Life in a Senior Residence Community is challenging and cherished.


The gardens at Friends House this year are better than I’ve ever seen them. The rewards of copious amounts of rain? Yes, I think so, but we also are fortunate to have a new gardening crew. Ones who know how to prune and trim and allow bushes to look like bushes instead of tortured constricted balls. Antonio spends entire days selectively weeding and other days in spreading mulch and tidying up the edges of flower beds. We residents reap the benefits of his expertise and gentle approach to the plants living here with us.

Secondly, resident Ginny’s son Eric has helped improve our landscape. Last year for Clare, he designed and planted a new garden that included plants to attract butterflies and a bird feeder. He planted a low-maintenance garden for his mom; then designed for others, and then for me. He pulled and chopped and pick-axed at the little space out my back door, leaned on his shovel, and asked, “What do you envision here?”

I told him white, yellow, peachy colors. No blue or pink. ‘Lavender is okay. I’d like the garden to be loose, and blowzy, sort of a drought-tolerant cottage garden just in case the weather turns dry again.” He planted Queen Anne’s Lace, Mrs Geum, fever-few, salvia, several lavenders, a couple of day lilies, and a show-stoppIMG_1172.JPGer red dahlia. I added shasta daisies, a small rose, sweet peas, and 21 white tulips which I planted the day after the election so I’d have something serene to anticipate.
The tulips shoved up and burst forth just as the Queen Anne’s lace nodded and bloomed and the fever few began. A lovely moon white garden. When the white garden faded, it was replaced by controlled chaos of color. Sweet peas, the color of watermelon,10 feet tall. Oranges and yellows everywhere. Big red poppies, a struggling little apricot rose. The dahlia died in the winter frost.

My garden reflects my passion for color and surprise and freedom. Other gardens reflect their owners. Lynn’s is as meditative as she is; Charlotte’s displays her talent at arranging. Not only arranging a garden, but her house, and the quilts she designs and makes and gives away. Nancy’s garden has always interpreted her artist’s sense of color and mass. Maureen’s shows her sense of energy andIMG_1176 myriad enthusiasms. Another Lynn has a garden that mirrors her sense of organization and tidiness.

Some gardens are sloppy, but so are their owners. I find them, both the gardens and their people, painful and pathetic. Some gardens have little tiny plants arranged precisely by their daintily precise creators. Some, those belonging to people who would prefer to sit inside and read, are minimalist, orderly, getting along as best they can with occasional water and rare weeding.

I googled gardens and their philosophical significance and could devote my entire life to that study. Suffice it to say that “gardens inform human thinking about mortality, order, and power.” Also, I think, gardens refer to eternity, the cycle of life and death and the beauty of each phase. The delicate Queen Ann’s Lace blossoms faded into dry frilly seed heads, wonderful in dried flower arrangements.

Gardens seem to be a metaphor for the human condition. Can it be true that as we tend our gardens, so do we tend our lives?



Two Women Farmers

Isak Dinesen, also known as Karen Blixen, was a fine story teller and example of a woman who followed her convictions. Since the age of thirteen, when my father gave me a copy of her book, Out of Africa, I have held her in high esteem. When she lived in Kenya in the early 20th century, she became, in addition to an author, a coffee grower. The opening sentence in her book is, “I have a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills.”IMG_1199.JPG

In the 1990s I had a farm in Oregon, near Elkton in the Coastal Range. And like Isak/Karen, I was married to a charming man. I loved the  rural life and built a small cabin above the Umpqua River where I wrote little stories. I think she and I each asked too much of our marriages. Neither lasted.

I clung to the similarities between my life and that of Isak Dinesen’s.

Then I left the farm and moved to the beach in Santa Cruz County and didn’t think about her very much and the years passed. Now, in a senior community in Santa Rosa, I will be 90 in September and think about being old. What does that mean? Will I be a burden to my family? Will my life begin to revolve around doctor appointments? Will I become creaky? disillusioned? grouchy and picky? Will my life narrow and my perspective diminish? These are what elders often dwell upon.

