Category Archives: Happiness

Living in the Moment

Ray and I have been greatly occupied by our transition to a new home and the sale of our current one. We have sold a condo, bought a townhouse, and listed the house on the Bluff. If you have been following us for a while  you know that all this has required getting rid of, or at least making discerning decisions regarding, the Stuff.

Three months ago we were brought to our senses with the early arrival of a new grandson. We got the word just as we were packing the car to return north. We did an abrupt 180 and headed south to be with our daughter, son-in-law and his family as we focused all our hopes and prayers on the well-being of this little guy. Happy to say that he is doing well.

Still, it was a lesson in what matters. In this case, we are reassured that our decision to move closer to family sooner rather than later has been the right one. We will be able to enjoy more of our grandchildren’s milestones and accomplishments firsthand. Our older grandson is graduating from high school and will be off to college. Happily for us, he will be near our younger daughter and not a continent away. His younger sister is two years behind him and active in Ultimate Frisbee, basketball and theater. Both were involved in their high school play, either in a starring role or technical lighting support. How fortunate that we could be there to witness their amazing achievements.

Which brings me back to the little guy. He and his parents stayed at our house a couple weeks ago so the family could all see the play together, all except for me and the little guy. (I saw the play earlier — twice.)  I got my first chance to babysit for him.  Just the two of us for an evening that ran over-long. His parents’ apologies were laughable. Little guy and I had a very good night.

Now, I have just returned from five days with him and his parents. His mom is easing back into the workaday professional world. While she worked from home, I was on-duty for the six hours she worked remotely each day. Such a week I had.

I am embarrassed by their gratitude. I did them small favors in return for a very selfish week of soaking up this wonderful creature. As I drove home I realized that I had been given the gift of being in the moment the greater part of each day with him. News reports, email and Facebook were relegated to the very beginnings and ends of the days. I got enough information to know what was going on but could focus mainly on family relationships and his development.

For all my reading over the years about living in the moment, this was the real thing. Nothing else had a claim on me. Happiness.



Living Life to the Full

florence_foster_jenkinsWe enjoyed seeing Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant in Florence Foster Jenkins at the Smith Opera House recently. Florence lived life to the full. Yes — she deceived herself in thinking she could sing well enough to perform in Carnegie Hall; but she went ahead anyway and died happy. Simon Helberg, whom you’ll recognize from the Big Bang Theory, put in an excellent and empathetic performance as the pianist. Nina Arianda, playing the floozie, sure can dance! Here’s the video.

Harry Belafonte is another senior living life to the full. Belafonte will turn 90 on March 1, and has just been profiled in the New York Times. He has shaped our times, and many of us seniors carry his songs in our heads.


Harry Belafonte. Photo by David Shankbone.

Belafonte shares our fears and concerns, telling the Times, “I’ve never known this country to be so” — he paused before saying the word — “racist as it is at this moment,” he said. “It’s amazing, after all that we have been through.”

And like may of us, he feels he’s not quite done.

“It’s my last chance to say whatever I feel the need to say. And I think I’m formulating what that utterance should be. What have I not said that needs to be said more forcefully and more precisely?”

Here at Common Sense for Seniors, we’ll be listening.


The Long Good-bye

When we moved to the Finger Lakes nearly nine years ago we were taken by the beauty of the area. It has never disappointed. As a dear friend here and I have agreed, we will never take the views and the countryside for granted. We haven’t.

Now, as we begin the process of leaving, I am even more acutely aware of our surroundings.  We saw the super moon the other night, and it was super.  But, as it starts to wane, Ray and I are still enthralled by the daily pageant of the sun, the moon, the stars and the planets. Early this evening, we stood on the front porch and admired Venus in the western sky. A short while later, we stood on the deck and waited for the moon to rise in the east. Again, it did not disappoint. While slightly reduced in size from the full super moon, it rose red-orange and beautifully clear. The  stars were clearly visible, and when I wake in the middle of the night I can expect to see the Pleiades.

These are spectacles that we can not expect to see back in the great conurbation of Boston to Washington and beyond. Sure, we’ll see Venus, Ray tells me. It is just that bright. The light that has crept into the Western hemisphere, on the other hand, has obliterated so much of our  connection with the natural world. Hence, I shall never take for granted the experience that has been ours here.

