Life in a Senior Residence Community is challenging and cherished.

Up From the Ashes


The first time I heard that phrase, up from the ashes, I was nine years old. In 1936, the town of Bandon, 18 miles down river from our Coquille, in southwestern Oregon, burned. The Irish Furze (Gorse) was pitchy and brittle and the winds high. My parents’ friends came to our house with what they could retrieve from their homes, and stayed for a while. After the fire, I heard them talking about rebuilding up from the ashes.

Now, after the fires that ripped through neighborhoods of Santa Rosa, I hear that phrase again. It will take years to recover. The immediate need is to find housing for the hundreds of homeless people. People who have lost everything!

We 430 residents who were evacuated within one and a half hours on the morning of Monday, October 9, are back. Everything here at Spring Lake Village looks just as nice, just as orderly and cheerful as it did a month ago, before the fires. The emphasis is on the well-being of those of us who live here. Yesterday in the monthly Transitions meeting, we told our stories. What happened, what we did, what we thought and felt.

What we are feeling now. What was difficult for us and what would we have done if SLV had burned? The minute that question was asked, one woman teared up. She told us she had moved here in September, found a nice boarding stable for her horse, and was adjusting well to her new life. She had not yet heard of the emergency drills, the to-go bag, the benches designated as gathering places in case of emergency. The evacuation and her concern for her horse were traumatic and she hadn’t once thought of what would happen if she lost everything.

One man said that if SLV had burned, he would consider moving to Bali, or better yet, to Thailand. He and his wife like the weather there. He said the food is good and they have friends in Thailand. I was cheered by his remarks; I had thought if I had to, I’d go to Alamos, Sonora, Mexico, at least until I had things figured out.

What of my lost belongings would I mourn? Actually, sentimental as I am over my family treasures, I probably would be fine without them. I might collect the insurance and just live on cruise ships for the next 10 to 14 years. Come back whenever a new great grandchild was born. And for Christmas. One Christmas I tried being away and spent more than an hour sitting in the tropical sun on a friend’s patio steps, talking on the phone to family.

What was hard during this recovery time? Sleepless nights, bad dreams, weepiness, lack of ability to focus, increased appetite for ice cream.

I told of a friend whom I had asked what was difficult for her. She had sighed and told me, “The other day, I had a hard time maneuvering the (golf) cart. There were so many downed leaves and little branches left from the winds that scattered the fires, I could barely go. She leaned toward me, put her hand on my arm for emphasis, and scowled. “I almost couldn’t get to the thirteenth tee.” I had thought of the enormous losses suffered by so many and could only look at her without comment.

What changes have we noticed in ourselves? Many spoke of their increased awareness and gratitude for safe family and friends. One noticed how much brighter and lovelier the autumn leaves seem this year. Some feel guilty for their good fortune and have become compulsively involved in helping others. Agencies are warehousing and distributing clothing and household supplies that have flooded in from local residents and merchants.

Toward the end of our Transitions meeting, one resident offered, “There are changes and there are transitions. When we allow the changes to change us, we are transitioned. I think that is what has happened with us.”

Someone else offered, “Remember when our three-year-old children would lean into our leg and grab hold? They did that when they were confused or hurt or in some way needed our strength. I think that we have leaned closer to God.”



Gus Hagelberg - Novel, Blog, Activism

Usually I am slower and less spontaneous with my posts, but I just felt like I had to get this out there.

Together with Gallup, National Geographic rated San Luis Obispo the 5th happiest city in the United States. Last year it actually had first place. Now I know why I like it here so much.

Find out more:

SanLuisObispoCalifCityView600 By Ken Broomfield [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons Speaking of the happiest place, I just had a great talk with Paula Francis who is walking from Big Sur to Los Angeles as part of the She has walked over 4,400 miles. From their website:

“Crossing a big country with walking shoes and a recorder, Paula Francis is researching and reporting on happiness by interviewing thousands of people during the 8,000 mile Happiness Walk.”

She interviewed me about my work with the Economy for the Common Good

View original post 20 more words

What a Week!

“What a week!” my Santa Rosa son Sam said.

In the dark about 2 a.m. on Monday, October 9, he and his wife Sandra were wakened by shouting, “Evacuate now!” They grabbed their passports, other documents, and loaded the two horses in to the trailer. Sandra drove the truck/trailer while Sam drove the dog in the car as they fled to the huge open parking lot of the Sonoma County Fair Grounds.

