WELCOME TO THE 90’s


To call something a fad, is to think of it as a passing fancy; something to entertain us for the time being, and then move on. A few years ago I had not heard of DNA testing except on TV cop shows. Now it seems that everyone is having the tests done to determine their ancestry and ethnicity. Not to be left behind, I spent yesterday afternoon spitting into a tiny plastic tube, to accumulate 1/4 inch of my precious saliva. At the age of 90 what do I hope to find? Will it prove my indomitable Grandmother wrong in her assertion that we stem from strong English stock with perhaps a drop of Irish blood derived from my sweet Grandpa? This of course does not include any scientific information from my paternal side. Grandma was quick to overlook anything she did not have an interest in. At any rate, it is a talking point and shows I am not entirely behind times.

I was feted royally by friends and family to acknowledge the undeniable fact that I have reached the vaunted age of 90. Dr. Advice reached this pinnacle two years ago, and when I saw the advanced age did him no harm, it removed the stigma I feared might occur. Though I have never been one to dwell on age, it is now amazing to me that I have so many friends who are in their 90’s and still upright and active.

Granted that some people need a little help one way or another as they age. My high school group in Alameda has increased from the original 6-7, as one is now in assisted living and her daughter brings her to the luncheon. Two others bring daughters who drive them now, and I have a good friend who does the same for me. The important thing is that we still come, and our intentions are still good.

We offer “tea and sympathy when needed as well, when we heard that one of our members is being forced out of her home. She gave the home some time ago to her daughter and son in law, but still lived in it. Her daughter passed away last year, and now the son-in-law is moving and plans to sell the house. A clear case of legal elder abuse. Another classmate a few years ago sold her home in Washington state at the request of her daughter and son in law and moved to Texas into an apartment which she hates. She has lost all her long time friends and her money from the sale of her house has been used to support her daughter and unemployed son in law. This is not to put sons-in-law in a a bad light, as I have had very good luck along that line.

All this proves is that as older people we need to stay aware. Hopefully Life has given us some measure of health and where-with-all, with a few brains left to protect both. We don’t need to become pistol packing mamas, but we do need to realize that we have become vulnerable and targets for those out to get somebody. anybody.

There are things to think about as elders though, which were’t a problem in our youth. Some communities have internet sign up groups to put people in touch with handymen, dog walkers, house cleaners, gardeners, and what have you. Chores which we once did for ourselves, but which require more muscle than we have left. Shopping can be a problem as well. We are awaiting the renewal of Dr.A’s driving license and mulling over possibilities to get to wherever in the possibility that he will someday have to stop driving. Last week we did a trial run with Uber to the local Safeway store and back. A good experience and relieved any anxiety we might have had.

Ninety is shaping up and they can start planning my 95th!

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SAFE


Words have incredible power over us. Safe, home, family. All words that signify love and comfort.

Do you feel safe? That question was asked of me when i left the hospital. Did I feel safe? It was repeated after Dr. A’s accident: did I feel safe? We don’t give much thought as to whether we feel safe. It is simply a state of being.

But I thought back through my rather peripatetic life, which was at best a coming and agoing, and an expectation that I would adapt, which I always did. But did I always feel safe? Probably not.
I came along after the Lindberg baby kidnapping and murder, and it was deeply impressed upon me. I was fearful that a kidnapper lurked behind each dark corner. Yet I would deliberately dive into the biggest wave at the beach, and ride my bicycle to the top of the highest hills at Auntie’s house. Facing the devil down I suppose, to show I was just as tough. But I didn’t feel safe.

We grow older with a family we try to protect from the day to day mishaps. We carefully lock our doors and set the burglar alarm, and close up “shop” at night. Does this make us safe?

Each evening I step outside with Charlie after dusk, and watch two airplanes fly over my house on their way to the San Francisco Airport, SFO. I always smile and think to myself that their trip is nearly over. The passengers are gathering their belongings and wondering if someone will meet them or if their car is ready. They are almost home, that other warm word. They made it back safely. Do they feel safe? I hope so.

It is difficult in today’s world to keep the feeling of safety with so much that isn’t safe bombarding us. In this cozy corner of my garden, surrounded with the fruits of our labor, and knowing that we, Dr. A and me, and Charlie, are together, I can answer: yes, I feel safe.

THERE’S MAGIC IN A TOWN


Ibecame familiar with Palo Alto, California while my father’s cousin worked at Stanford University. We were occasionally gifted with tickets to art exhibits and concerts there, and made the trip over the bridge from our island of Alameda. Years later, when I had the decorating business, Palo Alto was a source of much of the material I used in store design.

Allied Arts is a lovely group of artist studios and a small tea room where volunteers take your order for lunch, and even sell you the recipes. Shirley Temple Black waited upon us once years ago. I still use their recipe for carrot soup. Our young neighbors were married there in the patio.

