A New Life! Retirement at its Best. 2


Last February, we flew to North Carolina for a week to check out Waltonwood, the facility we were hoping to move to. We were promised the “Welcome” apartment on the third floor free of charge, and all breakfasts and dinners in the dining room, as they are included in all rentals.

We had a late flight, and did not get to our destination until about eleven o’clock. Our son picked us up from the airport and drove us to Waltonwood.

When we entered the front door the receptionist behind the desk greeted us with a smile, and as she was talking, I saw a little mouse run across the room to a love seat on the other side, under which it disappeared. “Oh, a mouse!” I said, pointing.

The receptionist jumped up, “A mouse? No way!” she said. My husband and son looked incredulous. “For sure, it’s underneath the love seat,” I said. At that time the mouse appeared again and ran as fast as its little feet would carry it across the hall to a nook on the side, where it shot underneath a heavy chest next to the fireplace, where flames behind glass gave the impression of warmth and coziness. Everyone had seen it now. Not knowing how fast to get us (and herself) out of there, the receptionist gave us a set of keys, left her post and personally took us around the corner to the elevator, where she bade us good night. We never found out what happened to the little mouse. Hope it found a way out!

Breakfast, Brunch and Dinner

Breakfast in the dining room starts at 8:00 a.m. A little late, we thought, being used to getting up around six and having coffee and breakfast early. But then, when you get older, you slow down a bit, and perhaps get up later, we figured. So now, we are having our coffee before we walk to The Club for breakfast.

That first morning of our introductory week, we took the elevator down to the second floor, turned the corner towards the dining room and almost laughed out loud. It was a couple of minutes before 8 o’clock. Thick ropes were temporarily closing off the entrance and in front of the ropes a throng of people waited impatiently to be admitted. Along the wall, all the way from the Café to the dining room, walkers were neatly parked; small walkers, large walkers, red walkers and black walkers; ones with a seat and ones without, ones decorated with ribbons or “Best Grandma Ever”; walkers with names on the handlebars and walkers with a basket in front; plain aluminum ones with two wheels and two “feet”, one with a tennis ball on each “foot”. I counted ten. Well, when I get old, and I need a walker, I want one with large wheels for stability, one I can sit on. And it has to have storage underneath the seat. But that will not be anytime soon!

The ropes were moved to the side and the people could hardly wait to get in. Those who had taken their walkers into the room parked them somewhere inside, and everyone lined up for the buffet.

Every day, on a long table in the middle of the dining room breakfast goodies are set out. Large pots with hot grits and oatmeal are  followed by a bowl of raisins, one with brown sugar, a large bowl with individual packets of cereal and one with raising bran (many people want that for breakfast, so a large bowl full is more economical than running out of individual boxes all the time). Then there is a bowl with hard boiled eggs, one with fruit – if it is available – like bananas, oranges and Washington apples. Three bowls are next, one with yoghurt, either vanilla or strawberry (never plain), one with cottage cheese and one with prunes. Three large dishes hold cut-up mixed fruit, like watermelon, blueberries (not cut-up), cantaloupe, green melon, strawberries, raspberries, pineapple and an occasional kiwi. Delicious. In the beginning the fruit was separated, but everyone immediately went for the blueberries and the raspberries, to the disappointment of those who came to breakfast later. At the very end of the buffet is a cookie sheet or platter with pastries.

Oh, those pastries! They sometimes disappear before everyone can get to them. On Mondays there are donuts; Tuesdays, pastries with yellow or red jam in the center; Wednesdays, slices of yellow cake and chocolate-marbled cake; Thursdays, blueberry muffins and chocolate muffins; Fridays, if we are lucky, blueberry scones, and Saturdays another kind of Danish. We haven’t had scones for a while, but the pastry chef makes them in smaller quantities and larger sizes for Sunday brunch. They are put on the sideboard with the green salad and fruit salad, so people don’t discover them easily.

