Life in a Senior Residence Community is challenging and cherished.

Here We Are

My friend Adele and I had dinner together the other evening and before we realized it, we were almost the last ones in the dining room! Two hours had rolled by while we exchanged our stories. We each are mothers of four sons, we each hover around 90, we each laugh when we say we feel like pioneers in being old. We’re not quite sure how to be old. We’ve never been old before. We think it’s grand that a recent study has found that those kids we see on iPhones are frequently texting with their grandparents.

I overheard one side of a conversation a resident was having while sitting on a bench in the sunshine and talking on her iPhone. She said, “Yes, it’s rained here! Hard. Might be a flood. All that grey flannel smoke has disappeared and the creek is raging.” A pause, and then, “Oh, I know that just because it’s rained, we aren’t going to drown. You’re right about that.”

Adele and I talked about our sense of identity. Some of my sense of who I am, or have been, is tied up with having been a home-owner for 65 years. Now I am “just a renter.” Makes me feel temporary. As, indeed, I have to accept, I am. That’s part of the adjustment, the transition in moving to a senior community. Over time, after our habitual identity has been peeled away, we will find new identity, a new sense of self. No more will it be, “Are you John Love’s mom!”

As another woman and I paddled about the pool here last Sunday afternoon, we introduced ourselves. She said, “Oh, you are famous!”

I asked, “What has made me famous?”

She replied, “You published a book and it’s for sale in the Village Store.” I could accept that. Walking for Our Lives has made my name known within Spring Lake Village. A population of 400. Maybe now our sense of identity is based on being part of a community.

It’s where we live. It’s how we live. It’s as though we are on permanent vacation with all the basics taken care of. Our food is cooked and served to us, our beds and linens are changed once a week. If needed, our transportation is provided. All we have to do is stay as healthy as possible and be involved with activities. Attend exercise classes, drink plenty of water. It’s no less real than any other of the phases of our lives. It’s more than paying for shelter, it’s participating in the warp and weft of our social fabric in the reality of these extra decades.

I remembered something that Joan Baez said. She was talking about a career of traveling to present her concerts, but I think it applies to senior lives: “Part of going off the road is learning to respect the years I spent on it.”

Adele and I chuckled at the fortunate turn of events in our long lives. As we walked out of the dining room, I brushed her arm so I could collect that moment.

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Good Night!

 

I am tired of not sleeping well. When I go to bed at 11:00, wake up at 3:00, sleep again at 4:30, and up at 7:00, I stumble through the morning and can hardly wait to have a nap. A terrible way to spend these bright autumn days!

Last week I spoke with my acupuncturist and she gave a treatment. That evening I fell asleep easily and stayed asleep all night. Aah, what a treat to waken refreshed! The next night was not as good and the effect eventually wore off. I think maybe I need to have a series of treatments.

Here at Spring Lake Village when I heard about a discussion meeting focused on insomnia, I attended one late afternoon, after a 30-minute nap. About eight women sat around a table and took turns telling about their sleeplessness and current cures. Mostly what I heard was an exchange of the names of various drugs they were taking. I, who try to stay away from pills, except for vitamins, had never heard the names of the recommendations. The only word I wrote down was Melatonin. It sounded benign. And someone said it helps to regulate sleep rhythms. If Melatonin could help me sleep at night, maybe I’d not need to nap through a lovely afternoon.

My go-to source for information is Google. So I typed in Causes for Insomnia and on the list was a reference to Blue Light. But I didn’t understand all that was said.

So, yesterday when a granddaughter and her brilliant husband stopped by for lunch, I asked, “What’s blue light and how does it affect sleep?” They both explained. The light on the computer or iPhone or iPad screen is blue light, which is like day light. If I sit at the computer in the evening, my body/brain thinks it’s still daytime and not time to sleep. The light can be adjusted so as the day ends, the light changes color and through the lenses of my eyes, my body/brain learns that bedtime is coming. My computer tutors made those adjustments. I rarely use the iPhone and don’t have an iPad, so it was a quick fix.

Last evening I answered some emails and sure enough, when 10:30 came around, I lay down, pulled up the covers, and fell asleep within, I estimate, about 15 minutes.

However, at 1:30, there I was, awake again. Really wide eyed and ready for the day! Hmmmm. Got up, had some camomile tea and toast, and tried again. After a while, I drifted off and was surprised that the next time I checked my watch it was 8:30!

This day has been great! Played bocce, wrote checks, shuffled through a stack of magazines, sorted some clothes to give away, cleaned the refrigerator, and swam in the warm-water pool here.