About nine o’clock that morning, in the main exhibition hall, they found me among evacuees from Spring Lake Village. I count that as the miracle of the day. Not that they found me, but that we were all at the Fair Grounds. Later, after a pasta and salad lunch, brought by Community Services, I looked up to see Sam’s brother John and his wife Holly striding toward me. We drove carefully back to SLV to retrieve my car and gather address books, the laptop, some clothing, vitamins, and my hair-dryer, and headed to their home in Los Altos, two hours south of Santa Rosa.

Sam and Sandra had taken the horses and Bubba the dog out to friends who board horses on their ranch near Sebastopol and slept three nights there.

More than 1,700 homes are lost and 17,000 acres are scorched. It is a tragedy beyond comprehension.

During the week of October 9 to 16, the daily Facebook updates from Spring Lake Village continued and I clung to the human interest stories. One was of the 11 cats still wandering around SLV. They were being fed, watered, and petted. Dennis, head of the maintenance department, had taken a pet bird, Felix, in his cage, with his cover, home with him.

During the early part of the week, I noticed I couldn’t get warm. My hands, feet, and ears were cold even though I had plenty of clothing during the days and warm blankets at night. You know how older people are often cold and keep their homes too hot. I wondered if that was happening to me. Then, later in the week, I realized the weather had not changed. but I was warm again. “Must be that you were in some shock, Donna,” a friend surmised. Maybe so.

I was sleepy every afternoon and hardly awake enough in the evening to put on my pajamas. But in bed, I was restless, unable to sleep well. By Saturday, I was back to alert days and drowsing nights. What was that all about?

A smart friend asked me for details of the fire. I talked and talked and talked and finally apologized for rattling on so long. She shook her finger at me, “You must talk about this. This is a trauma that you must heal and talking about it is an important way to do that.” I asked if that could explain the veterans of WWII having always to talk abut The War. “Absolutely!” she said. So whenever anyone has asked, I have talked about the fire, the smoke, the uprooting of 450 elderly residents of Spring Lake Village, some in their bathrobes.

After a few days in Los Altos, I drove over the hill to Aptos in Santa Cruz County, to visit son Matt, his wife Joan, and their James. Each morning I assessed the clarity of the sky and found that the color blue had never been more lovely. No wonder the Virgin Mary wears a blue gown. The air quality in Sonoma County is being compared to that of Beijing, the worst in the world.
At noon one day, I met Joanie to have lunch and to talk about how the Santa Rosa fires have affected us. Joanie is a friend whom I met when I lived at Friends House. She and I have traveled to Cuba and Iceland together. We are dependable friends. When I saw her crossing the street to meet me, my heart swelled. My 92-year-old friend with her handsome cane and brightly flowered vest saw me and smiled her wide smile and we talked for three hours! Mostly we appreciated our good fortune in the midst of devastation: our residences are still standing and we have loving supportive families. We compared our evacuation experiences, recent sleep patterns, tensions, blood pressures, and emotional states. We both admitted feeling guilty, but decided “we can’t help anyone right now but we will when we return.” I came away from that conversation feeling much more grounded.

Yesterday Sam. called. When he asked what I was doing, I told him I was sitting in my car in the parking lot next to Tonic Salon in downtown Santa Cruz and, “I just got my hair cut.”

“Me, too,” he chuckled. “I guess things are getting back to normal.”

Outta Here!

Is this what it feels like to be a refugee, homeless, without some basic necessities? In fact, I am an evacuee from Santa Rosa.

October 9, Monday pre-dawn, I wakened to the sound of gongs. A deep authoritative voice (the voice of God?) intoned, “This is not a drill. Repeat. This is not a drill.” I sat up. “This is an emergency evacuation. Meet at your Emergency Bench.” I rushed to push my feet into Birkenstocks, grabbed a sweat shirt and flashlight, and, still in my pajamas, started out the door.

Stop! Catching myself in this panicked motion, I retreated into the house and shut the door. Not everyone is going to react so quickly. I needn’t hurry.

