Life in a Senior Residence Community is challenging and cherished.

Wanted: A Nice Cape

“I am fairly certain that given a cape and a nice tiara, I could save the world.”


A poster on 21-year-old Granddaughter Katie’s dresser. I am staying in her bedroom over Thanksgiving holiday as she is in Milford Sound, New Zealand, as a crew member on the tour boat, Go Orange! A graduate in Biology and Environmental Sciences, she is prepared to share her knowledge with travelers. We here in Los Altos (just south of Stanford U), spoke with Katie Thanksgiving evening, which was Friday for her. She and her new Kiwi friends had had Thanksgiving the day before in a dorm where they have private rooms, share the kitchen, and stories of their lives. “Oh, yes,” she said, “outside the wind is gale force, but we’re inside warm and talking up our own storm,” her voice interrupted by flashes of silence. “I called to wish you happy Thanksgiving. Love you. Gotta go. Bye.” He father announced, “She’s fine.” Her mother smiled bravely and shrugged. Her father poured more wine. I thought of the poster on Katie’s dresser.

On the other side of the world, outside Dublin, Ireland, Granddaughter Indy, with a degree in Hydrology, is working on a horse farm and becoming acquainted with the lifestyle there. In the summer, she started with a visit to Norway, then France, Spain, a month in Germany, and now Ireland, and originally planned to stay abroad a year, but now with the presidential election in the USA, she is considering returning to help save the nation.

At Friends House, we elders often worry about our grandchildren’s future. After the presidential election results, we were, as were millions of others, stunned into silence. Nothing much to say. Numbed as in shocked. Unable to see ahead to anything but democratic disaster; we were muted by fear.

Slowly recovering our sense of responsibility and involvement, someone asked me what I was going to do, and I said, “I have doubled my contribution to Planned Parenthood and have re-joined Sierra Club.” It’s not much, but every bit helps.

Also, on the Saturday after the election, I planted 21 white tulips as an act of optimism and faith.

Tomorrow, when I return to Friends House, I will tell my friends of Katie’s and Indy’s commitments to saving the world. And I think I’ll get a cape and a tiara.

Two Chairs and a Table


These clear, warm autumn days , Dottie wanders by and we sit in the sunshine, sigh as we feel our bones warming, our shoulders relaxing. We sit on the minuscule patio at my front door. Or hers.

Everyone here has a place to sit outside. Our garden apartments are oriented to the outdoors. The walkways —not long hallways—connect us one to the other.


Friends House is small, intimate, and unique in its architecture of single story cottages arranged along walkways that encourage a sense of neighborliness and community.

It is personal style that determines the choice of plants and arrangement of furniture on the patios. Jan has a bird-feeder attached to her front window so she can watch from inside. Lynn has musical wind-chimes hanging above her garden that since the first of October has displayed a very large orange pumpkin. The shade tree in Mary’s garden protects us in summer and these days drops swarms of leaves.. Mary frequently calls out, “Donna! Come sit with me and tell me what you have been doing.” Ruth sits quietly at a breakfast table on her patio as she watches for migrating monarch butterflies she encourages to stay a few days.

These front patios exhibit the individual differences of the inhabitants of Friends House. Betsy’s garden is as lavish and textured as Betsy herself. Nancy’s color scheme is evidence of her artist’s appreciation of analogous colors. Charlotte, who continues to enjoy baking (outstanding nut bread!), spinning, quilting, and enhancing her home, has created a serene area between her patio and the front walk that includes a small Japanese maple, a swath of small stones surrounding an island of larger stones, a bird-bath, and, these days, pansies.

My Grandmother Sarah would have liked Friends House. She had two chairs on her front porch where she sat rocking and calling out to passers-by, “Hello! How are you today? Come on, set a spell.”

Your Identification, Please

“Have your ID and boarding pass ready.” An announcement at SFO security. The officer looks at me and says, “You won’t have to remove your shoes and jacket.” He can see, identify, me as an elder. One of the privileges of being old is not having to take off your shoes when going though airport security.

Phoebe and I have just completed our 14th Road Scholar (Elderhostel) trip together. Do you remember that Phoebe and I were in the same neighborhood baby-sitting co-op in San Mateo, CA, in the 1950s? She and her husband Kem had four little girls. Jim and I had four sons. Some of the children were in the same grade. Phoebe and I took them…one year it was eight under the age of eight…to Capitola for a week at the beach. Those weeks are among our most favorite memories.


Phoebe and Donna: our first selfie…

In the 1990s, when my then husband and I could live anywhere in the world, son John said, “Live in Capitola, Mom. We’ll bring our children to the same beach that you took us.” We did and they did. For almost 20 years. Long before then Phoebe and Kem and their girls had moved to Fair Haven, NJ. Our connection was stretched taut.

