Life in a Senior Residence Community is challenging and cherished.

Good Idea!

Good Idea!

Want to know why it’s a good idea to move into a senior community?

Because when you have a computer problem, there is someone nearby who can help. For years, to print the blog, I have written it, printed a hard copy, set up the hard copy next to the computer. Then I brought up the blog site and copied…..I mean I typed again from the printed copy….the blog.

This morning Ruth came over to talk about something else and I asked her if she has a MacBook Air like mine. She does. I told her how I have been publishing the blog and she exclaimed, “Oh, can’t you just copy it into place?”

“No, I don’t know how.”

And she showed me. I will now try to follow her directions and see what happens. If it works, it’ll save all sorts of time.

And that’s a reason it’s a good idea to move into a senior community!

Dried Apples

Today I am going to dry apples. I’ve borrowed a dehydrator from Joanie and will slice apples, three horizontal slices per apple. They rest in a bowl of  watered lemon juice before I arrange them on the screens and turn on the dryer for about 36 hours.

First, I need to pick the apples. We  have over 100 fruit-bearing trees here. Thirty-five years ago, when Friends House was in the planning stages, a member of the committee, professor of botany at Sonoma State University, Ken Stocking, declared, “We need 100 fruit trees and 100 rose bushes.”

So, these bright autumn days of 2016, any of us can gather apples, oranges, lemons, figs, pears, pomegranates, quince, grapes, and roses. Lots of roses. Other flowers, too. Our campus is divided into four clusters of garden apartments. Each cluster has an outdoor table set among the trees.  Ruth and her Ripe Fruit Picking Committee, residents who are tall and can reach up without falling over, collect and place on the tables a harvest of fruit for the taking.

I’m going to pick 25 apples. I think there’s a laden tree of Golden Delicious over in Cluster C.

Residents make fruit-nut breads, candied orange peel, grape jelly, apple butter, fruit chutneys and  contribute their home-made delicacies to the Friends House Holiday Faire, which is held the weekend before Thanksgiving.

The Holiday Faire-Quaker Tea is a major fundraiser event to provide Christmas gifts for members of our staff. Local artisans are invited to set out their wares in the lobby, residents organize an Albino Pachyderm Sale. For the formal tea, we make ribbon sandwiches and scones and a traditional cake. Lovely fragrances everywhere. Big doin’s. Lots of scurrying around. Many meetings.

But today, the last Sunday in September, is a quiet morning. I will gather apples; core, peel, slice, and dry them. My space here at Friends House will be as aromatic as  the canning kitchen I had when I was a fair-weather farmer living in a sprawling yellow house in an apple orchard near Elton, Oregon, during the 1990s.

Toast the Post

About five months ago, I was browsing through the thick volume named A Pattern Language by a group of Berkeley architects including Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein, published in 1977. These were the architects who influenced the design of Friends House, where I live, in Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco.

In describing the arrangement of a living-space for one person, the authors say, “Conceive a house for one person as a place of the utmost simplicity; essentially a one-room cottage or studio, with large and small alcoves around it. When it is most intense, the entire house may be no more than 300 to 400 square feet.” (Talk about the current Tiny House movement!) My space is larger, about 560 square feet, with a separate bedroom and bath.

To compose the blogs, I sit at an old writing table in a single-room combination of kitchen, dining table, seating area for TV, reading, and conversation; storage cupboards, an open pantry, office files, and an open alcove for hanging jackets.

Each of these areas is in a niche along the perimeter of the room. The book says, “In essence, it is simply a central space, with nooks around it.”

In all the 30 years I’ve had the sofa, it has never been more conducive to napping than it is now….settled in it’s own niche beneath the windows. The kitchen along the back wall is open, but visually separated by a soffit and a change of flooring. The jackets, an antique chimney cupboard, and the writing table share a niche that formerly was a 12-foot closet. These spaces give a sense of order and rhythm to the room. Sometimes I just stand at the front door and gaze around, feeling satisfaction and contentment.

