September 8, 2011

Sunny Side of Life #11


“It’s not the journey that matters; it’s who you travel with.” That quote from a greeting card is the perfect description for my August trip to Alaska. There were three of us, all former school librarians from the northern Chicago suburbs, who’ve kept in touch over the years, even though we moved to schools in different, far away states. Roz now lives in Alaska, and she hosted Fran from Hawaii and me from Oregon for ten wonderful days.

Alaska is, of course, a wonderful sightseeing state, all the more so when the mostly wet weather forecasts turned out to be wrong. As we went north on the Parks Highway towards Mount Denali we were teased with occasional glimpses, and we finally saw her in all her glory once we reached Talkeetna. It was such a brilliantly sunny day, we hopped on a small tour plane, and flew above it and around it, while the pilot pointed out all the major points of reference for those who actually climb the mountain. The ridges are so narrow, it’s hard to believe that anyone can walk on them without falling.

The weather was equally beautiful for other sight-seeing trips: taking a paddle wheeler down the Chena River in Fairbanks, going on a catamaran to see and visit 26 glaciers in the Harding Ice fields, and walking into Exit Glacier. But it really wasn’t the photo ops that made the trip—it was the fun of being with other people who share some of the same background and most of the same interests. The three of us stopped at nearly every library, bookstore, and gift shop along the way, sharing our finds and admiring each other's purchases. When a head-on crash down the road stalled all the traffic to Seward, we not only talked books but took turns reading one of our picture book finds aloud: a funny update called “The House That Moose Built.” After news that the road wouldn’t open for another six hours drifted back down the long line of parked cars, we turned around and went back to Anchorage for the night--but we probably could have giggled our way through the remaining time with other souvenir books. Another excellent reason for buying books as gifts and keeping them in the car.

The other great part of the journey for me was meeting and making new friends and acquaintances. The Anchorage couple that put us up on our several passes through the city are now my friends as well as Roz’s. So is the bookstore owner in Talkeetna who enjoys some of my favorite authors, and a small town librarian who shared information and a book about Michael Healy, a minor character in my biography on Berta and Elmer Hader. Many of the waiters and shop people will stick in my memory even if I don’t ever see them again. They enhanced our whole trip with their caring spirits, specialized knowledge, and recommendations about the area.

It definitely was the people I traveled with who made this journey truly outstanding. And isn’t that true of our personal journeys through life? There are a few people who sour our experience, but so many more enrich it. Sometimes it’s fun to just be with our mirror images and spend time doing only the things we all enjoy. Sometimes it’s fun to be with people who lead us down other paths we never knew existed. The three of us often talked about our former library coordinator who made us far better in our professions that we ever would have been by ourselves. Unknown to the greater world, her life started ripples that went far from her home in Illinois. It’s the connections.

Researchers into the aging process are unanimous in pointing out that social contacts are important to a healthy life. It really doesn’t matter how much we have in common, as long as we can appreciate each other’s talents and backgrounds. Many of these friends can receive and offer the timely support we need. We don’t have to go it alone. Even in perfect Eden, Adam needed a human companion.

In this time of my life, when I lose so many good friends, it’s important that others enter my circle. I have discovered I have to get out of my comfortable rut occasionally to find these others. After all, I would hate for my circle to shrink down to hula-hoop size! So thanks to all of you who enrich my travels one way or another. As another saying goes, “many people enter and exit your life, but a few leave footprints on your heart.”

Cheers to all of you who do.

August 2, 2011

Sunnyside — Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The past few days have been definitely on the sunny side! Summer seems to be finally here—only 2 months late! The sunny weather brings out more dogs in the no-leash park, bikes and walkers and runners, children running in and out of the park fountain and people lying on the grass. Sailboats and kayaks, jet boats and canoes join the working barges, fishing boats and tugboats on the river. It is not a day to think about finances.

Once, money was equal to sex, religion, and politics as subjects one did not talk about in polite company. Now we hear far too much about the other three. Only a few of my friends have bravely asked how I managed to afford this CCRC.

