Life in a Senior Residence Community is challenging and cherished.

Black Power


The month in Alamos is over. This has been a series of social events. The fashion show, luncheons and dinners in friends’ homes and restaurants. Sunset suppers on the roof of Hotel Colonial.Conversations ranged from books to politics to gardens; lettuces, multi-colored carrots; large, rich tomatoes, herbs, chards, and the beginning of peas and green beans. Lemons, oranges, limes. Friends sharing their produce as they reminisce about the Bridges Not Walls March here on January 21.IMG_0715.JPG

I toured several new houses. Not restored. Although the exteriors are still simple facades with tall, sturdy wooden doors, the interiors are adapted by contemporary Mexican design. Ingenious uses of building materials; steel, stones, bricks, telas, concrete, glass, old wooden architectural elements. The influence of Luis Barragan evident in 14’ walls in warm mustard yellow or deep rusty red. His credo, “any work of architecture that does not express serenity is a mistake.” I think he would enjoy the calm rhythm of the architecture of Pedregal, a nature preserve with five cottages, a grand palapa, pool, straw-bale yoga center, and walking trails for guests.


In Alamos, I liked listening to Kelly discuss design and fabrication, the experimental textural shades of green on the metal doors. He points up and says, “These are steel beams painted to look like steel beams.”

I have no house in Alamos anymore. I miss a project. As a guest of my friend Joan, all I needed to do was entertain myself. That was not difficult, but different from being creative with sticks, paint, and tiles, and nasturtiums.


Different from the days, thirty years ago, when I hired young Victor Soto and his black beat-up truck to haul stones or sand or furniture. He was so proud of that truck….his livelihood. He brought firewood, took away debris. He painted the cab black and in white, hand-painted BLACK POWER across the doors. That truck was his power. That and his determination. He now has a thriving virvero where he grows and sells vines, shrubs, roses, and trees; he has built a house for his parents and another for his own family. I like his interpretation of those two words on his truck. He may have a newer truck now, but it was BLACK POWER that helped him get this far.

Weeks in Alamos gave me time to develop a perspective about Friends House. I think that my adjustment will be enhanced if I remember a story Louise told me last week. She told me about herself as a young, newly married woman and her apprehension about moving from rural Vermont to the city of Rochester, NY. She said that another young couple asked the gas station attendant if his town was friendly. Was it nice? He answered, “Well, what kind of a town did you just come from?” They answered, “Oh, it was a nice town, very friendly.” He grinned and said, “That’s the kind of town this is.” A little while later another couple came and asked him, “What kind of a town is this? Is it friendly and nice?” He in turn asked, “What kind of a town did you come from?” “Oh,” they said, “It was a terrible town Not friendly. Not nice. That’s why we’re moving.” He said, “Well, that’s just the kind of town this is.”

Back to that wisdom of it’s all in the attitude.

I’ll remember Louise’s story as I continue to grow into Friends House. Maybe I need a black truck. Some of Victor’s determination. More time in the garden.

IMG_0990.JPG  Alamos from the Mirador

Here We Are!

That evening, you might have thought it was a drug drop when the two cars caravanning from Tucson to Alamos turned into the gas company’s darkened parking lot out on the edge of town. Awaiting our arrival were our friends: Louise for Jan, Joan for me, Felipe for the boxed fans. I couldn’t keep track of the bundles, boxes, and luggage being hurriedly transferred from one vehicle to another, but suddenly doors were slamming and motors revving. I climbed in with Joan and we sped away to her house. Others were spinning gravel as they disappeared into the night.

We had arrived in Alamos! It had been three years since I’d last seen the church on the plaza, since I’d seen Joan.

The following day, January 19, Joan gathered lettuce and tomatoes from her garden and served the four of us women her famous beautiful luncheon. We talked non-stop and made plans to visit Aduana, an almost abandoned town seven miles west of Alamos.

A few hundred people live in the once thriving silver mining town. In the 1700s, silver from La Aduana funded the establishment of 21 missions along the El Camino Real from Alamos to San Francisco. Wealthy families in Alamos shopped in Paris, enjoyed fancy balls, lavish fiestas, and the local opera until yellow fever, small pox, and revolutionaries swept through the little valley in the folded foothills of the Sierra Madre Occidental. In the early part of the 20th century, families fled and the neglected adobe homes of Aduana and Alamos melted.

