tom. It didn’t look all that great. We don’t have nearly enough furniture for a place like that, maybe we should have asked them to leave all those moose.

We’ve been here almost two months, back and forth between my Aunt’s house, cousin’s house and finally, our house. Although we’re living here right now, we have to move out soon as there is so much work to be done. All the floors have to be replaced, everything painted, the kitchen we thought looked ok really is not ok and has to be replaced. Orange formica countertops anyone? A big built- in aquarium, popular in the 70’s but not now, has to be dealt with and a wall has to be taken out to get a better view of the lake. There is so much more, but let’s not get carried away here! We’re moving out again back to my Aunt’s, so the remodel can begin. We have the garage filled with boxes which we’re living out of. Finding clothes is hard but my Aunt who’s 93 said: “Oh honey, you can just wear my clothes.”

Most people around here leave in the wintertime. But we’re going to tough it out. Maybe we’ll love it. Snowshoeing, pickle ball, bowling and maybe even a little snowmobiling. Then there’s always ice fishing.

What was your biggest move? Would you do it again?

Not Again!

How do you go from liking where you live to not liking it? When does it get to be too late in life to make a change or is it never too late? Or do you just wake up one day and decide this is not the place you want to die? And if this is not the place you want to die or be left in if your spouse dies, then what? Where is that place? And for God’s sake, at this point in your life, why haven’t you yet found it?

Was it the pandemic? the riots, the destruction of downtown Portland? the homeless? All of it of course. But we don’t live downtown so it doesn’t affect us I’ve been told. Oh but it does as we are close to downtown and always went there for dinner and shopping and doctors and dentists and especially to take visitors to see what all was wonderful about where we live. Will it get better? Not for a long time. However, we do have lots of friends here and the first five years were a great experience. But it sure seems to be over.

So if not here, where? Is it the small Minnesota lake town that we visited last summer for a month? The land of cream horns, unlocked doors, thunderstorms and bad coffee? But isn’t there winter there? Lots of snow, big drifts, very cold weather, ice fishing and stuff like that? The relatives I have there smartly leave in the wintertime and go to places like Phoenix and San Diego, but one house is enough for us so we would be sort of stuck. Besides, we’re big City people, we’ve never lived in a small town other than the one each of us grew up in. So if not there, where?

All of America is on the move, literally. Is it really possible to find a home in a place you would consider moving where you know you’d be buying at the top prices ever recorded. It’s just so easy to stay put. We love our house, a move is very daunting, we have friends, the weather is usually comfortable, it snows rarely, the medical care is excellent and we’re old. What the heck! Let’s do it anyway! Stay tuned.

When in your life is it too late to move?

Can This Country be Saved?

What happens on a road trip? Lots of boredom, long stretches of road with no gas stations or scenery. Take the road from Billings, MT through North Dakota. We were traveling on this road forever it seemed when all of a sudden the landscape changed dramatically after we crossed the border from Montana to North Dakota. This is the good part of a road trip. We perked up and because we were ready to stop after driving 10 hours, it seemed serendipitous. It turns out we were passing through the Teddy Roosevelt National Park. Did you know there was a Teddy Roosevelt National Park? We did not. We saw a road sign that read: Medora, 1/2 mile. Why not? Let’s see what Medora holds for us.

We came into a tiny town, but a cool town. Very touristy it looked like. But pretty deserted. Very deserted. We saw the Roughrider Hotel and decided to check it out. They had plenty of rooms and we were in the heart of Teddy Roosevelt land. The tourist season hadn’t started and nothing was open until the middle of May, including the hotel restaurant. Upon asking the desk clerk where we could eat, he seemed not to have a clue which was surprising considering how small the town was. He ducked into the back room and when he came out, told us there were two restaurants in town open, which he thought were just around the corner. We then asked if we could leave our stuff in the car overnight. “Oh no, very dangerous to leave your things in the car” he said. “Everything could be stolen.” Just then the manager came out and told us this was Medora, ND, and of course you could leave your stuff in the car overnight as there was no one in town, it was perfectly safe. We headed down the street to the restaurant the manager said was the best choice. It was a sports bar with dollar bills hanging all over the ceiling signed by happy patrons. We had dinner, then headed back to the Roughrider for a good nights sleep after asking the same clerk for a hairdryer as I couldn’t find one in the room. Panic ensued as he frantically looked through all the file cabinets, etc and couldn’t find one. He said he’d call the manager and let us know. After waiting quite awhile in the room, I told Tom we’d have to go to the car and dig out my suitcase where I had a hair dryer packed in the bottom. So we did and when we came back in, there he was grinning ear to ear with a hairdryer in his hand. He had managed to solve a problem! Why hadn’t he called our room to let us know he’d found one? Not worth finding out. Now I had two hairdryers, soon to be three as when I finally shut the bathroom door the next morning, there was the in room hairdryer hanging on the back of the door.

The Roughrider had breakfast for the hotel guests the following morning from 7am-9am, as there was nowhere else in town open. We got our institutional scrambled eggs and sat down at a big round table to eat and for me to finally read the paper I had carried with us from home. All of a sudden there was a swarm of kids coming into the room. They looked to be middle school students. Two adults in charge, apparently, sat at the table in front of us and the kids took over the rest of the tables. Lots of chatter and laughter. Then this poor lone girl who was aced out of the tables with the kids, plopped down across from us and politely asked if it was ok to sit there. We said of course and Tom told her she wouldn’t even have to talk to us. She smiled and said of course she would talk to us. My heart sank, there goes the paper I had been trying to read since we left and how would we communicate with a middle schooler? Very easily as it turns out. Miss Brynn Powell, from Plaza, N.D, population 200, was an incredible conversationalist. We learned all about her and her family, their travels, their jobs, the fact that she had dressed her first deer this past season after hunting with her dad, all about her school which has been in session almost the entire year, the fact there were 17 kids in her 7th grade class this year, the biggest ever, even though there were only 4 kids in the Senior class, and the best part? World affairs and how she feels about everything. She was very knowledgeable and had her opinions on everything. So thank goodness we had the conversation with Brynn or I would not have realized this Country could be saved. We thought it was doomed, but it turns out with young people like Brynn in it, we have a chance. She could have buried her nose in her cell phone, but she didn’t and chose to talk to us instead. What young person these days does that? So be encouraged America, all is not lost. There must be other Brynn’s in this Country but we found the best so far from tiny Plaza, ND.