I wasn’t sure myself. I am scared to death of being in debt, since my father often was. During World War II store charge accounts were frozen. Each had to be paid up at the end of the month before one could charge again. This was hard for my father to remember, and it was embarrassing to go down to charge something I needed for school, be told the account was frozen, and leave the store empty-handed. I was lucky that he would always pay up and I could charge again—many were not so fortunate. But that, plus being a stay-at-home mom on a small budget, who had to take things out of my cart at the grocery store checkout when I didn’t have enough budgeted cash, has made me very conscious and fearful about over-committing resources. And, unlike my younger days, I can’t increase my income by taking another job, or earning “butter and egg money” by gardening, sewing, or putting up preserves. I’ve got to live on what I’ve got.

I ran my finances past my smart sons, my trusty CPA, and tax advisors. My husband managed well, and we had never gone into debt. What I had was free and clear so there was enough to cover the buy-in. The sweetener was that this retirement center returned most of the buy-in to my heirs so I wouldn’t be spending their inheritance: very important to my husband and myself. The Continuing Care aspect meant they would not have to impoverish themselves to pay for future nursing care—I’m told this can easily run up to $8,000 a month! There was also enough, with pensions and social security, to cover my monthly payments for the next 15 years or so—my current life expectancy. (All this, of course, depends on Congress to keep it’s promises—not actually a given at this point when no one can compromise on anything.)

What’s left is for “frills”—clothing, notions, entertainment. I have been pleasantly surprised at what is left in my bank account now that I am not spending on the “dailies.” There are no payments for utilities, garbage pickup, sewer fees. I don’t need the Y or a health club: this place has those. No maintenance for yard or house. I only need groceries for breakfast and lunch: my payments cover one meal a day and I usually pick dinner.

With transportation provided to grocery stores and shopping malls, my gas bill is minimal. I do far less “impulse” shopping—and I never did much—because I am no longer in and out of stores where I constantly see “good buys.” There is much free entertainment here, and far less pressure on being in the know about the latest movie or wearing the latest clothes. (Of course, Oregon takes pride in being casual.) I rarely meet friends for dinner out because I am not in a town where I know many outside people: I have to travel to Roseburg to see old friends for that. It saves money, but I am sacrificing easy friendships with these wonderful people. (That’s a shadow, and a big one.) On the other hand, I have plenty of dinner partners and rarely eat alone in front of the TV. My new place is full of new friends and acquaintances with dozens of fascinating stories to tell.

I’ve asked a few people for advice for trying to figure out financing the rest of one’s life, knowing, as Robert Burns poetically advised a mouse, that “... foresight may be vain. The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men gang aft agley.” (I have to credit Google for the source and also for recognizing my phonetic attempt at Scottish spelling. A nice change. Usually it misses when it thinks it knows what I intended to type—maybe I should try dialect more often.) They all agree it totally depends on the person: in spite of the ads, one size does not fit all. But:

A) Work things out with the children you trust: as you age, they may become your caregivers and will need to know everything ... even though none of us like to have our children think they are now our parents! They may offer advice—but we’re still the adults.

B) Check every possible insurance policy to see what it covers and if you still need it. If you sell your house, you will no longer need that insurance. A different type of place will demand a different type of insurance. Mine requires rental insurancefar cheaper than what I was paying.

C) The general plan seems to include: 1) figure out how much you have in savings, investments, and other assets, 2) income from investments and pensions, etc., and 3) life expectancy.

D) What do you need to estimate for inflation? Rents and living expenses usually go up every year. Some investments and pensions do: others don’t. 5% seems to be the usual estimate of inflation.

Figure out how long the money must last: many actuarial tables give average life expectancies. It changes with your actual age, so if you once thought you would live to be 80, you may be surprised what these tables now indicate.

Work with a financial advisor so you know where you stand. “Transitioning” is scary. There aren’t that many role models as we get older, and no one can really predict the future. You have to plan the best you can, and just muddle through sunny and cloudy days.