Kind readers: when I first posted this entry, it was titled “Separating.”  I woke this morning to desperate messages from both daughters, saying they were stunned to hear that Ray and I were separating. One issued a mild expletive; the other said her heart skipped a beat.  Thought it best to change the title.

The Times They are A-changing

Dear Readers,

We are back from a week in Virginia and an even longer absence from this site. We have, however, not been idle. Much happens in these voids.  I want to share with you the most recent happening and decision.

As you have probably sensed from our earlier posts, we believe that decisions should be made throughout our lifetimes, but most especially at times of significant change or in anticipation of same. We have written about some of them, including becoming aware of when we are no longer able to maintain a large house and grounds; when we are not able to assure our personal safety; when we are not able to account for and control our personal affairs; when we become an inconvenience to our family members who love us and want to be present for us; and, when life gives us another reason to review our situation.

Ray and I love every minute of our lives in our truly privileged place. I and a dear friend have for years shared our thrill that we wake up every morning to the most incredible views and will never take them for granted. Whenever I return from places far or near, this feeling is reinforced. I love where we are. It is a place to be cherished forever.

In recent visits to family we have come to recognize that our older grandchild will be off to college next year and the younger is so engaged in activities that it will be difficult for them to visit us here. Add to that the fact that their parents have full-time jobs and other commitments that can take them away for periods of time. Younger daughter and son-in-law are no longer in the immediate area of our condo, so we have to travel farther to be with them. Our condo is not adequate to host the entire clan.

Our grandchildren were born in Washington, DC (which is where our second daughter was born, by the way) and we lived in suburban Virginia for 30 years. Despite a brief hiatus to Africa, the older child was in daily reach of us and the younger one was until we abandoned them both at ages 9 and 7. (That’s a story for another day.) It was a mile  down the road. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Well, the short story is that we want to experience as much time as possible with these children and their children.  We are now six and a half to seven hours away from the first two. From here, we are eight to ten hours from the younger ones. We are certain that we need to be closer.

So, (the word usage that the grammar/language mavens voted to remove from the language this past year) we are selling our small apartment in Virginia and will be looking for a larger place that can accommodate all the family. We want to be able to gather in the family again, as we did for twenty plus years, and to be close enough to enjoy and visit them all, as we did for so many years past.

The condo is on the market; we have a contract; and, we are working toward finalizing it. Next step will be to find that next gathering place. We live in anticipation.





Being Here

It has been eight years plus since we moved to the Finger Lakes area. Friends could not fathom how we would move from the Washington DC area to what various ones described as frigid, remote, isolated, even desolate.

Well, it has been anything but that, except for the distance from our children and grandchildren. Still, that distance has not been insurmountable, and we have had the luxury of going to see them when we wish. Friends here travel even greater distances and many directions compared to ours to see loved ones and old acquaintances. I find it interesting to reflect on our cultural concept of where we should be/retire.

Demographers tell us that we are an increasingly urbanized society. Adding to this, environmentalists tell us that this is for the good: the higher the concentration of population, the lower the carbon footprint from automobiles will be. I don’t take issue with these observations. Still, some members of our society have to produce the foods that the rest of us consume. I am privileged to live in a place where those foods are produced in abundance and at great personal and financial peril to those who engage in agriculture. The current drought has tested our farmers and vineyardists to a degree not seen in many years.

I am  so grateful to all of them. I hope that the year works out well. Despite the ravages of low rainfall, everyone I meet from the agricultural community maintains an optimistic -notably not fatalistic – outlook. And, recent rains have given us all hope for a better ending to the season. Remarkably, the corn that we have eaten these last few weeks from a favorite Mennonite farm has been sweet and tender. There were optimum times in past places and eras when I couldn’t say that for the local produce. As I said, I am grateful. And I won’t go into the other vegetables. All is well.

Hope you are enjoying the local fruits of your home town.


Question for “The Ethicist.” Is it Ethical to Ignore Potential Elder Abuse?

I was really bothered by “The Ethicist” column in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. Entitled “Can You Keep a Woman From Courting Your Elderly Dad,” the column opened with a long letter from an adult child, name withheld by request, of a man nearing ninety and living in a senior residential facility.

The man is being courted by a staff member at the facility, a woman in her sixties, in violation of the facility’s rules. They’ve gone on surreptitious dates, and he’s shared some oxycontin pills he has been prescribed with the woman, at her request. Name Withheld suspects he has given her money.

