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How to adjust to small town life

For those of us for whom travel is a lifestyle, frequent transitions between different languages, currencies, food, and time zones can become commonplace. Not that we don’t appreciate the differences, but we become adept at memorizing short phrases and words in new languages, we know the best places to change money (and our banks know that we’re always abroad), our stomachs adapt to new cuisine without so much as a hiccup (literally), and we know how to adjust our schedules to minimize the eternal nuisance that is jet-lag.

Still, transitions can be jarring, especially when all of those changes are combined with a drastic reduction in city size and pace of life. For me, the jump was from Taipei, Taiwan to small-town Maine, USA. If you’re like me, you may struggle with feeling like you’re in the middle of nowhere (I basically am) and there’s nothing to do (sometimes there really isn’t). There are no convenient buses or subways to take me wherever I want to go, no food stands on every block, no museums, and no convenient bike lanes.

Yet as any small-town aficionado will tell you, there are plenty of advantages to living away from the big city, and you don’t have to completely abandon your urban lifestyle. Here are my tips for coping with the culture shock that comes with moving from a city of seven million people and one of the tallest buildings in the world to a town of 2,000 people and only one grocery store.

How to adjust to small town life

1) Remember what you liked about the city and try to recreate it

In many ways, this might be impossible. No matter how hard I look, I won’t be able to find Taiwanese street food. But, one of my favorite things about living in a city is the abundance of coffee shops. It’s probably an illusion, but I always feel more productive when I go somewhere else to work or read. There is not a café to be seen in my town in the classic sense, but there is a florist and chocolatier that share a building, serve coffee drinks, and have one table near the window. If you need me, that’s where I’ll be.

How to adjust to small town life

2) Find the things that are happening in your town, no matter how small

Alright, I can’t go to the free Cloud Gate Dance Theater performance in front of the National Theater on a whim or stay up until the wee hours of the morning singing KTV, but I don’t have to spend every evening at home. Even some of the few local restaurants that are a 15-minute drive from my house have live music on certain nights, there are numerous local theater productions, and there’s always pool at the pizza joint.

How to adjust to small town life

3) Travel to new places, even in your hometown

Don’t let small-town life limit your exploring. It’s far too easy to settle into a rut, even in a new place. Keep finding new things to see and experience, even if it’s just taking a different route to work or trying a new restaurant. If you’ve returned to your hometown, visit any new establishments that may have popped up in your absence. This is a good way to keep up the illusion of a new, unfamiliar environment. You don’t need to be in a foreign country to see the sites. Is there a tourist destination near you that you’ve never seen (you’re a local, after all)? Or, just choose a road you’ve never driven down and check it out! Bring the excitement of travel closer to home; you never know what you might find.

How to adjust to small town life

4) Enjoy the differences

As much as I loved the culture and convenience of life in Taipei, sometimes it’s awesome not to have to deal with the hustle and bustle of a big city. Want to stop and chat with the bank teller for 15 minutes? Sure, nobody is in line behind you. There’s no problem finding parking, and you never get the occasional, city-whiff of sewage while walking down the street (although, to be fair, sometimes a lobster-bait truck will spill, which is nearly as noxious).

How to adjust to small town life

5) Make the most of the difference

Don’t just savor your new stomping grounds; see what you can do here that you couldn’t before. This might be the perfect time to take up discus throwing now that you have so much space. Maybe that’s not your cup of tea, but there are advantages to your new rural reality. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn a new instrument or perfect your singing voice. You finally can because you probably don’t live in an apartment complex with neighbors on all sides who won’t appreciate your efforts. Go crazy with that new trumpet or didgeridoo!

The seeming limitations of small-town life can be expressed by the phrase “cabin fever,” which we in New England use to describe the crazies that set in during the winter months when you’re confined to your house by sub-zero temperatures and head-high snow drifts. Don’t let rural cabin fever take over your life at any time of year even if you’re an urbanite to the core. It can take some effort occasionally to keep life interesting, but it is possible to fully enjoy and take advantage of your new, laid-back environment.

When my husband finally convinced me to sell our house and move from Ohio to North Carolina I had one request. "Can we move to a town with a lake and a mountain like in the Hallmark Movies?" I asked. I was actually joking because I didn't think such a thing existed. We considered many towns when looking for properties. After we moved to Mount Gilead we were pleasantly surprised to find out that our little town has a beautiful lake here called Lake Tillery. Also, we are located at the base of the majestic Uwharrie Mountains. Perfect!