June 6, 2011


My husband, still the “be prepared” boy scout, knew the time would come to move to a smaller place. He did some research, and we checked out many. We knew we wanted to move to a place that would take care of each of us as we needed more care. He preferred a cottage, where he could get outdoors easily. Once widowed, that wasn’t important—I don’t garden successfully—but I didn’t want the upkeep of a two-story house and knew I might need family help again. I’ve been accused of living in a fantasy world of books, but that doesn’t rule out facing facts.

Realistically, I dreaded moving because it would mean cleaning out my closets and downsizing. If I moved I wanted to go to a place where I could stay forever. Too many friends had coped with finding place after place to take their aging parent, as they needed increasing care. I didn’t want to be moved over and over again. It’s a problem for the kids, and would be an absolute pain for me. I only wanted to face that once, so I had to choose my future home carefully. There were almost too many options.

I was independent, with mostly good health, and involved in many community activities. I really didn’t enjoy household chores. That ruled out another house, even if smaller. Apartments take care of the outside surroundings, but there are no guarantees it won’t be sold, torn down, or converted to something else. I didn’t want to be dependent on someone else. Condo individual owners become part of an association that has to agree on those decisions. They are also responsible for coming up with the money for special needs like replacing windows or repairing elevators. Your apartment is your own, and so is the upkeep.

Cohousing places are small self-contained facilities that try to have a variety of ages included. That’s fun. You share in the upkeep and own your own house, but not the land. Since everyone is integral to the community, you will be missed if you don’t show up. Other residents will probably give you a hand when you need it, and you can return the favor. It’s an instant community and the variety of residents keeps you young.

Independent living places offer a normal life style, with all chores taken care of. They have activities and dining rooms which give residents a chance to meet each other, and often have many entertainment opportunities. You pick and choose what you want to do and are totally independent within the confines of group living. If you become incapacitated you may have to move temporarily to a rehab or nursing home facility. Some facilities offer assisted living in your home with a variety of help available.

Assisted living facilities are for those who need special help for temporary or permanent disabilities or for memory care. Some add on costs for each separate type of help you need such as managing meds or showers, and in some you just move from one monthly care plan to another.

CCRCs (Continuing Care Retirement Community) offer “tiered approaches to the aging process,” with different facilities for different needs. They’re more expensive because the health care costs of the future are part of your monthly fees for today. On the other hand, you never have to leave. It is a permanent home.

There were some good retirement homes but none quite fit my needs. Also, it was 3 hours away from the closest family. If the day came when I couldn’t drive, I’d miss out on a lot of family time. And the drive was a burden on them when I needed help, though they never said so. I loved my friends in the community but I could keep seeing them. They could come here and I could go back there. There were the same groups in both places, so I could keep on doing the same things in a new setting. Good for the aging brain, maybe.

After stewing about all the possibilities, the best option seemed to be moving nearer to family. They found many retirement living places and took me around to one or two each time I came up for a visit. When I found this one, I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t seem like an institution but more like a good hotel. It fit all my perceived needs, including an indoor swimming pool and residents’ library, and access to the river walk along the Willamette. There was good public transportation to shopping, several universities, and the public library. In addition there were absolutely gorgeous views of the Willamette River, Mount Hood, and Mount Saint Helens. I never even considered views as important, but they have turned out to make a BIG difference. For me.

May 17, 2011

May 16, 2011

Since several people have wondered why I decided to leave my small town home where I'd lived for 35 years and move to a city skyscraper, I've been trying to come up with some answers. It's the little things that often lead to big changes. Mine was a throw rug. I'd noticed it needed some sticky reinforcement, but it didn't seem to be an immediate problem. So I'd put it off.

The major impetus was tripping on said rug, being thrown down on the slate floor, and finding I was unable to move my legs. After crawling for a painful hour to reach a phone to call 911, I had a lot of time to think over the accident, my preparations, and my situation. Some minuses, and some pluses. Shadows and sun.

