Life in a Senior Residence Community is challenging and cherished.

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




The gardens at Friends House this year are better than I’ve ever seen them. The rewards of copious amounts of rain? Yes, I think so, but we also are fortunate to have a new gardening crew. Ones who know how to prune and trim and allow bushes to look like bushes instead of tortured constricted balls. Antonio spends entire days selectively weeding and other days in spreading mulch and tidying up the edges of flower beds. We residents reap the benefits of his expertise and gentle approach to the plants living here with us.

Secondly, resident Ginny’s son Eric has helped improve our landscape. Last year for Clare, he designed and planted a new garden that included plants to attract butterflies and a bird feeder. He planted a low-maintenance garden for his mom; then designed for others, and then for me. He pulled and chopped and pick-axed at the little space out my back door, leaned on his shovel, and asked, “What do you envision here?”

I told him white, yellow, peachy colors. No blue or pink. ‘Lavender is okay. I’d like the garden to be loose, and blowzy, sort of a drought-tolerant cottage garden just in case the weather turns dry again.” He planted Queen Anne’s Lace, Mrs Geum, fever-few, salvia, several lavenders, a couple of day lilies, and a show-stoppIMG_1172.JPGer red dahlia. I added shasta daisies, a small rose, sweet peas, and 21 white tulips which I planted the day after the election so I’d have something serene to anticipate.
The tulips shoved up and burst forth just as the Queen Anne’s lace nodded and bloomed and the fever few began. A lovely moon white garden. When the white garden faded, it was replaced by controlled chaos of color. Sweet peas, the color of watermelon,10 feet tall. Oranges and yellows everywhere. Big red poppies, a struggling little apricot rose. The dahlia died in the winter frost.

My garden reflects my passion for color and surprise and freedom. Other gardens reflect their owners. Lynn’s is as meditative as she is; Charlotte’s displays her talent at arranging. Not only arranging a garden, but her house, and the quilts she designs and makes and gives away. Nancy’s garden has always interpreted her artist’s sense of color and mass. Maureen’s shows her sense of energy andIMG_1176 myriad enthusiasms. Another Lynn has a garden that mirrors her sense of organization and tidiness.

Some gardens are sloppy, but so are their owners. I find them, both the gardens and their people, painful and pathetic. Some gardens have little tiny plants arranged precisely by their daintily precise creators. Some, those belonging to people who would prefer to sit inside and read, are minimalist, orderly, getting along as best they can with occasional water and rare weeding.

I googled gardens and their philosophical significance and could devote my entire life to that study. Suffice it to say that “gardens inform human thinking about mortality, order, and power.” Also, I think, gardens refer to eternity, the cycle of life and death and the beauty of each phase. The delicate Queen Ann’s Lace blossoms faded into dry frilly seed heads, wonderful in dried flower arrangements.

Gardens seem to be a metaphor for the human condition. Can it be true that as we tend our gardens, so do we tend our lives?



Two Women Farmers

Isak Dinesen, also known as Karen Blixen, was a fine story teller and example of a woman who followed her convictions. Since the age of thirteen, when my father gave me a copy of her book, Out of Africa, I have held her in high esteem. When she lived in Kenya in the early 20th century, she became, in addition to an author, a coffee grower. The opening sentence in her book is, “I have a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills.”IMG_1199.JPG

In the 1990s I had a farm in Oregon, near Elkton in the Coastal Range. And like Isak/Karen, I was married to a charming man. I loved the  rural life and built a small cabin above the Umpqua River where I wrote little stories. I think she and I each asked too much of our marriages. Neither lasted.

I clung to the similarities between my life and that of Isak Dinesen’s.

Then I left the farm and moved to the beach in Santa Cruz County and didn’t think about her very much and the years passed. Now, in a senior community in Santa Rosa, I will be 90 in September and think about being old. What does that mean? Will I be a burden to my family? Will my life begin to revolve around doctor appointments? Will I become creaky? disillusioned? grouchy and picky? Will my life narrow and my perspective diminish? These are what elders often dwell upon.

Then, suddenly, when I was least expecting it, I ran across this quote from Isak Dinesen! She said, “Women, when they are old enough to have done with the business of being women, and can let loose their strength, must be the most powerful creatures in the world.”

Just in the nick of time!

I’m determined to make the next ten to fourteen years the best they can be. Like Isak, confronted by a massive lion in the bush, when I face depressing thoughts, I will wave my hands and say, “Shoo. Shoo.”

Watch Your Tongue

I recently had lunch with a friend who is searching for a compatible senior living community. She has been very diligent in checking out not only the accommodations and prices, but the continuing care options and gardening opportunities. I suggested that she check the magazines in libraries and on coffee tables to see what interests the residents. She has done that and perused libraries to note the selection of books. She has checked the activities calendars. How about yoga and pilates and exercises?

She has asked about the political preferences of the voters in residence. Are there any activists? Do they participate in local demonstrations or send post cards to their representatives? She has asked about vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free meals. She wants to know about house keeping and linen services.

Is there a chapel on the premises?

Is a doctor available? What happens when a person falls? How many assisted living apartments? Who maintains the gardens at the front doors of cottages? What if I want to paint a wall a color other than Navajo White?

What is the turn-over of the staff members? I never thought to ask this, but see the wisdom of it. If employees are happy with their work conditions, they stay, and they are happy with the residents, and that raises the morale of everyone. It creates a sense of security and continuity.

My friend shared with me that she considered a particular senior community along the coast until someone told her that the residents are prone to gossip and to being catty. I realized then that here at Friends House gossip does not exist. We might talk about someone, but only with concern. “I think Patty is depressed since her cat died. What can we do for her?” or “Did you hear that Paul has hospice now?”

However, we are not perfect. I heard one woman say, “She wears me out with her self-importance!” I watched to see reactions until someone said gently, “Oh, let her live her life……and you live yours.” and we moved on to other subjects. I find this compassion, patience, and acceptance touching and reassuring. It speaks of the quality of the population here.

I think that song People says it well. “People who love people are the luckiest people in the world”

Remember Thumper’s mother told him, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” With the variety of cottages and apartments, services and meals, directors and staff, I think that the most important facet of living in a senior community is the quality of the residents. Ones who share their hearts and watch their tongues.

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