Another dream we had when we wanted to live on a farm is to grow our own food. Simply put, we wish to know where the food we put in our body comes from and how it is grown. We are in the process of putting up greenhouses to grow and sell strawberries commercially. We will also be growing whatever produce we need for our family to eat on the farm as well. In addition to fruits and vegetables, we will have chickens on the farm for eggs and goats for milk. The one thing we will not be doing on the farm is eating our animals. That may change in the future but for now, they will be working pets. However, we found the next best thing. We purchased beef and pork from a local farm in town. They raise their own grass-fed beef and heritage pork. Thank you so much to Hilltop Angus Farm right here in Mount Gilead. Less than 10 minutes away from us. We love supporting our local farms and the taste of this meat is unexplainable and incredible. We will NOT be going back to store-bought processed meat. Delicious!

This week we also got a new pickup truck. We have lots of greenhouses and animal shelters to build and this will definitely make it easier to haul everything we need around the farm.

“Variety's the very spice of life, that gives it all it's flavour.” — William Cowper

How to adjust to small town life

The next morning, Malaysia woke a bit stiff from sleeping on a small settee all night. As she rubbed the sleep from her eyes, she caught a whiff of something delicious. Following her nose, she ended up back at the picnic near the river behind the library. Some guy was cooking a feast! When he saw her, he waved his spatula at her and told her to dig in! He informed her that he did this every Sunday for the whole neighborhood. She expressed her gratitude and sat down to dig into the delicious smelling foods.

How to adjust to small town life

Soon more people were gathering around and all so curious about who she was and where she came from. Malaysia quickly grew weary of all the attention. She suddenly realized why she had felt so comfortable in New York City…she could blend in and not have any specific attention to herself. Here, she was a new face, and everyone knew everything!

How to adjust to small town life

Luckily her phone rang as she was finishing up her plate of grilled fruit. It was the mayor of Windenberg. He informed her that he would be ready to meet her by Wednesday to get her the key. She asked him if there was any where she could go to escape the local “paparazzi”, telling him that she was so used to being able to “hide” in in the city. Chuckling, the mayor suggested she take a bus or taxi to the nearby city of San Myshuno. She thanked him, made plans to meet Wednesday and headed off to find some transportation.

How to adjust to small town life

By that evening, Malaysia had arrived in San Myshuno. Taking a deep breath, she let it out slowly, soaking in the feel of being back in a larger city. Of course this one was no where near as large as NYC, but at least people weren’t running up to her or giving her curious looks. She noted the location of the local gym and started strolling around to see what there was to see.

How to adjust to small town life

It didn’t take long to find something interesting. It didn’t take long to find a woman acting as a living statue. She had seen these quite a bit in NYC, and had always loved watching them.

How to adjust to small town life

Since no one else was directly around, she struck up a conversation with the woman. It was odd for her to initiate a conversation. But she went with it. After about 30 minutes, the lady gave her a “starter kit” to become a living statue herself. Laughing to herself, Malaysia went on to see what else there was in this section of the city.

How to adjust to small town life

She was feeling pretty sleepy when she found a nice little sitting area with one of those weird hookah smoking things. When she started to nod off she decided it was time to find a better place to sleep for the night!

How to adjust to small town life

It didn’t take long to find a semi-comfortable bench in a quiet little section of the city. She curled up and fell asleep quickly.

How to adjust to small town life

The following morning, Malaysia again woke to the smell of delicious food! She knew where it was coming from this time as she had seen the closed up food vendor booths the night before.

How to adjust to small town life

The nice lady at the booth even offered her the recipe of the dish she ordered! Malaysia couldn’t wait to have her own kitchen again to try it out. This had been a well needed de-stressing trip to the big city. There were too many people around as usual, but it was so much better just being able to be there without everyone pestering her. However, she knew she was going to need to head back to Windenberg and get back to work studying and finding things to sell.

KEMP, Texas — It’s a crime what City Hall did last month, some residents of this town say.

But eliminating the entire police department — chief and all — is just a sign of these penny-pinching times, according to law enforcement experts.