I have high hopes that this plan will solve the sleeplessness. However, the last thing my grandson-in-law said was, “If this doesn’t work, you can try Melatonin. It’s the least dangerous of all those drugs.”

Harvest Time

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow observed,
“For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress.
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.”

I read that in Joan Chittister’s The Gift of Years, subtitled Growing Older Gracefully. It is a treasure of a book, given to me last year for my 90th birthday by a friend I’ve known since she was a college girl and I was a busy mother of four young boys. I am constantly surprised that she is in her 70s now and considering moving into a senior community. I can’t be too surprised, though, since those young boys are now in their early 60s.

Longfellow continues speaking of the mystery of the later years of life, the satisfaction of it all. “And yet one of the obstacles to living an exciting life in our later years is that we become so sure we’re losing something and so unaware of what we’re gaining.”

He says, “the later years of life are given to us to bring in the harvest of all that effort” that we spent during young and middle years. I like that! I recently visited a friend who has bought a house on the shore of Indian Lake in Michigan to spend summers near her grandchildren. As a parent, Louise devoted her life to her own children and is being rewarded by adoring grandchildren. An important part of her harvest.

My own grandchildren are adults now, some having babies of their own. And I reap the benefits of dedicated motherhood. Bringing in the harvest. When we think of harvest, we think of corn, of garden produce. Louise and I drove to Mr Sprague’s farm stand to gather peaches, tomatoes, a white aubergine, apples, corn, and small red potatoes. Three generations of the farm family worked the busy money box. Reaped the benefits of hard work, their harvest.

No wonder Autumn is my favorite season. No wonder that as I age, I feel more and more comfortable with the soft days of contemplation. I frequently sit in the sun on the yellow garden bench and just listen to the hum of silence. Yesterday I sat very still to watch a neighborhood cat stand on her hind legs to drink from the bird bath. A crow teetered on the bird feeder, made it swing until most of the seeds had fallen to the ground, and then flapped down to the path to snap up lunch. The cat ran away. A monarch butterfly almost landed on my hand, but decided to choose the Buddleia bush. Bees hovered over the lavender, and a hummingbird liked the Agapanthus. I felt almost as though I were in Eden. Nothing else demanded attention. I was present. In the garden.

Since being in Michigan for two weeks, in airports and train stations, in traffic, in the mainstream, I have felt that life at Spring Lake Village is not a real life. It feels like Shangri La or Never-never-land.

But that is not so. This is my real life. This cocoon, this padded, quiet, safe and sanitary life is the real life of the seniors who live here. I understand now that there are parallel lives. This is one of them. And it’s autumn. Time to harvest.

In the Gloaming

For the past few months I’ve been walking the perimeter of the Spring Lake Village campus . It’s about a mile. Each evening before nine, I start out the back door and down through the little garden, look up to check the moon and a few stars, swing my arms, and let thoughts drift by.

In March, it’s dark at nine. I was grateful for the smooth asphalt or concrete of the walkways. I noted there are no cracks nor abrupt changes in the level of the surfaces. Bright yellow paint on curbs. I liked the solar garden lights in the grass along the edges and noted that they are spaced to consistently illuminate the paths. I hadn’t checked the pathways when I applied to Spring Lake Village. I now realize that the maintenance of the walks is an indication of maintenance in general.

As the weeks rolled by, the days grew longer and the evenings lighter.

So I looked for plumbing leaks. Stains around faucets, little persistent puddles at the sprinkler heads. Any stains on exterior walls near the downspouts?

And while I was at it, I noted the gardens in the common areas to see if they were raked, pruned, and if the plants were generally healthy. That was not always true in the senior residences I checked before moving here.

As I wander along, I can’t help but look toward the windows of the cottages and apartments. Not much of the interiors is visible, but I can glimpse a vase on a table, a very large TV over the mantle, the glow of lamplight over someone’s white hair as he sits with his feet up to watch the ball game.

I am not the only resident walking in the evenings. Many residents have dogs, so they are out and we pause to greet each other as I bend down to pat their pets and realize that I like these people. I am happy we are neighbors. The population make-up of a place is probably most important. When potential residents ask my opinion, I say, “Check out the people who may become your neighbors. Check out the hood.”

Moving into a senior residence is not for sissies. But then, we’ve heard that Old Age isn’t, either. We need our courage and determination to make the decision, to sell our home, to give away our treasures, and move in with a bunch of strangers.

Walking in the evening softens the trauma of transition. As the old song says,

When the sun has gone to rest,
That’s the time we love the best.
It’s lovely to be roaming in the gloaming.