Back into the bedroom, I sat again on the side of the bed, then put on yesterday’s pair of pants, put on a t shirt and sweatshirt, didn’t care if my socks were color-coordinated, and tied the laces on walking shoes. Grabbed a nice shopping bag from behind the door and headed for the bathroom. Brushed my teeth. Dropped the tooth brush into the bag. Washed and dried my face and dropped the towel into the bag. Remembered to include tooth paste. Brushed my hair, added the hair brush. Moved to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door, and took out what was in front: half a loaf of cinnamon bread, a block of cheese, an apple, two small containers of orange juice, and my water bottle. Added a sharp knife and the iphone. Picked up the flashlight and bag, turned out the lights, considered watering the house plants, and walked out the door over to the Emergency Bench.

Others were gathering. Some with pets, a gentleman in his plaid bathrobe, several with walkers. We studied the pre-dawn sky: to the east, a dark gray and to the north a pulsing pink. “Something’s wrong,” said the man in the plaid bathrobe. Our volunteer resident warden checked our names, some offered to drive to the Sonoma County Fair Grounds, our evacuee shelter, a few miles away. I chose to be among Jack’s passengers, because Jack looked big and healthy and capable and maybe in his mid-70s.

Once in the vast parking lot, we piled out of cars, milled around with others we recognized, checked the sky. Same ominous gray and pink. Someone said, “We are surrounded by forest fires. Those 50-mile-an-hour winds last night whipped flames from one ridge to the next.”

Once inside the main building, we signed in, sat at long tables, sipped water or coffee, ate small oranges and large Costco muffins, chatted, re-assured each other. Four people played bridge at the end of one table. I was impressed with the general demeanor of the SLV residents: calm, cooperative, helpful, mildly cheerful, appreciative.

One worried woman leaned toward me and said, “I am not comfortable here. I hope we don’t have to stay long.” I, ever the cheer-leader, reminded her that we were safe, dry, had warm water, clean bathrooms, outlets to charge our iphones, food, medications, and people to care for us, and we had each other.” She looked resigned and said, “Well, as long as we don’t have to sleep here.” I didn’t point out to her that at the other end of huge space, cots were arriving.

My Santa Rosa son Sam and his wife Sandra had mandatory evacuation around two o’clock Monday morning so loaded the horses into their trailer. Sandra drove the truck/trailer, Sam drove the family car with Bubba the dog, and Sandra’s mother Betty drove her car to the parking lot at the Fair Grounds. They took nothing from their house. Not even Sam’s beautiful new guitar.

They found me among the SLV residents! A miracle! Sandra said, “Look at that sky. Darker and darker. I want outta here. We’re going to a friend’s ranch near Sebastopol. Want to come with us?” I was tempted, just to be together, but by then, I was expecting son John and Holly who were driving up from Los Altos (SF peninsula) to rescue me from the dust- and ash-laden air.

When John and Holly arrived, I signed out and we drove back to Spring Lake Village where John collected the computer, address books, and calendar from the desk. Holly closed the windows, reminded me to take the vitamins and hearing aids (which I, in my pre-dawn haste, had forgotten), and I jammed some clothes and necessities into a bag.
John drove my car and I climbed in with Holly and we were outta there. I’m safe and counting my blessings.

The first step in a long process. Now what’ll we do?



A Week With Louise

About 20 years ago, after I had not been visiting Alamos, Sonora, Mexico as I had in the past, my friend Louise, sitting at her computer on her portál where she lived in an old tequila factory just outside Alamos, sent me an email. “Merry Christmas,” she wrote. “Where the hell ARE you!”

That spurred me to resume my flights to Tucson and overnight bus rides to get to Alamos.

In recent years, Louise has purchased a house on a lake in southwestern Michigan where she is close to some of her family during the summer months.  Another Alamos friend, Robin, lives in Sonoma County, California, as I now do and we answered Louise’s call to come see her.

At the end of August, we boarded the airport express bus, the plane, the Blue Line at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, a taxi, and Amtrak, all book-ended by two cars, and thus arrived at our destination where Louise jumped up and down in the parking lot waving, her silver blond hair swinging wildly. We hugged and swung around like teenagers, which we haven’t been for six or seven decades, but still sometimes feel as though we are.

It didn’t take long for us to get into a routine. Every morning for a week the three of us in our bright pajamas, took our tea and coffee, slices of IMG_1391local peaches, and banana bread out to Louise’s screen porch and hunkered down among her plants and colorful pillows. The sun rose over the lake, the man next door brought out his folding chair where he sat to dangle his fishing line into the water. Bees buzzed against the screens. Robin told of her twenties in Manhattan, her career choices, her romances, her lecherous New York bosses. Louise referred to a popular novel, Amor Towle’s Rules of Civility, about twenty-somethings in New York City in 1937. Not a lot has changed.