A Pattern Language also discussed columns. “A free-standing column plays a role in shaping human space. It marks a point. The main function of the column from a human point of view, is to create a space for human activity.” I walked over to the lobby of Friends House where ten columns, along with nooks, define spaces for coffee service, conversation, display of goods for sale, our mail boxes, and public notices. Sighting down the double row, I saw that the columns give perspective to the entire area, as well as creating cozy, human-scale, invitingly intimate niches.

I wanted a column!

So, in June, when I returned to Santa Cruz County to see family and friends, I stopped by Crawford’s Antiques to check out their supply of old columns. Son Sam, retired builder, had advised me, “Eight-inch diameter, Mom.” I found just the right one, except it was, as Suzy Crawford said, “front porch green,” with many layers of blistered paint beneath. She said she’d scrape down until she found a color I might like, then smooth and finish it.

I’d be back in August. It would be ready.

It was. And it was/is beautiful! Beautiful to those of us who like old, battered pieces. Beautiful to me who likes the rusty bricky color and a finish smoother than silk. We loaded it into my car.

At the intersection of the open end of the kitchen and the little hallway leading to the bedroom, Sam and his wife Sandra installed the column.  A few days later, I invited them back for a glass of wine to celebrate this addition. The column, the pillar, the post “makes the house complete.”

We lifted our glasses to toast the post.

Every morning as I come into the kitchen to put on the kettle, I pat the post. A good way to start the day.


An Ordinary Day

Remember when we worked at jobs that we didn’t particularly like, or where someone in the office was offensive or the principal was egotistical and we waded through those ordinary days until TGIF and the up-coming weekend? We had children at home to feed and to send to the orthodontist. We had spousal  duties and social obligations. We lived through decades of doing what was expected of us.

And now? Where I live, in a senior community, we can choose to be dutiful and responsible, or, without guilt, we can choose to sit in the sun and do nothing or sit on the couch and read. Such are some of the rewards of getting old. But, when we look idle, we are still alert. We are appreciating the stillness, the spaciousness, the serenity of our lives. Even with twitches of pain and fallible knees, we gaze affectionately at red zinnias in a neighbor’s patch of garden, we share still-warm applesauce, we feel a part of an intimate group and a universal “oneness.”

Katrina Kenison, in her book, the gift of an ordinary day, says, “I realize there are qualities of mind and heart in me that I am grateful for. I recognize, emerging slowly from beneath the layers, the optimism that has always made me me. My faith in other people, the sense of wonder that dawns as fresh in me each day as morning. The idealism that is both my nature and my gift. The creation of a self, it seems, at this late stage of the game, is more a process than a project, more about opening and allowing than forcing and doing.”

Living daily, the view back longer than the view forward, reminds me that a simple change in focus can improve the tone of a day. Recently one morning, I wakened and asked once again, “Tell me. Just why am I here?”

I answered, “You are here because you want the experience of living in a community. You chose this place so your children someday would not have to choose.”

“Oh, yes, that’s right.” So, reminded of why, I recalled the admonition, “Thoughts are things. Choose the good ones.” As a proclaimed peace activist, I prod myself to create peace nearby. To start at home. Within myself.

Again, Katrina Kenison, whom I paraphrase, “If we are going to live the life we’ve dreamed, if this place is to become a home built not just of walls and beams, but of love and peace, then both the dwellings and the people in them will require steady care and attention. Peace, patience, and understanding will have to grow and be nurtured here first, if ever we are to carry peace and compassion out into the world beyond our door.”

These days, these ordinary days, life is shifting and I need to welcome the change and shift along with it, hopefully with a light heart. Clarissa Pinkola Estés says, “Mend the part of the world that is within your reach.”

Perhaps it does not have to be such hard work after all.



Take Care!

“Take care of yourselves!” our mother told us as we bolted out the door and jumped into the car. She stood on the porch, waved, pretended she was checking the border flowers as she lowered her eyes to hide her tears, waved again, and called out, “Take care! Take care of yourselves.”

I thought of that scene as I listened to the millions of words shouted out during the Republican Convention two weeks ago and in the Democratic Convention last week. Such unabashed demonstrations of people exercising their right to gather and speak out, supporting the candidates they believe will take care of them. Lots of speeches promising to do just that.

