Conscious Aging: Back Home Again

Boston was 55 degrees when I flew out of Logan Airport on Wednesday morning, and Seattle was 33 degrees when I arrived. I’d brought a warm jacket to wear in Maine, and I took it out of my suitcase and put it on when I deplaned and went to get transportation home.

The week was very full — first reconnecting with Paul and Jeanne, and then going with them to the Camden Conference. The Conference did two important things: raised my sights from the daily tempestuousness that is the Trump presidency to higher and broader ways of thinking about the world. And, the Conference reminded me that really, really smart people who value competence and integrity and have a sense of mission continue to work on complex matters of foreign policy, totally aside from the venality and shallowness and self-dealing of the Trump administration. I’m reminded that history moves in waves, and if we are now in a period of self-inflicted chaos, this too shall pass. The speakers were properly and soberly concerned about the damage being done at the behest of the 35-40% of voters in this country who seem to have gone off the deep end. But the speakers, not all from the U.S., offered hope, cautiously, that one day intellectual honesty and decency will return to our national stage.

I got to visit with my sister in law Amy, and her husband Will. And, I was included in a lovely dinner party with Paul and Jeanne’s friends.

After the Conference we returned to Boston, where I saw my niece and her husband and met their small daughter. I got to go to my beloved Aquarium, and wound up at the home of my nephew and his wife and their kids for a mini-Klainer reunion.

All good. I’m here now for the next month, and then will go to San Diego with Matt and Amy and the kids for spring break.

Cruise season starts here in Seattle by May 15, and that for me is the official start of summer and great people-watching as the lines begin to form to board our regular cruise lines. Feels right around the corner. I was amused while away to read about a Carnival ship that had a knock-down-drag-out brawl between an unruly family and cruise staff. That followed last summer’s reports of a murder aboard another popular line. I know most cruises are not so high drama. I’m not a big fan of going on cruises, although I’ve been on a couple. I just like to watch the whole enterprise from afar — good plot material if I ever decide to write more fiction. 🙂

Conscious Aging: What Makes Family?

We all have family of blood, the family we were born into. That family is forever. My younger sister Wendy’s birthday was Feb. 19, Monday. Happy birthday Sis!

We have family of choice, the people we choose to hold closest to our hearts. That family is usually forever, but not always.

Then there is family that we marry into. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes not. I really lucked out. When Jerry died, his family told me that nothing had changed, that I was still family to them — even without Jerry — and that they would care about me forever. It meant the world at a very dark and terrible time.

Jerry’s brother Paul, his sister Amy, and her husband Will, are in the pic below.

Amy has never failed, in the 15 years since Jerry’s death, to call me on his birthday to tell me she loves me and is thinking about me.

Paul makes me breakfast, brews my coffee even though he doesn’t drink it himself, fixes my computer, and gives me a great big man-hug when I arrive.

I really lucked out.

Conference Eve: Dinner Party

I haven’t been to a full-on dinner party in years: ten around the beautifully set table, candles, fresh flowers, beef bourguignon with mashed potatoes made with butter and cream, garden peas, squash, salad with blood oranges and chopped nuts, and good wine. A fire going at the end of the large combined dining-living room. Snow pending outside. Great conversation. Ice cream and home made fudge sauce for dessert.

Paul and Jeannie’s friends Barbara and Wally hosted dinner for a group of friends who’d been at the Conference, so we had that to talk about. The two couples have been friends forever, and so we talked about long friendship too, and new friendship, and change, and getting older. The four of them are on the verge of turning 70. Paul is Jerry’s younger brother.

Seattle is a very casual city, and people eat out. At the most, we gather for wine at someone’s condo or apartment and then go out. Those of us who have downsized got rid of a lot of serving dishes and such that we would have used to entertain, and if we live in 900 square feet we likely don’t have a big table any more to host ten. I assemble food, but I don’t cook anything any more that takes time and skill and prep space, like beef bourguignon.

But a full-on dinner party is a lovely thing, and I enjoyed being included very much.


Conscious Aging: Pro Bono Consulting

I’m giving some volunteer time to the Seattle Foundation, offering to work with early stage non-profits on leadership and organization and fund-raising. We’re in a hard environment for non-profits, as the current Republican leadership has a strong libertarian bent which eschews the notion of public goods and incentivizes personal greed. The group I’m working with now is particularly challenged, as they work with poor kids whose families are often immigrants, and may be undocumented. The crisis for Dreamers is front and center with this non-profit.