Listening to Robin’s and Louise’s tales, I sometimes felt drab because six weeks after I finished school, I married a college boyfriend, taught school for a little while, and had four sons in five years. A good life, but not material for breathless novels.

We three never ran out of words. We were never tired of listening. We never had a single moment of potential friction. We laughed and agreed that we must be grow-ups. I hope so! They are each 74 and I’m 90.

Eventually, each morning about eleven o’clock, one of us asked, “Well, what’ll we do with the rest of the day? Can we go junking?” Yes! Louise needed more stuff to furnish her house. I was looking for a wooden bird to perch atop the painted post that I brought with me when I moved from Friends House to Spring Lake Village. When the post was at Friends House, it was wedged between a soffit and appeared to be holding it up. Now, in Spring Lake Village, the ceilings are high, vaulted, and beamed. The post looked lonely and forlorn with nothing to hold up. It had nothing to do. No purpose. I’ve seen old folks who feel the same way, useless and set aside. Happily, we here at Spring Lake Village don’t suffer those feelings. Our daily lives include involvement of many sorts, all contributing to our sense of well-being.

As a quick solution for the lonely post, I lifted a bird’s nest to the top. That worked, gave something for the post to hold. But the nest needed a bird. So in Michigan I searched. Found one in a store named Rust. Good name. Everything in there was old and rIMG_1398usty or missing a part. The bird I liked had no beak.

So when I returned home, I found the rose-clippers and cut an inch or so from a chop stick, whittled it sort of round, sharpened the end in a pencil sharpener, and gave it a squirt of flat black paint. It’s okay until something better comes along. The bird’s round head and small eyes remind me of Winston Churchill smoking his cigar, but I don’t mention that.

Our best buy was at a Goodwill Store. A large (3′ x 4′ x 3′) wooden red lacquer box that Louise bought to use as a coffee table. She had hesitated; wasn’t sure about the $35. But Robin and I talked her into it and after we had settled it in front of the sofa, Louise opened its doors, reached inside and found a card. The big red box had been imported from China and had retailed for $3,800! Louise had paid less than 1% of the original price. We wiped up the banana bread crumbs, put coasters under our IMG_1387cups and polished all over with our napkins.

“Well,” said Louise, “let’s get dressed and go see what else we can find.”



Mostly About Bootsie

It’s been many weeks since I last posted a blog. That’s because many changes have occurred and the blog just had to wait.

On July 13, I moved from Friends House to Spring Lake Village, still in Santa Rosa. Although I enjoyed, and indeed, loved, many of the residents at Friends House, and respected their integrity, I noticed that I devoted way too much time worrying about the stability of the administration. I’ll be ninety next month and don’t want to spend the next years being concerned about the reliability of services in a senior center. The marketing person at SLV who answered my questions has been here 22 years. She described independent living, levels of assisted living, skilled nursing, medical staff, and memory care. I sighed in relief and signed the contracts.

SLV is larger than FH and offers many classes, lectures, excursions, programs, and good food. Thirty-seven exercise classes each week! I have met with a member of the Health and Wellness staff who has assessed my physical abilities and suggested classes for strength, endurance, and balance. I’m planning to add swimming one of these days. Next week I will join a paper and card-making class. And on August 29, I’ll join the busload to the Palace of Legion of Honor in San Francisco to attend the Degas and Impressionists exhibit.

Meanwhile I have enjoyed reading a publication of two dozen short stories by and for SLV residents. The next issue will focus on the theme, “What We Learned from our Pets.” I have submitted a short story about the dog my brothers and I had when we were children.

Actually, I’ll share it with you now:

Bootsie Rankin

“Bootsie Rankin is a good ol’ dog,” the Reverend Grey told his congregation one Sunday morning in the late 1930s. He stood in his pulpit in Coquille, the small dairy-logging town in southwestern Oregon where my three younger brothers and I grew up. Brother Grey, that’s what those in his little grey clapboard church on Second Street around the corner from our house, called him. Brother Grey described Bootsie’s physical appearance even though that was unnecessary as everyone knew Doc Rankin’s family pet.

Boots was a black Australian shepherd with a white bib and four white socks or boots. An old photo shows my nine-year-old brother John standing over his beloved pal, brushing her thick coat. Both boy and dog are smiling.

