57 In Women Now

Getting out of the line of fire in Sonoma, California

J.Jill jacket became my security blanket

Sunday night dinner at Boon Fly


Sunday night in Wine Country was divine. Russ and I had spent the day putzing around the house and decided to have dinner out at Boon Fly just near the Napa/Sonoma County line. I was sporting my J.Jill quilted jacket (a gift from the company) as the evening had a chill to it. I felt cozy and warm. Little did I know that this jacket was going to be my security blanket for the rest of the week.

I’d worked on a blog post Sunday afternoon that was almost ready to go for Monday. I decided I’d finish it Monday morning before leaving for an out-of-town client appointment that would take me away for two days.

But when I got up early on Monday morning, there was no power, the house smelled smoky, and when I opened the door the smell of smoke was ten times worse. I had no idea what was going on and even now, these many days in, things keep changing all the time. State and local officials have given us a guarantee: things will get worse before they’ll get better.

Only now, with my computer, mouse, and keyboard in the same place, am I able to give you, dear friends, an update. I want you to know that Russ, Bella and I are safe. We are staying with friends in Mill Valley. Our family has been reunited and under the same roof since Wednesday. What I know for now is that the next two days will be particularly critical as the Diablo winds are moving back in. The danger is that embers can go anywhere to start new fires and the fires that are already raging can get worse. Sonoma itself is evacuated on the east side over by Lovall Valley Road and Castle Road. I know three people in that neighborhood.

Part of dealing with the ever-changing conditions is that the mind floats from being worried about one’s home but so quickly it moves to thinking about friends and clients and desperately hoping they are okay. You’ve met Sallie. She helped me help demonstrate for you how to build a beauty bundle. She fled in the middle of the night with her husband Rob and their parrot Chester when the fires started in Santa Rosa. Remarkably, her whole neighborhood (about 300 houses) went to ash except for five or so houses that were left standing. Her house is standing.

My cousin’s son Michael and family weren’t that lucky. They fled from their Santa Rosa home with the clothes on their backs and their home is destroyed.


Family helps with evacuation

Family to the rescue, Wednesday’s evacuation from Sonoma: Caitlin on the left, Trevor on the right

Getting out

We evacuated by choice. There isn’t a mandatory evacuation notice in place for our neighborhood however many people have left. The thing is, the air is so bad. On Wednesday my twin brother came up with masks for us all. My daughter Caitlin came up from San Francisco along with and her would-be brother-in-law (if he and Erin were married but no pressure) Mike. My daughter Erin was at the hospital with her dad who was having a surgical back procedure.

We spent about 60 – 90 minutes packing up four cars and one SUV with things I wouldn’t want to lose: Pictures, paintings, metal tables made by my artist friend, Carl Dern, my files, clothes/accessories/handbags, letters from Mother, Mother’s ashes (ironic, huh?) and her Bible, my button bracelets, my rosemaling art pieces that I bought with her in Minot, North Dakota at the Hostfest. Other things too, but I can’t think right now.


Hearing from family and friends

I’ve been so moved by the number of people who have contacted me through social media, texts, and emails to find out if we are okay. Your grace is amazing and comforting.

I’ve been in touch with my brother Kirk and his wife Wendy. They’re traveling in an RV and are in Texas right now. Kirk said, “I can be there in two days. Just give me the word.” I love his intentions but I wouldn’t want him breathing this air. “You don’t want to be near California,” I said.

I asked him yesterday how it feels being outside of the situation but knowing his family members are in it. He said, “It’s tense.” Good word!


Trying to find words

Words are hard to come by to describe what this feels like but when I hear a few, I’m so grateful. A client who’s invited Russ and I to their home for dinner tonight said their friend in Glen Ellen described himself as feeling exhausted yet restless. It’s so true. I feel exhausted, yet on alert; facing the situation head-on some of the time and some of the time I want to close my eyes and cover my ears. It’s too much to take in.

And then there are times when words don’t work at all.

Yesterday I went to Equator Coffee in downtown Mill Valley for coffee and a chance to do some morning writing, first time since Sunday.

I went to the coffee shop alone as Russ was still sleeping at our friend’s house. I was standing in line with several people ahead of me. My emotions were feeling pretty slippery. By the time the thirty-something person with warm brown eyes said, What would you like?, the tears started running down my cheeks. This was not eyes-filled-with-tears. This was waterfall crying. I couldn’t talk. I wanted somehow to explain why this sixty-something woman had lost control ordering coffee. “I’m from Sonoma,” I managed to say. Very gently she said, “I’m glad you’re here.” Her kindness was touching and the tears kept coming. With a shaky voice I said, “I’d like an Americano.”