Because not everyone comes down for breakfast, people take foods up for their spouse, or for later, or for lunch. Eggs go in pants’ pockets, as do bananas. Small and large boxes are provided for that purpose as well, because not everyone has deep pockets. But last month, management had to put a stop to the disappearance of pastries. Not that the pastries disappeared into pockets, but in boxes of course. So now they put out only one tray at a time, and when it is empty, we have to wait a while before the next tray is brought in. Except for the donuts, all the pastries are baked fresh in the kitchen, and sometimes the eggs are still warm as well, freshly boiled.

It is fun to observe people moving along the buffet from the table where I am sitting for breakfast. We “land” at the same table of seven every morning, which, at the early hour of eight, is kind of comforting; we don’t have to talk much and just get an update about how everyone is feeling or what they are planning for the day. “We’re here, so we are well!” is a common response to the question “How are you today?”

Yesterday, I saw someone looking at the bowl of eggs for a full minute. Her hand went out and picked up an egg from the egg bowl. She looked at it and turned it over. I was wondering if she also squeezed it, and why she did’t smell it like I do with a peach or a pear. But she put it back in the bowl and picked up another one. That one deserved her approval and she lifted the seat of her stroller and put the egg inside. What is the difference between one hard boiled egg and another? You tell me!

And then the pastries! Tongs on the side indicate they are there to be used to pick up a pastry and put it on your dish. Some people put two on top of each other on their dish or in a box. Some decide that it is faster to pick up a donut or muffin with their hands – and since it is for themselves, it is not unsanitary, they reason, and it is faster!

One day, I observed a gentleman closely scrutinizing the jelly Danish. His hand was hesitating, hovering over the dish. After a full minute, his hand slowly moving over the dish – but not touching anything – he made his choice, took the best one (I’m sure), put it on his plate and went to his seat with it. I have to remember, though, that some people cannot see well; some cannot hear well, and some have difficulty talking. All the more reason to be grateful for my blessings, thankful to have it all.

Water, juices and coffee are set out on the side board together with a toaster and a basket with bagels and slices of bread, to serve yourself.

On Sundays no breakfast is served in the dining room because, starting at 11:00 a.m., they serve brunch. To start my Sunday morning I go for a walk in the neighborhood next to Waltonwood. My fitbit tells me it is 200 steps on the main highway’s walking path to reach the next neighborhood, Wimbledon: a shady street with two-story houses, many side streets and two large ponds, like ours, but much larger, both with splashing fountains. I meet early dog walkers and get to know the names of the dogs. Just like in Prescott, we get to know the dogs before the owners. There is a Clubhouse with a tennis court and a swimming pool, and a small Certified Nature Reserve with a koi pond, a trail with signs naming the shrubs and trees, and a bench to rest or meditate; it’s shady and lovely. I look forward to my Sunday morning walks.

After breakfast at home the bus of Waltonwood takes us to church – the church where our daughter-in-law is the Worship and Music Minister. She conducts the large choir, sometimes sings solo, and she masters all the handbells with the help of just one other person. That is amazing. When I think back to our Prescott church, where it took eight people – if I remember it correctly – to play the bells. I catch myself comparing things here to Prescott. I do that for a while after a big move, you know, compare how it was there and how it is here. Do you do that too? Or have you not moved as often as we have?

After church the bus takes us back to Waltonwood and we enjoy a lovely brunch with omelets, bacon, sausage, meat, blueberry pancakes, vegetables, sometimes fish, green salad, fruit salad, desserts and, sometimes, blueberry scones. Delicious all, but too much for me of course. I enjoy a cheese omelet, bacon, a blueberry pancake and a dessert. The choice is different every Sunday: red velvet cake, chocolate cake, cheesecake, apple pie, you name it. If there are scones I will take one home for a nibble with our coffee the next morning.