When I was widowed, my friend Judy advised me to always carry my cell phone. I did, but it was unreachable, still in my purse on the kitchen island where I always set things down on coming home. Dropping things on a lower table would have been smarter: even better would be always keeping it in my pocket.

It was fortunate that my one reachable phone had the punch numbers in the earpiece—which was what tumbled down from my desk when I pulled the phone cord. The main phone part stayed in place. I was lucky I could reach the numbers. I suppose after a while an operator might have noticed the phone was off the hook, but I doubt it.

The emergency buttons you wear are one help source but I'd been told their range was limited. They are expensive, and I was already paying for a cell phone and a land line. It seemed a waste to get one if it would only work indoors—it never occurred to me that inside might be more dangerous than outside. The other reason was, of course, that getting one would acknowledge I was getting older. My vanity interfered with reality. It isn't only teens who think they're invincible!

As usual, I had locked the doors of the house after coming in for the evening. Knowing how easily I lose things, I had arranged two backup ways to get into the house using lock boxes and codes. I'd also chosen easy, not clever ones, so I remembered them and could tell the operator how the firemen and EMTs could get into the house without breaking down the door.

Once rescued, I had to face the fact I was more vulnerable than I'd thought. It was time to reassess living plans. Should I stay alone in my too-large house, which I loved, and find a companion to share it? Rent the downstairs half of the house? Move closer to one of my sons in either Portland or on the East coast? Move to a smaller house in a more populated neighborhood in town? An apartment? A condo? A retirement home or community? At least I had choices—some people don't—but none of the options seemed perfect. How did I want to live?

Next time I'll go over some of the reasons I made the choice I did. They're personal—others choose differently and it is right for them. One of the problems with life is that you often don't know about the perfect choice until you've chosen something else. As my friend Kathy said, life is a series of improvisations!

April 28, 2011

Spring is Here!

Spring is finally here. I drove down to Roseburg last weekend, and enjoyed seeing lots of flocks of baby lambs in the green fields, hawks in the air instead of huddled in the trees, and the myriad clumps of daffodils that spring up by themselves in the margins of the road. The passes were lovely with the new leaves in many shades of green against the dark greens of the firs. Not to mention all the flowering fruit trees—my old apple tree is full of blossoms once again.

This was a trip in and out of sun and shadows, just like life. The sunny spots were seeing many old friends—but realizing that seeing them now depends on schedules instead of serendipity was sad. Leaving a home of 32 years was very sad, but meeting the new young owners was a blaze of sun and hope, knowing that once again the house will become a home for a loving family. They will have a lovely time discovering the individual delights of living there: the deer who spend the hot days sleeping under the deck, the dogwood that never bloomed until a neighbor’s tree died and had to be cut down. I hope the spotted owl uses the house in the tree outside the window again—for some reason seeing it peer out at me was always a morning high spot.

And now that the hip is healed and I am mobile once again, I can begin to enjoy my new home with a view. An osprey is building a nest along the river path, and the dogs are romping in the dog park. Dragon boats and shells scoot up and down the Willamette, along with tugs and sailboats and fishing boats. Always something to see and watch.

So many people have asked me why and how I chose this retirement place to live, I think I’ll devote the next few blogs to why and what I learned and what I wish I’d thought about ahead of time. I was lucky to have made a good decision: one that is right for me. I probably will miss some things you might want to know so feel free to ask.

I know I’m lucky to have found a new place in the sun.

March 19, 2011

Many Ways of Seeing

All I could see when I opened the blinds this morning was a dawn lit fog bank—a huge cloud had wrapped around the building, but it was glowing with the morning sun. The nearby bridge and the barge building facility had totally disappeared except for two schoolbus-yellow crane tips against the sky. A few towers loomed above the fog: the KOIN tower’s blue crayon tip was shiny and new looking. It was a lovely scene, but fleeting: within minutes the fog cloud had disappeared. It looks like a lovely day is imminent. Perhaps I’ll take my walker for a walk along the river.

