Life in a Senior Residence Community is challenging and cherished.

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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

Pura Vida!

IMG_5235“Pura Vida!” we heard at every turn in Costa Rica. It’s a greeting. “Pura Vida,” the driver said as we clambered into his bus.

Eleven Norte Americanos joined Californians Patricia Hatfield and Cheryl Ulrich at The Living Forest, a retreat center in the jungles near Lake Arenal in the northwestern province of Guanacaste in Costa Rica, for drumming. Yes! Drumming! In the jungle! In Costa Rica!

fullsizeoutput_121b.jpegFor thirty years I’ve wanted to go to Costa Rica. a country smaller than West Virginia. So at the end of February when Patricia told me that in two weeks she was co-leading a group, I asked if I might go, too. She added me to the roster, told me the flights, collected a reasonable amount to reserve a room.

Pura Vida! Simple life. Way of life. Keep your ear to the ground, stay open to miracles, listen to the door creaking open. I looked in the mirror and shouted, “You are going to Costa Rica! Finally!”

I bought a new lime green suitcase, filled it full of linen clothes, a swim suit, the best insect repellent REI offered, grabbed a misshapen straw hat and was ready at 2:20 a.m. when one of the participants, Barbara, picked me up to start the journey. Pure Vida, I was thankful to be on our way.

During our visit at Living Forest, we drummed twice a day. On a open wide porch, we rumbled as loudly as we could and heard the Howler Monkeys replying with their deep guttural grumbles. They sleep about 17 hours a day so maybe we wakened them as they snoozed in the crotches of masses of trees across the creek from where we sat. In the circle, I usually faced outward toward the jungle and watched for toucans and black hummingbirds. However, listening was more effective that looking. Even during the night that local residents drummed with us around a campfire, we heard jungle chirps and ratchet sounds, calls and responses.20180315_100451

I liked the hammocks hanging from trees at the edge of the garden down be the creek. With the temperatures in the 80s, the humidity in the 50s, the light breezes saved me from melting. And I had an excuse to loll around. If I were a climber, I might have found a crotch in a tree like the Howler Monkeys. Instead I lay in a hammock and just stopped. Stopped planning, stopped wondering or questioning; just became me. Until….. until one afternoon, for just a moment, all borders, boundaries, and edges disappeared and I was, with all the rest of everything, one. The closest I can describe it is one limitless smooth homogeneous rich butterscotch pudding.

Pura Vida!

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We did more than drum and doze. One afternoon, we, in three Zodiacs, floated down the Corobici River spotting white faced monkeys, ospreys, crocodiles, iguanas, an ibis, two lbbs (little brown birds), a Jesus Christ lizard who walks on water, and a fisherman. He was hoping to catch rainbow bass, tilapia, or “some kind of catfish.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Another day, we hiked in Mistico, the Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, crossing 18 bridges, 14 of them wobbly, over the tops of trees growing in ravines. We were in a preserve, part of the 33% of the landmass that is sheltered by the government and private entities. That was a hot day, but the following morning, we loaded into the bus and drove an hour or so to LLanos de Cortés waterfall where we swam and watched a small elegant wedding. Thousands of tiny fish nibbled at our legs and feet. Didn’t even tickle.

IMG_2190After a week, we were driven to Playa de Flamingo and our beach adventure started with 10 of us swarming into a neighborhood grocery store to buy food supplies for the next four days. “Pura Vida,” the checker at the mercado smiled as he handed us our change.

IMG_5639One morning at six o’clock when it was still cool enough to walk on the beach, Barbara and I stopped to ask an athletic looking young man why he was setting up cones and flags. In distinctly North American diction, he answered, “Our school is having an Olympics Day today.”

“Oh,” I asked, “do you encourage competition at your school?”

“No, not at all. We teach cooperation and negotiation. Only in sports is there competition.”

As Barbara and I continued our walk, we watched groups of children, probably K through 8 or 10, converging toward the flags and cones. When we returned, games were underway. A young woman with a clipboard was standing nearby and I asked her if she would tell us about the school. She introduced herself as the principal and told us that eleven nations were represented in the student body, that half the students were Costa Rican and if they couldn’t afford to attend, scholarships were available. I think I understood her to say that the children were not grouped according to age, but according to skills. Both Barbara and I, retired educators, almost cried at the thought of such a school atmosphere. These children were learning how to live peacefully in a peace-loving country. No wonder there are so many ex-pats in Costa Rica!

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So many details! This blog is almost twice as long as most of the blogs, and it doesn’t cover it all. Still many questions to answer. I’m more curious than ever about our peaceful neighbor to the south.

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Pura Vida!

 

 

 

 

If Not Now, When?

 

Last month the leader of the Spring Lake Village Drumming Circle mentioned that she is taking a group of nine women to Costa Rica to drum in the Living Forest, a retreat center near Lake Arenal, within sight of Arenal Volcano. She spoke of drumming with monkeys, butterflies, and grade school children. A float trip on the Tenario River for bird-watching, bathing in Llanos Cortes waterfalls, and walks in the jungle were too tempting. Could I resist?

I’ve wanted for 30 or more years to go to Costa Rica. I’ve wanted to see how NOT having a standing army affects the quality of life. What happens when monies can be diverted to schools, hospitals, and social services? How do people feel when the word guns is not part of daily conversation?

I want to see why Costa Rica is among the three top places in the world rated as the happiest. So I signed up.

Cautious friends have warned me that it’s tropical, only ten degrees north of the equator, which means high temperatures (80s and 90s), high humidity (50%), and maybe bugs. I melt into a puddle in hot sticky weather and studiously avoid mosquitoes that leave me with welts the size of the bowls of cream soup spoons and long, itchy, sleepless nights. But I’m going!

Granddaughter Katie who spends as much time outdoors as she can, said, “Gran, go to REI and get their best mosquito repellent.” I did and asked the clerk why he recommended a particular tube. He said, “My wife gets big welts from bug bites and she uses this. It works.” I bought it. Then he handed me another tube of ointment for itchy bites. “Just in case,,” he said. I’m set.

A cardiologist suggested I postpone this trip, or not go at all. She pointed out that I am 90 now and she is worried about an irregular heartbeat, but a couple of years ago another cardiologist emphasized, “You have a regular irregular heartbeat. Don’t worry about it.” I’m not.

Sunday, March 11, about three o’clock in the morning, after we have set our clocks an hour ahead, I will be picked up here at Spring Lake Village on the front curb and several of us will drive out to the Santa Rosa airport and fly to Los Angeles en route to Liberia, Costa Rica.

Imagine me! The girl who wanted to play timpani drums in the high school orchestra and never did, finally going to play West African drums in the jungle of Costa Rica!

If not now, when?

 

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