This morning I went back to the coffee shop to have coffee and do my morning writing and I was a real pro. No tears, blending in with other morning people, people on the go or friends visiting with each other or moms or dads having breakfast with their young children. I was entertained by three little girls in their pink hoodies. “What is that that you’re eating?” I said. “These are doughnuts with sprinkles,” one of them said. There were colorful sprinkles attached to vanilla frosting on a fat doughnut. I was amazed they could get their little mouths over that thick dough with each bite. Watching them was healing. I was reminded that there will be ‘normal’ again, sometime. I soaked up all the ‘normal’ that was going on in the coffee shop and let it calm my nervous system.

While the condition of the fires are erratic so are the emotions.

Thank you for being you and supporting me during this scary time. Writing to you is one of my normals and it’s great to be experiencing this time with you!



J.Jill quilted jacket

Heading into Sunday evening hours at Boon Fly before the fires started



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  • Reply
    October 13, 2017 at 4:19 pm

    Oh Brenda… My heart has been aching for you and your situation. Thank you so very much for taking the time to fill us all in on how you are. THIS is the big exhale all over again. We can only hope that your home will be fine as well. I know it is only ‘things’ but those things have meaning. ( having lost family home years ago) I hope the tears were helpful after all the fear building up inside you and uncertainly. Thanks to all the people who offered their homes for you to escape to. Do take care of yourselves and believe in our prayers for you all.

  • Reply
    October 13, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    GREAT post, Brenda. I’m glad you and your loved ones are safe.

    And it’s perfectly OK to remember what you wore for the apocalypse. 😉 Seriously OK!



  • Reply
    October 13, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    Thinking of you among others as we navigate this scary time. So many terrible losses and the persistent threats make it feel apocalyptic. Yet life goes on amidst it all. I love the doughnut sprinkles detail. Spending time with my granddaughters was my best medicine. Stay safe and know you are appreciated and loved by so many.

  • Reply
    October 13, 2017 at 6:07 pm

    I am so sorry to hear what you have been going through in Sonoma. What a heartbreaking situation. Be well and know that many thoughts and prayers are with you during these very traumatic times.

  • Reply
    October 13, 2017 at 6:09 pm

    Wishing you and all the people of Sonoma and surrounding areas safety and a speedy recovery. Around the country, people are concerned and anxious for you all.

  • Reply
    Susan B.
    October 13, 2017 at 6:12 pm

    Brenda, my heart just breaks for those who have lost so much, and those who have loved ones unaccounted for. I’m glad to hear you and your family are OK. Now just hoping for a change in the weather and some rain.

  • Reply
    Maggie Fiegee
    October 13, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    I’m so glad you are safe but I can’t imagine how hard it must be. Prayers, love and hugs that it gets better and not worse and you can go home

  • Reply
    Sandi Mcdougall
    October 13, 2017 at 6:24 pm

    My heart aches for you Brenda. It is no wonder you are so emotional. Between the fires in Sonoma and the meeting with your physician, it’s amazing you are able to have the energy to go to a coffee house & write to all of us. Thank you for letting us know where and more importantly, how you and your family are doing.

  • Reply
    Marguerite Krenek
    October 13, 2017 at 6:25 pm

    Dear Brenda, I’m so sad for all the lovely people and communities in harms way in Cali right now. The thing that is so weird is I’m from Houston. Can it be only 6 weeks since we had our own natural disaster.? It is the same destruction in reverse, if that makes sense. Some how, things will normalize. Pray, and pray some more. God bless you.

  • Reply
    Cindy scurry
    October 13, 2017 at 6:34 pm

    I so appreciate you sharing your story. I also appreciate the daily updates. Stay strong and cry when you need to. It’s not a sign of weakness. Much love. Cindy.

  • Reply
    October 13, 2017 at 6:54 pm

    I’m so glad you are safe. As a native Californian I have spent many days watching the fire just over the hill wondering if we should go, and them months later, watched the rain take the hillside down. California is a beautiful place but it can be heartbreaking. Although I live in Washington state now, I still think of California as home and am sad to see the fires doing so much damage. There is no safe place. My daughter was sailing in the Carribean until recently when they moored their live aboard boat in Miami to escape hurricane season. She and her husband are safe, but the boat is gone. I’m always encouraged by your ability to savor every moment and I know you will continue to overcome every obstacle regardless of what comes your way. Best wishes!