The main office for Sunset Magazine was for many years in Palo Alto. The magazine was started after The Southern Pacific Railroad advertised that you could come out to California and buy a lot for fifty bucks. The magazine advertised the ‘good life’ showing how Californians decorated their homes, planted their gardens, and cooked food equal to that of anywhere in the world. Their building was an ideal typically California style, with hand made tile roofs and floors, and a quiet beautiful decor, showing off hand woven pieces, and pottery. It was surrounded by a rough post and rail fence covered with America climbing roses. When we began landscaping our home, we took note of all of it, and planted 125 America roses along the fence. It was a mass of peachy-red color in the spring. Time Magazine bought the magazine and moved their office to Jack London Square in Oakland. The lovely building in Palo Alto has become something else now. I hope they kept the roses.

Dr. A’s cousin worked for the Magazine for many years, and now our next door neighbor works in the testing kitchen a few days a week. She gets first hand knowledge of what goes into a coming issue, and frequently brings us a sample. This Christmas it was a delicious shortbread cookie.

The town itself was charming, filled with lovely old homes and tiny ‘candy box’ cottages, all owned by mega moguls working in San Francisco. As the years have progressed, businesses have begun to fill in the vacant spaces and it has become another busy place to stay away from. The lovely old homes are still there,surrounded by well-groomed gardens, and the tiny cottages sell upward of a million dollars.

Though Dr. A will always support his beloved University of California at Berkeley, we rarely missed a football game at Stanford, Berkeley’s arch rival. It had a lot to do with the country feel of the campus as opposed to ‘middle-of-the city’ feeling of Cal. It didn’t hurt that he took over the insurance for the University years ago. Today it finds itself in the middle of Silicon Valley.

A number of our friends were Stanford graduates and football fans, and we met each morning of a game in the same place for a “tail-gate” party. There were perhaps 10 or 12 people in our group, one who played in the infamous Stanford band, and whose parents and grandparents before him had graduated from the school. Amazingly, though he donated a great deal of money each year to the school, when it became time for his daughter to enroll, she was denied admission because all she had to offer was a 4.0 scholastic score. Stanford wanted someone who also was active in another activity, such as a sport. Stanford, named for Leland Stanford’s son, Leland Stanford Jr., became one of the most prestigious universities in the world and though in the middle of the city it still maintains its over 8,000 acres of tree-shaded beauty.

Football fans can become a bit over the top, and many people set up shop early in the morning with barbeques fired up, and drinks being buzzed in osterizers. Another friend, who was a big football star at Stanford, brought an enormous bus each game day, filled with his friends and fitted out with all the comforts of home, to be partaken of in the few hours before the game. Thankfully, in those sensible days, a game started at about 1 p.m. Today, most games are televised, and begin in the early evening, making it a very late evening before the game ends.
Stanford parking is in the unpaved woods under ancient oak trees. Of course if it rains, the area becomes a giant mudhole. I remember a story my mother-in-law told of being stuck in the mud after a ball game in their youth. Not fun in the mud and in the dark if it were a night game.

Today, our eleven year old great granddaughter has hopes of someday attending Stanford on a soccer scholarship. The dreams of an eleven year old can’t be dismissed. It always begins somewhere.

IT ISN’T EASY BEING OLD


Crow Print by Marvin Oliver

It’s a shame that just when you get comfortable being youngish, you suddenly find yourself being classified as “elderly”. You see strangers being referred to as elderly when in their 70’s. I suppose we are lucky that the longest period of our lives is called middle age. But the middle of what?

What makes us “old”? Since Dr. A, at the age of 91, is often seen out and about, either walking Charlie or sweeping leaves, he is often offered help; either to get up if he is pulling a weed, or loading a bag of compost into the car. Shaking his head, he wonders if they think he is old. I always use the line uttered by Hermine Gingold to Maurice Chevalier “Oh no, not you.”

The question is not so much how we look. Obviously the years take their toll in ways we would rather not think about. The story inside a beat-up second hand book is just as good as when the book was new. I a heard young man the age of forty something complain that he was getting “old”.

The First Wednesday group met last week and celebrated two more 90th birthdays. We were joined this time by two daughters, one granddaughter, and a little great-grandson. Generations in action. I began paying more attention to the questions my friends asked. One asked me if any of Dr. A’s old friends were left.The answer has been “no” for many years. Another asked if I were still cooking. The answer is “yes”, she was not. Another asked if my hearing was still good. She had just got hearing aids, and doesn’t like them. I have never heard of anyone who loved wearing them. They fall into the same category as false teeth; an unavoidable necessity.

Do all these things make us old? No, they are the exterior signs of lives well spent. If we are given the gift of age, it behooves us to do the best we can to get on with it. Dwelling on what we have lost is boring and non-productive.