The two young men who are leading the non-profit could be doing a lot of other things, and making a lot more money. Their good hearts and willingness to give their considerable competence to kids and families who need a break moves me, and interests me. They provide a sharp contrast to the greedy and arrogant Trump offspring, who as one pundit said, would be parking cars if their father were not the pre-eminent New York grifter that he is.

What do I hope for my grandchildren? That they grow up to have good and generous hearts, like the bright young men who were on my calendar yesterday. I’m doing my bit, by introducing Archie and Else to things like Heifer Project. Matt and Amy regularly encourage them to cull their toys and prepare a box to give to kids who are in need. I hope, when they’re a little older, Archie and Else see my commitment to give time and expertise where I can, even at this late stage of my life.

We’re all on the path.

Panama 2018: Call from Minga

All of Minga’s grown daughters and sons, and all of her grandchildren, have cell phones. Her daughter Ana, and granddaughter Lily, are connected to me via an app which allows us free calling. On Monday morning, to my surprise, Ana called to tell me Minga was with her and wanted to talk.

Ana lives in Panama City, much nearer to the hospital where Minga receives dialysis, and nearer to the central terminal where Minga comes into the city on a small van called a chiva, than the daughter with whom Minga was living before. Coming and going between each dialysis to and from the village is what I left Minga money to do, and to my great joy, she is apparently doing it. She says the 90 minute ride is no more tiring than taking three busses in traffic out to Filipio, where she was staying earlier. I wasn’t sure Minga would be able to make this happen. Her family are acting protectively, lovingly — but have been driving their mother nuts. Minga says she can endure the grueling regime of 3x weekly dialysis if she can go home after, where she can see her neighbors and sleep in her own bed and eat food cooked in her own kitchen. I left her money for transportation, and that was the missing piece. Now that she has her own money, she is making the decision to come and go. On any day that she feels too tired, she will stay with Ana. She was with Ana on Monday morning rather than coming into the city on Tuesday because this is Carnaval week throughout Panama, and there is a lot of traffic both in the city and with revelers pouring into the city to celebrate. Minga didn’t want to miss her early spot at the dialysis center.

In the simplest sense, Minga has claimed the right to be in charge of when she comes and goes, and she is feeling much better about life. My sense when I was with her is that she is trying to find the middle ground between being 100% medically compliant in terms of her diet and fluid intake, and living every day in a way that she can sustain in terms of quality of life. Going home is a big part of what she needs. She has said so, clearly and unambiguously. And she is making it happen. She is one strong woman.

I’m taking note of this as well in terms of my own reflections on aging and where I will live. I’m seeing how important it is to Minga to be at home, and to have control of her life. Her younger daughter was giving her attentive care, but at the cost of too much of Minga’s sense of agency. Ana, the eldest, is a good bit more relaxed, and Minga seems fine about staying with her when conditions dictate.

Minga sends love to all of you who have been thinking of her and praying for her. She wants you to know she feels well and strong. She is praying for you as well, and asks the Virgin to watch over you and bless you and bring you peace.

Below a pic of Minga on the patio at my rented villa, and one of Ana and Miley, where Minga is now staying when she is too tired to go home after her treatment. Ana has a large family, but Miley is the only one living at home now, so there is room for Minga. Ana’s longtime marido is there too. Sounds as if Minga feels welcome and loved, and for now, all is good.

Photos by Bob Levy.



Conscious Aging: Good for the Blood Pressure

The calming effect of water is supposed to be good for the health as we age, especially our blood pressure. Take a look at these pics, and tell me if you find them soothing. I did, on my Sunday morning walk around Green Lake.

I’m wondering about the wet path down the middle of the dock. Has to be ducks, with wet feet, using the dock as a pathway for jumping back in. Lord knows there aren’t any humans in the water at this time of year.

Conscious Aging: Cutting Back on News

Friend and regular reader Phyllis says she is cutting back on news watching; she’s simply tired of listening to pundits try to explain the significance of Trump. The significance, which doesn’t seem to change with time, is that the country has elected a vain narcissist of limited intelligence but ruthless cunning and ability to exploit weakness. Everything is transactional, for the financial enrichment and ego-stroking of him and his family. In his world there is no public good, only personal winning and losing. That’s about as deep or significant as it goes.