  • Reply
    October 13, 2017 at 7:28 pm

    Prayers answered, Brenda, in hearing from you and knowing you are safe.

  • Reply
    Diane dSG
    October 13, 2017 at 7:50 pm

    Thinking of you and holding you in my heart. Praying for you and all the others impacted. Hugs.

  • Reply
    Lynne van der Have
    October 13, 2017 at 8:41 pm

    We all love you too!

  • Reply
    Trinnie q
    October 13, 2017 at 8:58 pm

    So happy to hear you and your family are safe. Such a tiring time of hypervigilence and turmoil. We here in many parts of Oz have been through this too, so are sending you strength , hope , love and compassion. Take care beautiful. And may you all be safe. In solidarity, sending love from Oz xx

  • Reply
    October 13, 2017 at 9:20 pm

    I am glad you are ok. Living in Australia I understand what you are now going through. We have seen the same sort of devastation from fires here. Take care of yourself.

  • Reply
    Donna george
    October 14, 2017 at 1:00 am

    Great to hear all about what you’re going thru first-hand, and to know prayers are being answered, esp that you and your loved ones are ok. In a small group I was in today, somebody asked is anyone knew anyone in the fire area. I’m like yes, my cousin! Will keep praying!

  • Reply
    October 14, 2017 at 4:39 am

    I’ve been checking your Instagram posts to see how you’re going Brenda. It’s so bizarre what’s going on there. It’s been in the news here in Australia as other readers have said. I admit when you initially posted on Instagram that your husband had gone back to the house after you left I was worried for him. I’m glad to hear you’re all okay at the moment. All those poor others! I read today about a couple who couldn’t get out when they tried to, and survived by staying in their neighbors’ swimming pool overnight while everything burned around them. Their cat is still missing. You’ve written a wonderful post here that is so touching and real. Stay safe!

  • Reply
    Maggie Taylor
    October 14, 2017 at 4:45 am

    I have only been following your blog for a couple of weeks (from England), but already feeling like a friend, so am shocked to hear that you are a refugee from such a frightening event. I wish you strength to deal with the fear and anxiety, and hope that the fires don’t drag on for too long. It is so much more difficult to cope when you are unable to do anything positive. Glad you have some lovely things with you, and can go on looking lovely!

  • Reply
    October 14, 2017 at 4:47 am

    Love you too Brenda. Stay safe and I pray normal comes back for you soon. Thnking about everyone affected.

  • Reply
    October 14, 2017 at 5:00 am

    My heart goes out to you. Thank you for sharing your experience, and letting us know you’re ok.

  • Reply
    Lisa White
    October 14, 2017 at 6:18 am

    Tears slipping down my face at the point when you were in line for coffee trying to process something normal in an abnormal, stressful and uncertain time. Your home is at risk..and the life you have built in that home. The places you loved to go to and the people you see all have been placed under a uncertain cloud. Sadly, other friends have lost so much and fate in in the wind. Of course, you sobbed your heart out…looking around and remembering that just a few days ago it was you in line, in your beloved cafe, at home in Sonoma. You went home and back standing in that line. I am relieved you are safe. I am glad you had time to remove those items that are most precious to you. I can only tell you that California is on the minds of all of us across this great country. We are with you. We are crying with you.

  • Reply
    October 14, 2017 at 6:52 am

    I think of you every day and wonder how my darling cyber friend is doing. I am grateful for your update. Stay strong. Many of us are praying for you and all involved in these horrible fires.

  • Reply
    Nelson Bartley
    October 14, 2017 at 7:20 am

    “Exhausted yet restless” so perfectly explains it. I managed to sell my house outside of Houston a week before the hurricane hit and move to Colorado. A friend came to visit for a long weekend the day Harvey came on shore and ended up staying almost two weeks. We had a lovely dinner followed by unending tornado alerts coming across our phones and constant updates from friends back in Texas of rising waters, leaking roofs and floating cars. We could only respond with survivors’ guilt and anxiety at not knowing how our houses were, how our friends and relatives were faring. We finally turned off our tornado alerts, full well knowing our loved ones in Texas could not.
    The natural disasters just keep coming.
    Stay strong. There will be “normal” again. It may be a new normal, but routine will return.