And then we heard from President Obama whose greatest one-liner was a throw-away three-word phrase: “Don’t boo…VOTE.” Not shouted, not demanded; spoken almost as an aside, as a spontaneous thought.

And I whooped with excitement! That’s right! We need to take  care of ourselves. We each need to vote! It’s imperative that everyone votes. That’s our democratic way of making an effort to take care of ourselves.

In recent years, since I’ve moved into this residence for the elderly, I have heard complaints, moans, and whines from people who now, in their impaired states, feel helpless. As though they need someone else to care for them. And, yes, that is true, to some extent. But not to the extent that they might believe. I think it was (almost) 101-year-old Leslee who I heard demand, “Stop your complaining. Draw up a petition and have everyone sign it. That way you’ll have a chance of changing whatever you feel is important. You want different food? Get organized. Get a group. Go tell the cook. See what happens.”

When I told a staff member in the front office of a situation I felt helpless to change, she gently reminded me, “You know, you need to take that to Resident Services. That’s the office right down this little hall. Let them know. See what happens.”

Another time I complained to a friend here that whenever I drove off campus, I came back to find someone had parked in the space assigned to me. I stormed around in frustration, and she asked, “What are you going to do about it?”

I realized I had to take responsibility for myself and my parking space, so with a red marking pen, I highlighted the sign that said “Resident Parking Only,” three times underlining Only. I left a note on the intruder’s windshield. It worked! Now when I return, I zip right into my own reserved parking space.

Several years ago I was in Oregon saying goodbye to my youngest brother, David. Our brother John had died some time ago and I’ve lost track of our other brother. I patted David’s chest and looked up at him. “You take good care of yourself, David. I used to have three brothers and now I have one, you.”

He grinned and patted my shoulder. “You take good care of yourself, too. I’ve always had one sister, you.”

What is Bernie Sanders saying? He’s saying just what Mother said, “Take care of yourselves,” just what Leslee is saying, “Get organized,” just what David is saying, “You are important,” just what President Obama is saying, “Don’t boo….Vote.”

Oh, Happy Day!

Last week, Assisted Living resident Leslee stopped me in the lobby. She lay her hand on my arm and with an intensely worried look on her bright face, said, “Donna, the pictures in Assisted Living are terrible. Can you do anything about them?” I looked at this ever-so-slender almost 101-year-old fireball with her painted nails and bright orange hair, and thought how much I love her…how she knows the difference between aging and living a long time. She is our bridge teacher. She had been wanting to play bridge, but since no one here at Friends House played, she announced bridge lessons every Wednesday afternoon. Now we have two tables and the beginning of a third.

When I was in my 60s or 70s, I declared, “When I get old, I’m going to learn to play bridge!” Leslee and I are a good match.

Standing together there in the lobby, I reminded her that I am clerk (a Quaker term for chairman) of the Beauty and Decor Committee and that my main responsibility seems to be hanging pictures. I would figure it out.

The next day, Rosemary pushed her walker along the sidewalk and brightened when she saw me.

“Donna!” she called out. “I have something to ask you. The paintings in Assisted Living are so bad. They are dark, have heavy frames, and are quite depressing. I understand you can do something about them. Would you, please?”

I asked her if she’d been talking with Leslee and she shook her head no. I asked her if she and Leslee could meet me near the art storage closet the next day about mid-morning. Rosemary replied that she could meet at 10:30, but she gets on the bus at 11:30 to go stand with Women in Black down on the corner of College and Mendocino Avenues. Every Friday morning without fail, she joins Women in Black with their Peace placards. Rosemary is 93.

Exactly at 10:30 I came along the hallway, and there they were snug in green wing-back chairs, waiting. I brought out a couple of paintings. They approved of one, but rejected the other. I brought out two more. And two more. We collected the ones they liked.

After Leslee returned to her room and Rosemary went to the bus, a resident friend, Nancy, and I loaded the pictures into a laundry cart and wheeled them to Assisted Living. As we began to unload them, to set them on the floor, to lean them against the wall, the Director of Assisted Living hustled toward me, a concerned look on her face. “If you leave those there, someone will trip over them.”

“Oh. Where do you suggest?”