I agree with Phyllis. I used to be devoted to Sunday morning CNN. But I find it less interesting, as there is the same small rotating cast of characters willing to speak on behalf of Trump — KellyAnne Conway on Jake Tapper’s show — and who cares what they think anyway? I don’t.

Sara, or Sara and Ben, are my usual weekend breakfast buddies — but they were in California this weekend. On Sunday morning I chose to eat out anyway, at our favorite place, where I’m a regular and can count on conversation with the servers, in both English and Spanish. Then I went to Green Lake to get in my 10,000 steps on a gorgeous, sunny winter morning.

By far the better choice, I’d say.

Conscious Aging: The Final Word on Retirement Communities

Just to summarize where I am, and what I and readers have shared, on the plusses and minuses of retirement communities as we age:

Know what’s important to you going in, so you can look beneath the surface amenities and see if what you seek is really there.

If you outsource your future care to some corporation or non-profit in the retirement community biz, understand the risks, financial and otherwise. Use the services of an elder care attorney and/or an accountant to help you be clear eyed about what you are getting into.

High end or low end, retirement communities pretty much pay their workers about the same, and they draw on the same pool of people willing to do that kind of work. Most of these places seem to be under-staffed and under-resourced. That’s not where they are putting their money. What attracts affluent and active aging people isn’t the thought of well paid staff. It’s granite counter tops, salt water pools, and a full menu of interesting activities plus good food in the dining room. That means that whether you seek out a high end facility or one in a more modest range, when you really need care, you’re going to be dependent on the kindness of strangers — and rather low paid ones at that.

Look on such a move as an adventure. Everything, at the end of the day, pretty much is.

Conscious Aging: Approaching the Retirement Community Decision Part II

What if your main goal is building in a social life with like-minded people and having a menu of activities without having to go too far to enjoy them? Are CCRC’s a good option then?

Part of the impetus for my looking at a retirement community was that it’s honestly hard to meet new people, especially when I’m no longer working and especially in a young city like Seattle. What does a CCRC offer as a counterweight to that?

Friend and regular reader Eileen, who has also done some looking into retirement communities along with her husband, points out that people who live in them tend to hang out with others near their age group: 60’s with others who are in their 60’s, 70’s with 70’s, 80’s with 80’s, 90’s with 90’s. That way, you don’t feel as if you’re in a ghetto of all old people — especially if you remain active in the larger community.

I’ve noticed two things in friends of mine who have chosen CCRC’s: they tend to do things with others who live in the facility, and they tend to focus on the activities offered there. It’s a bit “path of least resistance”. I’m thinking of a mid-winter Seattle evening when it’s apt to be dark early and maybe raining. If I want to go to the symphony, I don my raincoat, perhaps meet up with a friend, call an Uber — downtown parking is terrible and expensive — and go. If the rain is really coming down and the wind whipping around the corner of my building, I have been known to say, “do I really want to go out tonight?” If I were in a CCRC and a talented musical group was giving an evening performance there, might I give up on the symphony and opt for the easier-to-access even if lesser quality in-house option instead?

I’m also wondering about having a social group that is almost entirely my age or older. I’ve always had friends from a broad age range, and that’s true in Seattle too, even if the number of people in my social circle is smaller. I’m also wondering about path of least resistance thinking again. If it’s hard to meet new people living in the larger community, might I give up on it entirely if I lived around other people my age and could readily do things with them?

The biggest challenge, I suspect, is the one pointed out by son Matt: we tend to gradually adopt the patterns and pace of the people around us. Both Matt and Sara work at tech companies where the pace is rapid, messages are concise and clipped, meetings are brief, and outcomes expected. Both of them, even in their leisure lives, move at a certain pace. When I’m walking with Sara, I’ve learned to pick up my speed to keep up with her. If I live among people who are slower moving, many much slower moving than I, will that slowed down version become my pace too?

On this score, whether a CCRC is a plus in building and maintaining an active social life as we age, I’d say it’s no better than 50-50. Some plusses, but a lot of big minuses too.