Yesterday I had a visit from the Wallers: two Roseburg artists who are doing a lot of work with the Hader project. Judy (whose painting was just selected for a major touring exhibit of watercolor) had been trying to explain to me the difference between Elmer Hader’s Impressionist oil paintings and some which seemed more realistic to me. (I have NO art training.) Then we went over some of Elmer’s paintings in a small exhibit brochure, and she was pointing out the way he used patches of blues and mauves and yellows to show the different hues of snow, or the movement of water. Looking out the window at the muddy Willamette I asked her to show me any color other than brown in that river. Sure enough, she did! And gradually I was able to spot some of the changing colors in that brown wash, as well as the differences caused by the river traffic: rowing crews, a tugboat, a paddle wheeler, a tiny sailboat.

Over lunch we had talked about how animals can sense and “see” what we humans cannot, and that some senses are due to training. Fly fishermen can “see” where the fish are, and my Audubon friend could spot birds far away that were impossible to make out. Then I remember coming to Roseburg and a friend patiently teaching me to see mistletoe in the oak trees. At first it was impossible to see, and then it became impossible to miss. Training and observation.

So today I’m just going to watch the river and see how many colors show up instead of just seeing all the good growing soil washing down. It’s a good lesson for living. Isn’t there a quote somewhere about “he who has eyes but does not see?”

March 9, 2011

Back on the Sunny Side

Back in my apartment and back on the sunny side. Actually, that entire rehab experience was a super positive—I was really fortunate. One of the amazing surprises was the fact that someone always answered my buzzer immediately—never had to lie in bed wondering if anyone heard me. That’s an awful feeling when you are dependent on others for everything you need. I actually hated to give up all the TLC (it’s nice to be pampered and spoiled!) but it is good to start picking up the pieces of my life again.

Besides working on getting both my legs working again, I also relearned how important people are. Not only the people who were sharing my experience, but all the ones I’ve just met recently who stopped by with words of encouragement, tidbits from their own experience, and flowers to remind me that spring is on its way. My family were wonderful about indulging my love of SCRABBLE by playing endless games to pass the time.

And it certainly was a great place to work on my book. Fortunately, I was in the edit-re-edit-re-edit phase, so I didn’t have to work on my piles of paper and files and research notes. I just had the piles of corrected manuscript printouts. It’s easier to write when someone else takes care of all life’s little details like laundry and bed making and meals! I think the Victorian men writers knew that: they always seem to have wives, or valets, or landladies who took care of the mundane details! Of course, now we have machines...but it’s not quite the same.

And I picked up a wonderful term from one of the CNAs —“buffer fat” --which is the little extra poundage that provides more resources for the body to heal as we get older. How positive. How pleasant. What a nice reminder when I look in the mirror. Even flab has its sunny side!

February 18, 2011

The Sunny Side, February 16

The surgeons were great, the physicians order good meds, but it's all the other people--nurses, dieticians, therapists--who have really made a difference since the operation. They are the ones who are really making a difference, ensuring that my muscles are exercised and healing properly. About the first words I heard here were “We don’t believe in just lying in bed. We want you up, eating in the dining room, and will start physical therapy tomorrow.” It's a good philosophy--no chance to just lie around and think about pain.

Last night as I was trying to get to sleep, the following doggerel came to mind. It’s silly but heartfelt.


They help me to the bathroom.
They know when I’m awake,
They chart my every bite and sip
Before they go on break.

They check my skin for bedsores
And how I breathe in bed.
And often check my vitals
Am I alive or dead?

I buzz. They come, and quickly know
Just how my senses feel.
With care like this I have no choice...
I cannot help but heal.

-Sybilla Cook

*Skilled nursing facility

February 10, 2011

Hip Hip déjà vu!

