Monday, July 30, 2007

Active Adult Communities...Attitudes...Needs

Over the past week, both Frank and I have had some varying thoughts on our experiences of a week ago. One day we'll both focus on what we liked about one or more community, but the next day we'll recall what we didn't like. Of course, we take turns focusing on the OPPOSITE qualities from one another most often! In other words, he'll say something like "We probably don't want to live TOO close to our daughter - an hour an a half away seems like a good distance. We don't want to get too involved in their lives or make them feel they have to entertain us or take care of us." So I'll go the opposite direction and say how often we wished we had lived much closer to our parents as they aged and illness became the norm. We both remember feeling helpless and frustrated being 5 hours from his mom and 12 hours from my folks. We wanted to be there to change their light bulbs, pick up their meds, help with routine maintenance and bring them to their doc appointments. Of course, all that could/would have taken over our own lives and family priorities, I suppose. Still, being close to one of our children offers a sense of security.

But Frank is right - it's not good to be too close. We don't want to be privy to their lives nor to have them worrying about taking care of us...

And there's "no where land" between our two children - one is in Vermont and the other in central Pennsylvania. We can't afford to live in NY, can neither afford nor want to live in CT or MA, so that leaves PA by default - and actually by choice.

We spend 16 good years living way upstate in PA right on the Susquehanna River - actually on the dike overlooking the river - in a lovely old 1900 Victorian home. During those 16 years, I totally stripped all the gorgeous chestnut woodwork, painted all the walls, and we then added a huge family room prior to our transfer to NJ. That home was for sale a few weeks ago - and we could have afforded it, if we had wanted to go back and the time was right. But we no longer want an old house that requires constant care and upkeep. Nor do we want to live in that small a town - I guess we've become more cosmopolitan since moving to NJ! We're certainly more liberal than we were there - and we were considered liberal back then!

So, we're still exploring options in PA. Landmark Builder's has another community in Ephrata (Stonecroft Village) that we did not see, but that may be good for us. It's a larger community than Briar Lake (with the "puddle") and more in the country. We've never been to Ephrata so we don't know what it's like. But after seeing Lebanon, I'm not so sure I want to live in that town. It appears to be quite depressed an area and we understand that they've lost a great deal of their industries in the past 20 years or so.

Of course, Lancaster, Hershey, and Harrisburg are all relatively close by. Lancaster is an up-and-coming major artists' community. The mayor there is hoping to create the type of artists/craftsmen mecca that other cities throughout the USA are noted for: Gatlinburg, TN; Ashbrook, NC; Portland, OR; and more. This area is home to both the Mennonite and Amish communities and there is an excellent work ethic as a result. There are several colleges/universities in the region, should we wish to audit courses for fun. And the scenery is breathtaking, nourishing, and alive. The pace of living/driving/being is more natural than we've ever experienced in NJ. The area has much to offer.

But do we really want to live in an age restricted development? There are so many pros and cons... and we really don't know how we feel about it just yet. For years we said we would NEVER want to live in a retirement community. Then we got older. My sister lives in Mesa, AZ in a retirement village and she and her husband love it. They like all the community events from which they can pick and choose. They each have different interests and both have found things that are both fun and satisfying. They have an "instant community" with abundant opportunities to meet others of the same interests. Elaine can teach watercolor painting and take tap dancing, Bob can play sports and be the social guy he is at heart. All of these things make a retirement community look good to us.

Also, retirement communities are the new wave of the future since the baby boomer's are not far behind us. There are communities of all sizes springing up all over the country. Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee have some great places at extremely low prices. But they are no where near our kids! The whole East Coast has communities sprouting up faster than weeds - but we can't afford the majority of them. Pennsylvania seems to be our best bet on both the location and the finances.

Now all we have to do is find the right community - and then the right floor plan! We are planning to visit Stonecroft Village in Ephrata, which, we've been told, does not have any mature trees but does have amazing vistas of the countryside & nearby mountain chain as well as fantastic sunsets. The houses are a minimum of 20' apart - which is more than most of these developments. We've seen the houses at Briar Lake and know the construction is good and that we'd be allowed to make floor plan changes - including pocket doors, which hardly anyone else offers, but which are great space savers.