That’s little comfort to Cleo Brewer and other townsfolk, many of them retired and living on fixed incomes.

“No one wants to say their town doesn’t have a police force. It’s an invitation for trouble,” said Brewer, owner of the Western Cafe, a popular eatery that has been tempting patrons with its catfish plate specials for 25 years.

Other residents of this relatively quiet town of 1,100 say the city simply had no choice.

For several years now across the country, rural towns like Kemp have been disbanding their police departments because they can’t afford them anymore. While the overall number of law enforcement agencies in the nation went up from 2004 to 2008 — the latest years for which national statistics were available — smaller departments with fewer than 10 officers dipped about 2.3 percent, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The trend is troubling to some experts, who say residents in towns without a police force typically endure longer response times, particularly for non-emergency calls. The towns also lose a familiar presence.

“When you decide to eliminate your agency, there are going to be consequences,” said Dianne Beer-Maxwell, a project manager for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, based in Virginia. In some cases, such as in Alto in central East Texas, a town might cut its police department but restore it later. Alto, with a population of about 2,000, axed its department last June and, six months later, reinstated a scaled-down force.

“The larger police departments are not going to go away,” said James McLaughlin, general counsel and executive director of the Texas Police Chiefs Association.

For smaller towns, said McLaughlin, the decision to ax or scale back police departments often comes down to money and “perceptions.”

The small town of Shepherd in southeast Texas, for example, established a police force a few years ago and quickly shut down the one-man operation because the town couldn’t afford it.

“If that (saving money) is the sole reason, how much money will they save?” said McLaughlin. “And what will they gain for that? It’s a swap. The citizens ultimately will have to decide whether that was a good swap.”

The Kemp Police Department became the latest casualty when the town decided to lay off its fiveperson force and let the sheriff’s department take over patrols.

That happened May 9. Since then, according to sheriff’s department spokeswoman Pat Laney, deputies responded to 89 calls through June 8.

During roughly the same period last year, she said, Kemp police officers responded to 166 calls. She said the one-month snapshot doesn’t point up any significant problems as far as crime goes.

However, a day after the Kemp City Council disbanded the force, two businesses were burglarized -and some residents are still expressing concern about a future without a police department.

“Why didn’t they just cut back?” said Anona Atterton, owner of the Sun Patch, a secondhand clothes and furniture store. “The police officers know this city better than anybody. They know where the illegal drug houses are (and) where the kids play on the streets.”

Other Kemp residents and business owners, however, said they understand the decision because city officials are scrambling to come up with funds to address all of the town’s basic needs. Last summer, because of a drought that exposed the town’s aging water system, burst water pipes drained Kemp’s water supply and shut down its system for three days.

Now, residents say, they have to swallow an unpleasant choice — no police department or no water.

Moving to a new town decreases happiness. Here's why—and what to do about it.

How to adjust to small town life

No one who packed up a U-Haul this summer would disagree with the notion that moving is a miserable experience. Whether you went 20 miles or 2,000, the sheer stress and exhaustion of packing up your entire life and setting it down again in a different place is enough to induce at least a temporary funk.

Unfortunately, new research shows that the well-being dip caused by moving may last longer than previously expected. In a 2016 study in the journal Social Indicators Research, happiness researchers from the Netherlands and Germany recruited young adult volunteers in Dusseldorf between ages 17 and 30, a mix of locals and migrants from other parts of Germany, and used an app to regularly ping them with four questions:

  1. How are you feeling?
  2. What are you doing?
  3. Where are you?
  4. Who are you with?

Over the course of two weeks, study participants talked, read, shopped, worked, studied, ate, exercised and went for drinks, sometimes alone, sometimes with a partner, family, or friends. By the end, some interesting data had emerged.

First, Movers and Stayers spent their time differently. The Movers, for instance, spent less time on “active leisure” like exercise and hobbies—less time overall, in fact, on all activities outside the home/work/commute grind. Movers also spent more time on the computer than Stayers—and they liked it more.

Second, even though Movers and Stayers spent similar amounts of time eating with friends, Stayers recorded higher levels of enjoyment when they did so.