Did I ever hit a slippery dark patch in my life a week ago! I decided to take the streetcar to the Museum and see the Monets, so stepped inside the one just outside OHSU, and looked around for a place to pay. The ticket machine was near the door, I fed it the dollar which I had at the ready, and the machine spit the dollar back. I looked around for a button to push to tell it what I wanted my dollar to do. Just as I found the “Honored Citizen” button, the streetcar—very dishonorably!—immediately gave a lurch and sent me flying across to the far corner. I tried to push up, couldn’ this beginning to sound familiar? Just like last year, my legs wouldn’t move. I asked a couple of nearby young people to pull me up on my feet and then I couldn’t move any further. The streetcar was still stopped, someone notified the motorman, he called the ambulance, and soon my long-suffering son got another call: “This is Mom. I’m on a gurney at OHSU,” almost a duplicate of last year’s call After x-rays, of course, I was told the OTHER hip was broken and I was going to get a matching half hip. I got the new hip a week ago Monday morning--same make, different model.

So here I am, in the SNF (sniff or Skilled Nursing Unit) of my retirement home, where I am receiving wonderful care. I guess my body felt I hadn’t learned my lessons the first time around, so I’m back in Rehab 101. Some wonderful PTs and OTs are working my muscles, and brushing up wheelchair driving, walker walking, and transitioning skills.

Since the care part just received its last endorsement, it hasn’t taken patients from the outside yet. There are only a total of 6 patients here now, with a full complement of caring young CNNs and RNS. I never have to wait for a button push! And the food here is great—I had northwest fish potpie for lunch. My new doc is right across the street, and I DO have a lot of blessings to count—especially my family that’s been dropping in, and my new retirement friends.

But it is still the pits...not the way I planned to spend this year...

January 26, 2011


I can’t believe it took me three months to get settled enough to write this blog. This was one of those long shady patches. Somehow I thought moving would be easy: a fairy godmother would wave her wand, the movers would come, pack my things, take them up to Portland, settle them in their new spots, and voila! The only thing remotely like that scenario was the mover putting my things in a van.

Downsizing and moving from a home of 30 plus years wasn’t easy. Fortunately I had lots of help from sons, daughters-in-law, and a granddaughter who not only helped me take my office apart, but then went to IKEA and picked out all sorts of organizers to put it together in a better way! And it is wonderful to be around my family and get to partake in their daily lives on a casual basis, without having to plan visits.

Now I’m back I’m on the sunny side. The apartment is wonderful: for the first time in my life I have rooms of my own and rooms with a view. One unplanned surprise is the achievement of a dream I had as a teenager. Then, I fell in love with a picture of Mount McKinley on the cover of a magazine, and decided I wanted to have that view every day. I went to Northwestern for education courses so I could teach in Alaska near the mountain. But I changed my love from a mountain to a man in the flat lands of Illinois and that was where life happened till we moved to the southern valleys of Oregon. MUCH later in life, my teen-age goal came true: I now live with a view of Mount St. Helens outside my window whenever she decides to show herself in this gloomy El Nino winter. I’m told I will also see Mt. Rainier on a clear day.

Now the next stage begins: embedding myself in retirement living and city life. I've gone back to Roseburg a couple of times and camped out in my unsold house—and it feels like home, even though all my “things” have gone. Seeing all my old friends is terrific. I realize what I have always known—people make a place a home, not things. After living in a friendly small town where I knew the people, the places, and the activities, I’m now in a friendly tall building where I am making new acquaintances, some of whom will undoubtedly become close. And it is wonderful to have a fitness room with trainer, a physical therapist, a swimming pool that can be used at any time, and restaurants all in one building. It certainly makes it easier to do all these good-for-you things, without spending time driving and clothes changing.

And having to rearrange everything has been interesting to say the least. Fewer places to put things doesn’t mean they are easier to find! I am learning to put them where I use them, not where I think they belong. The pliers are in a kitchen drawer where I often unscrew caps and lids--not with other tools. The sewing kit is in a drawer by the TV: if I have to mend things, that’s where I do it. I wish I hadn’t been so cute with the safe deposit keys—they’re in a super safe place—but where?

Now for the next learning adventure in the big city—getting around on public transportation. It looks easy...we’ll see.