We also plan to go up to the Bethlehem/Easton area to see model homes there that are like the ones to be built in the Traditions of America's Liberty Hill community just outside State College, PA. But just when we get around to doing either of these visits is anyones guess, at the moment. Frank's work schedule holds precedent and since I'm not able to drive for more than an hour or so before my shoulder/arm start aching, I can't go check them out my myself and report back to him. Beside, he wants to see them too - and has noted that we each notice very different things about each community and when comparing notes, we have a much better idea of things than either one of us has alone.

Well, enough of this for the moment. It's time to do some art! Or work on my web page... or finish the laundry... or trim the hedges... Live in the NOW!

Monday, July 23, 2007

House Hunting in PA

These gorgeous sunflowers were planted at the gas station where we filled up as we were leaving home for the Lancaster area of Pennsylvania.

This was the view from I76 as we approached Lancaster.

And this lovely old building in the town of Manheim captured my attention as we drove through town to a different retirement community.

House hunting is rather exhausting - or maybe we tried to do and see too much or too many communities/homes. We had no idea there were so many options to choose from! Each community has it's own personality, of course. And we require nature as one of the most important features of any community or home site. We want what in NJ is called "mature trees." You know what I mean: the lovely, tall, old shade trees that have history and personality and roots! All the baby trees in the community will never match a stand of "mature" trees...

We're learning that each community has some definite pros and cons - one place keeps the deed to the land your home sits on... for a hefty monthly fee, of course. Yes, they pay the property tax on the land, but land tax is minimal and the owner still pays the property tax for the building. I guess this is a new money-making scheme for enterprising builders... you can buy the house for less, but you pay forever to "lease" the land it sits on. While I loved the site of this community, totally surrounded by stands of forests, we cannot imagine paying $400 land lease per month for the privledge of owning in that development.

The other two communities we explored were quite different from one another. One was a k. Hovanian community - and they offer many upgrades as standard in their community (such as ceramic tile baths & kitchens). They also have very tiny lots with very little space between the backs of the homes as well. It had a very 'crowded' feel to it, but that is something we could adapt to - if it had enough pleasant countryside to view. Alas, very few sites are left that have any kind of a "view" and they all cost too much for our budget.

That left the community I had expected to like best. On our first visit, I was greatly disappointed. While, indeed, it had the most by way of natural surroundings, it also is a very small community with a teensy tiny "lake" - known in Minnesota as a puddle. But this puddle was home to a swan, several families of geese, and some mallards. A Great Blue Heron visits, as does a red fox. But as the surrounding area develops, will they all disappear? We liked the homes in the community, although the clubhouse was minimal, at best. The builder's (Landmark Homes) biggest incentive is the willingness to adapt floor plans, use pocket doors, add basements (including walk-out, daylight basements), and the usual other amenities. We can actually afford a home in this community, so, of the three communities we visited, it still holds still our interest.

We still want to visit a few more communities, one near State College, PA. We continue to learn more as we wander through the maze of finding THE place to spend the next 30+ years of our lives.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Crossroads of Another Sort...

Not only are we, as a couple, beginning our research for our eventual retirement, I’m also in the midst of a major (to me anyway) career transition. This is the year I have chosen to establish an actual web page to promote my art. Since I’m pretty good with jpegs and writing, I have an idea of what I want, but I’m not sure I could explain it and I KNOW with certainty that I could not do it! The html computereeze language baffles me beyond words and sends my little mind into a frazzle of incoherency. Thus, I have hired a web site designer, David Walker, to do all the tough stuff I can’t and/or won’t do.

It’s truly amazing the amount of information one must amass in order for a designer to begin working on a web site. Most of it I have done and stored in various places and ways over the past few years: artist’s statement, bio, resume, photos of work, etc. Still, it’s a long way from being in the kind of order required for this project. Today we had our first real phone consultation and I have until August 7 to collect and snail mail a CD with pertinent info and jpegs for him to use in creating a site. I’ve selected a personal symbol, too – one that’s floated with me for many years, yet I’ve never used outwardly.