“Over there near the piano.”

“Okay. It’ll probably be a few days before I can be back to get them hung.”

“Well.” she admonished, “you’d better put in a work order.”

“I will,” I said and wondered to myself how many days would pass before someone would come to help with this project.

It was almost noon when I finished placing the work order and I was in my apartment, eating a salad and reading a book when the phone rang. It was the Director of Assisted Living and she said, “Miguel is over here ready to hang the pictures. What shall I tell him?”

“Tell him, please, that I am on my way!”

That’s the quickest reply to a work request I’ve seen in the 2 1/4 years I’ve lived here!

“Okay, Miguel, the first one goes right here.”  While he marked, measured, and hammered, I decided on the placement of the next one, and the next one and the next one. We were ripping right along when Leslee showed up and I asked her what she thought about the pictures so far. She carefully looked around and said, “I think that one is too low.” and “I think that one would be better over here.” We made the adjustments and by three o’clock, Miguel had hung 18 pictures.

“You happy, Boss?” he asked.

“I’m happy, Miguel. What about you?” He nodded and grinned, gave a thumbs-up.

“Are you happy, Leslee?”

“I’m happy, too. Here comes Rosemary. Are you happy with the pictures, Rosemary?”

“Yes! This is so much better!”

Everybody happy. Life in the Old Folks’ Home. Happy.


Ah, Decisions!

Last weekend, I was in Sebastopol in a shop, Silk Moon, searching for a Grandmother-of-the-Bride dress. A member of our family had heard from another member of the family that the bride has suggested that women attending the mid-August wedding wear “nice summer dresses.” I haven’t owned a dress since 1991. So, what do I know about buying a dress these days? I googled dresses and stared at ones that are too short, too tight, too transparent, too lacy, too sleeveless for me. Doesn’t anyone sell dresses for dumpy, plumpy grandmothers? Women who carry their great wisdom around their waists and in their bellies?

Yes, someone does! In Sebastopol, I parked in a 24-minute zone, tore into the shop’s back door, strolled quickly among the colorful dresses hung on racks, screens, and walls, took three into the dressing room, came out with three and said, “I want to take all of these home to try on again. I’ll return next week. Okay?” It was okay. One dress is the colors of a 1933 kitchen–apple green, pale aqua, pale yellow, white–so that one is back in the sack. The remaining two are called “A-line” dresses. Look at the shape of an A. That’s it. Hanging from the shoulders, loose at the waist, hemline below the knees. No sleeves, though, but that can be remedied with a stole, a shawl, a wrap, whatever that is called.

I must decide between the floaty, bright watermelon-color one and the other of deep aqua heavy cotton. Such a delightful decision! But not easy. In the watermelon floaty one, I feel celebrational and animated. More in the light. Do I really want to live out loud? In the aqua one, more proper, more plain, more grandmotherly. More in shadow. I remember that shadow provides the strength and groundedness we all need.

Oh, come on, either is good. Eenee-meenee-miney-mo. Turn around three times and point.

Other times other decisions have had to be made. Not such inconsequential ones. In 1950, in Oregon, my husband and I, in our mid-twenties, owned a much-loved yellow Studebaker convertible. He said, “We either have to move out of Oregon or sell the car. This is no place for a convertible.” We sat on the leather seats, patted the dash board, and moved to California.

When son John was seventeen, he had two brothers in college and a decision to make. One Saturday morning, he spread a map of the United States on the kitchen table and placed his right hand on New England, and his left hand on the Pacific Northwest. “Let’s see,” he said. “Matt is at Yale and Sam is at University of Oregon. What’s in the South? In the Middle West?” After much rifling through the College Directory, he came up with Northwestern University. “It’s good in music and in computer science, Mom.” The following autumn he left for Evanston, Il. A generation later, his eldest daughter also chose Northwestern.

It isn’t as though these decisions were as impossibly painful as Sophie’s Choice, but they were life-changing. I don’t think my dress decision will be life-changing. Although, it could be. I was wearing a watermelon-color suit at a 1948 University of Oregon football game the first time Jim Love saw me and asked his friend, “Wow! Who’s that?”


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