I’m Walkin

Here in the Rogue Valley we are blessed with a wide variety of walking, hiking, trekking options.  Some are better known, such as the Pacific Crest Trail, Table Rock and the Bear Creek Greenway, while others are somewhat hidden gems, like the Jacksonville Woodlands (www.jvwoodlands.org).  In addition, there are hundreds of day hikes in and around the Siskiyou’s.  Sharon has written eloquently about the health benefits of walking so I don’t want to go down that path (no pun intended).

In June I did a show on Rogue Valley Community Television (RVTV) that discussed walking.  This show was one of a series I did on RVTV called “Age-Friendly Rogue Valley.”  The show was sponsored by AARP Oregon.  If you are interested, here is a link to that show:  http://vp.telvue.com/preview?id=T01550&video=200208

A 2012 poll of Southern Oregon registered voters over age 50 found that walking ranked second (behind driving) in terms of how those  surveyed got around.  However, the poll also found some gaps in how these respondents viewed some of the “walkability” elements in our community.  For example, while 93% of respondents thought having sidewalks available where they walk was important, there was a 32% gap between their desire for sidewalks and what they perceived to be available.

AARP has published The Getting Around Guide to Walking, Bicycling and Public Transportation  (www.aarp.org/livablecommunities). The guide points out that many of our communities were designed for motorists, with pedestrians an afterthought.  The guide encourages older adults to “get back on your feet” and provides a number of common sense tips.

Sharon and I are walkers.  It may be a challenge in the summer heat but Sharon gets out early in the morning and I sometimes tag along (it takes me longer to loosen up in the morning).  The area where we are currently living in Phoenix while our “age-friendly” home is under construction in Central Point, lends itself to short walks but is very near the Fern Valley Interchange construction which makes it almost impossible to reach the nearby Bear Creek Parkway across I-5.   Our immediate community fortunately has sidewalks but often as not we walk in the street (less chance of tripping) and motor traffic is minimal.  Sadly, while the community is “walkable,”  there are many missed opportunities for trails that might have been included when the development was in the planning stages.  Note to developers – incorporate walkability into your plans.

Over the years Sharon and I have shared long walks in major cities and regions around the world.  One of our more memorable outings was a walking tour of the Cotswolds in England This area in South Central England includes rolling hills, farms and fields and historic villages.  Our walking tours began each day with a full English breakfast (includes beans) and then with map in hand we would set off on a 15+ mile walk soaking in the beauty of the countryside.   At the end of each days walking we would find ourselves in a new village with our luggage have been transported by car ahead of us.

We can’t all do a walking tour of the Cotswolds but here in the Rogue Valley we can create our own memorable walks and maintain our health in the bargain.

 

 

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Easy on the Hands

You’ve probably not given much thought to the knobs on doors lately. Or the knobs on cupboards or drawers. I have. I think about them a lot. With the impetus of a friend who has a background in disability and rehabilitation, and after reading an on-line article www.thisoldhouse.com I went through our current home with “closed fists.” That involves clenching both my fists in the same fashion that people with severe arthritis often do—or are forced to do by their disability or a painful joint situation.

CLOSED FIST TEST Here’s what happened. I was not able to open any of the cupboards in our kitchen or any of the kitchen drawers. Same deal, exactly, in the bathroom. There was not a handle or knob of any kind, let alone a C or D-ring pull on a drawer of cupboard, that I could hook my fist under. Even trying gave me a bruised knuckle—and a bit of an attitude. Thankfully, there was a levered handle on the front door, so I could get out of, and back into, the house with my closed fists, but all other doors had the old-fashioned knobs. The levered handles, by the way, can even be opened with an elbow. But the lock on the front door was not manageable with a closed fist. Once locked, I could not unlock—you can see the problem, of course. I might end up being held captive in my own home! Well–it’s not really MY home.  It’s a rental home we live in while we’re building our new home. And living in it is an education—it helps us think about what we really want– and need– as we age.

I had my husband try the closed fist approach—bigger hands, less patience at times. His experience was even more frustrating. If either of us had a severe arthritic condition, we would be in a lot of trouble. We might find this home so limiting we could not continue to live here—well, that last comment is a little extreme, as I could open the refrigerator with my closed fist. So we could keep toothbrushes and toothpaste in the frig probably. Plates, cups and silver too I guess. Good thing we plan to move. Accent should be on the word “plan.”

