It happened again…

For the third time this week I’ve been approached by someone I hardly know who says: “I really like those newspaper columns you’ve been writing about downsizing lately ( The fact is I’ve not written about downsizing or “right-sizing,” as I prefer to call it, for months. But obviously– when I do tackle the topic people resonate with it. Me too

I’m about to start packing for the second house move we’ve made this year. Our newly built “age-friendly” home is close to completion. I culled long-held possessions like a crazed woman after we sold our home and re-located to a rental residence— but I still have seven seafood cookbooks, piles of unmatched plates and bowls (some with chips) and clothing that I’ve had since high school. There’s a more to talk about–but you get the picture.  Oh, yes…. I also have lots of pictures…four boxes of decades-old photographs and countless framed pictures of relatives I don’t even know,

I need a better plan; perhaps I should research new approaches. Or maybe just take my own advice. I may even write about this in again in my newspaper column this week. Solicit ideas from others who have tried— and succeeded.

I found some great suggestions in an article in The AARP Magazine (August-September, 2014)  and a recent New York Times article that quoted  experts at the business of organizing and re-deploying accumulated “stuff.”  It was an August 22, 2014 piece titled: “Moving to a Smaller Home and De-cluttering a Lifetime of Belongings.”  I modified a few of their suggestions (there are many more) for my purposes, but you’ll get the idea. For example:

■  Once a week, start a timer  and set it for 15-30 minutes.  Fill a trash bag(s) with give away or throw away items while the timer ticks away.  Once you have closed the bag, do not re-open it.

■ When you have several bags, call and book a donation pickup for the next day. (The “next day” is the important part I think…)    Another option is to put the bags in your car immediately and drive to your closest donation center.

I am going to start today. All the way home from my donation adventure I will verbally pat myself on tha back. And when I get home, I might even re-set the timer.

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The Unfriendly Skies (continued)

In my last blog (same name) I ranted about some of the pitfalls in travel.  In this blog I would like to offer up some
suggestions, primarily for older adults, but also for those who are not “road warriors.” Living in the Rogue Valley when it comes to air travel we immediately have a few obstacles.  The first is the fact that United has a monopoly on flights to San Francisco and
Alaska has a monopoly on flights North to Portland and Seattle.  One way flights to San Francisco run around $500, almost the same as a roundtrip airfare.  Alaska is somewhat better.   A one way ticket to Portland will run you $162 this week and Seattle $210.  More than once I have found it cheaper to fly to San Francisco on Alaska via Portland. Currently you can fly to San Francisco via Portland on Alaska for $319; a savings of almost $200 over United.

Another challenge you have out of Medford is that if you have connecting flights in Denver you need to leave plenty of time.  The regional jets (Sky West) flying the United route to Denver usually park at the gates at the far end of the terminal in Denver (gate numbers above 80) and the larger aircraft flying east use gates from 1 to 80 so you may have a very long walk (or sprint) to your connecting gate.  I like to allow at least 90 minutes between flights.  The United terminal construction at SFO has been completed so the dreaded shuttle bus between terminal 1 and terminal 3 is gone.  However, it can still be a hike between gates and even longer to the International terminal. Baggage is also a hassle these days.  The airlines charge per bag (Sharon and I paid $25 each for a checked bag between Seattle and Medford recently but if you try and use just carryon you face a different problem competition for overhead storage space.  Believe me the fight can be fearsome.  In most airports United has a five row system for boarding. The first to board (after persons with disabilities and families with small children) are the “elite” global services or 1K flyers.  The second row of boarders are United MileagePlus members with status just below elite (gold).  The third and fourth rows are for those in the mileage program but less accrued miles. The fifth and final row is for those who presumably are not members of United’s frequent flyer program.  In almost every case by the time this row boards all overhead compartments are full.

I would recommend that anyone, young or old, flying out of Medford enroll in both the Alaska and United frequent flyer programs.  It costs nothing and you will also have better communication options should your flight be delayed or canceled. One
final piece of advice for older travelers. Don’t be afraid to call the airline and request special handling such as a wheelchair for getting to and from the plane or an electric cart to move you from one gate to another.   You should also request early boarding if you need extra time to walk from the gate onto the plane.  Bon voyage!

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Doing laundry…

We have been on a cross-country trip and away from our normal laundry set-up for weeks. We’re ‘traveling light’ so finding a place to periodically wash socks and underwear has been a challenge. Let me say this: laundromats, where you go to wash clothes and make them clean are NOT very clean places. Ironic don’t you think?. At least not the ones we went to while on the road.Sticky counter tops upon which you are supposed to pile and fold your clean clothes and dusty floors that coat any wet item that escapes from you as you take your items out of the washer. And the laundry facilities we were in seemed to be full of people who look like they did not wan t to be there–but their clothes definitely needed to be.