  • Reply
    Katie Kessler
    October 14, 2017 at 7:32 am

    Thank you for your post – it sounds like you have been through a great deal lately and these fires are so awful and unpredictable. Our son and his family are in San Anselmo so we have been keeping in close touch – they have stayed indoors due to the air quality and have taken in friends from areas closer to the fires. Sonoma is such a beautiful town and it is heartbreaking to hear of all the devastation in the area – thinking of you all in Michigan.

  • Reply
    Cathy D.
    October 14, 2017 at 7:38 am

    So happy you and your family are OK! You and all residents of California are in our minds here in New York City. We are crying with you, and hoping for an end to the fires. May you stay safe!

  • Reply
    October 14, 2017 at 7:51 am

    May I first say, you look lovely in that jacket!

    My heart aches for you, for all of you up there. My husband’s family has deep roots in Santa Rosa – they are the family that built the stone house, which is still here, yay! – and family and friends have been affected, in some cases devastated, by this damn thing. We’ve traveled the back roads of Sonoma County for years and the family stories I’ve heard about the places we’ve passed have made them come alive – and, as my mother-in-law sadly said to me earlier this week, after this they will never be the same. I do hope that your “family place” survives intact. Sending love and good wishes to you and yours.

  • Reply
    October 14, 2017 at 7:57 am

    Thank you, Brenda, for verbalizing life’s struggles and victories. So glad to hear you and your family are safe. In these days of chaos from all sides of life, and it seems all parts of our country and the world, it is good to communicate honestly. We all need to feel and support each other as life takes it’s turns. My thoughts and prayers are with you and just know the writing and tears are healing you and teaching others!

  • Reply
    October 14, 2017 at 10:58 am

    Oh dear,
    Take good care of yourselves. I find Rescue Remedy (Bach) has helped me in stressful situations.
    I hope everything turns out for the best!

  • Reply
    Emma Cook
    October 14, 2017 at 1:09 pm

    Still praying for you and your family. Your blog has helped me so much. Thank you for the update. Take your time
    getting back to us. We will all still be here.


  • Reply
    Sue Malizia
    October 14, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    Glad to hear you and your family are safe. I live in San Joaquin County (not all that far away) and the smoke from the fires had blown past through the valley here mid week. I’ve been so concerned and sorry to hear of family homes and businesses in beautiful Napa and surrounding towns that have been so devistatingly destroyed. Just know a lot of people are praying and thinking of you and all those affected.

  • Reply
    October 14, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    So grateful to hear you are safe… know you have been in my prayers.

  • Reply
    October 14, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    And may our Father, who art in heaven comfort you, strengthen you and sustain you now and forever…

  • Reply
    October 14, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    I’m glad you were able to get out safe and it’s so sad. The air is terrible here in the East Bay. My 3-year-old son had to stay inside for 4 days and we couldn’t open the windows, so I can imagine how bad it was for you all. Keeping you in my thoughts…

  • Reply
    October 14, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    I had a dog named BELLA……she came from ITALY!
    I grew up in MILL VALLEY.
    GLAD YOU ARE WITH FRIENDS.Keep writing.Keep your mind elsewhere.

  • Reply
    Ann G
    October 14, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    So good to hear that you and your family are safe. You’re in my thoughts and prayers. And I love your OOTD.

  • Reply
    October 14, 2017 at 5:29 pm

    Everything that everyone else has said, plus in that coat you are rocking the apocalypse. So glad you were able to take your precious things with you.

  • Reply
    October 14, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    Dear Brenda, I am so relieved to read this post! I have been watching the news and wondering about you for days, checking your blog daily, hoping for some word of how you are doing. Please know that you have my thoughts, prayers, and compassion during this time. A few weeks ago when Hurricane Irma was about to blow through my area of middle Georgia, the feeling here was also tense. Many shelters were opened for our Florida neighbors fleeing the storm’s wrath. Several of my friends are Red Cross volunteers, and I am so thankful for their delivery of food, water, shelter, love, and compassion to strangers in emergency situations. I am praying that you will be back home and all will be “normal” soon!

  • Reply
    October 14, 2017 at 6:21 pm

    So good to know you are safe Brenda and those you call your heart and Home. I pray your house remains so as well. Will keep you and all those affected in my prayers. As always, I admire how you define your response to circumstances rather than letting them define you. God blesss!

  • Reply
    October 14, 2017 at 6:21 pm

    So good to know you are safe Brenda and those you call your heart and Home. I pray your house remains so as well. Will keep you and all those affected in my prayers. As always, I admire how you define your response to circumstances rather than letting them define you. God blesss!