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A Mountain Too High

As many of you know, Sharon and I are very involved in ‘Age-Friendly Living” and the concept of ‘aging-in-place” in your own home.  This is a personal journey (our own new accessible home) and a public pursuit (our non-profit corporation Age-Friendly Innovators).  Over the past year we have been working with the Rogue Valley Council of Governments (RVCOG) Senior and Disability Services (www.rvcog.org) on the development of a Lifelong Housing Standard. The Lifelong Housing Certification Project is a voluntary certification process for evaluating the accessibility and/or adaptability of homes.  Developed in collaboration with AARP Oregon, the project is designed to help meet the growing market demand for accessible housing in our region and to enable older adults and people with disabilities to age in place safely and independently.

The Standard has three levels of certification.  The first level is “visitability” which is defined as “The home is visitable for all guests: a person in a wheelchair can easily access the main entertainment areas, a half bathroom as minimum, and the hall leading to and from the bathroom.”  The second level of certification is “fully accessible” and means the central living area is accessible for lifelong living.  A person in a wheelchair can perform all personal and housekeeping functions in this area.  The final certification level is called “enhanced accessibility” and means the home has been customized for personalized accessibility.  Specific features may include such things as a chair lift stairway or elevator, customized accessibility for specific size or style wheelchairs or other features.

I was reminded of the visitability need this week when I went to a meeting on E. Jackson Street in Medford.  The meeting place was a single story home that had been converted into an office.  Accompanying Sharon and I was a young man in a wheelchair.  I was stunned to see that the office had two steps to the front door.  There might as well have been twenty steps.  To lousy steps…a mountain too high.  Had we not been there and had the help of others, our friend would not have been able to attend the meeting.  And the subject of that meeting you ask?  Accessibility!

Last year Sharon and I toured the “Street of Dreams” in the suburb of Lake Oswego outside of Portland.  Nine palatial homes were on the tour with prices from $1.2 million to $2.25 million.  The homes were incredible with every luxury feature you could imagine (and a few you couldn’t have imagined).  There was just one problem; none of the homes was accessible to someone in a wheelchair.

Here in Southern Oregon we have perhaps thousands of homes that lack accessibility and Sharon and I lived in one until recently.  Since we could not make our home fully accessible we sold it and are building one that has a graceful no step cement path to the front door and a threshold that is just a quarter inch in height.  Not everyone can afford to do what we did and most people prefer to remain in their own home…if they can get in and out should mobility issues crop up later in life.  According to the Jackson County Multiple Listing Service in June of this year there were 1,301 houses on the market and only 55 had been designated by the realtor as “wheelchair accessible” and of those 55 homes only 15 were listed below $300,000.  Too many steps, too many mountains too high.

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The Idea Home

Have I mentioned lately—my husband and I are in the process of building an age-friendly home? I mean—really age friendly. It will be certified to the Rogue Valley Council of Governments’ Senior and Disability Services Lifelong Housing standard and has ”no-threshold” entries, wide 36” doorways and two easy-use bathrooms—we envision the kind of spacious and accessible bathroom everybody prefers, but people using wheelchairs and walkers absolutely must have. It’s a home full of light—and promise. Should one of us become ill or disabled, house-bound if you will, our home will not complicate what, at that juncture in our lives, will undoubtedly be an already-very-difficult situation. Think about that in your own terms.

The walls are barely up on this new home of ours and I already love it. There are lots of decisions during this process, of course, and we have done loads of research on accessible living–. There’s even a cost-benefit calculation you can make about the trade-offs between adding an accessibility feature and the cost of not having it if you need it.

It might seem a strange time to be building a home—we are in our late 60’s/early 70s. We could be traveling around the country in a RV, the kind with several fold-down metal steps to get inside and a bathroom no bigger than the back seat of a compact car. Perhaps that last statement is a bit harsh–an exaggeration. You decide.

Actually—YOU do get to decide and earlier is better.

We are educators at heart, and once our new home is completed, we will live in it, of course, but we will also use it as a place to provide age-friendly and “smart home” education. Maybe you don’t want to build a new house—maybe you just decide to borrow a few ideas to make your current home—friendlier.