Study authors Martijn Hendriks, Kai Ludwigs, and Ruut Veenhoven posit that moving creates a perfect storm of unhappiness. As a Mover, you’re lonely because you don’t have good friends around, but you may feel too depleted and stressed to invest in social engagements outside your comfort zone. Anyway, you’re not getting nearly as many invitations because you don’t know as many people.

The worse you feel, the less effort you put into activities that have the potential to make you happier. It’s a downward spiral of motivation and energy exacerbated by your lack of the kinds of friends who can help you snap out of it. As a result, Movers may opt to stay home surfing the internet or texting far-away friends, even though studies have tied computer use to lower levels of happiness.

When Movers do push themselves to go for drinks or dinner with new friends, they may discover that it’s less enjoyable than going out with long-time friends, both because migrants can’t be as choosy about who they hang out with and because their ties aren’t as tight, which can make them feel less comfortable and supported. That can reinforce the desire to stay home.

Recently, doing a radio interview about my book This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live, I was speaking about the chaos and loneliness of moving when the interviewer asked me, “But are people usually happy with the fact that they moved?”

The answer is: not really. I hate to say that because for as much as I tout the benefits of putting down roots in a single place, I’m not actually anti-moving. It can sometimes be a smart solution to certain problems.

However, Finnish, Australian, and UK studies have shown that moving doesn’t usually make you happier. Australian and Turkish found that between 30 and 50 percent of Movers regret their decision to move. A 2015 study showed that recent Movers report more unhappy days than Stayers. “The migration literature shows that migrants may not get the best out of migration,” write Hendriks, Ludwigs, and Veenhoven.

The question is, can you get over it?

Moving will always be hard. If you’re in the middle of, recovering from, or preparing for a move, you need to know that things won’t be all rainbows and unicorns in the new city. That’s completely normal.

But you also need to make choices designed to increase how happy you feel in your new place. In my book, I explain that place attachment is the feeling of belonging and rootedness where you live, but it’s also one’s well-being in a particular place, and it’s the result of certain behaviors and actions. As you dial up your place attachment, your happiness and well-being also improve. It takes time. Place attachment, says Katherine Loflin, peaks between three and five years after a move. It starts, however, with choices about how you spend time in your daily life.

Here are three choices that can help:

  • Get out of the house. You may be tempted to spend weeks or months nesting in your new home, but the boxes can wait. Instead, explore your new neighborhood and city, preferably on foot. Walking has been shown to increase calm, and it opens the door to happy discoveries of restaurants, shops, landmarks, and people.
  • Accept and extend social invitations. As we’ve seen, these relationships will probably involve some disappointment that the new people aren’t BFF material. Think of it like dating: You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.
  • Do the things that made you happy in your old place. If you were an ardent member of a disc golf league before you moved, find the new league here. Again, you may be frustrated to realize that no one respects what a great player you are. Patience, Grasshopper. That will come in time.

If your post-move sadness is debilitating or lingers longer than you think it should, speak with a professional. You may need additional help. Otherwise, slowly work toward making your life in your new place as enjoyable as it was in your old place. It will happen. Eventually.

Martijn Hendriks, Kai Ludwigs, and Ruut Veenhoven, “Why are Locals Happier than Internal Migrants? The Role of Daily Life,” Social Indicators Research 125 (2016): 481–508.

The need to adjust to new surroundings can present itself at any stage of one’s life. At New Jersey SEEDS, one of our areas of expertise is helping students transition to new environments. We have worked with students from Newark and Trenton as they head off to boarding school in the mountains of Vermont and prepared first generation college graduates as they get ready for jobs on Wall Street. The lessons we’ve learned are applicable whenever a change in situations occurs.

Adapting to a new set of cultural expectations and social norms – while staying true to your own sense of self – is never easy. Below are a few tips to make the transition a smooth one.

1) Learn as much as you can about your new environment in advance. If you’re starting a new job, study the website and any published materials (annual reports, brochures, magazine articles, etc.) you can find. Learn the names of those in leadership positions – executives, board members, and major stakeholders. Familiarize yourself with the stated values and language of the organization.

2) Decide what three qualities you want to be known for. For instance, you might want to be known for being upbeat, hardworking and a go-getter. Or you might prefer to be known for being calm, considerate, and detail-oriented. This is a basic rule of “personal branding.” Being certain of your three top qualities will allow you to establish a strong platform early on.