The advice of Anthony Appiah, The Ethicist? In essence, “Butt out.” In Appiah’s view, the father is within his legal and moral rights, and reporting the matter to the facility’s management would be “disrespectful.”

This response has provoked a flurry of comment, which you can read by clicking on the little cartoon balloon at the upper right of the online page. Many of the comments mention “elder abuse,” which is certainly on my mind.

But the matter isn’t quite so simple. Name Withheld’s letter makes clear that he or she and the siblings are worried about their inheritance. This is pointed out by commentators who agree with the ethicist.  On the other hand, wouldn’t anyone be concerned about their inheritance in such a situation?  Does that concern disqualify them from reporting possible elder abuse?

If only this man had assembled a “protective tribe” of friends and trusted family members before going into the facility, instead of keeping his financial affairs secret as he continues to do. Of course, if the man was worried that a particular family member was only after his money and not concerned about his happiness and well-being, then that person should have been excluded from the tribe.

Anyway, the column and the discussion give much to think about. What’s your opinion?


A Senior In The White House: Health An Issue?

The Super Tuesday primary results suggest that our next President will almost certainly be a senior. Hillary Clinton is 68 and will be 69 on inauguration day.  Donald Trump is 69 already, and will be well into his seventieth year on January 20 — older than Ronald Reagan, the current record holder for age on taking office.

It’s difficult to say exactly when “old age” begins, but if either Clinton or Trump serves two terms, they will have entered that period of life by most definitions. At a time of life when most seniors are slowing down and starting to feel their aches and pains, the senior in the White House will be bearing the immense responsibilities of the world’s most powerful office.

There will be compensations, of course. The President will have plenty of help with the house cleaning. Aides will be on hand to remind her or him of doctor appointments and to discreetly whisper the name of that familiar person who just came in the door. If it comes time to give up driving at night — no problem.  A chauffeured limousine is always available.

Cicero, in De Senectute (On Old Age), wrote that the advanced years can, in fact, be quite tolerable, provided one has made the proper investments earlier in life. The young should invest in friends, so that when old, they will have companionship and support.  The young should invest in learning and the arts, so that their minds can remain active and engaged in old age. Most important, a young person should invest in health.

From the look of them, Hillary has taken this last bit of advice more seriously than Donald, but she was forced to take time off back in 2012-1013 after a fainting spell and concussion. Her physician has said she is fit to serve as President, but Trump is certain to bring up her health during the campaign.

Trump’s physician has also issued a statement, this one claiming that “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”  The doctor added that Trump’s blood pressure and lab results were “astonishingly excellent.”  The candidate himself says his health is “perfection” But then, there has always been a touch of hyperbole associated with the Trump campaign. The candidate’s skin tone make’s one wonder if he’s hiding something. I won’t mention his hair — except I just did. Meanwhile, if I had to choose a new doctor, I think I’d go for Bernie Sanders’, who has issued a letter saying Sanders is “overall in very good health. That’s a little more down to earth.

At any rate, here’s hoping that each candidate invests wisely in the future by choosing a vice presidential running mate who is not only competent, but also fit and healthy. This would be the common-sense thing to do. Video clips of Governor Christie at Trump’s elbow do not inspire confidence.

We haven’t had to worry much about the President’s health these past eight years. President Obama (now 54) used to be a smoker, and Vice President Biden (73) underwent surgery for brain aneurisms in 1988, but they’ve kept themselves in shape. We’ll miss them when they’re gone — and not just for reasons of health.



Old Age in Historical Perspective: Coming Up At The Yates County History Center

During March, Common Sense for Seniors staff will be facilitating a reading and discussion group at the Yates County (NY) History Center, sponsored by the New York Council for the Humanities. We’ll meet each Wednesday at noon, and the topic will be “Old Age in Historical Perspective.” Here’s the syllabus.

Well be looking at how aging has been perceived over the years — from ancient times through the current day. We’ll also examine the sources of contemporary “age anxiety.” We’ll focus on two books, A History of Old Age, by Pat Thane and In Our Prime: The Invention of Middle Age, by Patricia Cohen. These can be borrowed from the History Center. There is no charge for participating in the discussion group.

Space is limited. If you’d like to sign up, please call the History Center at 315 536-7318.