Having said that, I visited the eye doctor again yesterday for a new glasses prescription. Something glamorous and sexy and makes me look 65 again would be nice. Before this can be achieved, you review the same old tests everyone takes to determine how much you can actually see. The result was neither more nor less than I expected, since my eyesight has been failing regrettably faster than I thought.

On the last visit, they showed me a few magnifying devices said to help failing eyesight. Yesterday there were a whole shelf full of lighted ones, a couple to wear on your head, though I couldn’t find the buttons meant to work like binoculars. Strange looking things which would scare the dog into thinking you came down from an unknown planet.

I have found that some things, like youth, cannot be recaptured; sight being one of them. We need to go with the flow as long as the river runs.

Back to my original question, “What makes us old?” It isn’t the loss of our looks, or the loss of our capabilities. It’s the loss of hope. The loss of interest in new things. The loss of someone or something to care about, or who cares for us. All those things are at the core of Life. If we lose them, yes, we are old, and it isn’t easy being old.
As a good friend called over his shoulder the other day while leaving the house, “Old age sucks!”

MONDAY, MONDAY


Remember the Mamas and Papas singing “Monday, Monday so good to me, Monday morning all I hoped it would be.” This worked out to be that kind of Monday morning. Bright sunshine, a door and window open day. a few selected trees showed the possibility of green growth.

Since Maty left suddenly, we are back to cleaning house once more. You never forget how. Dr.A is often looking for something to do, which isn’t easy once the gardening is taken care of by someone else, so he took over mopping and polishing miles of tile floor this morning. I tackled bathrooms. I told him that there is always something to do around the house. If I play this right I may have the only handsome 91 year old housekeeper in the neighborhood. People will be begging for his services.

Some younger people seem to think people older than themselves have nothing to do. The truth is that age has nothing to do with it. You still have a lot to do, but you do it slower.

Charlie has been given a blue pill to take for a month for an obscure internal problem. It is supposed to be given with his breakfast food, but I found it tucked neatly against the side of the bowl, so I began wrapping it in a dab of cream cheese. Like Mary Poppins said “Just a spoonful of sugar—“. This Morning Dr. A proudly said he had tried to give it to him in three different cheeses to no avail. However, I saw the remnants of the cheeses he turned his nose at. One was ricotta, another was sour cream, and the third was a half empty bag of mozzarella. Charlie is an intelligent dog and waited for the cream cheese.

I wrote a post some time ago about how long it takes to form a habit. It was interesting to read the other day that some experts still often say 21 days. The real answer is more complex.
I looked for an answer the same way most people do these days. I asked Google. Most of the top results referenced the same magic 21 days. These websites maintained that ‘research’ had found that if you repeated a behavior each day for 21 days you would have formed a brand new habit.
There wasn’t much discussion about what type of behavior it was or the circumstances you had to repeat it in, just the same figure of 21 days. Exercise, smoking, writing a diary or turning cartwheels; you name it 21 days is the answer. In addition, many authors recommend that it’s crucial to maintain a chain of 21 days without breaking it.

Thanks to recent research though, we have some idea of how long common habits really take to form. In a study carried out at University College in London, 96 participants were asked to choose an everyday behavior that they wanted to turn into a habit. They all chose something that they didn’t already do that could be repeated every day; many were health related like eating a piece of fruit with lunch or running 15 minutes after dinner. Each of the 84 days of the study they logged into a website to report their findings. Acting without thinking or ‘automaticity’ is a central component of a habit.

So how long did it take to form a habit? Across the board it took 66 days until a habit was formed depending on what activity each tried to do. People who resolved to drink a glass of water after breakfast were up to automaticity after about 20 days while people who tried to eat a piece of fruit with lunch each day too twice as long. The exercise was the trickiest, with 50 sit ups after morning coffee still not a habit after 84 days. Walking for 10 minutes after breakfast turned into a habit for one participant in 50 days.

This research seems to say that habits are slow to form and some might even take as long as a year. In my own case, things such as drinking water or exercising a certain time each day, while once being considered habits, are now occasional activities. However mysterious it may be; when we moved into this house 44 years ago, we had a light switch moved from one side of a door to another. This was accomplished in a matter of a few days during a remodel, however, I still reach for the original place to turn the light on. That habit had only taken a few days.

THE DOG WHO CHOSE TO STAY Kate’s Journal


Her life changed in a terrifying moment of rising water, shouting and the screaming of frightened horses. It had rained for days, and the river had finally taken enough and took the easy path over its banks, through fields and flooding all nearby ranches and homes. The extended flatlands of the Sacramento river were awash in dirty roaring floodwaters.

A few miles south, we had our share of the wet stuff along with winds which rattled the windows and took down a few branches, but nothing we couldn’t live with. Penny, our independent small dachshund who hated wet weather, took the opportunity to snuggle up in front of the warm fire.