3) Be polite to everyone. The person you push past may turn out to be the person who sits in next to you. The receptionist you ignore now may someday be your boss. Courtesy will pay you back with rich rewards.

4) On the first day of a new job, if no one invites you to lunch, ask someone for tips on where to eat. Just as you may feel uncomfortable with your new colleagues, they may feel uncertain about you. Or they may have forgotten what it feels like to be the new person on the block. A little reminder that you don’t know your way around can elicit warmth and support (and maybe a friend for lunch!).

5) Listen for opportunities to connect and then share relevant information about yourself. If football comes up and you have season tickets, let people know. If the water cooler topic is baking cookies and you make a mean chocolate chip, share it (better yet, bake some and bring them in). Don’t wait to be asked about yourself. It’s your job to establish rapport.

6) During the first few weeks, take nothing personally. Most of us are on the lookout for personal slights and offenses 24/7. Instead, give people the benefit of the doubt. They don’t know you well enough to dislike you, and they are probably way too busy with their own lives to think about you much anyway.

7) If someone makes a remark that you find too insensitive to ignore, speak up. Open the lines of communication with that individual to express your concern. But remember, you’ve probably made one or two insensitive remarks in your own lifetime too, so keep your cool and remember that it is always wise to give others the benefit of the doubt.

8) Try to speak at the same volume as those in your new environment. If it comprises loud, boisterous types, staying quiet can easily set you apart. On the other hand, if it tends to be more subdued, a loud voice may grate on the nerves. Studies show that people respond best to others who speak at the same volume as themselves. Your vocal volume is something you can control, so pay attention to it.

9) If the transition involves a move to a new city, state, or country, get out and explore. The more you know your way around, the more comfortable you will feel.

10) Transitions are stressful, so make sure you take care of yourself. Get plenty of rest, eat well and exercise. Now is not the time to crash in the middle of the day from too much sugar or not enough sleep. You want to be alert, refreshed and ready to go.

The cost of living diaries: Washington, D.C. to rural New York state

How to adjust to small town life

Rent in D.C. was $1,850 for a one-bedroom apartment.

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Thinking of leaving the city because it’s too expensive? Interested in moving to a small town or rural area? As part of our Cost of Living Diaries series, we got all the details from a woman who did just that!

Name: Isabella

Age: 35

Job in D.C.: Federal government policy analyst

Job in rural New York: After two years of trying out different things, I’m back at my D.C. job, mostly working from home.

Rent in D.C.: $1,850 monthly rent, plus utilities for an 800 square-foot, one-bedroom apartment. It wasn’t in the best shape, but it had a lot of character.

Mortgage in rural New York: $800 monthly payment (mortgage, taxes, insurance) for a four-bedroom farmhouse on 3 acres. Also not in the best shape, but has a lot of character!

What precipitated your move?

In a very large sense, it was about quality of life. After 30+ years living in medium and large cities, I was losing steam with the constant hustle, bustle, and noise. Increasingly, I craved space, quiet and peace. Along the way, I met a man (now my husband) who spent his entire life in the area where I now live. After a year of dating long distance, I moved here.

As you were getting ready to move, how did you prepare for the difference in cost of living?

I knew the cost of living would be lower, but what I didn’t realize is that it’s due almost entirely to the cost of housing. So while my personal expenses are lower now, it’s not by nearly as much as I anticipated.

What was it like looking for housing in rural New York?

The housing market here vs. D.C. is almost laughably different. I got a four-bedroom house with land for the same price I would’ve paid for a small condo in an outer-ring suburb in the D.C. area.

I bought the first house I looked at and had zero competition, but I don’t think that’s typical around here.

Obviously, cost of living isn’t just about housing prices. What other costs changed for you?

I’d say there are two categories where cost of living changed for me:

1. Costs that would be different for anyone. For example, vet services are WAY cheaper here. Meals out are probably a bit cheaper, but not always.

There are a lot of family farms in the area, so we can get fresh produce, eggs and meat for less. But flying is more expensive because you have fewer options. In general, the farther you’re willing to drive to an airport, the cheaper the tickets and the more likely you’ll be able to get a direct flight.

Also, there’s only one internet provider with cable (vs. DSL) so it’s virtually impossible to negotiate your rates down.