Then, suddenly, when I was least expecting it, I ran across this quote from Isak Dinesen! She said, “Women, when they are old enough to have done with the business of being women, and can let loose their strength, must be the most powerful creatures in the world.”

Just in the nick of time!

I’m determined to make the next ten to fourteen years the best they can be. Like Isak, confronted by a massive lion in the bush, when I face depressing thoughts, I will wave my hands and say, “Shoo. Shoo.”

Watch Your Tongue

I recently had lunch with a friend who is searching for a compatible senior living community. She has been very diligent in checking out not only the accommodations and prices, but the continuing care options and gardening opportunities. I suggested that she check the magazines in libraries and on coffee tables to see what interests the residents. She has done that and perused libraries to note the selection of books. She has checked the activities calendars. How about yoga and pilates and exercises?

She has asked about the political preferences of the voters in residence. Are there any activists? Do they participate in local demonstrations or send post cards to their representatives? She has asked about vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free meals. She wants to know about house keeping and linen services.

Is there a chapel on the premises?

Is a doctor available? What happens when a person falls? How many assisted living apartments? Who maintains the gardens at the front doors of cottages? What if I want to paint a wall a color other than Navajo White?

What is the turn-over of the staff members? I never thought to ask this, but see the wisdom of it. If employees are happy with their work conditions, they stay, and they are happy with the residents, and that raises the morale of everyone. It creates a sense of security and continuity.

My friend shared with me that she considered a particular senior community along the coast until someone told her that the residents are prone to gossip and to being catty. I realized then that here at Friends House gossip does not exist. We might talk about someone, but only with concern. “I think Patty is depressed since her cat died. What can we do for her?” or “Did you hear that Paul has hospice now?”

However, we are not perfect. I heard one woman say, “She wears me out with her self-importance!” I watched to see reactions until someone said gently, “Oh, let her live her life……and you live yours.” and we moved on to other subjects. I find this compassion, patience, and acceptance touching and reassuring. It speaks of the quality of the population here.

I think that song People says it well. “People who love people are the luckiest people in the world”

Remember Thumper’s mother told him, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” With the variety of cottages and apartments, services and meals, directors and staff, I think that the most important facet of living in a senior community is the quality of the residents. Ones who share their hearts and watch their tongues.

“Donna!” Mary called last week from her front patio. “Come talk with me. I have something to tell you.”

I’ve sat often with Mary; we are good friends. She is bright, saucy, keenly observant, and resourceful. One day she told me she was giving up her car and I asked her how she was going to get around to her events in Santa Rosa.IMG_1149.JPG

She laughed and said, “I’m going to get an iPhone and learn how to use it and then when I want to go somewhere, I’ll just call Uber.” I thought that was such a terrific idea for a woman in her late eighties. We who grew up with party-line phones wired to the hallway wall have iPhones in our pockets! I told my son Sam about Mary’s solution, and Sam said, “Mom, go down to the Verizon store on the corner and get an iPhone and have them put it on my account. You learn how to use Uber so when the time comes for you to give up your car, you’ll be comfortable with calling.” He paused. “And, by the way, when are you going to stop driving?”

I told him, “When I have two fender-benders, we’ll think about it.”

Mary has lived most of her life in Iowa. She has that wholesomeness and generous spirit that people of Iowa seem to have. A big smile and lovely clear blue eyes. She usually has said, “Sit down, Donna. Tell me what you’ve been doing these past few days.” We have traded stories and have shared secrets. I’m lucky to have been her neighbor.

I chuckled when she asked, “When are we going to play bridge again? I’ve been reading up on bridge and learning the rules.”

“Tell you what, Mary,” I answered, “let’s get a Tuesday group together.”

“Great idea! Let’s meet at your place. I like to be there. So much to look at.”

So for months we have been playing bridge every Tuesday afternoon. That’s in addition to the Wednesday afternoons with our bridge teacher, 101-year-old Leslee. And Friday evenings, too, at a table in Commons A. At the end of each two-hour session, Mary pushed herself up to standing and declared, “Well, friends, that was a lot of fun. Thank you. See you next time.”