Our reason for going to Aduana was to show Jan the site of a miracle and to visit the Women’s Cooperative Artesanal. I wanted to buy colorful seat cushions for the wooden chairs on the patio outside my apartment at Friends House.


Jan picked up bottle-cap snakes. Louise had brought fabric remnants for the women who may convert them into dolls.


The church in Aduana dates back to 1630. The miracle story is that one day long ago, two boys were playing in the church garden when they noticed a lovely lady standing up high in a Saguaro cactus in the shade of the church wall. They hurriedly built stone steps so she could come down, but before they were through, she had disappeared. In time, out of the wall of the church, a Saguaro grew and its shadow is that of the Virgen de la Balvanera. Each November, processions of devotees walk from Alamos to Aduana to light candles placed on the rocks at the foot of the site of her appearance.

Sometimes I ask myself, Why do you love Alamos and Aduana? And mostly I answer, Because you are living with the past in the present.

Let’s Go to Alamos!

As we grow from older to ancient, we learn new ways to maintain our independence. I’m in my 90th year now, birthday in September, and will cram these next months with new experiments and experiences.

As a beginning, on January 17, I took , for the first time alone, the Sonoma County Airport Express from Santa Rosa to Oakland, an airport I had not yet negotiated alone. With plenty of time before departure, I apprehensively approached the check-in stations, and very carefully followed the directions. Pretty soon the luggage tags and boarding pass slid out a slot! After the luggage was weighed, I watched it disappear into a hole in the wall, and asked for a wheel-chair.

My friend Joanie taught me about the wheel-chairs when she and I went to Cuba a couple of years ago. Wheel-chairs are one of the major benefits of being an ancient. We zipped right through security and along the route to gate 21 and were among the first to be seated on the plane. Joanie uses a wheel-chair because she wants to arrive at the gate refreshed, not winded. I asked for one because I didn’t know how far away the gate was and because it is so much fun! Just think…. as little tykes, we were pushed along in a stroller, and all we had to do was hold on and look around. That time has come again!

In the Tucson airport, I followed directions to the hotel van stand and arrived at the nearby Comfort Suites, checked-in, hugged my friend Jan who had arrived from Michigan, and we immediately found a glass of wine and started our conversation. One that would last for  days! In Alamos, she was to visit Louise and I was to stay with Joan. Louise, Jan, Joan, and I would see each other frequently during her 10-day stay.

Next morning, shortly after six, Jim Toevs pulled up at the front entrance of the motel and our luggage was added into his SUV. Jan and I wedged in among bundles of plastic coffee cups, 2 boxed heaters, a case of Pinot Grigio, a flat of bottled water, and a large plastic bag of flip-flops.

Jim is an Alamos friend who ferries passengers and supplies back and forth between Tucson and Alamos…a 10-hour drive. For $50, he sees to our comfort and safety, the logistics at the border, and a stop at the “best shrimp shack along the way.” I felt as though my visit to Alamos started the minute I pulled the door shut and Jim turned the ignition key.

Gifts of Chocolate & Light

I’m savoring the last of gorgeous chocolates I received at Christmastime. One of the advantages of being elderly and having everything I need is that gift givers give chocolates. Lovely, luscious gourmet chocolates! These are from a company I don’t know: Timothy Adams (Timothy Woods & Adams Holland) and their logo is a rabbit! Maybe that’s why Ilya, my future grandson-in-law, chose to give them to me: he knows I like rabbits, that my apartment here at Friends House is called The Rabbit Hutch.

I guess Christmas is over now. The chocolates are gone.

But not the memories. Memories of the joy and happiness and the stresses, too, of the Season. In some ways, it’s a relief. “Whew, we survived.” And we’ll live to see another. It’s my favorite time of year. No doubt about it. Full of family, food, and festivities.

Is December 25 the actual date of the birth of Jesus? Such a cold time of year!…. I don’t care how many warm cows were in the manger with the little family, it had to be frigid.  Some historians believe Jesus was born the end of September, which would make Him a Libra, a good sign. Maybe He was born in the Spring, closer to Passover. If December was chosen so Christianity could stand on the site of pagan celebrations of Winter Solstice, it was probably a smart move.