The ominous ringing of a phone in the middle of the night seems to signify trouble, and my grandson’s voice was a confirmation. I heard him yell something about a dog, but there was so much background noise I really couldn’t tell much.

We finally determined that a nearby large ranch was afloat and neighbors were coming to rescue a great number of horses. The owner had had a heart attack and had been taken away by paramedics. Two or three dogs had been placed in cages for safety, and we were being asked to take one of the dogs.

I shook my head and said “No way!” and we left it at that for the night.

As our pickup pulled into our grandson’s rented farmyard in Tracy, California, we were greeted by vocal histrionics from his two dogs, and as if by common consent, coming majestically down the back steps, was the “Nana” dog of Peter Pan fame. Without hesitation, neither acknowledging our presence nor the barking dogs, this large fuzzy creature leaped into the open door of the pickup and settled herself in for the duration.

pandaPanda, Old English Sheepdog

Hurt and lost dogs and people turn as if by instinct to a refuge. Do they sense warmth and food and a friendly voice?

Her name was Panda, though she looked like a Nellie, and I wanted to rename her, but being outvoted, Panda it stayed. Dr. A assured me that Grandma Nellie who had not liked dogs, would not enjoy having one using her name. I imagine as a small puppy she resembled a fluffy, soft grey and white panda bear.

She was nervous when she arrived home, and we forgave her bladder’s loss of control when she hung her head and looked sheepishly at us cleaning up the mess. Otherwise from the first she was a courteous and well-mannered guest who obviously sensed that the furniture did not have her name on it. She knew instinctively which rooms were off-limits.

The relationship between dog and household is a subtle thing. Her previous owner had in the meantime passed away, and there was no reason we could not include her in our household. Penny had merely glanced at her and decided she was OK, so with a minimum of fuss she became our second dog. Size-wise they resembled Mutt and Jeff.

After a run-in with an angry goose Penny had long ago determined that going for long walks was not her cup of tea, but Panda welcomed the exercise and Dr. A welcomed the company of this curious friendly companion. Daily they took off down the Alameda Creek Trail while Panda paid no attention to the large number of other romp and runners. When Dr. A stopped to pass the time of day Panda lay down and patiently waited it out, sometimes taking the opportunity to grab a nap.

Sam and Panda2

Alone one morning, I got a phone call from a young boy who said he had found Panda wandering by herself on the Trail, while using it himself on his way to school. Fearful that something untoward had happened, I asked if he could take her to the nearby Niles Cafe coffee shop to wait 15 minutes or so for me. When I arrived at the coffee shop, no dog or husband were there, but several friends jumped up to help me find the missing couple. I appreciated the concern of people like the Corrie’s who owned a local gift shop in town.

As we started down the street, Dr. A passed by in the car with a very happy and smiling Panda in the back seat. As he had started on his way home, he had not gone far when he he realized that he was missing a passenger. Strange to say, he had forgotten her!

During one of his long conversations, he had stopped to help a friend get her Lab out of one of the ponds along the way, and Panda, instead of waiting, had had enough and decided to come home alone.

Just as she had chosen the front seat of the pickup as her right, she chose her place in the house under a table in our family room. Disconcerting to some perhaps, unless they were a dog lover, to find this large furry animal lying so close to their feet under the table. She frequently offered her warm tongue as a friendly welcome. During the long years she graced us with her presence, she rarely barked, and exhibited all the kind attributes of the Peter Pan “Nana”.

We had learned that Panda was a year old when she came to us, and when she was eleven, she began showing signs of slowing down. Larger breed dogs, including Old English Sheepdogs, don’t usually live as long as their smaller cousins. It was apparent that the long walks which frequently ended in joyous rabbit chases down by the Bay had taken their toll. Though her hearing and eyesight were apparently as good as ever, we realized that like so many older humans, her mind was not as quick as it had been.

On her last day. as we slowly walked to the vet, she turned and looking at Dr. A, gave one woof. Was it a goodbye to her friend, or perhaps a thank you for the rescue so long ago, and all the good years since? It had been a good life.

DON’T BE FOOLED BY BEAUTY


002

You can’t trust beauty; we bought a beautiful Pink Lady apple tree a year or so ago purely on the grounds of beauty, and thinking it would get along well with the Golden Delicious. Maybe a nice combination for pie. It has proven to be untrustworthy in all respects.

The first year it had 2 apples and I forgave it. Last year five apples made it to the finish line. This year there were 3 and one fell off after Charlie’s leash got wrapped around the branch. I apologized to Dr. A because I was on the other end of the leash.

It’s lovely pyramidal shape has been nipped down to its buds because of fungus attacks in spite of dousing it with spray. It looks like a disappointed old crone waiting for a dance. Its apples were hard and sour and didn’t ripen until late October anyway.

So off with its head! And let that be a lesson to any other tree in the orchard.