Until two weeks ago.

She telephoned to say, “You know, Donna, I’m really busy right now so I don’t think I’ll play bridge any more.” I was stunned and only said, “When you change your mind, Mary, give a call. There’s always room for you.”

Since she fell and broke her left leg, she doesn’t move around as much as she used to. She’s spent time with the physical therapist and her friends who stop by. She has waited for her son and daughter to come visit. That’s what she wanted to talk about last week when she asked me to sit with her in the sunshine on her front patio.

She talked about the care she feels she will be needing, about her daughter who lives in Singapore and her son, John, in Arizona. John has encouraged her to live closer to him and his family. Today she’s moving out of Friends House  and tomorrow she and John will fly to Scottsdale.

Mary is not the only dear friend to leave Friends House. Lee died last year, Evelyn and Bob moved out, Martin and Myra moved to live for a few weeks with their son before they died, one a month after the other; Eidie, Kaaren, Linda, and Mary Porter-Chase moved to memory care facilities, Bev died in an automobile accident. Many good-byes and an equal number of hellos here at Friends House. A see-saw of emotions.

Good-bye, Mary. Godspeed.

Happy Wednesday!


This morning I rolled out of bed at 6:30 so I’d have time to do the laundry. My turn in the Cluster A laundry room is seven until eleven. I opened the back door of my Hutch, greeted a bright day, and carried the basket, glad to see purple irises blooming, the forsythia budding.

We have new laundry machines, all computerized with lights and buzzers. I loaded the clothes, shut the door, poured in detergent, clicked buttons.

Nothing happened. Someone had set it for spin only and it stubbornly would do nothing but spin. Damn!

Frustrated, I gave up,  returned to my bathroom, washed my hair, got dressed, made the bed, and found my glasses. Back in the laundry room, I was fumbling through the operating manual when Nancy popped in. “Ah! Nancy! Do you know how to operate this?” She did what I had done, tapped all the buttons. Finally, she pushed something that worked. Whew. Clean clothes would be ready in 55 minutes.

Back in my kitchen, I chose a bright mug, dropped a tea bag into it, and took it over to Friends House Cafe for hot water. Elizabeth greeted me with, “Hey! Go get a peeled orange. Joanie is making candied orange rind for next fall’s Bazaar and brought over a bagful of peeled oranges. They are there on the breakfast table.” I took one home, broke it into sections and slurped the juiciness.

What about the eight o’clock reading group? I bet they’d like to have sections of orange.

I walked back over to the breakfast room and picked up two more oranges. Betty looked up and grinned. “Take one for each person!” Two were enough broken into a yellow bowl and hustled over to Marie’s. Contented, almost all six women stayed awake and listened to another chapter in Viking Economics.

Nice way to start the day. Lovely sense of community.

Hear Our Voice


“Okay, What’ll I do with these?” A few weeks ago, I was organizing the paper cupboard, where I keep typing paper, colored papers, notebooks, note cards and postcards. Some are old postcards I bought when traveling in far-away places: Greece, Russia, Africa, Lake Tahoe, Cuba, Atlanta. “I’ll never use these.“

Or, so I thought.

Then, while playing bridge, Yvonne talked about activists who send emails to congressional representatives and sign petitions on web sites. Some telephone their representatives every day to leave messages, to say “Please…..” And some send postcards.

FullSizeRender.jpegThat’s it! I asked friends here at Friends House if they, too, had old postcards they’d probably never use. Yes, they did. Several of us collected our cards, I got three sheets of stamps, Margaret made address labels of our representatives and eight of us met for an hour or so, with tea and chocolate chip cookies, and wrote to our representatives asking them to support clean air and water, to keep fossil fuels underground, to respect women’s equality and women’s bodies, to protect LGBTQIA, anything that concerns us….and there is lots that concerns us. We signed our names and added our zip codes so our representatives would know that we are constituents. We wrote for 90 minutes and that afternoon I dropped 60 postcards into the slot at the post office.