This year, when the first day of Hanukkah fell on Christmas Eve, Ilya taught our family how to light the candles of a small menorah. We didn’t have the proper candles, so used birthday candles, which, he said, were, at the moment,  acceptable. Then we lighted the red candles among the green boughs and cones on the mantle. Whose idea was it to have pine boughs and cones?

Pagans. They used cedar, more plentiful in Rome, but any evergreen would do to symbolize forever life. The green wreath referred to God’s unending love. Holly branches and red berries remind us of the crown of throns and drops of blood. (So, doesn’t holly belong with Good Friday?) Beneath the rings of mistletoe, European enemies resolved preace, they kissimg_0593ed and made up!

Mostly, it is with relief that we see the days getting longer, minute by minute, and we celebrate the Son (sun, the ultimate source of life). “Let there be light,” the power of light over dark, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, of love over hate, of happiness over despair. The hope and prayer of all religions.

For Hindus, Dwali is a festival of lights that is as big as Christmas is for Christians. With homes lighted by candles, the people commemorate the destruction of the evil king Ravana by the good king Rama.

A relatively new ethnically meaningful celebration comes from Africa. Since 1966, from December 16 until January 1, celebrants dedicate themselves to unity, self-determination, collective work, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith, and finally feasting, honoring ancestors, and committing to the new year with performances, music and dancing, and lots of candles.

The Prophet Muhammad’s birthday is generally December 13 , but varies on the Gregorian calendar. During Milad un Nabi, gifts are exchanged and donations are given to the poor. The mosque is decorated with lights.img_0589

Last month, I liked sitting, contented, in my little Rabbit Hutch, gazing around at the lights and candles, the wreath, the redwood greens from son Sam and Sandra’s trees, and thinking of families all over the Northern Hemisphere , doing exactly the same thing, waiting for the light of longer days.

How can we continue to have wars when many of our traditions and dreams are so similar? What would happen if we all sent each other nice chocolates?

Live and Learn

“As you have lived, so shall you age.” Who said that? I’ve thought about it.

Have you always been a joiner? Loved board games? Lived on the edge of groups? Do you traditionally become the leader or the strong follower or someone who doesn’t care to be included? Have you changed as you have aged or become even more of who you have always been?

I remember a little neighbor boy who was standing on the curb, daring to run across the street. As I watched, he put out his foot, and glared up at me. Ignoring his challenge, I said, “Be sure to look both ways!” and he drew back his foot, scowled, and said, “You’re not the boss o’ me.” If he survived traffic, I bet he grew up to be the executive director, the boss, sure of his position.

I’m reading Anna Quindlen’s memoir, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, and on page 62, she says, “It may be that all people become more of whatever they mostly are as they grow older, the good as well as the bad, more outspoken, less inhibited, funnier, more gregarious. Sometimes it seems as though age strips away the furbelows, the accessories, and leaves just the essential person, the same way that as you get older you learn to dispense with ruffles and many buttons and just wear a black sheath dress. I had an aunt who, among other things, was known for a tongue so sharp that it sometimes qualified as a lethal weapon. As she developed dementia and her world shrank to a pinhole view, like that last frame in a Looney Tunes cartoon, she recognized no one but her husband and she lost most of her personality except for the occasional whipsaw of sharp words.”

All my life I have been critical of inept authorities. As a senior in high school, I complained to the vice-principal that the English teacher couldn’t even diagram sentences. By Christmas, the vice-principal herself, who had majored in English and knew grammar and how to diagram sentences, had fired the teacher and taken the class. I got an A!

As a mother of young sons, I was in the principal’s office asking questions. Asking why? When Sam came home from 7th grade and asked what the art teacher had meant when she had said he was sexy, I was at school the next morning waiting for the principal to arrive. The art teacher was replaced.

When our eldest, Matt, entered high school, I asked the principal , “Where are your bike racks?” and was told that no one rode bikes. I told him that I knew four boys who were going to be at San Mateo High School for the next nine years and they would be riding their bikes. I offered to buy a rack if he would have it installed. He declined, but the following April 22, 1970, was the first Earth Day and we got bike racks!