On Sundays, after the big brunch, we decided we would enjoy dinner at home. A “lunch-dinner”, without cooking involved. Because, even though the kitchen here is larger than the one in Prescott, I don’t cook anymore. We both think it’s wonderful (although Mike says he misses my delicious meals) because it saves time for me: no more shopping and cooking, and for Mike: no more kitchen cleanups.

On weekdays, dinner starts at 4:30 p.m. Yes, really. The scenario is the same as for breakfast, so we go around 5:00 p.m. and find a table with different people every night. They say there are hundreds of different kinds of people in the world, and all kinds are here at Waltonwood. Slowly, but surely, we get to know many of them instead of saying “that old lady with the grey hair” or “that man with the bald head”. There are about fifty shades of grey, and many of the men are bald. It takes a while to get to know about 150 people by name. It gets especially complicated when I discover that many parents, eighty or ninety years ago, all named their children Mary, and Bob, and John, and Marie, and Jane, and June, and Tom. There are many people here with the same name: four Bobs, three Janes, and so on.

Dinners are mostly very good. Other than two choices of meat, with soup, sides and dessert, there is an a-la-carte menu with delicious salmon, salads, and other side dishes and desserts. It is easy to get used to a choice of desserts every single day! Always changing, always delicious. Many people take home some cake or ice-cream for later. Because, with dinner starting so early, the evenings are long! Another option is going to bed early, and we often opt for that, after sitting on our small patio, watching the fireflies and listening to the birds high in the trees singing goodnight to each other.

It’s a Wonderful Life!

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A New Life! Retirement at its Best. 1


“Did you hear the fire alarm last night?”
“A fire alarm? No, we did not hear anything. What time was that?”
“Eleven o’clock.”
“Yes, it was at eleven.”
“What floor are you on that you did not hear anything?”
“We are in the cottage at the end of the street, and we slept soundly.”
“All the doors were closed, the elevators did not work anymore, and we had to take the stairs down. And I do not do stairs!”
“Oh, what did you do?”
“Well, I’m on the fourth floor. I saw Dorothy on the stairs at the third floor, and she can’t do stairs either.”
“So we had to go down to the main hall, and bright lights were flashing, and sirens were blasting.”
“Yes, even in the courtyard bright lights shone in our windows and firemen told us to get out, now!”
“You should have seen the dress everyone was in! Some wore pajamas, one a sweater, a night gown, one man was wrapped in only a towel; it was quite a sight, I tell you.”
“My goodness! Where was the fire?”
“There was no fire. In Assisted Living there was a water leak and that set off the alarms everywhere.”
“Wow, a water leak set off the fire alarms! That is pretty good security. I’m impressed. What did you do when you heard the alarm?”
“I didn’t hear it. I was fast asleep without my hearing aids and I stayed in bed, which is exactly what the booklet says we should do: stay in your room.”
“And I stayed in my room too, because I thought I can’t very well go down in my nightgown, and I can’t get down the stairs in my wheelchair.”

We were sitting at a table with five ladies while dinner was being served, and everyone was busy telling us about the alarm that we had not heard and the commotion that we had not been a part of. The fire that wasn’t provided lively conversations throughout the dining room.

We had just moved to this retirement community from Arizona. The beautifully landscaped campus consists of a main building with apartments for independent living and separate wings for Assisted Living and Memory Care, plus twelve cottages around a lovely pond with a 24/7 splashing fountain in the center.

Planning Our Future

Throughout our lives we have planned ahead for the future. We emigrated from the Netherlands to California to provide a better future for our children. We found a lovely home with a pool in Pasadena, and we thought we would live there forever. But after eighteen years, when the kids had left for college, we moved to Hawai’i for our early retirement. Onomea on the Big Island was truly paradise. Our home, surrounded by sugar cane fields with a view of Hilo Bay was lovely. We swam and snorkeled and danced hula, and we thought we would live there forever.