2. Costs that are specific to my situation. I used to live alone and now have a husband, a stepson in elementary school, and two big dogs, so groceries and other run-of-the-mill life expenses are higher.

I used to walk most places or rely on public transportation, but I have to drive everywhere here. Now I own a car and have expenses related to that. My home is substantially larger and older, so my utility bills are bigger, especially during the winter.

Has this change in cost of living affected other life choices?

This is a hard question for me to answer because my life situation changed in so many more ways than just where I live. Becoming a (step)parent had a huge impact on that overall.

The biggest thing: I travel less often than I used to and we’re more likely to drive than fly.

What do you love about your new home?

I love so many things about living in the country. My house is surrounded on three sides by woods. In the morning I can walk out onto my back deck with coffee and watch the dogs run around the yard without worrying that anyone will see me in my PJs.

The pace of life is a lot more relaxed, which appeals to me.

Most people I know here aren’t very politically involved, and I really enjoy having more mental distance from the political crucible that is D.C.. Don’t get me wrong, I still get stressed and upset like so many others, but it’s not a constant anymore.

What do you miss about D.C.?

Sidewalks and public transportation. Running in the National Zoo early in the morning when it’s just me and the animals. Being able to walk to Target TGT, +1.50% . Oh, how I miss this! Now the nearest Target is 45 minutes away and in another state.

What has surprised you the most about this move?

Initially, I was surprised by how long it took me to feel settled. Even though this was a move I was excited to make, learning to live a different lifestyle was a big adjustment.

But now what surprises me is how much I’ve embraced the country lifestyle. I camp now. I’ve helped my in-laws collect eggs from their chicken coop. My vegetable garden is flourishing in its second summer. I’ve been four-wheeling and ice fishing. Instead of going out to bars, we have backyard bonfires.

What advice would you give to someone who’s interested in moving to a smaller town?

When moving somewhere rural-ish, do some research ahead of time to find the nearest supermarket, hardware store, coffee shop, bookstore, gym, etc. You may find it’s all a lot farther away than you imagined it would be.

Yes, you can buy pretty much anything on the internet, but for those last-minute needs, it’s helpful to be mentally prepared for how long it could take. If you’re looking for a small town but aren’t tied to a specific one, this may help you narrow down your list.

The Sterling Community Fund (SCF) is an endowment that will provide a sustainable source of funding to support a variety of projects that make Logan County a more attractive place to live, raise a family, establish a business, and retire.

Growing up in a small town is a blessing that is often overlooked until a person is older; at least that’s how it has been for me. My husband, Doug, however, has always enjoyed living in Sterling and has honestly never wanted to leave.

Growing up in a small town, as a teen, one of the first things I looked forward to was getting out of this small town! As luck, or providence would have it, after I graduated from college, I began my teaching career in a MUCH smaller town than Sterling. After looking for a job in larger areas, God placed me right back in Sterling in my late 20’s. Even at that point in my life, I didn’t fully appreciate Sterling. It wasn’t until I got married and settled down did I begin to appreciate this town for truly what it was when I was younger and is now to me.

Growing up in a small town, as a child I took for granted the freedom my friends and I had to play nearly all day, every day, ride our bikes to Pioneer Park to go swimming almost daily, playing till it got dark every night in our neighborhood, walking all over town with friends without a care in the world. (It certainly is a different time to live now, and I’m a little more protective of my grandkids doing the things I so freely did when I was their age.)

Growing up in a small town, lifelong friends are made. My best friend from kindergarten and I are still friends! I love seeing people I grew up with as a child and friends that I have made through the years. My husband is also from Sterling, so coming back to my hometown was definitely one of the best decisions I made!

Growing up in a small town, definitely leaves an impression on one’s life. As with every community, we definitely have issues to deal with, but I honestly wouldn’t trade my less-rushed, less-stressed, less-complicated life in our small town for big city life.

Growing up in a small town is definitely a blessing, but in order for Sterling to be competitive with amenities found in urban areas, funds are needed to enhance the appeal of our community. The Sterling Community Fund raises funds that are used to help give our town and county an edge to help attract families, businesses, and industry. Any contribution toward this fund will enhance the future of our community.

About 50 seniors were moved from a residence in downtown Calgary to Bashaw, Alta.

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