 

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Last Aunt Standing

For most of my adult life I have frequently encountered people asking me “are you related to ‘the’ Howard Johnson and I answer proudly “yes I am.”  Of course the Howard Johnson I am referring to was my uncle who was serving in Europe during World War II when I was born and not the restaurateur of the same name.  Growing up I was referred to as “little” Howard and my uncle as “big” Howard.  Ultimately I exceeded my uncle in height but never in stature.  He was always big Howard to me.

Ours was probably a typical 1940′s extended family; 4 grandparents, 10 uncles, 9 aunts, 26 cousins, 2 sisters a kid brother (plus a smattering of second cousins, great uncles, etc.) and have fond memories of the huge family gatherings we used to have in Seattle where I grew up.  There were strong bonds within this extended family headed by equally strong matriarchs and patriarchs.  Almost all of my family moved to the Seattle area from North Dakota during the 1940s war years.  At that time thousands of Midwesterners were migrating to the Pacific Northwest to work in the shipyards or Boeing.  A highlight of the year was the annual North Dakota picnic at Woodland Park.

My aunt Fran is the last of that generation still living and I care for her a great deal.  She and my uncle took a special interest in me as the did not have children of their own until a bit later in life so I went on fishing trips and other outings with them.  Later, my uncle helped me get a job with the U.S. Post Office where he was employed.  This summer and holiday employment paid my way through college and for a spiffy 1957 powder blue Chevrolet.

Aunt Fran has always been something of a “character,” funny, slightly irreverent at times and to some maybe just a bit loony.  But I love her and the generation she represents.  The greatest generation.  The fact that we surviving cousins still meet and communicate on a regular basis is a tribute to the familial bonds that were formed decades ago by our parents.

Several months ago Sharon and I visited Fran at her home on Whidbey Island in Washington State.  A home her parents had built as I recall.  We discussed late-in-life decisions and documents such as wills and advanced directives.  Fran was able to talk about these matters with a sharp wit but also a sense of purpose.  Last week Fran called to talk about getting a reverse mortgage to supplement her modest pension income.  She said her bank referred her to a reverse mortgage expert.  When this expert called he said to Fran that she could do the whole transaction over the phone.  Fran’s response to him was “I need to see you in person so I can look you in the eye to see if you are ‘Bsing’ me.”  He came, she looked him in the eye and the deal was done.  Here’s to my aunt Fran, the last one standing.

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“Local” Food

The Fourth of July weekend with our “all-American family” has ended. It was a food fest. Our visiting daughter and her Hawaiian-Chinese-Filipino husband had requested “local” food, which I thought, at first, meant loading up at Thursday Farmer’s Market.

Nope.“Local” food to this Hawaiian family of teens and a toddler meant “Mac Salad,” copious amounts of rice with soy sauce as its companion, poke (spicy raw tuna; pronounced “POH-kay,” …I think), Kahlua pork and poi. Yes—poi.   That’s the Hawaiian word for a root vegetable paste made from the stem of the taro plant. My son-in-law eats it in big bowls, several at a time, like porridge. He is a lovely native Hawaiian man and I admire him greatly, but watching him eat poi is just a little disgusting.

On this particular weekend, I managed the “Mac” (macaroni) salad and, of course, kept the rice cooker going constantly. I was even able to negotiate a quart of poke from a Hawaiian restaurant I did not even know existed, just a mile from our house. Digging a pit in our back yard and roasting a pig in it was not going to happen; although, the aroma would have assured we meet more neighbors, I suspect. We did grill plenty of pork and beef, Hawaiian style–heavy on the pineapple. But on the poi front—well, that will have to wait until the next visit. And I think I’ll suggest they bring their own. Or eat a lot before they come to visit—get it out of their system, so to speak.

Despite all the indulgent eating that went on over the last several days, our refrigerator has leftovers galore. It looks like a lot of items from the vegetables platters I insisted accompany every meal are still there. I think there’s just enough carrots, peppers and broccoli to make a veggie sauté for lunch today. Light on soy sauce– heavy on pleasant memories.