It should come as no surprise that I feel frustrated by some decisions made for residents at Friends House. I know nothing about managing a senior community, about budgeting, the price of operating, but none-the-less, I moan, bitch, and complain.

Now aware of the distillation, the concentration of personality and habits as we age, I’m going to pay attention during the New Year, and listen to the reasoning behind the management’s edicts. This will be my 90th year. Not too late.

What About Happy Holidays?

Last evening the excellent local Occidental Community Choir sang in our Library to a crowd of us residents that flowed out into the lobby. Most of the songs were joyful, sweet, melodic as well as seasonally appropriate. One, written by Marcy Telles and Carol Frick, is named “Correct Greeting.”

I’ve carefully avoided cards with Santas
Whose faces are so uniformly white, snow white!
And now that all the reindeer are endangered,
I couldn’t buy those cards, it isn’t right!
“Good Will to Men” is out, it’s just plain sexist!
And “Greetings of the Season” sounds so pat.
“Peace on Earth” excludes potential neighbors,
But let’s just leave it at that.

Yes, I wish you PEACE ON EARTH …in your hearts and in your homes.

Now, back to sending Christmas cards!

Are We Happy Yet?

What do you want most in life? Asked that question, many will say, “To be happy. I want to be happy.”

I’ve been thinking about happiness. Growing up, I was told that happiness is not a goal, it’s a byproduct of living right; doing good, being kind and thoughtful. When you do those things, you’ll be happy, “It doesn’t work if you do them in order to be happy. You are kind to be kind. You help others because you want to help others, not thinking, ‘If I help that person, I will get diamonds for Christmas.’” Only Santa Claus works that way.

In the library here at Friends House last Sunday evening, I saw a 76-minute, 2011 documentary, Happy, directed by Academy Award nominee Roko Belic, in which people in 14 countries and various economic levels were interviewed. A rickshaw driver in India, living in what we would call poverty, is rated on the happiness scale at about the same level as the average American. All he needs is to return home at the end of the day to be greeted by the happy faces of his wife and children. Even if all they have to eat is rice with salt.

A tour guide in Louisiana bayous spends his life in wilderness, among nature. At the end of his day, he sits in his skiff, listens to the silence and watches birds overhead. He loves where he lives and what he does. He is happy.

The United States is 23rd on the national happiness chart. Denmark is first. Some Danish happiness stems from co-op-housing in which small groups share their lives. Maybe in the United States we have too much….too much privacy, too much independence, too much loneliness. I wonder.

Since the early 1980s, the scientific measure of happiness has been recognized on a par with the psychological studies of depression. At Harvard, the class on Happiness is one of the most popular.

Michael Pritchard, a winner of San Francisco International Stand-Up Comedian Competition, presents to schools to give students tools to make positive changes for themselves and for the school community. His goal: replace bullying with kindness.

“Our Constitution guarantees the right to pursue happiness, but you have to catch it yourself,” said Benjamin Franklin. How do we do that?

In answer, I continue to source the film, Happy: 50% of happiness ability is based on genetic make-up, 10% is based on circumstance, i.e., job, income, social status, age, health. A whopping 40% is based on intentional behavior, actions you choose. Physical exercise is first. Being in Nature “is good medicine.” Add variety to life. Balance work with your personal life.. Meditate. Give yourself away to a cause larger than yourself.

We choose! How happy we are is, after all, our choice. It’s in our attitude. In Alanon, twenty years ago, I first heard “Attitude of Gratitude.” At first I thought it a dorky phrase, but as time went on and I became more aware of my welfare, I consciously practiced an attitude of gratitude. When I received yet another new calendar, I saved one as an extra in which I wrote what I noticed as blessings that day. Noticing has become a habit.

These days, since I moved into Friends House, I am especially grateful that I can see the clouds in the sky, the moon at night. Out the back gate to a path along a creek, I watch for a pair of ducks, listen to bird-song, pick up pretty leaves. l make decisions, drive a car. Maybe not quite as well as I used to, but good enough. And that is all I ask. For Enough. I count myself happy.

How about you?

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