They are also very expensive. $4.75/load is what it cost in one laundry without drying or detergent costs. How can people who want to buy a washing machine save any money for one if they are already paying $25-30/ week to wash the family’s clothes.

It made me sad–especially the guy who took off almost everything he had on, including sox that actually looked like they could stand upright without feet in them. He put his clothes in a washer. And then he added so much soap it gushed out of the machine and onto the floor and he slipped on it. To his credit, he laughed about–but nobody else did.

During my laundering-on-the-road experience, I gained so much appreciation for my five-year old, sometimes noisy washer and dryer. I can’t wait to get home and pat its slightly dented top. Simple easy-read controls, front loading and elevated to assure I do not have to do unnecessary bending as I age. When I get home, I intend to count my blessings–one clean load of clothes at a time.

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The Unfriendly Skies

First a walk down memory lane.  I took my first airplane flight in the spring of 1963 when I flew from Tijuana, Mexico to Mexico City (via Guadalajara) on an Aeronaves de Mexico Lockheed Constellation.  I had dropped out of college for a quarter to scratch a travel itch and sold my powder blue 57 Chevy to fund the trip.  That will tell you how strong the itch was!  The “Connie” as they were known back then was a four engine prop plane with overstuffed seats that faced each other with a table in the middle.  I had bummed a ride to California with some buddies and continued on to Mexico by myself heading ultimately for Acapulco. I remember just a few things about that flight, the first was that drinks were free and after a few the “older woman” sitting across from me tried to convince me to get off at the stop in Guadalajara and spend a few days with her.  The other thing I remember is they carried one passenger off the plane strapped to a gurney after he drank too much free tequila.  Ah the good old days of flight.

In the intervening 50+ years I have logged a lot of miles to a lot of places and on some airlines now just memories.  Who knew when I purchased my “lifelong” membership in the Pan Am Clipper Club it would be there life that ended, not mine.  Braniff, Eastern, TWA, Pacific Southwest to name just a few more.  I calculate I have flown over 3 million miles but the airlines only started keeping track in the 1980’s when mileage programs were created.  Since that time I have logged 1.97 million miles on United Airlines alone.

Clearly in the “old days” there was romance and adventure in flying and I miss that.  Today an airline ticket is a commodity product that comes with fewer and fewer perks such as pillows, peanuts and legroom; which brings me to the subject of this blog which is the problems associated with flying as one ages. Currently Sharon and I are on a “grandchildren” tour which has taken us to the East Coast, Atlanta and Seattle before arriving back in the Valley on the 20th of August.  I needed to take a side trip out of Atlanta to Belize on business so my itinerary in airport code looks like this:  MFR-DEN-ORD-CLT-IAH-ATL-BZE-PLJ-BZE-IAH-ATL-DEN-SEA-MFR.   There also was a weather-related diversion that added LCH (Lake Charles Regional Airport in Louisiana) between ATL and IAH.

This trip, not particularly arduous by my old standard has had its moments based upon common problems affecting older adults.  First, hearing; can anyone over 50 understand what the pilot or flight attendant is saying when the plane is in flight?  It sounds like they are speaking through a tin can or talking at such a rapid pace you only catch every third word.  Then there is vision.  This problem comes up when directional signs at the airport or in the terminal are either too small, too vague or just don’t make sense.  Also, it seems like every airport I visit these days is under construction and when Sharon and I navigated a rental car out of the Charlotte, South Carolina terminal we were not sure if we were headed in the right direction and the signs were of little help.  Then there is just poor communication, upon my arrival in Houston I went to the hotel shuttle area and called my hotel and told them what terminal I was at.  The hotel said they would send a shuttle named “Rocket Parking” after two shuttles whizzed by without stopping I called the hotel and they said they would send another shuttle.  To make a long story short the hotel had failed to tell me that if I was coming to their hotel on a shuttle I didn’t go to the hotel shuttle area but the parking shuttle area located across the terminal.  Go figure.   To make matters worse, the next morning when I showed up for at 5:49 for the 6:00am shuttle to the airport I was told it had left already.  The lady said “I told you to be down here at 10 minutes before the hour so you missed it.  I showed here my highly accurate watch which showed the time to be exactly 5:50am and she said “we’ll you were coming down and not here.”  Which was not true,  but how can you argue with someone who tells you are late for the 6am shuttle at 5:50am?  I was soon joined in the lobby by four others who had also missed the 6am shuttle by arriving before 6am.  Not friendly.  To be continued.

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Maybe the Movies Will Lead the Way

It constantly amazes me how reluctant we are to embrace the reality of an aging America.  The demographics are astounding.  The grey-headed older adult will be the prevailing force in this country in the near future.  And their explosive growth will be front and center for many decades.  And we are simply not prepared.  Heck, not prepared for this?  We do not even believe it will happen.  But it will.