But after twelve years we decided we did not see enough of our children and the grandchildren who had come into being, and so, planning to be closer to the kids in our sixties and seventies, we moved to Arizona. We built a lovely home, and enjoyed, from our Hawaiian style deck, watching javelina, deer, bobcats and an occasional mountain lion in our back yard, as if we were on safari, and we thought we would live there forever.

But after fifteen years in Arizona, slowly growing older – very, very slowly – we decided that hm, all the children still lived far away, and, if we would want to enjoy some of the grandchildren while we could, we’d better move again. And so we moved to North Carolina, 15 minutes from our son, daughter-in-law and three grandsons.

We found a lovely cottage on the campus of a retirement community. It has two bedrooms and two baths, and everything is of a smaller scale, but it was not too difficult to adjust. As I wrote in Rising from the Shadow of the Sun, Pg. 276: “That is what life is about anyway, isn’t it? Adapt to your environment. Adjust, and be happy with the blessings you have.

Everyone in the cottages and apartments of this six-year old establishment has standard equipment in their home, part of which is a toilet that is 15” high. How is it possible for all those elderly people, many of whom are in their nineties, in wheelchairs, with walkers or canes, to sit down and get up from such a low toilet? I found a 4″ cement riser on Amazon to install underneath toilets, but that would make the top of the toilet tank hit the counter top above it. No good.

When we asked the handyman on campus he shook his head and agreed that the architect had not thought this through. But he had a solution: he could install a toilet of 17″ high. We agreed we would pay for the toilet as well as the installation (sadly, he gave no discount for the toilet he took out) and the next day he came and installed it. We absolutely love it. Not only is it 2″ higher, which does make a difference, it also has a sturdier seat and lid so we can sit on it to dry our feet on days that we can’t do that standing up. At 17″ the toilet tank cover touches the Kleenex container embedded in the counter top above it (like you see in the bathrooms of motel rooms). Any possible leaks inside the tank can be fixed by removing the Kleenex box and its container from the counter and reaching in with hands and tools through the opening. How clever!

No idea what they will do if the toilet fill valve, the ballcock and the flapper inside the tank have to be replaced. Perhaps they will take out the whole toilet – no big deal!

All of the staff and cleaning ladies and handymen and who knows who else have a key to our cottage. In that way we are not totally independent and we have to get used to that. Suppose the cleaning lady walks in when I’m in the shower? Or walking around in my nightgown? Or worse? What if the handyman comes in when I’m on the new toilet to see how it works? Not that I’m on the toilet to see how it works, mind you, but the handyman. And not for the handyman to sit on the toilet to see how it works, but to see if the installation works. Get it?

In this case, we wished he had come in, because after the installation, while we were out for dinner in the main building, which we affectionately call The Club, the new toilet leaked and the whole bathroom floor was flooded. We were thankful that we did not live in an apartment on the fourth floor, where the water could have leaked down to the third floor and set off a fire alarm!

It’s a wonderful life!

Until next time,


A New Life!

Hello dear friends,

I’m back! It has taken about three months to get ready for our move from Arizona to North Carolina, to actually move (that was the easy part, the plane took us here in about five ours), to unpack and get settled. But we’re here, and we love it, and we are glad we made this move when we did! Right now, it’s very green here, like Hilo, and very hot, like Prescott, and we welcome the occasional rain showers, like in Hilo; in short: we feel at home.

Thank you for still being there (I hope) to read about my stories of life in a retirement community as seen through the eyes of a fifty-year-old! Yes, that’s about how I feel. Not until now do I fully realize that being able to sit and stand up, to walk fast, to go up and down stairs, and other things that I accepted as normal are not given to many people who live to be a hundred! My mother was an exception of course, riding her bike and exercising until she was ninety-four, and walking unassisted until she was almost 102.

I’m planning to write a blog post once a week; I hope you will enjoy reading them and respond with a comment once in a while. It would be great to get a conversation going with those of you who have similar or differing experiences.

Until soon,