The Reverend Grey explained, “That dog chases cars. But only when one comes toward the children playing kick-the-can in the middle of the street. She is protecting the children, is telling the drivers to slow down. By risking her own life, she thinks she is saving the lives of the Rankin children and their friends. Jesus will bless Boots for her bravery and sense of responsibility.”

Maybe Brother Grey was right. But I wonder if Bootsie was exercising her herding instincts on the cars. I know she wanted to herd us children. During our games, when we ran to hide, she raced from one hiding place to the next, barking and wagging her tail and prancing about, trying to get us to run back to the telephone pole in the parking strip that we used as home base. We shushed her, but she had already given away our hiding places, especially when we hid in Old Man Schroeder’s wood shed. It was large enough to house several hiding places, and Bootsie excitedly tried to round us up and out of there.

So, what could we learn from Bootsie? To be responsible, to care for others, to smile in appreciation, to slow down and look around more. And when being bossy, to do so with enthusiasm and good cheer.

The Reverend Grey was right. Bootsie Rankin was a good ol’ dog.

* * *
Do you remember your pets you as a child had? What did you learn from them?

Moving On

I answered the door to find a woman with a clip board and a big smile. “Hi,” she said, “I’m here to talk about your move. We will be moving you July 13,” and she handed me her card.

“Oh, yes. Come in,” I said and stepped aside to let her pass. As she sat down on the sofa, she looked around, nodded, and said, “Two rooms and a bath. Should take three of us the day, July 12, to get everything packed up and ready to go. Mind if I open your cupboards?” I thought she just wanted to see what was inside, but she took pictures with her phone and told me, “When we get to your new place, we’ll unbox your things and put them away as close as we can to your design here.” She added, “The truck and truckers will be here Thursday morning. When you get up, take the covers off the bed so they can put it on the truck.”

My new place? Yes, I’m moving. To Spring Lake Village, another senior living community about three miles from here. They arranged for the packers and movers. This is the first time I’ve had professional movers. Piece o’ cake!

I like much about Friends House: love the residents, admire the ethics and generosity and intellectual prowess of those who are my neighbors. I appreciate the gardens and the greens and the trees. The architecture is wonderful with recessed front doors, little front patios where I sit to read or eat breakfast or pet one of the cats who live here or just to soak up the sunshine and talk with friends who pause as they pass by. I will miss all this.

But I need to know services will be available for any contingency. I abhor the idea of having to be moved by anyone else. I’ll move myself. I may never need memory care, but I want to know it is available just in case. I need stability and reassurance. I will be 90 in September and would like the next 10 or so years to be secure and fun with as few worries and concerns as possible. I have tended to fuss about things and worry unnecessarily. That’s how, as a pre-schooler, I was given the nick-name of Gran. My mother told me I worried like a little old lady. My grandchildren call me Gran. I don’t worry or fuss so much any more, and wear the name with joy.

I think I will feel cared-for at Spring Lake Village. The other day the phone rang and a woman I didn’t know said, “This is Elaine from linens. What size bed do you have?” I thought she was a linen-store salesperson. But, no, she continued with, “On Thursday, July 13, we will bring sheets and make your bed. I want to know the size we should bring.” I was pleased, but she wasn’t through. “We’ll bring your towels, too. They are a nice cream color. You’ll like them.” She explained that each week the cleaning lady would change the bed and hang fresh towels. I’m liking this kind of service!

When I moved to Friends House three-plus years ago, I was excited about the new adventure. Now I know that a move is a move is a move and with the confidence that comes with experience, I am moving on. No down-sizing, no decisions. I am taking everything. If I have too much, I can bring contributions back to Susan’s table here at Friends House.

I told a friend here that I face next week with mixed feelings. She answered with her poem that expresses my feelings better than I can:

Surrounded by what I love
I am pre-wrapped
in its absence
I will not walk this beloved path again
the chill
fills the changing air

all I now assume
will no longer be
I am filled with love for
what I have still
and miss already

I grieve
before I leave

though it is the road I choose
I weep for what
I am yet to lose

the not yet gone
heavy with its
shines bright in my eyes
brings sweet and salty tears
belonging to tomorrow

weep on
whispers the smooth surface
the twisted consolation

it is better I meet tomorrow
light and ready
cleansed by today’s premature
but love-filled



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