So this is a crossroads that I have been preparing to journey through for quite some time. Some of my thoughts are not concretized, but many of them are “in there somewhere” waiting for me to associate them and put them together in a coherent representation of my art.

It’s an interesting exercise, to be sure. And I find myself excited about preparing everything to send out – and then waiting to see how David, another artist, sees it and combines it to create a website on my behalf. A new adventure of the fun sort!


Giant Swallowtail Butterfly (c) Pat Dolan

Thanks, everyone, for your responses (both here and via email!) to "Crossroads." This morning when I opened our bedroom curtains, I looked down on the deck to see this gorgeous butterfly visiting our flowers. I ran downstairs, grabbed the camera and went out in my nightie to capture the visitor.

Butterflies are the classic symbol for resurrection, regeneration and transformation since they begin as tiny eggs, hatch into caterpillars, weave a cocoon, and then become airborn in their final phase. I'm delighted with her visit today - renewing my sense of following my intuition and moving forward into the unknown...

Click on this one and see all those tiny little hairs up close and personal!

Monday, July 16, 2007


There are times in your life when you know you are coming to a crossroads – a place of choices where the old way must be left behind and you must choose a new path. Such a time is nearing in my life as my husband approaches retirement within the next year or so.

If we had never left either of our hometowns, the choices would be far different than they are. If we had never transferred from location to location, the choices also might be different. As it is, however, we find ourselves living where we do not wish to spend the rest of our lives. And that brings us to multiple decisions about what we want, where to go, how to find the place, the house, the community, the life we are inevitably moving towards.

It’s not like we want to move back to either of our home towns – St. Paul is darned cold in the winter and darned hot and humid in the summers. Chicago isn’t much better – just windier. Cold and snow are not something we relish as we age! And we really don’t want to go back to any of the other cities/towns we’ve lived in recognizing that you can never really find what you once may have had in that time and place in the past. Places, things, and people all change. No, we recognize we need to forge a totally new pathway for ourselves, and we are feeling a bit lost in the process.

As an inveterate researcher, I’ve read some books on the process of transitions, on the so-called “best retirement places,” and on how to fill your retirement time with everything from part time employment to volunteerism to resort-style living to traveling the world to going back to school and more. All of that information is somewhat useful, but really hasn’t pointed us in any particular direction.

Our daughter wants us to retire in her university town – she has tenure there and plans to spend the rest of her life in “happy valley.” Do we want to thrust ourselves on one of our children that way? Oh, not now, of course, but certainly in the future we will need more help and she and her husband will be the only “family” in the area. Is that a good idea? I honestly don’t know. Our son lives in a northern, very rural state and we cannot picture ourselves there either… Besides, his children are growing up so fast they’ll soon all be going their own ways in many new directions.

What do we want for ourselves throughout the rest of our lives? What are our hobbies? our preferences, our needs, our joys, our pleasures? Good libraries are a must since we’re both researchers, albeit in very different fields. A college town sounds inviting – especially if we could use their libraries, attend cultural events, and audit classes for free! We both share a love of genealogical research but that doesn’t mean we want to settle near a National Archives Research Center or in either of our hometowns just to make research easier. The Internet already does that! We enjoy music/concerts/symphonies but that doesn’t mean we need to live in a major city. We enjoy nature/walks/plants/animals but that doesn’t mean we need to make our home in the woods or mountains somewhere.

So where does that leave us? With a strange list of requirements with regard to our future home – a “wish list” of sorts including, but not limited to:
A ranch house with everything on one floor
A guest room
A den large enough for two – or two spare rooms so we each have an office
No steps from the garage or front door into the house
Universal design features – including higher toilet seats, wider doorways, etc.
A basement – if we’re living in an area where tornadoes occur – preferably a walk-out one with lots of light so I could have an art studio there
An open floor plan with lots of windows/light – a sunroom would be delightful!
Eco-friendly, energy efficient design & appliances
No loft or cathedral ceilings to make it drafty or hard to heat or cool
A beautiful view of nature – woods, water, mountains, or some such
A warm, friendly community
Public transportation would be nice…
Something we can afford… and what I’ve researched so far hasn’t managed this very real requirement.