Dramas of Daily Life

Living here at Spring Lake Village often reminds me of what it must be like in Shangdi La. It’s a serene life. Residents stroll around smiling and greeting one another. The 10 days I was away reminded me of the contrasts between life in the main stream and life in our quiet back water.

I could have stayed here at SLV for the lavish 4th of July Barbecue. I could have met friends in The Dell, a picnic spot down by the creek, to celebrate a friend’s 80th birthday. But I didn’t. On Thursday, June 26, I gassed up the car and headed south toward Aptos to spend a few days with son Matt, Joan, and their James.

The car ran a little rough, but after all, it’s 15 years old. I puttered along as it continued to lose power so by the time I was at Park Presidio and Geary, in San Francisco, I pulled over and called AAA. The tow truck driver hoisted the car onto a flatbed truck and I climbed up into the cab to ride to son John and Holly’s in Los Altos, an hour south.

How often do you get an opportunity to ride up high in a truck? I loved it up there! I could see forever. I liked to talk with the driver: we solved the immigration problem, we talked about his cousin who knows Carlos Santana, we talked about his taking a class to earn a certificate to drive an oil truck. I told him about my brother who left a University job because all he really wanted to do was to drive an oil truck.

In Los Altos, Holly lent me her car and John said he’d take mine to a mechanic. I launched out into four o’clock traffic and arrived in Aptos in time for dinner. At the table I learned that the trip to England to stay with a “face-book friend” had, much to my relief, been canceled. James’ car had blown up and the money saved for the trip bought a replacement. A trip to Bend, Oregon, to visit school friends, was in the planning stages. Whew!

Each time I return to Santa Cruz County, I go to lunch with friends, stop in at Crawford’s Antiques to find a treasure, and walk down to Marianne’s Ice Cream for a cone. Also this time Matt, Joan, and I drove out to Gizdich’s Farm for frozen raspberries so we could make jam. And we brought home a marionberry pie. Yum!

After a few days, I returned to Los Altos to spend time with John and Holly. Two of their 20-something daughters were there. One had broken up with her beloved and was crying. John and Holly were camping in their house, using the laundry room as a kitchen, since their real kitchen was populated with workmen finishing an extensive remodel. The other daughter, at dinner one night, took my hand and asked, “Gran, what are you doing February first?” I answered, “I don’t even have a calendar that goes that far! What are you doing February first?” She lit up and announced, “I’m having a baby!” Tears squirted out all around the table.

The fetus is named Sparky. We all toasted Sparky.

And just then the telephone rang and it was Sparky’s father, calling from Tanzania where he is on rotation from UCSF Medical Center. He reported on the state of surgery there and we reported on the progress of life without a kitchen.

With all that excitement and drama whirling around me, I, on July 7th, got in my car and drove north. Up a small hill not even six miles from Los Altos, the car slowed down and sputtered. I called John. He said, “Get in the right hand lane and come back.” I did.

I’d had it. When John asked what I wanted to do, I said, “I want to lie down here on your sofa and not even think about it. I’m going to think about Sparky.” He returned to his desk and in a little while came back to sit down with me. I didn’t know if I wanted to buy a new car, just hang a FREE sign on mine and leave it at the curb at their house and rent a car, or what. Finally we decided that I’d call AAA and ride up in the cab again (oh, boy!) for the 93-mile trip back to Santa Rosa.. Good thing I have 100-mile towing service.

We took the car to the A+ Automotive Service, the AAA truck left, and I sat down in the waiting room to read People magazine. After a while, Dave-the-Owner/Mechanic drove me home, at the same time road-testing the car. At Spring Lake Village, he carried in my luggage and the small piece of furniture I’d found at Crawford’s and promised to call me Monday.

I didn’t care. All I wanted was to be back in quiet, serene Spring Lake Village. It had been an eventful time with the families and it was good to be home.

PS. It was the catalytic converter that needed to be replaced. I thought of the huffing and puffing I do when walking up a hill and wondered if I could get a catalytic converter for my body.

Habit of Living

 

 

“The long habit of living indisposeth me for dying.” I don’t know who said that, but I like it.

Life in a senior community includes daily allusions to death. One friend worries about Spring Lake Village expansion and another says, “I don’t care. By the time they add more units, I won’t be here. They can have my apartment. I’ll be dead.”

I had tiles added to my patio. “How long will they last?” The contractor replied, “At least 10 years.” Fine, that’s long enough for me.

A friend tells me, “I just got my driver’s license renewed. Good for five years. It’ll still be good after I’m gone. Hope the car lasts as long as I do.”