I find it personally frustrating.  The challenges presented by an aging America will swallow us whole if we do not step up and do better planning.  All that said, I saw a glimmer of hope in the strangest of places–in movie theaters that have increasingly more incredible movies depicting older adults as competent and contributing.  We are seeing silver-headed actors whom we all admire doing things on screen that make us laugh and cry….and think.  It started for Howard and I when we saw the “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” three years ago.  The movie, filmed in India, featured a stellar cast of “seasoned” stars including Judi Dench (age 79).

The newest film in this genre is “The Hundred Foot Journey” staring Helen Mirren (69) and now playing locally.  We haven’t seen the movie yet but plan to soon as we think it has an intergenerational twist (no, not a May December marriage) that looks quite interesting.  We plan to write more about intergenerational topics one day.  Back to the movies.  There is also a light-hearted comedy out now called “And So it Goes” with Michael Douglas (69) and Diane Keaton (68).  No zombies stalking the earth, no buildings  blowing up or other pyrotechnics, just good fun.

Today we are visiting with two of our seven grandchildren and have promised to take them to a movie.  Our grandson Alex (7) and his big sister Sydney (almost 21) have as you might expect different views on what is entertaining so film selection is a challenge.  Almost all of the films out now seem to be PG-13 (Guardian of the Galaxy, Into the Storm, Hercules, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, etc.) or even R-rated.  Howard (71) and I (67) will not be providing a review of the final choice, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” but hopefully the popcorn will be good.

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Any Volunteers?

Last month I produced and moderated the last of a six part series on Rogue Valley Community Television (RVTV) called Age-Friendly Rogue Valley.  The series was sponsored by AARP Oregon and was very enjoyable.  On this final show my quests and I addressed the question “is Southern Oregon an age-friendly community?”

While much of the conversation was around areas like public transportation, housing, services and community health, several guests made the point that one of the most valuable assets we have here in the Valley is a pool of volunteers giving their time to a number of charities and service organizations.  This talent pool includes a large percentage of older adults.

Sharon was an active volunteer for years even as she worked for Oregon State University.  For several years she was a “lunch buddy” to a young grade school girl from an unstable family.  Sharon would have lunch with this young girl on a regular basis in the school cafeteria and they would talk about whatever was on the girl’s mind.  For about five years Sharon also delivered meals to shut-ins through a program called “Food and Friends.”  This meals-on-wheels program provides a vital service to the community and relies on a cadre of volunteer drivers.

Our small neighborhood in Jacksonville included a number of volunteers, all retired folk.  Gail, the oldest of the bunch, together with his companion Phyllis, have been taking their musical talents to assisted living facilities in the Valley for several years.  Gail plays a mean tenor sax and Phyllis tickles the ivories.  Their music, and accompanying banter, brightens the day of the residents of these facilities.  Oh, and I almost forgot, Gail and Phyllis are older than almost all of their audience!  Neighbors Ken and Dave volunteer in the kitchen at St. Vincent DePaul fixing meals for the homeless.  Ken’s wife Judy Mae and Dave’s wife Lindy both volunteer at the Jacksonville library.   I salute them and the hundreds of volunteers doing good works here in the Valley.

With over 100 non-profits here looking for volunteers, there are plenty of opportunities, and needs.  United Way of Jackson Country is one place to start looking.  Any volunteers?

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Reversing it?

I met an old friend on a downtown street yesterday. She had just celebrated her 78th birthday and she looked great. She was briskly walking toward a particular store in the hope of finding some old-fashioned paper dolls for a granddaughter—or maybe it was for herself. That would not surprise me. She has always had a lot of energy and many unique interests and hobbies. Margaret collects buttons— just one example.

On this particular day she told me she was enjoying good health and happily living in the little home she’d resided in throughout her married life—“I’m a bit concerned about having enough income to live on” she said so quickly into our conversation that I knew it was uppermost in her mind. I thought about her comments throughout the day and wished I’d suggested she look into the possibility of a reverse mortgage. I’m no expert on those, but getting old has enough challenge attached to it without anxiety about money.

Here’s is the deal as I understand it. Reverse mortgages are a unique type of home loan that frees up a portion of your home’s value and converts it into tax free “cash.” There are no income or credit requirements and your social security and Medicare benefits are not affected. Margaret would remain solely on the title to her home as she is now and the loan would not be due for payback until she passed away, decided to sell the home or permanently moved out of it. Maybe it’s not the answer for her—maybe it is. I need to do a telephone follow-up with her and mention the possibility—at the same time I will find out if she found those old-fashioned paper dolls.

AARP Foundation has a comprehensive informational pamphlet on this topic titled “Reverse Mortgage Loans: Borrowing Against Your Home.” Download it or they will send you a copy in the mail if you call 1-800-209-8085. In fact they indicate they will send you five copies free. Maybe you could spread the word?

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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 (  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:

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  ( 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 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 ( 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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  • 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. (
    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 as a "social innovator."
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