Are CCRC’s For You? Here Are Some Things to Consider

Chris and Lizzie on the staff tour of Westminster Canterbury

Chris and Lizzie on the staff tour of Westminster Canterbury

Recently, Common Sense for Seniors staff were in Richmond, VA., home of their younger daughter and her husband, and took the opportunity to visit Westminster Canterbury, a continuing care retirement community. It’s a lovely place, with all the conveniences and amenities one could wish. The grounds are beautifully maintained. There’s a putting green, an aquatic center, a gym, numerous dining options (cocktails and wine are served,) a library, a woodworking shop, and even a model train room. A first-class auditorium features regular performances by top-notch acts. There are even kids around, thanks to an onsite child development center.

We weren’t able to view an apartment, since it was a Saturday and regular sales staff were off, but we have no doubt they are lovely too. You can see some floor plans at the website. Note that they include kitchens — signing up for a meal plan is optional. Many residents continue to shop and cook as always.  Guests are welcome, as are pets.

Westminster Canterbury, which also has campuses on the Chesapeake and elsewhere, is what’s known as a life care or extended contract community.

Spend a little time with Google, and you can find such life care communities all around the country. Most are run by non-profits, often created by religious organizations, but some are owned by corporations.  Vi Palo Alto, one of the fanciest, is owned by “Pritzker family business interests,” according to Wikipedia.

In order to start living in a CCRC, you must pay a one-time entrance fee — usually in the low to mid six figures, though charges in excess of $1 million can be found at places like Vi Palo Alto. In addition, there is a monthly fee, typically ranging from $4,000 to $6,000, varying according to the type of apartment or small house (typically called a “villa”) you choose. In exchange, residents are guaranteed lifetime care, including memory care for those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, care in an assisted living facility, and skilled nursing care — never paying more than their basic monthly fee.

Residents are expected to be healthy when they start out at a life care facility, moving into an “independent living” apartment or villa. Typically, new residents keep their cars and live as they always have — except that they are in a very convenient place, with lots going on and no worries about home maintenance or the lawn and garden. They might continue in independent living indefinitely, but if the need arises, they can move to what the industry calls a “higher level of care.”

The entry fee, however, is a lot. It could take a substantial portion of someone’s savings or most of the proceeds that come from selling a house. On the other hand, that lifetime care promise is significant. In a CCRC, you need never be a burden to the children. If your spouse becomes ill and has to go to that higher level of care, he or she will be nearby and easy to visit. You might shift to a meal plan at that point, so you won’t have the bother of cooking for one. Should you become ill yourself, you won’t have to fret over finding an assisted living facility or a nursing home — that choice will already have been made.

Still, the fee could be a problem. Many seniors simply don’t have that amount of money on hand. They might want to look for a HUD-backed facility like St. Mark’s Terrace. Other seniors want to keep their nest egg intact, as far as possible, so that they can  pass it on to their children. Most CCRCs will refund a portion of the fee to you if you leave shortly after arriving, or to your estate should you die; but the amount refunded drops over a fixed time until reaching zero. Some CCRCs have come up with alternative payment schemes to protect estates — promising to repay 70 per cent, for example, for those who make larger entry payments than the base at the outset. Some offer modified care plans to lower the entry fee. If you already have long-term care insurance or the resources to self-finance skilled nursing care, you might get a break on the fee.

These options can be quite confusing, and you should certainly consult an elder law attorney and your financial advisor before signing any contract. One concern is that any refundable portion of your entrance fee likely isn’t being held in reserve but instead is being used for operating expenses. If the CCRC goes bankrupt, you’re  unlikely to get it back — though so far, bankruptcies have been rare. Monthly fees can be subject to increases; and you might not necessarily be guaranteed a spot in assisted living or skilled nursing if all the beds are filled.

Be sure to read what the Elder Law website and AARP have to say about CCRCs before moving forward. Meanwhile, here are some illustrative CCRC websites.

Woodlands in West Virginia is among those stating that residents can take the entrance fee as a one-time medical deduction.

ACTS Retirement Life Communities seem attractive.

Vi Bentley Village in Naples, Florida, puts its fees online, which is fairly unusual.

Trilogy says its communities make you feel like you’re on vacation.

Vi Living in Scottsdale says being there is like being on a cruise.

Briarcliff Manor, in Westchester County, has a minimum entrance fee of $419,000, which doesn’t include life care. If you need assisted living or skilled nursing care, you’ll pay at the market rate.

Goodwin House in Alexandria, Virginia, has some interesting contract options.