These comments are said not with morbidity or resignation, but with acceptance. Little asides spoken between ordering from the menu and the arrival of iced tea.

These days I devote more time to taking care of my body than I did 50 years ago. In those days, I had a yearly check-up with the doctor —THE doctor — and with the dentist. Now I have the primary doctor and all the specialists. A healthy 90-year-old and in my card file I have one for the SLV primary care doctor, two cardiologists, one more specialized than the other; an acupuncturist, a vitreoretinal consultant, an optometrist, a pediatric orthopedist, a dermatologist, dentist (DDS, MS, RN), an oral surgeon, urologist, and a head & neck specialist.

Last week as I drove home from an appointment with a new doctor, I felt really happy that I’d found one I like and who took time to listen to concerns and answer questions. Buoyant , I laughed at myself that this is what was making me happy: finding a doctor I liked! How different from the 20-year-old me finding a new boy friend or a new salmon-colored cardigan sweater. Very different from the pleasure of making a birthday cake from scratch that turned out rich, light, and pretty. When we must devote more time to caring for our aging bodies, finding a compassionate doctor gives great pleasure.

What else in this life brings me joy? The garden. The small cottage garden I’ve created with a yellow bench, a yellow rose, lavenders, and seven yellow yarrow plants scattered among the bushes that were here when I moved in. Early in the morning, still in pajamas, I go out into the garden to dead-head spent blossoms, to clip, nip, admire, and encourage.

At the front door, I found a grocery bag of small canning jars left for me by a neighbor who knows I still like making berry jam and applesauce.

I noticed son Sam as he returned the folded chairs to their storage niche after five of us had sat together on the patio.

I introduced a friend and a granddaughter and watched her young graciousness and poise.

I like the bright smiles and firm, confident hand-shakes that the doctors offer.

Little things. Things that the long habit of living allows me to notice and savor.

I Don’t Need Much

 

Years ago, Once Upon a Time….., a visiting friend turned to me and inquired, “Are we going to have lunch?”

“Oh,” I jumped up. “Of course!” and flung myself into the kitchen.

He called after me, “I don’t need much, but I want it to be very good.”

I thought of that recently when I met and talked with some Spring Lake Village guests who were here to a promotional event. Several of us residents stood to speak about various reasons we enjoy SLV. I spoke about first impressions, including my delight with Betsy-the Move-In woman and her crew. I’ve mentioned before that a month or so before my moving date, Betsy appeared at my front door, clip-board and pen in hand. She breezed in, sat down, looked around, and asked if she could take pictures. Yes, of course. I thought she was photographing how much stuff I had. She opened the cupboards and closets to take pictures.

On moving day, the crew appeared, boxed and trucked everything over to SLV. They placed the furniture according to my directions, unloaded the boxes into cupboards and closets, took the boxes away, and wished me a happy future.

That evening, four members of my family came to have a glass of wine before walking to the dining room. I was in. A good first impression. One worth sharing.

But now I think I might have talked about the fact that I, like my friend at lunch, don’IMG_1350t need much, but I want it to be very good.

I don’t need much square footage in my cottage; 700 is fine. I do appreciate the quality of the cupboards, the heft of the handles, that the cupboard doors hang plum. I like the crown molding, the careful mitering of the corners. In the bedroom, the sliding closet doors glide smoothly and the mirrors are beveled. The installation of the tiles in the bathroom is meticulous. The subway tiles of the back-splash in the kitchen are good as are the appliances, including the heart-winnig 18” dishwasher.

 

 

IMG_1548I admire the paneled front door and the rhododendrons and azaleas near the walk.

I don’t need an acre of garden such as I had on the farm in Oregon. Here the back 40—that’s 40 feet—is plenty for a rose bush, some grasses and daisies and the yellow bench.

 

IMG_1823

From the tiny patio, I can sit in the patch of sunshine, gaze at a glimpse of the sky, and be grateful for underground telephone and electric wires. If I need a broader view, I walk along the roadways around the campus.

 

 

In the central dining room the portions served are smaller than in restaurants and are presented with a sprig of parsley, a sprinkling of chopped nuts, or a shaving of Parmesan. As granddaughter Jenny followed me into the dining room her first noontime here, she asked, “Gran, is the food at Spring Lake Village good?” I took her hand and asked, “How many times did I ask you to lunch in the other senior center where I lived?” She chuckled. As we sat down and looked at the menu, I reminded her that if she wanted to order double, just do it. I have a friend here who always orders double steamed spinach.

I told Jenny the story that I’ve just told you about my friend who wanted not much, but he wanted it to be very good.

 

 

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