  • Reply
    October 14, 2017 at 6:38 pm

    You are a light to so many. When words fail, know that we are all sending you three: Hugs. Love. Peace.

  • Reply
    October 14, 2017 at 6:39 pm

    You’ve got the most remarkable spirit. Love you.

  • Reply
    Kathleen O'Brien
    October 14, 2017 at 8:00 pm

    And you look that good even with all this stuff going on! So happy to hear you and your family are safe and comfortable. Know you are loved and being lifted up by so many people – God has a plan, even if we’re really not sure what it is. May He hold you and yours in His mighty hands.

  • Reply
    October 15, 2017 at 8:07 am

    Thank you for this post. Please feel buoyed by the care you are receiving now. This only proves how your kindness and spirit has touched so many of us over the years – now you are on the receiving end.
    Big *fashionable hugs from Vermont!

    *which you inspire

  • Reply
    Sandra Sallin
    October 15, 2017 at 8:59 am

    There are no words. Know that we’re all there for you. You and all of Northern California. It could be us down here in Southern California. Thinking of you so often. I feel that I’m so close to so many. I wish I could be there and help in the clean-up. Tears? Of course. Sending you my caring love.

  • Reply
    October 15, 2017 at 10:07 am

    Praying for you, your family, and all the people of California. Just heartbreaking.

  • Reply
    October 15, 2017 at 5:27 pm

    Brenda, you are in my thoughts every day as I check the news out of Sonoma. Consider your fans around the world linking arms and sending you the biggest hug ever… stay strong and stay safe!!! We’re always nearby…

  • Reply
    October 16, 2017 at 6:30 am

    Brenda. So happy that you are your family are safe.

  • Reply
    Tina Dutton
    October 16, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    Dear Brenda, I have been following the situation on the news and can only tell you to hang on in there ..be strong ..be you…breathe …focus …this will pass ….it puts in to prospective lives journey , your family …what’s important and you will one day be able to look back on this terrible event and what’s happening around you ..you will gain strength from this ….in time ….please take care take a minute to yourself ….hold on to the strength of life
    Thinking of you ,your family and loved ones

    • Reply
      October 17, 2017 at 11:03 am

      Those are very wise words, Tina. Very wise. Thank you!

  • Reply
    October 16, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    I have just returned home to Australia after 5 weeks in USA. After picking up a car in San Francisco we drove north arriving in Santa Rosa with no clear plans. After a poke around and a hotel room secured we had an enjoyable evening Mexican food, a couple of beers,a warm evening sitting outdoors. What a shock to learn of such devastation such a short time later. I live in a high fire prone rural area and have done the what do you want to take thing and evacuated a number of times over the years. A very testing time for you and your family but lots of people are there for you when you need it just like that sensitive barista was there.

    • Reply
      October 17, 2017 at 11:04 am

      Wow, Rose, I bet that is crazy to imagine that. I’m so glad you enjoyed our area and I do hope you’ll return. Thanks for your kindness.

  • Reply
    October 16, 2017 at 4:48 pm

    You and everyone in the CA wine country have been in my thoughts and prayers lately. Hope you find your home untouched by the fires and your world can return to normal.

    • Reply
      October 17, 2017 at 11:05 am

      Our home is safe and now it’s time to help others not so fortunate. It’s just pretty unthinkable what’s happened!

  • Reply
    Katherine Cramer
    October 18, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    Hugs. We walk with you as you try to engage in normal joys such as a cafe and an Americano. I’ve been privileged to hear many bereavement stories. Bursting out in tears at the grocery store, driving past your own house while in a sort of fog or losing things (keys, wallets) during unsettling times makes us all Human. Nelson Bartley’s “new normal” and Beverly’s ‘normal” are right on. You are forever changed. Normal is different–more elusive and fragile perhaps. Your authentic and beautiful writing help to chart my evolving normal. I will enjoy fashion again as strongly as before…yet softened with memories of seeing you in your J Jill coat and being grateful that it served you well as a stylish security blanket. Love to you and all during bumpy times. Thank you for Keeping On.

  • Reply
    November 7, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    Such a great post, you captured it perfectly.

    • Reply
      November 8, 2017 at 8:43 pm

      Sallie, coming from you, I’m very, very happy. Finding out you were safe was big for me. Really big. Can’t wait until we see each other again in person! Expect big hugs!

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