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Celebratory Trek

Some couples celebrate thirty years of marriage by renewing their vows or taking an exotic cruise. Not us. We chose a day trek on Mt. Rainier. Those of you familiar with the mountain know that at the end of June there’s several feet of snow on the trails and this particular anniversary weekend, there was new snow falling, There was also rain and sleet. And fog. Lots of fog.

We had good hiking boots, water-repellant jackets and a resilient spirit. Exactly what anyone needs in the sometimes-rocky climb through married life was a fleeting thought as I dug my ski poles into the slushy-snowy, ever-upward trail. My husband is more adventurous than I am by nature and had not a moment of reservation about this day trip. I was definitely outside my comfort zone, but I had decided long ago I would follow him anywhere. So up we went, using heavy cotton socks as gloves because we had forgotten to bring ours.

No–we did not climb to an 11,000 foot elevation. We did not see the panoramic view from the top–I suspect no one did. The only view from any point along the trail on that day was an occasional slice of blue sky that quickly disappeared. We just trekked and slogged up–and then down. Down is harder in heavy snow pack by the way–but my loving husband dug his heels in all the way down into the snow so I would have a chance of not slipping and sliding down an unexpected slope. And I stayed upright all the way down the mountain because of his vigilance. There’s another metaphor on marriage in that illustration I’m sure–.

The large group that passed us early in the day was composed of folks with heavy packs and pick axes dangling from their belts. Many were our age, and a few even older; they were in training to do mountain rescue. Their plan for the day was to hike up the mountain for a few hours and then be lowered into a crevasse. My husband seemed totally intrigued by the challenge they would face in climbing out. Once again, a possible metaphor on marital bliss–or lack of it.Despite the cold and the wet of that day’s climb, marital bliss is what we experienced all day long–and we do on most days. I raise my ski pole to decades more of the same.

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Naked Chicken? LOL

The most valuable course I took in high school (class of ’60) wasn’t English (have you seen my punctuation?) nor history (although I am a history buff) and not even science (which I find fascinating).  No, my most valuable high school course was typing.  Yup, I got pretty good at it; upwards of 70 WPM (that would be words per minute to the uninitiated).

Over the years those typing skills served me well through college and beyond.  I am writing this on my PC keyboard but the terrain is the same as my old Olivetti Studio 44 typewriter; QWERTY the most common modern-day keyboard layout for Latin script.  The name comes from the first six letters in the upper left side of the keyboard.  Sad to say typewriters have gone the way of the buggy whip but nice to know QWERTY lives on.

Which brings me to the subject of this blog, which is not about typewriters but the decline and fall of the English language thanks to texting, emails, autocorrect and the hundreds of acronyms that are used to shorten the written word to gibberish unless you speak the language (OMG)!

Yesterday I sent a text to Sharon as I was about to go to the store.  We were in Hillsboro and she was babysitting grandson Jordan.  I sent her a text message asking if she needed anything.  What I got back was a little confusing.  She said she wanted to make chicken soup and asked me to get a “naked chicken.”  That confused me a bit so I texted back “do the (forgot the y) sometimes come dressed?  She responded by saying if I found one with a sweater get it.  About that time I found the fresh chicken case and found a whole chicken (no feathers) in a bag with the name ”Bare” in large letters.  The small print said it came without giblets, necks or other extraneous appendages.  So, I bought the bare naked chicken and when I presented it to Sharon she exclaimed “but I wanted a baked chicken!”

Sharon and I are not from the texting generation so our texts are often a bit garbled, sometimes funny, sometimes embarrassing.  Who proofreads a text?  What is even worse is the entirely new language of acronyms that have grown out of texting.  Since many people have cell phone plans that charge by the text length it makes economic sense to abbreviate/

The problem is those acronyms have crept into other means of communication.  Probably the best example is SNAFU which started during World War II I believe.  I was curious as to how many acronyms are in use today and found one answer at http://smsdictionary.co.uk (by the way SMS means “short message service”).  The listing they offered ran to 14 pages and had around 700 acronyms that were currently in use.  The two most popular are likely OMG (oh my God) and LOL (laugh out loud or lots of love).

