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Bravest Decision I've Ever Made (Part 1)

At the time in 1985 I didn't think of it as being brave. I was living in Wisconsin and my 20 year marriage had dissolved. That winter was one of the coldest, snowiest years on record. Ken had moved out. Now it was up to me to shovel the driveway. It was SO cold. My hands, encased in double mittens, ached and for the first time I knew what it was like to feel "bone-chilling" cold. It felt as if my leg bones were radiating cold from the inside out. I could not get warm. It was then, while shoveling snow, in blizzard conditions that I decided that there must be a better way to live!

I had been raised in the military and had moved around a lot as a child. I knew that although it might be difficult at first, I could always make friends wherever I was planted. The idea of finding a better place to live -- a warmer climate -- would not leave me alone. I started a research project to find the perfect place to live. I checked out a book at the local library entitled something like "Your Place to Be."

Each page of the book consisted of a series of yes and no questions to answer. Each answer had a score attached to it. At the end of each page, you tallied your score and wrote it at the bottom of the page. When you finished answering all the questions on each page you added up the scores from each page for a total score that was supposed to point to the place in the country where you would be happiest. (Since this was a library book, I needed to do all this work in a notebook.) The questions covered topics including weather conditions, social activities, job opportunities, schools, dining out, shopping, crime rates/safety, and more. It took me a couple of days to answer all the questions.

When I had completed the questionnaire and tallied up my final score, two locations came up for me: the San Francisco Bay Area and El Paso, Texas. I decided to focus my energy on researching areas in the San Francisco Bay Area. I had never been to California so I wasn't even sure what communities comprised the "Bay Area." This was before the Internet, so I had to do my research at the local library and by studying maps of California. I picked a city with a population similar to Kenosha that had a name I liked: Santa Rosa.

I didn't know anything about Santa Rosa so I decided to subscribe to a print copy of the local Santa Rosa Newspaper (remember -- no Internet yet). I called the operator to get the phone number of the paper and then called their subscription department and made arrangements for them to mail me the paper. About a week later I got a week-old issue in my mailbox and thereafter received week-old issues regularly. I really didn't mind that the papers were a week old. I just wanted to get a feel for the town and also to read the classified ads to check out housing prices and job opportunities.

I was working at the time for Social Services in Kenosha. I started telling all my coworkers that I was moving to Santa Rosa, CA. One of my coworkers said, "Oh, my mother lives in Santa Rosa. Why don't you and I plan a little trip there to visit my mom and you can get a feel for the place?" I thought that was a great idea, so we planned the trip for April 1985.

I started planning for my move by putting my house on the market. Houses were not selling in Kenosha at that time because American Motors (Kenosha's main employer) was laying off and there were rumors they were going to shutdown. There were over 5,000 homes on the market. I found a realtor who listed my house for $60K. I left for my California exploration without any expectations that my house would sell.

In preparation for my trip and plans for relocation I started calling job placement ads I had seen in the Santa Rosa newspaper that I thought might be a good fit for me. I had computer skills. In fact it was my job at Social Services to teach the women in the typing pool how to use the agency's brand new IBM DisplayWriters they had just purchased. First I had to teach myself how to use these new-fangled devices and then wrench the other women in the typing pool away from their beloved Selectric typewriters. It took several months but I was finally successful in converting everyone into using (and loving) this new technology.

So, I was looking for a job in California where I could use my skills. I lined up three interviews in Santa Rosa by phone from ads I'd seen in the paper and left for my maiden adventure to California. (See Part 2).

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