That was two weeks ago. Yesterday 12 of us wrote to Donald Trump. WeIMG_1454.jpeg didn’t want to send hate-mail. Well, maybe we wanted to, but following Michelle Obama’s insistence that “when they go low, we go high,” we made constructive recommendations. Show us your tax records. Sever connections with Putin. Health-care, not wealth-care.
Pennie couldn’t resist writing, “Donnie, go to your room.” Then, with satisfied chuckles, some of us copied her. And helped ourselves to another Triple Ginger cookie, sipped our tea.

Dottie had bought a roll of 100 stamps and others brought what they found in their desks, and in less than two hours we were out of stamps. Over 100 postcards expressing our anxieties.

I remember Helen Caldecott, Australian pediatrician, founder of Doctors for Social Responsibility, speaking in the 1980s to a group of Stanford doctors. She said, “Your country is not a great country. It could be, but won’t be until your citizens are informed and involved.” Looks as though we may be getting a great country.

Yesterday morning, women in their 70s, 80s, and 90s hand-wrote postcards to the President of the United States, asking him to be a responsible leader, to be compassionate toward all. We here at Friends House do what we can to join the tidal wave of citizen involvement. On every card we wrote in large letters, HEAR OUR VOICE.IMG_7976.JPG

One evening a long time ago when I shouted to a husband, “I will be heard!,” he muttered and walked away. I wonder what Trump will do. Will he hear our voice?

Does he even know that the Ides of March, March 15, when millions of postcards will arrive at his office, is the day in 44 BC that Julius Caesar received fatal knife wounds? Will he recognize this is The Ides of Trump?

Where is Your Horizon?


Every Friday morning at eleven, I have an appointment with Cynthia, a Feldenkrais practitioner. The Feldenkrais system of physical integration is based on work done in the mid-20th century by Moshe Feldenkrais. His method is based on “gentle movement and directed attention to improve movement and enhance human functioning.”

I go because I want my posture to remain straight, my head to rest on my neck, my neck to balance on my spine. I want an integrated body that continues to work well. I’ve never felt I have a graceful, elegant posture, but I don’t want to lose what I have.

Cynthia asks me to walk back and forth and says, “Notice where your horizon is.” I choose a line traversing the top of the first floor of a two-story building across the street that is directly even with my straight-ahead line of vision. Then I lie down and she works on my ribs, my feet, my shoulders; turns my head right and left, pulls it up out of my shoulders, presses on my sternum, checks my pelvis. When I get up from the table, she asks me to check my horizon. I look out the window, across the street at the same building.


I now notice the horizontal line of window sills on the second story of the building. I’m taller! Straighter!

Where do I look while walking? I tend to look down. Not directly in front of me, but a few yards ahead. I’m careful not to fall.

Cynthia and I talked about how this horizon habit can be a metaphor for life. Especially as we become ancients. As our life perspectives diminish , so do our horizons.. I notice that many of the residents of Friends House bend forward, lead with their necks extended forward. Pushing a walker, Jessie, 86, leans into it. In the three years I’ve been here, her back has developed a curvature. She is bowed down, tense, cautious, flinching at life.

She’s a happy hand-wringer.. When she saw me for the first time in several weeks, she cheerfully asked, “Oh. You’re here. I thought you were sick. Have you been sick?”

“No, “ I answered, “I have been in Mexico seeing friends and attending a music festival.”

She chuckles, “And you didn’t get sick?”

On the other hand, Molly, 80, walks with her shoulders down, back, and relaxed. She strides out, looking ahead while walking; pausing to contemplate new blossoms on trees, big puffy clouds, or a flock of noisy crows rising out of the oak trees over the creek. She points out that when we hunch forward, we are closer to the tipping point. “There is less gravity pull on a vertical body than on a bent-forward body.” Is her body a reflection of her buoyant spirit? Probably.

I think sometimes we hunch down to become smaller, shorter, less-visible. Are we trying to be not only not heard, but not seen? Is that a life-long habit? Time to get over it! Let’s walk as though we were each the First Lady of our nation.

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