So now the combination of autocorrect (which tries to figure out your misspelled word and replace it with a real word), not reading what you have actually written and many acronyms can spell “trouble.”  Just Google “funny text posts” and you will see what I mean.  LOL

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The Intergenerational Barbeque

Sometimes I get a bit confused by the generational labels we have pasted on people.  “The Greatest Generation,” “Baby Boomers,” “Gen-X,” “Millennials”……you get the picture.  I guess I have my own identity crisis since I was born in 1942 which makes me what?  Not a boomer, they first appeared on the scene around 1946.  Technically I am part of the Greatest Generation (1925-1946) bit a bit young to have served in WWII.  No olive drab diapers for me.

Last night we had what can only be described as an intergenerational barbeque at our temporary digs (new home construction moving right along thank you) that included roughly three or four generations.  There would have been more but our son and his daughters missed their flight to Medford.  The group was an interesting mix of former neighbors, new neighbors and a number of people we had never met (friends of friends).  This latter group had come to the Rogue Valley from different parts of the country and after a day of rafting the Rogue and Applegate Rivers arrived thirsty and hungry.

 

In planning the barbeque Sharon and I had arranged our patio and yard into a series of table and chair enclaves that spread out the group.  However, what happened instead was quite surprising.  The group formed into a large circle around one table but with their plates on their laps so all 16 people could join in the spirited conversation that went on late (at least for me) into the evening.  What on earth could people in their 90′s have in common with Millennials born in the mid-190′s?  A lot as it turned out.  Which brings me to the thread of this blog.

Putting people into demographic “age silos” misses an opportunity for continuous learning.  Those from the Greatest Generation have many things to share from their decades of life but they also can learn much from the younger folk.  Many of the problems we face as a society today are caused by the labels we put on people….liberal vs. conservation, pro-gun vs. pro gun control and so forth.  The list goes on.  One of my favorite words is “collaboration.”  This is when adversarial groups are able to rise above the fray and find common ground for the common good.  Note to Congress:  get out of this “my way or the highway” mindset and find the common ground.

The home Sharon and I are building in the Twin Creeks Development in Central point will be a showcase for age-friendly, accessible, adaptable living for people of all ages and we intend to share our knowledge with others; young and old. Maybe we will even have a barbeque or two.

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A Little Road Trip Perhaps?

The most amazing story I’ve encountered regarding an elder’s driving behavior involved a seventy-something mother traveling from Seattle, Washington to rural Oregon to visit her daughter’s family. She arrived without apparent problem and parked the car in her daughter’s yard and then spent two lovely weeks enjoying her grandchildren. When Grandma was ready to return, the daughter decided to surprise her mother by cleaning out the parked car. When she opened the driver’s side door, she found something quite unexpected. There were yellow sticky notes all over the dashboard saying things like “turn blinker on here.” and “radio channel button.”

Could this be a true story? I have it on good report from a credible source, the daughter; although I never saw the car. And, thankfully, there was not a sticky note saying “Brake with left foot.”

I’m thinking a photo of the yellow-coated dashboard should be placed on a driver’s education website or a downtown billboard as a note of caution to all of us….aging driver’s and their families. It’s one thing to put a hot pad in the refrigerator, but it’s quite another to get behind the wheel of a car when you’re having significant memory issues.

Good News! Sometimes what causes ‘forgetting behavior’ is quite reversible–maybe it’s the side effects of a new medication or a urinary tract infection. Maybe it’s related to not eating enough nutrient-dense food or getting enough aerobic exercise.  There are dozens of reasons for memory problems as we age. And there is more good news! Many of the health problems that affect memory are easily resolved. Once we’ve checked in with our health provider and obtained a better understanding of why the refrigerator is full of hot pads…a driving refresher course would be the next step. AARP’s Smart Driver program, for example. And after that–a little road trip perhaps?

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  • About This Blog

    Sharon and Howard Johnson are Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists (CAPS) with the National Association of Home Builders who have launched a nonprofit organization, Age Friendly Innovators Inc. (www.agefriendlyinnovators.org)
    They are passionate about the importance of older adults aging in place in a home of your own and have practical and provocative ideas about how to make that happen. Sharon is a retired Oregon State University educator who has developed dozens of award-winning programs about health and aging. She has written a weekly column for the Mail Tribune for over ten years.
    Howard is semi-retired from his international work in marine conservation. In 2010 he was named a Purpose Prize Fellow by Encore.org as a "social innovator."
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