Are we asking for too much?
Where on earth will we find it?
How on earth will we find it?
When will we find it?

All we can do now is research and trust that what we really need will eventually appear – although we may not recognize it until years later…

Monday, July 09, 2007

What's Your Thinking Style???

I found this on Margaret's blog & recognized a kindred spirit in her thinking style. I went to the website, took the test & discovered we are, indeed, kindred thinkers!

Your Dominant Thinking Style: Exploring

You thrive on the unknown and unpredictable. Novelty is your middle name.
You are a challenger. You tend to challenge common assumptions and beliefs.

An expert inventor and problem solver, you approach everything from new angles.
You show people how to question their models of the world.

This style can clash quite a bit with those who think differently - but opposites attract, and if they figure out how to communicate and value the information shared, life is very good. Problems come up, but can be resolved - sometimes one way, sometimes another. My husband of 40+ years is a scientist (chemist) who thinks very differently than I do. While it can cause friction, it also is quite stimulating. It's amazing just how often we can, quite independently, come to the same conclusions over a situation. We just take different pathways (and amounts of time) to get there!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

"NeedleArts" from the Embroiderers' Guild of America

The photos below are from an article written by Laura Olah, Curator for the Margaret Parshall Gallery for NeedleArts volume XXXVIII, no. 2, June 2007 pages 45-46. The article describes the Fiber Revolution exhibit in the Parshall Gallery entitled "Quilts as Art" on display at the Embroidery Museum and Resource Center at EGA headquarters in Louisville, KY through August 31, 2007. All pieces in the exhibit include embroidery, hand or machine, in the artwork. Two of my pieces are included in this exhibit and are pictured below.

In the upper right hand corner is the following piece:

18”w X 27”h

Since I love nature and especially birds, and I enjoy using the machine as a drawing tool, this quilt shows a natural step in my evolution as a quilt artist. Hand-painted cotton provides the dramatic backdrop. The birds were free-form machine embroidered using a stabilizer, then appliqu├ęd to the background. This piece is embellished with many different kinds of threads and yarns, paints and colored pencils, and hand-painted cheese cloth to create the thistle leaves and background scenery.

In the lower left corner is:

STARFIRE ©2002 Pat Dolan
46”w x 36”h

The red-hot star embroidery began as a demonstration for an embroidery class for teens I was teaching at the Princeton YWCA. Months later, I was drawn back to complete the embroidery and eventually to use it for the powerful central design in this art quilt. With the rebirth of my artistic self, vibrant hand embroidery on black seemed to epitomize the evolution I was experiencing – coming out of darkness into new light.
Hand-embroidered on cotton; machine pieced; machine couching; machine quilted.

It is an honor to have my work hanging in the EGA museum headquarters. In truth, I began creative embroidering in 1964 while still in college and several pieces were in my senior art show at school. I continued embroidery work for many years, off and on, especially while our children were young. It was all hand work, easily transported, and I hadn't even considered quilting at that time. My embroidery skills are nothing like the meticulous expert work of most EGA members - I simply like to create using free form stitchery and using it to embellish other work.

I made my first quilt in 1979 doing white work crewel embroidery featuring my own designs of the flowers of the month, which I then put together with sashing and a border and hand quilted. Alas, it was all poly-cotton fabrics and dreadful to hand quilt. Still, I was hooked on quilting, for some reason or other. And now my work is coming full circle yet again... Maybe I'll dig that piece out and photograph it for tomorrow's blog!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Independence Day!

Our flag is flying - it's about the only one to be seen in the neighborhood today, much to my surprise. The past few years, flags have been flying for all the national holidays yet today, most of the flags I've seen are by businesses that are open and have their flags flying at full staff. Why is it, I wonder, that patriotism can't be shown by flying our nations flag even if we don't approve of the current war or how it has been or is being handled? I still believe in our nation and am honored to live here with the independence that has been bought for us by the payment of the lives of our military personnel over several hundred years time. I'm proud to fly our flag! That's why it's out there today - and perhaps should be out there every day...even though I've never approved of the current or previous wars initiated by our current president.