As our children began to grey, Phoebe and I agreed that we needed a plan to get together. Hence, we meet each autumn on a Road Scholar trip somewhere in the United States, some place neither of us has been. This year it was St Joseph, KS and Kansas City, MO. We learned about local art, local jazz, local bbq, and the Pony Express. As members of the group, we wore name-tags on loops around our necks. We needed to be easily identifiable. Like little refugees. Like cattle with id tags punched onto their ear flaps. Every one of the 30 of us has grey hair, some had canes, walking sticks, hiking poles. Phoebe and I , at 89, were probably the oldest, but not by much.

She and I chatted about getting rid of our stuff. Such a popular topic in our age bracket. During my return flight, I thought about how elders puzzle over not leaving scrap books, photographs, trip journals, old tax records for our children to sort and toss. But it’s hard to throw out the accumulated evidence of our lives. Our identities. Gone are the days when an adult would meet me, ask admiringly, “Aren’t you Dr Rankin’s daughter?” and I’d be proud. Later, grown up, I’d hear, “Oh, it’s so nice to meet Mr. Love’s wife.” Then, in the china department of Harrod’s in London, a young woman approached and asked, “Aren’t you Matt Love’s mom?!”

When I was 60, I was known as a peace walker; at 80, “You’re the writer, aren’t you.” Now? With little of my life-long context remaining, I feel as though I’ve lost my identity.  Living in a senior community, I wonder how important our identity is. A child of God, of the Universe, of the Spirit. A grain of sand on a long , long beach.


Yesterday granddaughter Jenny came for an overnight. She is the one who could turn on a computer before she could talk clearly….climbed up and stood on a chair to reach, poked the ON button, and looked at the lights. Jenny is 25 now, and, like most in her generation, is thoroughly competent with computers.

This morning we had a computer tutorial in which, among other skills, she showed me how to use my new iPhone as a camera and then include the photos in the blogs!

We added a photo to Toast the Post. Added another to Drying Apples and two photos in today’s blog, A Day with Nancy and Ruth. Such a big step forward! I especially like the shot of the dried apples, but, then again, Jenny is a food photographer.


Friday evening, Nancy asked me, “Are we walking tomorrow? Should be a lovely day!” She waited for my answer, her pretty faced lighted by her smile.


“Okay,” I reluctantly agreed. Who could resist Nancy? “I’m playing bridge with Ruth at seven o’clock. I’ll ask her if she wants to go.” Then I forgot.

Next morning about nine, Ruth called, “I hope we’re walking this morning.”

“Yes, we are. Nine-thirty, my place.”


We three octogenarians have been walking the nearby creek paths on Saturday mornings for over a year now. We start out peppy and after a mile or so, begin to slow down. We have found a bench where we sit in the shade for a little while, wiggling close so we all fit.

We talk about anything that comes to mind. We talked again about how to pare down our stuff. I mentioned a small book called just that, STUFF, by Steve Neff, in which he says, “Identify the essential, eliminate the rest.” He also stresses (in heavy print), “Don’t leave it for the kids!”

Nancy suggested that treasured family photos be put on an e-device that shows the pictures in rotation, a few seconds at a time. Her daughter reduced several scrap-books this way and Nancy sees the photos every day. Another idea is to have a bonfire and everyone tosses pictures of relatives no one knows. One friend suggests we discard pictures of people three generations ago. Another pipes up, “Those are our ancestors!”

Each time I visit friends and family for a few days, I take a fat scrap book with me for their perusal. One of these days, I’m going to start tossing those books. But not quite yet. They are still on the essentials list; records of important parts of my life.

Ruth is going to include old photos of friends in her Christmas cards and share memories of times past.

We walked along, chatting, for an hour or so until we’d circled back to Friends House.

“Bye. Nice walk. See you at one o’clock,”

“One o’clock? What’s then?”

“Remember? We have tickets to the Santa Rosa Symphony rehearsal.”

“Oh. Right. See you at one.”

Cleaned up, not dressed up, except for Ruth who glowed in a jewel toned silk blouse, we drove to Green Music Center on the Sonoma State University campus. This is the Santa Rosa Symphony’s 89th year. Mine, too. I’m celebrating with season tickets for Conductor Bruno Ferrandis’s final year here. He says, “For my last full season as Music Director of the Santa Rosa Symphony, I want to remind you who I am through the spirit of programs and artists who are close to my heart.” His guest on Saturday was his brother, Jean Ferrandis, an internationally acclaimed flutist. Leonard Bernstein said of him, “(Jean) is Pan himself.”

“I wonder if the entire Ferrandis family is musical,” I said. “Imagine how proud their parents must be!”

What a treat to sit in Weill Hall, gaze out the windows toward the rolling rural hills, and listen to gorgeous full music, and maybe even doze a little.

Back again at Friends House, Nancy asked, “Are you going to the movie in the library tonight?”

“I don’t know., “ I answered. “What is it?”

“I forget,” she said. And Ruth, who is on the film committee, announced, “It’s The Magic Garden. Very touching. British classic. Nice.”

“Okay,I’ll go. Will you?”

“Yes. Wouldn’t miss it. Shall we sit together?”

Of course. Together. The entire day.

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.

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